Aug 21, 2008

A few quick reviews for your conisderation

It's been a little while since I updated my three regular readers, five irregular readers, seven imaginary readers, and two demon readers who haunt my dreams with their cries of "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!" so I thought I'd give a little shout out to several novels and collections I recently read and (it goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway) heartily recommend.

Robert J. Sawyer

These two collections from Canada's grand master of sci-fi are absolutely terrific reads. Sawyer is arguably the best-selling Canadian author on the planet, and has won approximately 41 awards for his work, including the esteemed Nebula, Hugo, and John W. Campbell awards. He has the unique ability to wield hard-science elements with a delicate touch, resulting in works that challenge the mind yet don't bog down the reader with theorems and equations. The man can write, and he's blessed with an imagination of vast potential and an adoration of all things scientific. Add in dashes of philosophy, and you've got the true heir apparent to Clarke and Asimov. And he's Canadian, did I mention that? Do you have any idea how rare it is to see science-fiction set in Canada? I don't have any statistics to back me up here, but I'm betting, not much.

These two collections dip into the stable of reliable and time-honoured science-fiction conventions; time travel, artificial intelligence, immortality, and alien visitations are all well-represented, but Sawyer brings to the usual tropes a fascination for plot twists, a genuine empathy for his characters, and some really, really cool ideas. The title story "Identity Theft,"along with its followup "Biding Time" co-mingle the concepts of robot bodies, immortality, and alien planetscapes with classic private eye conventions. "On the Surface" provides H.G. Wells completists with a compelling and Morlock-laden sequel to The Time Machine. "Shed Skin" provides a tantalizing treatise on what selfhood and identity mean when personalities can be swapped with other bodies as easily as breathing.

Iterations and Identity Theft are ideal primers for Sawyer's already-impressive output. Never less than thought-provoking, these two compendiums of Sawyer's imagination should be required reading for all persons who consider themselves fans of the genre.

Lauren Groff

From the overtly fantastic to the subtly grotesque;

Lauren Groff's The Monsters of Templeton is a spectacularly weird, funny, and uncategorizable novel. I would classify it as a family-roots drama, with overtones of mysticism and magic realism, but labeling it as anything other than remarkable does it a disservice.

Willie Upton has returned to her hometown of Templeton in disgrace, licking wounds that won't heal at all easily. At the same time, a leviathan of the deep has washed shore of Lake Glimmerglass, sending the town into turmoil. Upon her arrival, Willie's mother informs her that she is the descendant of the town's founder Marmaduke Templeton. What follows is a historical descent into two centuries of character reminiscences and family dramas, as the town itself begins to feel the loss of a resident it never knew it had.

It's very difficult to classify Monsters into one single genre, and far easier to praise it as wondrous and strange. Groff has a Dickensian gift for sweeping family drama, and a gorgeous flair for imagery. I was sorry to see it end, which is likely the highest praise anyone can bequeath to a novel.

I'll have more substantive (read: longer) reviews of Rawi Hage's novel Cockroach up soon, as well as Neal Stephenson's massive missive Anathem.


Remi said...

I watched a show about Robert Sawyer once and I loved the fact that he writes with a wireless keyboard in a big la-z-boy chair. He figured there was no point in not being comfortable while he wrote.

Corey said...

He also does all his public readings from a PDA rather than books. It's pretty weird to watch, I rather like holding the book.

Great guy, though, tremendously friendly and supportive.

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