Feb 26, 2011

A Map of the World, by Jane Hamilton

I got about a hundred pages into this book before realizing that I really didn't want to read it. Hamilton's writing is good, very good, and I did enjoy her skill in describing the midwestern summer. But the subject matter was simply too much for me. Reading is my form of escapism, that's why I love fantasy and science fiction so much. So to read about such horrible things as babies drowning and accusations of sexual abuse from an entire community is really not my idea of enjoyment. It's a shame, really, since I did like her writing, but I read in order to escape the insanity and evil of the real world, and have no desire to spend my free time reading about such things in fiction.

A Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne

I made a promise to myself about a year ago that I would start reading classic science fiction, and this book did not disappoint. The prose is dated, to be sure, but the grounding of the plot in hard science is something I appreciate in all science fiction. The journey is, indeed, incredible, and it was a joy to read. I did feel sorry for poor Henry, forced by an overbearing uncle to endure amazing hardship simply for prestige and glory. My one complaint with the book is how anticlimactic it is. Do they ever really reach the center of the earth? It seems as though Verne had a pre-set page limit, wrote volumes about the journey, and then suddenly found himself with only ten more pages allowed. In the end, of course, the book is not about the actual center of the earth, but rather the journey towards it. I very much look forward to reading more of Verne's fantastic voyages.

Feb 18, 2011

Limits, by Larry Niven

Once again, I turn to my trusted favorite science fiction author, Larry Niven, and am not disappointed. Limits is an interesting collection of short stories; some are fantasy and some are science fiction. I quite enjoyed reading the fantasy stories because I have never read any fantasy by Niven. In fact, I didn't even know he'd written any. I was a little surprised when I started reading the first story and realized it wasn't actually sci fi, since one of my favorite parts of Niven's writing is how scientifically and mathematically sound it is. He was a professor of mathematics, so all his sci fi is firmly grounded in science. It adds a distinct note of realism to what would otherwise seem fantastical.

The lack of science or math in his fantasy does not seem to hinder his writing at all. The worlds he creates in fantasy are, as are his sci fi worlds, palpably real. They are thought out, complete, with histories and cultures. Reading Niven is so easy for me, I can fall right into his writing, despite its often technical subject matter. Once again, another Niven book to keep on my shelf.

Feb 13, 2011

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

This is quality young adult fiction. The writing is good, though not fantastic, the characters are real and engaging, and the story is linear but well thought out. Graceling is the story if Katsa, a king's niece Graced with killing. In this world, children who's eyes settle into two different colors are Graced: some with dance, swimming, fighting, mind reading, seeing, among various other characteristics. Anything can be a Grace, and some are more useful than others. Of the seven kingdoms, six hold Gracelings apart from society; they are shunned if their Grace is considered useless, and given over to the king if they are useful.

The story follows Katsa and another Graceling, Po, on their journey to discover the reason behind the kidnapping of Po's grandfather, a prince of Lienid. The details behind the kidnapping are rather horrific, and I do question whether the subject matter is entirely appropriate for young readers. The accusation is never explicitly made, but is clear enough, and disturbing enough to bother most readers, regardless of their age.

That being said, I do believe that young adult fiction should not be whitewashed. Young people think just as dark thoughts as adults, and deserve to have a genre that doesn't shy away from that. When that is added to a good story, and a good writing style, you get a truly enjoyable book. I'll definitely be hanging onto this one.

Feb 11, 2011

Redwall, by Brian Jacques

It is only by sheer coincidence that I chose to reread Redwall for the first time since my childhood mere days before Brian Jacques passed away. I remember going through these books like candy, reading them voraciously one after the other. As for many other children, the Redwall series was an integral part of my childhood.

That being said, I must admit that the book does not now live up to my memory of it. There are many young adult books that have translated well into my adulthood, but this is not one of them. The story is simplistic, though engaging. The characters are really more caricatures than characters, with little depth to their emotions. The jokes at which the characters laugh uproariously are barely funny. And there seems to be almost a sense of stereotype and prejudice throughout the book: mice, shrews, moles are good; rats, weasels, ferrets are invariably evil creatures. The only change that occurs is in the sparrow character.

I will be keeping Redwall, and if I have any children, will read it with them, but I don't think I'll be reading it again for myself.

Feb 4, 2011

Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson

Though I still love Stephenson's writing, I must admit that I did not enjoy this book as much as his others that I have read. My best guess as to why is that the half of the book set in the present time just don't appeal to my imagination. I loved the parts set during World War II, but the present parts just weren't as engaging. Granted, this could be because of the insane amount of techno-babble, but then I was perfectly fine with the mathematical and scientific discourse in The System of the World and Anathem. I once again come to the conclusion that I prefer cultures that are inherently different from my own. This is why I love medieval history but am bored by American history, and why I enjoy reading science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction more often than modern fiction. Reading is a form of escapism for me, and it is very difficult to escape into something that looks exactly like the world in which I already live.

That being said, I did enjoy this book, and still consider Stephenson to be one of our most talented contemporary authors. I am, however, glad that I read The System of the World first, since I don't know that I would have read it had I read Cryptonomicon first.