The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
What it is: The story of a reluctant draftee in a 1000-year intersteller war against an advanced alien race, and how he deals with the psychological rigors both of justifying killing creatures in order to "gain" a lifeless rock, and (because of time dilation) returning home to a world he doesn't recognize, with norms he can barely understand.
How I'm liking it so far: An unabashed Vietnam War allegory, The Forever War is one of those "important" books that I've never gotten around to reading... until now! I must say, as I near the end of the book, that I'm impressed. Haldeman really captures the human side of war, and the toll it takes on those who fight it. Moreover, he wraps it all in a well-realized hard(well, hard-ish)-sci-fi setting, and keeps his allegory story-relevant and setting-appropriate--no mean feat when it's as pervasively front-and-center as is the case here.
Recommendation: This is a genre classic (it won the Hugo, the Locus and the Nebula awards), and it's easy to see why. This is no lighthearted space opera, but if you're looking for a bleak but important work of science fiction, The Forever War is a must-read.
Traditional Irish Fairy Tales, by James Stephens
What it is: A collection of Irish legends, sagas, and folklore.
How I'm liking it so far: A mix of pagan and post-Christian stories, the stories in this set vary greatly in tone and... well, "the moral and ethical grounding of their time as reflected in their style" isn't a word we have in the English language, but it'd be useful right about now if we did. What doesn't vary is Stephens' voice, which is dry and reserved in a way I quite enjoyed. These stories aren't presented in a fully academic format, but they are closer to that than most modern adaptations (these were first published in 1920), and the presentation here is more to my taste in any case.
Recommendation: A bit slow-paced, this collection might not appeal to readers looking for something high-engagement or "modern" in its writing style. But with that said, it's an excellent introduction to a few traditional Gaelic heroes and their legendary travails.
An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India, by Shashi Tharoor
What it is: A history of the British colonization/occupation of India, aimed specifically at refuting the idea that there was anything benevolent or moral about the military and civilian atrocities committed by Britain.
How I'm liking it so far: Before I started reading this book, I don't think I would have described British colonialism in India as "benevolent," but I certainly thought of it as much less brutal and more humane than, say, the French colonialism in Southeast Asia, or Belgian in Africa. Tharoor directly attacks the idea that British actions were either a civilizing or a moderating influence, and he doesn't lack for evidence; this book reads like a list of atrocities (ranging from humanitarian to fiscal to purely ethical), all meticulously documented. It's frankly overwhelming--but that's its intention.
Recommendation: Anyone whose picture of British colonialism is heavily colored by Kipling (as mine is) should read this book, if only to help disabuse any misperceptions which that perspective might allow to fester. Anyone whose immediate reaction to my summary is to think "okay, but..." should also pick this book up, as it directly addresses and refutes all of the common apologetics. Just don't read this story if you don't want to be numbed and appalled in equal measure.
Seven-Point Star, by G.S. Taylor
What it is: In an alternate history where the Central Powers won WWI thanks to their development and research of magical powers, a professional thief finds that a failed heist thrusts her into the center of techno-magical war of intrigue.
How I'm liking it so far: The debut book by the author (better known in ponyfic circles as Jawjoe), this is a story I've only just started. Even at this early juncture, though, it seems to have many of the hallmarks which I associate with him as an author: self-aware use of common tropes, a fug of cynicism which envelops characters and setting alike, biting sarcasm, and a tendency to use the authorial soapbox to its fullest. So far, I find I'm liking the mix quite well--the "cynicism" thing in particular plays much better in an original setting than it sometimes did in Equestria. There's a bit more "take that" in some of the AU developments than I felt was strictly necessary, but that's my only substantive complaint at this point, and the mix of humor (again, mostly in the form of sarcasm) and intrigue has me expecting good things going forward.
Recommendation: If you like plots-within-plots and fiction with a bit of bite, this would be a good choice. At three bucks, it'd also be a good, inexpensive purchase if you feel like supporting a (former) ponyfic author. You know, if that's the sort of thing that matters to you.