Off the Shelf: Expanded Summer Reading, Rainbows End, Harry Potter, Pushing Ice

The summer reading list is going well. Since I finalized the list in Radio Active #51, I’ve finished Rainbow’s End by Vernor Vinge, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling, and Pushing Ice by Alistair Reynolds.

The fiction pile is growing surprisingly short, with only Jim Butcher’s Storm Front and John Scalzi’s The Last Colony remaining.

With vacation looming large in August, I find myself in need of a few more books for the road. My short list:

  • Eifelheim by Michael Flynn: Nominated for a Hugo for 2006, this is the tale of an alien starship that crashes in medieval Europe and the modern day investigators trying to figure out what happened. Plus, Flynn’s a native of Easton, my own adopted hometown.
  • Hyperion by Dan Simmons: Hugo Award winner from 1990. I’ve been seeing this book on the shelf for nearly two decades. I figure it’s about time I read it.
  • The Golden Globe, John Varley: A Prometheus Award winner this novel is a sequel to Varley’s Steel Beach, which I read during another summer reading binge … in 1993. Reading a sequel more than a decade after reading the original appeals to me on nostalgic level.
  • Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny: The Chronicles of Amber remain one of my favorite series, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about this book, which was released in the late 1960s.

Fortunately my latest paycheck for Knights of the Dinner Table arrived last week, so I had some cash on hand to go out and stock up on novels. I got Hyperion and The Golden Globe because the other two books weren’t in stock; I may have to fall back and order them from Amazon when I get back from GenCon.

Rainbow’s End by Vernor Vinge

Rainbows End describes itself as having “one foot in the future” and that’s absolutely true. While the story itself doesn’t really get going until the last third, the near-future tech described in the novel is amazing, entertaining … and more than a little scary. The novel follows the brilliant poet and unrelenting bastard Robert Gu wakes up from the 25-year-long nightmare of Alzhiemer’s in 2025 to find his body and mind rejuvenated, and the world radically different from the one he remembers.  I reviewed the book in Radio Active #53, so I won’t go into great detail here, but suffice to say it’s a good read and worthwhile for anyone looking for a glimpse of what’s coming.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

I devoured the seventh book in the Harry Potter series in a weekend, picking it up Saturday afternoon and finishing it late Sunday night. Deathly Hallows provides a fitting, satisfying end to the series. The body count is terribly high, and often tragic, as the book progresses, but you’d expect that after what’s happened in the last few novels.

As with her previous outings, Rowling creates and expands a convincing magical world, but this time around the magic takes something of a back seat to the philosophical differences between Voldermort and Harry as they become avatars for hate and love … and the power of each. She doesn’t spend nearly enough time at Hogwarts proper, as most of the action takes place in the real world. I’d much rather have seen her at least have some interludes following the adventures of Neville and Ginny at the school; they’d have been well worth another hundred pages. But who knows, maybe she’ll pull and Orson Scott Card and do a sort of Ender’s Shadow for Hogwarts, telling the tale of the seventh year from the perspective of those who went to school. Ultimately though, it was a good read, and a worthy conclusion to a years-long obsession.

Pushing Ice by Alistair Reynolds

Pushing Ice starts off as hard SF and evolves (or devolves, depending on your perspective) into space opera as it tells the story of the crew of the Rockhopper, a ship dedicated to mining comets (the “pushing ice” of the title). As the novel opens, they’re touching down on another comet, ready to go about their work, but suddenly they get news that Janus, one of Saturn’s moons, has suddenly broken orbit and started accelerating into deep space.

The crew of the Rockhopper votes to chase it down and the rest of the tale deals with the consequences of that vote, as they learn exactly what Janus is (some sort of alien artifact) and where it may be going (no place they ever imagined). The book turns out to be less about Janus, and more about the crew’s journey as they struggle to deal with the consequences of their decision. The melodrama gets a bit thick in places, some times unbelievably so, but the payoff makes up for its flaws.

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