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Anti-heroes

Aug 10 2012

Sharereads: Fiction and Nonfiction

by Joseph M

ShareReads intro

I’m a voracious reader, and working in the library, I come across interesting books on a regular basis. That being the case, I often find myself reading multiple books at a time. What I’m reading at any given moment depends on the occasion and my mood, and can run the gamut of content and format types. Generally, I find it easier to juggle more than one book at a time when I’m switching primarily between a work of fiction and a work of nonfiction. Earlier this summer, I found myself in just such a situation, dividing my reading time between two great books, which I’m going to talk more about below.

First, the fiction. The novel is called Hunter’s Run, and I found it noteworthy for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it is a collaborative effort between three authors: George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, and Daniel Abraham. All are notable writers on their own. George R. R. Martin is, among other things, the author of the bestselling Song of Ice and Fire series of books, on which the popular HBO series Game of Thrones is based. Gardner Dozois was the longtime editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine and has won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards for his work as a writer and editor of short fiction. Daniel Abraham is a prolific voice in American science fiction, and no stranger to successful collaborations, having penned the lauded epic Leviathan Wakes (unfortunately not yet available at DCPL) with author Ty Franck under the pseudonym James S. A. Corey.

There are many different ways for authors to collaborate on books, and in this case the story took shape over the course of several decades, passing back and forth between the authors and appearing in a number of different variations before publication in its present form in 2007. You can click here for a more detailed summary of the process. In addition to Hunter’s Run, Abraham and Dozois have separately collaborated with Martin on other projects.

But the writing process which created it isn’t the only fascinating thing about Hunter’s Run. It’s a science fiction novel, but with elements reminiscent of Western and Adventure/Exploration genres of literature. In many ways, it could be classified as a Space Western. The sense of a wild frontier is established with a description of the setting: a mostly-unexplored alien planet, settled by human colonists within living memory, and much of the action takes place in the wilderness away from the human communities. A majority of the characters and place names have a Latin American or Caribbean flavor, which also adds to the “Western” feel of the book.

Another aspect of the novel worth mentioning is the main character, Diego Rivera. Diego could definitely be classified as an antihero (and we’ve written about antihero protagonists before on ShareReads) at the start of the story, but he undergoes a fascinating internal transformation as the plot unfolds, providing an interesting counterpoint to his travels in the external world and allowing the authors to explore complex themes of memory, identity, communication, and the ways we are shaped by our experiences.

In addition to all of that, Hunter’s Run is also quite an exciting book, and does not lack for action and suspense; I certainly had trouble putting it down once I got started.

Now I’d like to talk a bit about What I Eat: Around The World In 80 Diets by Faith D’Aluisio and Peter Menzel, the excellent nonfiction work I enjoyed concurrently with the novel discussed above. Peter and Faith are a husband and wife team who have traveled the world and documented the lives of people they met through photography and essays. In previous works such as Material World and Hungry Planet, they arrange “family portraits” based on the theme of the work; all the household possessions of the family were piled together for the portraits in Material World, while in Hungry Planet the families were pictured with a week’s-worth of food. In What I Eat, the authors alter the concept, focusing on the food intake of individuals over the course of a single average day, and using meticulous research to determine a caloric count. In all, 80 individuals were profiled in the book, and are ranked from first to last in order of calories consumed. The result is fascinating, informative, and poignant. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone. For a “taste” of what the book has to offer, you can visit the official website. Or, you can just check it out from your local library!

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Jul 6 2012

ShareReads: Altered Carbon

by Jesse M

Every year, I read a lot of books. Most of them are good, some of them are great, and occasionally a book is of such exceptional quality that I recommend it to people who don’t usually read that genre, and gift it for birthdays and holidays because I am so confident the recipient will enjoy it. Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan is one of those books.

Altered Carbon is a novel which straddles the boundary between the Cyberpunk sub-genre of science fiction and the Hardboiled sub-genre of crime fiction. It features one of most compelling anti-heroes in modern literature, Takeshi Kovacs, a former interstellar special forces soldier turned mercenary/criminal who finds himself drafted into the role of private detective by a very wealthy and powerful patron who is in a position to make him an employment offer he cannot refuse. Complicating matters is that Kovacs is a stranger to 25th-century Earth (his consciousness was digitally “needlecast” from his home planet of Harlan’s World to Earth, the only method of faster-than-light interstellar travel available to humanity) and the body he is “re-sleeved” in, that of former policeman Elias Ryker, had complex relationships of his own that Kovacs must navigate in order to succeed in and survive his new assignment.

Altered Carbon is graphic and unflinching in its depictions of sex and violence, but nicely balances these scenes with more contemplative passages that add depth and flavor to the characters and setting. The quality and complexity of the work earned the novel the Philip K. Dick Award for Best Novel in 2003. Film rights for the book and its sequels have also been optioned and Laeta Kalogridis, who penned Shutter Island and executive produced Avatar, will adapt the novel along with David Goodman.

Fans of Morgan’s work can find more at the library, including the two sequels featuring Takeshi Kovacs, Broken Angels and Woken Furies. Readers interested in pursuing more novels in the Cyberpunk or Hardboiled genres should check out William Gibson’s Neuromancer (the first book in his seminal Sprawl Trilogy) and The Raymond Chandler omnibus respectively; both Gibson and Chandler are considered among the premier writers of their genres.

While Altered Carbon has a lot to recommend it, for me the key element was the character of Takeshi Kovacs. His story and personality were so powerful and gripping I was unable to put Altered Carbon or its sequels down. Who are some of your favorite “anti-heroes” in literature, and what makes them so compelling?

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