Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?

I will read anything with a Michael Whelan cover.
When I was a kid, I read exclusively fantasy fiction. Any literature I read had to be set in a world based on medieval Europe. Magic was a must. Bonus points for elves and/or dragons. Everything that remotely resembled the present day or the future was an automatic deal breaker, until I was in college and read Ender's Game. Other genres crept in to what I liked, a little bit at a time. I still lean heavily on sci-fi and fantasy for my reading enjoyment but books like Devil in the White City by Erik Larson have neither elves nor dragons and I still thought it was a good book.

What do you mean there are no wizards in this book?  (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻
One of the things about genre lit. that I've grown to appreciate is the blending of multiple genres in a single narrative. I imagine fantasy/sci-fi/horror mash-ups have been going on forever even if I was too set in my teenage ways to pay attention to anything that wasn't straight up sword and sorcery. But I've lately been drawn away from fantasy and more into sci-fi and horror (I will contradict this statement with a very near future review of The Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham). I especially love the narratives that cannot be definitively described as any one thing.

Right before I went to ALA, I finished The Last Policeman by Ben Winters. Henry Palace is a highly dedicated police detective. He's called to investigate what appears to be a suicide, but all the facts don't add up. Palace thinks the victim was murdered. But here's the catch - a meteor is speeding through space and is scheduled to hit the Earth in six months. In a world where suicide has become common, who the crap cares whether this guy was murdered or killed himself? Detective Henry Palace cares, and he ends up in a bigger mess than he bargained for.

The opposite of Detective Henry Palace.
Is this sci-fi or horror or a little bit of both? End of the world narratives can be classified as both. Other than the meteor, there's not anything about The Last Policeman that couldn't happen today. But the meteor is also what shapes the entire narrative. There is this overwhelming sense of dread in reading this book. This is a police procedural, but one set against the backdrop of suicide and despair. The economy has failed, the government can't do squat, and folks live in a militarized state, alternating between madness and denial. Whenever I paused in my reading, I had to remind myself that I did not live in the world of Henry Palace. The world as I knew it was not going to end in six months. Mad props to Ben Winters for being able to evoke that sort of feeling. The whole idea behind this book is that people have stopped caring. To create a character like Henry Palace, who has to care enough for everyone who doesn't, who forces the reader to care about a world that already appears to be a lost cause... that's pretty powerful.

I still don't know how to classify The Last Policeman, but I also don't know how much classification matters. We all have predilections toward one sort of narrative over another. No way will anyone get me to read Amish romances. But a good book is a good book. Do you stick to specific genres over others? What genres won't you read even if your life depended on it?

1 comment:

  1. I dont read much realistic fiction but for a few writers Id read anything they wrote. I only read scifi and fantasy. Ive had enough reality in my life.