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May 29, 2009

The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman

Book CoverOne of my favorite books that I read in the past year was Joe Haldeman's Accidental Time Machine. Your first guess about this book is probably correct—that you'd be in for a time travel tale. Haldeman, however, takes an SF standard that can sometimes amount to a tired old story, and with his wit and story-telling sensibilities, turns it into an engaging read with novelty, humanity and classic science fiction spirit.

Matt Fuller, a research assistant at near-future MIT, accidentally calibrates one of his projects incorrectly and only realizes it when the device disappears when activated, only to reappear a few moments later. The disappearance and reappearance, he soon realizes, is actually a jump forward in time, and each forward jump becomes exponentially longer. What starts at a second, increases to minutes, to hours to days. By the time he has figured out how to rig up an old car to take himself along with the device, he's gone for months only to find himself in a world of trouble when he gets home. Circumstances push him to make the irrevocable decision to embark on an adventure of forward jumps, casting him increasing further into the future until he can either find a place to settle, or a future with the technology to send him back.

The charm of this novel is primarily in Haldeman's sense of humor, creating characters that are at once whimsical and compelling. The ever larger time jumps give the reader a sense of wonder and urgency to continue along Fuller's journey, as each new time is painted in rich and fascinating detail—and typically defeats all reader expectations of what kind of place Fuller will end up in next. The science is well- but not over-detailed, allowing the causal reader and the science fiction enthusiast alike to enjoy this story. This novel is ultimately about the novelty of each new milieu, but the characters are eminently likable and their motivations keep the story grounded in real emotions. A great choice for science fiction fans, but is highly accessible for general readers looking to try something in the SFF realm.  

May 21, 2009

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

As book buzz goes, Stephenie Meyer has earned quite a sizable amount. Buzz always catches my attention, at the very least, but Meyer's books to this point have been young adult, which always has an adverse reaction on my desire to read. The Host, however, is her first published foray into adult fiction, so I jumped at the opportunity.

This novel opens in a near-future Earth, many years after the quiet invasion of parasitic aliens called "Souls." This race survives and thrives by traveling the universe to find and inhabit compatible hosts. After a clandestine arrival on Earth, they have slowly taken inhabited the majority of humans to establish a peaceful and Soul-ruled planet where the remaining uninhabited humans are rouges on the run from the new established order. The main Soul character of this novel, Wanderer, has been invited to Earth for one lifetime in effort to teach at the university about the many lives she has lived on different planets. Upon arrival she makes the controversial decision to be implanted into an adult host, rather than a child—which is commonly recommended. The host is Melanie Stryder, a recently captured fugitive from the Souls who still longs for the lover and kid brother she left behind. Melanie's robustness proves too powerful to be subdued by Wanderer, and as human emotions flood Wanderer for the first time, the two find themselves both at odds and irrevocably magnetized toward each other. So powerful is Melanie's underlying influence that Wanderer breaks from Soul society to help Melanie track down her fugitive loved ones.

In a lot of ways, this premise is chock full of scifi standards. The symbiant-host relationship may not be familiar to Meyer's YA readers, but any casual scifi fan worth his/her salt will recognize it. The invasion of Earth, the plight of the humans to gain sympathy from one of the invaders... it has all been done before. However, what sets The Host apart from the usual derivative genre standards is how these elements are rooted in characterization. Meyer's characters draw the reader into their plights with a ripe characterization fraught with dilemma. These scifi standards read with freshness through the eyes of earnestly absorbing characters, taking readers on a page-turner journey that is truly character-driven rather than plot driven.

If you have been reluctant to give Meyer's YA novels a try, The Host is your perfect opportunity to succumb to the buzz.

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