Books, September 2011

*** Alfred Bester – The Stars My Destination. Great vision of the future, great (anti)hero. I’ve been going through Alfred Bester (who I’ve never read before) recently and I just wish he’d written more full-length novels.
*** Alfred Bester – The Demolished Man. Another fascinating future with fascinating characters.
** Alfred Bester – Hobson’s Choice and Fondly Fahrenheit. Both throwaway short stories, cute more than genuinely interesting. I don’t think I’m a big short story fan any more.
*** Ben Bova – Mars. I started this knowing nothing about it, and so had no idea what to expect. This worked out really well as I kept being unsure whether bug-eyed green-skinned aliens were about to pop out from behind a rock (or at least from tiny bacteria in the air). This book (and his whole series about exploring the solar system) are fairly hard-science-realistic though — focused on the details and difficulties of traveling to other planets and learning about them. It was very interesting but, at the same time, I’m not sure I’m interested in reading many more of them.
*** Octavia Butler – Wild Seed. A book about two (essentially) immortals in a world of mortals who meet and uneasily try to figure out how to coexist. The “science fiction/fantasy” elements are really beside the point here: they just serve as the background situation in which to explore characters. Butler isn’t really that interested in the whys or hows of those elements. Unfortunately, I think, without some exploration of where they come from, why they do what they do, or where they’re going, these characters seem to be just floating in a void, and I was unable to maintain as much interest in them and their problems. The story was good and much of the characterization well done, but I was bored at times.
*** Thomas Perry – Silence. Pretty good thriller, some interesting characters and a good plot, even if you do have to suspend a fair amount of disbelief to buy the basic premise.
** Thomas Perry – The Butcher’s Boy. Perry is hugely praised for this one (his debut novel, I believe), but I was mixed on it. The story follows a mob hit man and a justice department agent as they commit and solve murders, respectively. The parallel structure is nice, but it doesn’t really work here because the agent is mostly presented as an idiot. She makes a number of mistakes and misses things that are obvious to the reader long before they happen, and she just doesn’t have much personality. The hit man’s lack of personality, at least, can be read as intentional; he’s a faceless killing machine who does his best to be nondescript.
*** C.S. Lewis – Out of the Silent Planet. Great vision of a possible alien civilization, and generally enjoyable, but a bit preachy, especially at the end.