MixedChicago Review of BooksSomewhat hampered by clunky exposition and unexamined assumptions, the novel is nonetheless digging into near-future economic and political anxieties in interesting ways ... The novel’s depiction of life under a total gig economy is fairly plausible and extremely bleak ... Machinehood doesn’t go very far in its critique, unfortunately. Except for the Machinehood’s demands for human-machine integration, no characters consider root causes of the system’s problems. Similarly, it broaches the issue of reproductive rights without really digging in ... there are a number of worrying ideas embedded in Machinehood . My hackles immediately rise, for example, over an American protagonist whose big dream is to convince her cowardly superiors to begin a military invasion of a North African Islamic nation—a frequently-referenced bogeyman throughout most of the novel, it’s especially disturbing that \'the caliph\' is never even named ... Machinehood has what I can only call \'big cop energy\' ... the first third or so of Machinehood is filled with enough awkward mid-conversation info-dumping that it breaks the flow of the story. Important elements of plot and character motivation don’t hold up to much scrutiny.
RaveChicago Review of BooksThere are no elder gods or supernatural terrors lurking in Hummingbird Salamander, Jeff VanderMeer’s newest novel, but I found myself reading with that kind of dread ... A grippingly-paced and paranoid eco-thriller ... Action-packed, memorably voiced, and rich in detail, the novel uses the thriller format — bureaucratic espionage and private investigation — to spiral inwards to a story of personal and ecological disaster ... Right from the start, Jane’s voice has the snappy, poetic weariness of the hard-boiled private eye ... Extinction, then, the human-caused deaths of entire species, is a horror waiting to be recognized, every moment, around us, in ever-worsening degree. There are plenty of human-scale crimes and tragedies in Hummingbird Salamander, but it’s this awareness that drives Silvina to madness ... it’s leavened by enjoyable elements; Jane is not exactly a cheerful character, but I found myself tapping into her satisfaction — her competence at spycraft and skullduggery, her physical strength, her underdog tenaciousness. Like so many great PIs, Jane is out of her depth, in the sights of much larger entities, but also skillful and resilient in ways that make each chapter sing ... like much of VanderMeer’s work, Hummingbird Salamander is an attempt to imagine, not an end of the world, but a transformation.
C S Friedman
MixedChicago Review of BooksWhere This Alien Shore was ahead of its time, This Virtual Night feels oddly dated. Many elements that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in the nineties land flatly now ... it affects a kind of half-hearted Luddism, critiquing the dangers of over-connection, the addicting and reality-warping potential of video games and social media. Whatever germ of truth there might be to that message, its delivery—from the mouths of cyborgs, in totally artificial space habitats—makes it seem hypocritical, at best ... The novel feels strongest where it can stick to adventuring. While it’s plagued by some spatial issues—a few plot points are difficult to visualize—the rhythm of Ru and Micah getting into tricky spots and out again makes for a good romp, playing up their different skills and weaknesses. Ivar’s subplot—an attempt to regain his place in a violent world of gangsters—feels disconnected from the rest of the book, but the stakes are more immediate, and it makes a counterpoint to Ru and Micah’s increasingly cute relationship.
RaveChicago Review of BooksTidbeck is one of those writers whose work is delightfully hard to pin down to a genre—their work includes fantasy and science fiction, but slips between genres to new and stranger places ... Tidbeck has crafted a kind of modern folktale. Inventive, surreal, at times violent, the novel has a timeless, durable quality—in its clear prose and arresting (if sometimes obscure) symbolism, it feels like a fairy tale that’s just a little too scary for the kids ... The Memory Theater begins in a kind of enchanted pocket universe, the Gardens, where a set of amoral and apparently immortal aristocrats live the same eternal day over and over ... The novel minimizes some of the more bizarre imagery of these stories, unifying them with a fairy-tale tonality and threading them lightly through the actual world ... Tidbeck captures the dream-logic feeling of myth and folktale, even when mixing clearly original fabulation with borrowings from older traditions. And, even at its most violent moments, The Memory Theater maintains a kind of gentleness and fascination with the world—childlike and serious at once ... Tidbeck strikes an intriguing balance between vivid imagery, children’s-story wonder, and mature themes, with clear and unpretentious prose and stretches of calm pastoral. It’s a strange and ultimately quite delightful tale.
Alaya Dawn Johnson
RaveChicago Review of Books... a stylistically diverse collection animated by Johnson’s vivid, imaginative, and often brutal prose. Reconstruction is one of the strongest and most enjoyable collections I’ve read in some time; it’s a brilliant and uncomfortable constellation of ideas and absences knotted together ... I found Reconstruction haunting, not just for its vividness, but also for how Johnson writes around felt and imagined absences ... the collection as a whole feels timely, nowhere more so than in its title story ... It’s a superb story, blending historical realism with threads of speculation and magic, told in the voice of a character at once courageous and brimming over with bitterness. It’s the signature note of the entire collection – a willingness to look closely at the realities of resistance, to feel deeply the worries, fears, and complexities at every level of survival.
RaveChicago Review of BooksAasterful in its ability to step back, to allow the fairytale stay in its frame, at a bit of a distance from the immediate action. That refusal to humanize more than warranted works hand in hand with the space that Vo gives for the non-human—even when it walks and talks a bit like a person ... As a piece of fantasy literature, Vo’s worldbuilding is a command performance, if a subdued one. The material reality of the story’s present feels incredibly strong, from the stitching on Si-Yu’s boot to the brief sketches of geopolitics and history. What’s truly impressive is the way Vo weds this firm reality with fantasy and fairy tale ... The novella is rather a meditation on versions of stories, shadings and retellings, the importance of the teller’s intent and insight—and it never dismisses even the most fantastic ideas as \'just a story.\' The novella is also notable for its quiet subversion of gender norms. Ho Thi Tao and Dieu’s story is a love story about two women, though not both human; Chih is non-binary, and these facts pass without comment or judgment. The novella is particularly rich in the polysemy of feeding: as a clear metaphor for sex, as a simple fulfilmment of need, and as violence.