Sunday, October 26, 2008

Life Out of Balance


As I mentioned a few posts back, I've started a new job. It's not something I ever thought I would be doing, but I'm having a great time so far. Of course, part of that is the thrill of simply having a job to go to again--being unemployed sucks. Part of it is lucking into a great office situation; it's always nice to actually enjoy the people you have to spend 8-9 hours a day with, especially in an office with under ten people. But there's another part, too, which is a much bigger deal than I realized: being back in Austin, at least part time.

It's not that I don't love Kenedy. I grew up here, after all. Kenedy is the home of my heart: it's my memories and my history. I fit in here because I know how things work. I know the community, and they know me and we all make allowances because of it. But Austin, Austin is the home of my spirit. I fit in there because there are people like me--people with similar views and hobbies and backgrounds. There's a shared cultural history here that's very different than the one I share with Kenedy.

I don't mean that one is any better than the other, just that my life seems much more balanced when I have both. And what am I doing with my newly-rediscovered balance, you ask? Well, reading more, for one thing. A friend recommended that I take a look at Tobias S. Buckell's Sly Mongoose, a Caribbean-flavored, Aztec-infused space opera. With zombies.

Not only was this my first book-length Buckell, it's the third book set in the same universe. This can be a huge disadvantage. Since I am completely unfamiliar with the previous works, there has to be enough detail to get me oriented in this universe. Take that a step too far and what should be a fairly fast-moving storyline (this is Space Opera with zombies, after all) bogs down.
Luckily, Buckell neatly avoids both traps. I'm sure I would have gotten more out of this book had I read the previous two, but Sly Mongoose stands pretty well on its own.

One of the things I really liked about the book was it's cast of characters. It's not just that they're well-drawn or sympathetic (although they are), it's that they're multi-cultural, with aspirations and motivations drawn from that culture as well as circumstance. For a genre so concerned with epic stories and galactic scale, the descriptions of human culture remain distressingly homogeneous. Authors that make their extrapolations from more varied cultures like Buckell or Chris Roberson really are a breath of fresh air in a genre that can feel rote and stale.

And from the epic scope of Buckell's space opera, I moved to the goofy farce of John Scalzi's Agent to the Stars. This was Scalzi's "starter novel;" the novel he wrote to prove to himself & others that he could really write a novel. He posted it online for free, asking readers who enjoyed it to send him a dollar. Over the years, he actually made $4000. The good folks at Subterranean Press came calling & published a limited edition, which sold out. Now the folks at Tor have brought it out in an exceedingly snappy trade paperback, making this, The Little Practice Novel That Could.

It's not Great Literature, but it was never intended to be. What it is is a fantastically quick, fun read with characters it's a real pleasure to spend time with. The dialogue is snappy, the plot really moves, and if you enjoyed Scalzi's The Android's Dream, you'll be pleased to see another race that communicates by smell, albeit a much less stuffy and insufferable one.

So let's see here: two homes, one familiar that feeds my heart, one dynamic that feeds my spirit, and two books, one epic in scale and intent, one tight and endearingly goofy. Sure, I could just stick with one or the other, but what fun would that be? A little balance is a good thing. A really, really good thing. And that ridiculously long commute I have? Really not so ridiculous after all when you look at the bigger picture.

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