Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Book Report: Odd Books

I still have a stuffy head, and it's driving me insane. I feel like my head's been filled with cement and then encased in a cement block. Spicy food seems to open my sinuses temporarily, but even decongestants aren't helping much. It makes it hard to think.

But I have been able to read, and I'm halfway through the final book in my huge stack of books I was reading for award nomination consideration.

One recent read was Terry Pratchett's venture into science fiction, along with co-author Stephen Baxter, The Long Earth. A diagram for a device involving circuits, a potato and a switch is posted to the Internet. When people make the device, they find that it sends them to an alternate earth. This discovery leads them to realize that there's an infinite chain of other earths that can be "stepped" to using this device. The book explores some of the impact this discovery has on society -- the people who go "homestead" on remote earths, the emptying of inner cities into these other places as people with nothing for them here seek their fortunes elsewhere, the economic impact as gold is found in the same places on the other earths. It also gets into a travelogue as a young man who seems to be a natural "stepper" who can go between worlds without the device and without any ill effects is chosen by a sentient artificial intelligence (that may possibly be the reincarnation of a Tibetan motorcycle mechanic who found his next existence in a computer's biomemetic gel) for a mission to travel through as many other earths as possible, sort of a Lewis and Clark expedition.

As you can tell, this is an odd book. It's short, but it took me a long time to read, probably because it's rather episodic. It's a series of incidents with no real narrative drive until near the end, which is apparently setting up a sequel. This isn't necessarily a bad thing because each of the incidents is interesting and there's some really intriguing extrapolation going on about what would happen with this kind of knowledge. It's just that without any real aim there's nothing making it imperative to turn the pages. I could read an incident or two before going to bed and then put the book down and turn out the light instead of feeling compelled to keep reading.

Then there was The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett, which was another odd book. A teenaged boy in the early years of the 20th century gets a job as a pianist at a vaudeville theater because he's trying to track down one particular troupe. He believes that the leader of the troupe is the father he never knew. But there's something odd about this troupe: no one who's seen their act seems to be able to actually remember it. When he does catch up with them, he finds out why and that by meeting up with them, he's put himself in terrible danger. This one was a real page-turner, though I did figure out one of the secrets/mysteries fairly early on. It gets really out-there in places, but it was a fascinating read. If you haven't figured out one of the mysteries early on, it would be one of those books that's different when you read it again with the knowledge you get at the end. I would say that there's a dreamlike quality to the book that almost makes you wonder if the last third of it was really what you read or the nightmare you had when you had to put the book down and go to sleep without finishing it. If you liked the HBO series Carnivale, I would say to give this a try. It's different eras and topics, but there's something that strikes me as similar in feel.

Now I have to finish the book I'm reading now, and then I may take a break and read something totally outside the genre, maybe something from the To Be Read shelf.

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