RaveLocus MagazineLive; live; live might a very subtle and low-key book, it’s a beautifully poised novel about mysteries both eternal and mundane ... The understated, though always elegant prose, gives the final pages of the novel a chilling, even dangerous edge as our attention shifts to Joshua, as we begin to doubt his motivations toward Erin. As with the ambiguity encircling Judd, though, questions remain unanswered. While this lack of a clear resolution may frustrate some readers, to again borrow John Mitchinson’s words, Live; live; live is a very grown-up novel.
Yoss Tr. by David Frye
RaveLocus... entertaining ... Yoss avoids the pitfalls of aping Chandler’s similes or reworking the author’s work ... very much a Yoss novel. In terms of the general premise and structure, it’s a little more conventional than Condomnauts, yet the book features Yoss’s knack for imagery ... I also appreciated Yoss’s character-work: Raymond is a delight – not overly robotic, but also not entirely human – and the buddy/cop relationship with Vasily is handled with a good dose of humour and heart ... Kudos then to Restless Books, who have now translated four of Yoss’s novels from Spanish into English – by the wonderful David Frye – with the most evocative and eye-grabbing of covers. It’s a privilege to read the work of a writer as inventive and erudite as Yoss, but it wouldn’t be possible without the terrific support of publishers like Restless Books.
RaveLocus... sublime ... an extraordinary short novel, a meditation on loneliness and death that feels all too relevant ... for all the heady and meaningful discussions about the fundaments of existence, Morselli also has a flair for the cinematic. There is a disquieting and yet awesome moment where the narrator visits an airport and sees planes, these motionless, empty behemoths crowded \'on the tarmac, one practically on top of the other.\' Other incredibly visual set-pieces ... a capacious novel (or novella), brimming with large, metaphysical ideas, densely packed together, each one deserving to be unpicked and explored in detail.
PositiveLocus... vivid, angry, outspoken ... Kay provides space for others to tell their story ... illustrates (if there was ever any doubt) how the hatred for the \'Other\' runs deep in America and across the western world. And yet, for all the harrowing imagery of violence and subjugation, of people rounded up and slaughtered because of the colour of their skin and their gender identity, Hernandez encourages a sense of hope; of white folks working alongside marginalised and vulnerable communities, not as saviours but to provide support in the fight against the forces of hatred and oppression.
Christiane Vadnais, Trans. by Pablo Strauss
PositiveLocusThe ten stories vary in tone, though more often than not they have a dreamlike, sometimes nightmarish, aspect ... With a devotion to language, to rhythm, to imagery (beautifully translated by Pablo Strauss) Vadnais injects a mythical, even scriptural quality to the stark realities of global warming ... it pleases me no end that there is space in this sub-genre for books as lyrical and strange as Fauna.
Christiane Vadnais, Trans. by Pablo Strauss
RaveLocusWith a devotion to language, to rhythm, to imagery (beautifully translated by Pablo Strauss) Vadnais injects a mythical, even scriptural quality to the stark realities of global warming ... As much as I love the anger and passion of a book like James Bradley’s Ghost Species or the harrowing climate catastrophes collected in McSweeney’s 2040 A.D., it pleases me no end that there is space in this sub-genre for books as lyrical and strange as Fauna.
Sayaka Murata, tr. Ginny Tapley Takemori
RaveLocus... skillfully translated ... a dark, surreal, and brutal novel ... while there’s never a sense that Murata condones or supports their extreme choices, her refusal to cast judgement allows the reader to view these monstrous acts as a reaction to society’s inability (or unwillingness) to accept those who are different, who don’t see life as a conveyor belt of production and procreation. I’m sure some will argue that Murata didn’t need to go to such stomach-churning lengths to make her point. But for me, it’s the book’s visceral, grim savagery, and those final shocking pages, that makes this such a vital, powerful novel. In the current pandemic haze where it’s easy for the days to blur together, Earthlings is the sort of challenging, confronting fiction that wakes you up with a jolt and leaves a lasting impression.
RaveLocusWith prose that’s sparse but beautiful, and drawing on fables and myths, Hunter eschews the traditional disaster movie, end-of-the-world aesthetic for something more intimate and even hopeful … from the outset, it’s clear that the qualities that made The End We Start from such an extraordinary debut – the magnificent prose, the mythological underpinnings, the challenges of being a mother – are also evident in The Harpy. … wickedly funny … Sliding between different modes and genres – twisted fairy tale, kitchen-sink drama, social commentary, and psychological thriller – The Harpy is near impossible to classify. Of course, that’s precisely why I love the novel and why I hope to be reading Megan Hunter’s fiction for years to come.
RaveLocusThe good news is that The Invention of Sound harks back to the Chuck Palahniuk who wrote spiky, gruesome, satirical works like Choke, Survivor, and Haunted. Mitzi’s perfect scream, amplified by anyone who hears it and reducing cinemas across America to rubble, is an inspired idea that recalls the Monty Python sketch \'The Funniest Joke in the World\'. It allows Palahniuk the opportunity to take a swipe at Hollywood, including the jaded producers who hire Mitzi because her work elevates their shitty films, never questioning how she produces screams that are so authentic; or the Academy who ridiculously nominate Mitzi’s recording for \'Best Sound,\' not because it’s good but because \'the industry needed to prove they hadn’t launched a horror flick that had already smashed dead with concrete almost three thousand teenagers.\' ... The Invention of Sound, like many of Palahniuk’s earlier novels, is about broken people who exist on the fringes of society. What I found surprising is that Palahniuk is kind to Mitzi and Foster. Don’t get me wrong; they’re not likeable, and they both do awful things, but you can understand how they became the people they are.
Agustina Bazterrica trans. by Sarah Moses
PositiveLocus... wonderfully translated ... not for the faint of heart ... without undercutting her worldbuilding, Bazterrica acknowledges the inherent absurdity of her society ... In Marcos, Bazterrica presents a moving portrait of a man who continues to grieve over the death of his son; who cares deeply for his dying father; and who loathes his snobbish sister, her rich husband and their creepy, sociopathic kids. Throughout, there are some gut-wrenching scenes ... Where that portrait starts to fray is regarding Marcos’s relationship with his “gift.” Yes, he treats her more like a human – she is given a name (Jasmine), she wears clothes, and she learns how to help around the house – but importantly, this shift only happens after they have sex. Bazterrica frames the sequence (or more precisely the lead-up; she cuts away before they have sex) as an intimate experience. There’s no getting around the fact that it’s also a rape scene: Marcos has all the power and Jasmine has no means, physically, emotionally, or mentally, to provide consent. Initially, I was bothered that Bazterrica didn’t interrogate this further, that Marcos never feels any remorse over what he’s done, and then I realised that this is precisely the point of Tender Is the Flesh. More than just a critique on how capitalism and greed dehumanises a society, Bazterrica digs a little deeper and shows how our unlimited capacity to adapt allows even those with a conscience to normalise the most horrible, outrageous, and awful of deeds.
MixedLocus... it’s difficult to imagine anyone rushing out to their local bookstore (if they can leave their house) to seek out stories centred on viral outbreaks. I certainly struggled to make it past the first 30 pages of Lauren Beukes’s new book Afterland. What got me through the novel was Beukes’s skill as a storyteller and the fact that her virus, and the apocalyptic scenario she presents, bears little resemblance to what we’re all dealing with now ... For the first half of Afterland, Beukes expertly parcels out the plot and worldbuilding through a series of flashbacks (the novelist’s best friend) and an interlude that features a colourful FAQ about HCV. Beukes excels, though, in how she efficiently nails the distinctive voices of the protagonists ... As much I enjoyed Beukes’s depiction of the characters, I was less impressed with the narrative choices she makes in the second half ... As a chase novel, the plot requires that the pursued (Cole and Miles) and the pursuer (Billie) be kept apart until the climax. There were consequently times where the narrative sat in a holding pattern waiting for one of our heroes to make a poor decision to push the story along. The novel was also weighed down by the introduction of The Church of All Sorrows: a religious order who believe if all women apologise for their sins men will return. While their zealotry, mixed with empathy and kindness, is undoubtedly memorable, the toxic message they spread, which infects Miles, becomes stifling toward the back end of the book ... My major issue with Afterland is that, given the sudden shift in political and social power, Beukes doesn’t take the opportunity to imagine an America free from the influence of men ... Beukes is a fine writer, and Afterland is a genuinely entertaining read – even during a Stage 4 lockdown – but it’s also a novel that undercooks its premise, and that’s a shame.
PositiveLocusVanderMeer’s vibrant worldbuilding and epic, parallel-reality spanning plot are supported by a cast of memorable characters ... There are the historical figures (Napoleon, Jules Verne, Franz Kafka) who are initially played for comedic effect but who each perform important roles in moving the story forward...Compared to these spritely individuals, Jonathan does regularly fade into the background. However, several major revelations about his family toward the back end of the novel provide an intriguing set-up for the next book in the duology ... does a terrific job broadening the scope of the Lambshead-Universe; and while it may lack the literary pyrotechnics of VanderMeer’s recent adult fiction, the novel pleasingly features his trademark sense of the weird, his fascination with bizarre environments and alien perspectives, and, of course, talking animals.
RaveLocusJohnson skillfully evokes a sense of unease ... Johnson’s impressionistic style leans heavily on imagery rather than detail, often twisting the ordinary and mundane out of shape ... That sensation of something lurking in the darkness, something out of sight, but so very present, is an effect that Johnson sustains throughout Sisters. It culminates in a revelation that caught me off guard (even though I should have seen it coming), a moment of clarity that only deepens Johnson’s complex, harrowing portrayal of love and abuse.
RaveLocusOne thing that’s clear about Mexican Gothic is that Moreno-Garcia is having a blast playing with the conventions of Gothic literature. The creepy family, the decaying setting, the gaslighting of women, and the twisted eroticism are all present, but in the last third of the novel, what was simmering comes to a ferocious boil with a memorable, albeit stomach-churning, climax that nearly put me off a certain food. What stops it from exceeding peak melodrama is the presence of Noemi. Her refusal to believe the lies the Doyles feed her about Catalina, her sense of justice when she learns the truth about this wretched family, and her capacity, as a well-educated and empowered woman, to stare down gloating, sleazy, white men, makes Mexican Gothic her novel.
PositiveLocusAlong the way Calla meets other women (as a side note all the women are given a name, while the men are designated a letter) and it’s during these encounters that Mackintosh raises questions about free will, reproductive rights, and motherhood. There’s a cogent moment where Calla chances upon a white ticket holder fleeing her responsibility to have children. Rather than appreciating that this woman’s right not to have a child is as valid as the right to give birth, Calla is instead overwhelmed by feelings of resentment. It’s an eye-opening moment ... Mackintosh does not attempt to flesh out her world beyond what’s needed to tell Calla’s story. But I also appreciate that what’s important about the world depicted in Blue Ticket isn’t so much the whys and wherefores, but to recognise that men aren’t required to go through the lottery process to decide who gets sterilised.
RaveLocusRemarkably, these less than subtle nods to scripture – there’s more than I’ve mentioned here – are never distracting or annoying. This is partly because it makes sense to draw a link between the apocalyptic tendencies of the Bible with the impending climate catastrophe, especially when you consider the emphasis the Testaments, Old and New, place on family, on generational shift (all that begetting), on the environment (check out Exodus and Deuteronomy), and the possibility for redemption and renewal. But it’s also partly because A Children’s Bible happens to be a very funny and moving novel. Evie is a delightful character who can be vicious and acerbic, but also deadpan ... At the same time, Evie’s love for her younger brother Jack, including her attempts to underplay the shit-show that is the climate catastrophe, is not only poignant but also reflects the difficult conversations I’ve been having with my children ... The final pages of A Children’s Bible are a sobering reminder of the environmental tragedy we will all face if we don’t act now (assuming it’s not already too late). But they’re also tempered with a modicum of hope, a belief based on faith alone, that this current generation, inspired by the determination, the anger, the activism of extraordinary teenagers ill somehow redeem and forgive the sins of their fathers and mothers.
Laura van den Berg
RaveLocus MagazineThe 11 stories that make up Laura van den Berg’s new collection, I Hold a Wolf by the Ears, may have been written over the last several years, but they feel very much of the now ... several of the stories in I Hold a Wolf by the Ears have an absurdist aesthetic (I compared van den Berg to David Lynch and I stand by that remark) ... The stories in I Hold a Wolf by the Ears showcase van den Berg’s ability to dig deep into the interior lives of her female characters, to explore their doubts, their anxieties, and their anger as they confront a world that makes little sense ... it’s very much in keeping with 2020.
Samanta Schweblin, trans. by Megan McDowell
MixedLocus... her interest lies in our psychological interactions with technology, making the persuasive case, at least from the perspective of the dweller, that for all the benefits a device like the kentucki might provide, it can’t resolve a person’s deep-seated issues, their flaws, insecurities, and anxieties ... On the flip side, when the narrative switches to the keepers (Enzo and Alina), the argument is less compelling. Schweblin never fully articulates why anyone would rush out to buy a kentucki ... The upshot is that I found it difficult to imagine the kentucki as anything more than a thought experiment. Having said that, Little Eyes remains a fascinating attempt at testing the boundaries of our digital existence, foregrounding the psychological, emotional implications of technology above the concerns around privacy and security.
RaveLocusWhat I’ve come to love about Hendrix’s fiction is how he uses horror tropes, whether those are demonic possession, supernatural heavy metal bands, or vampires, to shine a light on political and social issues ... Yes, the book club and Mrs. Greene do join forces to confront the vampire in a climax that is as empowering as it is bloody, but it’s telling that James Harris, a metaphor for all that’s wrong with a deregulated free-market – the insatiable greed, the lack of accountability – only gets a toehold within the community because of this social and racial divide ... Hendrix, though, never forgets that, first and foremost, his job is to scare the bejesus out of his readers. He does have a bit of fun along the way; once she witnesses James in action, Patricia purchases every vampire novel in her local bookstore. But, for the most part, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires plays it straight. Hendrix’s take on vampires (no spoilers) is an inventive, if gruesome, twist on the mythology, but the star is James Harris, a truly malevolent creation, beguiling and charming (at times he seems so reasonable you forget he feeds off children), but when threatened, utterly ruthless and savage. There is a nerve-wracking scene in an attic involving Harris and Patricia (again, no spoilers) that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. It’s this ability to terrify, while also having something worthwhile and insightful to say, that makes Grady Hendrix one of my favourite contemporary horror authors.
RaveLocus... a novel that brilliantly straddles that hazy no-man’s land between literary and genre fiction ... To spend 800 pages – and in my case 11 days – in the head of a man crippled with self-doubt and a deep, abiding fear of social interaction isn’t a reading experience I would actively seek out. And yet if Adam Levin had emailed me an additional 100,000 words of Belt’s circuitous ramblings, I would have carried on reading with nary a thought to the contrary. This is because, as Belt’s memoir toggles between 1988 and 2013, Levin does an astonishing job at varying the tone and pitch of the novel. The book is often incredibly funny ... In contrast to the laughs, the story can be emotionally devastating ... if you decide to take the dive, and I heartily suggest you do, reading Bubblegum is an experience you won’t soon forget.
Cho Nam-Joo, trans. Jamie Chang
PositiveLocus... very deliberately not a subtle novel ... there are times when the book reads less like a novel and more like a stilted, formal essay. That’s also part of Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982‘s appeal; it’s precisely the footnotes and lack of nuance that has made the novel so incredibly influential ... does little to paint Korean men in a positive light. However, as the #MeToo movement has made abundantly clear, the prevalence of sexual harassment and violence toward women is not unique to one country. I would, therefore, like to think that the searing jolt provided by the novel would force men to recognise their culpability. Nam-Choo, even before she was attacked, bullied, and sent death threats by anti-feminists, was aware that men would choose to deny the truth rather than confront it.
RaveLocusKling’s dialogue is witty and sharp, the relationship between Peter and the droids is handled with a great deal of humour and warmth, and more often than not Kling lands his jokes—Qualityland is incredibly funny—a rare feat for a science fiction novel ... it’s Kling’s insight into artificial intelligence that, alongside the jokes and absurd set-pieces, makes Qualityland such a rewarding read.
PositiveLocus... muted and opaque, the prose spare and clean, the story told with the disaffected eye of a documentarian. For those with their finger on the pulse of contemporary fiction, it’s like anticipating a book by Ali Smith only to discover it’s been written by Rachel Cusk. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – I love Smith and Cusk – but I was caught off guard by how different in tone and structure Pew is to The Answers. Once the shape of the story became clearer, and once I realised that Lacey, just like all of us, is grappling with the conflicts and contradictions of the current moment, I found myself in tune with this strange, arresting novel ... The uncertainty around Pew’s identity and origins – are they an angel, or a teenager fleeing abuse, or something far stranger? – gives the novel an allegorical flavour. It’s an allegory, though, that actively avoids teaching the reader a moral lesson. Rather, Lacey asks us to question our urge to categorise and label, to force or project an identity on those around us. On that note, what I found so confronting is that, just like the townspeople I was moderately frustrated at the ambiguity regarding Pew’s identity. More disturbing is that, while I was furious on Pew’s behalf when a nurse, and then a doctor, almost force them to undress to reveal their genitalia, there was a part of me that wanted a resolution to the question of their gender. Just as with her previous novel, The Answers, which examined our assumptions and preconceptions about love and pain, Pew, in focussing on the big issues of the day – race, gender, and immigration – compels us to pause, reflect, and then interrogate our own hard-wired beliefs and prejudices.
PositiveLocus...an intense, psychologically driven and female-centric character study (still a rare beast in the publishing world) ... In an industry where women must be portrayed as sympathetic and where only men have the permission to be unlikeable, Moshfegh is one of the few writers (Claire Messud is another) giving voice to feelings of paranoia, self-loathing, and hatred from a female perspective. Vesta is a troubled, lonely, and disagreeable person ... Where Death in Her Hands really gets under the skin, is when, occasionally, the artifice falls away and Vesta doubts her sanity ... As a parody or satire of psychological thrillers and mystery fiction, Death in Her Hands is less effective ... If the novel falls flat in that respect, it’s Moshfegh’s take on abuse, on old age, on loneliness, on the realisation of a life wasted that cuts through like a razor.
RaveLocus... an unashamedly absurdist novel ... a book that commits wholeheartedly to the surreal environment it has created. It’s a risky endeavour, especially with longer fiction where there’s always the danger that over the course of several chapters the absurd premise, initially subversive, funny, and eye-opening, will wear thin. Leichter does not have this problem. Partly that’s because Temporary is a short book, clocking in at just over 200 pages. Partly it’s because Leichter doesn’t just rely on the ridiculous nature of each set-piece to drive the story – within these mini-worlds, whether swabbing the deck of a pirate ship, or working for an assassin, our narrator faces all manner of obstacles and threats. The main reason why Temporary works so well as an absurdist novel is that the subject matter – this massive shift since the 2008 financial crisis from permanent to part-time and casual work – lends itself to being ridiculed ... lovely mythological interludes ... a terrific novel that, horrible pandemic aside, speaks to the current moment, speaks to the uncertainty many of us face, speaks to the drawbacks of an uncaring free-market, and does so with a wonderfully witty sense of the absurd.
PositiveLocusGish Jen’s The Resisters comes close...[to] pulling off the feat of making the unlikely pairing of baseball and a dystopian setting seem like a natural fit ... in portraying an American dystopia where baseball—a symbol of freedom and the American dream—is played in secret and where zoning laws have forced the Surplus to live in swampland, Jen not only echoes the discriminatory policies of redlining but also amplifies contemporary concerns about income equality, the whittling away of civil liberties, and limited access to essential services in the poorer parts of the US (for example the five-year water crisis in Flint MI) ... The novel’s denouement (which I won’t spoil) brings this to the fore in a manner that cleverly plays against the traditional baseball-movie climax and sees the baton of hope and resistance passed on to the next generation. With The Resisters, Gish Jen provides a new angle to the dystopian narrative, while doing justice to that great American literary sport: baseball.
PositiveLocusI was utterly engrossed in his depiction of a virtual world of epic quests, galactic-spanning space battles, and incredibly violent bank heists ... What stands out, though, is how much fun Ruff is having combining the conventions of spy fiction – the betrayals, the twists, the contrivances – and the freedoms, both creative and personal, afforded by role-playing ... However, in service of 88 Names‘s high-octane plot, Ruff’s treatment of online culture lacks depth ... the novel’s dramatic tension leans heavily on the superficial notion – most likely influenced by Russian bots and sock-puppets – that you can’t trust a person’s profile on the internet ... Given that 88 Names is set more than two decades from now, and putting aside the fact that our views on gender and sex are likely to shift significantly over the next five to ten years, let alone 20, I’d like to think that the proliferation of VR, and the intimate, first-person perspective it provides, will assist in breaking down traditional conceptions around how a person identifies ... Although I did expect something a little more chewy and thoughtful from the author of Lovecraft Country, I also recognise that for Matt Ruff 88 Names is a heartfelt love letter to role-playing games, and to that extent the book is a success.
PositiveLocus... in striving for profundity Okri often over-reaches. His desire to mix and match creation myths and parables from across the world leads to a nebulous mush of New-Agey concepts such as the infinite light that connects all things ... The novel’s heightened, fable-like quality also means that Okri’s world never feels grounded or real. I’m sure this is deliberate, after all The Freedom Artist is an allegory, but it does mean I struggled to care about the characters ... And yet, I couldn’t help but be entertained by The Freedom Artist. It has all the naïve boldness of a debut novel, an author throwing a kitchen sink of ideas at the page to see which ones will stick. Some are bizarre, such as the novel’s dizzying lurch toward horror as the Hierarchy, out of desperation, unleash a special force of cannibals wearing jackal masks (yes, you read that correctly) to gobble down any dissidents. But when the ideas do land, they are tremendous ... a deep appreciation of literature, storytelling, and flights of the imagination; a condemnation of the tendency to dumb down great works of art; and the overriding message that true freedom can be found in the pages of a book.
PositiveLocus... [a] pulpish aesthetic [and] a zany sense of humour... both Pythonesque in its conception, but also genuinely sinister ... As much as I enjoyed the Cartel, what I truly loved was how Adams, across the course of the novel, parcelled out the extraordinary story of Los Verticalés ... Just like Peter Thisbee built the Vert level by level, Adams adds a layer of worldbuilding with each excerpt – whether it’s an explanation of the Vert’s political structure or the establishment of a bordello in the underground carpark – that deepens our understanding of this strange, fascinating enclosed world. Behind it all, though, is the tragic foreknowledge that for all the eccentricities, for all the customs and traditions and improvised solutions that come from living in an almost hermetically sealed environment, things won’t last – the building will fall ... deeply weird but poignant novel about the extended family we discover amongst the rubble and ruin of a rich man’s folly.
PositiveLocusThe storytelling nous that makes Soule’s comics so damn entertaining is abundantly evident in Anyone. It’s not just the thrills he evokes from full-colour, splash-page action scenes and the sort of ruthless villainy that would make the Kingpin proud (I’m looking at you Gray Hendricks) but also how he leverages the reader’s knowledge of the future to upend assumptions about the past ... Anyone‘s abrupt, almost unfinished climax raises several fascinating philosophical possibilities. It also suggests there’s more story to tell and, while I don’t generally advocate for sequels, I’m desperate to know what happens next.
RaveLocusVanderMeer has built a career on narratives that explore the limits of fiction, both in terms of language and form. His latest novel, Dead Astronauts, set in the same Universe as Borne , takes that sense of invention and playfulness to the extreme, giving us a modern and post-modern tour-de-force unlike any mainstream science fiction novel written over the last two decades ... The prose is rhapsodic and intense, including an extraordinary elegy – that reminded me, sans the eroticism, of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in Ulysses ... Those expecting a novel with a similar feel and structure to Borne and The Strange Bird may initially find Dead Astronauts confounding. If they persevere – and I highly recommend they do – they will become immersed in a world that has the bones of those previous books but is so much more. Dead Astronauts is a story of hatred and revenge, of redemption and love, of environmental disaster and rebirth. It is unabashedly experimental, threaded with a lyricism and poetry – especially when it comes to describing the natural world – that is achingly beautiful, and, most pleasing of all is a work of fiction that harks back to the New Wave, igniting a beacon for other genre writers to follow.
RaveLocus... a novel that takes seriously the age-old problem of free will. Not only does Kavenna pause the narrative to describe the difference between free will and determinism, she also dives deep into the theoretical waters of quantum physics and entanglement ... Kavenna’s position won’t convince a die-hard materialist who believes that free will is a farce, that biology dictates our actions, and that spontaneity is an illusion, but as someone who wrote his honours’ thesis (three decades ago) on this very topic, I geeked-out at Kavenna’s bold and modern re-framing of the problem ... If that all seems a little too airy-fairy, fear not, with a deadpan sense of humour and an eye for the absurd, Kavenna eviscerates the tech-industry’s utopian (libertarian) dream that we can code our way to a better future ... It’s easy for a satirical novel like Zed to treats its characters as caricatures rather than well-rounded people. And to an extent that’s the case with Guy Matthias, a Zuckerberg or Dorsey stripped of whatever conscience those two men still possess. However, the rest of the cast is fleshed out ... a fascinating study on the question of free will, a castigating attack on the twisted utopian vision of Silicon Valley, and a cautionary tale of what will happen if we fail to regulate these corporate monoliths.
RaveLocus... one of the best collections I’ve read this year ... terrific ... fantastic tales ... While not all the stories in Homesick: Stories deal with LGBTQIA issues, there’s a diverse and broad range of perspectives that imbues the collection with a texture that’s unique and refreshing. I was so taken by the variety of voices and style, coupled with the ease with which Cipri welcomes us into their imagined worlds, that I went looking for their other stories (most of which are online) ... I’m eager to read...whatever else Nino Cipri may write in the future.
PositiveLocusAside from reworking old genre tropes, a recurring theme in the collection is Armfield’s less-than-positive attitude to relationships between men and women ... The stories that resonated with me the most were those where the speculative or off-kilter element is as much a metaphor as it is an integral aspect of the plot ... While I wasn’t always convinced by Armfield’s use of the fantastic (even in stories I enjoyed, such as \'Granite\'), her distinctive, elegant prose articulates the anxieties of living in a mostly heteronormative society. I’m sure it’s no accident that the one supportive relationship in the collection (not involving a wolf) is between two women. I’m also sure it’s no accident that as a cis-gendered male, I found reading these stories, at times, to be an unsettling experience. Salt Slow is a strong debut, only reinforcing that we are in a golden age of female-led and female-centric collections with a genre flavour.
Hiroko Oyamada, Trans. by David Boyd
PositiveLocusIt’s all remarkably disquieting and unnerving. Like Kafka, Oyamada is also concerned about how institutions—in her case corporate monoliths such as Amazon or Wal-Mart—gradually strip the individual of their identity, their sense of purpose, through the tedium of pointless, repetitive jobs ... Oyamada has a voice of her own, a dry sense of humor, a feeling for the absurd, and a willingness to experiment. One of the most confounding and yet effective aspects of The Factory is how the narrative jumps around in time ... By the end of the novel you’re as alienated and unmoored from reality as the characters.
Yoko Ogawa, Trans. by Stephen Snyder
PositiveLocusWhat really stands out, though, about Ogawa’s dystopia is the sense of quiet hopelessness. It’s not so much that the Memory Police have quashed all resistance – though they’re ruthlessly efficient in suppressing those who do remember – it’s that the disappearances are utterly random, with seemingly no person or entity in control of what vanishes ... I know this all sounds unbelievably depressing, but the fable-like quality of the prose, unassuming, gentle, and totally devoid of cynicism, makes this a very accessible novel. The book is also leavened by a number of bright spots, whether it’s the burgeoning love between the narrator and the editor, or her father/daughter relationship with the old man, or the incredible moment when the narrator tastes a lemon drop for the first time since their disappearance.
PositiveLocusDavis-Goff makes several astute and sympathetic choices that push against the traditional post-apocalypse narrative. The flashbacks to Orpen’s childhood are not only thankfully free of abuse, she is also not exposed to a hard-scrabble, subsistence existence, surrounded by people who couldn’t care less if she lived or died ... I also can’t recall ever reading a post-apocalypse novel (zombies or otherwise) that has such an intimate and sensitive regard for the natural world ... This is a zombie apocalypse I’d be happy to revisit.
RaveLocusI can say without hesitation that the collection surpasses my impossibly high expectations ... It’s the more mundane pieces, those that don’t feature a genre element or are less formally inventive, that prove to be the most powerful stories in the book ... a tremendous debut collection.
PositiveLocus...[a] boisterous new book ... Frankissstein is an enormously funny novel, something that’s exceedingly rare these days. The bulk of the laughs come from the misogynist and politically incorrect mouth of Ron Lord ... Ron’s reactionary attitude sums up the central theme of Frankissstein: that technology has never been particularly successful at making us better people ... Just like Victor’s creation, Frankissstein: A Love Story,/em> is a patchwork of voice and style – part historical fiction, part sexy romp, and part dissertation on artificial intelligence, the singularity, and gender fluidity. This hopscotching between ideas and the stark shift in tone – including an extraordinary bit of magical realism where Mary may… or may not meet Victor Frankenstein in an asylum – may irritate some. For me, though, it’s evidence of a novel that, 200 (and one) years after its publication, continues to excite and inspire the imagination of writers; and, in the case of Jeanette Winterson, provides her with a platform to view our current moment through Mary Shelley’s eyes.
RaveLocusThe Archive of Alternate Endings is an incredible novel. A book small in size but loaded with imagery—labyrinths and nautiluses—and themes beyond those I’ve touched on above. All of it is in service to a single, powerful message that folk tales about children abandoned in the woods, about houses built of cakes and lollies, about horrible parents and hungry witches, endure not to teach us a lesson but \'for one purpose only, and that purpose is to say this: Being human is difficult. Here is some evidence.\'
PositiveLocusIt’s immediately apparent from the opening pages of The Prospectors, the first story in Orange World and Other Stories, why critics have lavished praise on Russell’s fiction for over a decade. Her prose is a delight to read, sometimes elegant, sometimes poetic, always rich with meaning ... Very different, yet evocative and memorable, infusing their respective stories with a distinct tone and atmosphere ... as much I basked in the writing, I found a number of the stories to be underwhelming ... may not have liked all the pieces in Orange World and Other Stories, but when Russell gets it right, as she does with, The Tornado Auction and Orange World, it makes for a sublime reading experience.
Asja Bakic Trans. by Jennifer Zoble
PositiveLocusWhat I found impressive was how Bakic keeps these stories engaging and accessible even if she doesn’t always resolve the character’s sense of confusion or dislocation ... What’s striking about the collection is Bakic’s devotion to the written word as an art-form and a creative force ... Although these stories were published a few years ago, there’s an immediacy to Bakic’s offbeat worldview, sometimes strange and surreal, sometimes terrifying and upsetting, that pairs perfectly with the madness of the current political moment. Kudos then to Feminist Press and Jennifer Zoble for publishing and translating these wonderful, surprising stories. I hope we get to see more of Asja Bakic’s work in English. I’ll certainly be reading it.
Pola Oloixarac, Trans. by Roy Kesey
PositiveLocusOut of all the books I’ve read recently about mass surveillance, I found Oloixarac’s version to be the most chilling, mostly because it adds an extra layer of ick-factor to something that’s already extremely intrusive, using the ancient strands of our biology against us ... Whatever these phenomena or matrix of forms are was never clear to me; I failed to join the dots. Not that it ultimately matters. These 19th-century interludes that thread through the novel, a fever dream of sex and hallucinogenics and weird experiments, contrast beautifully against the straight-laced prose of Cassio and Piera’s story. While I may not have appreciated everything Oloixarac intended with Dark Constellations, as a history of a future that has yet to come to pass I found it equal parts intriguing and terrifying.
PositiveLocusMcDonald, to his credit, dials back on the sexual violence, but he still knows how to write a kinky, if cringe-worthy, sex scene ... Yet, by only focussing on the back-stabbing, revenge plots, and gob-smacking twists it’s easy to look past how these books – and especially Luna: Moon Rising – chart out a possible future for our species ... the cinematic set-pieces, the reversals in fortune, and the awful sex are a large part of what makes the Luna: New Moon trilogy so much fun to read, and why I will miss it now it has come to an end. Ultimately, though, these entertaining, and intelligent novels, capped off by the very satisfying Luna: Moon Rising, have been about establishing a society, a community, a family that looks to the future, that lives and prospers in an environment that must always be treated with respect.
RaveLocusIf Grief Is the Thing With Feathers was a meditation on death and mourning, then Lanny is a paean to the English village ... With Lanny, Max Porter pulls off the near-impossible by writing an overtly experimental and surreal novel that’s also accessible. Humanity permeates each page, especially the middle section where the reader is overwhelmed by the voices of the town: the generosity, love, cruelty, loss and despair depicted without prejudice, without judgement, but laid bare for all of us to experience. At the same time, the last third of the book, leading to the climax, is a nightmarish tour de force, astonishing for being utterly bonkers, but also terrifying and heart-breaking. It might be mid-March while I write this review, but I already know Lanny will be one of my top five books of the year. It might even end up being my favorite.
PositiveLocus... pulpy noir, part Tarantino, part Thelma and Louise, featuring pornographers, pretentious playwrights, a pit bull named Marco, and a pod of homicidal hippopotami ... a novel about grief, told in a dream-like haze that mostly, but not entirely, avoids any mention of time and place ... a lovely, multi-faceted character study ... While it’s questionable whether Chiem’s finely drawn portrayal of heartache, loneliness, and isolation works alongside a hyper-real narrative about an insane, vengeful pornographer, I did find it entertaining. The climax happens in a rush, almost as if Chiem had somewhere else to be, and yet the abrupt ending doesn’t undermine what turns out to be a surprisingly poignant novel about the devastating nature of grief, but also the importance of love and friendship.
PositiveLocus\"... a take on parallel realities that substitutes the traditional multiple world hijinks, what-ifs, and evil twins with something more nuanced, more in touch with the current political moment ... I initially struggled to find the rhythm... I thought it was because of the book’s tone, an atmosphere weighed down by misery and despair, but I soon realised that what was holding me back was the baggage I’d brought to the story. As I noted above, I knew going in that Famous Men Who Never Lived wasn’t going to be a romp across multiple realities, and yet I did expect the stakes to be higher. On that rare occasion when it looks like the narrative is about to move into another gear, Chess takes her foot off the gas ... I began to appreciate not just how nuanced, smart, and intimate this book was, but how Chess had recognised that baked into the parallel world concept was a sense of dislocation and isolation ... There are parts of this novel that didn’t work for me, but it’s a minor complaint. The strength of Famous Men Who Never Lived is in eschewing the big set-pieces, the cinematic moments for something small-scale, personal, and heart-felt.
PositiveLocus... a politically astute, fascinating, and depressing glimpse of a near future brought to its knees by the abrupt death of the internet ... What stands out the most about Infinite Detail, isn’t Maughan’s fine understanding of technology, or his appreciation of a world without the internet, but how the novel is a critique on the nature of revolution ... What’s so timely and powerful about this book is how pragmatic it is about the current moment, how Maughan appreciates that the internet, the cloud, those pesky algorithms are firmly embedded in our capitalist reality and that disentangling ourselves, without completely destroying civilisation as we know it, will be a difficult task.
Samanta Schweblin, Trans. by Megan McDowell
PositiveLocusThe 20 stories that feature in the book not only exhibit Schweblin’s uncanny skill to immediately establish mood, but also her ability to discuss difficult topics and themes by embracing the surreal, the strange, and the grotesque ... To an extent, this is a collection depicting an author learning her craft and as a consequence not every story works; some are a little too opaque, some lean too heavily on the absurd, and some feel like experiments in tone and style rather than self-contained pieces. But even the weakest piece has a mood, an atmosphere that evokes an emotional response.
PositiveLocus\"... Hendrix smashes it out of the park ... While the novel is violent, Hendrix tones down the gratuitous splatter for something a great deal more effective and disturbing ... The horror of We Sold Our Souls isn’t so much the creatures who feast on creativity – they’re the least effective aspect of the book – but that Hendrix’s America – the despair, the anger, the acts of shocking brutality – seems all too familiar.\
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
PositiveLocus\"Friday Black ends as it begins, with a powerful and brutal tale ... a striking, imaginative collection that never shies away from being political. I can’t wait to see what Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah does next.\
Laura Van Den Berg
PositiveLocus\"This Lynchian vibe, present throughout The Third Hotel, never feels forced or contrived. Instead, it creates a disconcerting and uneasy atmosphere, only accentuated by Van den Berg’s stubborn refusal to provide straight answers to the question of Richard’s resurrection. As much as I enjoyed the overall weirdness of the novel, I struggled to sympathise with Clare, in particular with how she views the world ... This claustrophobic style is perfect for a horror novel or psychological thriller, especially when you’re trying to capture a certain Lynchian quality. It’s not so great when the subject matter is intimate, personal, and, frankly, emotional, as is the case with this novel ... The Third Hotel is a smart piece of writing, layered in such a way that I’m sure I missed all manner of references, winks, and nods ... And while I did struggle to engage with Clare or invest in her broken marriage, the strangeness of the novel, that feeling of the uncanny, made for a fascinating, if sometimes frustrating, reading experience.\
PositiveLocusThe ludicrous nature of it all won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I revelled in it ... For Moshfegh 9/11 is the moment where we all woke up, where the minutiae of life were deluged by externalities out of our control (not that they ever were). Sleep might be foremost in the mind of our narrator, but My Year of Rest and Relaxation ultimately recognises that we can’t avoid Trump or Brexit or the impending threat of climate change, that sleep is an indulgence we can no longer afford.
PositiveLocus\"Red Clocks is a smart, provocative, and thoughtful novel. It provides hope that the society it depicts will always remain speculative.\
RaveLocus\"Gnonom is a novel that deals passionately with human rights, privacy, political corruption, and the excess of capitalism. In other words, it’s a political novel. These days it’s almost a crime to classify a science fiction novel as having an agenda, but Gnomon wears its ideology of human freedom and liberty on its sleeve. As we weave between the different narratives, always coming back to Inspector Neith’s journey down the rabbit hole, we are asked to question and consider the double-edged sword of technology: how it provides opportunity but also has the potential to remove the possibility of choice; how it can make us more compassionate and also strip away our humanity. These are the questions of today, of right now, and reading them in such an ambitious context, where the ideas and concepts come thick and fast, makes for a profound and exciting experience.\