I have actually managed to read a metric butt-ton* of books over the past few weeks. So, as a result, I have a ton of stuff to write reviews for. I’m way, way, behind. In an effort to make my life…and thus your life…much easier, I’m going to give you some rapid-fire reviews of these books that I think you, my readership (all 2.7 of you) will enjoy.
A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (9781610420105 : Nook set) : 1917, 2010
This classic “pulp” adventure from the creator of Tarzan of the Apes is a lot of fun. John Carter, a Civil War veteran and treasure hunter, travels to Mars (what the locals call Barsoom) via astral projection. Here the Manly Man™ becomes a hero and chieftain amongst the strange Red and Green Martians while navigating their equally bizarre cultures. A tried and true plot that no one does quite like Burroughs. It helps that the world of Barsoom is interesting and obviously designed with its own history and original logic. It’s no wonder that these stories inspired much of the science fiction that came after. There are some “quaint” notions involving race and gender in the book, as there are in many works of the time this was published (1917). I won’t apologize for them–they are irksome at best and abhorrent at worst. But they are not central to the plot and can be safely ignored with no cost to the story. Overall, it was a good, and instructive, read. Also, look out for the upcoming John Carter movie, based on this book, coming out in 2012.
Wild Cards I edited by George R. R. Martin (9781429926454 : Nook) : 1986, 2010
Just after the end of WWII, the world is beset by a strange alien virus, one which rewrites human DNA in varied radical ways. This “wild card” virus can deal its victims an “ace”–endowing them with superhuman powers and abilities. But it can also deal out “jokers”, creating bizarre monsters and freaks that inhabit the lower echelons of society. There are heroes and there are villains–but most are folks just trying to get by and make the best of their situation.
This is the first in a now-classic anthology of short superhero fiction, an anthology series in which each of the writers takes a piece of a shared universe. Each story illuminates in unique ways a character or event that inhabits that universe. And when the stories are delivered by such talents as Roger Zelazny, George R. R. Martin, Walter Jon Williams, Howard Waldrop, Michael Cassutt, David D. Levine, John J. Miller, and Carrie Vaughn–you know you are in for a treat. All of which makes for a very eclectic and decidedly not-boring read. And the good news? The rest of the dozen or more anthologies are being released over the next few months!
250 Things You Should Know About Writing by Chuck Wendig (2940012790170 : Nook) : 2011
Here gonzo penmonkey Chuck Wendig lays out 250…no, 275 (I’ll let him explain) things that anyone who puts virtual or actual ink to virtual or actual paper should…no needs…to know about this wild distemper known as the writing life. If you’ve followed his excellent blog “TERRIBLEMINDS” then you’re familiar with Chuck’s no-holds-barred approach to discourse. This book is a roller-coaster ride of great advice that has been collected from the blog–advice delivered with profane wit and lapel-grabbing rants. I can’t recommend this one enough.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (9780545229937 : Nook) : 2008
My wife had been telling me I “needed” to read this book for a long time, but I finally got around to it. And am I glad I did. This is a great post-apocalyptic adventure story. The powerful of nation of Panem controls most of what used to be North America by pitting the regions against each other in games that are a mixture of gladiator sports and reality television (think “The Running Man” but without the punkish “Mad Max” vibe. And no Ah-nold) . Katniss Everdeen volunteers to participate in the games in place of her young sister. In order to win food and resources for her home, she must be the last participant alive at the end of the annual Hunger Games. Collins had me glued not only with the action inherent in such a story but by making me care about the characters. Her realistic depiction of the emotional trauma wrought upon young people placed in such a monstrous and barbaric situation–a true “kill or be killed” scenario–completely hooked me. An excellent, excellent read. I’m looking forward to the movie coming out in 2012.
Chasing the Moon by A. Lee Martinez (9780316134170 : Nook) : 2011
I’ve been a fan of Martinez’s work since his first novel, Gil’s All Fright Diner, back in ought-six. All of his books are smart, funny, and have an underlying layer of heart that really draws the reader in and makes them want to stay with the characters. The books are comic–but the plots are far more than a series of gags. He deals with “big picture” issues but just from a slightly skewed point of view. But first and foremost, his books are fun to read. Chasing the Moon is no exception–and probably his best book to date. Diana takes a “too good to be true” apartment–and has her perceptions opened to the monstrous underbelly of the universe. She finds that the monster trapped in her closet, Vom the Hungering, is the epitome of Hunger (with the big-H). Other ancient and deadly entities populate the universes–some with designs on ending the world as we know it. This funny and original take on Lovecraftian themes and the nature of deity is highly readable and highly recommended.
The Devil in the White City by Eric Larson (9781400076314 : Nook) 2004
The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (the “Columbian Exposition”) was a pivotal point in history. In many ways, it marks the pinnacle of the Industrial Revolution and the shift into the modern age. Larson explores the incredible events that took place in and around the fair by following the lives of two very different men. David H. Burnham, the lead architect of the fair, follows his vision of creating “The White City” in an unbelievably short amount of time and having to overcome many unprecedented obstacles. At the same time, H. H. Holmes–a con artist and serial killer–works to create a monument to his dark vision in the form of his World’s Fair Hotel (aka “the murder castle”) near the fair’s site in Chicago.
This book is one of those rare works of nonfiction that reads like a novel. Larson’s tight style lends itself well to its subject matter. Further, his depiction of historical events is far from dry–you’ll find no rote recitation of facts here but a delving into the humanity and emotions of his subjects. The framing of the story, in which the lives of the two subjects are shown in parallel, is brilliant and illustrative. Holmes’ story is as chilling as Burnham’s is inspiring. This is probably one of the best books that I’ve read all year.
First Lord’s Fury : Book 6 of the Codex Alera by Jim Butcher (9780441017690) : 2009
I have absolutely loved this series since book one (Furies of Calderon). I finally got around to reading my paperback of the final book in the series. Gaius Octavian (“Tavi” to his friends) has returned to Alera with a host of the wolf-like Canim from across the sea to do final battle with the fungal/insectoid Vord. The fate of all Alera lies in his very capable hands. While Butcher could obviously return and write more in this setting, the story arc falls neatly into place with a very satisfying end. This one also has plenty of that snappy dialog that really makes me love his characters all the more deeply. The repartee between Tavi and his lover Kitai is brilliant. While this is, in fact, the best “lost Roman legion meets Pokemon” series in existence–it is also a fine epic fantasy in its own right.
Whew! That’s it for now. I’m sure these deserved a little more attention and comment, but hopefully you enjoyed this whirlwind tour through my reading shelf of late regardless of its brevity (or maybe even because of it).
Now, if you’ll excuse me –I have a book that needs reading…
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