I need a book that will take me by the metaphorical shoulders, shake me gently, and insist "love me!" While that insistence in a man might be a little creepy, I want that from a book. I need a literary ravishing. And now I've taken the metaphor too far. Anyway, on to the books!
A cure for aging is discovered and leads to economic and ecological apocalypse: cool, right? Nah.
The premise is intriguing. People can still be killed through murder, accident, etc, but no one dies of old age. Terrorism, bigotry, and ecological collapse ensue. Magary wants this book to be a sharp satire about overcrowding, human selfishness, prejudice, and an eventual realization of the beauty within life's fragility. I see where he's going. But...
This book never gets there. It's fine, it's readable, it's totally forgettable. Magary is a blogger, and while I like some bloggers-turned-print authors, this one doesn't write enough like a "real" writer to make his ideas arresting. I talked myself into finishing (skimming) the book and was underwhelmed. My final grade is a resounding "meh."
2) The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic, Emily Croy Barker
The one started out strong. Nora is a disillusioned grad student whose conversations and observations are often peppered with literary allusions or quotations. (Yeah. I couldn't figure out why I liked her, either.) Her dissertation is stalled because she's having trouble turning her love for close reading into something to say about "larger problems" like colonialism or queer theory. (I know, I know!)
She wanders into an alternate world where magic functions and where she is seemingly rescued by the Faitoren. Naturally, the Faitoren turn out to be fairies who cloud her mind and her judgment and marry her off to a fairy prince by night/dragon by day so as to impregnate her with his pterodactyl baby. Then she's rescued by a gruff wizard who is older than he appears and softer than he seems.
It could have been a clever look at a modern fairy story. Nora is a protagonist smart enough to recognize the traditions she encounters and comment on them. Instead, this book is a much weaker version of Howl's Moving Castle, complete with deceptively old gruff-yet-ultimately-loveable wizard. Nora is vaguely insulted by the misogynistic traditions of her new world, but when she finally proves herself useful, everyone (including the author, seemingly) is shocked by her acumen. For all that Croy mentions that Nora fights the patriarchal traditions of the alternate world, there is far too much telling, and very little showing. There's even less changing.
Not a great deal of character development, and once the clever literary in-jokes petered out, I was bored by the writing style. One of my very favorite authors, Kelly Link, wrote a blurb that claims The Guide is “A clever and scrumptious debut fantasy, the kind you happily disappear into for days.” Kelly LIED to me. I give The Guide a "meh"-plus.
3) Old Man's War, John Scalzi
I liked it. I really did. But I didn't love it. I know some of you, Gentle Readers, are Scalzi fanatics. He's fabulous, and his blog is terrific. Old Man's War was nominated for a Hugo! But I didn't love it. It's a Heinlein homage that reads a little too close to the homage-d for me. I kept flashing to Starship Troopers. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for a space opera. This book does absolutely rate better than a "meh" or a "meh"-plus, but I can't quite jump up and down and scream "Read it! Read it, you fools!"
Don't get me wrong, if the purported film deal really does happen, Wolfgang Peterson will be directing, and I will absolutely go see it. Yay, hard scifi movies!
4) The Apocalypse Codex, Charles Stross
Another book that was good, but didn't knock my socks off. Silly but sharp, slapstick-meets-harrowing Brit humor is great, but Stross just doesn't do it for me. Apparently I just need to wait until Simon Green has a new one out. [How do you not love a man who writes the line "Personally, I've always felt I needed trepanation like a hole in the head?" Oh, Simon Green.]
The Apocalypse Codex is part of the Laundry Files series, about a supernatural British secret service. In this one, our hero is sent off to investigate an American huckster who runs a mega-church. Naturally, the church is really set up to funnel energy to otherworldly demons. I will say that Stross does have his Lovecraft down pat.
It was amusing, but honestly, even as I sat down to write this review, I had to think for a good minute or two to remember what the book was about. That's never a good sign. Unless your brain is being eaten by Cthulhu. Which is an option in the world of the Laundry Files. Solid "meh"-plus.
Then I opened Marisha Pessl's Night Film. Oh, Readers; oh, my. I'll be back, but I'm being happily swallowed by a narrative right now.