Friday, September 2, 2011

Friday Review Post 9/2/2011

If I have set this up properly, this will post automatically. I'm actually writing this on Wednesday night, because I'm leaving for Chattanooga tomorrow for a wedding, and won't be back until Tuesday. Since my laptop is still feeling poorly ("I'm not dead yet! I don't want to go on the wagon..."), I probably won't have internet access until I get back on Tuesday either, so there will be no Library Tuesday next week. :( Maybe there will be a Library Thursday; we shall see.

Anyway, as of Wednesday, I have read two books:

Michael Carroll - Super Human

A very pleasant YA super hero novel. A disease is immobilizing all the adults, so a small group of teens, 3 superhuman, one a human con artist, must band together to stop the people who are trying to take over the world. Highly satisfying villains, a slightly shallow character arc (which isn't surprising, given the genre), and generally good writing.

I like super hero stories. Once you've given a character some sort of super power, you have the luxury to play with their other foibles - indeed, the necessity, if you wish them to be a readable character. Carroll has done an excellent job in that regard, making human characters out of superhuman ones.

Two objections. 1) Carroll is Irish, but the novel is set in the US. There are one or two points where the dialogue of the teens felt off; just their use of words and syntax which were not American. A small thing, and easily ignored. 2) Carroll clearly sets himself up for a sequel (indeed, I know that there is one). The book has a solid ending, but I was left feeling a little "so, what now" about it. "You've defeated an Assyrian superhero brought back to life by crazed followers of a cult - what are you going to do now?" Carroll doesn't offer an answer here.

Jasper Fforde - One of Our Thursdays is Missing

So, Jasper Fforde is a dangerous man. This is the fifth Thursday Next book (sixth, if you include The Great Samuel Pepys Fiasco, which, as of this point, doesn't actually exist), and they keep getting more and more complex and complicated. The premise of the books is that Thursday Next works for SpecOps - a branch of the British police that handles odd stuff. She also, sometimes, works for Jurisfiction, a group which serves to maintain order within Bookworld - the place where the characters in books live when we are not reading their books; or the bits of their books when they are "on stage" so to speak. Fforde has been playing with this very odd meta concept for 5 books now; this idea that characters within books have a life of their own when they are not actively pinned down on the page by us, the readers. This creates a delightfully confusing series, as the denizens of Bookworld have to deal with things like low readership, and the problem of ensuring a realistic characterization, and what to do with the whole mess caused by reader feedback (like the fact that, although Doyle never wrote Sherlock Holmes in a deerstalker cap, there is a general view of Holmes as wearing such a hat, and so he must, whether he wants to or not. Or, the fact that Harry Potter is stuck forever looking like Daniel Radcliffe.)

This book begins with a grand reorganization of Bookworld - from a basically library type setting to an actual world - a collection of islands (for the various types of books which might exist; fiction, non-fiction; owners manuals; foreign books, etc) floating around on the inside of a giant sphere. With a world comes environment, and the possibility of genre wars - the major focus of the novel is an impending war between the genre of Racy Novel and its neighbors; Comedy, Women's Fiction, and Dogma. Also of significance, the potentially dangerously low levels of raw metaphor. And, Thursday Next, who was supposed to serve on the peace commission, is missing. Taking her place in this novel is the written Thursday Next.

Ok, that needs explaining. In the novels, Thursday Next is both a character in the novel we are reading AND a character in a novelization of her life which exists in the world that she is a character in. The "written" Thursday Next is the characterization of Thursday Next in the novels which exist in the world that Thursday lives in. Which is not at all the same world as our own. We don't have highly competitive croquet teams, for one, and the Crimean War ended in 1856 here (there, it continues to simmer). Anyway, with Thursday missing, the written Thursday (who is somewhat more hesitant and less gung ho) has to step in. She does an excellent job, and acquires a robotic butler along the way.

All in all, the book is a hoot. As an added bonus, it has pictures! The pictures are drawn by Dylan Meconis and Bill Mudron. Meconis I know from her excellent Vampire French Revolution Farce (Bite Me!), her website is here - she contributed a short graphic novel to Welcome to Bordertown, and is disgustingly good at what she does. Mudron is new to me, but you can find his stuff here.

So, will you like this book? If you have already discovered Thursday Next, then probably. You might want to re-read some of the earlier books, though, just to catch up. If you have not, and you like deeply bafflingly complex meta-novels (by which I mean novels which are basically turned inside out - these are novels about the characters who populate novels), you might want to check these books out. This may not be the place to start, though - find a copy of The Eyre Affair and start there. The Eyre Affair is the least meta of the books - fewer self aware characters, for one thing.