Recent Reads and Recs: August 2012 Edition

Brief thoughts on books you may or may not want to explore on your own.

 

ADULT FICTION

Cover for A Game of Thrones A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin

I tried hard to like this book based upon recommendations and the popularity of the HBO series that has come from it. However, though it had enough strengths to get me to finish it, there is not enough to compel me to continue with the series.

The story is everything you would expect from a conspiracy-laden, medieval-style epic fantasy. You’re never quite sure who can be trusted and if good will ever succeed. The story tracks primarily three different families, each with stakes in the seeking the throne over the kingdom. There are multiple narrative perspectives which is confusing at first, as I was still getting to know the many characters, but useful in determining motivations that would help with the “who should I believe and trust” issues.

I can see how the political mysteries surrounding the characters is enough to attract and keep readers; it was certainly enough to keep me reading, which is important in a 600+page book, but reading it always felt just a teensy bit like work, even if it was interesting work at times. The narrative style is distinctly male – on the crude side of the spectrum, which is not necessarily a strike against it, but I don’t particularly care for that style. Some of the scenarios were ridiculously extreme in this style. For me, the characters were stereotyped: the vindictive one, the vengeful, the victim, the honorable at all costs, and the outcast, just to name a few. Women have no real power, and any that they do have it at the leisure of the male characters. For a fantasy published in the past decade or so, I see no real reason to create a world where women have no equal footing. Fantasy is about world-building and even though the medieval setting is common, it is not set in our world or our world’s history, therefore rejecting the idea that our historical gender and societal roles must be adhered to. I have read other, similar novels that have successfully maintained the medieval style while representing modern societal norms.

This Bright River, by Patrick Somerville Cover for This Bright River

It is because of this post by Somerville in Salon.com that I decided I had to put this book on my to-read list. The post was so wonderfully written and a hook was unintentionally set, that I felt the book might just live up to it.

For me, it did. I read the NY Times review that Somerville’s post was based upon, and I can understand how some readers might have that take (which means nothing to you right now, unless you explored that link above, of course). Somerville’s novel has two narrators; the primary and first one is Ben, who is coming home to take care of his dead uncle’s house. Ben is a recovering drug-addict and ex-con and as Somerville himself describes his character, had a pretty easy ride in life, but still managed to mess it up.

This is a coming home/starting over kind of story, with an added twist with Ben’s counterpart, Lauren, adding a bit of suspense. I enjoyed reading this quite a bit – it had some unique abstractions, understatement, and good dialogue. Many questions remain unanswered (which is one of the themes of the novel) and much is left to the imagination, but not so much so that you are left feeling unsatisfied. It was the kind of novel that after I finished, I needed to sit with it for a bit. I love that kind of story and writing.

Cover for Redshirts Redshirts, by John Scalzi

This was the first novel I’ve read of Scalzi’s. I follow his blog and his Twitter and get a kick out of his down-to-earth style. He’s entertaining and real. So when his latest came out, I knew I’d have to give it a go. Science fiction isn’t one of my heavy-hitting genres, but he attacks it (in this book, anyhow) more in the style of Douglas Adams, which makes for a truly entertaining read.

If you’ve ever watched Star Trek and talked about it with others, you would know what they were talking about when they say “Oh! He’s wearing red shirt. He’s done for on this away mission.” The nameless characters on the missions wearing red shirts always seemed to die. Scalzi takes this idea and creates his own starship, the Intrepid, in which the crew members seem to be experiencing this same phenomenon, and try to figure out why. Scalzi gives just enough humor and background to it before you start thinking, “okay, I need more than a satire, of sorts” and then he delivers the purpose.

The novel’s full title is “Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas”. The “codas” are what some might also call “epilogues” and while I enjoyed them, they felt more like something Scalzi felt like he wanted to include vs. something the novel actually needed. They carry a very different tone from the rest of the novel and while they are definitely related to the story, they are not necessary.

My husband liked this book so well that he went straight out to the library to check out as many others of Scalzi’s previous novels as he could and now wants to invite him to speak at a Global Physics Department meeting that he runs on a weekly basis. If that isn’t a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what is!

 

And that is my month.

Currently I am reading Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell.

More importantly: what are YOU reading? What should I be reading next?

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7 Responses to Recent Reads and Recs: August 2012 Edition

  1. Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

    The reason I want Scalzi to come to talk to the Global Physics Department (http://globalphysicsdept.org) is that in “Red Shirts” he does such a great job poking fun at the relationship between science and science fiction. The world building you talked about in “Game of Thrones” often involves new science when you’re talking about science fiction. I have some physicist friends who draw interesting lines about which science-bending-rules they’re willing to live with. Of course, this is more apparent when it comes to movies (“I can’t watch XXXXX because they get the physics all wrong!'”).

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  2. You already know we disagree about Game of Thrones, and fair enough. I will say that were you to keep reading the series, you would see the characters are much more nuanced than you are led to believe in the first book and that women actually hold a great deal of the power. That is all. 😉

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    • ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) says:

      I would hope the characters would become more nuanced as the series progressed and trust you that they do.

      I can easily believe that the women end up holding the power, but am I imagining correctly that it is still in the fashion of more “behind the scenes”? I’m thinking of that quote/adage “The men are the head, but the women are the necks that turn the head.” (or something like that). I’d prefer more direct power positions. If a woman is queen, let it not simply be because her husband is king.

      It’s ok. You can have your HBO fantasy. Wait… that’s not *quite* what I meant. 😉

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      • I can’t believe I’m having this conversation, as I typically hate fantasy, and now I’m feeling like a Dungeons and Dragons geek or something. Whatever. Pushing through. SO, to answer your question, not at all. Much of the story is actually about Daenerys Targaryen coming into her own and her place as the true leader of the realm (can’t believe I just wrote that phrase). Also, Dorne becomes a much bigger player in the series, and they have very different rules about the place of women- the Dornish women become some of my favorite characters. Okay, that’s enough of my defense of Game of Thrones.

        And I know it’s okay. I’ll have what I want to have. Heh.

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        • ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) says:

          I will say this – kudos to HBO for drawing you into any sort of fantasy genre novel at all! 😀 (But really, you can do better than this one! Heh heh heh.)

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