Thursday, 20 December 2007

Reading 2007 Pt. 1

The Darkness That Comes Before
R. Scott Bakker

A fellow bookstore employee once told me that he couldn't get into this book because it's all politics and was about some 'Crusader crap'. He preferred his fantasy more clear-cut and, you know, heroic, and I was subjected to yet another diatribe on the pros and... well, pros of David Gemmell. I quickly picked myself up a copy of Darkness, and Bakker didn't disappoint. An intricately plotted story that examines a Crusades-style clash of cultures, Darkness does an exemplary job at making sure it doesn't devolve into just another brainless heroic epic fantasy. This is due in no small part to the wonderfully refreshing integration of politics and philosophy into what are, admittedly, some familiar scenarios. It is relatively straightforward to trace the links between the various cultures of Eärwa and their real-world influences, but this is probably just as well as it allows the reader to devote his or her full attention to the wicked interplay on display. I have the book two sitting on my shelf, waiting to be read, and I'm not expecting it to disappoint.

Deadhouse Gates
Steven Erikson

I bought the next three novels in this series based solely on the strength of the first volume Gardens of the Moon, a book which I thoroughly enjoyed for its dangerously bizarre and gritty nature. Erikson maintains those same qualities here, but ups the tension with the Chain of Dogs exodus and its bitter ending. I've done the wrong thing by this series by reading them haphazardly - they really deserve to be read one after the other to truly get a grip on the everything that's going on.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Philip K. Dick

I don't know which is more well known these day - Blade Runner, or the book that film is based on. It's not so clear cut as other book-to-film adaptations as to which is the 'better'. Usually the book wins out, but in this case, Ridley Scott's film is something truly wonderful to behold. Dick's religious themes add a dimension missing from the film, but then his book lacks the prescient, multicultural nightmare of Scott's film. Blade Runner also pre-figures the likes of Neuromancer in this sense as well. If there's one thing that makes Dick's novel worth reading, though, it's the image of all those artificial animals inhabiting the rooftops of rundown apartment blocks.

The Crying of Lot 49
Thomas Pynchon

My first encounter with Pynchon, this was a fantastic book. It was witty, biting, and displayed a delightfully anarchic approach to language that still feels fresh reading it today. Pynchon has fun playing with Baudrillard's notion of the simulacra, where we treat the copy as the original, in this case, the way we consider History to be truthful and accurate despite only having the word of a copy of a copy of a copy to go on.

The Forever War
Joe Haldeman

I wasn't sure how much I'd enjoy this one, but gave it a go anyway. I think I was expecting a strong 'war is bad' message, because I knew it was based in part on Haldeman's Vietnam experiences, but this wasn't necessarily the case. In fact, I'd go so far as to argue that the actual battle scenes are the most lifeless part of the whole book. Instead, it is the loneliness and isolation of Mandella and the other veterans, born obviously out of Haldeman's own experiences of returning home from the war, that really rang true. Mandella returns to a home and a mother that should be familiar but instead feels more like intruding on a stranger's life, and his subsequent attempts to fit back in lead to a dislocation with society that forces him to return to the only thing he knows - fighting.

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