Jul 21, 2011

The War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells

This classic piece of early science fiction is nothing like what I thought it would be. No doubt, this is due to Hollywood-ized versions. Wells' work is not a heart-stopping, action-packed masterpiece. It is, instead, a study of how humanity would react to and be affected by a hostile alien invasion, which is also an easy allegory for First World technology assaulting a Third World country. The outcome? Wells imagines that humans become innately self-centered. They think only of themselves and their own survival, and perhaps even possible profit. Wells clearly sought to shake humanity from its complacency, to push scientific endeavor to the extreme, to prepare for a time when we realize we are not the be all and end all of life in the universe.

The message aside, the writing is typically late 19th Century, very heavy on narrative, with little dialogue. It's a tiny book, but not necessarily quick to read. However, I believe it to be a necessary read for any fiction lover, and especially for devotees of science fiction.

Jul 17, 2011

The Lantern, by Deborah Lawrenson

This is another book my boss asked me to screen for her, but luckily I had a completely difference response: it's absolutely fantastic. "The Lantern" is Lawrenson's first novel, and it doesn't even show. Simultaneously a love paean to Provence and a story of ghosts and murders, the writing is incredibly lush and vibrant. Scent plays a very strong role in the novel, and Lawrenson writes of it with ease and sensuality. Though the beginning is a bit awkward, the reader quickly gets her bearings and is welcomed into the all-encompassing solitude of two people drawn inexorably to each other. The relationship grows and changes, as do those living in it, while in the background we try to figure out the much darker tides that pull beneath the surface. I read this book, nearly 400 pages, in a day and a half. Any reader who luxuriates in skillful writing will love this book, no matter what their tastes in subject or genre. I cannot wait until this comes out in a couple of months to suggest it to everyone I know.

Jul 15, 2011

Forbidden, by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee

I was given this book by the buyer for the bookstore I work in so I could suss out whether she should buy it or not: she shouldn't. The basic premise is good, though unoriginal - humans, having faced the horror and destruction wreaked upon their race by the capriciousness of emotion, eliminated the ability to feel any emotion aside from fear. The Order rules all in perfect dictatorship, and there has been no public act of violence in 480 years. However, we begin to learn that the birth of this new era was anything less than perfect, and that humans are not truly living. This is not a new concept. The movies "THX-1138" and "Equilibrium" have already covered this ground, and much better than Dekker and Lee have.

The writing is almost juvenile; there is far too much repetition and the dialogue is forced and awkward. We do not need people to be described as "dead" fifty times in order to understand what the authors mean. The book sorely needs an editor with a heavy hand. It's gripping, in its own way, and certainly isn't the worst work of science fiction I've ever read. But it also certainly isn't a good one. Unless you can't get enough of dystopias, don't bother picking this one up; there are much better options to choose from.

Jul 14, 2011

Rumo and His Miraculous Adventures, by Walter Moers

This is the second book of Moers' that I've read, and it did not disappoint. In this journey we follow Rumo, a young Wolperting (dog-like creatures with horns, the ability to speak and walk on two legs, and renowned for their fighting prowess) who goes on a search for his Silver Thread - the colored scent that denotes love. This book is a good deal darker than "The Alchemaster's Apprentice," and much more violent. The themes are similarly simplistic, and the writing is absolutely fantastic, but the narrative tends towards the gruesome. Where "The Alchemaster's Apprentice" could be classified as Young Adult literature, I would not do the same with this book. Again, Moers displays the incredible originality that hooked me in the first book of his that I read, and I absolutely look forward to reading more of his books set in the fantastic land of Zamonia.

Jul 4, 2011

Wicked, by Gregory Maguire

I am blown away by how talented a writer Maguire is. This book was incredibly popular around the time I was working in my first bookstore, and I kind of just assumed that meant it was going to be mediocre (most NY Times bestsellers are romances and mysteries, not exactly what literary snobs would call "high quality"). Boy, was I proved wrong.

Wicked, as most people at this point know, is the life story of Elphaba, Wicked Witch of the West, who lives in Frank Baum's land of Oz. That's about where the similarities between the two stories end. There are the obvious recognizable characters, but around them, Maguire built up an entirely original, unique world. Oz has geology, various opposing theologies, political history, socioeconomic strife; in short, it has everything a real place does. Elphaba may be green and can't stand the feel of water against her skin, but she is all too human otherwise. We travel with Elphie through her complicated and willful adolescence, through her rebellious political activist stage, and through middle-aged regret. She is selfish to her core, believing that the world can be saved by her own actions and needing validation, in her own, quiet way, for all that she has done, both good and bad. Elphi is an anti-hero at its best; we can't help rooting for her, despite how unlikable she really is.

I am in awe of Maguire's skill, to have taken such well-worn, beloved ground and been able to create something so brilliant and unique from it. I know he's written quite a few other books in the same vein, and I would certainly like to read them, but I do hope he tries his hand at something different, just to see what he can do.