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Summer Reading

I’m halfway through Anna Karenina now. Like most people who ever had a high school English course, I tend to be wary of big famous novels by big famous authors, but I’m actually finding it surprisingly accessible. It certainly helps that I’ve got a modern translation, but I suspect that even with an older one it’d have surprised me with its quality. My one big complaint right now is that there are about a dozen primary characters who each have three or four names and a title, none of which are guaranteed to be unique to any one character, which may be used in any combination when referring to someone. I haven’t yet broken down and started drawing an actual graph of names and relationships, but I may have to if any more significant characters are introduced in the second half.

As light reading to relax between chapters of Anna, I’ve read two series of five books each. Both are military science fiction detailing the career of a prodigy who, despite challenges and setbacks, defeats in detail a serious threat to all of human civilization.

I accuse neither author of being underambitious.

The Jason Wander series by Robert Buettner isn’t actually very good. Buettner has a set narrative formula which he sticks to rigidly, a boring enemy, a failure to research whether his proposed technology is even plausible, and a fanboy’s view of the US military. I do not recommend this series; I only finished it because I’d bought the series complete and I don’t fail to read books that I’ve already bought.

The Vatta’s War series by Elizabeth Moon is much better. Moon is a much better author: she develops strong narrative arcs both within each book and across the entire series, only rarely stretches suspension of disbelief, and generally tells the story well. I have only three real gripes with this series. First, the entire series hinges on a promising cadet being ejected from a military academy on entirely specious grounds: she’d attempted to help an underclassman she’d been assigned to mentor in a way which backfired an a manner impossible for her to predict. Given the intelligence and competence of the academy’s commandant and staff through the rest of the series, this is hard to explain. Second, a minor romantic subplot from the third book is magnified clumsily by the fifth into the capstone of the book, with the implication that vast personal accomplishment and professional achievement don’t matter unless there is also some idealized lust-fueled pure love thrown into the mix. Finally, the major enemy of the series, like Jaws, only rarely actually appears. A little more information about how they achieved prominence and wealth enough to threaten civilization would have been nice. Still, overall, this was a satisfying series even if it did not quite reach excellence.

Anna Karenina still shows signs of being a masterpiece, which really shouldn’t be surprising.

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