Eternity Road by Jack McDevitt
The plotline of this sci-fi novel of post-apocalyptic Earth is that of the classic quest. The story starts in the Mississippi Valley in what used to be Memphis where the heroine Chaka, a young woman despondent over the death of her brother who died in an earlier quest to a place called Haven, receives a copy of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court from the sole survivor of that earlier quest before he promptly kills himself. Spurred by this event, Chaka gathers a band of unlikely travelers in another attempt to find Haven. In this future, humans are reduced to living in Middle Ages-like conditions except that the remnants of the past such as highways and train stations and even entire cities made by the Roadmakers are littered throughout the countryside. Haven, as myths from this fictional future say, was supposed to be a repository for books (extremely rare in this world) and the resting place of a fantastical underwater ship. Haven was also supposed to have the answer to why people escaped the cities and devolved technology-wise. I thought this story was only so-so; the author didn’t do anything original with the archetypal quest plot, and although the characters weren’t exactly flat, their development was rather predictable. Also, the answer to what caused the apocalypse? Mentioned liberally near the beginning and a total cop-out, the microbiologist in me grumbles at the virtual hand-waving that some airborne virus from the jungles killed most of the population.
Abhorsen by Garth Nix
The final volume of Nix’s Old Kingdom trilogy starts out, literally, with a bang and there are no rest stops until the end. The nineteen-year-old protagonist from the second volume, Lirael, with her nephew Sameth and two talking animals, the Disreputable Dog and a grumpy white cat named Mogget who definitely aren’t what they seem, race across the Old Kingdom and down south to Anglestierre (an early twentieth-century version of England where magic can’t work unless a wind from the Old Kingdom blows in its direction) to rescue Sameth’s friend Nick from a powerful necromancer intent on digging up an ancient evil. It’s typical fantasy fare on the face of it, but it’s world-building and character development at its best. I would recommend this book only if you’ve read the previous two, Sabriel and Lirael: Daughter of the Clayr. Lirael is not your typical fantasy warrior-woman. She’s unsure of herself, doubtful, melancholy (sometimes suicidal), and desperately yearns to belong. Sameth is whiney and a little spoiled, but while Lirael is a round peg trying to get into a square hole, Sameth is the square peg already jammed into a round hole and trying to get out. In other words, he doesn’t want to be what everyone expects him to be. And even if you despise coming-of-age stories, the fantasy world itself is worth it–who doesn’t want to be an Abhorsen, making the dead stay dead with the aid of magical charter marks and bells? (Aside: I’ve noticed that the publisher is coming out with “adult” editions of the trilogy. Those new covers with the simple artist’s rendition of charter marks are, to put it bluntly, ugly and puts me into mind of those adult editions of Harry Potter which are trying to appeal to the audiences that don’t want to be caught dead with a kiddie book. If you don’t want to be seen carrying a children’s or young adult book, you really haven’t grown up, have you?) And as for Mogget, the only character to have a solid appearance in all three books, readers won’t be disappointed when his true nature is finally revealed.
Currently Reading: All the books I’ve mentioned in previous weeks as well as How Dunk a Donut which is written by a physicist.