Friday, September 28, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

The Eye of the WorldThe Book of the Week is the hardcover first edition (but unfortunately not first printing) of The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan, cover art by Darryl Sweet. This is to honor Robert Jordan, the pen name of James Rigney, Jr., who passed away last week at the age of 58. In the 1980's, Jim Rigney wrote historical romances under the pseudonym Reagan O'Neal, a western under the name Jackson O'Reilly, and new adventures of Conan the Barbarian as by Robert Jordan. But it was The Eye of the World, first published in 1990, that rocketed him to prominence.

The Eye of the World is the first book in the Robert Jordan Wheel of Time series, a fantasy epic in the Tolkienesque mode, but even more densely detailed and intricately plotted than The Lord of the Rings. The series has been an immense commercial success -- the last five Wheel of Time books published have all reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. It is a testament to Jim Rigney's skills as a storyteller that the series has only gained in popularity, even as it climbed toward 8,000 pages in total length (10,000 in the paperback editions).

The Wheel of Time series was projected to cover twelve volumes (not counting the stand-alone prequel New Spring, the first appearance of which we will see next week), but only eleven have appeared to date. Knowing that his health was deteriorating from the rare blood disease amyloidosis, Rigney prepared detailed outlines of the final book in the series and had lengthy discussions with his wife, son, and other writers regarding its completion. It seems the Wheel of Time series will be finished, a fitting testimony that fantasy fans' devotion to Robert Jordan was mutual.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: A House Like a Lotus by Madeleine L'Engle

A House Like a LotusContinuing our tribute to the late Madeleine L'Engle, the Book of the Week is a signed first edition of L'Engle's A House Like a Lotus (1984).

A House Like a Lotus was the third of four novels following L'Engle's recurring character Polly O'Keefe. Strictly speaking, these novels are set in the same universe as A Wrinkle in Time but years later -- Polly O'Keefe is the daughter of Meg Murry, the protagonist of A Wrinkle in Time -- however the books have a more realist tone with only minor fantastic elements. A House Like a Lotus is arguably the best and certainly the most personal of the O'Keefe novels. It is the only one told in first person, and it deals frankly with Polly's first sexual experiences. My copy was signed by the author with the inscription "Saranam," a recurring term in the novel describing a place of refuge, which one hopes Madeleine L'Engle has found.

Unfortunately, next week's Book of the Week will pay tribute to another major fantasy author who recently passed away.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

A Wrinkle in TimeThe Book of the Week is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, to honor Ms. L'Engle, who passed away last week at the age of 88. Madeleine L'Engle authored some 60 books, many but not all for young adults, and was the 1998 recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime contribution to juvenile fiction.

She is best remembered for A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newberry Award for best young adult novel of 1962. A Wrinkle in Time takes Meg Murry and her brother Charles Wallace through a tesseract to other worlds, where they search for their lost father while learning much about themselves. A Wrinkle in Time has become an all-time classic, selling approximately ten million copies to date, and over the years has given a great many young readers their first introduction to science fiction.

A Wrinkle in Time has achieved this success despite being rejected by dozens of publishers (it was rescued from obscurity by John Farrar of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, who bought the book even though FSG did not publish juvenile fiction at the time), and despite often appearing on banned book lists. It ranked # 22 in the American Library Association' s list of the 100 most frequently challenged books of 1990-2000, apparently because some find it anti-Christian. This is a very peculiar charge, since L'Engle was a lifelong Episcopalian who wrote widely about her religious faith, served for over 30 years as the church librarian of the St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York, and was named an honorary Doctor of Sacred Theology by the Berkeley Divinity School in Connecticut. A Wrinkle in Time quotes from the Bible in support of the novel's theme of the importance of love and morality, and lists Jesus among the humans who have done the most to promote these causes and battle against darkness. One wonders if any of the people offended by the book actually read it.

My copy of A Wrinkle in Time is a worthless later paperback printing, but never fear. Next week we will see a Madeleine L'Engle signed first edition.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge

Rainbows EndThe Book of the Week is the hardback first edition of Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge, cover art by Stephan Martiniere.

Last weekend, in a ceremony at the World Science Fiction Convention in Yokohama, Japan, Rainbows End received the Hugo Award for best science fiction or fantasy novel of 2006. This was Vernor Vinge's fifth Hugo Award and his third for Best Novel. He is only the third person to win three or more Best Novel Hugos. The others are the late Robert A. Heinlein and Lois McMaster Bujold, who will be Guest of Honor next year when Denver hosts the World Science Fiction Convention.

While Vinge's first two Best Novel winners (A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky) were space operas set very far in the future, Rainbows End takes place only 20 years in the future. The novel addresses in part a favorite concern of Vinge's: the possibility of a near-future "Singularity," in which computer science and/or biotechnology give rise to a super-human intelligence capable of advancing technology beyond the ability of ordinary humans to comprehend.

Next week we will pay tribute to the author of one of the all-time classic works of science fiction for young adults.