I can still remember buying—as a child of 7 or 8—Doom at the local grocery store; it was $5, and came in the form of two 3.5″ floppy disks. At the time, I had no real inclination what it was, other than than package promised a first-person shooter video game that involve monsters and machine guns. What’s not to like? At the time, I could not have known than I was only one of many tens of thousands—hundreds of thousands—discovering the same phenomenon. Of course, I had only bought the shareware version, which comprised the first of three episodes, and lacked the finances to pay $40 or $50 for the full version, but I played those 9 levels over and over again, and my new obsession also caused me to pluck the first of four novelizations from my dad’s bookshelf. Eventually, I would get the full, expanded Final Doom version of the game, and its followup, Doom II.
What is one to make of a book entitled The Shadow of the Torturer? This famous 1980 novel by Gene Wolf, the first of a four-part series, is paired with part two, The Claw of the Conciliator, to form Shadow & Claw.
The title is not sensationalistic in the manner of some recent books, but genuinely reflects the topic of the book. The “hero”, Severian, is in fact a member of the “torturer’s guild”, and does in fact torture and execute a number of people. That he commits a grievous offense against his order/build—by allowing one of his charges to commit suicide—is the most we can say about Severian as a human being; there is not much otherwise to recommend him as a protagonist.
I should disclose right away that prior to the 2010 film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, I had never heard of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s superlative graphic novel(s). The only reason I watched it, in fact, was a combination of my friends’ rave reviews (despite lackluster box office performance) and the fact that I absolute adore directory Edgar Wright’s previous films. My reaction to the film was positive and visceral, as it seems to hit all the right stylistic notes, and of course its contents were a geekfest of epic proportions.
The father-son dynamic in books is old as books themselves, and done with varying levels of success. From the rolls of my own little book meme, I can cite Egolf’s Lord of the Barnyard, Cave’s The Death of Bunny Munro, and McCarthy’s The Road. What makes this dynamic so powerful is that while it appears to be an ancient and simple sort of narrative thread, it turns out to be much more complicated and nuanced than we ultimately expect.
How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is a quirky late-bloomer bildungsroman masquerading as a science fiction novel in the vein of Douglas Adams. With respect to this latter point, the influence is obvious.
Philip José Farmer’s To Your Scattered Bodies Go is yet another in a long list of influential science fiction that I keep meaning to read. It won a Hugo in 1972, and represents the first in a series of books known as Riverworld. As with all good science fiction (I don’t know how many times I’ve said this), it’s not even particularly science-fictional except in narrative skeleton, but instead spends most of its time exploring sociological issues.