Thursday, December 31, 2015

Under the wire

A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash.  A friend gave this to me, and I have to say it isn't one I would have ever chosen for myself-- it's literary (not genre), it's set in the south, and it's not a happy ending; I wasn't sure I'd be able to get into it, because the problem, the action, revolves around people who made bad decisions and now they have to live with the consequences, and that's pretty much all that can be said to happen.  My other criticisms for the book are that the time period is very unclear (some details come up that narrow the action down to about a decade, but before that-- and for most of the book-- it could be anytime with a 50-year period or more), and that the voices aren't adequately unique-- three characters have voices and tell the story, but they sound very similar to each other.  A 9-year-old boy, a middle-aged man, and an elderly lady should be more disparate.

But I did finish this book, and faster than many I've gotten through this year, and I passed it on to another reader as soon as I was done. Why?  At first, it was the very idea that someone had picked it out for me.  A friend, someone I think of as being a close friend, went out purposefully to find a book for me.  I honestly cannot remember the last time someone has done that.  (I do get a fair amount of the "I just read this library book and I think you might like it" from a few quarters, but to find a book for me?  just for me?)  So even though the first couple of chapters weren't my usual style, I went with it.  Also, I don't remember reading any reviews for this book.  I read so many reviews, hundreds every month, that I would be tempted to think that almost any book off the shelf would be vaguely familiar to me.  To find a book that I hadn't heard of-- even if it does broadcast within the first few chapters the main thrust of the action-- is a rare find.

Once those draws carried me through the first couple of chapters, I wanted to get the backstories.  The characters tell what is happening, but they also tell what happened 11, 30, 60 years ago, how the people who made those bad decisions came to be in the places they were and maybe why they made the choices they made.  It doesn't mean I have much more sympathy for them-- they still willfully made their choices, if that doesn't make me sound too cold-hearted-- but I understand a bit more why they chose what they did.

I usually like genre fiction because the setting and world- or period-details, when well-incorporated, interest me.  I usually like to see a fair amount of character development, which wasn't exactly overflowing in this book, although I occasionally will go in for a plot-based book, but again, that wasn't really the point of the book here.  I guess I'm having a hard time feeling like I can make my "reasons why it was good list" outweigh my "reservations about it list" except to say, despite those logical reasons, it was good.

Saga, vol. 5, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.  I'm... getting kind of tired of this.  I actually started this one, read it half way, and then left it so long I had to renew it... probably more than once.  The series started out as an amazing story set in a fantastic universe.  Now, it's about cramming in as much gore and other shock-content as possible.  Wikipedia says there are 31 issues, and no ending date is indicated.  Someone should read issue 31 for me (or the next collected edition, whenever that may come out) and tell me if it's worth proceeding.

Miss Felicity Beedle's The World of Poo by Terry Pratchett.  Along with Where's My Cow?, I think this should be called meta-fiction of the best sort.  Meta-fiction a la Redshirts and the like, where the characters leave their story and go out and interact with the author, has yet (among any of the books I've read) to actually be successful.  But this, a book that appears in another book, adds depth and realism to the fantasy world.  We won't have anything new about Sam Vimes, but here is a book he reads to his son, once Young Sam outgrew the cow book, and, if we can't see him anymore, we can read this, just as he does, and feel like maybe we can still find our way back there.

Alex + Ada by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn.  The last book I started and finished in 2015, and it has me thinking that I need to go to work on Monday and cross out my suggestion for best book of the year.  It is this one.

It's a futuristic sci-fi story, but not so far in the future or so far away; it looks like our everyday sort of world, but with some cool technology.  The illustrations perfectly set up the scene for the story.  The drawings are soft and use gentle colors, so all the technology doesn't come across as too (f)rigid.  The characters are so well-drawn (I don't mean their pictures, I mean the depth conveyed, their personalities); the main character's loneliness is palpable.  This is the graphic novel I recommend most highly.

Star Trek: Deep Space 9, with Avery Brooks, et al.  Ooo, I really should have made entries season-by-season.  How can I sum up the entire run in a few sentences?

I didn't really expect to like this series very much; although I enjoyed it more than I anticipated, it will always be towards the bottom of the list.  The purpose of Star Fleet is to explore new territories, right?  To seek out new life?  We all know how this goes.  But they keep failing to do that.  In TOS, after the first season, they end up doing a bunch of diplomatic crap and aren't going into uncharted areas.  The same is true for TNG; they spend half their time escorting science vessels or going to study planets that were briefly reconnoitered by previous explorers.  And for DS9, they don't even go anywhere!  How much exploration can you do when stationed in one location, never moving?  Aside from a few forays through the worm hole, the entire series is about diplomacy and war.  They really missed an opportunity to explore the Gamma quadrant constantly, with missions based off the stations.  This is why I have always, from the beginning of my Trekker fandom, and will continue to advocate that Voyager is the truest series.

The "strange new world" they tried to shoe-horn in, the alternate universe, were hands-down my least favorite episodes.  With an entire unexplored quadrant in our backyard, why are we fiddling about with evil twins?

I did really like how the Ferengi culture was slowly introduced and expanded over time, first presented as a simplistic and backwards perspective and then given depth.  I like them quite a bit.  But I'm not at all sad to be done and on to V.

And I've proofread this twice, but there's been a lot of quiet celebration (me, alone in my house with the fire and books and a few champagne cocktails throughout the evening) so I apologize for any oversights.  But I can't think of a better way to end the year.

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