First Monday Book Day: The age of recycling

The oldest trick in the literary book is to re-write somebody else's story. And of course, it helps to steal from really good stories.

This month's selection, James Lovegrove's The Age of Odin, is the third in his non-trilogy threesome of godpunk/military scifi retellings of ancient mythological stories. Here, it is Ragnarök with M16s and RPGs.

I was suckered into purchasing this number by the back-cover blurb from The Guardian (actually about another of the three books), "The kind of complex, action-oriented SF Dan Brown would write if Dan Brown could write."

Seriously. I was so amused that the publisher (Solaris Books) had the balls to take such a swipe at another writer on the cover of the book that I gave this one a chance. Now that I have, I will offer my own version of the plug: "The kind of pulpy, shallow action-oriented SF that Neil Gaiman would write if he were 15."

Ok, that's a bit harsh. I found this book mildly entertaining, if derivative (some of the ideas appear to be lifted from -- err, homages to -- Gaiman's fantastic American Gods; in both, the protagonists meet up with more-than-he-seems-to-be old man after a car accident; Gaiman's kills the protagonist's wife; Lovegrove's kills his ex-army buddy; etc. etc.). Lovegrove isn't overly interested in developing either story or character, but he seems to be pretty good at writing blood-and-gore fight scenes. Pretty much the whole book is fight scenes.

This is beach reading, perfect for a teenage boy who has already seen Thor and X-Men: First Class, waiting eagerly for Green Lantern to open. Disposable, largely devoid of any effort to raise Big Ideas, and somewhat hampered by a rather clumsily done development of the bad guy (Loki) as a thinly veiled Sarah Palin. Oooh, so topical! But it reads quickly for its 585 pages. And, perhaps most importantly, it got me in the mood to start George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series.

So far, I am through the first volume and ~200 pages deep into the second (A Clash of Kings). Now there is some good action writing. Martin is a brave writer, killing off principal characters at a fever pitch. I found myself thoroughly engrossed in the first volume, which is almost devoid of the "sorcery" side of the "swords and sorcery" fantasy genre, although I suppose this stuff properly should be treated as high fantasy, closer to Tolkien than to Robert E. Howard.

The world Martin draws is juuust alien enough to keep the reader from getting two comfortable, while his take on middle age politicking is plausible enough, and his characters engaging enough to really draw the reader into his world. I'm very impressed. So far, I'd rank Martin's writing ahead, or in some cases, well ahead of that of other major contemporary figures in this genre, such as Robert Jordan, Katherine Kurtz (Chronicles of the Deryni), Marion Zimmer Bradley (Darkover novels and a tremendous retelling of Arthurian legend from a feminist perspective in The Mists of Avalon). I am eager for more.

What are you reading?

27 thoughts on “First Monday Book Day: The age of recycling”

  1. I read Jack Vance's Planet of Adventure, which is the genericly titled collection of City of the Chasch, Servants of the Wankh, The Dirdir, and The Pnume. In the series, a sole surviving explorer from Earth wanders a planet of alien races all the while attempting to come up with a way to return to Earth. While it held enough sci-fi to offset the fantasy aspects, my real reason for enjoying the books was the main character's seemingly outlandish ideas, particularly in The Dirdir where he plots how to obtain the funding to build a ship out of spare parts. The books were written in the late '60s, and were entertaining enough.

  2. i recently finished homicide: a year on the killing streets by the wire creator david simon. i have to say, it was a pretty fabulous book. engrossing and expertly written; it reads almost like fiction (and one would hope at times that it was). he gets a little too inside his subjects' heads sometimes for me to be 100% comfortable the authenticity, but he claims in the afterward that he did not put down any thoughts that were not clearly expressed to him at one point or another. it was kind of fun to see the genesis of some of the plots from the wire, and i imagine that i would have seen more if i had ever watched homicide: life on the streets. more than plot points though, it was interesting to see where the ideas that form the actual fabric and texture of the wire came from. three thumbs up. now, back to re-reading women

    1. Sheenie has about 50 pages left of Homicide after I repeatedly told her to read it over and over and over. T'was a very good read.

  3. I read A Study in Scarlet while I was delayed at the airport last week. It was the first fairly long thing I read on the Kindle, and that went really well. Other than that, most of my recent reading has been academic in nature.

    1. The author received £25 in return for the full rights (although Conan Doyle had pressed for a royalty instead).

      talk about serendipity. Oh, wait. I bet the Empire didn't have American copyright laws of the author's life plus a thousand years.

  4. I picked up two Krakauer pieces for my Kindle recently: Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way (published as a Kindle Single) and Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman. I'm reading the latter at the moment.

    A friend gave me two books recently which are next on my list: Paulo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl and Jason Turbow's The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America's Pastime. The title of that second one seems at least one subtitle too long. Has anyone read either of these?

  5. The library district here had their annual book fair, and I picked up two books; a hardcover of Shadow of the Hegemon for Runner daughter, and some light reading for sean. 😉 And speaking of Katherine Kurtz, there was more than one Deryni hardback on sale, but I passed by them all. I still feel a bit burned by that series. While it held lots of promise, it never veered far enough into fantasy from the typical medieval fare.

  6. I've been sitting on mentioning an Atlantic Culture post, The Case for Crime Fiction, for a few days, looking forward to FMBD. If you're a fan of crime fiction, you might find it worth a read. It's been a good while since I've read a good crime novel, so I think I'll pick up something by Bill Cameron and see if he works with my rather finicky tastes in the genre.

  7. Funnily enough, this month I read American Gods ! I hate to admit it, but I'd never even heard of Neil Gaiman until you gentlemen said something. Based entirely upon the recommendations of citizens (cheaptoy & bS), I went by the book store and asked if they had "American God" and where I might find it. The clerk asked, "Do you mean American Gods by Neil Gaiman?" "Yeah, I think so" says I, "do you have it?" She led me to where it should be and, lucky for me, they had a copy. After leaving the store, I sat down in the car and opened to the first page to see what I was in for. I didn't stop reading for nearly half-an-hour.

    The story was engrossing, the characters were interesting and multi-faceted and the historical glimpses of the origin of some characters were really engaging. I kept thinking, "how could I have read nearly everything ever written by Stephen King, but not have known how much better it could be?" I know the two authors' genres are not exactly equivalent, but that’s the thought that kept running through my brain.

    I loved it and I join cheap and brianS in their praise.

      1. Another sequel of sorts -
        From the repository:

        The novella, "Monarch of the Glen" (from the Legends II anthology, later collected in Fragile Things), continues Shadow's journeys.

    1. Hey there, Mister, I haven't shut up about Gaiman for probably about twenty years now. Surely you've caught me laying it on thickly as well...

      I met him at Dreamhaven in about 1996-7 and he signed everything of his that I owned (which was a lot). My favorite work of his is Sandman, but I've yet to read anything of his that I didn't love.

    2. And it should also make the House on the Rock that much more awesome, so if you ever feel the need to make that pilgrimage, its a stones throw from tasting my beer as well.

  8. Martin is a brave writer, killing off principal characters at a fever pitch

    Heh, that's exactly what I was thinking when I first saw HBO was doing the series based on the books. Gonna go through a lot of actors pretty quick on that.

  9. I finished Traitor to His Class earlier this month. Pretty good, one volume FDR biography but nothing groundbreaking. I also finished Will of the World about Shakespeare. That was a very well researched biography because I knew next to nothing about the man behind the magic. For example, I had no idea that he married Anne Hathaway.

  10. Upon the recommendation of you fellas, I purchased American Gods for the ipad last night. I'm probably 15% the way through it so far.

    1. I tried to read the chapter sample on Amazon, but it wasn't rendering correctly. I might just go ahead and take the plunge site unseen on the strength of the recommendations here.

    2. yeah, i might have put that on hold at my local library yesterday. 2 people in front of me though...

  11. I'm reading Area 51 which is a true history of (obviously) Area 51. Pretty fascinating stuff. Did you know that there was an actual Flying Saucer that crashed in Roswell, NM? It was sent by the Soviets (designed by a German) and Stalin wanted it to invoke fear in the American Public a la the War of the Worlds radio broadcast 10 years earlier.

    Curiously enough that radio broadcast and the public (over)reaction is a main reason why the U.S. government was (and is) so secretive about this stuff, they are worried about a general public panic that they can't control.

    1. i remember reading an article about this book. didn't the author claim something about child or midgets aboard this "flying saucer" as well to enhance the illusion?

    2. I should have noted that there is a lot of controversy over this book, including the Soviet flying saucer and the midgets bred to look like aliens (I haven't gotten to that part yet, but have heard about it). Problem is we don't know what's true, what's made up, and what's being challenged to protect the truth.

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