Books of Dust

I grew tired of the Harry Potter series several volumes ago -I couldn’t stand Harry’s selfishness, his lack of talent or spark, his air of superiority and aloofness over his sidekicks, nor how everyone seemed to gladly die / risk everything / fall on the wayside so that he could continue living his self-absorbed life. And although I truly enjoyed The Lord of the Rings and everything Tolkien since high school, I had to admit to myself that, even though the Middle Earth is tremendously extensive and peculiar, it’s also ethically and psychologically shallow.

Enter His Dark Materials, a fantasy trilogy by Philip Pullman that isn’t a decade old, but that has all the signs of a classic. These books (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass) are fast-paced, always entertaining, and always surprising. But more importantly, Pullman writes with a ferocious, unrelenting intelligence. His characters (even his talking, armored polar bears!) feel more real, more true to life, than most other characters of the genre. Lyra and Will, the heroes, are truly deserving of that title. And even though the plot is grandiose, it always feels personal and intimate, an underlying, bittersweet reflection on responsibility and growing up.

You’ll find the trilogy on the children section of your bookstore, but don’t let that discourage you –it’s more intense, insightful, and challenging, than most adult literature.

About Jorge Aranda

I'm currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the SEGAL and CHISEL labs in the Department of Computer Science of the University of Victoria.
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6 Responses to Books of Dust

  1. Greg Wilson says:

    Bah — the first two were fun (though full of holes), but the third was a *complete* cop-out. No no no, we’re not actually rebelling against God — that would ruin sales in the American market. And: her mother turns out to have maternal feelings after all? Bah, I say; bah!

    Now, Brust’s “To Reign in Hell” — *that* delivers…


  2. Jorge says:

    ***spoiler alert! — big spoiler alert!***

    Greg! The only frail shred of divinity left in the universe dies the moment it comes out of its glass coffin, they kill its substitute, afterlife is a sham, and the original sin saves the world. Any book that does that gets my sympathy. How is it a cop-out?!

    But FINE, I’ll go and check Brust’s book too, with very high expectations 😉

  3. finchley81 says:

    You want challenging and intellectual? How about
    “The Control of Discrete Event Systems” by Ramadge and Wonham?

    Which is a geeky way of saying I like my fiction escapist and (fairly) non-intellectual.

  4. Jorge says:

    Perhaps this is an appropriate time to confess I have Koza’s “Genetic Programming” at my bedside for nighttime reading.

  5. Yoni says:

    Jorge, isn’t it the case that the criteria for a well written fantasy/sci-fi story are the same as for a well written novel? that is too say: aside from creating an imaginary world, characters, forces and so on, for the story to be successful there must be conficts, anti-heros, characters’ growth, and so on?
    (This observation may seem simple, but I think it is often overlooked)

  6. Jorge says:

    Sure –writing good stories in a particular genre doesn’t exempt you from writing good stories, period. And I think you’re right in that your observation is often overlooked: Fantasy and sci-fi literature are often regarded as inferior because their authors tend to act as if writing about funky species and cool tools excuses them from character development.

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