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John Kwok (New York, NY USA)

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Seveneves: A Novel
Seveneves: A Novel
by Neal Stephenson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 25.07
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Finest Apocalyptic Speculative Fiction Novel of Our Time, May 19 2015
This review is from: Seveneves: A Novel (Hardcover)
A few weeks ago, a noted New York, NY independent bookstore held a panel on the future of apocalyptic/dystopian speculative fiction; a panel consisting overwhelmingly of mainstream literary fiction writers who probably never heard of – or if they did, haven’t appreciated – what J. G. Ballard dubbed the “tool kit of science fiction”, which William Gibson has stressed too. In plain English, what Ballard and Gibson have emphasized is the importance of realism in speculative fiction and a realism that is rooted in the post-World War II scientific and technological history of Western Civilization. It is quite doubtful that the panel acknowledged the ample realism present in Gibson’s fiction, or Neal Stephenson’s, or recognized the necessity for having realism in speculative fiction which other writers who write it almost exclusively, ranging from Paolo Bacigalupi, Lauren Beukes and Lev Grossman to Ken Liu, Michael Swanwick and Jeff VanderMeer, have been emphasizing for months, if not years. It is also quite doubtful that any of these panelists understood that Stephenson could write a great speculative fiction novel that emphasizes the necessity for paying close attention to both the “tool kit of science fiction” and the relevance of realism in speculative fiction; a novel more than seven years in the making, “Seveneves”. With his latest, truly epic, novel, Neal Stephenson joins the ranks of Nancy Kress and Kim Stanley Robinson as one of the most important hard science fiction writers of our time, offering readers a five thousand year-long saga truly Wagnerian in its scope, and one rather ambitious in exploring relevant aspects of astrophysics, planetary sciences and biology and in examining the philosophical and sociological aspects of humanity’s survival in the aftermath of a cataclysm that virtually wipes out all life on Earth. Like its critically acclaimed predecessor, “Anathem”, “Seveneves” is in its own right, a memorable philosophical novel that is also a compellingly readable tale; the finest apocalyptic speculative fiction novel of our time and an instant classic of 21st Century Anglo-American speculative fiction.

“Seveneves” may be remembered as Neal Stephenson’s prose equivalent of Richard Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” of operas. It is a novel in three parts, with the longest devoted to the cataclysm itself, and how humanity races to construct in near Earth orbit, an orbital sanctuary that will allow only a few thousand humans and the digitized genetic heritage of humanity and all life on Earth, to survive the dismal fate awaiting Earth and its soon to be extinct biodiversity. Stephenson introduces us to a compelling cast of characters, starting with Canadian-American astrophysicist Dubois “Doc” “Doob” Harris, who comes across as a compelling fictional mix of Carl Sagan with Neil de Grasse Tyson, and International Space Station asteroid mining expert Dinah Macquarie. The novel’s middle section deals with the immediate aftermath of the apocalypse – the moon’s destruction - that has rendered Earth into a virtually sterile, lifeless, world, describing a cascading series of sociopolitical, scientific, and technological disasters that leaves humanity’s future in the hands of seven surviving women, the “Seveneves”. Jumping ahead five thousand years into the future, Stephenson reveals a technologically advanced civilization of humanity living in space habitats encircling the Earth, with more than a few in geosynchronous orbit, at a pivotal moment in human history when that civilization encounters unexpectedly, humans descended from those who survived on Earth during the five millennia when the planet was rendered virtually uninhabitable from the orbital bombardment known as the “Hard Rain”. A technologically advanced civilization for whom the key figures and events chronicled in the first two sections of “Seveneves” have become the stuff of legend, a vast “EPIC” remembered by generations across the vast gulf of time; an “EPIC” still remembered by those humans whose ancestors didn’t flee, but instead, found refuge underground or within the deepest parts of Earth’s oceans.

Stephenson’s apocalyptic vision of humanity’s future is one tinged with hope, even in those bleak passages in the midst of “Seveneves” where it seems humanity is destined for extinction. It is a spellbinding, often memorable, vision noted for his consummate skills in introducing big ideas in science, philosophy and sociology, without losing the reader’s attention, without losing any empathy towards Doob, Dinah, and their peers, as well as characters in the novel’s concluding section as dissimilar as Kath Two/Kathree, Ty, Einstein, and Sonar, set on the alien world called New Earth, Old Earth reborn after centuries of terraforming by the Seveneves’ three billion descendants. Stephenson’s latest novel is indeed an epic visionary tale of survival after annihilation that will remind readers of real-life tales of survival like the ill-fated Ernest Shackleton expedition to Antarctica during the early years of World War I, as well as brilliant speculative fiction from the likes of Arthur C. Clarke, Gregory Benford and Alastair Reynolds. Inspired by his prior work with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, emphasizing his keen interest in near Earth orbital space debris, and amplified by further research into planetary sciences, physics, biochemistry and other aspects of molecular biology, Stephenson demonstrates both exceptional storytelling skills in merging the novel’s three sections into a cohesive whole, and in speculative fictional world building of the highest order. For these reasons, I suspect “Seveneves” will be widely discussed not only by diehard fans of speculative fiction, but also by those who are casual readers of this genre, impressed by Stephenson’s profound, often sophisticated, insights not only in the sciences, but in relevant aspects of philosophy and sociology too. “Seveneves” will be remembered not only as a notable milestone in Stephenson’s thirty year-long distinguished literary career, but as one of the most important works of fiction published so far in this century, regardless of genre, and one that may well earn for him many new fans unfamiliar with his prior iconic works of speculative fiction, ranging from his memorable post-cyberpunk tale “Snow Crash” and the steampunk dystopian futuristic “The Diamond Age” to his philosophical “First Contact” space opera “Anathem” and computer game-inspired contemporary thriller “Reamde”.

Find Me: A Novel
Find Me: A Novel
by Laura van den Berg
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.80
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Coming-of-Age Tale Set Against a Near Future Apocalypse, April 17 2015
This review is from: Find Me: A Novel (Hardcover)
Left abandoned as an infant on the front entrance steps of a Boston hospital, Joy Jones sees herself as an orphan, spending her youth in the custody of several foster parents, until one day, during the height of a viral epidemic gripping the United States and the rest of the world, she discovers a dying relative in a hospital, yet another victim of a lethal virus which causes its victims to lose their memories. In “Find Me”, Laura van den Berg has written a fine coming-of-age novel that is also the best apocalyptic/near future dystopian fiction novel written by an American mainstream literary fiction writer since Peter Heller’s “The Dog Stars”. As a work of apocalyptic/near future dystopian fiction, “Find Me” is much better than anything written by an American writer that was published last year, with the notable exception of Monica Byrne’s “The Girl in the Road” which earned ample praise from Neil Gaiman and Kim Stanley Robinson for her exquisitely beautiful prose and exceptional speculative fiction world building. Much to her credit, van den Berg, unlike several other recently published mainstream literary American novelists writing speculative fiction, has done her homework, giving readers both a compellingly realistic view of a hospital set up to house both those, like Joy Jones, who are immune to the virus and those who are asymptomatic – have tested positive for it, but haven’t developed the disease – and of the disease itself, having relied on Gina Kolata’s “Flu”, which includes a compellingly insightful account of the 1918 flu pandemic, and “Killer Germs” by Barry E. Zimmerman and Daniel J. Zimmerman, for research during the early writing of this novel.

However, as a work of apocalyptic/near future dystopian fiction, “Find Me” isn’t nearly as memorable as Heller’s “The Dog Stars”, and especially, Davide Longo’s “The Last Man Standing” and Emmi Itäranta’s “Memory of Water”. Heller’s debut novel is an especially memorable account about how a small remnant of humanity survives in Colorado’s remote wilderness after a virulent disease has wiped out virtually all of humanity, drawing extensively on Heller’s interests in outdoor sports and hunting and natural history. Longo’s novel is an especially gripping account of a family’s grim efforts at escaping an Italy that has collapsed into barbarism, drawing upon the fall of the Roman Empire and the sacking of Rome by barbarians in the 5th Century AD, as Longo himself told me when I had the pleasure of meeting him during a European Literature in Translation festival held at Austrian Cultural Forum New York early last December. Emmi Itäranta’s “Memory of Water” – which she wrote originally in Finnish, and then translated it for publication in English – may be the 21st Century “1984”, with a young female protagonist far more memorable and heroic than Joy Jones in confronting the brutal Chinese totalitarian dictatorship that has ruled Finland and the rest of the world for centuries after the collapse of modern technologically-oriented Western civilization. While some, like Dan Chaon – who notes in the rear jacket blurb that van den Berg offers readers “….a version of the apocalypse you haven’t seen before…” - may still regard it as an exceptional work of apocalyptic/dystopian fiction, “Find Me” resides in all too familiar literary terrain; a literary landscape not nearly as memorable as those I have cited, as well as others crafted by those who either have devoted entire careers to writing speculative fiction, or the mere few in American mainstream literary fiction, like Brian Evenson, Lev Grossman, Victor LaValle, Jonathan Lethem, Rick Moody, and Gary Shteyngart, who are familiar and understand it well.

My reservations regarding “Find Me” go beyond its quality as near future speculative fiction, and pertain too to characters, settings and plot. I’ve read the first two stories in van den Berg’s second short story collection, “The Isle of Youth”, and based on my initial impression, she is definitely among the more notable young American writers of short fiction, worthy of comparison with the likes of Karen Russell and Justin Taylor, offering writing that is indeed insightful and captivating. While I find much to admire in “Find Me”, to my surprise, Joy Jones isn’t nearly as compelling a protagonist as the characters described in those “The Isle of Youth” tales. She’s definitely not as memorable as the two main protagonists in Monica Byrne’s “Girl in the Road”, or those in Scott Cheshire’s “High as the Horses’ Bridles”, Vanessa Manko’s “The Invention of Exile”, and Emmi Itäranta’s “Memory of Water”, just four in what was an unusually good year – last year – for superb debut novels. Had van den Berg opted to devote more time to Jones’ search for her birth mother, and substantially less on her hospital residency, it is possible that she could have become a far more fascinating character, and rendering “Find Me” into a far more memorable tale. Regardless, “Find Me” should be viewed as a notable milestone in Laura van den Berg’s relatively nascent, yet highly acclaimed, career, and therefore, simply as a fine coming-of-age tale, it remains one worth reading.

The Only Words That Are Worth Remembering: A Novel
The Only Words That Are Worth Remembering: A Novel
by Jeffrey Rotter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 21.65
29 used & new from CDN$ 15.15

2.0 out of 5 stars Neither Darkly Comic Nor Wildly Original, April 17 2015
A friend of mine who teaches creative writing in college and graduate school once told me that he had to relearn everything he knew from the highly regarded MFA creative writing program where he earned his MFA degree, before he started writing excellent speculative fiction. Had Jeffrey Rotter opted to follow the same career path, I would be writing a superb review of his latest novel, "The Only Words That Are Worth Remembering", praising him for his fine writing and clever speculative fictional imagination. However, contrary to the claims made by his publisher, his novel is neither "darkly comic" nor "wildly original"; instead, it reads like a very pale reflection of some memorable Ray Bradbury novel crossed with another from J. G. Ballard, with maybe a mediocre blend of dark humor of the kind practiced by the likes of writer Douglas Adams and Monty Python. It is unquestionably the least distinguished novel I have seen from an alumnus of a New York City MFA creative writing program that should be viewed as one of America's finest. It demonstrates yet again that yet another mainstream literary fiction writer who claims to be writing notable speculative fiction isn't, incapable of practicing what J. G. Ballard and William Gibson have dubbed the "tool kit of science fiction".

"The Only Words That Are Worth Remembering" is a work of fiction heavily pregnant with logical inconsistencies of the kind inexcusable to those who have devoted entire careers writing memorable, truly first rate, speculative fiction. Rotter doesn't show how a far future America capable of keeping some form of jet travel and selling a popular soft drink like Fanta, would relegate to the status of mythology, early 21st Century astronomy and astrophysics. This is worth noting when early 20th Century Western civilization - including Japan - had a substantially superior understanding of astronomy, astrophysics and other physical sciences, than the dystopian future America he depicts. It is also incomprehensible how the Van Zandt family was able to use centuries-old NASA training videos at Cape Cannibal - by viewing truly ancient video monitors that somehow managed to perform well after remaining dormant for centuries. Nor should he be commended for changing the names of well-known cities, countries and places like Los Angeles ("Losang"), Tucson ("Two-Son"), Chile ("Chilly") and Cape Canaveral ("Cape Cannibal") when others have excelled in creating memorable, and realistic, futuristic versions of English in their speculative fiction. As a work of dystopian fiction, "The Only Words That Are Worth Remembering" pales greatly in comparison with such recent notable novels like Peter Heller's "The Dog Stars", Davide Longo's "The Last Man Standing" and especially, Emmi Itäranta's "Memory of Water"; the latter, a far more profound work of speculative fiction than Rotter's latest and one that should be viewed as an instant classic of dystopian speculative fiction. This year is shaping up to becoming a great year of notable new works of speculative fiction, with Kazuo Ishiguro's "The Buried Giant" as the only distinguished one I have seen written by a mainstream literary fiction writer; in stark contrast with Ishiguro's, Rotter's latest consists of words not worth remembering at all.

Broadway - Lafayette (Ravel, Lasser, Gershwin)
Broadway - Lafayette (Ravel, Lasser, Gershwin)
Price: CDN$ 12.99
39 used & new from CDN$ 8.25

5.0 out of 5 stars Three Superb Works for Piano and Orchestra Emphasizing Franco-American Musical Ties, April 14 2015
“Broadway-Lafayette”, Simone Dinnerstein’s latest album, will certainly be a revelation to those familiar only with her Bach keyboard works recordings. If nothing else, it should remind listeners that though she is a most passionate advocate for J. S. Bach’s music, her musical range and interests extend from Bach into the present. (As a quick aside, she made earlier in her career, a recording of the Beethoven cello sonatas with cellist Zuill Bailey that remains underrated, worthy of comparison with recordings by other, more prominent, classical musicians.) The three concertos on this recording are a musical celebration of the longstanding cultural ties between the United States and France, which Dinnerstein noting that this recording “…..celebrates this time-honored transatlantic link through the music of three composers”. With the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchesta and conductor Kristjan Järvi, she has two most worthy partners, in creating a recording that includes two superb studio recordings of the Ravel Piano Concerto in G Major and the Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue, along with the world premiere studio recording of Philip Lasser’s The Circle and Child Concerto, Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, which he wrote for Simone Dinnerstein, receiving its world premiere by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya. Just for the Lasser piece alone, this is a CD worth obtaining, but the performances of the Ravel and Gershwin works are two of the finest recordings I have heard, and may be for many, the sole reasons for acquiring “Broadway-Lafayette”. Though I haven't heard the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra before, judging from its excellent level of playing on this recording under the direction of Estonian-American conductor Kristjan Järvi, it has to be regarded as one of Germany's more notable second-tier orchestras, ranking below such elite ensembles as the Berliner Philharmoniker (Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra), Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Dresden Staatskapelle and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, and that is yet another excellent reason for acquiring this recording.

Making Nice
Making Nice
by Matt Sumell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.93
36 used & new from CDN$ 4.10

5.0 out of 5 stars Memorable Tales About a Most Compelling Loser, April 14 2015
This review is from: Making Nice (Hardcover)
Alby, the main protagonist in Matt Sumell’s “Making Nice” isn’t someone you’d find mentioned favorably in the Bernie Taupin lyrics of an Elton John song; he’s far from the admirable, blinded Vietnam War veteran named in “Daniel” or the saintly John Lennon in “Empty Garden”. He’s the annoying, irritating, compulsive teenaged punk you might remember from your adolescence; someone with absolutely no redeeming virtues, period. Yet in this terse collection of interconnected short stories – or if you prefer, a novel consisting of short stories – Matt Sumell has created one of the most compelling characters in recent mainstream literary fiction; indeed someone to be compared favorably with characters as memorable as Holden Caulfield in J. D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” or Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer in Mark Twain’s great fiction. Tales that are told compellingly in first person narration from Alby’s perspective, emphasizing the author’s talents in memorable storytelling and crafting fine prose. What distinguishes Sumell from his peers in these memorable tales about family, love and grief, is his exceptional skill in making a character as dislikable as Alby someone you’d want to be rooting for, willing to ignore his drunkenness, his boorish sexual behavior towards girls and women, and his uncanny ability for getting himself into trouble, simply because he is acting out his grief over the untimely death of his beloved mother. Sumell introduces us to a suburban Long Island, New York as memorable as the Connecticut suburbs described by Rick Moody in much of his early fiction, or the New York City depicted in the fiction of writers as diverse as Jimmy Breslin, Scott Cheshire, Peter Hamill, Mark Helprin and Eleanor Henderson. Regardless of whether “Making Nice” is a short story collection or novel, it nonetheless represents the arrival of a noteworthy young talented writer of American fiction; Matt Sumell. Without question, “Making Nice” is one of the most notable works of fiction published this year, not least because of its memorable fictional portraits of Alby, someone you want to hate, but can’t.

by John Neeleman
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 24.26
10 used & new from CDN$ 24.26

5.0 out of 5 stars A Superb Debut Novel on the Birth of Christianity, April 14 2015
This review is from: Logos (Paperback)
Debut novelist John Neeleman's "Logos" should be viewed as one of the most notable works of fiction published this year - and one of this year's notable debut novels - and one that should have been published by a major New York City publishing house. This is a compelling, quite fascinating, account of the life of Jacob Ben Aaron, whom Neeleman establishes as the author of the unknown "proto-Gospel" that apparently inspired several of the Gospels found in the New Testament. While Jacob is entirely fictional, the novel introduces us to such key historical figures as Roman general Tiberius Julius Alexander, a Romanized Jew who was the deputy commander the Roman legion which lay siege to Jerusalem in AD 70, the enigmatic historian Flavius Josephus, and Roman emperor TItus. It is through Jacob's eyes that we see a most spellbinding account of Jewish religious and political strife in the streets of Jerusalem leading up to and during the first Roman-Jewish war (AD 66 to AD 73), and the gradual rise of Christianity, seen initially as a heretical Essene sect. Neeleman has done for 1st Century AD Palestine and Rome, what Hilary Mantel has done in covering the life and times of King Henry VIII in her novels "Wolf Hall" and "Bringing up the Bodies", demonstrating his own fine gifts for historical research, storytelling and prose. For those seeking a credible, historical fictional account of the birth of Christianity, then "Logos" should rank high on their lists.

Yesterday's Kin
Yesterday's Kin
Price: CDN$ 8.79

5.0 out of 5 stars A Superb Short Hard Science Fiction Novel About First Contact, April 8 2015
This review is from: Yesterday's Kin (Kindle Edition)
With “Yesterday’s Kin”, Nancy Kress demonstrates once again why she is one of the premier hard science fiction writers in speculative fiction, creating in her short novel, a memorable tale that is also a fast-paced realistic thriller that discusses intelligently, terrorism and family relationships. “Yesterday’s Kin” should be read widely, especially by those who are mainstream literary fiction writers interested in writing credible speculative fiction. Kress’s earlier Nebula Award-winning novella “After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall” may be the best work of dystopian fiction published in recently years, and one that is vastly superior to anything written by American mainstream literary fiction writers, with the exception of Peter Heller’s “The Dog Stars”. Drawing upon the latest advances in molecular biology, especially as it pertains to human evolution, Kress has written a compellingly readable novel that should interest even those who have a superficial understanding of science; it is one of the finest, most unique, “first contact with aliens” speculative fiction novels ever written.

An alien ship lands in the midst of New York City harbor, remaining dormant for four months, until it sends word to United Nations headquarters that it is interested in meeting with geneticist Marianne Jenner, who has just published an important scientific paper on human evolution. Jenner, along with the Secretary General of the United Nations, and several others, is invited aboard, learning both pleasant and dire news. The good news is that the aliens are human, members of our own species, transported to a distant world light-years from Earth 150,000 years ago by some unknown technologically advanced space-faring race. The dire news is that they have ten months to deal with an extraterrestrial threat, a spore cloud that has wiped out two of the aliens’ colonies and is on a collision course trajectory with Earth. Jenner agrees to head the molecular biological effort to isolate the deadly spore virus that has claimed the lives of everyone on those two colony worlds and to find a cure. Racing against time, she must also deal with her difficult relationship with her three children, Elizabeth and Ryan, and especially, Noah, addicted to a drug that alters his perception of himself in space and time. “Yesterday’s Kin” is a noteworthy addition to Kress’ substantial body of work, demonstrating that she is still writing some of the finest, most relevant, speculative fiction, worthy of attention to those who are mainstream literary fiction writers and critics.

City of Stairs
City of Stairs
by Robert Jackson Bennett
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.26
34 used & new from CDN$ 8.88

5.0 out of 5 stars A Superb Philosophically-Oriented Fantasy novel, April 8 2015
This review is from: City of Stairs (Paperback)
In a literary style that is rather reminiscent of Iain M. Banks and China Mieville's, Robert Jackson Bennett's "City of Stairs" deserves ample recognition as one of the best speculative fiction novels published recently. Certainly with respect to the superb writing, setting and plot, Bennett's novel deserves favorable comparisons with Mieville's "The City and The City", "Kraken" and "Embassytown". This novel is one of the finest examples I have seen in world building within speculative fiction in recent years, and one that comes with an irresistibly fast-paced plot. Once the greatest city in the world, and the one from which the GODS ruled, Bulikov, the "City of Stairs", is a remote colonial outpost of the world's main continental power. A young woman, Shara Thivani, arrives just as the city's foremost historian is discovered murdered, killed in a manner most foul. While claiming to be the temporary head of the superpower's embassy, Thivani is, despite her youth, one of the continental power's most accomplished spies, and the one sent to solve this murder. "City of Stairs" may become a novel praised widely by critics and fans alike, and one that may garner ample praise as well from mainstream literary audiences. If Robert Jackson Bennett has been a fine writer not well known amongst readers, then "City of Stairs" promises to be the long-awaited novel that will earn ample respect and appreciation from those working primarily in mainstream literary fiction. It is also the most impressive novel I have read so far in a year that has seen superb new novels from the likes of Monica Byrne, Lev Grossman and Nick Harkaway.

The Bone Clocks: A Novel
The Bone Clocks: A Novel
Offered by Random House Canada, Incorp.
Price: CDN$ 14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Good Decades-Spanning Novel about Paranormal Mystics, April 8 2015
Much to his credit, David Mitchell's "The Bone Clocks" is yet another genre-bending work of mainstream literary fiction from one of the greatest living writers in Anglo-American literature, still best known for his amazing masterpiece "Cloud Atlas". Now he delves into paranormal fantasy and horror by recounting the unusual life history of one Holly Sykes, in a tale that takes readers from mid 1980s and early 1990s urban Great Britain to the rural coast of a decaying, barely civilized, Ireland in the 2040s. Readers who appreciate Mitchell's enormous gifts for crafting fine prose and storytelling may find ample rewards in his latest novel where he echoes both China Miéville and William Gibson in creating a fictional portrait of the present and the near future that is nearly as visually compelling as their recent novels "Kraken" and "The City and The City" (Miéville) and "The Peripheral" (Gibson). But it is one lacking the frenzied, madcap pace of "Kraken" or the compelling realism of "The City and The City" and "The Peripheral"; the latter quite noteworthy for the gritty realistic depiction of a near future rural United States and one seven decades later in early 22nd Century London. While "The Bone Clocks" is a fine example of what one literary critic has dubbed "genre in the mainstream", it misses the exceptional world building, plotting and characters present in Robert Jackson Bennett's gritty realistic fantasy novel "The City of Stairs" and Michel Faber's epic philosophical space opera science fiction novel "The Book of Strange New Things"; both far more deserving of accolades than the ample praise garnered already for Mitchell's latest.

While "The Bone Clocks" recounts successfully the strange, often curious, life of Holly Sykes and her interests in paranormal mysticism, Sykes herself seems far less an attractive protagonist than her journalist boyfriend Ed Brubeck or the would-be notable fiction writer Crispin Hershey she befriends nearly a decade after Brubeck's death during the Anglo-American occupation of post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. Some of Mitchell's finest storytelling revolves around Brubeck and Hershey, recounting from their perspectives, the state of war correspondent journalism in post-9/11 Iraq and Brubeck's unconditional love for his - and Holly's - young daughter Aoife and the competitive nature of attaining mainstream literary fiction stardom on a level comparable with the likes of Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis. He also describes quite memorably, the state of civil affairs in 1980s and early 1990s Great Britain, and in 2040s Ireland, briefly evoking Miéville's "Kraken" in a geek-friendly paragraph that mentions Daleks ("Doctor Who") and Klingons ("Star Trek"). Only towards the end of "The Bone Clocks" do we realize that Holly and her family have become the unexpected pawns - and victims - of a decades-long conflict between two competing groups of paranormal mystics, culminating in a final desperate clash in a mystical place not far from a Manhattan (New York City) townhouse. However, by then, I suspect some may have lost interest in such a life-or-death struggle, especially when Sykes herself doesn't seem as compelling a protagonist as the elderly spinster spy heroine Edie Banister in Nick Harkaway's "Angelmaker" or her jaded, all-knowing, counterpart, Ainsley Lowbeer, in William Gibson's "The Peripheral". Though I greatly appreciate Mitchell's exceptional prose and fine storytelling, his latest doesn't merit favorable comparisons with his justly celebrated "Cloud Atlas". Nor should it be viewed as fine a work of fiction with respect to its storytelling as Michel Faber's "The Book of Strange New Things" or William Gibson's "The Peripheral", the two I regard as the best new novels published last year.

The Book of Strange New Things: A Novel
The Book of Strange New Things: A Novel
34 used & new from CDN$ 13.20

5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Best Novels of 2014 is this Superb Philosophical Space Opera, April 8 2015
Michel Faber's "The Book of Strange New Things" may be the best novel of the year. For those who are familiar with philosophical speculative fiction of the kind written frequently by Iain M. Banks and Neal Stephenson, it may remind readers of the latter's "Anathem", which may still be the finest "first contact" space opera SF novel ever written. It will also remind readers of Mary Doria Russell's "The Sparrow", especially with the superficial resemblances in some of the main plot elements, with the main protagonist, a devout Christian priest, attempting to convert the mysterious aliens of a distant world many light years from Earth. And yet, "The Book of Strange New Things" is neither an imitation nor homage of either Stephenson's or Russell's great novels. Instead it is a remarkable fictional exploration of the character, indeed, the mind and soul, of its protagonist, Peter, who struggles to strengthen Christian beliefs of the natives who had a prior Christian priest introduce them to the Bible, which they have dubbed "The Book of Strange New Things", and seeks a better understanding of them as the natives of the planet Oasis, even if it means going "native" like them. But he becomes distraught with a disintegrating relationship with his worrisome wife, desperately concerned about crises around the globe and those which impact directly her, her neighbors and their church back in England, as he begins a difficult, often troubling, correspondence across the vast gulf of interstellar space. Faber, who is best known for his earlier novel "The Crimson Petal and the White", has done a remarkable job of world building in creating the land, fauna, flora and native "people", the Oasans, replete with both vivid imagination and demonstrating much of the same close attention to details which Russell and Stephenson have shown in their respective novels. Indeed, I could say that Faber may be the best mainstream literary fiction writer working in the English language today who demonstrates a remarkable understanding and affinity for philosophical space opera speculative fiction of the kind Iain M. Banks became known for in his "Culture" series and which Stephenson demonstrated in writing "Anathem". David Mitchell, the author of "Cloud Atlas" and the recently released "The Bone Clocks", regards Faber's latest as a second masterpiece worthy of comparison with "The Crimson Petal and the White". I strongly suspect Mitchell may be right, but "The Book of Strange New Things" deserves ample consideration as the finest novel published so far this year, and one which bears ample favorable comparison not only with the best work from the likes of Banks and Stephenson, but also, especially with Ursula Le Guin's epic "The Dispossessed" and China Mieville's "Embassytown".

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