Monday, November 26, 2007

Publishers Weekly genre review round-up
(November 26th issue)

A good week for Sean Wallace at Prime Books, the long-awaited debut of John Joseph Adams's new anthology (which looks amazing!), a werewolf novel in verse, and a couple of very strong YA entries. Enjoy!
Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow (Harper): * Starred Review * "Barlow’s gut-wrenching, sexy debut, a horror thriller in verse, follows three packs of feral dogs in East L.A. These creatures are in fact werewolves, men and women who can change into canine form at will (“Dog or wolf? More like one than the other/ but neither exactly”). Lark, the top dog in one of the packs who’s a lawyer in human form, has a master plan that may involve taking over the city from the regular humans. Anthony Silvo, a dogcatcher and normally a loner, finds himself falling in love with a beautiful and mysterious woman (“Standing on four legs in her fur,/ she is her own brand of beast”). A strange small man and his giant partner play tournament bridge and are deep into the drug trade. A detective, Peabody, investigates several puzzling dog-related murders. The irregular verse form with its narrative economies proves an excellent vehicle to support all these disparate threads and then tie them together in the bittersweet conclusion." 5-city author tour. (Jan.)

Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse, edited by John Joseph Adams (Night Shade): * Starred Review * "This harrowing reprint anthology of 22 apocalyptic tales reflects the stresses of contemporary international politics, with more than half published since 2000. All depict unsettling societal, physical and psychological adaptations their authors postulate as necessary for survival after the end of the world. Keynoted by Stephen King’s “The End of the Whole Mess,” the volume’s common denominator is hubris: that tragic human proclivity for placing oneself at the center of the universe, and each story uniquely traces the results. Some highlight human hope, even optimism, like Orson Scott Card’s “Salvage” and Tobias Buckell’s “Waiting for the Zephyr.” Others, like James Van Pelt’s “The Last of the O-Forms” and Nancy Kress’s “Inertia,” treat identity by exploring mutation. Several, like Elizabeth Bear’s “And the Deep Blue Sea” and Jack McDevitt’s “Never Despair,” gauge the height of human striving, while others, like George R.R. Martin’s “Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels,” Carol Emshwiller’s “Killers” and M. Rickert’s “Bread and Bombs,” plumb the depths of human prejudice, jealousy and fear. Beware of Paolo Bacigalupi’s far-future “The People of Sand and Slag,” though; that one will break your heart." (Feb.)

Origins by Kate Thompson (Bloomsbury): * Starred Review * "Even readers who have not read the previous books in Thompson’s Missing Link trilogy (begun in Fourth World) will relish this last volume, a post-apocalyptic stunner. Blending weighty science fiction themes like genetic engineering and the future of human evolution with equally thought-provoking allegorical fable, the novel intertwines two storylines. The first consists of diary entries made by series hero Christie, living in northern Scotland, who, in 2009, chronicles the bizarre events that lead to the abrupt end of human civilization. The second narrative takes place centuries in the future, when two factions of Neolithic humanoids who call their clans Cats and Dogs begin a genocidal war. As the world falls deeper into chaos, two refugees—a Cat named Nessa and a Dog named Farral—join forces to try and bring peace by setting off on a quest to uncover the origins of their tribes. Accompanied by a talking blackbird named Yorick, the misfit duo travels to the end of the world where a shocking revelation awaits them. Few conclusions wield the impact of this one; when the storylines finally connect, SF fans will be blown away." Ages 12-up. (Nov.)

Unwind by Neal Shusterman (Simon & Schuster): * Starred Review * "Shusterman (Everlost) explores one of the most divisive of topics—abortion—in this gripping, brilliantly imagined futuristic thriller. After a civil war waged over abortion has almost destroyed America, completely new laws are in effect. Human life can never be “terminated,” but between the ages of 13 and 18, a child can be “unwound” by his parents, an irrevocable decision that leads to every single bit of his body being harvested for medical use. As the novel opens, 16-year-old Connor has secretly discovered his parents’ copy of his unwind order, and decides to “kick-AWOL,” or run away. Connor’s escape inadvertently sweeps up two other Unwinds: a ward of the state who is not quite talented enough to merit her place in a state home any longer, and the 10th son of religious parents, who gave birth to him just to “tithe” him. Beyond his pulse-pounding pace, the cliffhangers and the bombshells, Shusterman has a gift for extrapolating the effects of alien circumstances on ordinary people and everyday behavior. He brings in folklore, medical practices, and slang that reflect the impact of unwinding, creating a dense and believable backdrop. Characters undergo profound changes in a plot that never stops surprising readers. The issues raised could not be more provocative—the sanctity of life, the meaning of being human—while the delivery could hardly be more engrossing or better aimed to teens." Ages 13-up. (Nov.)

Black Sheep: A Dystopian Novel by Ben Peek (Prime): "Society has fractured into three supposedly pure race factions and multiculturalism is a crime in this bleak Orwellian debut, set in the far future. After the Culture War more than a century earlier, the United Nations divided the races to prevent violence and bigotry. Sydney, Australia, has become Asian-Sydney, Caucasian-Sydney and African-Sydney, and crossing the borders is strictly forbidden. Isao Dazai, a recent immigrant from Asian-Tokyo, dares to wonder what the other cities are like, despite fearful warnings from his wife, Kumiko. When she turns him in for speaking multicultural heresy, Isao is sent away for Assimilation, a dehumanizing procedure that strips him of his individuality. Thirteen years later, Isao manages to overcome his programming and becomes desperate to confront Kumiko, who has built a political career on her patriotic betrayal. Although the characters rarely rise above the roles of philosophical mouthpieces, Peek sketches chilling images of a future where individuality is deadly and only sameness provides safety." (Jan.)

Navigator: Time’s Tapestry: 3 by Stephen Baxter (Ace): "The engrossing third Time’s Tapestry novel (after Emperor and Conqueror) from Philip K. Dick Award–winner Baxter focuses on Christianity’s reconquest of Spain from the Moors between A.D. 1070 and 1492. This conflict is reflected in the struggle between the English and Spanish branches of a family, both of which have received mysterious prophecies and coded instructions containing designs for weapons that could give one side power to annihilate the other. The characters’ beliefs and passions shape events, but they don’t know how much they have been manipulated by competing tempters from the future. By book’s end, two forces emerge to debate whether Christopher Columbus will be given ships to sail west or an army to lead east in an apocalyptic war against Islam. Baxter understands how a craving for beauty and knowledge can become ghastly fanaticism, and he’s also very good at showing his characters thinking within the limitations of their time." (Jan.)

The Traitor by Michael Cisco (Prime): "Cisco (The Tyrant) ups the ante for provocative dark fantasy by giving this coming-of-age tale a subtle metaphysical edge. While still a boy, sensitive Nophtha realizes that he’s uncommonly empathetic and able to see the world from the perspective of others. Tutored by his uncle, Nophtha apprentices as an itinerant spirit eater, or someone who absorbs lingering ghosts that congest the surrounding atmosphere and converts their essence into formidable healing powers. One day, Nophtha crosses paths with his alter ego, Wite, a soul burner who hopes to evolve to a higher level of being by gorging himself on the souls of the living. Under his sway, Nophtha is compelled to evaluate whether he and Wite are that different in nature, and to assess his feelings about family and community. Cisco writes in a reflective style that masks his narrative’s virtual absence of a plot. Though discursive and sometimes repetitive, the story still moves toward its conclusion with a momentum borne of the author’s meditative prose and aphoristic expressions." (Jan.)

Debatable Space by Philip Palmer (Orbit): "It’s rarely a good sign when an author tells readers with “sad grasshopper minds” to skip ahead if they’re bored, as Palmer does in this muddled debut space opera. After grabbing readers with action sequences revolving around a plan to use former President of Humanity Lena Smith against her despotic son, Peter, whom Lena tenderly calls “the most evil human being who has ever lived,” a series of long, rambling “Excerpts from the Thought Diary of Lena Smith, 2004–” bring the action to a screeching halt. Lena’s description of her thousand-year life and accounts of her sexual escapades and theology will weary many readers. The concepts, writing and plotting leave a great deal to be desired, and Palmer’s attempt at humor centered on the notion of powerful, intelligent flame beasts addicted to bad television also falls flat." (Jan.)

Keepers of the Flame by Robin D. Owens (Luna): "Twin sisters Elizabeth and Brigid “Bri” Drystan are pulled from Denver into another dimension in this overcrowded fourth installment of the Summoning (after 2007’s Protector of the Flight). The twins have the gift of “healing hands,” and while Elizabeth works in traditional medicine, Bri has been exploring global alternative healing methods. Recently reunited, the two find themselves unexpectedly propelled through a rainbow-lit portal to the mystical, musical world of Lladrana, filled with flying horses, magic mirrors and seductive knights. The sisters can’t return to Earth until they heal the people afflicted by a mysterious disease, and by then they may not want to go. Elizabeth must decide whether Chevalier Faucon Creusse is a better match than the lover she left on Earth, while Bri falls for her protector, Sevair Masif. Despite some too-cute prose (“there is a keep-cold twiddle-spell”; “I am Sinafinal, a fey-coo-cu”), Owens’s colorful epic has some charming moments." (Jan.)

Bandersnatch, edited by Paul Tremblay and Sean Wallace (Prime): "It may or may not be frumious, but this original anthology from Tremblay (City Pier: Above & Below) and Wallace (Jabberwocky 2) positively revels in the “strange, dark, and unpredictable.” Nearly all the 13 stories have both feet firmly in the avant-garde. Several tilt toward black-humored horror, and even the authors’ bios run to the bizarre. Talking animals and strange landscapes abound, from the taiga and bears (but no lion) in Alan DeNiro’s surreal opening tale “Taiga, Taiga, Burning Bright” to the genetic hybrids in Karen Heuler’s “Down on the Farm,” which concludes the volume by evoking both Poe and Orwell. Dogs in particular are well represented, figuring in Heuler’s story as well as Ursula Pflug’s “Border Crossing” and Bogdan Tiganov’s “The Children.” An iguana and a soda can trade quips in Seth Ellis’s “The Sidewinders,” and “Scar Stories” by Vylar Kaftan personifies a cat, a punchbowl and the party where they’re present. This corner of the genre is very much an acquired taste, but for those who dig that funky groove, this anthology more than delivers what it promises." (Jan.)

Blood in the Fruit: Book Four of the Marq’ssan Cycle by L. Timmel Duchamp (Aqueduct Press): "Originally written in the mid-’80s and revised in 1996, this fourth installment of the idea-packed near-future dystopian Marq’ssan Cycle (after 2007’s Tsunami) echoes classic feminist anxieties about humanity’s future. It also demands a hefty knowledge of the previous works in the cycle. First, the violence-hating alien Marq’ssan shut down Earth’s technology, asking specifically for women to represent the various nations. Then the women-run Pacific Northwest Free Zone tried to stave off the draconian measures of the male-dominated U.S. Executive. Now, in 2086, amazonian Liz Weatherall, the sworn enemy of once and future Executive leader Robert Sedgwick, wants to create her own savage antimale regime. Duchamp’s writing exudes hatred of men, which she attempts to justify with scenes of sexual torture and a perverse father-daughter relationship. Not for the squeamish, this ferocious vision of male depravity and female will to power demonstrates how corrupting the thirst for domination can be—for both sexes." (Jan.)

Dust by Elizabeth Bear (Bantam Spectra): "Bear proves there’s still juice in one of science fiction’s oldest tropes, the stranded generation ship, in this complex coming-of-age tale. Rien, a handmaid in a feudal society, must care for the prisoner Ser Perceval—a mutilated enemy who Rien discovers is her half-sister by an absent scion of the ruling family. Their quest for a safer home tangles with their society’s own quest for safety, as the descendents of an artificial intelligence and the genetically engineered crew battle for control to save the ship from an impending supernova. Standard plot devices litter the familiar landscape: tarot, pseudo-angels, named swords with powers, and politics as a family quarrel. But Campbell Award–winning author Bear uses them beautifully to turn up the pressure on her characters, who r respond by making hard choices. And—as she did in Carnival and Hammered—Bear breaks sexual taboos matter-of-factly: love in varied forms drives the characters without offering easy redemption." (Jan.)

Evermore by Lynn Viehl (Signet): "Scottish vampire Byrne wrestles with love for Jayr, his female seneschal (or senior officer in charge of domestic ceremonies) in this fifth book in the Darkyn series. In order to dispel temptation, Byrne, lord of Orlando, decides to hold a tournament to see who will replace him as ruler of his domain. A bevy of ambitious vampires come forward, including, distractingly, a vampiric Robin of Locksley (i.e., Robin Hood). When a stranger appears claiming to be the rival Lord of Nottingham, tempers are set immediately on edge. Things grow even more complicated as Jayr and Byrne’s attraction becomes too great to ignore, and attempts are made on Byrne’s life, perhaps by a lord overeager to take his seat. The plot is full of exciting twists and turns, but the chemistry between Jayr and Byrne is fairly tepid. Knowledge of prior books helps one along, but overall Viehl tells a self-contained, page-turning story of medieval vampires." (Jan.)

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