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John Kwok (New York, NY USA)

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California: A Novel
California: A Novel
by Edan Lepucki
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.53
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Good Debut Novel About A Young Couple In Crisis, July 31 2015
This review is from: California: A Novel (Hardcover)
One of the more notable debut novels of 2014, "California" is recommendable as a compelling saga of a young couple forced to survive in the wilderness and live by their wits, after fleeing a decaying Los Angeles sometime in the near future. Debut novelist Edan Lepucki deserves praise in writing compellingly about the young couple Cal and Frida, and how they must contend with the internal political dynamics of a survivalist New Ageish commune and its charismatic leader, while also coping with Frida's unexpected pregnancy. As a work of near future apocalyptic/dystopian speculative fiction, "California" is far more realistic than either Alena Graedon's "The Word Exchange" or Emily St. John Mandel's "Station Eleven" - two of the highly touted dystopian speculative fiction novels from mainstream literary fiction writers also published for the first time last year - but, like them, it has its own problems in speculative fictional world-building - starting with a plausible explanation for Los Angeles' decay that would result in thousands fleeing it - that render it as a far less compelling work of near future dystopian speculative fiction than Peter Heller's "The Dog Stars", Davide Longo's "The Last Man Standing", and Paolo Bacigalupi's "The Water Knife". Lepucki does deserve praise for the quality of her prose and storytelling in "California"; those who treat it more as a very good debut novel about a young couple in crisis than as near future dystopian speculative fiction will find much worth reading from a writer who warrants ample attention as one of the noteworthy young American writers of her generation.

South Shore
South Shore
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5.0 out of 5 stars Notable Introduction to an Important Young New York City-Based Composer, July 20 2015
This review is from: South Shore (Audio CD)
There’s almost a timeless quality to these miniature pieces found in Michael Vincent Waller’s “The South Shore”, a notable introduction to an important young New York City-based composer, whose works are being performed increasingly throughout the United States, Europe and East Asia. Waller is looking backward to composers from the Baroque and Second Viennese School periods, but blazing new musical terrain that is almost uniquely his, determined to offer listeners, works that, while deceptively simple, are indeed sophisticated in their scoring, especially with regards to counterpoint, and demand repeated listening. This two-cd set is a superb introduction to Waller’s music, tracing his strongly-felt affinities to the Baroque period, while also acknowledging his artistic debt not only to the Second Viennese School, but especially to the likes of Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber, without sounding derivative at all. For years he’s been fortunate to work closely with a varied, extremely talented, assortment of New York City-based classical musicians; one of whom, cellist Christine Kim, featured on many of the tracks, is also the album’s co-producer, along with Waller and Ryan Streber. But there are impressive performances too from musicians from Europe and Asia, including pianist Nicolas Horvath, flutist Luna Cholong Kang, and Dedaleus Ensemble, which commissioned Ritratto, a sextet for flute, alto saxophone, electric guitar, viola, cello and trombone, that had its American premiere in the Fall of 2013 at Brooklyn, NY performance arts space Roulette; its recording is a live performance from that concert.

Virtually all of the pieces on “The South Shore” were composed in 2013 and 2014, but an especially noteworthy exception is Waller’s compelling Baroque-tinged string trio from 2012, Per La Madre e La Nonna on the first CD, composed to celebrate his mother and grandmother’s introduction to his emerging talents in musical composition; at nearly ten and a half minutes, it is the longest piece listed on either CD. Other notable pieces on the first CD include his three-movement piano trio (Tre Pezzi per Trio di Pianoforte), the two-movement Nel Nomo di Gesu for cello and organ, and the solo organ piece Organum. Waller demonstrates repeatedly, his interest in composing melodies that may lead listeners to conclude that he is merely composing Baroque music for the 21st Century; one notable exception, which reflects his initial interest in contemporary atonal music, is his four-movement work for solo cello, Y for Henry Flynt, composed in 2012, with cellist Christine Kim, a most passionate advocate for it. “The South Shore” deserves ample praise for being a superb recording from a small label, XI records; it is also to my ears, one of the most intriguing, and enjoyable, recent recordings of classical music, and warrants ample consideration as one of this year’s best. If nothing else, “The South Shore” represents an important artistic “debut” of Michael Vincent Waller’s music; a young composer who seems poised to remain an important figure in New York City’s contemporary (classical) music scene.

The Water Knife: A novel
The Water Knife: A novel
by Paolo Bacigalupi
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.18
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Best New Future Dystopian Speculative Fiction Novel Written By An American in the 21st Century, July 11 2015
Paolo Bacigalupi's "The Water Knife", his first adult novel since "The Windup Girl", reads like a fast-paced blend of William Gibson's "Mona Lisa Overdrive", "Virtual Light", "Pattern Recognition", "Spook Country" and "Zero History", combined with Neal Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon" and "Reamde", with a cast of characters that could have stepped out of an Elmore Leonard novel. With the notable exceptions of William Gibson's "The Peripheral" and Peter Heller's "The Dog Stars", it is the best near future dystopian speculative fiction novel by an American writer published in the 21st Century, set in a compellingly realistic future recognizable to the likes of John Steinbeck, Edward Abbey, David Foster Wallace, and Charles Bowden; a brilliantly conceived blend of crime noir fiction and post-cyberpunk science fiction. Bacigalupi takes us to a near future Southwest in which states fight each other for water, acting almost like independent nations, with California waiting to claim all of the Colorado River's water, as Arizona and Nevada literally wage war to obtain enough water for their citizens. A near future Southwest where migrants from economically decaying and drought-ridden states such as Texas are treated as though they were illegal immigrants from Mexico, protected by a Federal law which severely restricts migration between states by American citizens. A near future Southwest with self-sustaining habitats, arcologies, many built with Chinese money, in which their affluent inhabitants dwell amidst verdant gardens and ample water, while the rest of the Southwest's predominantly impoverished residents must fend for themselves.

Mexican-born Angel Velasquez is a water knife, a mercenary who is a detective, assassin and spy, working for Las Vegas-based real estate tycoon Catherine Case, ensuring that her high class, quite lavish, arcological properties have sufficient water, even if it means stealing water from others. When we first meet Velasquez, he is overseeing the destruction of the sewage treatment plant of a rival real estate development, ensuring that development's demise. When he hears of a potential game-changing water source in Phoenix, he teams up with Phoenix-based freelance journalist Lucy Monroe, a battle-scarred female version of Charles Bowden with no love for Las Vegas, and Maria Villarosa, a young refugee from Texas who survives by relying on her wits. But theirs is an uneasy, unstable alliance, brought on only by their need to survive, and one that may not survive in a global warming-afflicted near future where water is worth much more than its weight in gold.

Bacigalupi writes almost like he is William Gibson channeling the spirit of Elmore Leonard. His prose sounds so Gibsonesque that the reader may be forgiven for thinking it was actually written by Gibson. In the opening paragraph of Chapter Nine, Bacigalupi describes Phoenix's "dark zone" as "The city consuming itself, whittling away the fat of its more prosperous times." In a much later chapter, he describes Las Vegas water knife Angel Velasquez's reaction to being touched by one of the other key protagonists as "....His body felt as if it had been run over by a train, leaving nothing but bruised and shredded meat." Where he differs from Gibson is in describing a high body count of victims, in a style reminiscent of Neal Stephenson's "Reamde", giving readers graphic descriptions of dead and decaying corpses and of people being gunned down; the latest victims in the grim, bloody struggle for water. Regardless, Bacigalupi demonstrates again that he is a brilliant, quite gifted, storyteller and prose stylist, whose latest novel is worthy of comparison with Gibson and Stephenson's best.

To his ample credit, Bacigalupi acknowledges his enormous debts towards many unnamed science journalists, especially those reporting on environmental issues, in the Acknowledgements section at the end. Much more so than any recent mainstream literary fiction writer who has written a near future dystopian speculative fiction novel, Bacigalupi excels in his world building, in creating compellingly realistic settings, characters and plot. Where he may falter is not giving readers the kind of poetic, lyrical prose that many encountered for the very first time in the pages of his debut award-winning novel "The Windup Girl", but that is just minor criticism of what is otherwise an exceptional achievement in near future dystopian fiction. An exceptional achievement that should be recognized as one of the finest novels published this year.

Seveneves: A Novel
Seveneves: A Novel
by Neal Stephenson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 25.82
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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$ 19.17
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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$ 29.99
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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
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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
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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
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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.

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