On My Bookshelf: Some Variety

Gods of AberdeenLast night I finished a “thriller.” I don’t usually read novels of this genre, but it seemed to have a thread of fantasy, at least according to the cover description. It would be an error to say Gods of Aberdeen is only a thriller. Micah Nathan has created a fusion of mystery and coming-of-age with a hint of fantasy thrown in. But only a hint.

Usually with the fantasy genre, there’s the author’s acknowledgement something beyond the ordinary is going on. In this book, the characters fall into s search for the Philosopher’s Stone with varying degrees of commitment, from skepticism to obsession. The obsession leads to a death and a cover-up and a good helping of guilt. During all this the first-person 16-year-old protagonist navigates the drugs and sex and relationships of his first year of college.

This first novel struck me as well-organized. The author had two clear intents and he largely succeeded in accomplishing them.

proximaIn contrast, last week I finished Proxima, a novel about the first human colonization outside the solar system. Stephen Baxter is a veteran science fiction writer, but his book left me dissatisfied.

The author seemed to start out with a good premise: a First Fleet colony established on a planet four light years away orbiting the star Proxima Centauri. It’s not a perfect premise, given the expense of transporting people 25 trillion miles away just to get a toehold on a planet before the other superpower gets there.

The problem with this novel is that a few other unlikely devices pop up: gateways between planets are found in unlikely places, and seem to serve only to bring upheaval and sadness into the lives of the main characters. Characters who struggle with misfortune are the engines that drive good novels. But this book has a good deal of cruelty. Not only the characters on one another, but the author cooking up new challenges for them.

In contrast to last night’s read, Proxima was disappointing. It didn’t seem well-planned. And the ending just popped out of thin air. And about those “magical” gates: the variety of locations where people found them made little sense from the aliens’ point of view. Or even if future humans time-traveled to place them into history. Mr Baxter has written better novels. I can understand an author’s point of view in portraying a pessimistic future–though I might not agree with it. In this novel, it seems there’s a little too much of the author acting as a puppeteer to manufacture stuff just to get his people into trouble.

It also seems to me that publishers dislike sf novels that wrap everything up at the end–there’s too often a cliffhanger that will lead into a sequel or trilogy or more. It’s not that there’s a limit on good sf ideas, mind you. On the very last page of Proxima, the reader joins the protagonist on a planet where people speak Latin. That could be a whole other book in a series, but I think I want to get off this ride.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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