The Bookshelf

Books I’m Reading, Have Read, Will Read, Or Want You To Think I’ve Read

My Latest Bibliothoughts

The cold of darkest winter, where Something Ancient slouches towards Bethlehem (or, rather, the rural Thames Valley), trudging through a midnight snow.

The cold of a city-planet, where Earth’s human population has retreated back into a urbanized womb, protected from the sun and the galaxy.

Thankfully, our furnace didn’t kick the bucket until after I finished reading The Dark Is Rising and The Caves Of Steel.

The Dark Is Rising

by Susan Cooper

Where there’s a Will, there’s a(n Old) Way.

Technically the second book in a fantasy cycle, The Dark Is Rising tells a pagan version of the story of Harry Potter – just, you know, thirty years earlier and without the orphan angle.

At Midwinter, Will Stanton wakes up on his 11th birthday to discover he has the power of the Old Ones. Less boarding school magic, more wild woodsy magic. Picture a cross between Taran from The Prydain Chronicles and Grogu.

Categorized as a YA fantasy, it’s a relatively quick read. It feels inevitable that Will is going to succeed in his quest. Will exerts his will, and good things happen.

But that doesn’t diminish the palpable sense of menace from the Dark, especially the character of the Rider. It draws well on tropes from myths and legends, the things we can’t explain, the battle of control versus the wild unknown.

There’s tragedy, there’s the poignancy of a loyal servant’s fall into the dark (both a literal and metaphorical fall, actually), there’s the strength that can be found in community and a shared purpose.

And there’s the obligatory Gandalf figure.

And to be fair, the story doesn’t have to be complete. It’s just one part of a multiple-book cycle. It did enough that I will read the rest of it. Probably.

But first I have a lot of robot novels to re-read, all part of a career development strategy for dealing with AI.

The Caves Of Steel and The Naked Sun

by Isaac Asimov

While The Dark Is Rising is about the mystery of the unknown, the fires that burn in the night, a bit of supernatural, The Caves Of Steel and The Naked Sun are classic whodunnits, puzzles, investigations of the pure logic found in the Three Laws of Robotics – and how those laws could be overcome when they seem as inviolate as the laws of physics.

If there’s something sweeping and grand in Asimov’s notion of psychohistory and the unfolding of Hari Seldon’s Foundation, there’s something just as elegant with the history of robotics, as introduced in I, Robot and now brought into a blend of science fiction and the hard-boiled detective novel.

You could almost call these novels noir, almost call them cyber-punk. There’s certainly a gritty edge, with high stakes. The temptation to find a connection with Blade Runner is strong. However, the self-limited existence of humanity on Earth is not quite dystopian enough. People aren’t all that necessarily miserable or oppressed; just stagnant, trapped by cultural inertia. There’s a trace of hope, a trace of quotidian satisfaction in the routines of society.

Lije Baley is every bit the Everyman detective in the tradition of Sam Spade or Miller from The Expanse, and his partnership with R. Daneel Olivaw in The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, and The Robots of Dawn is a true joy. Yes, there’s a bit of formula – solve the crime, save humanity, free yourself from your hard-boiled demons – but it’s a formula so well-executed that you don’t mind.

And when you keep reading one book after another, and the Robot novels tie into Foundation, you realize why Asimov is such a legend.

Plus, I just learned that Peter Cushing played Lije Baley on the BBC in the 1960s, so I now have a new life viewing goal.

Reviewed This Issue

  • The Dark Is Rising, by Susan Cooper
  • The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun, by Isaac Asimov

Read, To Be Reviewed

  • The End of Everything, by Katie Mack (resuming an interrupted reading)

Coming Soon

  • Black Forest, by Laramie Dean
  • Smashing Laptops, by Joshua Wagner

In Limbo/Progress Made Here and There Between Other Books

  • The Answer Is …, by Alex Trebek

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