Reading report

Well, I finished both Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling and Hybrids by Robert J. Sawyer over the weekend. Briefly:

My wife and I disagree over the latest Harry Potter book. Although we both enjoyed it, I thought it was one of the strongest of the set, while she found Harry’s teenage angst a little overdone and thought the language wasn’t as rich in this book as in the previous ones. I didn’t notice any particular difference in the language–Rowling isn’t a great stylist, and she continues to overuse adverbs (he said boldly)–but that’s been the case from the beginning. As for Harry’s constant state of low-grade anger, maybe I relate to it more than my wife because I’ve always had a temper, and being a teenager certainly heated it up a notch–I can remember breaking the faceplate of a light switch in my school by banging it with my fist, shattering a window by slamming it closed, and kicking a hole in a wall, and there were probably other incidents I’ve mercifully blotted out. Harry has good reason to be peeved, and it would have been far more unrealistic for him to be in a cheery mood all the way through.

No, overall, I agree with Stephen King, who, in answer to the question, “Is Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix as good as the other Harry Potter books?” wrote, “No. This one is actually quite a bit better.” The stakes are getting higher and higher. People we–and Harry–care about are dying in the renewed war with Voldemort. And there are still two books to go.

I, for one, can’t wait.

Of course, there have been naysayers surrounding Rowling’s work from the beginning. Many of the review of the first couple of books seemed to think the Harry Potter series had more in common with Sweet Valley High or other never-ending series than with, say, a “series” like The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings (which, it’s worth pointing out, despite being published as a trilogy, was split by the author into five books). I haven’t seen that claim for a while.

More common are complaints about Rowling not being a great stylist (as I noted above). I know, because I’ve met them, that there are people who read books solely for the language used in the books, and don’t really care if there is a plot–in fact, for some people, the absence of a plot is proof that what they are reading is “literature” and not “genre fiction,” and that, for them, is a Good Thing. Well, fine, but the fact remains that for most people, what matters more than clever prose is story. And Harry Potter offers story in spades–and a story that involves characters we care deeply about, and therefore involves us.

Moving on…Robert J. Sawyer’s Hybrids is a fabulous finish to a very strong trilogy, “The Neanderthal Parallax,” full of trenchant and controversial observations of how our world might have been different if the Neanderthals had become the dominant species instead of homo sapiens. Religion, the environment, the justice system, privacy, genetic engineering, sexual morality–Sawyer doesn’t flinch from examining anything and everything we take for granted and asking, “Does it really have to be this way? Would it be better if it weren’t?”

I loved the way characters and ideas introduced in the first two books, Hominids (winner of this year’s Hugo award for best novel) and Humans were brought together to create a slam-bang climax–or, in a way, two climaxes.

If you like science fiction that mixes ideas, engaging and engrossing characters and lots and lots of Canadian references (), you owe it yourself to read “The Neanderthal Parallax.” My bet is Humans or Hybrids or both will be on the Hugo ballot next year.

Next up on the reading front: Michael Swanwick’s Bones of the Earth (a Hugo nominee this year–my wife and I started reading it on the train to San Jose for last year’s World Science Fiction Convention and somehow never finished it, so we’re going to finish it now) and Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (something I’ve meant to read for years).

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