In my review of Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey, I compare reading it to reading Asimov’s Foundation when I was a kid.
I’m going to make the same comparison with the “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” series by Cixin Liu. Reading this awakens the same sense of discovery and amazement as reading Asimov when I was a child. Liu gifts us a story that’s astounding in scope and vision, with some of a biggest Big Ideas in science fiction.
The English translations of Liu’s work boast an admirable level of stylistic polish. There’s a spare and refreshing lyricism at work here. I’m as impressed with the quality of the translations as I am with Liu’s story.
This is what science fiction should be. I’m in awe of Liu’s imagination and accomplishment.
In 2012, Gillian Flynn published Gone Girl and kick-started our current craze for unreliable narrator stories. 2015 saw the release of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and the unreliable narrator novel was firmly ensconced.
Rarely have I witnessed two books compared to each other more than these.
Not only was The Girl on the Train trumpeted as “this year’s Gone Girl,” not only did every critic and reviewer on the planet compare the two, but just about everyone I knew picked a favorite and took a side in the which-is-better debate.
Most people I know like both but have a clear preference for one or the other, and there are more than a few who love one and hate the other.
For most, their preference seems to boil down to which narrator appealed to them best. It’s not a matter of which you like best, as neither narrator is intended to be likeable. But both are meant to be intriguing.
I’m convinced that character appeal isn’t all that’s going on here. I think focusing on which narrator appeals the most is circling around a deeper issue.
I’ve had conversations now with a few other people about this book and discovered that I’m in a minority in my opinion. Most people I know couldn’t stand it. Most didn’t finish it. Mostly, they found it too long, too wordy, too self-indulgent. The general reaction is that Moore desperately needed an editor to reel him in.
I get that. On some level, I feel this way, too. I spent quite a lot of the book convinced that he was over-indulgent and lacking writerly discipline.
However, as others have stated (and I quote Library Journal here), Jerusalem is “[m]ore a work of art than a novel.”
The greatest challenge about reviewing Jerusalem by Alan Moore is summarizing what it’s about. This isn’t a traditional novel and it doesn’t deliver a normal story. The plot is meandering, almost vestigial in some sections. Setting is paramount—language, tone, atmosphere, characters: all of these matter far more than mere plot.
I’ve come to think of this book as being akin to the Bayeux Tapestry—a sprawling and artistically audacious account of a place and its people. It’s a love letter to a neighborhood as only Moore can write it.
In general terms, it’s a quasi-fictional history of the Boroughs—the poverty-stricken Northampton neighborhood in England where Alan Moore was born, raised, and still lives—from ancient times through the near future, not told in chronological order, and actively eschewing the concept of linear narrative. It’s the story of a unique family who lives there through several generations, and various persons associated with them. It’s a story of the afterlife and eternity and the Universe. It’s a story about life and death, art and work, obligation and free will, ghosts and angles and builders and demons. Visions and dreams are as real in this world as reality.
If I had to categorize this book, I’d probably call it fantastical realism. Everyone is going to shelve it in their SF sections. But it’s more than just these—it’s philosophical, historical, political, religious.
It’s holy and profane, poetic and pedestrian, beautiful and gritty. It’s deeply human. It’s hard to explain. You really need to read it.
I finally saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story this weekend and I’m very happy with it. I enjoyed it immensely and I have many thoughts about it now.
I should point out that I never had much to do with the Expanded Universe—I read a couple of the novels but I never paid much attention to it. I’ve also never watched any of the animated series (“Star Wars: The Clone Wars” or “Star Wars: Rebels”). My reactions to Rogue One come purely from the perspective of how well it fits in with the other movies.
In advance of my annual “Year in Reading” summary, I thought I’d post a list of the books I read this year that I liked least. Or, more accurately—the books that disappointed me the most. Because reading isn’t just about what you like—it’s about what you don’t like, too.
Inclusion on this list doesn’t necessarily mean the book is bad. There are titles here which are very good—they just weren’t my thing. Some titles make this list because I had hoped for more from them. Other titles are on this list because I genuinely believe they’re poor work.
This is not a definitive ranking. Titles are listed in alphabetical order by author.