Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

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This is another one of those books that people have been telling me to read for years. Especially people who think they have a general feel for what I like to read for fun. But I resisted. Not actively, I just sort of put it on the "someday when i get around to it" list.

Part of this, I admit, is due to coke.

Coke and it's damn anthropomorphic polar bears.
...drinking soda, dancin' around, smiling all creepy like, and showing up on beach towels everywhere.

And one of the only two covers that I've seen of this book previously had a picture of a girl bundled up in winter attire sitting atop a cuddly looking polar bear.

Ahhhhhh.... that's so sweet. She looks so warm and wintery, and he looks like he's about to crack open a nice cold coca cola and share it with her along with some christmas cookies.

So I kinda stayed away from the book.

I did find one other copy, a trade paperback, with a much more somber cover. I bought it for my daughter because I'd heard that it's a good book for kids too. She didn't read it either.

And then during the trailers before the transformers movie I saw that they are turning this series in to movies this fall.

And I got a glimpse of the bear.
He wasn't holding a coke.
Or wearing sunglasses.
Or dancing even.

He comes crashing through a stone wall decked out in armor with murder glinting in his eyes.
That's way cool.

So I my daughter and I started reading them together. I went out and bought a paperback that did not have a cuddly bear on the cover. And I noticed something.

This book is marketed completely differently depending on it's cover. Or maybe the cover is part of the completely different marketing.... i don't know....

But anyway, in each of the bookstores I looked in, it appears in both the young adult section, and the Sci-Fi fantasy section. And the deciding factor between where it is shelved seems to be it's cover art. There are some covers in the young adult section that I would very embarrassed to be seen holding. But in the fantasy section there are covers that blend in perfectly well with the other "mature" (can you call stories about robots, dragons, hobits and spaceships mature?) novels.

My daughter sorta stalled out. She says she's still reading them, but at about a page a week, and that average is dropping.
Me, I'm loving them. I'm going to read the entire series straight through. I'm on the second book, The Subtle Knife, right now. And these are some of the best fantasy books I've read. They don't need the "young adult" qualifier. They are just damn good fantasy books.

And rather than being young adult books that are good for regular adults too, this is an adult story that could be stretched down into the young adult range if you're looking for a wider audience. I think that the book gets thrown in with young adult literature because the main character of the first novel, Lyra, is a young girl. She's an orphaned little snot, but you'll love her anyawy. Just don't ever volunteer to babysit her.

The world is a sort of steam punk world. I've been a little obsessed with steam punk lately.
Good steam punk is rare. China Mievilles "Perdido Street Station" is the only good steam punk novel I've ever read (that - by the way - is an amazing book that i cannot recommend highly enough).

huh? what? speak up sonny!
"What is steampunk" you ask? Well I'm not sure I can define it, Wiki has an article on it.

I've run into it as a visual art form more than anything, and I know it when I see it. Here's some examples.

Let's start with transformers redone in steampunk style




















es vaaaary nice, yes?

Transformers are maybe not your thing though, eh?
Well how about a little Star Wars redone a-la steampunk? hmmmm?















The "Han and Chewie" was especially nice, was it not?
And to end off this feast, some original steampunk work.









It took me a bit to realize that this first book might fall in to that category. But about halfway through I was sure. Airships and steam engines along side oil lamps and strang lights run from something called anabaric energy. Those are the base ingredients for this world.

People have things called daemons (pronounced just like demon).
Think of it as your soul, only on the outside. You aren't alive if you don't have one.

Sprinkle in some political intrigue and a church that is growing in powerful and still grasping for more. Nebulous mysteries in the north and brief glimpes of what seems to be an entire city flickering through the Auror Borealis.

Oh, and that bear? His name is Iorek Byrnison. He's a recovering alcoholic (he's usually recovering) who is being held by a group of men mostly because he has the uncanny ability to bend metal in his bear hands (ha! get the pun?) and fix just about anything that takes metal work. They're also a little sore about the time he tore a whole bunch of them in to bloody little chunks because they took his armor away.

He does not drink coke, though there is a part where he twists a guys head off like a bottle cap.... that's kinda the same thing.

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I'm just a guy... pretty boring over all. Nothing all that special. Frustrated and growing older (I've hit 30, but i think i'm in denial). I work a job, middle management I guess. We are always broke though. Got a wife, and a daughter, love them both more than i've ever found the words to express. I go to church, sometimes. I bike to work, if i get up on time. I like the rain, always. But I have this nagging feeling that there should be more to life than this...