Sunday, June 11, 2006

Recent reading reviews

I finished the Ender's Shadow quadrilogy, the companion novels to Ender's Game. I was underwhelmed by the end of it. It all seemed very anticlimactic to me. I didn't buy the love story, didn't enjoy the geopolitical maneuvering (boring), didn't connect with the themes. But maybe it's just me. Anyhow, I won't be rereading these, with the outside exception of Ender's Shadow.

I read the first chapter of Anna Karenina again today, and I was surprised by how fresh and original it still seemed. I bring it up because I reread it once a year for a while, unlike these Ender books which will probably never get reread. I think I've read it four or five times, but I've had a break from it for the last couple of years. I bet I'll be sucked in again, though. As I grow up, I find it has more and more to say to me, especially as on this reading, for the first time I have a child of my own. I still haven't gotten to War and Peace, but I will one of these years.

I'm having a why-am-I-reading-this relationship with the second of Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld novels. The Riverworld is sort of like the Ringworld, large enough to house billions of people, but mysterious in its purposes and origins. In the Riverworld, everyone who ever lived on Earth is resurrected along the banks of a million-mile river which lacks most animal life, and all vestiges of culture and civilization. Historical figures mix and mingle. Book 1, To Your Scattered Bodies Go, is about Sir Richard Burton, and Book 2, The Fabulous Riverboat, is about Mark Twain. The high concept is interesting, but the action is organized around tedious summaries rather than scenes. Still I read.

I read two great novels by John Scalzi. The first, Old Man's War, was up for Best First Novel and Best Novel Hugo Awards, and the second, The Ghost Brigades, was its sequel. It posits an Earth society colonizing the nearby stellar neighborhood, hanging on for dear life in an endless war against alien races trying to colonize the same valuable planets. The recruits for this endless war are 75-year-olds. How this works and why it's so cool are left as an exercise for the reader. I don't want to spoil the surprise, so I have to leave it there. The award nominations were well-deserved. The implications of the science are well thought-out, at least to the extent that the characters, given all that is happening to them, still seem true-to-life. It's military science fiction, but I'd recommend it solidly for people who are not fans of this particular sub-genre.

I finished Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. It is about the family of the trickster spider god, Anansi (last seen in human guise under the name Mr. Nancy near Miami), and what happens to them, and what they happen to, after his untimely demise. Everyone in America should read this funny, heartwarming, twisted, poignant book. I could not put it down. For what it is, it's absolutely perfect. I actually laughed out loud while I was reading it, it was just too much. Sarah asked me one of the times what was so funny. After a little thought, I came up with, "Violent flamingos."

I also have Gaiman's Stardust to get to; it's beautifully illustrated by comics artist Charles Vess, who also worked on some of the phenomenal Sandman comics by Gaiman. I recently reread that 10-book (80 or so issues) postmodern meta-story graphic novel collection, and I recommend it highly, for adults only. Consider this a nudity, violence, language, disturbing image, and adult theme warning; this might also eliminate some of you adults out there. But I hope not. I don't want to scare anyone away. It's a profound and deeply affecting story, creative in the extreme, with amazing writing and art. One of the issues won a World Fantasy Award, and the next day they changed the rules so comics couldn't win the World Fantasy Award.

Gaiman also wrote a Marvel comics series called 1602 that took some of the iconic characters in the Marvel universe (the X-Men, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, etc.) and transplanted them into late-Elizabethan Europe, with arresting results. I just finished it, along with the X-Men Ultimates books (vols. 1-5). If you like underwear pervert comics (did you hear that Marvel and DC are trying to trademark the word "Superhero"?), you'll like these. The Gaiman series is a bit deeper than the others and has more to chew on, but you might not like it much if you aren't familiar with the source material.

Just a side note; I seem to be reading and seeing a lot of fiction lately about the replacement of the human race by the next step in human evolution. The X-Men books are quite properly suffused with the theme, but it also came up in the Ender series, the Scalzi books, and the season premiere of The 4400 this evening.

And there's still Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle trilogy to get to. But 3000 pages worth of hardback is a daunting swallow when I can just snap up all these little fish instead.

God knows I need a book group.

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