Monday, April 21, 2008

Two Popular Novels I Liked a Lot

Versions of these reviews appeared previously on the Facebooks.

The Egyptologist
Arthur Phillips, 2004

Deception and deceit in 1920s Egypt. A ripping good tale about the unreliability of documents, told through documents. The story is told largely in the writings of two men. Each, for very different reasons, is completely incapable of understanding what is really happening. Since reality takes shape in the gaps between their narratives, however, we readers are never really in the dark about what is happening. Ideas about text, in addition to providing the book's structure, also inform and propel the plot. It's an impressive feat of construction.

The primary events of the story take place in the first decade of the 1900s, 1918, and especially 1922. But, there is also a largely implied story line in the 1950s, and indeed a wholely implied story line in the undefined "present" when the book was put together. This, too, is a neat trick.

Phillips occupies his characters' heads with apparent ease, and as far as I can tell, the historical setting of the story is rendered very nicely. This leads to my only complaint -- because much of the story is written through the fictional protagonist, who is fussy and snobbish and, to say the least, pretentious, and because the style is spot-on, some of the longer passages can get a bit tiresome.

On the whole, though, The Egyptologist is a terrific story, compelling, exciting, and very sad. And it is beautifully crafted.

A Deepness in the Sky
Vernor Vinge, 1999

If you read science fiction, you probably already know that Vernor Vinge is to space opera what Mozart is to, well, opera.

If you don't read science fiction, you might consider giving Vinge a try. It is not for everyone, and that's OK. A Deepness in the Sky had me at the edge of my seat, wondering if the spider kingdom was going to pull through in the end, and I can understand if you can't or don't want to get to that level of suspension of disbelief.

It's your loss, though. You won't find many other people who are giving more thought than Vinge to the ways that technology affects our humanity, and vice versa. Nor will you find many more provocative ideas about what happens when cultures collide. If one of the cultures in this case happens to be intelligent giant spiders, well, that's analogy for ya. It's a very powerful tool.

1 comment:

The [Cherry] Ride said...

Hmm. "Egyptologist" sounds interesting. I may just add it to my growing list of non-text book reading that someday I hope to get around to.

PS - Hitting Portland this weekend. Can't wait! Do a (no) raindance for me?