42. The Pale of Settlement - Margot Singer - 213 pages (8.5/10)
This is an excellent collection of interwoven short stories. The winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, it tells the story of Susan and several generations of her family and what it means to be Jewish, or at least slightly Jewish. Many of the people in her story are ethnically Jewish and immersed in the culture, but the religion rarely enters into it. Several of the stories take place in Israel, but some take place in Manhattan and other cities.
The prose is what sets these stories apart. It's richly-layered with details. While reading them, I felt like I was in Israel, though I had never been. Singer is clever with her words, subtly turning them over and setting them down just so. The characters seem so real that I wonder how much of this is fiction and how much memory. Some stories had a bit of humour, but most were sombre, dealing with complicated relationships and violence in Israel. I read this collection for school so we can possibly contact her and see if she's interesting in submitting anything for our literary magazine, but considering she's won some prestigious awards like the NEA, she may be too big for us. We can always hope.
I'll be curious to see what she puts out next.
43. Old Man's War - John Scalzi - 318 pages (8/10)
I'm slightly conflicted about this book. On the one hand, it's a good science fiction adventure romp with some social commentary thrown in. I love the concept of old men and women enlisting in the army to have a new chance at a longer, if more violent life. On the other hand, it's so similar to The Forever War by Joe Haldeman and Starship Troopers by Heinlein that I feel like it's a bit like the debate about We and 1984 that I blogged about on my journal. It follows the same basic plot and formula, but it's updated to issues 30 years that are pertinent later. Also, while the characters and plot are well-done, the writing itself was sometimes mediocre and felt a little rushed. But this is his first novel, I believe, and overall I did enjoy it quite a lot. It was the perfect first read of the summer.
The novel started out a bit slow while the main characters were still elderly and crotchety, but it provided some much-needed set-up Even once they're changed so that they are physically able to fight, I didn't find the story overly intriuging until John Perry, the protagonist, meets Jane Sagan. I don't wish to spoil any major plot points, but after that point I was hooked and read the rest of the book in one sitting. I plan to pick up the sequels at some point, for while although I didn't find the prose earth-shattering, it was great fun and provided some interesting ruminations on the future and the lengths humans will go for war.
Furthermore, I must state that I adore John Scalzi as a person. I've starting following his blog (http://whatever.scalzi.com) and his life and sense of humour both seem excellent. So any criticisms I have are merely my own personal preference, and for those who liked The Forever War and Starship Troopers, this is a book to read.