08 November 2010

Day 226: The Amber Spyglass

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman.  ISBN: 9780375846731.

I love this book for so many reasons.  In fact, I think this is probably the strongest in the series, although a lot of people disagree with me about that.  But this has an incredible amount of world building, and one world in particular made my little nerd heart beat with joy.

That world was the world of the mulefas, which are sentient creatures with strange physiology and a penchant for riding around on giant seedpods.  I won't say much more than that, but Pullman really developed these people in a way that made me want to go out and read as much sci-fi as possible again.  I recognize that this particular work is closer to fantasy, but in this case it was everything that I absolutely love about science fiction, it is what originally drew me to the genre, and what made me start avoiding it as sci-fi writers stopped writing about it so much.  In the cases where sci-fi writers did focus on really truly creating aliens, they often did so only to point out the differences so that the reader would cheer the hero on through the xenomorphic slaughter.

Perhaps this is a little "girly," but I am interested in both the difference and the similarities.  I want to be able to learn about the cultures and the histories of the alien races I'm reading about, and it is incredibly difficult to do that when some human schmuck is busy torching their libraries and stealing all the artifacts from their museums and eating/buggering their zoo animals.  I think it takes a lot more imagination to create a culture for alien peoples than it does to destroy them, and what's more is it's usually more interesting as it forces human characters to look at their own culture, history, and identities in a different way.  If this is something that appeals to you, The Amber Spyglass, The Left Hand of Darkness, and Speaker for the Dead are good places to start.

Can anyone else help a librarian out and recommend good Xeno-centric books?  I'd love to get back into reading sci-fi, but not if I have to keep reading the same old war stories.

A fabulous summary of the book is over at Book Dweeb and a micro-review over at Books for Breakfast.


  1. This was my favorite of the trilogy too, mostly because it was so intense! That moment in the underworld when Lyra slips, wow.

    I too loved Pullman's world-building in this book - that world was really so fascinating in its difference from ours.

    I'm not 100% sure this is what you're looking for, but Michael Flynn's Eifelheim has a really intriguing human / alien encounter story, where the aliens have accidentally stranded themselves in 14th century Germany.

  2. Christy,
    Thanks for the recommendation! That sounds fascinating. I'll be sure to check it out. :)

  3. The Sparrow. Definately The Sparrow. It's all about world building and it's a very powerful book. The Dispossessed is another good one for world building.

  4. Eek, help me out here CB, I'm assuming you mean The Dispossessed by LeGuin? These are fairly simple/common titles for books and I'd love to make sure I get the correct suggestions.

    Thanks in advance!

  5. I have got to re-read this series as it has been far too long, and I know I loved it both times I read it...

  6. ah Trisha,
    I am sometimes frightened to reread books. I'm always afraid I won't like them as much the second time... or that I will remember too much from the first time and it won't be as "fun". I like new thrills and disappointments too much, I'm afraid.


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