Elf Reads Books: March, 2009

Because man cannot live on videogames alone, here are some quick thoughts on a few of the books I’ve read lately.

Paladin of Souls, by Lois McMaster Bujold
This novel takes place in the same world as — and stars some of the minor characters from — Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion (which is the best fantasy novel I’ve read in the last four or five years). Many authors are good at writing interesting supporting characters. But, judging by the two books I’ve read, Bujold’s specialty is making her protagonists the most compelling and likable characters in her books. I loved everything about Paladin of Souls: the characters, the dialogue, the mythology, and the story.

Matter, by Iain M. Banks
I’d heard good things about Banks, and I’m a sucker for space opera, so I picked up this book to read on vacation. The first 500 pages (of over 600) were mediocre, but I kept reading, in hopes that things would get better. They didn’t. The last act falls apart completely. (Spoilers ahead…)

Banks spends hundreds of pages introducing us to about a dozen major characters, only to kill them off unceremoniously — and often “offscreen”! — near the end. And the main antagonist is a kind of planet-destroying deus ex machina who appears only as a plot device. Some of the book’s otherwise unlikable protagonists are supposedly redeemed by their decision to sacrifice themselves in order to stop the big bad guy. Whatever. They also would’ve died if they hadn’t done anything at all, so what they did wasn’t all that brave.

KOP, by Warren Hammond
KOP is a sci-fi noir story that stars a miserable, corrupt cop on a planet of miserable, corrupt citizens. Despite its dumb title, it’s a good, fast-paced read. It’s more of a mystery novel than a sci-fi book, and the mystery is very well-crafted. It was like reading a Michael Connelly or George Pelecanos book that just happens to be set in a bleak future world. It was the perfect junk food reading for a cross-country flight.

The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
I’m so glad I finally got around to reading this 1974 sci-fi classic. Just like KOP is really a mystery novel, The Forever War is really a novel about Vietnam. In fact, it may have supplanted Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato as my favorite Vietnam book. Like Bujold, Haldeman does a great job of making his protagonist the best character in the book. The Forever War is funny, horrific, philosophical, and touching. I don’t want to say too much about it and spoil anything; if you haven’t read it, do so!

Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
I hadn’t read this since I was a teenager. And I was a little scared to re-read it, just because I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to how I remembered it. I didn’t need to worry. It’s still great. I was amazed at how well its aged. In fact, it seems pretty obvious that current genre TV shows like Lost and Battlestar Galactica are just now trying to emulate the mature storytelling style of this 1980s graphic novel — probably because the young readers of Watchmen are now old enough to be the writers of those shows.

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