January 28th, 2011


Another Year, Another List of Books

And so it begins...

1. Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen)
This is basically Jane Austen doing satire -- our heroine is an avid reader of gothic novels, and imagines the world in those terms, but of course she's actually a completely ordinary girl leading a completely ordinary life. It's very silly, but also quite funny, and endearing. ****

2. The Kingdom Beyond the Waves (Stephen Hunt)
At least this time I knew what I was getting myself into. There are plenty of gory deaths and terrible violence in this second of Hunt's Jackals books, as well as many strange and different cultures both past and present. I'm not sure if it was because I was expecting it, but I found this volume less depressing than the last one, even though it's just as full of things that should make one lose faith in humanity and its offshoots. ****

3. The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)
You know, it's interesting. For all that the underlying idea of the picture is a dark and fertile one that has seeped into our cultural consciousness as a kind of ghost story, the actual novel is much lighter in tone and more interested in questions of aesthetics than of morality. Dorian's fall doesn't set him apart from the rest of his social class as much as you might expect it to. ****

4. The Last Unicorn: the Lost Version (Peter S. Beagle)
Well, I'm glad we ended up with the Last Unicorn that we do have; this is an interesting visit to the mind of the young Peter Beagle, but it's also a very different kind of story.

5. The Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis)
I think I like Lewis best when he's not trying to hide his religious intentions. Screwtape is one of his better inventions -- he's both properly demonic and utterly British, which I find hilarious. Of course, the whole thing is a polemic on how to be a proper Christian, but that doesn't mean it's not a good read. It is! ****

6. Maelstrom (Peter Watts)
As is usual with Peter Watts, things go from bad to worse here. Watts has the rare ability to get you to sympathize with people who should by any rational calculus be utterly unsympathetic, and it's on full display in this book. As the middle book in a trilogy, it's not as neat a story as I would have liked, especially given that nobody seems to have a very clear goal. Also, it's about the collapse of society, so that's never cheerful. ***

7. Secret Daughter (Shilpi Somaya Gowda)
This is one of those cases where the writing is absolutely beautiful, but the final product leaves something to be desired. I enjoyed it while I was reading, but it didn't seem to add up to much of anything in the end. Every time I thought I knew what the story was going to be about, it jumped ahead a dozen years so that we could get to some other Significant Event. I had a hard time identifying with any of the characters, especially the American ones, and I had a hard time believing that people could be so oblivious and aimless. Meh. **

8. Cloud's Rider (C.J. Cherryh)
If you thought matters were wrapped up at the end of the last book, this one shows that you were wrong: things are not going to be resolved that easily. This is probably not the best book to be reading in the middle of a cold snap, I must admit, since it's full of brutal snowstorms and deady mountains. Brrr. There's less of Cloud's voice in this one, which is a bit of a loss, but there's more attention paid to the complex interactions between riders and townspeople. We also get a good feel for how a town can work in cooperation with the riders, and a look at the ways takes on religious doctrine can vary. As always with Cherryh, it's well worth the read. And not to worry, there's plenty of room for her to come back to this world one of these days and tell us what happened next. ****

9. Among Others (Jo Walton)
This book is generating a great deal of buzz in the science fiction blogosphere, and for good reason. It's a unique sort of book -- partly a fictionalized account of Walton's own youth, and partly a fantasy story about fairies and what happens after you save the world. It's also, perhaps most of all, a love letter to books, especially sf books, and to libraries. I loved it, though I freely admit that it's probably not for everyone. "If you love books, they love you back." *****

10. The Great Divorce: A Dream (C.S. Lewis)
There's something very appealing about Lewis' portrayal of "Heaven" -- or at least, about the idea that individual choice can turn what might have been Hell into simply Purgatory. It doesn't hurt that for all that Lewis is very much a Christian, his imagined afterlife isn't predicated on Christianity per se. It also doesn't hurt that Lewis has a vivid imagination, and is good at the writing part of writing polemical literature. I admit to a fond smile at his notes that he's stolen certain ideas from "scientifiction" stories. ****
  • Current Mood
    okay okay
  • Tags