Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Walking Dead, Volume 6: This Sorrowful Life by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, and Cliff Rathburn (2010)

I had to take a brief break from The Walking Dead series after the last volume, but I couldn't stay away from those crazy zombies for long, so I'm back with The Walking Dead, Volume 6: This Sorrowful Life by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, and Cliff Rathburn (2010). I'm in too deep for plot summaries, and you wouldn't want me to spoil it for you anyway, so instead I'll work with some broad themes. Revenge. Reunion. Hope. Murder. Morality. And honestly, almost zero zombies in this one. I'm not always the biggest fan of revenge as motivation, but after the horribleness of the last volume, this was pretty darn tolerable (even though equally as horrible). Read on, friends, read on!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal (1948)

My book club (go DAFFODILS!) had the smart idea of reading a book from a decade that we hadn't read anything from yet as a group. Happily for me we ended up with the 1940s, one of my favorite literary periods. Many many many books were suggested, but the final scientifically voted in winner was The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal (1948).

Vidal's third novel is infamous for being one of the first mainstream novels to portray a sympathetic gay man who was a regular "All-American" guy. Jim Willard and Bob Ford are one year apart in high school, both athletes, and best friends. Bob goes with a lot of girls, but Jim is more attracted to Bob. One night after Bob's graduation, and just before he goes off to join the Merchant Marine, Jim and Bob go camping at an isolated cabin and after a day of skinny dipping and a night of wrestling by the fire, the two of them have sex. Bob leaves, promising that he will write and that Jim will join him at sea after he graduates the next year, but after a couple of letters the notes from sea dry up.

Jim graduates and disappoints his parents by ditching his college plans and heading to New York to join the Merchant Marine and find Bob. He doesn't find his friend, but he does find a position on a ship, which he later abandons for California. He has a lot of casual sex and a few more serious relationships (one with a famous actor, and one with a semi-famous writer), but in the back of his mind he is always waiting for Bob. When, at the end of the book, he finally gets to spend another night alone with his best friend, things do not turn out the way he planned.

I liked this book. The straightforward prose is misleadingly simple, and hides a interesting structure and some good character development. Although Jim is our protagonist, we never get a really good sense of him as a character, and I think that is deliberate. Instead, the side characters are filled with details and dimensions that end up teaching us about Jim.

Vidal revised this novel in the mid-1960s and his biggest change was altering the climactic last chapter. It is still dark and dramatic, but different. I'll be interested to talk that out with my fellow DAFFODILS...

[You can read a bit about the reception of the book and Vidal's views on writing it here.]

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Walking Dead, Volume 5: The Best Defense by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, and Cliff Rathburn (2010)

Whew. The Walking Dead, Volume 5: The Best Defense by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, and Cliff Rathburn (2010) is a fast read, but not an easy one. A subset of our heroes watch a helicopter fly over them and then crash, and things to real bad real fast when they go explore the crash site. Once again zombies aren't really the problem, humans are. I can take a little violence and cruelty, but this one was about at my limit. I shall power through, guys.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Beyond the Farthest Star by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1964)

Beyond the Farthest Star by Edgar Rice Burroughs was published in 1964 by his estate, fourteen years after his death. It consists of two related novellas -- the first, "Adventure on Poloda" had been published in a magazine in 1942, but while the second, "Tangor Returns," was probably written at about the same time, it wasn't published until it was found in Burroughs papers. It seems likely that Burroughs intended this story to take off into a series, and it has the same hallmarks as the John Carter or Pellucidar novels (through extraordinary circumstances, an all-American guy finds himself in a strange world and is initially threatened but ends up taking care of business).

In Beyond the Farthest Star, our American hero is shot down over Germany during WWII, feels himself dying, and then wakes up on another planet, completely naked. He stands up and sees a beautiful woman in a crazy glittery jumpsuit. She screams and runs and then five men run out from under a small hill and take him captive. He has somehow been transported to Poloda, a planet so far away from Earth that it really is "beyond the farthest star," and a planet that has been at war for over 100 years.

Our hero had the good luck to magically appear in the country of Unis, the good guys in the war, and the Unisians give him the name of Tangor. The Unisians would love to have peace, but they are stuck defending themselves against the ever-more-aggressive Kapars who have subjugated the rest of the planet. Over the last century of warfare, the Unisians have dug out underground cities with buildings that can be raised up to the surface and then lowered when there is a raid by the Kapars. Lucky for Unis, Tangor was a good soldier and excellent pilot back on Earth and he quickly joins the forces defending Unis from the air, and proves himself a mega-hero.

In the second novella, Tangor is approached by a Unisian woman who sympathizes with the Kapars and wants to defect to their country and double-cross the Unisians. Tangor tells his superiors, who have him go along with her plan and work as a double-agent in Kapar. Kapar is an extremely repressive society, ruled by a secret police and torn apart by fear with neighbors and family informing on one another. Naturally, Tangor gets into some tough spots in Kapar, but ultimately gets the job done.

These aren't the most polished Burroughs stories, but they are an interesting product of the war years and come off as more political than much of his other work. The anti-war sentiments and the theme of fighting against a Stalinesque dictatorship are hard to miss. You should definitely read these if you are a Burroughs completest, or if you just like old science fiction novels with naked men on the cover.

Monday, November 05, 2012

The Walking Dead, Volume 4: The Heart's Desire by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn (2010)

Things are still hopping in The Walking Dead, Volume 4: The Heart's Desire by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn (2010). After narrowly escaping a mutiny that would have kicked them out of their prison sanctuary, the group settles in and begins planting crops to help supplement their diet of canned food and peanut butter. A new woman enters the scene, having fought her way alone through zombies for much longer than anyone else, and she quickly shakes things up by bypassing Carol and making moves on Tyreese. In a small group like this, little conflicts quickly explode and by the end it is hard to tell who is actually more dangerous: the humans or the zombies. Some nice moral quandaries in this one as well -- this is great stuff!

Friday, November 02, 2012

Purgatory by Tomás Eloy Martínez (2011)

I'm endeavoring to catch up on my backlog of books from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program before I ask for more (just three more to go!), and the latest one on the pile is the beautifully written novel Purgatory by Tomás Eloy Martínez (2011).

Purgatory is right up my alley -- Latin American fiction with a historical basis and just a hint of that magical realism stuff. This is Martínez's final novel, published before died in 2010, and written in Argentina where he had returned after 30 years in exile. Our main characters are also exiles -- Emilia, the daughter of a powerful man in charge of propaganda under the dictatorship, and Simón, her husband and fellow cartographer, who has been a desaparecido (one of the disappeared) for 30 years.

Emilia has left her homeland, and left behind her decades-long search for her husband, who she refuses to believe was killed by the military, and gone to work in the United States. One day at lunch she sees her lost husband in the restaurant. Oddly enough he looks just like he did the day she last saw him 30 years ago. They leave the restaurant together and she is embarrassed that she has aged into a 60 year old woman, but Simón doesn't seem to mind.

The novel then leisurely moves between Emilia and her friend, an Argentinian writer who is also living in the U.S., and between the present and the past. Things are explained, confused, reworked, and thought through, and Martínez does a masterful job of bringing the reader through Emelia's journey through the non-sequential paths of memory, imagination, and hope.

Very recommended -- this is a well-paced, moving, and enjoyable read.