With the end of the fall semester, I suddenly found myself with quite a bit more time to devote to my first love, reading, and in the past month I've devoured a sizable stack of novels. A few of those were surprisingly good, and a couple were the the best I've read in quite a while. So if you're looking for something to read in the new year, here are my suggestions.
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks — Brooks made a name for himself with The Zombie Survival Guide. His return to the world of the living dead is a decidedly moreserious and satirical offering than his previous parody. Written in a documentary style consisting of interviews of individuals who survive a zombie pandemic in the near future, World War Z should be on your reading list even if you don't ordinarily like the zombie-horror genre. Brooks uses the premise to examine (and take some wry jabs at) many facets of the modern world, including world politics, religion, philosophy, psychology, racial and cultural stereotypes, the cult of celebrity, pop culture, and the strengths and failings of the human heart.
Ilium by Dan Simmons — I've been somewhat apprehensive about this novel even though it's been on my list for quite a while, primarily because all of the reviews I've read talk about it's references and allusions to literary greats such as Homer, Shakespeare, and Proust. In my experience, I've found most of novels hailed by critics for their literary qualities to seem a bit pretentious, as if they were intended to display of the author's knowledge of literature and mastery of the language rather than to entertain and engage the reader. So I was delighted to discover that while Ilium is indeed amazingly literate and intelligently written, it is also an incredibly enjoyable read. Any fan of science fiction authors like Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Charles Stross, or Alastair Reynolds should find something to love about this book, but it should also appeal to history buffs or anyone who enjoys the sword-and-sandals action such as seen in the movie 300 (as a significant portion of the novel revolves around the Trojan War as described in Homer's Iliad). A minor warning, however: Ilium ends with a quite dramatic and extremely satisfying cliffhanger, and is concluded in Simmons' Olympos.