Oliver Maag’s Fantastical and Fantastic Reads in 2014

White Bookshelf

This post is part of a series of posts in which students of the English Seminar present their favourite books they have read in 2014. The lists are not restricted to books that were published this year. If you want to participate as well, send your list to zest.editor@gmail.com.

Today’s list comes to you from Oliver Maag.

Even though 2014 being a year riddled with longer stretches of non-reading, it was still one of my best ones so far. I might not have read a bazillion books (I do tend to drift towards endlessly long books…), but I can state that of those books which I did read, there was not one which I hated reading. Sure, there were a few false starts, some journeys which dwindled into boredom and were thus left to be continued at a later point in time, and as always a borderline maniacal amount of new additions to my shelves. I have been led into fantastical worlds of magic and fantasy, universes filled with exotic and dangerous planets, voyages deep into the human psyche, even onto the back of great A’Tuin, and have enjoyed each and every one of those trips. From the 42 books Goodreads tells me I have read this year, I have selected a few (10 to be precise) which have left the biggest marks on me, and have listed them below. Enjoy.

Ilium

Dan Simmons – Ilium

When I explained to a friend what this book was about, I found myself making an endless list of seemingly unrelated awesomeness. There is Greek mythology, robots, martians, gods, humans, post-humans, spaceships, scarabs, the Trojan War, Odysseus, Caliban – just to mention a few of the things that make an appearance in the book. It might sound like a convoluted mess, but once I got a few dozen pages into the story, I simply could not put it down anymore. For those who are either into science-fiction or into Greek mythology, this reread of the Iliad is a must.

Reaper Man

Terry Pratchett – Reaper Man

One of my go-to authors at any point in time, Pratchett presents a tale about what it means to exist, why one might do it, and, well, Death, Reaper Man might be one of his most serious books (if any of his novels can called serious). Prattchet interlaces his wit with sudden moments of clarity on a topic which is very dear to him, as well as on a few other he probably did not intend. For those not acquainted with the Discworld, this is probably not the best book to start with (you can start with any of them, but as this is the second one in the Death Series, I’d recommend Mort before Reaper Man), but still, a great read. Beginners and experienced tourists of the world which rests on the back of four elephants, which stand on the back o great A’Tuin, who drifts lazily through space, are (as always) in for a treat.

Perdido Street Station

China Miéville – Perdido Street Station

As with most of my books, this was one of those that I picked up almost at random. I had heard about Miéville and his bizarre fantasy, but had never ventured any farther than that. After suffering a few false starts, and finally fighting my way through the first few pages and getting acquainted with the rich city of New Crobuzon, I became mesmerized. There is only one city in literature in which I have felt myself become so “local” in, and that is Pratchett’s Ankh-Morpork. With a mix of fantasy, SF, a generous dash of the bizarre, a captivating cast of characters (main and secondary), and a plot with its fair share of hidden and surprising nooks and crannies, this was definitely one of my favourite reads this year. There’s a reason I had to buy myself the next book in the series (The Scar) only days after finishing Perdido Street Station.

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Gabriel García Márquez – One Hundred Years of Solitude

One (or I at least) cannot simply live off of fantasy and SF stories, and as such, García Ḿárquez’ masterpiece was a great balance between both worlds. His story of a family and the village surrounding it throughout the decades is one of ups and downs, change and stagnancy, and the constant perpetuity of life. The way in which stories seem to jump out of the ground, add some content to themselves, die off, and then seemingly repeat the whole cycle again, is a wonderful example of García Márquez’ fantastic realism. If you start to read it and either get bored, or just simply lost, fight on. This is definitely worth a few days (or weeks. I might not have had anything else to do at the time, but sip caipirinhas and read books) of your life.

The Hobbit

J. R. R. Tolkien – The Hobbit

No, I do not reread Tolkien every year, nor every few years. As a matter of fact, this was the first book I ever read by him. And I enjoyed it. I truly liked it. I got this as a wonderful Christmas gift, and sped through it in a couple of days, running, doubting, hiding and fighting, right alongside Mr. Baggins and his band of tiny, bearded misfits (Balin & Beorn FTW, BTW). I could make snide remarks at the recent adaptations, but alas, I shall not. I enjoyed the books as something on its own, with Tolkien’s story-tellerish style making me feel like a happy child sitting in front of the fire and listening to my grandfather unravel the mysteries of Middle-Earth. I might even reread it in the near future… Who knows?

The Naked God

Peter F. Hamilton – The Naked God (Night’s Dawn trilogy #3)

The last book in a galaxy-spanning trilogy by one of my favourite modern authors might not have been the best on in the series, but as it was the only of the three I read this year, it had to feature on this list. Space opera might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but with Hamilton’s seemingly endless creativity and writing style, which falls far above the average, but also far away from the over-complex, and a plethora of different storylines and characters (important characters are sometimes introduced almost at the end of of the books), the story keeps evolving and captivating the reader. As is always the case with SF novels, I had to first fight my way through 100 pages or so (nothing, if compared to the almost 4000 which the trilogy spans), to get a feeling for this new universe. But once I had allowed myself to be sucked into it, there was no return until I had finished the series. Some would probably not recommend Hamilton to those starting off with SF, but for me it was the first SF novel I had read in a very long time, and it is not by accident that I have now read my way through almost all of Hamilton’s ginormous novels.

All My Friends Are Superheroes

Andrew Kaufman – All My Friends Are Superheroes

Another one of those books that I bought because I liked its title and cover while browsing used books, this short tale of a man who is brought into the world of super-humans by his girlfriend, the Perfectionist, was a great surprise. With an incredible palette of superheroes (with superpowers ranging from the amazing to the seemingly ordinary), Kaufman brings to life what I believe to be, at least in part, the dream of every reader, namely to become a different person. Tom is that everyday human being, who can suddenly live out the life of a romantic hero, fighting for his life and his love. Who wouldn’t want to be a hobbit, a space-traveller, a prince(ss), or a wizard or a witch for a day?

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards

Kristopher Jansma – The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards

It must have become obvious by now that I do buy books somewhat at random, judging them by their titles and covers. This one was no different. Although being somewhat generic, one might say, this story about a man who is working on a novel, and the years spanning the creation of that work, captivated me from beginning to end. Be it the coolness reminiscent from Kerouac and his Beat Generation homies, the borderline fantastical turns the story takes, or simply the prose and general tone of the narration, this was definitely one of my favourite non-fantasy/non-SF reads of the year. I highly recommend Jansma’s first novel.

It's Kind of a Funny Story

Ned Vizzini – It’s Kind of a Funny Story

This one I had been wanting to read ever since I saw the movie adaptation. Once I came by it in a bookstore in Germany, I simply had to get it. With a story that mixes the known and unknown, teenage angst and depression with the actual life inside a hospice, Vizzini’s novel is a truly captivating one. Even though it does not have Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts, or that kid you have never seen in a movie but think you have, all the characters are there, and all of them are as likable as in the movie (maybe even more so). I am a sucker for the written medium, but in this case, both versions do justice to the story. There is quite a bit more to the story in the novel, so if you have enjoyed the motion picture, it’s definitely worth a read. Vizzini’s writing style makes it a very fine experience indeed.

O bibliotecário do imperador

Marco Lucchesi – O bibliotecário do imperador (The Emperor’s Librarian)

The last book in my list this year is one that I bought on a whim in Brazil. As those who know me will be able to tell you, I’m an utter and complete sucker for all things book and library-related, and with a title such as this one, and the beautiful way this book is built up, I just had to give it a go. It is quite a short read, but mixing the voices of many different figures of Brazil’s rich history, a captivating plot, and various references to events and personages of the country’s past, it makes for a great afternoon on the couch. Alas, it has not yet been translated into English, but who knows, someone might be working on it right now.

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One response to “Oliver Maag’s Fantastical and Fantastic Reads in 2014

  1. Pingback: Wonderful Wall-To-Wall Shelves That Make A Statement

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