Pet Semetary by Stephen King (Bibliographic details here.)
I read a bunch of Stephen King as a teenager (I especially loved The Stand), but then none at all until recently. Suddenly a few years ago I had a strange hankering to rekindle my relationship with Stephen King (see my review of The Shining).
Pet Semetary is a surprisingly deep meditation on the importance of accepting death. It's also really creepy. The whole plot revolves around whether the main character, Louis, can accept the fact of death. In the beginning, Louis criticizes his wife's inability to accept death as a natural part of life, but then as the plot goes on we discover that Louis's rejection of death is actually far deeper and far more harmful.
This provides plenty of food for thought about ourselves, especially in a death-denying culture like the United States. (I've discussed this in the Culture series of Iain M. Banks).
And did I mention that Pet Semetary is also creepy? Say what you want about Stephen King, he knows creepy. Next up for me: It.
Grimspace by Ann Aguirre (Bibliographic details here.)
This is space opera for people who usually read urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Firefly fanatics would probably also dig it. I first discovered this book when I was looking for space operas written by women (I make a point to read some SF written by women and people of color to expand my white, male horizons, and also to annoy the Sad Puppies).
I'm probably not Aguirre's target demographic (I've never gotten into urban fantasy, and I think Firefly is just okay - Whedonites, gather your pitchforks and torches now...). Still, I honestly enjoyed this book. It's fast paced, fun, and has interesting characters. Sirantha (the main character) is a hard boiled badass on the outside, but damaged on the inside sort of protagonist that you find in a lot of urban fantasy.
This isn't particularly deep reading (Aguirre is no Ursula Le Guin), but it does a good job for what it is: a fun story with occasional emotional depth and enough things to keep SF fans interested, like grimspace, mental connection between pilots and navigators, aliens, different planets, etc. The action starts a couple pages in and lets up just long enough for some introspection and character development, not to mention some aliens and, of course, some steamy romance.
Mentats of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson (Bibliographic details here).
Don't be fooled by the somewhat misleading title: this is a direct sequel to Sisterhood of Dune, which I reviewed here.
These "McDune" books aren't as good as Frank Herbert's originals, but like fast food, sometimes they hit the spot even though you know they're not very good. The McDune books do this primarily because of the richly textured setting of the Dune universe. While Frank Herbert deserves most of the credit, I recognize the skill that Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson put into inhabiting the universe.
My biggest problem is that the McDune books lack the intellectual depth of the originals. There's little reflection on the human potential, the nature of mind, politics, religion, economics, ecology, and all the ideas that make the originals such philosophical adventures. Even the epigraphs are shallower. When the McDune books do get into these issues, they read like a corporate PR person trying to summarize Plato or the Buddha. Still, for me and for other serious Dune fans, spending more time in the universe is always fun.
Like the first book, this one is mainly focused on the beginning of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood and the Mentat school, but it also spends time on the anti-technology Butlerians, the Imperial Corrinos, VenPort Holdings (the precursor of the Spacing Guild), and, for reasons I can't even begin to comprehend, Vorian Atredies. The second book adds a surprisingly dull story line about the Fre(e)men. If this book had been about 30% shorter and focused more narrowly on the schools (as the name of the trilogy indicates!), it would have been much better. I might pick up the third book after it comes out just to see what happens. In the meantime, it's time to re-read some of Frank Herbert's originals...
I, Mars by T. A. Uner (Bibliographic details here.)
On a few occasions, authors have contacted me on Goodreads to invite me to read their work. T. A. Uner was one such author. He even sent me a digital copies of this, as well as its predecessor, in exchange for Goodreads reviews. Reading the digital copies also reminds me of why I prefer reading paper books.
As with the first part, this one is a fun story involving something like psychic time travel on Mars in the 22nd century. This time it has more going on, especially more character development. I wouldn't say this is a particularly deep story, an opinion which is perhaps highlighted by the fact that I happened to be reading Kim Stanley Robinson's amazing Mars trilogy at the same time (review forthcoming!). But for what this is - a fun action story - it's not bad. As with the first one, the writing style feels a bit clunky to me. I also may be one of the few readers who actually preferred the brevity of the first part.