Upstairs/Downstairs -- 06/12/10

No, I'm not thinking about that old British television series... A more complete title might be "Upstairs book/downstairs book."

Yes, I'm one of those people who often are reading two (or sometimes more) books.

The upstairs book is, of course, the book that is on my nightstand next to my side of the bed, the book that I read at bedtime. The downstairs book is the one that I read when I am not upstairs, the book that I read while I am eating lunch, the book that (in mild weather) I might read out on our back deck or on the front porch, the book that I might read in the living room (especially with a nice fire going in the fireplace in winter).

The problem with just having one book is that wherever you are when you want to read, the book is always someplace else. If you make a nice sandwich for lunch and are looking forward to an enjoyable read while eating, the book will be up in the bedroom. If you get all settled in bed at night and are looking forward to a bit of relaxation while reading and you reach for the book only to realize that it is downstairs in the kitchen. These problems are solved by having an upstairs book and a downstairs book.

My current upstairs book is Neal Stephenson's Anathem. I am a big Stephenson fan and have enjoyed all of his works -- Snow Crash and The Diamond Age and CRYPTONOMICON are my particular favorites, although I absolutely devoured his Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World). It is a huge book -- 890 pages of actual novel plus about 45 pages of glossary plus additional material plus a five page "Note to the Reader" -- but that, however, is not unusual for a Stephenson work. I actually bought this book when it first came out -- about a year and a half ago -- and set it aside until I thought I would have time to read it and savor the complexity (and sheer volume) of his work. But I then forgot that I had it and recently remembered it and began reading. I have been enjoying it. If you have read and enjoyed any of his works that I have mentioned, you would enjoy this book. If you have attempted, say, part of his Baroque Cycle and did not like them, you are not likely to enjoy Anathem. If you have never read Stephenson, you should probably pick up Snow Crash or The Diamond Age first.

My downstairs book is a paperback SF novel: Mirrored Heavens by David J. Williams, the first book in his Autumn Rain trilogy. Like a lot of books coming out these days, it has a video trailer on YouTube and a web page with added detail and an opportunity to follow the trilogy on Facebook, etc. Oh, yeah, and what about the novel itself? It's one of those fast-paced ticking-clock page-turners. It's gritty and violent (and it is quite obvious that the author worked in the video gaming industry before becoming a novelist) and I'm afraid that at times it feels more like a comic book than a novel. I don't object to dark and violent and dystopian novels -- I love Richard Morgan's three novels about Takeshi Kovacs (Altered Carbon, Broken Angels, and Woken Furies) -- but Morgan's protagonist has much greater depth and reality. Reading Mirrored Heavens at times seems like watching one of those action movies based on a comic book superhero or a video game, after a while it becomes a bunch of CGI pixels dashing around the screen with no actual people involved. That said, I have kept turning the pages and yesterday I received a package from Amazon containing The Burning Skies, the second book in the Autumn Rain trilogy.

That package from Amazon also contained Into the Storm by Taylor Anderson. Think of John Birmingham's Axis of Time trilogy (where a mid-21st century U.S. led multinational naval force suddenly is transported back to the middle of World War II or S. M. Stirling's Island in the Sea of Time series of novels where Nantucket Island is suddenly moved back to 1250 BC. Anderson takes a battered WWI vintage U.S. Navy destroyer in World War II being pursued by a Japanese cruiser. The destroyer takes refuge in a sudden strange looking squall... and finds itself still just off the coast of Bali except now there are herds of dinosaurs grazing on Bali and huge sea monsters in the ocean...

And I couldn't resist peeking at the opening chapter... and now I'm in the middle of reading three books. (One upstairs and two downstairs.)

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