June 30th, 2008


Bookety book book book

I really have to do these more frequently, don't I?

22. The Visitor (Sherri S. Tepper)
A good read (like everything Tepper writes), but weird. In some ways, the book is more fantasy than science fiction, although it's set in a postapocalyptic future. I spent most of the book trying to put the pieces together and figure out what was going on, but then the rules changed on me. It was almost a bait-and-switch: an sf novel turning messianic at the last minute. If I'd been expecting it when I started the book, it wouldn't have bothered me at all, and I'd be able to say what a great book it was. Because other than the sudden genre-swapping, it was a good read, with believable characters, and plenty going on to hold my interest. ***

23. Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life (Bryan Lee O'Malley)
A Canadian manga-styled book about the love life of a twenty-three-year-old who's "between jobs" and plays in a band. Crazy is probably the only word to describe it, but it's good kind of crazy. There are elements of realistic relationships, young adult angst, and the like, and then there are "evil ex-boyfriends" who must be defeated in dramatic video-game-style battles. Not to mention the periodic shout-outs to obscure indie bands. What's not to love? *****

24. Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2007: Twentieth Annual Collection (ed. Ellen Datlow, Kelley Link and Gavin J. Grant)
These anthologies are always really good -- there's a reason they call themselves the "year's best", after all. There are some really wonderful, captivating stories in this volume that were tremendously enjoyable to read. ****

25. Madras on Rainy Days (Samina Ali)
I almost liked this book a number of times as I was reading, but it never quite connected with me. It's the story of a young woman who, having been raised half in the U.S. and half in India, returns to India for her arranged marriage. Secrets and revelations ensue. I found the passivity of the protagonist very frustrating, even though it was a logical consequence of her personality and her background, and even though part of the point of the book is her getting past that training. I just couldn't relate strongly enough to her. Whether this is a failure in the writing or in myself is hard to say. But what I can say is that it meant I didn't love the book. **

26. The Prestige (Christopher Priest)
It's always a little strange, reading a book after seeing the movie, particularly when the two are substantially different, as is the case here. In face, apart from the central concept, the two are almost completely different stories. Now, the central concept (which I will not spoil, because the reveal is such a good one) is a doozy, but I've got to say that the movie managed to enclose it in a more intense and cohesive story. The book is quite good, but it falls prey to the ever-popular "decendents must figure it out" story, which doesn't quite work since the descendents aren't the focus of the vast majority of the story. And the descendents' story feels a little forced, as though someone thought there needed to be a modern "hook", when they'd have been better off keeping the whole thing focused on the actual central story. The ending is a bit weak, too -- it doesn't actually resolve anything, just stops abruptly with what's meant to be a ghost-story scare. But for all those complaints, it really is an excellent central concept. And I have to give credit for that. ****

27. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (Michael Chabon)
This is a book that didn't seem able to decide quite what it wanted to be. It veers wildly between boys' adventure and serious adults dealing with serious problems, between realism and the almost fantastic, and never quite settles. All of the parts are good, well-told, and enjoyable, but it's hard to tell if you're meant to laugh or cry. Presumably both, but it's a little confusing at times. It was enjoyable to read, and easy to be caught up in; it was only when I tried to put the different pieces of the book together that I started to find the changes in tone puzzling. Despite this probably harsh-sounding complaint, it is a very good book, and I can understand why it appeals to people. I guess it just didn't quite work for me the way it seems to work for everyone else. Maybe I'm just difficult? ****

28. The Day of the Triffids (John Wyndham)
Would you believe I'd never actually read this before? It's one of those classic books that everyone seem to have read, but I never had before now (we did the Chrysalids in high school as our obligatory Wyndham). It's an interesting book. It's both dated and oddly contemporary, in strange ways. The concern about humanity's hubris leading to our downfall is absolutely modern, and the nearly lone survivor of apocalypse is nearly a genre of its own these days. The female characters are products of their time -- even when we're supposed to be impressed by the heroine's toughness, flexibility, and resourcefulness, she's looking forward to an opportunity to be maternal and domestic that's a little irritating, at least to me. There's a bit of temporal jumpiness in the last half of the book, as it tries to move from an intense description of the first few days to a resolution that requires quite a few years to actually happen. And speaking of those first few days, I'm more than a little skeptical at some of the human reaction -- the mass suicides seemed a bit over the top. Still, this is a perfectly good book that has held up quite well. ****

29. The Android's Dream (John Scalzi)
This book is best described as a "romp". It's fun, fast-paced, slightly absurd, and full of likeable characters. There's a somewhat higher death toll than in your usual romp, and some of the deaths are pretty gory, but somehow that doesn't take away from the light-hearted feel of the story. I feel I should state an objection to the damsel in distress element, because she really is completely helpless, and everything happens to her while the story centers on a bunch of hypercompetent men. If you can set that aside, I recommend this book. ****

30. Promethea Volume 1 (Alan Moore et al.)
Promethea is a being of the imagination, able to manifest in a human host only if they imagine themselves being her. Sophie, a college student in an alternate 1999, is researching the figure of Promethea in fiction and poetry, and ends up getting more involved with the chracter than she expected. And of course there are bad guys out to get her... This is a good story, and well told. I'm definitely looking forward to reading the next volume and finding out what happens next. The art is lovely, too. I love that the first Promethea incarnation we meet is a heavily-built woman who looks like she's got actual muscle. It's a shame she's the only Promethea not to be slender, but it was certainly nice to see -- if only I were sure it wasn't intended to indicate the host's losing the ability to imagine Promethea... ****

31. Starman Omnibus (James Robinson et al.)
As superhero comics go, this is definitely above average. The story's pretty good, but the angst on the part of our hero gets old really fast. Of course, that's an artifact of the angsty period in comics, which is when this storyline was developped, so I shouldn't be too harsh. More critical is that it's quite over-written, particularly at the beginning. By about halfway through this volume, the over-writing is starting to come under control, and the dialogue in particular is improving. But Robinson just can't help included a voice-over/monologue at the begining of every single issue. And he's way too fond of extended passages from people's journals. ***

32. The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)
Now this is a book that is completely different from everything else that's out there. It's set in Germany during the second World War, and is narrated by Death, who is a sensitive character feeling rather overworked. It's the story of a young girl who goes to live with foster parents when her own parents are taken away because they are Communists. It's a coming-of-age story of sorts, and a story about ordinary Germans and how they dealt with life under the Reich. It should be a heavy, depressing story, and it's certainly a sad one, but it's told with a light touch that works surprisingly well. Highly recommended. *****
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