I Think We’ll All Understand The Problem Better After This

by Belle Waring on October 14, 2013

So, during our latest enjoyable discussion fracas mêlée, John alluded to the fact that what I have is something more like a reading illness than a love of literature per se. I usually either walked to school or took the (very crowded) bus when I lived in New York. So I never developed the special skill, honed to perfection by my uncle, of folding the New York Times first, in half upper to lower; then, in halves again but along the central line; finally, in half again along the midline, and reading 1/8 of a page at a time. This sounds easy. But you really need to picture my uncle, a partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, taking the subway to work down on Wall Street from the upper East side, whence he was bound to get a seat–I must note he was being rather frugal (which will seem to be belied by what follows, but having a smaller number of really well-made suits is cheaper in the long run). There he is: sitting, in a beautiful bespoke suit (I thought he would die when during a brief fever of dot.com bubbliness the firm introduced “casual Fridays,” which policy was happily discarded in 2000, as I assured him it would be), and horn-rimmed glasses, on the express, hemmed in by people, none of whom he is inconveniencing in any way by his NYT reading, because of his special, lifetime-New-Yorker ability to pick up each section, shake it into sudden crisp folds against its own grain, and repeat, as needed, until all is read and the crossword finished by 7:45 a.m. when he gets to work. (As I say, it sounds easy, but think of what happens when you must get from an article folded into the top left 1/8 of one page into the middle 1/8 of the lower part of the next page, and you may not extend it beyond your knees or your elbows beyond your shoulders.) He is a very meticulous and wonderful person, my uncle.

In any case, I’ve never mastered it. I used to read The Economist on the handlebar of my older daughter’s stroller while I walked her to kindergarten until I learned that it wasn’t merely that their articles on US and Italian politics were bunk (the only two I really knew enough to judge before), but that the more I learned about any topic, the wronger I learned they were, and I came to suspect the whole thing was an exercise at massaging my ego so I would feel like a superior sort of person who knew about water supply issues in Ghana when, in fact, I didn’t. But that probably that one article on securities fraud was real. So, I’ve often had to fall back on the old standby, walking while reading a book. I can’t read in cars or I’ll get sick. I can read on the subway as long as I’m certain no one’s going to molest me if I lose track of my surroundings (bow howdy do people ever! And by people I mean men, sorry dudes. WTF with those guys?) On long train rides, for whatever reason, I like to just look out the window, especially because I mostly only ever travel one route: the Silver Star/Palmetto Express from New York City or D.C. to Savannah, GA, in a sleeper. You go to sleep in Virginia somewhere and wake up in the pine woods of Georgia, and the porter brings you coffee and they have grits and biscuits! On planes I like to sleep. In any case, the real point is that I went into the bathroom yesterday and found the following book on top of the toilet tank:
And I thought, “John Holbo, you magnificent bastard!” This book was in our bathroom in Berkeley, California for…it seemed like forever but I surely moved it after six months. God, I hope inertia didn’t keep me in torment even that long. I think it did though. The problem was, I just kept reading it when I was in there. I don’t mean, time to settle in and have a good read because–no, I’m darting in there to wash my face and I read 12 goddamn pages. Studd is a terrible book. It is so. Bad. But then, having finished it over the course of…a week or two I guess, I just kept re-reading it! It was horrible. It was a nightmare. Every time I would think “ah fuck Studd noooo!” but then I would say, well I’ve sat down already, and it’s not as if I can reach anything else to read except for the ingredients on the toothpaste. Sometimes we had Tom’s of Maine Cinnamon, that was mildly interesting. I swear I read that book cover to cover at least six times. I’m just going to hope it was only six times. God, it was way more though. Ten times minimum. What’s wrong with me?! I eventually bestirred myself to put A Suitable Boy in there instead. Eventually. That was OK for a decent while.

So, naturally, I’m reading Studd right now. Wait, wait, wait, it makes sense! It’s out of a perverse curiosity to see how well I remember the book, having not looked at it for 14 years! Perfectly well, is how. He has two sentences near the start recounting a brief exchange with the son of a cousin he looks up after fifteen years or whatever, because the son expressed himself with a few choice words on the subject of learning Latin and got sent out of the room, but then Studd’s all, giving him manly man advice and shit. I remembered that just from seeing the cover! OK, then I told myself I was reading it on y’all’s behalfs so I could post about it. But it’s not stupid in a particularly interesting way. The author is one of those “I’m so nonchalant about sex because” handwaving “unspecified reasons” who is also “the world is going to hell in a handbasket because man in the gray flannel suit so secretly I’m a beatnik too, down inside, really, I am, please have morally wrong pre-marital sex with me?” But it’s 1972. Dude, shouldn’t you at least secretly be a hippie by now? The author lived in Africa for quite a while and hunted a lot and clearly enjoys it; the safari sections are the most readable part, and not actually all that racist. Not much at all, really. And the main character reads James Bond novels, and laughs about their implausibility. IT’S GETTING META UP IN HERE. Also Hornblower. Which is fine, everyone should read about Hornblower. Rather than, say, about Studd. I sent John accusing texts last night. “Studd is so horrible.” Him: “there are better SF novels unpacked on the shelf, read them.” Me: “WHY R U MAKN ME DO THS? I H8 U!” After they all returned from getting udon: older daughter, “but why are you reading it if you hate it so much then?” Younger daughter, to whom I had explained things in a pellucid fashion “to get it over with more quickly.” Yes, see! It makes perfect sense! Luckily I finished reading it while I was composing this post, and now I am going to throw it down the rubbish chute of our new 24th floor apartment (that we rent, but it’s new to us.)



Zora 10.14.13 at 8:54 am

Next stop, John Ringo. But first, read Hradzka on Ringo:


Oh John Ringo no!


bad Jim 10.14.13 at 9:02 am

Tomorrow the markets will crash. The kraken will awaken. There will be fear and loathing, panic and general hilarity. It’s Columbus Day, a new world will be discovered, and with luck it won’t be worse than the average Monday.


Belle Waring 10.14.13 at 10:12 am

Zora: ooh, that was very interesting. It sort of makes me want to….gah, what’s wrong with me?! The girls wanted to know, was it really true that mommy would read anything they put in the bathroom? So now I’m reading this: Gakuen Alice A, Volume 1, by Tachibana Higuchi. Anyway, if I don’t know enough about my daughters’ favorite manga and manhwa I can’t play successful “talking games” (i.e. on-the-spot fanfic narrated by me, with supporting cast by me, and starring them, with the attributes of characters x and y from Furuba or whatever. (Furuba is “Fruits Basket”–it’s actually hilarious and awesome, I recommend it highly.) If I’m going to be a mopey, useless Somerset Maugham-type Mommy who’s lying in bed all the time, and around whom your have to tiptoe until noon because I am asleep, I might as well be entertaining somehow. The girls were interested to see it worked. “Could we make you read anything?” “Probably.”


Walt 10.14.13 at 10:34 am

I like this summary of the Economist — it really gets at the appeal:

I came to suspect the whole thing was an exercise at massaging my ego so I would feel like a superior sort of person who knew about water supply issues in Ghana when, in fact, I didn’t.

I’ve heard it claimed that the writers for the Economist are all like 24 and fresh out of university, which makes perfect sense. I could project an air of total confidence on any subject whatsoever at 24 that I could never replicate now.

The OH NO JOHN RINGO blogpost makes me want to read the book just I can appreciate the post better, but that has to be the very definition of bad decision-making.


Khan 10.14.13 at 11:42 am

I’ve only read one book by Ringo, but if that’s his version of “let my demons out of the box” … it explains SO MUCH, and I shouldn’t really be surprised.

I picked up his “Von Neumann’s War” in college, because I was looking at a long road-trip as a passenger, and because it had self-replicating killer robots from space. I mean, how could I not?

1) Every major meeting of the “understand the alien tech” A-Team happened in a Hooters, over beer and pub wings. The servers at this establishment were the only characters to earn a physical description longer than two adjectives. BUT, one of them was later proven smart enough to join the A-Team, so this was TOTALLY NOT SEXIST.
2) The USA was the last territory to be attacked and occupied, for Reasons Unspecified. A scouting mission to Europe revealed the French had resorted to cannibalism, as they are wont to do.
3) After the A-Team figured out how to hack and commandeer the kill-bots, the swarm inbound to North America was defeated. In the epilogue, they had a little parade, with repurposed killbots flying overhead, painted red-white-and-blue.

I’m pretty sure I was snickering for a thousand miles. (The last half of that Paladin of Shadows round-up got to be too much, though. WTF? Too disturbing to even mock.)


Belle Waring 10.14.13 at 12:09 pm

Walt: exactly! Tell me more about the indescribable awfulness of this book by Mr. Ringo! But see, I would have to take some trouble to acquire the thing, and that would be a lot of trouble for an intentional literary hatefuck, especially since you know I would dutifully read all the books in the series because WORDS. HAZ WORDS? CAN HAZ WORDS?

I think I mentioned in comments on my last post that John found it difficult to convince me to throw away some books I found outside on the ground. Which were awful. A fact I divined by reading all of both of them. It’s not like I only read books I hate because some kind of BooksDSM fetish thing. I read tons of books I like. It’s just that I read so fast, and am so averse to not finishing things, that this happens frequently. Last time I tested I clocked in at 650 wpm…


Walt 10.14.13 at 12:26 pm

Let me help you then, by giving you reasons to read Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey, if you haven’t already.


ajay 10.14.13 at 12:32 pm

He was the guy who came up with “obvious response to an alien invasion? REJUVENATED WAFFEN-SS GUYS!”, wasn’t he?

I also greatly enjoyed OH JOHN RINGO NO. My local library has GHOST on its shelves; more than once I have looked at it and thought “hmmm….”


Brad DeLong 10.14.13 at 1:10 pm

Belle, you HAVE to read Ringo!! I’m one of teh villains!!!!


JRoth 10.14.13 at 1:28 pm



Anthony 10.14.13 at 1:31 pm

We were taught in elementary school how to fold the newspaper for subway use, even though I never knew anyone who got there (P.S. 41 in Greenwich Village) any way other than by foot.


JRoth 10.14.13 at 1:36 pm

Wait, hold on: BDL is *actually* one of the villains? Or just a simulacrum of BDL? I mean, I guess either one is crazy.


JRoth 10.14.13 at 1:41 pm

11 is completely awesome. My dad learned the NYT fold thing taking Metro North down from Crestwood to Grand Central, and he prized his Burberry coat because one of the pockets was big enough to hold and entire weekday edition.


Shannon Roy 10.14.13 at 1:49 pm

You are not alone! I *strongly* resemble this article. My mother tells the story of getting phone calls from people in our street because I had stopped outside their house on my way home from school – I’d come to a particularly interesting bit, you see…

Glad I found this blog – mind if I stick around?


MPAVictoria 10.14.13 at 1:50 pm

“Last time I tested I clocked in at 650 wpm…”

Wow. It must be like watching data from Star Trek read. That is crazy fast!


Random Lurker 10.14.13 at 1:50 pm

My very important contribute to this thread is to note that, in the “Cyberpunk 2020” Rpg, it was possible for charachters to buy the “Mr. Stud Sexual Implant”, a cyberpenis that increased your charachter’s bedtime performance.

“Mr. Stud Sexual Implant, All night, every night. And she’ll never know.”


Doctor Science 10.14.13 at 2:02 pm

The thing I absolutely do not understand here is how you can have only *one* book in the bathroom. Don’t you have a shelf? stuffed full of books and magazines?


Jeffrey Davis 10.14.13 at 2:08 pm

Don’t put “Under Siege” in your video library.


Glen Tomkins 10.14.13 at 2:12 pm

Very Topical

I didn’t actually read any of this posting, just looked at the STUDD cover art. Obviously this Studd person is a Tea Party legislator, and the book is about the shutdown and default. Studd has that look of the anti-Kenyan Socialism freedom fighter, who up until three years ago was a humble dentist in Ft Worth, about him.

Please tell us how it ends.


Belle Waring 10.14.13 at 2:26 pm

Wait, Brad, for real? (And everyone, you should know that Brad reads more than 800 words a minute, which is wicked fast.) But really, actual evil socialist economist Brad DeLong is a villain? I will read the fuck out of that. Which one? Don’t make me guess, or have to read them all, or something. That wouldn’t be sporting. Walt–those Twilight synopses are compelling, but almost too comprehensive.

Doctor Science: no shelf. I realize some families are different, but that’s how mine is. That is the reason I have read The Garden of Rama, by Gentry Lee (who is an abomination unto the earth) and Arthur C. Clarke twice, even though I actively hate it, a lot. Like, I hate that stupid fucking book so bad–I can’t EVEN with how awful it is. Rama II is also terrible, but The Garden of Rama is powers of ten more terrible. Never, ever read this book, ever, anyone. It was at my mom’s house in the upstairs bathroom. My brother, sister and mom and I all hate it with vicious hatred. I’m the only sucker dumb enough to have read it twice, though–although I believe my brother got a good way along the second time before coming to his senses and chucking Clans of the Alphane Moon in there. I know it seems as if I should be able to solve this problem super-easily, but I’m just telling you what happens.


William Timberman 10.14.13 at 2:43 pm

I remember reading somewhere that Time was the way it was — i.e., snotty — because Henry Luce admired The Economist. True or not, it made sense. And then Hugh Hefner had to go and ruin everything with his What Kind of Man Reads Playboy ads. Same kind of man as reads Time and The Economist, we discovered, and all that magic just vanished into the air. Never mind that The Economist plods serenely on. So does the Roman Catholic church, and yet, somehow, we’ve manage to think our own thoughts anyway. Bully for us.


emjaybee 10.14.13 at 2:43 pm

My husband is always reading books I’m not interested in (WWI histories, teen cyber-dystopia novels) and he leaves them in the bathroom, where they suddenly become interesting because they are all that’s available. But not interesting enough for me to take them out of the bathroom to finish them. I just read a few chapters and try not to lose his bookmarked place.

It hadn’t occurred to me to put books in the bathroom that I knew I should read, but had been avoiding. Hmm.


William Timberman 10.14.13 at 2:49 pm

Afterthought: Someone also told me once that the way to disenthrall yourself was to delay reading each of your issues of Time and The Economist for six months. If you could delay your gratification that long, you’d find yourself reading something indistinguishableMad Magazine, and your mind would be wonderfully clear. Didn’t work with Playboy, unfortunately, but not because of the parts you could actually read.


Belle Waring 10.14.13 at 2:50 pm

Glen Tomkins: oh, well, Studd is an Englishman who kicked ass and took names in WWII, first as an intrepid fighter pilot, and then as a proto-Secret Service type, but then he retired to the Africa he loved, running safaris for people, learning a number of African languages, winning the absolute trust and unwavering devotion of the men who set up his camp, keep the jeep running using no more than paperclips and spit, blah, oldest man sometimes called upon because his rheumy eyes see a bent blade of grass leading them to a prize okapi, blah, going back to London for the first time in ages and dismayed by the tatty awfulness of everything and the sight of thousands of people pouring themselves into the Underground station without whip or cattle prod behind them, blah, one last mission blah, one of the victims that was tortured to death–was his baby sister!–blah, gets close to demonic mastermind who is intent upon killing off much of the world’s population because Malthusian doom, and planning to use witless Chinamen as his instruments, but not with loads of nukes but rather–???—sexy evil German type dame who gets off on the torture and the prospect of mass death, sexy not-as-bad-as-all-that and rarely wears underpants red-head along for the ride, blah, safari that is no more than a feint to see if Studd can be recruited to their ends, but in which they shoot a bull elephant each of whose tusks weigh in at 100 pounds, the fabled ‘ton’, blahbiity in the end the hunter becomes the hunted but Studd’s mastery of his domain…the hinterlands of–yes, Kenya!–sees him through in a contest that was meant to be no more than a canned hunt for the evil mastermind, with Studd playing the role of a pheasant beaten out of the bushes, but ends in a savage hand-to-hand blabbity derp, fucks the redhead, exeunt omnes. The recent independence of various African colonies is not looked upon with so jaundiced an eye as one might expect.


ajay 10.14.13 at 3:55 pm

Seconding 19.1. More detail, please.


Alan Bostick 10.14.13 at 3:56 pm

I think what you should do is discard Studd and replace it with Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. That will show him.


godoggo 10.14.13 at 4:13 pm

I once had an apartment manager who I was a little jealous of because he could apparently read fast like that, except he seemed to use the talent only on that kind of book. Then one day he disappeared with everybody’s rent for the month. I’ve noticed that in things from 1972 people really like to use the word sex a lot, nonchalantly.


godoggo 10.14.13 at 4:25 pm

At least that’s what I was told although it’s not like we were writing out checks to him.


Straightwood 10.14.13 at 4:53 pm

I officially surrender, Belle. The Nobel Prize for literature going to Alice Munro has completely crushed all my arguments about the limitations of short form women writers addressing limited themes. You can stop Studd-bashing. The war is over.


William Timberman 10.14.13 at 5:10 pm

Belle, a word of advice confirmation: don’t even think about accepting Straightwood’s Uriah Heep-like offer to surrender. Just continue nuking him from orbit; it’s the only way to be sure.


Dr. Hilarius 10.14.13 at 5:22 pm

If you’re in the mood for nostalgia/retro literature along the lines of Stud (but mostly without sex, just evil commies) try Red Heroin by Wade Curtis (Jerry Pournelle). Set in 1960s Seattle, our hero mocks university radicals, proto-feminists and human scum in general as he uncovers a Red Chinese plot to flood the US with heroin. It’s protagonist, Paul Crane, is a free-lance aerospace engineer who is supremely capable of everything (a stock Heinlein character). He goes undercover for the CIA, stops the drugs, gets the girl and goes smugly on his way. His only redeeming quality is ownership of a cat.


Brad DeLong 10.14.13 at 6:09 pm


Jerry Vinokurov 10.14.13 at 6:46 pm

Oh, that John Ringo bit brings back some fun memories of my first time finding out about John Ringo. It’s really something else again.


NickS 10.14.13 at 6:59 pm

The excerpt in 31 is amazing.

Also, in the pulp SF category, I’d like to put in a good word for Mack Reynolds who wrote delightful schlock and was also an active Socialist.

“Medal of Honor” is the story of his that most sticks with me, but I remember reading several of his novels and finding them quite entertaining.


David (Kid Geezer). 10.14.13 at 8:42 pm

Doc Hilarius: When will you stop pushing that Curtis book?


godoggo 10.14.13 at 10:00 pm

I prefer Paul George.


godoggo 10.14.13 at 10:08 pm

Because I’m like totally a huge basketball fan.


Meredith 10.14.13 at 11:29 pm

I like maps in bathrooms. Especially globes.


Glen Tomkins 10.15.13 at 12:56 am

So, you admit that this book is a roman a clef about the present political crisis in the US. Political crises in the US are always about white studs adventuring in some sort of Africa, so it’s no objection that the author lived some time ago.


Belle Waring 10.15.13 at 3:44 am

32: OMFcukinGod that’s amazing! Shit, now I have to read that guy’s bullshit book. Glen, pretty much yeah. Dr. Hilarius: no, see, I’m not in the mood for it at all! That was what was so annoying! I’m much happier to be reading Gakuen Alice A. Jerry Pournelle helped Larry Niven write the “after the apocalypse only white astronauts can save the world from cannibal negroes” one IIRC. So unfortunate when one loves Ringworld so deeply in one’s childhood heart.
Straightwood: ?. Additionally, what now?


Doctor Memory 10.15.13 at 4:13 am

Belle: as someone else with a strong positive feeling of nostalgia for the Ringworld books (and Niven’s 70s output in general), I cannot strongly enough recommend running fast and hard in the opposite direction whenever you happen across anything written by Niven post roughly 1982, and anything by Pournelle ever. The years have not been kind, to put it mildly.


David (Kid Geezer). 10.15.13 at 4:58 am

Uh, Belle. The most dreadful book you refer to @40 was written by Robert Heinlein. Farnham’s Freehold, probably the worst book he ever wrote. The wretched Pournelle and the rather better Niven collaborated on the unreadable The Mote in God’s Eye.


Ian 10.15.13 at 6:47 am

I used to read The Economist on the handlebar of my older daughter’s stroller while I walked her to kindergarten until I learned that it wasn’t merely that their articles on US and Italian politics were bunk (the only two I really knew enough to judge before), but that the more I learned about any topic, the wronger I learned they were

Not sure what era this was, but why was The Economist so bad on Italian politics? IIRC from the time I was in a workplace that had a copy of The Economist circulating (up to 2008), it was the first and maybe only centre-right mainstream publication to make a major issue of just how seriously, seriously bad Berlusconi was, starting sometime in the early noughties. I admit I know very little of Italian politics except for mental images of malign media magnate channelling Hugh Hefner, Northern League vs Mezzogiorno, anomie among economically stressed voters, and I tend to think of The Economist’s reporting on second-tier countries that don’t dominate the global financial system as bland and unexceptionable, adjusting for bias – that’s certainly the case for the 3-4 countries I know enough to judge. I’m curious because I recently bought (and have now mislaid) a secondhand copy of Bill Emmott’s book on modern Italy, in preparation for the fantasy of a trip to Italy next year. Emmott was editor of The Economist when it began its anti-Berlusconi campaign, for which he was presumably responsible – so what did he and The Economist get wrong on Italy?


odaiwai 10.15.13 at 7:14 am

Uh, Belle. The most dreadful book you refer to @40 was written by Robert Heinlein. Farnham’s Freehold, probably the worst book he ever wrote. The wretched Pournelle and the rather better Niven collaborated on the unreadable The Mote in God’s Eye.

If you think Mote is wretched, I shudder to think of your opinion of The Gripping Hand


Peter T 10.15.13 at 9:04 am


Is your reading speed constant? I read fairly fast, but I found one simply could not do that with the Gormenghast books – speed-reading Mervyn Peak’s prose was like trying to run through a swimming pool full of molasses.


NomadUK 10.15.13 at 11:32 am

I actually liked Lucifer’s Hammer (blatant anti-feminism and cannibal Negros aside, it would make an awesome film), thought The Mote in God’s Eye was fabulous space opera (cinematic potential ditto), really liked Inferno, and completely agree that everything else Niven & Pournelle wrote as a team sucked rocks. And early Niven, awesome, yes.

And it’s really good to know that most everyone seems to hate Gentry Lee with the same burning-with-the-heat-of-a-thousand-suns passion that I do.


ajay 10.15.13 at 11:52 am

The most dreadful book you refer to @40 was written by Robert Heinlein. Farnham’s Freehold, probably the worst book he ever wrote

That’s a different post-apocalyptic cannibal Negroes book, you klutz. Belle is referring to Lucifer’s Hammer, in which the Black Power movement in the US army decides to respond to a civilisation-ending cometary impact by taking up cannibalism. (Fans of the genre will of course have no trouble in distinguishing this from SM Stirling’s The Peshawar Lancers in which 19th century Russian aristocrats decide to respond to a civilisation-ending cometary impact by taking up cannibalism, which I can only think of as The Awesome Zombie Play That Chekhov Never Wrote.)


Belle Waring 10.15.13 at 2:22 pm

Doctor Memory: Belle: as someone else with a strong positive feeling of nostalgia for the Ringworld books (and Niven’s 70s output in general), I cannot strongly enough recommend running fast and hard in the opposite direction whenever you happen across anything written by Niven post roughly 1982, and anything by Pournelle ever. The years have not been kind, to put it mildly.

So sad; so true. This advice would have come in more handy had it been given earlier in my life, what with the intervening years, and the having already read so many terrible novels because I was up there on a Ringworld meth high and now I’m chasing it down the trail, huffing Pournelle aerosol floor cleaner out behind the Park-n-Save. But, reviewing Niven’s bibliography I see there are actually tons of Man-Kzin Wars ones I haven’t read, and other recent books. Yay me!

Uh, David (Kid Geezer)? The Niven/Pournelle book in question is Lucifer’s Hammer, a fact I happen to know because I am not, particularly, a forgetful girl who does not remember the plots of novels she has read, or the fact that quite a large number of books have been co-written by two particular authors. It’s true I was mildly too lazy to look up the title; I promise I’ll never make that mistake again, provided that if any of you cocksucking motherfuckers condescends to me about books I’ve already read even one more time, I swear to fucking god you will get to see the pink and purple things on your insides against the walls of this comment section– oh, what? Sorry, I sort of felt a red mist descending over my vision for some reason, but its gone now. Welp, never mind! I’m about to have my period so I’m super moody. Ladybusiness, amirite? It’s probably that. In any case, you still vastly fail to comprehend the amount of bullshit I’m willing to put up with for the sake of SF. I like The Mote in God’s Eye, man. I’ve re-read that in the last 3 years on purpose. Bring the space opera. Bring it on.

Peter T: obviously I don’t read that fast all the time. That’s why John was saying I looked like a machine when I was cramming for an exam, or reading a really stupid book like Studd. Some books require more attention. But annoyingly, I sometimes can’t slow down, because I am enjoying the book so much, and I really am just stuffing delicious words in my word-nom hole. When you finish Buddenbrooks on the beginning of the third day, it’s hard to have the right poignant attitude about the ancient family servant who wishes them to be happy and so forth. Because she just wished them to “be happy, my good childe” like 4 hours ago. It fucks up my enjoyment of literature sometimes. #firstworldspeedreadingproblems But yeah, obviously, certain authors are more impenetrable than others. I can blaze through Dickens where I wouldn’t through George Eliot. Not impenetrable–resistant? Gormenghast, I know every little thing that happens by heart (in the first two books; the third is not really a sequel.) I didn’t read it as a young person, John introduced me to it when I was 26 or something. Given that it had so late a start it has risen high in the stars of my total recall. But what is it other than a series of extraordinarily detailed grotesque ekphrases? The plot happens around them, such as it is…I think first of Steerpike on the roofs, and then the terror of hearing the sisters, now walled up, wailing as they die of starvation down in the stone tunnels. The BBC made what would have been a perfect adaptation had someone given them a CGI castle.


Belle Waring 10.15.13 at 2:27 pm

Hmm, lingered too long before pressing post, and now pwned, but still ahead on the old ultra-violence.

(Fans of the genre will of course have no trouble in distinguishing this from SM Stirling’s The Peshawar Lancers in which 19th century Russian aristocrats decide to respond to a civilisation-ending cometary impact by taking up cannibalism, which I can only think of as The Awesome Zombie Play That Chekhov Never Wrote.)
Do go on, ajay, you fascinate me…


LizardBreath 10.15.13 at 2:35 pm

Funny, I sort of thought of The Peshwar Lancers as what would have happened if Kipling had let loose and admitted how he really felt about how Indian culture was awesome, but the English would have been much better at it than those irritating Indians. (Not that there aren’t cannibal Russians, but the tone isn’t very Chekov.)


MG 10.15.13 at 2:38 pm

I’m a fast reader. But let me give a shout-out here for books on tape. Because you can do all kinds of things while listening to books — driving, walking to work, household task. And it’s far less rage-inducing than listening to the news on the radio.

I also find that I enjoy books more when I hear them, especially when read by good readers. By listening I get to linger in the world created by the author rather than just racing to the end to find out what happens*. It’s more movie-like, if that makes sense. Some authors I’ve liked recently include: Aravind Adiga, Cormac McCarthy, Bill Bryson, Alice Munroe, Kazuo Ishiguro.

*That said, sometimes I will race ahead and read the hardcopy because books on tape take a l-o-n-g time. With some books though, I’ve managed to can an entire bushel of tomatoes, clean the entire kitchen and drive home on a long trip, so it’s not wasted time entirely.


Belle Waring 10.15.13 at 2:40 pm

I have some irrational bias against audiobooks, even though I like getting read to. I just look at the length of the file and balk. It really doesn’t make any sense at all.


William Timberman 10.15.13 at 3:00 pm

What is it with the right wing boy warriors of science fiction? A diet consisting solely of cheetos is bad for you? Someone kicking sand in your face throughout your early adolescence turns you into a 400-pound Patton in pajamas?

Someone recommended David Weber to me once. I remember thinking at first Oh, golly, Patrick O’Brien in space, how neat. After a thousand pages or so, though, all I could think of to say was All his girls are boys — this was before reading Belle on the subject of cheesy SF, mind you — and how many gazillion faceless sacrificial lambs can even the most callous novelist cum Reichsmarschall blow to atoms in a single book? How many gazillion giga tons of vaporized steel and titanium can he dump between a star and its once habitable planets?

Give me China Mieville any day, even though I don’t really enjoy wading through multi-meter deep dreck in my fictional cities. The man can write. His imagination is all kinds of fertile. His Weltschmerz really stings.


NickS 10.15.13 at 3:03 pm

Incidentally, “Medal Of Honor” is online. How can you resist prose like this (from the thrilling conclusion)”

Don Mathers laughed at him. “Trying to bribe me with money, Demming? Why don’t you realize, that I’m the only man in existence who has no need for money, who can’t spend money? That my fellow men—whom I’ve done such a good job of betraying—have honored me to a point where money is meaningless?”

Rostoff snatched up the fallen gun, snarling, “I’m calling your bluff, you gutless rummy.”

Plus a variety of others, most of which I haven’t read.


Henry 10.15.13 at 3:10 pm

@31 – he lived for a while in Seattle while doing his Ph.D. at UW’s dept of political science. Not the most illustrious adornment to my profession …


Shelley 10.15.13 at 3:18 pm

As a writer, all I remember of your piece is that lovely “beautiful bespoke suit.”


ajay 10.15.13 at 3:57 pm

I sort of thought of The Peshwar Lancers as what would have happened if Kipling had let loose and admitted how he really felt about how Indian culture was awesome, but the English would have been much better at it than those irritating Indians.

Heh. There was a kind of constant running joke through the book about how the English were still dead certain of themselves as being terribly English, but in fact they’d been so successfully assimilated by the Indians that they were really just another Indian subgroup with different ethnic traditions and hairstyles. Bit like the Moguls, I suppose.

how many gazillion faceless sacrificial lambs can even the most callous novelist cum Reichsmarschall blow to atoms in a single book? How many gazillion giga tons of vaporized steel and titanium can he dump between a star and its once habitable planets?

I’m afraid that the love of mega-scale destruction is not purely a right-wing SF phenomenon. Iain M Banks, who is one of my favourite authors and is definitely left-wing, is quite happy to destroy entire civilisations in his appendices. The body count in Consider Phlebas alone is, IIRC, well into the thirteen digits.


ajay 10.15.13 at 4:00 pm

Not that there aren’t cannibal Russians, but the tone isn’t very Chekov.

Agreed. It’s more Flashman than anything. But I like the idea of Chekhov aristocrats gloomily accepting the impending nuclear winter and the unpleasant necessity of having to eat some of their more disposable moujiks.


William Timberman 10.15.13 at 4:25 pm

ajay @ 56

Banks isn’t my cup of tea either, but the reasons — as befitting his obvious talents — are more complex.


emmajane 10.15.13 at 4:44 pm

For the record, I was taught how to do the commuter fold at my Westchester public junior high school, back in about 1982, when we were all given the New York Times for free for a month…


Eimear Ní Mhéalóid 10.15.13 at 5:47 pm


roy belmont 10.15.13 at 6:22 pm

Someone at here in years past I think Henry was high-praising Miéville and I blew it off til this year whence now delightedly having begun the total absorption of I am reading all I can get. The imaginative intelligence, command of vision and material, the heart and Heavy Metal(fr.) contextuals etc. Superb tales.
Thanks, because without the recommend I wouldn’t have.


Eimear Ní Mhéalóid 10.15.13 at 7:29 pm

(Warning: comment in moderation which may become 59 and banjax all subsequent references to numbers)
I forgot to remark on my similarity of experience wrto the reading of dreadful bathroom books and magazines, cereal packets for the millionth time, and so forth. On the other hand there is a great danger in putting anything decent to read in there as you might find yourself reluctant to leave and running the risks of numbing the lower limbs/ angering other wannabe bathroom users/ being late for work.


Eimear Ní Mhéalóid 10.15.13 at 7:36 pm

No, it got the chop, seemingly. It was mainly a link to this, which I am not going to tidy up the second time:
“Sometimes, not every month, but every few months, I come over all Victorian and have pains in my stomach and want to spend a day lying on the couch reading Jerry Pournelle.”


NJM 10.15.13 at 10:38 pm

@William Timberman: I must admit to having worked through most of Weber on the basis that it was *free* (thanks to Baen publishing and the habit of including CDs under a non-commercial distribution license with hardcover first editions… see 5th Imperium website). I thought they were fine, in an undeniably pulpy sort of way. They are massively better than, say, David Drake, and incomparably superior to Ringo.

Those same CDs include massive swathes of Ringo, of which I managed almost a chapter (coincidentally, of Ghost), before abandoning any attempt at them. But Ringo collaborated with Weber on a series (‘March to X’) which was itself palatable. You could also (although she has now withdrawn them) get Lois McMaster Bujold’s books through the same program. That was nice, again in a schlocky Space Opera way (Vorkosigan Saga).


Brad DeLong 10.15.13 at 11:05 pm

The fact that the interstellar empire in Mote was simply the nineteenth-century British Empire with iPads–without even the serial numbers filed off–dumped my willing suspension bridge of disbelief into the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean. But, yes, I did spend more of my life than I wish to remember chasing the “Neutron Star” high again–never got it, and am know an older, wiser, broken man who no longer even thinks of trying…


skapusniak 10.15.13 at 11:55 pm

@William Timberman: how many gazillion faceless sacrificial lambs can even the most callous novelist cum Reichsmarschall blow to atoms in a single book? How many gazillion giga tons of vaporized steel and titanium can he dump between a star and its once habitable planets?

However many lambs and gigatons that that is (warning tvtropes link), E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith undoubtedly vaporized far far more, back in the day (first novel published in 1928 apparently).

Actually, my favorite Smith, is ‘Subspace Explorers’ which is sort of Atlas Shrugged, IN SPACE, WITH PSYCHIC DOWSING POWERS, EVIL COMMIE LABOR UNIONS, THE COLD WAR, AND NOT EXACTLY THE 60’s; but by someone who could actually write, for pulp values of write.

I don’t remember him blowing up any planets/solar systems/galaxies in that one, but a space fleet (or two?) gets destroyed using WEAPONIZED GENDER ESSENTIALISM (seriously! it actually gets weaponized, not kidding here).

The guy could spin a rollicking yarn.


David (Kid Geezer). 10.16.13 at 12:35 am

Christ, you’re scary when you’re cranky. Wasn’t trying to condescend. I never had any interest in reading the Niven in question but it sounds as if he ripped major elements right out of the Heinlein in question, which I did (sorta) read when it was serialized in the mid-sixties. So back off. Please.


Nine 10.16.13 at 12:42 am

Norman Spinrad did a nice parody of this sort of SF in “The Iron Dream”, the 1000 year reich as written by failed SF writer A. Hitler. Considering the career successes of many of the military SF writers mentioned in this thread, the “failed writer” bit now seems the least believable invention in Spinrad’s alternate history, & IIRC it had giant mutants etc.


Doctor Memory 10.16.13 at 2:43 am

Nine: Oh yes, yes indeed. I have spent well over 20 years now taking unearthly delight in recommending “The Iron Dream” to unwary fans of dumb heroic space opera in the Doc Smith mode, and it has never and will never stop being fun.

Not that I dislike dumb heroic etc space opera! Smith is great fun, it’s just that, well, it’s not just Space Racism, it’s all the way out there to Space Phrenology.

(N.B. Spinirad himself is still alive and has been basically massively fucked over by his American publishers for the last decade or so. He’s done the smart thing and started selling Kindle editions of all of his back catalog at entirely reasonable prices: you should buy them all on general principles.)


Belle Waring 10.16.13 at 3:54 am

David (Kid Geezer). OK, I withdraw the senselessly furious threats to fly off the handle and disembowel you. My bad.
Doc Memory: why have Spinrad’s publishers have been fucking him over? Wait, no, money, I know that. But WTF?
ajay: I adore Banks, but I have to admit he will just kill all hell out of some intelligent species, even, as you say, in an appendix.


David (Kid Geezer). 10.16.13 at 5:17 am

Belle, sometimes I wish Crooked Timber had the equivalent of a like or +/- button and other times just a face palm button. In any case, Niven is problematic. Ring Worldis probably his best novel and Pournelle is purely a hack prick. A story from an SF convention has it that he was wandering around with a toy ray gun, pointing it at peoples’ crotches and cackling “Zap! you’re sterile.” Until he encountered Thomas Disch, who told him “If you kill it, you eat it.” Completely shut him down. Terrible human being.


David (Kid Geezer). 10.16.13 at 5:19 am

Bad tagging.


SC 10.16.13 at 9:01 am

. . . one book by Ringo. . .
Which had me going for a minute. Ringo? Cool. Argh. John Ringo was new to me and so I started in on his website and turned back immediately at the bio. He lost me here: “John Ringo had visited 23 countries and attended 14 schools by the time he graduated high school. This left him with a wonderful appreciation of the oneness of humanity and a permanent aversion to foreign food.” Now, I’m dreading Kahn’s return with Ringo quotes.


ajay 10.16.13 at 3:03 pm

a space fleet (or two?) gets destroyed using WEAPONIZED GENDER ESSENTIALISM

The Essentialising Field is only on for a few seconds but its effects are permanent. Half the enemy battle fleet disappears off into the trackless void interstellar space because its (male) captains refuse to ask for directions. The other half is destroyed in collisions when its (female) captains attempt to park it.


William Timberman 10.16.13 at 4:01 pm

NJM, skapusniak, I’m just a grumpy old man. I loved Doc Smith, Heinlein, van Vogt, etc., when I was 12. I’m not 12 any more. I used to play war, too, which is what American boys mostly got up to in the 50s. But then came Vietnam, followed by feminism, which together rotated the kaleidoscope just far enough to allow us wannabes to look through one of the clear bits for an instant. For me, that was enough.

By the time we’d slogged our way through Peace is Our Profession, We Had to Destroy the Village in Order to Save It, Full Spectrum Dominance, and Total Information Awareness, my attitude toward space opera became something like yeah, well you can take yer interstellar battlewagons, yer anti-matter torpedoes, and yer libertarian Horatio Hornblowers in faster than light drag, and stuff ’em where the sun don’t shine. I think I’m the better for it, but what do I really know?


Sumana Harihareswara 10.17.13 at 2:44 am


Bob 10.17.13 at 3:21 am

Can I pick a fight with a fighter or is that just wrong? I heard of this hypothesis that PI might contain a sequence of four 7s in a row. I dunno if it’s true or not. Who does? Maybe there is. Hate looks like hate. What do I have to do wih a loveless generation?


godoggo 10.17.13 at 5:28 am

That made me laugh.


Doctor Memory 10.17.13 at 5:45 am

Belle: he goes into agonizing detail about it on his blog. Short form is that he decided somewhere in the early 00s that writing a novel with a main character named Osama was a dandy idea. His publishers… disagreed.


ajay 10.17.13 at 8:36 am

Belle, you might like some fake scifi novel titles I ginned up.

Those aren’t novel titles, they’re Culture Minds…


Mercy 10.18.13 at 1:11 am

Since John Ringo and The Iron Dream have both been brought up, I thought I’d up the fascism in fantasy stakes by bringing up The Sword Of Truth series, which gives the former a run for it’s money in the crazy stakes and manages to work as a much more extreme version of the latter (in that it’s blatantly fascist in an increasingly overt way – culminating in the genocide of everyone who rejects the hero’s philosophy- while fitting very neatly into the pantheon of 90s doorstopper fantasy).

I’m sort of torn on which of the Ringo or Goodkind series is the more unhinged, on the one hand the Ringo series can bring in the authors bugbears much more directly as it’s set in the real world (cf BDL quote above) on the other hand the Sword of Truth is even less constrained by reality in it’s depictions of them: the first non-rape related scene in the book sees our Rational Liberterian Hero visit a town that is considering banning fire, prompting the hero into an extremely long speech about liberty and responsibility and not dying of exposure, to which the response is roughly to shout ‘what are you, some kind of fire lover’ and run him out of town, whereupon he lectures the heroine on the foolishness of egalitarianism. By the sixth book, he’s getting kidnapped by fantasy-Stalin to build a statue so ugly it will crush the wills of his citizens, only to build a statue of himself and his girlfriend looking so buff and happy that the population break down in tears and overthrow their fantasy-islamocommunist rulers.

Also, curiously, though the first book contains Ayn Rand speech length torture session and bdsm-witches as main characters, it actually has less bondage in it than Paladin of Shadows. Similarly, despite the main character of Ghost being a rapist daywalker who uses his knowledge of their psychology to bring gunishment to other rapists, it’s somehow less rapey than Sword Of Truth.

(I’m still waiting though, for Paladin of Shadows to get a fluffy saturday morning show where Mike Harmon is a crime-fighting vet with a heart of gold, which is more or less what happened with SoT)


Nine 10.18.13 at 1:30 am

“By the sixth book, he’s getting …”

And you read all these books ?


Belle Waring 10.18.13 at 3:24 am

Nine: don’t you get it! He/she has to find out what happens! Sumana Harihareswara: agreed with jay those are Iain M. Banks Culture Minds’ names.


David (Kid Geezer). 10.18.13 at 4:44 am

Tsk, tsk and oh, please! Those are not even remotely as witty or off the wall as Culture ship/mind names.


Mercy 10.18.13 at 11:11 am

Nine, I confess I used the summaries in the link for some of that but, well, see what I said about “isomorphic to the fantasy of the time”, all of which starred some hero who was incredibly self-sacrificing and noble and had these anachronistic modern liberal morals but who was forced into committing atrocities by the iniquity of the superstitious, selfish fools surrounding him and the gravity of the threat faced (see, for instance, The Wheel of Time). Sword of Truth seemed, in that context, and to simply be an edgier, hardcore take on the same tropes, a sort of The Dark Hobbit Returns.

I think those were the books that finally cured me of the habit of reading fiction as if it were a documentary on an imaginary land the author had access to, such that any dubious politics or morality could be defended strictly on the literal facts of the setting (the “But the Vermin Really Are Inherently Evil” fallacy). Like, there’s a bit where the hero breaks a bratty child’s jaw, and the book goes to absurd lengths to justify why the hero would hit the girl and how he had no choice and it was actually the best thing for her and the world; so I’m like, okay, it’s not as if he’s in favour of brutally attacking children, there were extenuating circumstances. I wouldn’t like to say how long it took me to realise the author came up with those circumstances, and not just the hero’s reaction to them, but, well, I read a lot of those dumb books…


Dave Maier 10.19.13 at 6:41 pm

Ha, check out the latest NYT Book Review, which has a cover feature called “Towering Figures” — Martin Amis on Roth and Graydon Carter on Mailer — complete with drawing of said authors literally looming over skyscrapers (Mailer is leaning on one). Right up your alley Belle!

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