Mar 18, 2013

The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books, by Walter Moers

I love love love Walter Moers, a little-known German author who writes fabulously original fantasy. But this book, the sequel to the incredible "The City of Dreaming Books," is a bit of a snooze fest. It starts out well, and the reader soon expects to be taken down into the exciting and terrifying maze of Unholm, where giant albino insects and living books roam. This never happens. Instead, we get what is essentially a very detailed travelogue. And as with most travelogues, it's, well, a little boring. There is very little action or plot, since most of the 400 pages are taken up with extremely detailed description. It's rather like being shown a long slideshow of your friend's vacation: you're friends so you don't complain, but the pictures get old after a while and you start to wonder when it will be time for dinner. There will be a third book, and I will definitely read it since the second one ends with our hero, Yarnspinner, stepping foot once again into the labyrinth, but I can't help thinking that this second book was rather unnecessary. The set-up for the return to Unholm could have been done in 50 pages, 100 at most, and I worry that this boring book will deter people from reading Moers' other novels.

Mar 10, 2013

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

This book should be taught in every high school classroom in America, though the reason it is so striking are very different now than when the book was written, in 1950. Then, it was a classic dystopian novel, akin to "1984" and "Brave New World." It describes an America in which books, and indeed all media, have been shortened, summarized, dumbed down, eliminated. But it wasn't the government that spurred this; it was the people themselves who gradually forgot and then demonized intelligence, individuality, and intellectual pursuit. Now, we are living in this time. The advent of social media and reality television, declining book sales and the slow "elitization" and degeneration of collegiate studies, all are combining to create a culture in which stupidity, vapidity, and superficiality are prized qualities. Fire-Captain Beatty's assertion that people just want to have fun and be happy and intellectualism leads only to doubt and depression seems to be finding purchase in today's society. The unthinkable world Bradbury created is coming to be, and it is a prime example of why science fiction is so relevant.

As for the writing, Bradbury is truly a genius. His is a skill of immense proportions, the kind of writing that makes you stop and think and wonder. What a gift it is, to read an author like Bradbury.

Mar 6, 2013

The Passage, by Justin Cronin

Everybody loves vampires! Cronin's take on this old fantasy trope is intriguing and engaging, well-written enough for me not to mind (too much) that the book is over 700 pages long but still has a sequel. In Cronin's world, the US army unwittingly unleashes the vampire virus into the general population, decimating North America within just a year or so. Most interesting to me was his main set of characters; most of the action takes place nearly one hundred years after the virus is released, meaning that nearly all the characters were born and grew up in this post-apocalyptic environment. Except, of course, that to them it isn't post-apocalyptic, it is simply their world. They've never known any other. This slight shift from other apocalypse imaginings makes a big difference.

Cronin's poetic leanings throughout the prose started to bother me a little by the end of the book. I understand the feeling he is trying to evoke by all the repetition, but it does start to wear on the reader after 700 pages. I do like, though, the little thread of mysticism in the novel. It intrigues me, and I look forward to finding out more about it in the sequel.