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I Can See Your House From Here v. 2.45
© Kenn McCracken
July 26, 2002

There are times when you have so much to say that you really have no idea where to begin. This, as you might guess, is not one of those times for me.

So instead, I will break all tradition by presenting a "best-of" list -- this time, not at the end of December, but rather in July. Why not?

I've been picking up a few old books lately, perhaps a bit of coincidence with putting down comics. Not entirely true -- I have been picking up old trade paperbacks and reading through my favorites. But I need new reading, and being broke, I turn to the old. It got me thinking, and I realize that I have spent the last year plugging comic books that too many of you still haven't read, but I haven't gotten you guys a list of books. (For those of you too tied into your computer screens, those are those things that look a little like magazines, only smaller and thicker, and with fewer pictures. Usually.)

At any rate, it's probably well past time that I got you guys down to the local bookstore or library to read some of the things that have shaped my life. And to make it easier on a lot of you, I'll make it all either science fiction, horror, or speculative fiction of some vein.

Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: It's too bad that more people aren't aware that Vonnegut is a science fiction writer. Oh, it's true -- particularly when he lets his alter ego Kilgore Trout come to the front to speak a little. While Vonnegut may be more attached to satire or biographical books, his short stories are as full of futurism and speculation as they are of social commentary. In this, his last published full-length work (from 1996), he takes a brilliant idea and turns it into a memoir that every writer -- and every person, for that matter -- should read.

The ida behind the title is that, in February of 2001, the universe grows tired of expanding, and contracts; once it hits 1991, ten years earlier, it changes its mind and begins expanding again. Vonnegut takes the guts of his original story, strips them of fat, and then adds commentary and memories. The resulting book is one of the easiest and most poetic novels ever written, and may very well be my favorite book yet written.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett: Pratchett is a name well known to readers of fantasy SF, and Gaiman is one of the most respected writers in the comics field (and spreading quickly to the book world). What you get when you put them together is the best written parody to date. Imagine The Omen given the Airplane treatment, and you've got a fair idea of the book.

The parody itself is shining brilliance, with nary a misstep throughout, but the book also serves as an excellent send-up of religion, pop culture, and other things Apocalyptic. If you enjoyed The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, this is definitely something you'll feel comfortable with.

The Dark Tower (volumes 1-4) by Stephen King: So, I'm not giving you a Top 5 or anything, but including four volumes should make up for that. Right?

I shouldn't have to tell you about these books. If you either know me or you read, you've heard of King, and probably this series. There are any number of reasons to seek out these four books, not the least of which being that this may be King at the peak of his storytelling ability. It's an epic tale -- obviously, with four volumes, and three more yet to be written and released -- based on the poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, by Robert Browning. But is that really important, or just impressive on paper?

This half-finished but really long so far novel combines elements of westerns, science fiction, fantasy, action, horror, adventure, romance, and any other genre you might want, unified by King's masterful campfire telling. King creates a world and characters as engaging and real as Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. If you're looking for a King book to start with, don't just start with one: pick up these four.

A Boy's Life by Robert McCammon: McCammon's been off the radar for quite some time -- and even now that he's reappearing, he's back with historical fiction -- but his first run of books still places him as one of my favorite authors. Only King has released as consistent a library of work, but (perhaps because we both hail from Birmingham, AL) McCammon's books feel closer to home, as it were.

While my initial instinct was to include either Swan Song or Wolf's Hour in this list, A Boy's Life won out. The other two are great horror stories (dealing with post-nuclear America and werewolves in World War II, respectively), but this book is more of a Southern boy's adventure tale with horrific elements. For someone who grew up in the Deep South, in situations that could have come out of the book, it's a magical memory that could have been. For those of you that proudly wear the Yankee title, it's a nice window.

I could go on -- I haven't even mentioned Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves, or Piers Anthony. Oh, right -- because I hate Piers Anthony. But that's okay, because I've run out of time. And you've got better things to read.

Damn. Thus ends the long-running gag about me being illiterate.

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