Sunday is all about Part 3 of my 2017 reading list. With today’s addition, that brings my total up to fifteen books and novels. Yesterday I showcased The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin, the second and third books in her Broken Earth Trilogy; Silence Fallen, book ten in Patricia Briggs’ Mercedes Thompson series; as well as American Gods and Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman. Today I’ll be switching between genres, beginning with three of the many science-fiction novels I’ve read this year, before showcasing the latest story by one of America’s most prominent novelists, and then ending with a dive into a history lesson. The binding force behind today’s selection is not literary or intellectual. It is sheer entertainment.
Outriders and Sungrazer, the beginning of a new series by Jay Posey, are what I would call science-fiction pulp. The heroes are larger than life, soldiers who excel at every facet of their jobs, to a ludicrous degree. The story follows a small, special forces team from Earth as they deal with a cold war between our home planet and the human colonies established on Mars. In solar system-centric science-fiction, this is not an uncommon setup, and also plays an enormous role in another science-fiction series I will be addressing in a later post. What sets Posey’s work apart is the fun of the adventure and the diversity of the cast. Our main protagonist is Lincoln Suh, a Korean-American man who often goes by Link, in what I hope is a reference to the player character from The Legend of Zelda games. There is subterfuge, espionage, interplanetary warfare, and tense confrontations in zero gravity on the hulls of spaceships. These are the kinds of books that don’t ask you to think, only to enjoy.
There has always been a strong connection between written literature and film, but few novels reach to same level of symbiosis as Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. Set in a future where human civilization has rediscovered a love of eighties pop culture, the story follows teenage Wade Watts, known online as Parzival, on his hunt for an Easter egg hidden deep inside the Oasis, a massive virtual reality. The Oasis is where business is conducted, where students attend school, and where people go to experience the thrill of living inside their favorite video game or movie. Whoever finds the Easter egg controls the Oasis. The book is built on references to modern culture. An early section of the book takes place in the Tomb of Horrors from Dungeons and Dragons, while another obstacle requires Parzival to reenact the entirety of Matthew’s Broderick’s War Games. Soon to be transformed into a film directed by none other than Steven Spielberg, this is a true nerd’s book. Unfortunately, the sense of wonder does not prevent Cline from mangling his one female character, treating her as nothing more than the grand prize for Parzival to win.
Unlike the rest of the books on my list so far, John Grisham’s Camino Island is neither science-fiction nor fantasy. Known primarily for his legal thrillers, Camino Island was Grisham’s attempt to write a summer beach book without lawyers. Instead, he takes us into the world of rare books, priceless first editions, and the black market surrounding them. Our hero is also unlike most of Grisham’s protagonists; Mercer Mann is a young, female writer who is fired from a teaching position at the start of the novel. Contacted by a private security firm, she is hired after the F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts are stolen from the Princeton library in a daring heist. All clues concerning the location of the books point to Bruce Cable, a successful independent bookstore owner with a love of all things literary. Grisham, on top of his legal background, also collects rare first editions, and his love is present on every page of Camino Island.
This last book is even more of a departure from every other book mentioned so far. A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most Notorious Pyrates was written by a man going by the name of Captain Charles Johnson in 1794, after the golden age of piracy had come to an end. Modern scholars believe Captain Johnson was a pseudonym used by Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, but there is still doubt as to the true identity. Regardless, whoever wrote A General History of the Pyrates is responsible for most of our modern knowledge concerning these historical figures. The book features peg legs and eye patches, jolly roger flags and pirate treasure, and every trope we have come to associate with piracy. The book details the exploits of Blackbeard, Anne Bonny, Mary Read, Bartholomew Roberts, Calico Jack Rackham, Henry Avery, and way more pirates than I will be able to list here. The author dives into their lives, showing how these men and women turned to piracy, and chronicles their clashes with the naval powers of the day. The book is both educational and enjoyable, once you become accustomed to the eighteenth-century prose. No fan of history is complete without this tome.
That’s the end of today’s reading list, but Part 4 will be up tomorrow to add four more additions to 2017’s recommended reading. Check back for a look at the business behind some of the most talked about video games, a book for fans of the world’s longest running web series, and a brief glimpse into the domain of self-publishing.