Scary thought, I know.
Here I’m talking about book clubs…science fiction book clubs.
I found a congenial group at the famous Powell’s bookstore at Cedar Crossing outside of Portland, Oregon. Powells is very innovative and therefore appears to be thriving in this age of online book retailing, although they were selling books online even before Amazon was.
Immediately after Orycon, they set up a long table of local science fiction and fantasy authors who personally signed their books for any avid reader.
I was one.
It was a great event. The place was a buzz. Actually, it was mobbed.
Real life Star Wars characters showed up. Special deals were offered. A party atmosphere prevailed. Kids ran freely about laughing.
Now the thing about book clubs is that you have to read what the group picks. In the case of my mystery group, they picked Pashazade by Jon Grimwood and I discovered a great new author that I otherwise wouldn’t have known about. It was science fiction, too.
Sometimes the choice is a book that you have already read. Last month we read Ready, Player One by Ernest Kline. (See my January blog) Luckily, I only had to skim over it and refresh my memory in order to add to the discussion.
This month the choice was The Magician by Lev Grossman. I saw the sequel, The Magician King, on Locus Online’s list of top fantasy books of 2011, so I was looking forward to reading the first in the series.
The story is about Quentin Coldwater, a brilliant but unhappy teenager. He is an odd duck with just a few friends. He becomes fascinated with a children’s fantasy series about a magical land called Fillory that makes his real life seem dull.
The first words in the book are, “Quentin did a magic trick. Nobody noticed.” In the beginning, Quentin is preparing for his college interview, but when he goes for the interview he unexpectedly ends up stumbling through unfamiliar woods onto the grounds of an elite secret college of magic. Rather like Harry Potter walking through the train station’s wall into another world and arriving at Hogwarts. After a rigorous testing and interview process among many other hopefuls, he does a magic trick that everyone does notice and he is one of very few admitted.
He feels that his dream has come true and Brakebill is where he was always meant to be. Quentin’s life at Brakebill College has a taste of Harry Potter and a touch of Narnia with a large dose of Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. As Quentin learns all sorts of magic, he meets new friends and develops a romance with a talented young magician and student named Alice. (Yes, really) Eventually, he gets grouped with five other final grade student magicians called “the Physicals” because the do physical magic. Stuff happens.
After graduation, Quentin and Alice move in together and party dissolutely with the others Physicals back in “the real world” until one of Brakebill’s students, an on and off again friend of Quentin’s named Penny, burst in on them to announce that Fillory really does exists… in an alternate universe or on other plane of existence, and he has gone there. He wants to show them the way. The group from Brakebill decide to go, and after a few incidents, Quentin gets them to take off and plunge through the waters of the fountain to eagerly explore this exciting and wonderful land of his childhood fantasy stories.
But Fillory is no fairy world and is a darker more dangerous place in real life than it was in the children’s fantasy books. The group meets several intriguing talking animal characters, giving the novel a touch of Narnia. They discover themselves in the middle of an ongoing war. The action amps up with a deadly showdown with evil inhabitants and Quentin almost dies. He searches out the Questing Beast at the end, with his final wish being to let him go home. And yet…being a financial adviser with shiny shoes looking out a high rise window isn’t what he wants either. So…
I enjoyed the story, but I expected more. So much more could have been done with the magic and Quentin seems to always be drifting through life, searching for something interesting to do. While the writing had flashes of brilliance, I had to make myself read it to finish, rather than have the story sweep me along.
Still, sometimes you have to try something different and reach out to a new experience in order to live a richer life. Maybe that was what Quentin had in mind for himself in the end.