Monday, August 16, 2010

Old Man’s War - John Scalzi

2005, 320 pages
This is not a book I would usually pick to read. Descriptions of wars and combats bore me. But after I started reading this book, I thought this is something completely different.
John Perry is going to join the army at the age of 75. Not a regular army, but the Colonial Defense Force (CDF), that fights for humans living in distant planets.
Joining the army at the age of 75 doesn’t make much sense. How can an old person, at the last stage of his life, be useful as a soldier? But the fact is, the CDF wants these people. And that’s the motivation behind leaving everything they know on earth, their family, their home, and going towards the unknown: somehow, the CDF will have to make them strong and healthy again to be able to fight. And though it doesn’t seem much for someone who is still strong and healthy, things look completely different at the age of 75.
The first part of the book was great. Very touching, interesting and funny. It describes John’s life when he enlists. How he misses his wife who was supposed to enlist with him but died of stroke. His dealing with old age and deteriorated health. His relationship with friends and family. His moral dilemma between resistance to war and violence and his will to be young again and escape dying of old age, at least for a while. And a very funny description of the enlistment process. The book sure promised a lot in the first part.
The second part, describing the process of becoming a CDF soldier, unfolding the mystery of how the CDF uses 75 year olds as fighting soldiers, is pretty interesting, with lots of science-fiction technologies and theories. It was OK, but not as touching as the first part.
I was hoping that the next part will be interesting and touching again, but unfortunately it was only worse, just what I was afraid of: endless descriptions of combats and wars, weapons and fighting tactics. I was extremely bored. I was still hoping it leads somewhere, maybe back to the moral dilemmas of the first part, but was disappointed. These subjects were merely touched and not really handled seriously, and what I was hoping would be a serious discussion of the morality of combating and killing and looking for other ways to deal with difficult situations concerning “others” (aliens, in this case), just turned out to be a regular story of a war hero.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Dead in the Family – Charlaine Harris

2010, 312 pages
Book 10 in the “Sookie Stackhouse” series.

*** SPOILER ALERT: contains spoilers to the previous 9 books in the series ***

After reading the previous 9 books in the series, plus the short stories collection “A Touch of Dead”, I am completely hooked on the series. I knew no matter what’s in this book, I’ll enjoy meeting all the well known characters again, like old friends, especially when the previous book ended when Sookie was finally with Eric, my favorite partner for her and my favorite male character in the series.
And it was nice meeting all these acquaintances again, I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy it, and I read through the whole book in a short time. But something was missing. It feels like the series lost its charm. It is not funny as it used to be. The romance is not as intense as in the first few books. The fantasy world does not have new fascinating aspects we didn’t know about. Same all same. The characters have changed and lost their uniqueness and fun. Eric is not that arrogance self-assured funny guy (OK, vampire) he used to be. Sookie is not as fun and funny as before, and her mind reading does not play a big part in this book. Even Jason is not that stupid and egoistic, and Claude that used to be charming just as long as he didn’t open his mouth does not seem like a total jerk anymore even after he starts speaking.
The plot is similar to those of the previous books – a body is found, somewhere near Sookie of course, what makes her involved if she wants or if she doesn’t want to, and she has to find out who and what, while, as usual, she finds herself in danger from some unnatural creature. I wasn’t disappointed by the plot, because the mystery was never the reason I liked these books so much – it was because of the characters, and the fun, and the humor, and the romance, and the imaginative fantasy world that was built in this series. And like I said before, all these were missing in this book.
I am not sure I will go on to the next book in the series. But who knows, once hooked, it is not so easy to let go…

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Island beneath the Sea – Isabel Allnede

2009, 462 pages, translated from Spanish
Haiti is the first and only nation in the world that was founded as a result of slave uprising. The book takes place around the time of the rebel in Haiti. It follows two main characters: Valmorain, a French man who arrived to the Saint Domingue, as Haiti was called then, as a young man, to visit his father’s plantation, thinking he’ll be back to his good life in Paris with his mother and sisters, but finds himself stuck in the plantation, and Zarite, called Tete, daughter of a black slave brought from Africa and one of the sailors on the ship that brought her, who ends up in Valmorain’s plantation. The book follows them in the events preceding the revolution, during the stormy years of the revolution and the years after that.
The story presents well the extreme cruelty of the slavery on the island. It is easy to understand why it is the only nation that was founded due to slave rebellion. They had nothing to lose. Work was hard, food was scarce, and when the slaves died after a few years, new slaves from Africa replaced them. So the island was full of people who knew they have nothing to hope for but slow and cruel death, people who knew freedom and would do anything to gain it again.
Another issue in the book is the relationship between white man and black or mulatto women. It shows all kinds of these relationships, from forced rape, to open love and marriage, of shamed and hidden love, to cope with society rules and codes.
The book is also full of fascinating discussions about moral, slavery and the conflicts between the right thing to do and the circumstances forced by social and economical terms. Valmorain is not presented as a bad person, at least not at first, and it is fascinating to see how he surrenders to what everybody is saying and doing, silencing his conscious. In that the book is so relevant, and people like Valmorain can be found anywhere, with new issues replacing the slavery.
I enjoyed the book in general. It brings to life a time in history I didn’t know much about, and it is fascinating at times, though to my taste it spreads along a too long period of time. I prefer books that focus on a relatively short period of time, enabling to get into the characters and the events, feeling the change and growth in the characters as they happen, instead of taking a distance while years go by and people change. But people who like family sagas that spread along many years will surely enjoy this book a lot.