Chris Beckett’s book Dark Eden felt like it was going to be a lot like The Knife of Never Letting Go when it began. It’s about a small community called Family on a planet with no sun, but warmth comes from the trees that extrude from the ground. They struggle through their lives trying to gather enough food to keep them going another day. Every AnyVirsry they tell stories of Hitler and Jesus fighting over the Juice, and the three companions who came and settled Eden from Earth in their Veekle, and how if they stay right by the Circle when the ones who left for help return from Earth they’ll be able to get them.
Family has been waiting for the people to return from Earth for 160-ish years.
The story begins with 15-year-old (though they don’t naturally talk in terms of years or days, not having a sun, but wombtimes and wakings) John Redlantern asking why they do things the same way they’ve always done them. Why don’t they try to do something new? The rest of the book is about what happens when John Redlantern tries to do something new. Which is cool and the stuff of many an adventure tale. That’s not where Dark Eden stops though.
What makes the book great is that it really gets into what an asshole John Redlantern is, and how he manipulates people, and how that’s a part of the myth he’s creating for himself. It’s done by giving chapters to a number of other characters, some of whom are more aware of the importance of things than others. The moral ambiguity of everything in this book makes almost everyone sympathetic. John Redlantern is the kind of quintessential frontier-pushing explorer, and this story doesn’t just hold that up as a model of what people should be, but how that can break people. Killing a person was unheard of on New Eden, and they had no word for rape.
The other thing I love about the book is how it tries to avoid imposing 21st century Western moral scruples on things. Everybody has sex with everybody, and there are loads of batfaced and clawfooted people resulting from 160 years of breeding from the two people who started human life on New Eden. Sex is really interesting and eventually when things get more tense in Family you can see the germs of patriarchy and sexual control of women start to arise. There’s an incident where a character is almost raped and the way they dance around giving that act of violence a name is so intriguing.
All in all, it’s a great book and also has things to say about how we build the stories of a society and how we use the stories as well. If you’re interested in science fiction you should really give this a try.
The Cross and the Hammer is a self-contained Viking story that is less about a Viking and more about an Irishman who’s murdering his way through the countryside trying to kill off all the occupying Norsemen he can find to save his daughter and his homeland. It’s really violent. The Norseman who’s tracking him is well-educated and sends lots of letters back to his king who is fighting a war while he looks for this killer. There’s a very interesting father-daughter relationship going on, which is different from the Bonnie and Clyde stuff from Metal. It isn’t my favourite Northlanders book but there’s nothing wrong with it.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is a pretty big deal in the YA SF community. I remember one of my WPL co-workers (am I allowed to say where I used to work now, Rick?) who was a YA librarian who was so incredibly anticipatory of Mockingjay (the third in the series). They’re making a movie of it, for what that’s worth.
I’ve often heard of this book as the antithesis of Twilight. Katniss Everdeen is a girl from one of the conquered districts in this dystopian future America. She is awesome though because she goes out into the unregulated forest and hunts with a bow and brings home food to sell to her village. Because everyone is kept poor and hungry and working in coal mines in her district.
The titular games are a sacrifice each of the conquered districts makes to the capital for having dared to rebel generations ago. One boy and one girl from each district (there are 12 of them, the 13th having been destroyed) are pitted against each other in a televised (but more futuristic than television) fight to the death.
What makes Katniss awesome is how strong she is. She is making active choices throughout the novel, shaping her future which has consequences. There’s a romance subplot driven by the boy who goes from her district, but Katniss is into the strategy of it all, and there’s not a lot of room for pining for a vampire to be her true love.
Highly recommended. At some point I’ll probably read the sequels, because this book just set things up and you can tell the stakes are moving up from a mere bloody battle royale.
I guess A.A. Gill is a food writer in England, but all I’ve ever read of his stuff are his travel essays, which Previous Convictions is a collection of. He writes about hunting and America and some guy from a show called Top Gear who can’t stand hanging around gearheads. You’d think from the back of the book blurbs that he was insanely cantankerous and mean, but the essays come off as from an interested person writing without pulling too many punches. If I remember the other book of his that I read, A.A. Gill is Away, it had many more sweeping judgments on cultures. I remember Japan being fundamentally psychologically disturbed in that book.
The weirdest essay was about him taking his kids to Oman for Spring Break. The idea was to go somewhere an eight hour flight away (from London) but that was totally different. I guess the essay wasn’t that weird but the amount of money involved in living a life like that kind of amazed me.