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A book each by Vonnegut and Gaiman.

1) Armageddon in Retrospect - Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut is shaping up to be the Tupac Shakur of the publishing world--the guy whose estate doesn't let a little thing like death stop him from releasing new material. Like most such posthumous volumes, Armageddon in Retrospect is a mixed bag. Two of the pieces ("Letter from PFC Kurt Vonnegut. Jr., to his family, May 29, 1945" and "Wailing Shall Be in All Streets") are well worth reading--in fact, it's a crime they weren't published during Vonnegut's lifetime. The vast majority of the material in this volume, however, features the same pat moralizing and cliched and predictable resolutions as the short stories anthologised in Vonneguts other collections; one ("The Unicorn Hunt") is so utterly sophomoric in both concept and execution that it's hard to believe it was penned by the same author who brought us Breakfast of Champions and Timequake. In fact, the simple inclusion of a chronology would have increased Armageddon in Retrospect's value tenfold: without it, it's impossible to tell whether these tales represent Vonnegut as fledgling author or an established but lazy author. I recommend that all but the most diehard of Vonnegut completists borrow this volume from the library before deciding to purchase.

2) The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
Speaking of established but lazy authors, I've been heartily disenchanted with Gaiman of late; contrary to what publishers might think, authoring masterpieces like Stardust and American Gods should not give any author a "Get out of jail free" card when it comes to recycling the same half-assed plotline volume after volume. So I had no real interest in reading The Graveyard Book, even after it won that Newbery.

Having now read it, I am happy to say that it definitely ranks in the top half of Gaiman's oeuvre, if not the top five. Gaiman is best when he takes the time and attention to carefully build up the fantastic elements of the worlds his characters inhabit, something he definitely does in this volume. Indeed, this book is as much about the titular graveyard and the personalities who inhabit it, as it about the quest of the main character…and it doesn't suffer for it in the least. The debt to Kipling is obvious, and the reduction of the main (and honestly, extraneous) female character to the standard damsel-in-distress narrative obligation for the male protagonist disappointing, but those aspects aside, this book is definitely worth the read.

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January 2012

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