3 brilliant books

Circumstances have put me in the car alone a lot more lately, and my preferred electronic companion on the highway is an audiobook. I’ve been choosing wisely of late.

After a couple of compelling young adult series that nonetheless left me emptier than I wished (Renegades-Archenemies-Supernova by Marissa Meyer and Uglies-Pretties-Specials by Scott Westerfeld), I switched to sampling “fully adult” authors who had blown me away before.

Klara and the Sun is a new novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, whose haunting Never Let Me Go I loved many moons ago. Like the earlier novel, it’s a very quiet science fiction novel told from the perspective of an artificial friend, whom we follow from her wait on the showroom floor to her experiences with a frail but feisty teenage girl and her fractured family. As often happens in science fiction, this story about an android/robot/artificial intelligence has a lot to say about being human. One day I saw that I only had 15 minutes left in the story, and I hesitated because I didn’t want to leave Klara. It’s another haunting work of genius from Ishiguro.

Rilla of Ingleside is the sixth novel in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s series that began with Anne of Green Gables. The story follows Anne’s youngest daughter from naive teen through the harsh years of The Great War, from 1914 to 1918, on the home front of Prince Edward Island. The trauma of those years lay heavy on Montgomery, and it shows in Rilla’s story, which she published in 1921. In the last few years I have discovered Terry Pratchett and Lucy Maud Montgomery and elevated them close to my beloved Ray Bradbury; Rilla of Ingleside charmed me as much as anything she wrote since Anne of Green Gables itself with an overlay of the futility and horror of war. I am only a third of the way through Montgomery’s novels, but this may be my favorite so far.

This week’s commute has been accompanied by Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir’s brand-new novel — I just looked it up and discovered I grabbed it off Audible on May 4, the day it was released — so the fewer spoilers, the better, I suspect. Let me say that The Martian is my personal favorite science fiction novel of the 21st century so far, and this new book clearly emerged from the same light-hearted, heavy-scienced mind, and I’m loving it. Our hero wakes up after a very, very long sleep to find himself alone on a spaceship in a different star system, unable to remember his own name, and we are drawn into his dilemma as he slowly figures out who he is and why he’s there. I was intrigued by Audible’s note, “PLEASE NOTE: To accommodate this audio edition, some changes to the original text have been made with the approval of author Andy Weir,” and I can’t say what those delightful changes are without giving spoilers. Narrator Ray Porter gives a genius performance.

After three home runs in a row, I’m a little anxious about the poor book I pick up next, because these are hard acts to follow.

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