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Shaman

In Kim Stanley Robinson's Shaman, one of the greatest science fiction writers of our time takes his furthest trip yet: back to the dawn of man.

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Darwyn Cooke's "Parker: Slayground"

Slayground is the fourth adaptation by Darwyn Cooke of one of the Parker-themed crime novels of "Richard Stark" (Donald Westlake) to the graphic novel format.

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The Future of the Mind

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Michio Kaku's first book, Hyperspace. Since then, the personable (his many media appearances testify to his charm), verbally gifted, enthusiastic, science-proselytizing physicist has shared his own feelings of awe at the universe and the humans who inhabit it. Reading one of his books is like hijacking Kaku's oversized intelligence and enthusiasms to stoke your own sense of wonder. His latest is no exception.

 

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Shovel Ready

Adam Sternbergh's taut, laconic, so-grim-you-have-to-laugh-to-stop-from-crying debut novel recalls two previous outstanding first genre novels which, curiously enough, are almost polar opposites.

 

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What Makes This Book So Great

Alert readers will note something important directly from the cover of Jo Walton's accomplished and deeply enjoyable  collection of essays ruminating on the books she (mostly) loves: there is no question mark in the title. To parse that punctuational distinction plainly: Walton is not asking herself or her readers any questions about her favorite books. She is not uncertain or in doubt over their worth or qualities.

 

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Five Overlooked SF/F/H Books of 2013

What are the four novels and one knockout story collection that our speculative fiction expert Paul Di Filippo proclaims 2013's greatest "Overlooked SF, Fantasy, & Horror"?

 

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Cracking Hard Case Crime

After its brief hiatus some years ago, the Hard Case Crime imprint has bounced back better and bigger than ever.

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A Tribute to Frederik Pohl

The Science Fiction Writers of America bestowed the title of Grandmaster on the late Frederik Pohl.  But his contribution to literature went beyond any genre.

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A Week of Toothsome Reading

Few predators rival the shark in fascination.  No matter how often we see them, or how much we read about them, humans are always eager to learn more, exhibiting a mixture of reverence, awe and fear. 

 

All of which is to say, who can resist the notion of "Shark Week"?  Here's a week's worth --  seven vital volumes  -- of squaline lore, ranging from the scientific to the sensationally fantastic, to satisfy that obsession with what just might be out there in the waves.

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Phallos

The first edition of Samuel Delany's novella Phallos was published by a small press in 2004. Nowadays, it's a sought-after rarity among Delany fanatics. Although I own all of Delany's other books, I have never lucked into a copy myself. But now, thanks to the editorial acumen and good taste of Wesleyan University Press (buttressed by several accessibly scholarly essays attached), an affordable new edition is available. Moreover, the text is enhanced and expanded by one-third. Delany fans, rejoice!

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Sticks and Stones...

Over the course of four previous novels, Max Barry has proven himself a gonzo satirist and a black-comedy inclined futurist of no mean abilities.  Deadly funny, with barbs of cultural commentary hidden within his absurdity.  As with all such writers—Robert Sheckley, William Tenn, Kurt Vonnegut, Will Self, Christopher Moore and George Saunders, for instance—this exaggerative, extrapolative talent means he also has his sensitive fingertips securely fastened to the pulse of the present, whose more uncanny dimensions he also often explores.  For it is only the keen analysis and tracking of "what is" that provides the solid foundation from which "what might be" (however outrageous) can believably arise.

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Old World Magic in Old New York

Very few debut novels exhibit the charm, assurance, emotional depth and bravura fabulation which the lucky reader will discover in Helene Wecker's The Golem and the Jinni. Like some agreeable conflation of Isaac Bashevis Singer, Mark Helprin and the anonymous compiler of One Thousand and One Nights, Wecker delivers an ambitious yet gracefully humble novel featuring the best of classic European and Middle Eastern fancies, reimagined and reembedded in a vivid New World milieu, at once numinously odd and groundedly naturalistic.  The result is utterly unique and enchanting.  Perhaps the famous debut of Susannah Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, might be the last occasion for such rejoicing at a new voice in the genre and beyond.

 

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Robot Visions

Angry robots! Aren't they all? Well, not the line of fine science fiction and fantasy books that comes to readers under the rubric Angry Robot. In fact, their offerings always seem packaged with an appealing extra measure of excitement, zest, and thrills sometimes lacking with more sedate and long-established publishers.

 

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Who Was Dracula?

The lives of most authors -- even, or perhaps especially, the great ones -- are necessarily a catalogue of tedious inwardness and cloistered composition. Globe-trotting Hemingways and brawling Christopher Marlowes are the exception, not the rule. In many respects, a cursory overlook of the life of Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, fits this milk-mild template, albeit in a slightly divergent and commercial fashion.

 

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Hand-Drying in America

The front and back covers and the endpapers and the indicia and title pages of Ben Katchor's sumptuous new collection of strips from Metropolis magazine (appearing originally from 1998 to 2012) constitute a "bonus" story of sorts, seemingly coextant only with this project. The topic of the new piece? How wasteful, environmentally unsound and generally unworthy is the production of books in general and large, glossy art books in particular. The nearly criminal charges are leveled through the intermediary of one of Katchor's great obsessive amateur experts, Josef Fuss, who inveighs against many offenders, including "a deluxe full-color edition of an esoteric literary comic strip."  In other words, against the very book the reader now holds.

 

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The Freddie Stories

Blessed with legions of ardent fans, Lynda Barry is nonetheless critically under- appreciated. Seach on her byline accompanied by the word "review," and you come up practically empty. Many people bump into her only in the context of her long friendship with Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons. And yet for nearly thirty-five years she's been producing great, funny, unique comic strips -- not graphic novels per se -- many of them centered on a quirky adolescent girl named Marlys Mullen and her family.

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Kalimpura

Some acts of worldbuilding in fiction instantiate a milieu that is so culturally odd and exotic, so displaced from the audience's consensus reality in terms of quotidian rituals and observances, clothing and habitations, taboos and emotions, that the subcreation becomes fantastical even if nothing overtly supernatural or paranormal takes place. Such creations usually free up the writer to focus on character, imagining what types of people such a world would produce, since the creator is not overly busy casting spells or buffing up the scales on the dragons. The Ur-example of this kind of book is Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy.

 

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The Apocalypse Ocean

What's a talented writer to do when he's got new stories to set in a thoughtfully imagined world, fans are clamoring for an extension of a beloved series -- and the traditional publishing route to continuing the cycle is closed?  Just a couple of decades or so ago, the answer to that question would have been simple: slink off into the sunset and develop a serious drinking habit. But nowadays the Internet and the spread of ebooks offers many a route to continued storytelling.

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Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder

Do not imagine that you have understood the concept of "antifragility" right away, merely because the neologism might readily bring to mind the famous quote by Friedrich Nietzsche, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who formerly explored unpredictability in refreshingly unpredictable fashion in The Black Swan, demolishes -- or at least fruitfully unpacks -- that stale rubric in just one of the myriad pithy, ideationally rich, hand grenade-style mini-chapters that constitute his new book, which is a bathyscaphe-deep descent into an unexplored sea of contrarian wisdom.

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The Cocktail Waitress

For the uninitiated, Hard Case Crime, founded in 2004, is a stellar line of pulp fiction masterminded by publisher Charles Ardai. This ongoing celebration of the low-rent, lowbrow genres of crime, suspense, thrillers, and general all-round dangerous down-and-dirty realism has to rank as one of the greatest accomplishments of twenty-first-century publishing. Surely James M. Cain's long-lost, never-before-published, final composition, The Cocktail Waitress, -- the outcome of some arduous archaeological sleuthing and delicate editorial finessing, as described by Ardai in an informative afterword -- represents a new high-water mark for the firm.

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Sailor Twain: Or, The Mermaid in the Hudson

Mark Siegel newest graphic novel, Sailor Twain, which he both wrote and illustrated, leapfrogs him into the ranks of "creators to follow." It is exceptionally good, its story being fully the equal of any prose novel of similar scope and ambition, with of course the additional benefit of some gorgeous and sophisticated artwork. That Siegel conceptualized the project and roughed it out over the course of his daily commute alongside the inspirational Hudson River during several years only adds some glamour to his substantial achievement.

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The Caning

Stephen Puleo has invested a vast amount of research into the events surrounding and including the moment on May 22, 1856, when Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina thrashed Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts with a gold-topped wooden cane on the floor of Congress. The Caning casts the facts into a compulsively readable narrative which does honorable, evenhanded justice to all the players and issues of the era, while teasing out not only similarities with our present antagonistic politics but also some educational differences.

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Mirror Earth

Michael D. Lemonick's engrossing new account of the relatively young field of exoplanetary science reveals how the study of planets outside of our solar system languished as a kind of pencil and paper speculative game until the right technology and the right visionary inspirations coincided. After that, the riches began to rain down from the heavens. Now we stand poised on the threshold of the ultimate coup: finding a "mirror Earth," or twin to our hospitable home.

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The Female Detective

The consensus history of the detective story credits its natal coalescence to Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," appearing in 1841. So potent was the new fictional idiom, so suited to contemporary times, that in only a couple of decades mystery novels and short stories were a standardized form, although of course many refinements and milestones remained ahead. So in 1864 the appearance of Andrew Forrester's The Female Detective, featuring the first gumshoe of her gender, was a logical but unprecedented landmark. (Some authorities give the groundbreaking credit, however, to Edward Ellis's Ruth the Betrayer; or, The Female Spy, from 1863. In either case, the time seemed ripe for such a figure.)

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Dahl Delivered

Somehow, despite haunting three different libraries in search of works of a fantastical nature, I never chanced upon the books of Roald Dahl while still in elementary school. And they began to appear precisely when I would have truly savored them. James and the Giant Peach, the first, was published in 1961, the year I finished first grade. A little too advanced for me then but surely still discoverable on the shelves two or three years later. But no, I chanced to encounter Dahl only in high school, with his "adult" stories. I still recall the thrill of picking up Switch Bitch in a used book store in the small bohemia adjacent to Brown University. Enjoyable, sure, but not a patch on the YA stuff.

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Yok

Welcome to Mollisan Town, a burg like many another literary venue, full of citizens rich and poor, honest and criminal, loving and mean, where odd and exotic events occur with life-changing regularity. You'd recognize the commingled noir and magic-realist lineaments of the place from books by Jorge Amado and Jeff VanderMeer, from movies like Chinatown and Pan's Labyrinth. Except for one thing. The inhabitants of Mollisan Town are animate stuffed animals. Yes, creatures of cloth and wool batting, fur and buttons, fabricated in factories before being delivered to their designated natal homes, who nonetheless manage paradoxically to eat and breathe, feel, and die.

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The Way the World Works

Nicholson Baker is a scant three years younger than I, and so I expect he feels generationally much the same way about the high quality of E. B. White's essays. Confirmation of my hypothesis arrives in his new book, The Way the World Works, where he achieves superb results on a par and simpatico with White's sturdy, eternal, captivating prose. (Another obvious and acknowledged influence is John Updike.) Such striving and accomplishment surely could not have arisen without the influential vision of the shining essayistic temple built by White on Mount Parnassus. But now White needs to scoot over slightly on his Parnassian throne to accommodate Baker's sacred rump.

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The Underwater Welder

I first encountered the work of Jeff Lemire in 2008, when I sat as one of the judges for the Eisner Awards, comicdom's premier prize. Volumes 1 & 2 of what would become his Essex County Trilogy were under consideration and indeed ended up on the final ballot: an easy decision, as I recall, that elicited unanimity from the impressed judges. Since then, he has gone on from strength to strength, becoming one of the best writers at DC Comics for some of their core superhero titles, while also drawing and scripting his own stand-alone project for their Vertigo imprint, Sweet Tooth, a brutally tender tale about chimeric mutants in a postapocalyptic landscape. And the most amazing thing about Lemire's career since 2008 is that he has not compromised his indie vision. He's remained weird and off-kilter and idiosyncratic, failing to succumb to the bombast and swell-headedness that so often infects even the sharpest of the alternative creators when they enter the franchised world of "the Big Two," Marvel and DC.

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Dead Funny

After reading Rudolph Herzog's Dead Funny with mixed laughter and gasps, head-shaking incredulity and sagely nodding confirmation of the best and worst that humanity has to offer, I find myself channeling the Three Stooges in You Nazty Spy!, John Banner (Sgt. Schultz) in Hogan's Heroes, Roberto Benigni in Life Is Beautiful, and John Cleese in that episode of Fawlty Towers known as "The Germans". In short, I'm trying to use all the familiar, non-German instances of humor about the Nazis to understand this book's revelations:  a heretofore rare glimpse into the incredible pressure cooker of mortality and laughter that Herzog reveals Hitlerian Germany to have been.

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Birdseye Bristoe

Dan Zettwoch's debut graphic novel sings with a sweet simplicity enhanced by a concealed formalist complexity. Birdseye Bristoe, a spare, episodic tale concerning a few momentous weeks in the lives of the citizens of a small, eccentric "Midsouth" town, is Norman Rockwell by way of Twin Peaks. Although not as ambitious or dense as David Mazzuchelli's Asterios Polyp, it shares some of that book's sly blending of macrocosmic and microcosmic concerns, where big issues arise emergently out of the quotidian.

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July 24: On this day in 1725 John Newton, the slave trader-preacher who wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace," was born.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.

Pastoral

When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).