Ya’ll know who Daryl Gregory is. Goodness knows I’ve sung his praises more than once on the site, so I was thrilled when he agreed to be a part of my Fave Reads series. Here are the books that really impressed Daryl in 2014 (a series particularly close to my heart)-enjoy!
I need to tell you about Ben H. Winters, if you haven’t heard of him already. I was ready to hate the guy, based only on the fact that he wrote two novelty books, Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters and (wait for it) Android Karenina. It’s of course ridiculous to dislike a guy you haven’t met, for books you haven’t read. For all I know those are well-written parodies. And, as the man said, comedy is hard.
But then early in the year, Liza Trombi, editor in chief of Locus Magazine, told me she thought I’d like his SF / crime novel The Last Policeman. She was wrong about this. I loved it. I finished it in three days (abnormally fast for me) and went on to inhale the next book in the trilogy, Countdown City, which won the Philip K Dick award. World of Trouble came out this summer, and I read it even faster.
The premise of the series is deceptively simple: There’s an asteroid on its way to Earth that will most likely wipe out humanity, and one policeman, Hank Palace, decides to stay on the job even as civilization falls apart.
In a typical SF book, the reader would be expecting the focus to be on the solution to this problem. Surely, scientists somewhere are figuring out how to send Bruce Willis and a nuke to save us all. Winters’ acknowledges that yearning — people in this world have seen all the Michael Bay movies, too — but the series does not take an easy way out.
The focus is instead on Hank Palace, who is sometimes an exasperating protagonist. Why does he keep trying to solve crimes when the end to all mysteries is barreling down on the planet? Hank doesn’t seem to know himself. While others fill out their bucket lists, Hank gets up in the morning, puts on his suit, and goes to work. His own emotions sometimes don’t seem to be accessible to him. What’s clear to the reader is that he’s a man of great empathy, with a sense of duty. He’s the ultimate Midwestern hero.
Hank’s dedication to his work is, of course, his way of coping with the unthinkable, and as a strategy it’s at least as good as what most of us come up with as we march toward our own impending deaths. It’s also, ultimately, inadequate to the task, and Hank’s gradual realization of this, rendered in Winters’ fine prose, makes him a heartbreaking character. When I reached the last chapter, I was already weeping, something that hasn’t happened to me in a long time.