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Notable Books

Books | Four new sci-fi/fantasy books

Issue: "Tidings of discomfort and joy," Dec. 28, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

By Neil Gaiman

When a 7-year-old boy finds his family’s lodger dead in the family car, he turns to three ladies at the end of the lane for aid in dealing with the shock. But a foolish mistake lets evil in the guise of a family-favored nanny invade his home and seek his family’s ruin. Like the unnamed protagonist, readers will wrestle with the remembered pain of adulthood’s intrusions into the innocence of youth. Neil Gaiman knits together a dark and agonizing semi-autobiographical fable in which stories provide the balm for fear and pain and help recapture the once-upon-a-time of childhood. Cautions: one scene of infidelity misunderstood by a 7-year-old as “wrestling,” and frightening imagery.

Ironskin 

By Tina Connolly

This Nebula-award-nominated dark fantasy blends ancient Celtic myth with a plot loosely based on Jane Eyre. Scarred by the evil Fae during the Great War, Jane Eliot must wear an iron mask to keep others safe from the scar’s angry magic. Forced by her deformity to take a governess position at a remote estate, she soon finds herself falling in love with a mysterious nobleman/artist. The secrets of the estate may soon be Jane’s undoing: Debut author Tina Connolly cleverly undermines reader recollections of Bronte’s famed story in a moody, brooding gothic novel with unforeseeable twists. As Jane learns how to turn physical deformity into moral strength, she experiences self-discovery, triumph over tragedy, and victory over vanity.

Transcendental

By James Gunn

Noted science fiction writer James Gunn borrows from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales for his newest novel. Riley, an undercover agent of a human cabal, takes passage on the spaceship Geoffrey as it searches for the Transcendental Machine. As the ship leaves known space to follow a legend, each alien passenger relates the story of why it seeks transcendence. Meanwhile, backbiting and infighting among passengers and crew threaten to destroy the ship. The oddly captivating narrative expresses the human desire to find the infinite and become perfect, but ultimately the story denies the value of the soul. Riley’s search ends with the conclusion that transcendence perfects only the body, as an evolutionary accident, the unintended byproduct of an unfulfilling search for significance in the universe.

The Best of All Possible Worlds 

By Karen Lord

When destruction comes to the Sadiri homeworld, a proud and reclusive all-male, mate-seeking group of refugees arrives at Cygnus Beta, where many cultures have melded. Delarua, the biotechnician assigned to help them rejuvenate their destroyed society, helps them explore the self-contained cultures of Sadiri splinter groups. She and her Sadiri counterpart Dllenahkh find that true love doesn’t undermine cultural values. This romance is beautiful and sweet, though the “live and let live” attitude toward most of the cultures Delarua encounters may rankle some Christian readers. Lord’s poetic and pleasant novel allegorizes themes of cultural assimilation.

Spotlight

Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Is there more to Bilbo Baggins’ adventure of “There and Back Again”? In The Hobbit and Philosophy (Wiley Blackwell, 2012), editors Gregory Bassham and Eric Bronson use Tolkien’s story as a way to introduce readers to the ideas of great thinkers. By melding academic rigor with childlike whimsy, contributors explore the wonder of walking, riddles and luck, cosmopolitanism and romanticism, just war, and the importance of play. Each essay is well researched and concise without being obscure or unapproachable. For anyone familiar with The Hobbit, this volume is an excellent and accessible introduction to philosophical ideas, both ancient and modern. 

Readers who prefer science fiction to fantasy may prefer another book in this series, Ender’s Game and Philosophy (2013). It offers an introduction to similar philosophical concepts. —J.O.

John Ottinger III
John Ottinger III

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