The books keep piling up. Most of my posts have a theme to them, such as zombies, or cats, or weddings. It is easy enough to fit books into categories. The problem are those books that don’t quite fit into these niches. This helped give birth to Random Book Day, but that isn’t until November, and I already have a bunch of books lined up. If I wait much longer to talk about them I will forget all about them and have to read them again, and I have far too many books on my to-read list already to do that.
So here you are. Ten books that altogether share only one thing in common, which is that I read them. I think I may have mentioned a couple of these before, but not in any detail. Feel free to fact check me on that.
The Children of Men, by P. D. James
I spilled coffee on this book, or, to be technical about it, my thermos leaked coffee onto the book. Which means I had to buy it and am now the owner of a well read and coffee stained former library book. At least it is a good book. And it is nothing much at all like her other books.
What would happen to society if everyone, every single woman in the world, became sterile? How would people continue to conduct their business and live out their lives? How would the government (in this case, Great Britain) handle it? And then what would happen if years later a single woman managed to get pregnant? What lengths would people, and the government, go to to protect her, or to obtain her? Dr. Theo Faron, an Oxford professor and our narrator, has to answer these questions as he is caught squarely in the middle of the story.
The story is taut and plausible. It is slightly dated, being from 1992, primarily in the changes in technology since then, but overall that only detracts a small amount from the enjoyment of this dystopian marvel. I haven’t seen the film version yet, simply because I haven’t gotten around to watching it.
Whales on Stilts, by M. T. Anderson
I’m not sure where I heard about this one. Perhaps it was featured on this site. In any event, it is the first in a series of children’s novels, which is known as Juvenile Fiction in library jargon. The book (and series) stars three friends: Jasper (an inventor who has a PhD), Katie (who fights monsters), and Lily (who is just a normal girl). And by girl, I do mean girl, as the three of them are still in middle school. Their world seems much the same as ours, except for things like, oh I don’t know, an army of whales on stilts.
Their madcap adventures may seem a bit, ahem, juvenile to adults, but even if they are not for you they are a great series to point younger readers towards.
Astonishing X-Men: Gifted, by Peter David
Bonus points to those who are now saying “wait, those comics were written by Joss Whedon (yes, that Joss Whedon), not by Peter David”, who is a very accomplished comic writer in his own right. Well, you are correct, to a point. Whedon wrote those comics (available from the library in graphic novel form here), but David wrote the novelization.
Yarp, it is a novelization of comic books. You don’t see that very often. In this case it is understandable, because the Gifted storyline is so good. Full of action, drama, and humor, it is a story that doesn’t really require you to have read any other X-men beforehand. The novel tells the same story. You essentially exchange the art of John Cassaday for David’s prose. The story stays the same, so the question is which format do you prefer? Because you really should read it sometime. It is that good.
Sandstorm, by James Rollins
Oh, the power of social media! Rollins himself recommended, on social media, that I should read this book. Of course that is his pen name, and maybe it wasn’t really him but an intern or publicist or the like, but it did happen. He followed me, and I replied that I guess I needed to read one of his books, and he suggested Sandstorm. And, thankfully, it turned out to be a pretty darn good book. Others must agree, since it spawned a series that numbers 12 titles to date.
This is an adventure novel, sort of an amalgamation of Indiana Jones and Jason Bourne and Lara Croft. And it works! The heroes are heroic, with ample skill sets, and are faced with challenging challenges that has the reader wondering how they will ever triumph over the bad guys. High tech mixed with a dash of other-worldliness makes for a fun read.
Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and The People Who Play It, by David M. Ewalt
I think the key part of the title is the word “people”. Dungeons & Dragons has been around in various editions for over 40 years now, and a great many people, boys and girls, men and women, have played it. That is not just rhetoric. In my days I have played with people ranging from 8-45ish, with about as many females as males. The stories I could share! But won’t, since we are here to talk about this book.
Ewalt sets out to show the evolution of the game, and more importantly highlight some of the people who have both played it and shaped it over the decades. He accomplishes this in an approachable manner. That being said, this isn’t for everyone. It is probably too specific for the general reader, although it does work well for a casual fan, or someone just wanting to learn more about what the big deal is. For hardcore players, it might be a little light. I enjoyed it, so there is that.
The Child Thief, by Gerald Brom
Speaking of Dungeons & Dragons…Brom first came to real prominence as an artist for D&D products, notably the Dark Sun line. His gothic fantasy art has since appeared in many places. I even have a signed print at home. He has also delved a bit into writing, and this book is one of the results of that.
It is a retelling of Peter Pan. A thoroughly un-Disneyfied retelling of Peter Pan. Brom creates such a dark, immersive version of Neverland that when the characters return back to New York near the end it is jarring. This is not a children’s book by any means. It also features terrific color illustrations, bringing the varied cast to vivid life. And if you want something even more dark, track down Brom’s The Plucker, a book about toys that will give you chills.
Strata, by Terry Pratchett
In my youth I was a member of the Science Fiction Book Club (thanks, Mom!), and got my hands on lots of great books. One of these was Strata, which I really liked, but didn’t make me read more by Pratchett, because he was still largely unknown at the time. Years and years later I finally got into his Discworld books, and belatedly realized this was the same guy. Indeed, Strata is sort of a precursor to Discworld.
The main character is a woman named Kin, who works on terraforming planets. A neat little side bit is how these workers hide out-of-place artifacts in these new worlds they are creating. Anyway, Kin gets pulled into what is essentially a hunt for buried treasure, and winds up on a flat Earth, where she encounters what seem to be actual magical creatures. Uncovering the secrets is delightful, both for her (in the end, when she is no longer in danger of being killed), and for the reader.
By the way, the book club still exists.
The Short-Timers, by Gustav Hasford
You might not have ever heard of the book, but you probably have the movie. This is another book, much like Strata above, that I read eons ago and then rediscovered much later. The book is based off of Hasford’s experiences in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. The title refers to those troops who are nearing the end of their deployment.
There are three main sections to the novel, covering boot camp, the Tet Offensive, and finally an encounter with a sniper. The book is raw and honest. The title really comes into play at the end, giving the events an even more tragic feel.
The movie version was done by some guy named Kubrick, and is titled Full Metal Jacket. The movie is not as different from the book as one might think, considering the director, and maintains the same feel as the novel throughout. I had originally read the book before the movie was made, and then saw the movie with no idea it was based on source material I had read, so that was a fun “hey, wait a minute…” film going experience.
Under A Graveyard Sky, by John Ringo
Yeah, so, zombies. I’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Ringo’s books over the years, notably his Posleen series, so I was first a bit hesitant to pick up his take on zombies. Obviously I did go ahead and read it, and am glad I did. One thing that interests me with zombie books is the different approaches to them that authors take. In this case, Ringo clearly set out to create a more plausible and realistic zombie scenario, and he succeeded admirably.
This book is set in the real world, if you will, and centers around a former paratrooper named Steve and his family. Forewarned that a biological disaster was occurring, he is able to get his well-prepared family onto a boat. Not only do they survive the initial outbreak, but they eventually start leading rescue and recovery efforts. There are four books in the series, with an anthology volume on its way, so plenty of zombie mayhem is to be had.
As for the setup, these zombies are much more akin to the infected in 28 Days Later than to the more classic Romero zombies. Ringo envisioned how they could come to be, and then extrapolated that out to how they would act both short and long term, and he did it well. I also appreciated that the characters are well versed in zombie lore, even though they are fully aware that these are not actually zombies.
In the end, if you like zombie books, or perhaps even militarily themed books, you’ll like this. If not, you’ll probably want to pass.
Tigerman, by Nick Harkaway
I’m a big fan of Harkaway, and Tigerman did not disappoint. The setting is the island of Mancreu, a former British colony, and the site of an ongoing ecological anomaly disaster. Sergeant Lester Ferris is the last official British presence on the island, and he serves as a sort of unofficial police officer. Along the way he befriends a curious 12 year old called Robin, who is a big fan of comic books. This comes in handy, because when various world powers try to use Mancreu’s unique lawless status in order to do naughty things, Ferris has to become a hero to stop them.
This actually starts out innocently enough, as Robin helps him create a costume that he can use to unofficially investigate a theft. Things get out of hand, of course, in part thanks to video footage of his exploits getting onto the Internet, and Tigerman is born. This is a great rollicking adventure story, and one that asks some interesting philosophical and ethical questions as well.
Okay, well, I never know how to end these things, so I’ll just remind you to keep reading what you love to read, and every now and again try reading something else.