Monday, August 6, 2012

Throwdown Countdown: Two...

The final weekend for our little throwdown is done, and I'm pretty happy with the reading I got done. It's a sprint to the finish with several lead changes on the way. I can just taste that Shrieking Flying Monkey.

Metaphorically. I don't want to chew on the monkey, people. Sheesh.

First up for me was Naomi Novik's Empire of Ivory, the fourth book in the Temeraire series. I am officially obsessed with the series and actually have to force myself to read other things in between volumes--otherwise y'all would be getting all Temeraire, all the time. Taking up just where volume three left off, Laurence and Temeraire have finally returned to England from their China adventures only to find Bonaparte running rampant over Europe. England's dragons are nowhere to be seen. Laurence discovers the terrible reason for this: most of the dragons have caught some kind of virus and are slowly dying. They figure out that Temeraire had this same disease while traveling but recovered, so they are sent to Africa in search of the cure. It's terribly distressing watching friends from previous volumes sicken and die, and as if this isn't enough, Laurence is faced with a horrifying decision: stand by while hundreds of sentient creatures die, or save them and commit treason, condemning himself to death. Things are never easy for these two, which is one of the reasons I enjoy the series. There's lots of discussion about freedom and honor and such, but there are also consequences, sometimes known, sometimes not, that must be dealt with.

Next was Crash, by J.G. Ballard. Quite a departure. To tell the truth, I've read Crash before. I'm reading it again because it's this month's selection for my book group. I ran into a fellow book-grouper at ArmadilloCon and his comment was something along the lines of "Man. That book is just relentless." And yes, it is. Ballard explores our addiction to technology through characters who get an erotic thrill from car crashes (their own and others). If it's not about cars, roadways, car crashes, or extremely fetishistic sex (involving cars, roadways, crashed cars, and car crash victims), then you won't find it here. Reading the book is analogous to that "slow down and stare at the carnage" impulse we all seem to have, and just as uncomfortable.

Then I finally jumped in to China Mieville's Railsea. I am a huge Mieville fan (even if he does sometimes make me doubt my own intelligence) and I always look forward to whatever he comes up with. Imagine a post-apocalyptic world where insects and vermin have grown huge and make their way through the under the surface of the earth like one of those sandworms from Dune. You can't set foot on the ground without calling some horrific beastie up to damage you. The only safe places are small "islands" of townships (presumably built on rock the beasties can't tunnel through) connected by an ocean of inter-connecting iron and wood rails: the railsea. Now imagine that you're a young boy, clumsy and not very motivated, who's been signed onto a vessel as a doctor's apprentice, set to sail the railsea and hunt the giant moles. Your captain has an artificial arm, and is obsessed with finding and killing the great albino mole who took it Mocker Jack. It's weird and adventure-y and funny and I couldn't put it down.

Finally, I just couldn't resist diving into Victory of Eagles, Naomi Novik's fifth book featuring Temeraire. Hey, I told you I was obsessed. Having essayed a noble act that has seen him charged with treason, Will Laurence expects to be put to death at any time. He knows that he only lives as pressure on Temeraire to do what the government wants. But now Bonaparte has caught England unaware and invaded, taking possession of London. Laurence and Temeraire are needed for battle, so a temporary pardon is cooked up to allow them to fight. Will is deeply depressed and for the first time, Temeraire realizes that actions, however righteous they may be, have real consequences and that their deed has hurt others and will have long-lasting ramifications (provided they survive). There's war and intrigue and loyalty and betrayal, issues of gender politics and human (and dragon) rights, bravery and foolishness, humor and pathos. There's a lot of meat to this series, and it's a pleasure to read.

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