Saturday, March 28, 2009

Leaving modern detectives aside

In between the adventures with Patterson, I also read one new period detective novel and revisited an old science fiction classic I hadn't read since I was a kid.

I have a great fondness for ancient Rome; the era of the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire being my favorite place to meander in fiction. Thanks to the wealth of period commentators and their later historians who had access to primary documents we can only dream about reading today, many authors can find ancient Rome a well-documented playground for storytelling.

My favorite books on the period are the books which begin with The First Man in Rome, by Colleen Mccullough. Once better known for The Thorn Birds, she has really stamped a mighty mark on the historical fiction world with this huge and amazingly researched series. (My only real quibble with her is that she maintains Julius Caesar was solidly heterosexual. Other researchers are not so sure about that. He was, however, absolutely a tomcat.)

My favorite mysteries set in that period are the ones by Steven Saylor, who is also a rather talented writer in MY genre, albeit under a pseudonym. His Gordianus the Finder series, aka Roma Sub Rosa, have his curious, cynical, clever detective rubbing elbows with all the big names of the day and finding bodies everywhere.

But happily, I have found another Roman sleuth who seems to have the bad fortune to stumble on mysteries while trying to keep a Legion healthy in the wilds of Britannia. Yes, he's a doctor; another of my favorite things to read about! I just finished my second book by the author, and Terra Incognita was as much fun for me as Medicus, the first one. And there's a new one this year! (Adds it to my wish list)

Gaius Petreius Ruso, Medicus, has a familiar kind of life; low on romance, high on bureaucracy and complaints, too many bills to pay and too many relatives with their own money problems depending on him. He's got the footloose womanizer best friend, a sullen and conniving slave who keeps more secrets than her owner would want to know, and bosses with irrational requirements at the most inconvenient times. Oh, and bodies show up from time to time. Fun! Not deep. (For depth, see Mccullough.)

The revisiting was spurred by the recent death of three-time Hugo winner Philip Jose Farmer. Turns out I didn't have a single book by him on my shelves, but I was sure I'd read him years ago. So, I popped a quest with Paperback Swap and re-read To Your Scattered Bodies Go, the first book in the Riverworld series. Now, I had remembered these books fondly as a sort of "what if all the people I always wanted to write about were resurrected in this odd SF environment with, oh, the rest of humanity?"

I figured it would be fun to reread.
It really wasn't.

I found it shallow. I found the set-up to be more interesting than the characters. I hated that Hermann Goring was a major character who actually set about killing Jews again. Female characters? Prude, tool or slut, all shallow and not important to the story.

Ah, well. I will not bother to get the sequels.

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