Several weeks before we left for Cabo somebody suggested that I read A Canticle for Leibowitz, an end of the world tale written by Walter M. Miller, Jr. and published in 1959. I checked it out on Amazon, bought it, and then bought two more books that were in the “if you bought this, you might like this” category. Those books were The Last Policeman (Ben Winters) and The Forever War (Joe Haldeman) — both books built around an end of the world theme.
A few days after that, via Andrew Sullivan’s blog, I read about The Magicians by Lev Grossman, went to Amazon and bought it.
I had four books to read while on vacation. All in paperback so I could keep my Kindle at home.
I ended up reading The Last Policeman in the days leading up to our departure. It’s about a cop in New England who has a murder to solve in the months before a meteor is set to hit Earth, obliterating life as we know it. Because everybody knows the meteor is set to hit, there aren’t a lot of people who really care about solving a murder that’s made to look like a suicide — which is what a lot of people are doing anyway because the end of times is near. There’s a whole lot of other stuff going on, too. The Last Policeman was published a couple of years ago and is the first book in a trilogy.
Next up was The Forever War originally published in the 1970s (1974, I believe). This book was about a futuristic war fought between humans and an extraterrestrial race. The narrator is a soldier in that war. The gimmick is that when the soldiers are off in space fighting the war, time on earth moves much more quickly. So, while they’re off fighting for a year, 20 or 30 or 100 years go by for the rest of the human race. The narrator spends about five or six years at war, coming back to Earth every year or so. During the course of the story human life progresses several hundred years, while he only ages those five or six years. It makes for a pretty interesting experiment in how human life may ebb and flow over the next few hundred years. This book doesn’t appear to be a formal part of a series. However, the author wrote a number of books with similar titles, like The Forever Peace, which makes me wonder.
Wanting to take a break from the bleak world of the apocalypse and a space war, I turned next to The Magicians. This is … well, basically an adult version of the Harry Potter story. Only, the narrator’s schooling takes place entirely in the first book. The main characters are teenagers, but the components of the story would definitely not be appropriate for the younger kids who read Harry Potter. There’s sex, drugs, heavy drinking, foul language — all that good stuff we don’t want our kids exposed to. This book was published within the last few years and is also the first in a trilogy.
And, finally, I turned to A Canticle for Leibowitz to carry me through the last couple days at Cabo and the airplane ride home. This is the post-apocalypse story of the time that starts decades after a nuclear war destroyed the earth. It’s well … I didn’t finish it. I read about two-thirds and then just didn’t feel like going on. The book was originally published in 1959. Forty years later, Miller wrote a follow-up to it — Sister Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman.
I generally don’t buy books because they win awards and didn’t notice that these had until after I purchased them, but here’s how they stack up. The Last Policeman won the Edgar Award. The Forever War won the Hugo and Nebula awards. A Canticle for Leibowitz won the Hugo Award. The Magicians apparently didn’t win any awards, but is described as a New York Times Bestseller. So, they have quite the pedigree.
The end result for me was that The Last Policeman and The Magicians were good enough for me to move ahead to the second book in each trilogy. My enthusiasm for those books is more for The Last Policeman, less so for The Magicians. The Last Policeman is about real people in a real time and there is an arch of an interesting story I can see developing over the next two books. The Magicians, on the other hand, starts in modern America and moves to a fantasy world with talking animals and all of that other fantasy stuff — what would have really interested me twenty or thirty years ago, but not so much anymore. Still, the story was interesting enough for me to want to keep reading.
The Forever War was good as well, but I don’t think I’ll be looking to read any more books by the same author. And, well, as already noted, I couldn’t finish A Canticle for Leibowitz.