Review: Willnot by James Sallis

Posted in Blog by - Jun 06, 2017

I am the opposite of a mystery fan. I have read the entire Sherlock Holmes canon end to end, and the main things that interested me were the relationship between Holmes and Watson and the tiny flashes of humanity in Holmes that seemed to occur only once every dozen stories or so. I tried some Agatha Christie and hated it, despite grudging admiration for the tortuous ingenuity of And Then There Were None. I once picked up a Maigret novel by Georges Simenon and all I got out of it was the moody Parisian atmosphere.

The trouble with mysteries and me …

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Review: Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance

Posted in Blog by - Jun 01, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When it came out in the middle of the feverish 2016 presidential campaign, J. D. Vance‘s Hillbilly Elegy was cannily marketed as insight into the mysterious mind of the Trump voter. That’s not wholly untrue, but its subtitle is a better description: “A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.” To me the book is at heart a raw and honest look at a childhood that was, to employ a non-clinical term, a shit show.

Vance’s story hit me close to home. …

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Review: His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

Posted in Blog by - Apr 21, 2017

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s no mean feat, pulling off a taut psychological murder mystery while confined to the tight box of fictional 19th-century documents, yet Graeme Macrae Burnet does it.

His antihero is 17-year-old Roderick Macrae, who has the soul of a poet and the misfortune to have been born in a literal dead end, a woebegone coastal farming village. Clearly Burnet has done thorough research; his finely detailed setting is more the star of his story than poor Roddy or any of his supporting cast of flat but colorful Dickensian characters.

The storytelling is …

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Review: Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

Posted in Blog by - Apr 11, 2017

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Writing about the album In Between by The Feelies, Rick Moody posits that rock ’n’ roll is in late middle age, its focus turned reflective and retrospective. I think much the same can be said of science fiction. Much as rock ’n’ roll has been supplanted by dance pop as the dominant popular music genre, SF has been pushed aside by fantasy. Roll over, Clarke, Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov, et al.; hail, hail, J.K. Rowling and George R. R. Martin.

In Stories of Your Life and Others, a collection …

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Review: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Posted in Blog by - Mar 22, 2017

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am unembarrassed to join the chorus of praise for this complex yet lucid novel, which presents us with two fractured families linked by betrayal and tragedy and makes us forgive their sins. Surefooted as a mountain goat, Patchett leaps to and fro across 50 years of nonlinear narrative, carrying us along on prose as clear and bracing as an alpine spring.

In its strongest chapter, the novel carries us to a Buddhist retreat in Switzerland that evokes The Magic Mountain unmistakably. But while it conveys the nuance and detail of literature, Commonwealth …

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My Top 10 Albums of 2016

Posted in Blog by - Dec 31, 2016

None of these 10 albums is just a collection of songs: Each one tells a story, and each story is a chapter of 2016. That’s why I’ve listed them not in order of preference or alphabetically, but chronologically.

 

They have symmetries too, patterns I am still discovering. There are the valedictions, of course: David Bowie and Leonard Cohen (even the titles of their final albums, Blackstar and You Want It Darker, echo each other) and Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest. There are reunions: A Tribe Called Quest and Underworld. There are pairs of art rockers (Bowie and Jenny Hval), …

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Book review: Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson

Posted in Blog by - May 16, 2016

Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What if John le Carre wrote science fiction instead of spy fiction? It might come out something like this offbeat novel – though for its first four-fifths or so, I couldn’t quite see why it was classified as science fiction at all.

True, there was futuristic technology – cloaking garments, newfangled pistols – but it seemed almost an afterthought. At its core, the novel seemed to be speculative fiction set in a Europe fractured into myriad tiny city-states (including, briefly, one comprised of Gunter Grass fans) – a satire inspired by …

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Book Review: “Not on Fire, but Burning”

Posted in Blog by - Nov 04, 2015

Not on Fire, but Burning by Greg Hrbek
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s tempting to say that Greg Hrbek’s Not on Fire, But Burning is to the War on Terror what Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five is to World War II (or perhaps to the Vietnam War, since Slaughterhouse-Five was published at its height in 1969). Both are works of speculative fiction (“science fiction” seems too narrow a category for Hrbek’s novel) about the tragic folly of war whose characters, as Vonnegut phrased it, come “unstuck in time.”

Not on Fire, But Burning begins with a cataclysm in San Francisco, then jumps eight …

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Review: The Best American Short Stories 2014

Posted in Blog by - Oct 26, 2015

The Best American Short Stories 2014 by Jennifer Egan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The 20 stories in this collection range from merely very good to outstanding. The curating hand of editor Jennifer Egan feels tangible to me, both in the gender balance of writers, which is pretty much 50-50, and a skew toward longer, more experimental writing toward the back of the collection.

If the stories have anything in common, it is their distinct settings. Reading the collection end to end, I got a feeling of travelogue, of visiting a broad range of places, times, and subcultures: a lonely forest lookout …

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Book review: Love and Rockets: New Stories #1

Posted in Blog by - Oct 25, 2015

Love and Rockets: New Stories #1 by Gilbert Hernández
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Love and Rockets, the black-and-white comic magazine written and drawn by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez (plus, occasionally, their brother Mario) was one of the best things about the 1980s for me. When it ended and the brothers went on to other worthy projects, I didn’t pay as much attention to what they were up to. So it’s delightful to rediscover them in collections from the Love and Rockets revival that began around 2008 and find their powers undiminished.

Highlights of Vol. 1 include a complex punk superheroine-team epic …

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