Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Miscellany of Books

Not really a review of anything, more like a few notes on recent books. I've been musing lately over when to give up on a book. I usually try to slog through to the end, and I try particularly hard if I've purchased the book (yes, it's the Sunk Cost Fallacy, I realize that). Sometimes, though, it's a struggle, and as my pile of unread books grows I'm more inclined to stop struggling.
I generally enjoy Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley novels, despite several maddening ones. (An aside: her 2006 outing, What Came Before He Shot Her, spends an entire book chronicling the young boy who killed a major character in the previous book. I should have give up on that one well before the end. It was a clumsy attempt at social commentary.) I was dismayed at the 700+ page behemoth that was This Body of Death, but I developed my arm strength - or kept it up, after Stephen King's 1000+ page Under the Dome - by reading it. Not bad for the last two hundred or so pages, but it took a lot of slogging to get there. Don't best-selling authors have editors? "Gee, Elizabeth, you've got a nice 300 page book here. Too bad it's more than twice that length."

Another book I nearly put down was Jeff VanderMeer's Finch. VanderMeer co-edited the anthology Steampunk, and an early review of Finch described the work as a Steampunk novel. Two problems: first, it's not remotely Steampunk. It's essentially a post-apocolyptic novel set in a city named Ambergris, which is under the rule of a fungal-based alien race. This leads to problem number two: it's not the first book VanderMeer has set in this universe, and Finch makes multiple references to earlier works and characters. Although it can be read as a stand-alone novel, I can't help but think I would have enjoyed it more having read the earlier books. It's another meaty tome, and for the first half or so it appears to be a detective novel - the title character is a police detective working for the alien "gray caps" and begins as Finch goes to the scene of a double homicide - before morphing into...well, it's not entirely clear what. Something else. Conspiracies abound, and, of course, the humans would like to overthrow their gray cap masters. Betrayals occur. Violence happens. I kept the pages turning, though, which I suppose is the point, or at least is half the author's battle.

I generally prefer novels to short stories because both require an investment in the characters and, especially in SF or fantasy, the world the author creates, and a novel allows both more latitude in developing characters and world and creates a lengthier payoff for the reader. But having lobster every night, no matter how good the lobster, starts wearing after a while. I find myself looking forward to the Neil Gaiman/Al Sarrantonio edited Stories, out June 15. The early reviews suggest that the quality of the tales is uneven. I don't find that surprising; even the stories of a single, talented author are of varying quality and, of course, subjectivity over different authors' styles comes into play in this kind of anthology. We'll see. Perhaps by the end of the summer I'll have made a noticeable dent in the pile of unread books. Now to find more places to store the read books...

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