Dr. No reads like the author does not care whether anyone reads this book or not; he had fun writing it, and that’s all that needed to happen. It’s good, absurdist fun with entertaining characters and clever social satire (but didn’t get preachy).
A mathematician who studies the concept of nothing to the point of becoming a world expert on the subject is approached by a billionaire determined to become a Bond villain. The billionaire needs help with nothing, and our mathematician needs the money. Inventive madness ensues.
Recommendation: Read it if you’re in the mood for something a little more literary, inventive, and don’t need aliens or spaceships. I’m definitely planning to read more by this author.
Super Sad True Love Story is an engaging, literary love story that takes place in a near-future dystopian society where things like books and reading are so unfashionable as to be considered gross. But its characters, for all their flaws (or maybe because of them) feel very real, and are caught in a situation out of their control.
Lenny, the son of Russian immigrants, is a man on the cusp of middle age in a society pathologically obsessed with youth. He falls in love with a younger Korean woman who puts him through the emotional wringer on a daily basis. They’re both doing their best to be together, despite their wildly different worldviews.
And what a world: everyone’s lives are completely driven by social media and embarrassingly public rankings of appearance. It’s a future society so shallow and stupid that you can’t help but feel it’s more realistic that you want it to be.
Recommendation: Read it. If you’re in the mood for a satirical take on the direction society is going and how one mismatched couple tries to navigate it, definitely check this one out.
Written in 1959, A Canticle for Leibowitz is one of the first real literary science fiction books, and an enduring, if not exceptionally well-known, classic.
The story takes places several hundred years after a nuclear apocalypse, and civilization barely exists. It’s a leisurely read that thoughtfully deals with the aftermath of a post-apocalyptic world through the lens of the denizens of a monastery in the Utah desert.
In this monastery are bits of scientific knowledge that the monks do not understand, and keep to themselves amid their trials and squabbling.
As the story occasionally skips forward in time hundreds of years, you don’t get to really settle in a consistent group of characters, but you do experience their civilization advancing.
Interestingly, during World War II, author Miller was a tail gunner in a bomber crew that participated in the destruction of the 6th-century Christian monastery at Monte Cassino, Italy, founded by St. Benedict, and recognized as the oldest surviving Christian church in the Western world. It’s generally assumed that this experience heavily influenced his writing this story.
Recommendation: Read it, if you’re in an old-school cruising mode. If you’re after something modern or space-opera-y, keep looking.
The Sky is Yours is a genre-bending book that takes place in a wild, post-apocalyptic world with both dragons and sci-fi elements. Its fun, imaginative, and completely horrifying settings seethe with colorful, well-developed, and deeply flawed characters. It’s hard to believe a tour de force like this is from a debut author.
On a dystopian island (not dissimilar to a surreal Manhattan), the lives of three very different young people (a rich, spoiled brat, star of his own reality show; his sheltered but whip-smart fiancée who hasn’t met him yet; and a feral beauty raised on an island of garbage), collide as they learn about the truths and lies of the burning world around them.
Recommendation: Read it. It’s strange, but fantastic.
Oryx and Crake is an excellent book, interesting and strange, that grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. It manages to be more about character than plot but still moves quickly.
Author Jeff VanderMeer is known for his surreal sci-fi Southern Reach trilogy (the first book was Annihilation, which was made into a movie).
The alternate history Never Let Me Go follows the lives of several children who grew up in a strange, special school. It’s very well written (the author is the guy who wrote The Remains of the Day and won the Nobel Prize for Literature), but the real focus of the book is not really about the characters, but about the slow reveal of why the school and the children were special. Continue reading
My kid is learning to play the piano, and part of that is using dynamics: playing some parts of the song quiet, and some parts loud. Dynamics add contrast and make a song more interesting. Unfortunately, Jonathan Lethem’s book Girl in Landscape, while being extremely well-written, lacks dynamics. It’s heavy, and stays heavy throughout.
I’m not usually a big fan of post-apocalyptic stories, but Station Eleven is a great story and exceptionally well-written. Continue reading
Roadside Picnic is short, bleak, and fantastic. It has a typical Russian life-is-a-meaningless-struggle-against-absurdity vibe, but there’s enough going on to make it an interesting read.