We read an interesting interview this week in Vulture where Victor LaValle and Marlon James talk about their respective new releases. It’s an interesting read, and one of the tidbits we noted (which is not to downplay a great deal of other thoughtful notes from this interview) was how both writers don’t see themselves as genre writers, but rather writers with idiosyncratic views of reality. Both acknowledge that literary realism requires that both the author and the audience agree on what “realism” is, and, well, that definition changes dramatically everywhere you go, doesn’t it?
And especially around here, where we spent the early part of the week working on Hodge & Podge’s Wunderkammer.
Their what? Oh, like we’re going to tell you NOW. We have some books to shamelessly hype first.
And let’s get to that. How about we start with Marlon James Black Leopard, Red Wolf, which James once referred to as an “African Game of Thrones.” He meant it as a throwaway line for a magazine interview, but as an elevator pitch, well, it’s pretty solid. James, who won the Man Book Prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings, sets out across a fantastic landscape with Tracker, a hunter who has been tasked with finding a missing child. Naturally, things go awry, strangeness happens, and mythology starts to bleed through and color everything. It’s a dense and fabulous read, and we’re delighted that James is going to keep playing in this world.
Victor LaValle, whose The Changeling won the World Fantasy Award and the British Fantasy Award last year, puts on his editorial hat this week for A People’s Future of the United States, a collection of twenty-five stories about the future of America. As you can imagine, these stories are not light-hearted apple-pie-cooling-on-the-windowsill sorts of stories. As Howard Zinn once said about the record of history: “The chief problem of historical honesty is not outright lying. It is omission or de-emphasis of important data.” LaValle mentions in his introduction that these stories are an attempt to keep alive the narrative of those who are normally omitted or de-emphasized.
And while we’re talking about who gets to write the narrative, let’s page through Roger McNamee’s Zucked, which takes a hard look at the symbiotic relationship between Facebook and its audience, a symbiosis that some argue is becoming more parasitic than co-equal. McNamee, who invested in Facebook back in his VC days, is more in the “this parasite is going to kill you” camp than the “whee! I can share candid selfies from the bar with all five thousand of my closets friends in an instant!” camp. Zucked may not tell us anything we don’t already know, but it certainly may force us to acknowledge what we already know. It’s like being told that licking the lead-based wallpaper is going to kill you. You either say, “I know” and keep on licking the wallpaper, or you stop, right?
Speaking of zany commentary on the state of humanity, Donald Westlake’s classic Brothers Keeper is back in print this week. Westlake, as you know, was not only a master in noir plotting, but he was also the king of the comedic caper, and Brothers Keeper is a standalone book about a bunch of monks living in New York City who have to break a few vows in order to save their monastery from the wrecking ball. Knowing Westlake it’s probably a thinly-veiled satirical riff on book-lovers taking on a certain crime family, er, business empire whose name starts with T and ends with a synonym for “ass.”
Oh, look, Neil DeGrasse Tyson doing a puppet show about astrophysics for young folk in a hurry.
Meanwhile, Gwenda Bond has written the official Stranger Things prequel novel.
. . . what? It’s “Astrophysics for Young People in a Hurry.” We’re supposed to blow past it because, you know, “in a hurry.”
Anyway, Gwenda Bond peels back the secret layers on the creepy experiments that went on in Hawkins, and reveals to us that—
We’re not going to tell you. Come on. However, if you liked Stranger Things, then you’re going to dig this book.
And speaking of books worth digging, On the Come Up, Angie Thomas’s follow-up to The Hate U Give, is out this week. On the Come Up follows Bri, a talented rapper who is trying to find her way in the world in the wake of her father’s death. Once again, Thomas gives voice to a generation which struggles to be heard.
Meanwhile, this week’s sizzling debut is Alex Michaelides’s The Silent Patient, a psychological thriller that is so devious, so twisty-turny, that every thriller writer who knows how to twist a turn is throwing themselves in front of us with praise. David Baldacci braces us on the back porch while we’re trying to take out the garbage, whispering: “It’s so unique it should have its own genre.” Lee Child is hiding behind the curtains in the living room where he can intone in a ghostly voice that The Silent Patient is “freighted with real suspense.” Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child jump out of the closet upstairs and shout at you that this story is relentless and that did doesn’t let go until the last shocking twist. And A. J. Finn says—
Well, never mind what A. J. Finn says. We’ll just have to acknowledge that it’s not true next week anyway . . .
Okay, okay! We get it. This book is so completely unpredictable that reading it is like discovering that turtles wear pants or that squirrels hate Jell-O or something so shocking that it will literally change the way the world works.
Or we could be like that one reviewer at Kirkus who calls it “clumsy, contrived, and silly.” Though we have to wonder what that Kirkus reviewer does for excitement if they are this innured to one of the “most shocking, mind-blowing twists in recent memory” (says Blake Crouch, who has pulled off at least one mind-blowing twist in recent memory).
Also, Crazy House, James Patterson’s jab at The Hunger Games, is out in paperback this week. In case, you’re only up for clearly-telegraphed mind blowing.
And finally, in the category of sequels we’ve been waiting for, we have S. A. Chakraborty’s The Kingdom of Copper and Josiah Bancroft’s The Hod King.
When we last saw Nahri, the protagonist of Chakraborty’s lush and magical The City of Brass, she was locked into a life she didn’t want and lost without her allies. Naturally, things get worse before they get better. Chakraborty’s world-building is as impressive as ever, and we’re delighted to fall deeper under the spell of her words.
Bancroft’s The Hod King is the third book in the Books of Babel, and we’ve been climbing the impossibly high and dizzyingly labyrinthian Tower with Thomas Senlin for awhile now. Will he reach his ultimate goal? Will the denizens of the Tower overwhelm him and his merry band of outcasts? And just who is the Hod King, and what secrets does he hold that may or may not reveal the true meaning of this monstrous edifice?