The favorites, part 1: Books

Since my tastes are as varied as they are extensive, I decided that it’s best to break the posts about my favorite things up into individual categories. I suppose it would be easy to just make a list and say “Here’s a list of all the stuff I like, hurrrr,” (hurrrr is the specific sound an idiot makes, it seems) but then you’d just know a bunch of facts — ones that aren’t even that important. And since I have always hated fact memorization, I also figured it’d be better to explain and examine why these things are my favorites. So, without further ado, here are my favorite books!

ALL TIME FAVORITE: The Wheel of Time

Alt!favorite books 1

Let the dragon ride again on the winds of time

So I guess I’m going to immediately break expectations by declaring my all time favorite book to be an entire book series. And I guess I could just pick one of the books in that favorite series, but that’s just what you want me to do. Also, I’m breaking two rules because this isn’t science fiction, but shh shh shhhh. Don’t worry about that, the sci-fi will come later, and in droves. Just revel in the glory that is this epic series.

For those who don’t know about it, The Wheel of Time is the late Robert Jordan’s fantasy saga about a prophesied hero rising from humble beginnings to eventually take on the ultimate evil. Yes, I know that sounds pretty cliche, but this series started in 1990 back when Lord of the Rings hype hadn’t caused a saturation of this particular trope. Another notable fun fact about this series is that it’s so long the author died before finishing it (I hate cancer). And it’s not like that hasn’t ever happened before, but Jordan might have asked for it by not wrapping things faster. The Wheel of Time just concluded with its 14th 1,000+ page book, and author Brandon Sanderson was brought in to finish the last three.

Still, this series will always hold a special place in my heart, as it was my real introduction to adult science fiction and fantasy. A friend of mine gave me the first book in middle school and I’ve been a die-hard ever since. So yeah, nostalgia plays a good part of why I like this series so much, but there is still a lot to like about it.

For one, Jordan creates a phenomenal world through every book, building up to something which is so complex it might as well be real. Each country has its own cultures and habits, none of which feel contrived (a rare feat). The world also feels amazingly full, probably thanks to the 2,782 named characters through the series. From a craft perspective, Jordan is a master of world building who immerses you in a setting that’s both distantly familiar and new. On a more simple level, Jordan’s world is just an awesome place to visit. It has one of the most grandiose magic systems of all time, an awesome society of quirky-desert-warrior-nomads, and a rich history that extends into both the past and the future.

And while many detractors complain about the series’ length, I’m a fan of it. I think it provides a sense scope many other fantasy series lack. Sure, 14 books means a lot of events had little to do with the main plot, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, when was the last time some really important plan of yours went off without a hitch? Life is full of tangents and distractions that have to be dealt with, and so I see no reason for books to be different. If anything, neat, linear stories are the ones at fault — not Jordan for having a complicated plot. Of course, that isn’t to say that a series can’t be short and complicated. My point is, just because he could have condensed the plot and cut the books from 14 to seven or less doesn’t mean he should have. Not every part of every book induces wide-eyed enjoyment and feelings of ecstasy, but they’re all important for different reasons.

Jordan has his problems, though, just like any author. He might as well be the posthumous poster-boy for purple prose (say that x times fast), as he’s prone to spending entire pages describing the finer details of clothing embroidery. At times it becomes too much, but in those moments it’s best to just skip to the next paragraph.

Other than that, his only other problem involves some weird gender-role issues. In his world, society favors matriarchy for the most part (due to some shenanigans that took place before the setting of the books), and that’s great. The series is overflowing with strong and independent characters who go around making big decisions, kicking ass, and taking names. At least, that’s what it seems like on the surface. A lot of the time, Jordan tends to subvert this image of the strong-female, which can be frustrating.

And I suppose, if gender issues are a bugaboo (I think the technical term is trigger) for you, then maybe this series might offend you. But, at least from my perspective, it’s not a big enough issue to warrant ignoring what is otherwise a wonderful journey. Plus it’s not like these strong women never get any vindication or moments of glory. Some of the coolest things in the series revolve around the actions of the women. So, y’know, don’t rule the series out.

Wow, so that was a lot about this series. To wrap that up, here’s a quick summary, buried all the way at the bottom when you’d have preferred it at the top (sorry!): The Wheel of Time is the kind of fantasy series that sweeps you away to living, breathing world, where epic characters do epic things that makes you really excited. Sometimes its a bit of a slog, but it’s easy to scan over the slow parts. Also sometimes Jordan can come off like a bit of a chauvinist — but not often enough that it’s a problem.

Ok, damn, let’s move on already.

FAVORITE SCI-FISnow Crash

The only book that can get away with naming a main character Hiro Protagonist.

The only book that can get away with naming a main character Hiro Protagonist.

This book just beat some works by Orson Scott Card, but it’s definitely my favorite sci-fi novel.

And yeah, yeah, there’s a lot of newer sci-fi I’m probably missing out on, but I’m not behind the times without reason. After all, those who’ve read this book know what I’m talking about — Neal Stephenson does a damn good job mixing social commentary with innovative science concepts and edge-of-your-seat action. The latter is probably due to his baroque writing style, but it really works for him. And while many prefer The Diamond Age, I haven’t gotten around to reading that yet. So in the meantime, Snow Crash gets to be my favorite.

Anyway, it’s a fun read that will go by too fast, full of smart humor and poignant commentary on capitalism and computers. In today’s society the technology might seem a bit dated, but if you remember that Stephenson wrote the book in 1992, it’s actually impressive. Everyone isn’t running around inside cyberspace these days, but he did help the term “avatar” catch on. And while corporations don’t literally control the country, sometimes it really seems like it.

The book is also nice in that it’s examined from many different perspectives, and everyone has something to lose if someone else achieves their goals. Hiro and his partner in crime Y.T. (yours truly. Not me, that’s the character’s name) are trying to stop a religious zealot who wants to control the world using a bio-linguistic virus from ancient Sumer, a mafia boss who wants to maintain his iron grasp on the country, and a vengeful Aluet assassin who rides around in a motorcycle with a nuke that’s set to explode should he die. If that seems like quite the handful, it is — but everything is wrapped up perfectly by the end.

As for major flaws, none really come to mind other than nitpicks. Your beliefs might clash with Stephenson’s if you’re the kind of person who can’t examine another point of view without getting upset, but otherwise this is a solid read. I recommend it as much as I acknowledge I sorely need to read more, newer sci-fi. If I had any more followers, I’d ask for suggestions. Oh well, maybe some day.

I think that’ll do it for today, though. I was going to include a little bit about my favorite classic (The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, or maybe Milton’s Paradise Lost…), but this post is almost as bloated as The Wheel of Time (ha! even though I just went to great lengths to explain why it wasn’t bloated… damn it).

Keep an eye out for “The favorites, part 2: comics,” the not-so-long edition.

Maybe.

– Jason

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