Special Topics in Calamity Physics
Probably the most annoying book I've read since I read Thane Rosenbaum's the Golems of Gotham. Both have the potential to be really GREAT works, and both are bogged down by their pretensions to be great, legacy-envy and in general bad execution at the important stuff (character interrelationships and overall arc of the story.
Special Topics is fatally flawed by having a narrator who begins sympathetically but quickly becomes tiresome, shrill, one dimensional, self absorbed and so utterly uninteresting as a figure in her own story that you wonder if she could be cut out.
Mary Sue anyone?
The rest of the characters are not given character development. They're not given different voices. They're given QUIRKS. But they all talk in the same tone, the same cadence, the same diction, vocabulary. For six hundred pages there is no differentiation or significant development of any of the supporting characters or the characters/victims/perps involved in the 'central mystery'. That's in quotes because the thing that is supposed to be a mystery doesn't occur until about page 450, and it is not so much solved as an answer is slowly dictated to us piece by excruciating piece. Pathetic.
There is exactly one character that is not exactly like everyone else, a very average very middle class kid who is infatuated with the narrator, but she dismisses him because he's beneath her class--she is part of the intellectual aristocracy and can't date beneath herself. That's actually exactly what she thinks. It's what her friends tell her. It's what her father tells her. and we only meet him and see his parents and his house to provide oppurtunities for vicious and wholely undeserved mockery on the part of the narrator.
Don't read it, it's terrible.
The Road - Cormac McCarthy
Oprah officially has better taste than the scifi readers community. She picked this book for her book club. It won the Pulitzer Prize. And it wasn't even nominated for the Hugo. Seriously, what is wrong with the voters that they didn't nominate this? At least they DID nominate the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay in it's year, this year they missed out on what is probably the finest scifi novel in a long, long time. They also overlooked the tremendous Lies of Locke Lamora, but no worries, Scott Lynch will be winning the John W Campbell award for best new writer, and Red Seas Under Red Skies will probably be nominated next year.
The Road is a masterpiece. Chilling, devasting, consistently powerful and wrenching portrait of the unbreakable love and devotion of a father for his son. Set in a post nuclear world, they are moving, slowly, further south, always south, to try and avoid the nuclear winter that is slowly killing everything to the north of them. It has been years and years since the devastation of the bombs. Every animal has been eaten, every store has been ransacked, food that is still found in abandoned houses may well be poisoned, and the most untrustworthy creatures of all are the bands of cannibal humans who have turned completely inhuman in the horrifying lengths they go to stay alive. This book is filled with incredibly haunting and disturbing images, some of them you will never get out of your head. But it is also, in a little way, about hope, about the determination of the human spirit to remain aloft, to not be degraded into a monster but to continue to try to live.
In fact this would be one of my favorite books ever if the author used punctuation, but he decided to not employ quotation marks anywhere in the book. It drove me crazy for the first fifty pages and then I was absorbed into the cadence of the book anyway. Still its frustrating to not see quotation marks on the page.
On the other hand, it's a decision that actually works for the novel, because it gives an extra textual eerie, surreal and unreliable feel. You're not quite sure who is saying what and who is thinking what. The world has become so devastated you're no longer sure if the father is talking outloud or if he is just thinking, maybe both.
Tremendous superb, short and incredibly powerful. Read it right away!