Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Volume 1: Dawn; Yoshiki Tanaka

logh dawn

Let’s start at the beginning: centuries ago, the dictator Rudolf von Goldenbaum founded the Galactic Empire and obliterated anyone who opposed him. Fearing his regressive policies, a handful of slaves managed to escape his clutches and found the democratic Free Planets Alliance. These two societies managed to get by for years, until they encountered each other once more in space. They fought, and have been fighting ever since. It has been 300 years since that first battle.

These days, the Empire retains much of its former glory, but has dwindled in strength as the nobility play petty games of power. Meanwhile, the Free Planets Alliance struggles under the weight of government corruption and mismanagement. Two men rise to power; one is Reinhard von Lohengramm, a brilliant young man who seeks to seize the reins of power from the Emperor who keeps his sister locked away as a concubine. The other is Yang Wenli, a put-upon historian and tactician who finds himself drafted again and again into a military that badly needs his expertise. Their adventures foretell a changing of the guard. But will authoritarianism or democracy triumph? Who will be remembered and who will be forgotten, in the Legend of the Galactic Heroes?

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My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante

my brilliant friend

I’d never heard of Elena Ferrante until I started working at a bookstore this summer. One day I noticed that a number of books on display were all written by the same author; I asked around, and everyone I talked to raved about Ferrante’s work, how she was a fantastic but overlooked novelist whose skill at making the reader turn those pages was unparalleled. After reading the first of her famous Neapolitan novels, skimming through interviews with the author online, I can’t help but think that Ferrante’s success is a phenomenon you could only really find in a small independent bookstore. Here’s an author who publishes anonymously, through a small press (even in her home country of Italy!) and has still found fame and respect at home and abroad. You’d never track her down on Amazon or at a Barnes and Noble, but Ferrante’s books are good enough that they’ve spread like a virus across independent bookshops across the country, purely by word of mouth. In an industry rife with manufactured publishing events, that’s pretty rare!

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Wolf in White Van, John Darnielle

wolf in white van

I have a confession to make: I’ve never listened to the Mountain Goats. About fifty pages into Wolf in White Van, a novel by lead singer and songwriter John Darnielle, I decided that after finishing I would rectify this immediately. I would comb through their whole back catalog, and listen to it all. I couldn’t wait. Then the novel slowly began to reveal itself, the walls closing in. Halfway through the book, I put it aside for a whole week; there was too much there that I recognized. Eventually I finished it, and was impressed, if discomfited. But I have yet to listen to the Mountain Goats. The wound’s too fresh.

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City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett

city of stairs

You may have already realized it if you’ve been following me on Twitter for a while, but I can barely stomach epic fantasy these days. It wasn’t always this way: back when I was in middle and high school, I’d devour just about anything in the genre, the longer the better. I still have a fondness for the attention to detail of Tad Williams’s Memory, Sorrow and Thorn books, the outrageous ambition of Steve Erikson’s Malazan series, even the breadth of SF novels in the same vein such as Vernor Vinge’s classic A Fire Upon the Deep. But these days, imagining yet another iteration on Tolkien’s hobbit stories, trilogies upon trilogies of the same narrative with the same characters walking the same road to Mordor fills me with dread. Even authors in the genre I used to find tolerable as late as college – Brandon Sanderson, for one – aren’t for me anymore.

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