Yay for vacation! So what did I read? A lot of fantasy! I mean, I only picked the first three to feature here. The last two were Vonnegut & Bradbury, and those are just way too hard to review. I loved them, but seriously, you can probably google those books to learn more. Or go to your local library. It’s been done.
Anyway, three very different sci-fi/fantasy books—all five stars for some very different reasons.
Good Omens is pretty much as light-hearted as you can get with fantasy/sci-fi—well, I mean, except for the whole world ending thing. That’s kind of a drag. But hey, it’s okay! Just grab a, er, pin! And maybe a book full of ridiculous prophecies [see: what time/date you’re going to sleep with the guy that crashes his car in front of your house] that nobody can quite figure out until after they happen. Then there’s the, you know, angel and demon walking around—plus the antichrist, and maybe some real Hell’s Angels. No big.
Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett, two big fantasy hot shots, wrote this book together, so you know that it has to be good. And what it does, it does very well. It’s laugh-out-loud hilarious [literally, I read this on a plane and I’m pretty sure the kids sitting around me thought I was crazy]. I loved it. & the beginning had some awesome quotable quotes about human beings and their potential to do good & evil. The demon was the best character—why are the demons always the show-stealing characters?! It all started with Paradise Lost, I swear…
Anyway hilarious, impeccably well-written, I loved it, five stars.
I’d heard a lot of buzz about this [because I don’t have my head stuck in the cement, OW that would hurt], but I very pointedly didn’t read the back before I started. About halfway through I did, though, and it didn’t help. It said something generic about growing up, friendship, and losing your innocence, blah blah book speak, and at that point I was trying not to succumb to flipping to the end to figure out what was going on.
Let me ‘splain.
See, this is why the back of the book didn’t really say anything. It’s hard to ‘splain without ‘spoilers.
So the main character, Kathy, tells this story about her childhood & her past as she’s ostensibly retiring from her job as “carer.” She starts with her girlhood at this preppy school, Hailsham, and bit by bit the details of this strange world start to come out—no parents, mysterious teachers, weird pressure on art, dictated-but-unspoken futures. Ishiguro deals out the details of this word extremely slowly, in bits and tiny pieces, until about halfway through I was—you guessed it—reading the back summary trying to figure out what was going on.
There was a point where I was going to give this book three stars out of semi-boredom and sheer frustration, but I have to give it five stars. I mean, it was a Man Booker shortlist pick—just kidding. I mean, it was, but that’s not why I’d give it five stars.
It’s hard to explain. It’s one of those books & stories that’s going to stick in my head, that I’ll ponder and probably come back to in ten, twenty years to read again. The prose is beautiful & effortless & lovely. & there are moments like this [ellipses to take out possible spoiler]:
“I come here and imagine that this is the spot where everything I’ve lost since my childhood is washed out. I tell myself, if that were true, and I waited long enough, then a tiny figure would appear on the horizon across the field and gradually get larger until I’d see it was Tommy. He’d wave. And maybe call. I don’t know if the fantasy goes beyond that, I can’t let it. I remind myself I was lucky to have had any time with him at all…Maybe none of us really understand what we’ve lived through, or feel we’ve had enough time.”
Melancholy, enchanting, haunting. Five stars.
This is another one that I almost didn’t make it through. Around page 250 or so, I put the book down, not intending to return to it. Two days later, though, I still couldn’t get it out of my head, so I picked it back up to finish it.
Isaac, a slightly off-the-beaten-path scientist, is ostensibly the main character; but I would also argue that the city itself, New Crobuzon, is the star here. Listen to this quote from the second page:
“This is Raven’s Gate, this brutalized warren around us. The rotting buildings lean against each other, exhausted. The river smears slime on its brick banks, city walls rise from the depths to keep the water at bay. There is a vile stink here.”
Obviously this isn’t a happy-go-lucky Terry Pratchett book; it’s not a thoughtful, melancholy, slow-moving Ishiguro either. This is a whole new animal—and animal is actually a pretty good reference. Miéville’s writing is rough, brutal, & stunning in its description of some really gruesome people and places. It’s powerfull, but it’s definitely not on the feel—good side.
The basic plot revolves around Isaac, as I said, who is asked for some help by a garuda, a man/bird hybrid, whose wings have been chopped off as punishment. That’s not a spoiler, really, as it happens in about the first twenty pages. In his [paid] attempt to do so, he runs into some really crazy trouble. I’m not talking whoops, let’s put that back in the box—I’m talking Pandora, we have a problem. The city’s probably not going to make it.
This is not a light-hearted, happy-go-lucky beach read. I wasn’t entirely surprised to see on Miéville’s author biography on Goodreads that the guy’s a card-carrying member of the National Socialist Party in Great Britain. His care for people and equality, his hatred for poverty & repression, is written in every page of this book.
Five stars for being in a class all its own. It’s urban fantasy, sure, but with its own Asian/African/mythological unique twist. You have to read it to see.
And off to go work on my term project for Marketing. Oh, the joys of graduate school.