Jason Sheehan knows stuff about food, videogames, books and Starblazers. He is currently the restaurant critic at Philadelphia magazine, but when no one is looking, he spends his time writing books about giant robots and ray guns. Tales From the Radiation Age is his latest book. Find Jason on Twitter @Jason_Sheehan
RaveNPR\"... a war story unlike any other war story ... Sound dull? You\'re wrong. Tired and worn-out? Not even a little. Not here, in Scibona\'s hands, where the simplest things (nature, pride, a white t-shirt, the taste of water from one\'s home place) become mythic and strange, almost magical, imbued with meanings beyond the plain fact of their existence ... the way Scibona writes, there are few moments that don\'t feel enlivened with something ... more. Something extra. Some secret power of history, family or fate thrumming away unseen behind the curtains of the world, driving events. Some force that everyone who\'s paying attention can sense but not see, that drives a chain of bad decisions and selfish acts that echo down through generations of families ... Scibona is a remarkable writer and The Volunteer is a remarkable book.\
PositiveNPR\"The Border, like all of Winslow\'s books, is written in Winslow\'s voice, which is choppy, curt, atonal, ugly. It\'s the voice of someone who\'s trying to make fun of bad tough-guy pulp — stringing together the least amount of words into a sentence, the least amount of sentences into a paragraph. Worse, the voice of someone faking the affectation (which Winslow is not) ... The book is trope-heavy, stereotype-heavy, occasionally (okay, often) one-dimensional. It feels, for long stretches, like watching a fantastically good 80\'s action movie — one of those made in the days before self-awareness and irony became marketable ... All of that to weigh against the counterargument, which is that The Border is a very good book precisely because of some of those reasons mentioned above. Because it is a huge, meticulously researched book that comes at the end of a series 20 years in the making. Because it is a book that eschews flowery language for precision and quick action. Because the internal monologues of quiet men are often the ways we are given to understand their internal histories. Because — and I am not saying this lightly — this is all basically Shakespeare ... But taken all together, in its entirety — taken as a full, sweeping, fictionalized tale rooted and grounded in very real tragedy — The Border becomes a book for our times.\
Charlie Jane Anders
PositiveNPR\"And yes, I get it. This all sounds YA-simple, doesn\'t it? ... But stick with me a minute because there\'s more here. Lots (and lots) more .. And yes, there is adventure and action. I mean, this is a book with spaceships, pirates, smugglers, rebels, rich girls and alien lobster monsters. And Charlie Jane knows how to tell those stories, for sure. But it is more than that, is what I\'m saying. It is an intimate portrait of people as much as it is a piece of culturally aware social scifi — a look at our moment in history through a distorting lens of aliens and spaceships. And it is those people who break everything that lies broken by the end of things...\
RaveNPRThis book is sneaky. As much as you want to think this is just some lightweight little confection made of robot fights and space murder — and as much as All Systems Red wants to present itself as nothing but robot fights and space murder — Martha Wells did something really clever. She hid a delicate, nuanced and deeply, grumpily human story inside these pulp trappings, by making her murderous robot story primarily character-driven ... I\'m not alone in my love for Murderbot...we are all a little bit Murderbot...we see ourselves in its skin...reading about this sulky, soap-opera-loving cyborg killing machine might be one of the most human experiences you can have in sci-fi right now.
RaveNPR\"[The Electric State] feels like something brought back from a nightmare ... [Stålenhag\'s] Swedish books read joyous when they were happy, bittersweet (but rarely sorrowful) when they were not, and adventurous in between. But The Electric State is Stålenhag\'s American book. His vision of an alternate post-war, post-drought, post-human 1997 in the desert West and California. And it is haunting ... [The story] unwinds slowly, [Michelle\'s] past, the reasons for her trip, her relationship with the little, big-headed robot revealed bit by bit. On the opposite track, the history lesson becomes orders given to a mysterious man who\'s been following Michelle all the way to San Francisco. And when the two storylines cross, they do so in silence. Pictures only. Like snapshots from a horrifying past that never quite was ... And if you\'re anything like me, you\'ll take those images to bed with you for a long time and dream of Stålenhag\'s America — lost to sand, to drought, to war, to loneliness, and stalked always by the low, distant rumble of something terrible rising out of the earth and coming for you.\
MixedNPR\"That language — that rock-mouthed, mushy, dense Scottish radge slang that made Welsh\'s name back in the day — works the same as it always has. It\'s musical, propulsive, both brilliant and maddening, sensible only when your eyes are half focused; when you hear it rolling off the page rather than trying to read it straight ... When he\'s at his best, Welsh spins a story of four men broken by addiction and betrayal ... It\'s to Welsh\'s credit that he gives none of them any kind of sudden forgiveness or moment of redemption that doesn\'t come with a thousand strings attached and a baggie of coke in the pocket because these are not good guys ... And if that\'d been the whole of the book, it might\'ve been great ... instead, there\'s a subplot about sex tourism and another about an illegal kidney, another about getting the clap, another about Hibs finally winning the cup. There\'s a whole choppy b-plot about Begbie and an L.A. ex-cop who thinks he\'s a serial killer, plus a murder by sword, and a whole lot about the international art-and-EDM scene ... by the end, what could\'ve been a fitting, apt, even startling counterweight to Trainspotting has been weighed down with so much awkward sex, so many grown men on drugs and so many antic, unlikely capers, that the great idea Welsh had at the beginning has been lost.\
RaveNPRLavie Tidhar is a genius at conjuring realities that are just two steps to the left of our own—places that look and smell and feel real, if just a bit hauntingly alien ... This is a story that gets weirder the deeper you get into it; that cultivates strangeness like something precious ... There are echoes of Chabon\'s The Yiddish Policeman\'s Union in it, wild strains of P.K. Dick and Roger Zelazny\'s Chronicles of Amber. But Unholy Land is its own thing. Something that no one but Tidhar could\'ve written. Gorgeous in its alienness, comfortingly gray in its banality, and disquieting throughout. And yes, it\'s a story about the magic of writers, partly, and that may rub some people the wrong way ... but because it\'s Tidhar, somehow, that makes it okay. Because he approaches it with a certain reverence for the pulps and the hacks, for the cheapness of collections of Golden Age sci-fi space-ships-and-ray-guns imaginings, for the sadness of worlds that never were.
Kim Stanley Robinson
PanNPR\"So on the one hand, moon murder! And who doesn\'t love that? On the other, there\'s Kim Stanley Robinson laying down an extended, 400-page riff on a future where an ascendant China has become the world\'s superpower and human law, politics, class and culture are all being reforged in the harsh environment of lunar colonies. That\'s how he chose to write his book. And that\'s fine. It\'s just no way to tell a story ... in Red Moon you can really see the strings. It feels like a spoonful-of-sugar-helps-the-medicine-go-down kind of situation. Give \'em a little moon murder and then they\'ll GLADLY stick around for my lecture on quantum cryptography! ... Red Moon reads like a TED Talk being given in the middle of a car chase. Too often, it sacrifices rhythm and structure for pages of back-and-forth debate. Fascinating, sure. Occasionally revolutionary, and beautifully deliberated. But ultimately it makes for a book that is too dry, didactic and choppy to sustain itself through to the end.\
RaveNPRAlyson Hagy\'s Scribe is a lean, hard wolf of a thing. There\'s something feral and panting about it. Vicious. It is sour and cruel and vivid, with a long memory and blood in its teeth. It gives nothing away ... Scribe\'s story is clear, simple and plain. In Hagy\'s future, most everything has been lost. Literacy is no exception. But her main character is a professional writer of letters...a man named Hendricks,...comes to her house one day to ask her to write him a letter, then to take the letter to a certain crossroads and read it aloud. And that\'s it. The entire book is the wish and the fulfillment, nothing more. Some people would call Scribe a short book. A fast read. But it isn\'t really either of those things. Really, it\'s a hungry book — one where every sentence seems to imply a second that it never offers; where every page and every paragraph offers the ghost of a feast, but never lets you eat.
Simon Van Booy
PositiveNPREvery story in the slim new Simon Van Booy collection, The Sadness Of Beautiful Things, is about the end of the world. In none of them does the world actually end. In none of them does it even come close. But that doesn\'t change the fact that these are stories of apocalypse. Even the quietest of them shakes the ground and darkens the sky.
RaveNPRSam Munson\'s Dog Symphony is a weird book ... It doesn\'t hide its weird, but it doesn\'t glorify it either with a lot of tricks or frippery ... There\'s no moment in it that\'s not weird. It is like Kafka that way. Its oddity is like a long, sustained hum, never varying in pitch or volume, that suffuses every page and every line ... Munson is trafficking in surrealism here. In a twisted kind of social satire that has things to say about authoritarianism, fascism, paranoia and man\'s animal nature ... Dog Symphony is not a novel so much as a mood given chapters and form ... Munson is a champion stylist here. He inhabits this world, making it all feel hot and lurid and lived-in and rank. He puts you there with a deliberateness belied by the slow pace and soft curves of the plot. But the place he has created is remarkable because it feels so unreal ... He captures precisely that sensation of being cut off from a reality that everyone else seems to understand but you.
C Robert Cargill
PositiveNPRIn We Are Where The Nightmares Go, he has assembled 10 short horror stories that cover the territory of fear from Virginia to Iraq to Australia, that whipsaw back and forth between the classic and the very modern. He has ghost stories and supernatural thrillers, a gore-porn short-short with a surprising, gentle twist ... \'The Town That Wasn\'t Anymore\' is what Cargill calls it. Not the best title, but apt. Kind of. It\'s modern horror, slow to unfold, absolutely supernatural but anchored enough in the details that it feels ... I don\'t know. Possible? Like a story you hear from a local when your car breaks down in a small town that doesn\'t show up on any maps ... Every ghost story is immortal. That\'s why we love them. Every ghost story ever can be twisted, repurposed, recycled and built into something else because, really, every ghost story is just a story of regret. And Cargill gets that. He understands that a bad decision is what happens before the story starts and peace is what comes when it\'s done. In the middle is the change, the comeuppance, the duty, the sacrifice. In between is where the soul comes clean. All the blood and monsters are just window dressing.
RaveNPR\"And through all of it, Atkinson is brilliant. Her characters are brilliant. Her command of the back-and-forth narrative, the un-fixedness of memory, the weight that guilt accrues over time and how we carry it is remarkable.\
RaveNPR\"You read the first five pages of Only To Sleep, the first ten maybe, and, if you\'re a Chandler fan (which I am, though not as obsessive as some), you\'ll be pissed. Not hugely, but a little. You can see, in the arrangements of commas, the pauses, the clipped and bittersweet rhythm of the ink on the page, someone doing a pretty good Chandler impersonation. But you can see the impersonation, and that\'s the problem ... But then the first chapter closes. Old Marlowe has gotten his call to adventure in the shape of two insurance men who want him to look into a mysterious death. And Osborne walks off with a paragraph that might be one of the most beautiful things I\'ve seen in a year ... Like all great gumshoe novels, there are cavernous depths there that only look shallow from the surface ... It\'s the kind of book where, when you read it, it turns the world to black and white for a half-hour afterward. It leaves you with the taste of rum and blood in your mouth. It hangs with you like a scar.\
RaveNPR\"Read Paul Tremblay\'s new novel, The Cabin at the End of the World, and you might not sleep for a week. Longer. It will shape your nightmares for months–that\'s pretty much guaranteed. That\'s what it\'s built for. And there\'s a very, very good chance you\'ll never get it out of your head again ... I want to tell you everything about it. I want to detail every switchback and psychological reverse that happens, deconstruct how Tremblay layers in these genius feints of paranoia and disbelief, explain how he builds to these perfect trigger points where everything explodes into blood and violence, then settles, then starts again. I want to, but I can\'t. It would ruin it. There is a meticulousness to The Cabin that depends entirely on the slow reveal; on the tension of misunderstanding and inherent bias.\
RaveNPRI loved Katie Williams\'s debut novel Tell the Machine Goodnight. So much that I read it twice. The first time was straight through — not driven by plot or thrumming action, but in a languid drift across 280-some pages, a feeling like being drunk on a raft in calm water. The second time I dipped in and out, 10 or 20 pages at a swallow. I might read it again when we\'re done here ... The novel is almost a series of interlinked short stories ... Taken separately, they are little short ditties about life in a future where unhappiness can be cured with a dog or clarinet lessons. Taken in small groups, they form movements. All together, they are a symphony.
RaveNPRThere\'s Theo figuring stuff out and then there\'s Theo doing things about what he has learned and then there\'s Theo remembering things from the past (mostly, how he became Theo and how the world became the world). But North handles it. With style and voice and a wicked grip that never lets the three-way plot spiral out of control. Long sections run in an almost stream-of-consciousness style, with words just rolling out of her. Others are surgically precise, describing the thousand small horrors of the world that Theo, Dani and the rest occupy. And all together they make a story that is rare—one of those that is so good I didn\'t want it to end, but so sad I didn\'t want to read another page.
RaveNPR\"Groff\'s language is, as always, gorgeous and precise. Her ability to map the inner contours of characters who seem to exist entirely in extremis — and, almost entirely, within a fragile shell of feigned competence and normalcy — is remarkable. Her Florida is a frightening place that bends (solely through the eyes and experiences of her characters) into a discomfortingly modern Southern Gothic tradition. Her stories — all of them — are haunted. There are always extra eyes somewhere off in the dark ... What haunts every line of \'Above And Below\' is the inevitability of it. It stands as the summation of Groff\'s entire tone: This idea that storms and panthers and violence and love and weariness are all out there. That women are all going to take their share. That life, maybe, is measured in the ration of misery that you take and the grace with which you suffer it.\
PositiveNPRIt is Fight Club franchised. Gone national. Sick with all of our current ills and darkest, weirdest desires ... Chuck Palahniuk just wants to see how far he can push you before you get offended, throw the book down, walk away from it for good. He wants to see how thin of a tightrope he can walk between satire and slur, provocation and revulsion ... And I gotta tell you, watching him try it? It\'s fun. It\'s fun like watching NASCAR but only for the crashes ... He\'s masterful at making readers feel and understand the desperate, grasping needs of his underdogs, and maybe too good sometimes at making us cheer for them when they achieve their violent catharsis. And in Adjustment Day, he\'s at the top of his game. At least for most of the book.
Catherynne M. Valente
RaveNPR\"There are really no words to describe Space Opera, Catherynne Valente\'s new novel. Know why? Because she used them all in writing it. I can say that it is square-ish. Made of wood pulp. Composed mostly of sentences. I can say that it\'s a wicked-fast read (if you can handle the whiplash and the pure, 12-gauge crazy-pants nonsense of it all) and enjoyable at speeds unsafe for upright mammals ... In between it\'s all big ideas written in glitter. It\'s surprising tenderness on a galactic scale. It\'s about loneliness and nerdliness and acceptance and making fun of the old, frowsy powers that be. Valente offers up a universe in which the only thing of true value is rhythm. Not guns, not bombs, not money, not power, but sex and love and pop songs.\
PositiveNPR\"How To Stop Time plays like a meditation on the tick and tock of time and mortality. On the preciousness of every moment and the nightmare of having both too few and too many. There\'s a conspiracy element thrown in to give the plot a little kick, but it\'s a minor secondary plot until the book\'s final third, and serves as an armature to keep the laggier parts of the narrative upright ... suffers when it grows heavy and lingers too long in any one time or place, but in the moments when Haig allows his narrator to flit from moment, recalling spans of decades as if they were a long weekend, then land somewhere for a few paragraphs to describe Paris or New York at instants when they mattered to Tom and his tale, the book can be remarkably beautiful, achingly sad and completely alien all at once.\
RaveNPR\"...a fast-forward screed on our current historical moment, scattered and digressive and insane in the best possible way ... At moments, it is like Stanislaw Lem writing real estate copy for The Atlantic. At others, like Carl Hiaasen getting under the Florida blacktop and smelling the swamp beneath. And all through, it is bonkers — a careening voyage that feels like falling because never does it seem like Goldberg is completely in control of his own plot, pen or characters ... No book could be written about this moment in America that wasn\'t fractured; if one was, it would be a pack of lies. Or worse, propaganda. And Goldberg seems to know this. He finds truth in randomness and the unlikely outcome, character in who these people aren\'t as much as who they are.\
Christopher J. Yates
PositiveNPROur first image of it all — the day, the crime, the aftermath — comes from Patrick. It is his eyes we see through, his thoughts we hear, the blossoming of his self-loathing to which we bear uncomfortable witness … The novel bounces back and forth between retellings of the events that led up to the shooting in 1982 by the three primary characters, Patrick, Matthew and Hannah, and the eventual fallout that only comes 26 years later, when all three of them find themselves living in New York, still suffering, each in their own ways, and still connected by that one awful day — by secrets that each of them carry and can not ever tell … His twist...packs a slow-burn punch when all the threads of narrative and back-story start pulling together.
PositiveNPR\"Gnomon is a big, ambitious book that sometimes trips over its own bigness, but reads like some kind of game of literary telephone played by Philip K. Dick, Arthur Conan Doyle and William Gibson ... Harkaway lays this out beautifully, mysteriously and mischeviously. After reading the first 50-some pages of Gnomon, I was fully on board ... The parts of Gnomon I liked best were the bits about books, videogames and the future—because those are my things, my own personal passions. But it\'s a big book, a digressive book, and it contains so much that it sometimes feels (like Diana Hunter\'s house is supposed to feel) like a museum of curiosities trapped between two covers and shaken vigorously.\
PositiveNPRIt doesn't read anything like a traditional novel — not as quickly, not as smoothly, not as satisfyingly, none of it. McIntosh's second book reads shattered. It reads fragmentary. It reads like trying to unwind Christmas lights from a thorn bush — pinpricks of brilliance hung up in confusion and pain. It reads like a symphony written by a speed freak and performed by industrial robots. All crashing symbols, and between, only silence ... It is a novel that fails in its attempted modernity — its vivisection of the form — about as often as it succeeds. And there's a sense that McIntosh doesn't really care about the ratios. That a lot of it just wasn't meant for you. Does that sound mean? Good. Because I didn't enjoy reading this monster and neither will you. My experience went something like this: I hate this I hate this I hate this Zzzzzz (That's where I fell asleep) Oh, God, there are still 1,400 pages to go? I hate this I hate this I hate this ... And then, for some reason, something would catch my eye. A phrase, a picture, something, and something would turn over in my chest and I'd get it. I'd understand what McIntosh was doing. And I'd love the damn book for making me feel the way that almost no book ever has — for making me feel alive and rooted in this one stupid world of ours with all its randomness, all its awfulness and all its beauty ... [McIntosh] meant you to feel it, and you will. What he's attempting with this novel (and sometimes succeeding at) is writing a story for this moment. One that is just as scattered as we are, just as rotten with memory, just as distracted, just as haunted by the strangest things ... It feels like life, which is a strange thing to say, but maybe the truest thing I can tell you about theMystery.doc.
PositiveNPRAnd Isaiah Quintabe, the protagonist of Joe Ide's debut novel, IQ, is a Sherlock for a very specific neighborhood: South Central L.A. ... The novel runs with parallel narratives — IQ in 2013, doing a 'payday job' for famous rapper Black The Knife, trying to figure out who tried to murder him with a monstrous pitbull, and IQ in 2005, living his backstory as an effortlessly brilliant young teenager forced into bad circumstances by the death of his brother ... He [IQ] is smart, absolutely. He knows things. But the leaps he makes (where a man was hiding to avoid security cameras, for example) are more modest than those epic Sherlockian jumps ... It's a detective story that plays out very close to home, on the streets and corners that Ide (who grew up in South Central) knows best.
RaveNPR[Sourdough] is a beautiful, small, sweet, quiet book. It knows as much about the strange extremes of food as Mr. Penumbra did about the dark latitudes of the book community ... I love that because Sloan has a pop-culture brain, and he gave it to Lois. Because his voice in her head and her mouth fits so beautifully into the time and place and moment he is writing about. Because he imbues everything about Lois's journey with mythic overtones, with rules and lessons gleaned not from school or church or elders, but from our entertainment. From stories.
RaveNPRIt is that rarest of historical novels, a book that catches a moment in a jar, holds it aloft and displays it for what it really is: Somebody else's day before tomorrow, the instant right before the future comes ... His entire novel takes place over the course of one week in June of that year, culminating at the Fair itself, in a fast-paced finale worthy of a Scorcese long-take. And I love this about the book. I love the bright-eyed joy of it. The meticulous attention to detail that isn't just a 1,000-word digression on mittens or taxi cabs but actually serves the plot. The sense that every single character in it seems somehow infected with this sense that the past is a curse that must be borne only until tomorrow comes. And I like that Mathews made this big book so intimate ... One of the strengths of Mathews's story is the way it sprawls and loops. It finds odd little corners of time and place and character to get into and, in those corners, it finds both a balancing seriousness and a wideness of vision that makes it somehow all okay.
PositiveNPRTropic Of Kansas is like a modern dystopian buffet. It plays out in a world where all of our terrors have become manifest — climate change, wealth disparity, terrorism, an authoritarian government in power suppressing its own citizens, corporate control of everything from food to media. It is, in this particular moment in history, frighteningly prescient. It is the nightly news with the volume turned up to 11 ... From about the hundredth page forward, you know how it is all going to go down. But Brown, to his credit, uses the pages given to him to paint a frighteningly believable portrait of an American future that is closer than you want it to be. He sketches small-town fury and ultra-super-uber-right-wing nationalism in detail.
PositiveNPR...is cool because it's a remarkable work of imagination and genius. A 'poignant meditation on humanity,' a mesmerizing exploration of faith and love and a 'genre-defying' masterpiece ... Faber's great strength, trotted out right from the opening pages — this ability to write believable, lovely, flawed and inept characters. To animate his creations by exposing their great loves and human frailties, and to make us want, somehow, to follow along behind them as they traipse across the pages, the miles and, in short order, the light-years ...Faber brings little that's new or original to the trope, save a masterful skill for sketching the slow accretion of dread and mistrust in the hearts of his characters ...Faber tells a beautifully human story of love, loss, faith and the sometimes uncrossable distances between people. It feels, more than anything, like an achingly gentle 500-page first chapter to an apocalypse novel yet to come.
RaveNPRArea X is magic in the same way Lovecraft's Rhode Island was magic — which is to say, inhabited by impossible things beyond human description. At the same time, it is haunted (which is an entirely different thing) by the previous expeditions and the things they left behind — the tents and supplies, the curiously incomplete maps, the bullet holes, the bloodstains. And VanderMeer is brave in the telling of his story — of the Biologist's story — because he attempts to explain in full almost none of it … And yet, the ending is satisfying. It is one of those rare endings that is, all at the same time, ambiguous, terrifically unfinished, and the only possible ending that the story could have had.
RaveNPRTrust me when I tell you that you gotta read this book not because it's beautiful (it isn't) and not because Winslow is a virtuoso stylist (he isn't) and not because it's one of those Important Books that everyone will be talking about (they will), but because it is just fantastic. Like can't-put-it-down, can't-get-the-voices-out-of-your-head fantastic. An instant classic, an epic, a goddamn Wagner opera with a full cast and buckets of blood and smack and Jameson whiskey ... Winslow is good, no doubt. He's smart enough to be tricky without looking like he's being tricky. He's clever enough to get away with what is essentially a double prologue (in a universe where, most times, one is too many), but his best trick is a buried, pulsing, live-wire second plot that hums just beneath the surface of the first: The Force is basically Game of Thrones without the dragons. The Wars of the Roses played out with New York City cops and robbers...It's a weird thing when you first realize it, brilliant and almost subversive as you watch it play out across the pages. Amid all the drugs and guns and skyscrapers and cop bars, there's this shimmering image of an ancient tale hovering just at the edge of things.
RaveNPR[Walkaway] is remarkable. It's one of those books that I don't want to describe at all, because doing so would ruin the new car smell of stepping into a fresh-off-the-lot universe. It would sour the joy of getting face-punched over and over again by the utopian/dystopian ideas, theories, arguments and philosophies that Doctorow lays down. It would, in short, wreck the fun ... And yes, it sometimes reads like a series of philosophical set-pieces stitched together with drone fights and lots of sex. Like a Michael Bay movie if all the explosions were emotional. But the philosophy is fascinating and, somehow, rarely dull ... It's all about the deep, disturbing, recognizable weirdness of the future that must come from the present we have already made for ourselves, trying to figure out what went wrong and what comes next.
Leonardo Padura, Trans. by Anna Kushner
PositiveNPR...what holds everything together is Conde. His goofy cool, his self-destruction and generosity, his obsessions and his premonitions. Heretics can drag when Conde is not on the page, but it winks by like sun on chrome when he is. And besides all of Padura's beautiful words, all those gorgeous sentences loaded down with strangeness and terrible history, it's the waiting for Conde to come slouching and cursing back onto the page — embodying the link between past and present, goodness and evil — that is the primary joy in Heretics' darkest places.
Giorgio De Maria
RaveNPR...a spooky, strange piece of Magical Realism prestidigitation that captures, nearly note-for-note, the turmoil and chaos of a community whose center has shattered but is being held together by a willful, communal rejection of the breakage ... No Gibson, no Sterling, no cyberpunk or spec-fic scribbler of the '80s or '90s ever captured the poisoned zeitgeist of social media better than this: a room full of the violent, disgusting, lonely and broken ramblings of shut-ins and social rejects, all held in the abandoned wing of a former insane asylum ... conceived under fire and born into a world shaking itself to pieces, it captures the chaos and randomness of terrorism and the fear of hidden furies in a way that only something that treads the ragged edge of surrealism can. It was a book written for a different world. And the most disturbing thing about it is how appropriate it is for ours.
PositiveNPRLincoln In The Bardo is not an easy book, but it gets easier with the reading. At the start, it jags, loops, interrupts itself a thousand times. Somehow, the whole thing together feels staged like a terrible student play that just happened to be written by an absolute genius working at the ragged edge of his talent. But there are moments that are almost transcendently beautiful, that will come back to you on the edge of sleep ... Lincoln's grief, as witnessed by the ghosts, as experienced by Willie, is enormous. The pain of it radiant as the President languishes in his own private bardo. In comparison to the grief of America at war, it is infinitesimal, but at the same time, no less potent or real. And in the friction between these two true things, Saunders finds his terrible, brutal truth: That all lives end too soon. That no one leaves complete. That letting go is the best, hardest thing anyone — even the dead — can do.
Javier Marias, Trans. by Margaret Jull Costa
MixedNPR\"At its best, Thus Bad Begins rolls on like a great spy story played for (comparatively) low stakes. Juan becomes Muriel\'s ears and eyes, investigating the sordid past of Dr. Van Vechten ... The narrator is trustworthy because everything feels like a massive unburdening. Like Old Juan is finally telling a whole story out loud that he has had in his head for years — the pace of it as familiar as his own heartbeat, the reveals all polished smooth by long, silent practice. Which is, in a way, unfortunate because for all of Marias\' gorgeous, looping, carefully structured sentences — and for all of his tales of sex and death and revolution — what Thus Bad Begins could\'ve really used was a little bit of the bravado and rawness of youth.\
RaveNPRIt ranges and roams, this book. When it settles onto a moment, it does so with the weight of ten butterflies...all of this is touched on so lightly, Palacio's gaze settling here and there across a span of years and observing the quiet details that make up the roots of life's narrative ... [There] are beautiful observations, too. Sometimes gentle, often gotten at sideways, through the lenses of experiences so native to the characters that not a word rings false.
Mary Robinette Kowal
PositiveNPRIt was the idea of it that got me into the book, and Kowal's affectless presentation of the mediums and their work that kept me going ... But it was that rare ability of Kowal's to make what could have been a completely goofy add-on to the British war effort into something that felt completely wedded and solid that sold me — that spark of a great idea, well-executed ... The book has flaws, of course. For every deeply considered character like Ginger or her fiancé, there are two who are adorable stereotypes.
RaveNPR...you're going to ask yourself that one, all-important question when it comes to Really Big Goddamn Books: Do I need to read this one? Yes, you do ... Inasmuch as anyone ever has to read anything, you have to read Jerusalem. People are going to say a lot of things about it — that it's massive (obviously), that it's brilliant (it is), that it's beautiful and maddening and sweet and stupid all in equal measure (true, true, true and true) ... awesome. Amazing. Lyrical and beautiful.
RaveNPRIt broke my heart, this book. Time after time. It made me laugh just as often. I loved it on the first page as powerfully as I did on the last, and I think I was right, right from the start. Because Nathan Hill? He's gonna be famous. This is just the start.
RaveNPRWill it help you going into Last Days if you've got a master's-level education in art history with a focus on French Surrealism? Maybe. I don't and I loved the vicious, weird little thing anyway ... Last Days is Miéville's war story. It is beautiful, stunningly realized, mind-bendingly bizarre.
PositiveNPR...a book which is sometimes maddening in its refusal to be as good as you want it to be ... Crouch's affection for poetical (really, haiku-ical) structure within a work of prose is annoying at first, then infuriating, then simply numbing. And really, it's unnecessary — because almost the entire book is one big chase scene anyway ... [but] Crouch pulls off the big trick that makes it all worthwhile — a killer twist that is dark, horrifying, funny as hell, bizarre, completely earned and utterly original all at the same time.
Donald Ray Pollack
PositiveNPRPollock's characters all live in the slipstream of this onrushing future, their lives upended by engines and automation, milking machines, telegraphs and a great war that they don't understand. The result is a story that reads almost like surrealism — like weird fiction save for the certain fact that all of it is real. In its bloody, violent, terrible collisions, The Heavenly Table feels like Blood Meridian if Cormac McCarthy had been born with a streak of black humor in him rather than just terseness and rage.
RaveNPRYes, it ties up a lot of the loose ends (but, notably, not all of them). Yes, it is just as beautiful, brutal and obsessively detailed as parts one and two and (bonus) comes out of the gate with an extra-special dose of confidence that you only get when you're a writer coming into the home stretch knowing exactly where you're going and how to get there ... For those of you who've read the previous books, this really is the big event you've been waiting for: A full-scale war of virals on virals and virals on humans, a true last stand that builds and comes with a bloody, roaring payoff you won't see coming, then builds again to the big face off you've been waiting for.
Aziz Ansari & Eric Klinenberg
MixedNPRAnsari was obviously committed to his goal of investigating the way that people (primarily heterosexual, primarily middle-class and smart phone-owning) find each other, pair off and form relationships. The man put in the time and effort. And what he comes away with is...pretty much exactly what you'd think. Because it's not a self-help book or a guide to modern dating (either of which might've allowed Ansari more latitude with his voice and personal stories) but is a rigorously researched and data-driven field study on the dating-and-mating habits of modern humans, the conclusions he draws are largely of the 'Well, duh ...' variety — a problem not exclusive to this book by any means ... ultimately, I found myself wanting more masturbation jokes and fewer graphs made from demographic data
RaveNPR[a] collection of unusual coincidences, and tiny vignettes of a life lived on the constant, bittersweet edge of surrealism. This scattering of laughs. This pack of sighs. This charming and heartbreaking pile of stories that cover the years between the birth of Keret's son, Lev, and the death of his beloved father ... it takes us back through seven years of Keret's history, showing us the world (its beauty, madness, and inescapable strangeness) through his sharp and sympathetic observations. It's not an overtly political book, but one defined by violence, bookended by life and death.
Claire Vaye Watkins
RaveNPRWhen Luz and Ray strike out, Watkins' world opens, becomes more shattering, more starkly beautiful, exponentially more deadly. Gold Fame Citrus is a dreamy story with a mystical streak and a core of juvenile irresponsibility that does not go unpunished. But Watkins' vision — not just of a world broken by ecological disaster, but of the sorts of people who would thrive in that world — is mercilessly sharp. She's got a knife eye for details, a vicious talent for cutting to the throbbing vein of animal strangeness that scratches inside all of us.
RaveNPRIn her debut novel, You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine, [Kleeman] writes like a gonzo journalist embedded in skin, discovering things like hair and saliva and eyeballs for the very first time ... Body Like Mine begins as a navel gaze, a searing inner catalog of mushy biology, and becomes a takedown — chilly in its precision — of beauty standards, face creams, junk food, reality TV, love, hunger, closeness, human connection. And Kleeman owns all of it. Her voice is brutal and fragile at the same time. Her eye for the absurdity of normalness is so sharp that the book puts you into a bubble of weird you won't be able to shake off for hours.
PositiveNPRHe's not a stylist, but has a plain and conversational voice. I like that. The this guy/that guy chapters are short, punchy and focused, and I like that, too. They twine around each other in their motif of rambling attempts at finding and living an authentically artistic life ... if you can inoculate yourself against this engorged sense of self-importance going in — if you can transmute long passages about the importance of living like an artist into a kind of pleasant humming noise in your brain without it tripping all your rage switches — the ride is still very much worth it.
PositiveNPRBerlinski operates in a world where the gray middles of everything (choices, declarations, morality) far outspace the black and white at the margins.
PositiveNPRGone With The Mind is Leyner's new novel. A novel that is, by turns, autobiographical, fictional, touching and just flat-out insane...I loved the thing. All of it. Or anyway, 90% of it. It is looping and self-referential, alternately bonkers and manic and depressive.
RaveNPR[Burroughs has] a beautiful sense of rhythm, a preternatural knack for knowing the precise point at which graceful self-deprecation (coming from a successful New York Times best-selling author) tips over the edge into smarmy humble-bragging, and stops with his toes wiggling just on the edge of the bank.
PositiveNPRBehrens is a beautiful, lyric writer. His understanding of the age and command of it, moment to moment, is impressive. What is less so is the arc of Billy and Karin's romance, so often interrupted by war and politics, and their final escape from Germany as it collapses completely into the street-fighting and savagery of Nazism.
RaveNPRThis Census-Taker is a small, quiet and gentle book with murder at its center. It's a beautiful chocolate that you bite into and find filled with blood. It is Miéville at his most sparse, his most controlled and restrained.
PositiveNPRThis book is to middle-age what Albertine was to youth and Ice Storm was to suburbia. It's Moody at his most inventive, most playful, most bitter and biting and cruel.
PositiveNPRIn many places, any sense of narrative flow is broken by Hijuelos bouncing in and out of different heads, jumping from city to city, place to place and year to year. But when he digs his fingers into something good and lets his chosen pony run a little? There's just a kind of gorgeous magic to the disparate but parallel lives he is charting.
Umberto Eco, Trans. by Richard Dixon
MixedNPR“The main plot of Numero Zero is a kind of potboiler that never really boils. Once the bones of the main story have been laid out, Eco turns Numero Zero into a kind of see-saw game.”
PositiveNPRThe Tsar Of Love And Techno should be a sad book, but I walked away from it remembering it as funny. Marra's gimmick here is that the world is cruel, is capricious, is murderous absolutely, and his characters are, too — just not all the time. Where the world is consistently terrible, the people Marra fills it with are occasionally kind, occasionally joyous, occasionally funny.
PositiveNPR[A]ll the joy in Slade House is in the discovery. It's in seeing different people make the same mistakes over and over again — in seeing the same story play out, the same weaknesses be preyed upon, the same arrogance of the twins who have been doing this for decades.
Garth Risk Hallberg
MixedNPR“Hallberg writes like he's not sure anyone will ever give him a second chance. There are places where you can taste his panic and his need to use every word he knows now. And there should've been an editor around to tell him that keeping something in your back pocket for later ain't always the worst idea in the world — but there's also something to be said for a guy that just leaves it all on the table.”
RaveNPR[I]f you do want to learn how to be a great writer, you could do worse than skipping out on that M.F.A. program or pricey writer's retreat, dropping 28 bucks ($17-something on Amazon!) on this book, studying the hell out of it, and then spending all that money you just saved on gin cocktails and hats. It's that good. That beautiful. Occasionally, that stunning.
MixedNPRSlowly, and with admirable, dark precision, Evison lays Harriet bare. The lies, the dodges, the secrets and frustrated desires. With a touch of snark and a lashing of perfectly affected irony, he flenses her to the bone and, somehow, seems kind in doing it.
PositiveNPR“But you should stick with it because there will come a point where you'll suddenly find your footing. Where (maybe on the road with June, or in the story of Luke's mother) the whole delicate origami construction of interlocking stories that Clegg is building will blossom outward and you'll see it for the first time as the whole thing that it is — this spindly web of connection, this sticky, terrible, comforting, fully realized community of small, damaged and ordinary people all brought together by a moment that no one can understand.”