RaveNPRRather than a genre mash-up, this is a genre car crash: kinetic, explosive, and uproariously messy. That mad energy is infectious ... Smith's gifts of imagination are staggering. Her world-building is a tangled sprawl of past, present, and future, a wickedly satirical synthesis that underlines just how fractured our own realities can be during periods of fear, unrest, inequality, and instability. But she does far more than hold up a cracked mirror to our world. In language that punches and caresses, she dwells on ugliness and beauty in equal measure ... The Sky Is Yours filters youth through a warped yet poignantly canny speculative-fiction lens. At the same time, it's funny as hell, full of madcap detail, firecracker dialogue, and a healthy dose of absurdism in the face of darkness.
Charlie Jane Anders
RaveNPRAll the Birds performs its own kind of time travel. The story jumps ahead — first seven years, then 10 — until Patricia and Laurence are young adults, recently reunited after years of estrangement. In an indeterminate, near-future setting, the two rekindle their friendship, and perhaps something more, against a harrowing backdrop. Global catastrophes are brewing, and both Patricia and Laurence harbor secrets — one magical, one scientific … Huge questions of ethics and responsibility play into the plot as the apocalypse looms — conundrums that Anders raises with sensitivity, complexity, and a keen eye for the philosophical issues the human race faces as it ventures further into the future.
Ursula K. Le Guin
RaveNPRLe Guin champions genre fiction — but not blindly. 'It Doesn't Have to Be the Way It Is' from No Time to Spare sharply examines the traditional function and substructure of fantasy literature, a place where 'imagination and fundamentalism come into conflict.' Her point is that fantasy is not, as widely assumed, a form of fiction where anything goes. Uncertainty is an important building block in fantasy literature, but the genre largely fails when it has no internal causality ... One of her most powerful qualities is her ability to frame contemporary concerns within the far-flung speculation of science fiction, but essays like No Time to Spare's 'A Band of Brothers, a Stream of Sisters' highlights just how adept she is at writing about the real world ... [her nonficton] is a complement to her fiction, definitely, but it's also one more window through which Le Guin's sage voice — alternately academic and homespun — rings.
PositiveNPRVern's charisma is evident from the start, as McKibben renders him with impish wit and sly wisdom ... McKibben's folksy portrayal of the state is Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon meets Newhart and the author's pop-culture savvy punches up his otherwise provincial fable ... the book breezes along on a shaggy-dog plot that spirals into the surreal. That's both a strength and a drawback; veering erratically from light-hearted and heavy-handed, Radio Free Vermont succeeds best when it settles into a zany groove that borders on magic realism. The book doesn't offer secession as a serious solution to Vermont's, or America's, woes — it's more a Swiftian modest proposal, one that symbolizes something far more reasonable and practicable: nonviolent resistance against a rising tide of ignorance and oppression. McKibben's chosen cause of environmentalism falls under this umbrella, but his book wisely takes a wider satirical stance, while keeping a focus on its quirky, cranky cast of characters. A lean, fantastical, swift-kick-in-the-pants of a read, Radio Free Vermont may not save the world — but it succeeds wildly in making the formidable prospect of resistance feel a bit more fun.
RaveNPRIn Aaron James' new book, Surfing with Sartre, he uses the surfboard as a vehicle of enlightenment. It seems, at first glance, like a simple task ... Erudite yet engaging, the book strikes a winning balance between waxing wise and catching waves ...a professor of philosophy and an avid surfer, and his passion is palpable on the page. The book skips around from topic to topic — epistemology, socioeconomics, neurochemistry, ethics, religion — with a playful spryness, all the while drawing parallels between the techniques and mindset of the surfer ...while surfing is his main focus, it's merely a synecdoche for all human pursuits that require our full creative and cognitive presence — or our souls, as James puts up for debate ... tone is conversational, even when it's dense with ideas, and sprinkled with surfer lingo...just the right mix of personal insight and universal scope.
PositiveNPR...as Hodgman delivers what would otherwise be a sterile story, he peppers his narrative with deadpan asides, cocktails of self-deprecation and mock homespun wisdom ... Hodgman is the lens, and through him the reader gets an off-kilter peek at New England: its people, its geography, its legacy. That saves the book from myopia; when it verges on self-indulgence, which it routinely does, Hodgman pulls it back from the brink with a well-aimed jab, usually at his own expense. He acknowledges, without flinching, how shamefully white his environment is, and in doing so he offers some of Vacationland's most poignant moments — bursts of humility, insight, and empathy ... Sharp, silly, and sensitive, Vacationland is a literary selfie of a concerned citizen storyteller — one in which the oldest slice of the United States does a little inelegant photobombing.
PositiveNPRThe lives of Amazon's Jeff Bezos, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, and Google's Larry Page and Sergey Brin leap from the pages of World Without Mind, as Foer conjures concise, insightful psychological profiles of each mover-and-shaker, detailing how they've mixed utopianism and monopolism into an insidious whole ... even at his most persuasive, Foer doesn't pay enough attention to how activism might counter what he calls the tech industry's aspiration 'to mold humanity into their desired image of it' ... A threshold is about to be crossed, he says, if it hasn't already — and beyond that, it will become nearly impossible for us to extricate ourselves from a life where social media and centralized information have eradicated privacy, individuality, and free will. Naturally, George Orwell enters the conversation. But even at his most sensational, Foer modulates his hyperbole into the kind of lucid, absorbing exposition he fought to preserve while at The New Republic ... Foer has not presented a coolly considered and calmly debated case of persuasion; rather, World Without Mind is a searing take, a polemic packed with urgency and desperation that, for all its erudition and eloquence, is not afraid to roll up its sleeves and make things personal.
Ed. by John Freeman
RaveNPRRather than speaking academically or in the abstract, however, the book's impressive roster of contributing authors push their pens toward the personal ... Delivered with varying shades of color and candor, these pieces form an anthology within an anthology — a gripping triptych of American displacement and transience ... As impactful as its essays are, the book's fiction and poetry lend it even more flesh and soul ... [Freeman's] introduction to the book is one of its most impassioned entries. In it, he observes how the act of walking through an American city with eyes wide open can radically expand our capacity for empathy, or as Freeman calls it, our 'bandwidth of care' — not to mention our resolve to work toward something better ... Poignant and profound, Tales of Two Americas is exactly such a framework — one that unites a multiplicity of voices into a powerful rallying cry.
RaveNPRPowers unveils the ways social norms, androgyny, sexual fluidity and queer identity have factored into America's hot-and-heavy love affair with popular music ... in her loving, sweeping look at gospel's storied past, she uncovers the way sacred hymns and secular songs merged, as far back as the early 1800s, to set the tone for American music's soulful sensuality ... Through the stories of Elvis, Broadnax and myriad others, Good Booty pieces together a composite sketch of sexuality in American music history ... At times, Good Booty's scope is overwhelming. Everything from feminism to technology to David Bowie to AIDS appears in the book, and some of these angles fly by too quickly to take hold as deeply as they should. Mostly, though, Powers superbly balances smart criticism and theory with the primal humanity behind the thump and grind of America's homemade soundtrack. 'The real reason American popular music is all about sex,' she states, 'is that we, as a nation, only truly and openly acknowledge sexuality's power through music.' It's a strong claim, but Good Booty backs it up with purpose and passion.
RaveNPREisinger is a wonk, and gleefully he wonks out: He examines culprits like Lehman Brothers and laws like Dodd-Frank with equal fascination. But he also fleshes out the backstories of those involved with all the vividness of a biographer ... The book is as alarming as it is comprehensive, but it's also gripping. The unfolding of the financial crisis makes for thrilling drama in Eisinger's hands, heightened by the anxiety still felt by all who survived it. He's even able to make white-collar courtroom proceedings and investigations into tax shelters sparkle. However, with new developments popping daily about Comey and others entangled in Eisinger's tale, the cursory roundup of the Trump era at the end of the book feels tacked on. Still, Eisinger is wise to contain his story to the first decade and a half of the 21st century, which gives him room to dive deeply into the nuance — and the alarming trends — of his topic ... This book is a wakeup call, delivered calmly yet with no shortage of well-reasoned urgency, to a nation whose democratic traditions are being undermined by backroom dealing, deregulation, and the consolidation of corporate power. It's a chilling read, and a needed one.
PositiveNPR...a conversational and illuminating view of the history and inner workings of Earth's atmosphere ... The Enlightenment, with its often mad rush toward new discoveries, is a particularly fertile era for Kean. He charmingly renders a host of characters ... Like all good pop-science books, Caesar's Last Breath strives to strike a balance between erudition and approachability. For the most part, Kean breezes through each chapter with a conversational, occasionally humorous tone, lightening jargon and hard science with lively anecdotes and vernacular. Sometimes, though, he does so to a fault ... And the structure of the book feels scattershot, skipping from topic to topic without quite enough connective tissue — but what it lacks in comprehensiveness it more than makes up for in gleeful energy and curiosity.
PositiveNPRChurch and Wu are two of the main characters in Mezrich's taut yet detailed dramatization. Theirs is a synergistic relationship, and while it would be an overreach to call Woolly a love story at heart, the couple's dynamic is one of the essential threads of Mezrich's story ... Mezrich's eye for characterization is as sharp as his ability to break down scientific jargon into easily digestible chunks ... It's paced like a thriller, with the frustrating politics of the research industry bleeding over into the maneuverings of capitalists who see dollar signs in investing in widespread genetic engineering. Mezrich also frequently reconstructs dialogue between the plot's players, which at times feels overly contrived and distracting. Thankfully it's not enough to inhibit the intimate look into the lives of the men and women who are humbly — and at time not so humbly — hoping to put the power of creation at their fingertips. With all the passion and vision of the scientists seeking to bring the mammoth back to life, Woolly reanimates history and breathes new life into the narrative of nature.
RaveNPRThe book is a storehouse of relics that Tharoor infuses with resonance ... Tharoor probes the flaws of language when paired with technology, but he also playfully dwells on the way modern media allows us to sift through the world and see it however we wish ... In explaining this framework, Tharoor's preface states that 'the purpose of the romance was never to tell a straightforward story. Its stories offered variously a vision of ideal kingship and courtly behavior; a cautionary tale about arrogance and ambition; prophetic revelations; a description of fantastical adventures; and a sense of the deep, conflicted past of the world as well as its fundamental impermanence.' Cleverly and with no small amount of chutzpah, Tharoor is telegraphing his own checklist for the stories in Swimmer. It's a testament to the author's empathy, rich voice, and immaculate craftsmanship that the book succeeds in being all these things — even as it comforts, illuminates, and unnerves.
PositiveNPR...a funny, engaging, and at times penetrating trek through the tricky landscape of contemporary masculinity ... as with all of his anecdotal asides, he keeps them conversational and concise. And he always ties them into the bigger idea: that today's notions of masculinity are outdated and in need of a serious overhaul. When it comes to the moralizing and academic side of Descent, Perry isn't quite as engaging. He focuses on four categories — power, performance, violence, emotion — to varying degrees of persuasiveness. His examination of entrenched, white-male privilege dips into the voice of textbooks from time to time, and when he overdoes the quotes from feminists and philosophers, he occasionally sounds didactic and dry ... There's not much new to Descent, especially for those who are predisposed toward Perry's point of view, and he openly acknowledges that he may be preaching to the choir. His overall optimism, though, is infectious — the belief that membership in the human race supersedes membership in any given gender.
RaveNPRTender's longest story...is a feast of ideas. It's reminiscent of vintage Ursula K. Le Guin in its combination of social science and hard sci-fi, even as it probes the nature of belonging and belief ... The book's beating heart, though, is its title story...'Tender' redefines the emotional power and literary heft that speculative fiction can convey. As does Tender as a whole.
PositiveNPR...not for the weak-stomached, fainthearted, or otherwise easily squeamish. From the first page, cruelty and violence — most often against children — is delivered in a gruesome fugue of agony and foreboding ... It's not a pretty scenario — yet Wasserberg renders it beautifully. Oozing the stately language and thick gloom of vintage Gothic literature, she infuses Foxlowe with looming dread ... While the violence of Foxlowe is not gratuitous, its choice of words sometimes is. Green's voice is inconsistent at times, even taking into account the fact that she ages into a teenager throughout the book ... the book's ending wraps everything up with a bone-chilling flourish that's both a little too pat and naggingly unsatisfying. But when it comes to crafting an immersive atmosphere of fear and unease, Foxlowe is a delicious slice of darkness.
PositiveNPR...what's difficult is swallowing the whole thing in full: believing that Celine not only became a detective, but became so good at it (with a clearance rate on her cases of 96 percent) that she had to turn down offers from the FBI ... But (deep breath), I'm not sure if any of this matters. First because Heller is a gifted writer uniquely capable of describing both the play of Colorado aspen leaves in the last week of September and the strange melancholy that can trigger in the heart of someone who has already seen more autumns than are left ahead of them. And second because I'm not sure how much weight of reality ought to be given to any detective story ... It is a romp, is what I'm saying. Beautifully written, fun if you don't look too close, and touched with just enough heartbreak to make it feel heavier than it actually is. It's a book for anyone who ever wondered what happened to Nancy Drew after she grew up
RaveNPR...[a] penetrating and deeply felt debut collection of essays ... [In 'Mother, Father, God'] Gerard strikes just the right balance between objective distance and glimpsed emotion. She also establishes the dynamic she uses to great effect throughout the book: unflinchingly candid memoir bolstered by thoughtfully researched history ... Sunshine State is not a glowing encomium of Florida, nor is it a snarky takedown. Instead, it's a drifting, psychogeographical exploration of a place she once called home — and that, in return, has come to live inside her.
John A. Farrell
RaveNPRThere's a lot to navigate, and Farrell does so with ease. Without dipping into melodrama or hyperbole, he lays out Nixon's rise from a lower-middle-class kid in Yorba Linda named after King Richard the Lionheart to his swiftly acquired identity of 'a man of destiny' ... With a mix of morbid fascination and deep empathy, Farrell humanizes Nixon, but he doesn't let him off the hook ... That dichotomy between brooding schemer and extroverted leader has long defined the Nixon dynamic. But with The Life, Farrell has etched those history-shaking contradictions into the most vivid — and the most startling — relief to date.
PositiveNPRWhere The Vorrh took place mainly in its eponymous forest as well as Essenwald — two fictional places teeming with the unreal — the sequel spends more time in the real world as we know it. It's a subtle shift, but a profound one. The Vorrh triumphed and frustrated with its dizzying, disorienting swarm of ideas and ornate language. Those elements still abound in The Erstwhile, but they're used with more moderation, as if Catling — a first-time novelist with The Vorrh — is now meticulously sculpting the clay of his epic tale after flinging it all on the floor in the first book. And for those who read The Vorrh and found it sluggish: keep reading. The pace picks up significantly in this installment ... Catling weaves alternate history and retroactive mythmaking into a stunning whole.
PositiveNPRJaroslav Kalfar’s Spaceman of Bohemia is not a perfect first effort. But it’s a frenetically imaginative one, booming with vitality and originality when it isn’t indulging in the occasional excess. Kalfar’s voice is distinct enough to leave tread marks. He has a great snout for the absurd. He has such a lively mind and so many ideas to explore that it only bothered me a little — well, more than a little, but less than usual — that this book peaked two-thirds of the way through ... Kalfar has an exhilarating flair for imagery. He writes boisterously and mordantly, like a philosophy grad student who’s had one too many vodka tonics at the faculty Christmas wingding. This is generally a good thing, though it can also mean periodic forays into pretentiousness.
RaveNPRTo Be a Machine isn't written as an insider-baseball account of transhumanism; instead, it's framed as an investigation. With a winning mix of awestruck fascination and well-chilled skepticism, he tracks down various high-profile transhumanists on their own turf, immerses himself in their worlds, and delivers dispatches — wryly humorous, cogently insightful — that breathe life into this almost mystical circle of thinkers and doers ... Not only does O'Connell apply a healthy curiosity to his subjects, he places them in illuminating context. Amid vivid firsthand reportage, he dwells on the history and ramifications of transhumanism: economically, anthropologically, sociologically, theologically and culturally ... Rather than a dry treatise on science, To Be a Machine is a lucid, soulful pilgrimage into the heart of what humanity means to us now — and how science may redefine it tomorrow, for better and for worse.
RaveNPRLaid out encyclopedically and ranging from the 1950s through today, his account of TV's evolution is as dizzying in scope as it is intimate in detail ... As huge as the book is — and it's a whopper — it's not meant to be an exhaustive encyclopedia. Instead, Bianculli conscientiously curates five shows in each of his chosen genres that best exemplify what he calls 'Key Evolutionary Stages' in the growth of television ... a wise, engaging celebration of a type of entertainment that's as much of an art form as it is a pastime.
PositiveNPR...lapses into Boyle's trademark, sometimes maddening style, teeming with tangential inner monologues and hyperaware descriptiveness. They turn the novel's early, exposition-heavy chapters into an uphill climb ... Ultimately, though, Boyle navigates his well-worn territory with sensitivity and finesse. By the middle of the story, the team's web of power plays, personality tics, petty conflicts, grudges, crushes, and buried agendas is drawn taut. Even his excessive attention to detail makes sense ... eerily timely, despite being set over 20 years ago. Even more resonant is Boyle's witty yet poignant exploration of our attachment to the chunk of rock we call home.
PositiveNPRIf that all sounds like a lot of insider baseball, that's because it is. The lit-vs.-genre debate is something that consumes writers, critics, and publishing industry types far more than the average reader, and it's here that Thrill Me threatens to limit its audience. But Percy is smarter than that: He peppers his observations of today's literary scene with homey, witty anecdotes, and he couches his analysis in no-nonsense wisdom ... None of the advice he dishes out is fresh or profound; these are tried-and-true tips about the art of writing that anyone can readily find online or in dozens of how-to books. Where Thrill Me shines is in Percy's ability to write about writing in a conversational way.
RaveNPRThe setup for The Wangs vs. the World is so rich in conflict and pathos, it's hard to realize at first that it's a comedy ... Chang not only effortlessly juggles this crew of point-of-view characters, she imbues each of them with distinct voice of their own ... Chang tackles the issue of race from a fresh, playful, yet cutting perspective. Her book is unrelentingly fun, but it's also raw and profane — a story of fierce pride, fierce anger, and even fiercer love.
Cixin Liu, Trans. by Ken Liu
PositiveNPR\"As trilogy-cappers go, it\'s satisfying — entirely on its own terms, though. Like the two installments before it, Death\'s End focuses on a different protagonist ... Within this intricately structured, staggeringly cosmic, reality-contorting framework, he weaves all the personal and philosophical conflicts he\'s seeded along the way into a resoundingly orchestrated finale ... Unfortunately, a few of the flaws of the first two books are ported into Death\'s End. Liu\'s exposition can get downright leaden, especially when there are reams of scientific jargon and theory to be delivered to the reader.\
PositiveNPR...[a] harrowing debut collection ... The technology in Weinstein's stories isn't farfetched, and that makes it all the more frightening ... Weinstein writes sensitively and with deceptive simplicity, slicing into the emotional core of his haunted, self-estranged characters. The more they connect via technology, the less connected they feel ... Children of the New World is a nuanced and complex vision of where we as a species might be going — and how, for better and for worse, we're already there.
RaveNPR[Fagan] is disarmingly subtle. Rather than turning the book into some survivalist potboiler, she renders this new Ice Age in snatches of distant newscasts and school closures, an intimate, at times mundane view of the apocalypse that captures what so much apocalyptic literature loses: the way humans can become mute, withdrawn, and even darkly humorous in the face of doom, rather than running around in panic.
PositiveNPRHard Light is the latest, longest, and most involved book of the series, a sprawl that encompasses black-market antiquities dealing, ancient English ruins, cult cinema, rave culture, and the '70s rock-groupie scene. And Hand makes it all work ... Like many crime series, the Cass Neary books are formulaic in spots — but they follow their own formula, a cyclical rhythm that feels a whirlpool starting to circle. Each book ends with a showdown in some desolate, dramatic, deadly terrain, and Cass collects fresh scars like clockwork ... [a] breathless, absorbing story — and if the stark ending of the latest volume is any indication, it's far from over.
RaveNPRThe most powerful aspect of Disappearance, though, is its immediacy. Tremblay doesn't shout or gesticulate. He whispers his tale, punctuating it with the 'clicks and whirrs' of an air conditioner or the life-mocking ring of a child's bicycle bell. His characters are rendered vividly and sensitively. The ambience is all shadows. 'No good news ever calls after midnight,' Tremblay writes early in the book; 'Nothing good happens in the middle of the night, right?' wonders one particularly cryptic character near the book's end. Not only are these bookends an example of Tremblay's immaculate storytelling, it hammers home the horror at the heart of Disappearance at Devil's Rock: That sometimes we can't truly see the ones we love until they've faded into the dark.
MixedNPRBroken up into sections — 'What I Believe,' 'Music and the People Who Make It,' 'Some People I Have Known,' 'Make Good Art,' and so on — his musings shine with wit, understatement, and a warm lack of pretention ... As these sorts of odds-and-ends collections typically are, View is a mixed bag, both in subject matter and quality ... Together these assorted tidbits form a mosaic — a composite picture of Gaiman as a writer, but also as a thinker, a cult figure, and barometer of genre fiction's trends and sentiments over the past 20-odd years. Not to mention an unassuming guy who just so happens to be a brilliant, best-selling author. As such, View is not only invaluable, but engrossing.
MixedNPRIn an increasingly twisty plot, the true nature and origin of the Smoke becomes a central question — especially after a brewing revolution threatens to challenge England's insular rule of law, which demands that its citizens neither travel abroad nor receive foreign books or ideas ... Obscurity might be apt in a book called Smoke, but at points Vyleta takes it too far. The story has a marked Dickensian slant — the smoke and soot at the start of Dickens's Bleak House are an obvious parallel, and Smoke even comes with an epigraph from Dombey and Son — but Vyleta's mimicry of Dickens's ornate prose sometimes bogs down the pace. And the rules by which the Smoke operates never fully make sense, varying from instance to instance...[but] Vyleta's refusal to make his central premise crystal clear eventually becomes one more gloriously murky layer of atmosphere.
PanNPRLike far too much of Manuel Gonzales' debut novel, this enticing hook doesn't stick; rather than tackling globe-shaking adventure and intrigue, the story dwells on the internal politics and convoluted history of the mysterious Regional Office, as well as the lives of two young women, Rose and Sarah, who find themselves on opposing sides of the book's titular attack. This narrower focus does have plenty of possibility, and to his credit, Gonzales shows glimpses of wit and brilliance. What Office mostly fails to do, though, is give enough of a reason to care about its mythology-heavy plot — or the characters caught in it.
RaveNPRThe interplay between the two storylines grows profound as they progress. Wolf's investigations take bizarre, grotesque, blackly comedic turns while Shomer's horrific existence grows symbolic — and then something magically more than symbolic — when the SS assigns him the task of making doors ... Tidhar tightropes between fantasy, farce, and historical fiction, all while grounding things in brisk, gritty noir.
RaveNPRWeldon breezes through this oft-told history with authority and ease, highlighting the big moments in Batman's timeline while providing rich, witty commentary ... Winks and in-jokes for the hardcore fan abound; casual Bat-lovers, though, won't be lost. Weldon navigates Batman's history with an expert step.
PositiveNPRIt's an enormous undertaking, and the size of the book reflects that. It's huge. Thankfully it's also hugely readable. Combining a dizzying array of disciplines — economics, psychology, sociology, ecology, anthropology, religion, geopolitics, and even etymology — Empire deftly juggles a colossal load.
PositiveNPRIt's a stunning balance. Laing renders her autobiographical vignettes...with dry, haunting anxiety. The Lonely City is subtitled Adventures in the Art of Being Alone, and the irony of that phrase is palpable. The book's so-called adventures are all withdrawn and introspective; for a book about loneliness, it couldn't read more lonely. That's both a plus and a minus. Laing — like Hopper and the other artistic loners she writes about — is an observer, and that passivity lends the book a staggering emotional weight that's both powerful and leaden. It's a gray, overcast afternoon of a book, sometimes oppressively so.