It has been brought to our attention that we use "and then things go awry" quite often during our examination of book titles in the newsletter. We're going to let you in on a dark little secret of bookselling: "things go awry" is bookseller talk for "and then I skimmed the middle of the book because, you know, I had to shelve this darn thing before the next batch of books showed up." Of course, now that we've let you in on that bit of insider knowledge, we've ruined it forever for ourselves, which means we're going to have to come up with new ways to hand-wave about books. This is called "raising the bar."
Right. So, what's on the docket for this week?
Well, a new William Gibson novel, in fact. Apparently, we have been patient enough. Hurrah! We recall Mr. Gibson mentioning on Twitter a year or so back (er, two years now, probably) that he'd had quite enough of current events, as they were making it impossible for science fiction writers to speculate on the future. We're all going to be terribly wrong, was his realization. And sure, he's gone near-future in the last decade or so, but even still, you can't even write about next week with much hope that it's going to be anything close to reality. The past is busy compressing into the future—all sorts of moments getting lost in time, like tears in rain, or some such nonsense.
Anyway, what's Agency about? Well, it's about what's happening now, of course, but it's also about what happens—or may happen—in the future. It's got wormholes, time dilation, smart glasses, AI, terrible jobs (this doesn't change), and whether or not the future can be fixed. Or whether it wants to be fixed.
It's difficult to write glib and glossy copy about Gibson's novels without running into several paragraphs because his books tend to move sideways when you try to pin them in place.
And speaking of things moving sideways, Chana Porter's The Seep is out this week. This one is about an alien invasion that seeps into our cells, resulting in an invasion that is more like blackberries taking over than Martians raining fire down on us. Basically, we wake up one morning and bingo! It's UtopiaLand (which isn't the same as QualityLand, by the way). However—and this is Porter's twist on the tale—are we ready for utopianism? Are we ready to give up everything that makes us us? And how much of what we have loved and lost and become is what makes us who we are?
The Seep is one of those speculative books that lightly trips past the "what-if?" part and dives deep into the "now what?" part, and it's all the better for it. This one gets under your skin.
Meanwhile, Louisa Luna is back with another nail-biter of a thriller staring hot-headed investigator Alice Vega and her more restrained partner Max Caplan. In The Janes, Vega and Cap are called into investigate two unidentified bodies. Once they get a break from forensic evidence, they're suddenly yanked from the case, and, well, that's not how Vega does things. As you can imagine, things go—oh, wait, uh, let's see—the plot gets more complicated than a highway map scribbled on by squirrels. And then stuff blows up.
We can still say that, right? "And then stuff blows up." Good, yes? Okay, whew.
And speaking of stuff blowing up, H. G. Parry's deliciously literary bangity-bang The Unlikely Escape of Urial Heep is out in paperback this week. The premise is pretty simple: Charlie can make characters in books come to life. The complication is, uh, as frantic as a cave full of bats caught up in silly string. Naturally, Charlie and a handful of literature's greatest must save the day. Before, you know, "The End." This is pure escapism, dear readers. The best kind.
And speaking of things in paperback, Tiamat's Wrath, the eighth book in the Expanse series, is out now. The penultimate one, as we hear on the streets. As in, you should get started soon (if you haven't), because it's about to wrap up in gloriously explodey space opera fashion.
We can't say "thing go awry," of course, but we can say that things get all Mandelbrotian and Gordonian, as well as Eschered and Möbiused. We can probably mangle the names of a couple more theoretical thinkers into verbs and adjectives, if you like, but it's probably easiest to quote Publishers Weekly: "A standout tale of violence, intrigue, ambition, and hope." In space.
Meanwhile, Gaia Vince tackles human evolution in light of those aforementioned traits in Transcendence: How Humans Evolved Through Fire, Language, Beauty, and Time. Vince argues that these four elements—fire, language, beauty, and time—are responsible for allowing us to evolve into the delightfully upright and social media aware species that we are today.
And speaking of evolutionary tools, how about The Sherlock Holmes Escape Book? It's an escape room experience, masquerading as a book. How marvelous, right? Just the think as you wait for book five of the Warlock Holmes series to come out.
What? You're not reading Warlock Holmes? Oh, come now, dear reader, we need an excuse to get the author to drop by and tell stories and sign books. You do like that floor show, don't you? And things might go—no, wait—things might go wonkadoo.
Anyway, yes. This is your quarterly Warlock Holmes reminder, and look! An escape room in a book! It's almost like being there, but from the safety of your own comfy armchair!
And speaking of adventuring from your armchair, Isabel Allende sweeps us off to the Spanish Civil War with A Long Petal of the Sea. Now, romance during wartime isn't new, but Allende has a penchant for telling stories that are stunningly heartfelt and moving. In A Long Petal of the Sea, she begins with Pablo Neruda's rescue of two thousand refugees from the war and their subsequent resettlement in Chile. Allende follows some of these survivors over the next several decades, charting how this horrific event (the war, not the flight to safety) changes these characters and how love still manages to flourish.
And finally, we'd like to note that Peter Frankopan's The New Silk Roads is not merely a paperback edition of his 2017's The Silk Roads, but a follow-up book. Basically, the first one did well—surprisingly everyone, including Peter—and his publisher said, "Get out there, sir! What's new about these roads. Enough with the history stuff!" And so, Frankopan did. The result is orange, instead of purple.
Inside, we're sure that things go as awry as efforts to handwash a camel during a sandstorm tend to go.