Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. This is the first Atwood I've read, and I enjoyed it. It's literary fiction and science fiction in equal measures, and tells the story of one of the last surviving human beings as he remembers the events leading up to the biologically-engineered apocalypse. It's also a fun satire of corporate responsibility, technology, and what happens when we think we're above human failings. There are a few points where Atwood gets carried away with the satire and derails the story for a few pages to make a point about Starbucks or video games or whatever is on her mind, but generally this was excellent, and I recommend it. There's a sequel too, called The Year of the Flood, that I want to check out at some point.
Straight Man by Richard Russo. A novel set in an English department. It's pretty slapsticky, very witty, and always funny, and it manages to make riveting, hilarious reading out of personnel hiring committees and budget cuts. This is my second Russo novel (I've also read Empire Falls), and it's by far my favorite. Highly recommended!
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. This much-loved sci-fi novel was published in 1956, and in some ways it shows it. For example, it opens with a long expository prologue that explains the history of the world and some of the ideas at play, something not many sci-fi writers would try nowadays. The pacing has a distinctly retro feel--some parts feel like Bester was really taking his time, others feel like he had a deadline and needed to get the job done. Some of the perspective shifts and how they're accomplished/developed feel a little amateurish by today's standards. In other ways, the novel feels very modern. Nothing ages faster than sci-fi (try reading some early William Gibson now that it's 2011), but The Stars My Destination feels timeless. It's action, comic-booky science, and depiction of scary corporate interests feel like they could have come from the '70s or '90s or 2000s just as easily as the '50s. And the main character! Damn! Gully Foyle is a great anti-hero, one of the most fascinating characters I've seen in a sci-fi novel. He's violent, stupid, uneducated, and a murder and rapist, and Bester does some really interesting things with him by the end of the novel. Did I mention that the book is full of intrigue and action? At times it feels like a science-fiction version of a good James Bond movie. I'm very glad I read this one--it was really interesting.
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. More classic genre fiction. I own an anthology of old pulp detective stories and I'd read stuff by Mickey Spillane and Dashiell Hammett and not really liked it much, so I was leery of The Big Sleep. And then I read the first paragraph:
It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.BOOM! The language throughout The Big Sleep is similarly amazing, and it elevates what would be an exciting but rather conventional detective story into literature. People are starting to reevaluate Chandler and accept him as one of the great American stylists and I can see why. Gorgeous writing.