5. Malory, Thomas. Le Morte d'Arthur, Volume 1 (521 p.)
6. Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (244 p.)
7. Friedman, C.S. This Alien Shore (564 p.)
8. Pratchett, Terry. Night Watch (422 p.)
9. Farmer, Philip José. The Grand Adventure (327 p.)
(Contents: The Peoria-colored Writer; An Overview of the Fair; The Shadow of Space; A Bowl Bigger Than Earth; Sketches Among the Ruins of My Mind; The Sliced-Crosswise Only-on-Tuesday World; After Kong Fell; Totem and Taboo; The Adventure of the Three Madmen)
February total: 2,078 pages
2013 YTD total: 3,558 pages
Le Morte d'Arthur was the one and only book I'd ever started reading by choice that I'd been unable to finish--until now. I originally started reading it back in high school, but it quickly turned into a cure for my rampant insomnia, as I found I couldn't even finish one page before I'd be sound asleep, no matter what time of day. It's been more than 20 years since I last picked it up, but I've always planned to get back to it "someday", so that it would no longer be The One That Beat Me. So I restarted it a few months ago, and, despite experiencing some of the same soporific effects, this time I managed to not only finish it, but find myself wishing I had volume 2 handy in order to keep reading. Of course, that really just because the story of Gwenivere & Lancelot, the Grail quest, and the titular Death of Arthur are all in volume 2. This one has the sword in the stone, Mordred's birth, Arthur & Gwenivere's marriage, and the death of Merlin, and lots of stories with other knights of the Round Table, such as Balin, Gawain, Launcelot, Gareth, and Tristram, as well as Arthur conquering the Roman legions in France and marching on to Rome itself to be crowned emperor. There was a lot in here I hadn't come across before as part of the Arthur mythos, though I found it interesting to compare this with Mists of Avalon-- a lot more of the story in Mists of Avalon was lifted almost intact from the original tales than I'd realized! Also interesting was how bawdy some of the stories are--few of these knights are the chaste, holy paladin-types that we often get in modern tellings--and how different the depicted everyday ethics & morals sometimes are from those of modern days. The main problem with reading this (and the main reason this kept putting me to sleep, even now) is that, while the spelling has been updated into that of modern English, the word choice and grammar has been left exactly as they were in the original 1485 edition, so it's hard brain-work to read and comprehend most of the stories. Not as hard as, say, Chaucer in its original form, but definitely harder than, say, Shakespeare. Some words' changes in definition to the opposite or something entirely different were interesting ("arson" is a piece of a saddle, "bawdy" literally means "dirty", "lewd" means "ignorant/boorish" "avoid" means "to send away", "take" means "to give", "doubt" means "to fear"), as were some of the now-archaic terms that could still be useful ("brachet" for "female hound", "hight" for "to be called [something]", "lusk" for "idle lout"), and some of the now-archaic terms that explain why some oddball words in modern English are what they are ("astonied" or "stonied" mean "stunned", "fiance" means "promise"). If you've read enough middle English works (or enough Chris Claremont comics) to be familiar with the terminology & grammar, then I'd definitely recommend this-- some of the stories are lots of adventurous fun. Otherwise, I think I'd only recommend it if you can find a modern English adaptation, or if you simply need a handy remedy for insomnia.
I think I may have read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep once before, but if so, I'd forgotten pretty much everything. Having just introduced kateshort to Blade Runner a few weeks ago, it was fun to compare the movie to the original. The book is excellent, but I think the movie is better is many ways--the movie has a much tighter story, the director's cut does a much better job of telling it, and the significant changes from the original are mostly for the better. The book does a much better job of explaining how this dystopian future got that way, though, things like why there is such disrepair and no other people in the inventor's apartment complex, and why in the world anyone would want (let alone dream of) an electric sheep.
This Alien Shore starts from a fairly unique set of presumptions. Among them being that the first version of an interstellar drive had such a huge mutative factor on colonists that dozens of new "alien" races were formed, including one that eventually turns out to be the only race who can pilot the replacement, safer hyperspace drive--but while that race looks human, every single one of them has one or more mental disorders (OCD, Asperger, bipolar, multiple personalities, etc.) Also, technology has progressed enough that people can have computers installed in their skulls to both access the internet just by thinking about it and also control drug-pumping arrays to control their emotions, blood pressure, etc. The heroine of the story escapes from her space station home when "terrorists" destroy it, and ends up on the run for the rest of the book, while dealing with her own set of mental issues due to some mysterious experiments that were performed upon her. At the same time, a new computer virus starts infecting the brainware of interstellar pilots, either killing them or rendering them unable to pilot. Lots of space travel, encounters with semi-human "aliens", computer hacking, intrigues inside of intrigues, futuristic societies and technology that makes sense, etc. Definitely recommended.
Reading Jingo and Night Watch back to back have convinced me that I want to be Sam Vimes when I grow up. Night Watch is the better of those two, but they work well as a pair, as Night Watch picks up pretty much where Jingo leaves off. It's also a time travel story, so we get to see the secret origins of a large portion of the "Guards" subset of Discworld characters--Nobby, Sgt. Colon, Vimes himself, etc., and even Lord Vetinari. There's also a bit of a comparison to make with Les Mis, complete with barricades. I don't think this would make a good first Discworld novel for someone to read, but it's an excellent addition to the "Guards" subset of the series.
The Grand Adventure isn't precisely a "best of" short story collection, but it is basically representative selections of his work. Each story is introduced by Farmer, explaining how he came to write it, what was happening in his life, etc. These are all good stories, but they didn't quite hit me the right way. "The Shadow of Space" is quantum mechanics gone screwy; "A Bowl Bigger Than Earth" is sort of a short-story version of Riverworld (without the celebrity protagonists); Sketches Among the Ruins of my Mind" is classic thought-provoking sci-fi that's also extremely depressing; "The Sliced-Crossways..." is high irony in the vein of O. Henry; and "The Adventure of the Three Madmen" had the most action and the least thought-provokingness, but even so, it's Sherlock Holmes mashup fanfic that misses a lot of the basic Holmesian elements just so he can shoehorn in meetings with Doc Savage, The Shadow, and Mowgli--so it's sort of a "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1942", and taken in that context, it's a rollicking fun story. The others are also good enough stories, but like I said, this collection didn't really grab me; for me, the author's introductions and insights into his writing method were most of the best parts.
Feudalism: Serf & Turf