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John Kwok (New York, NY USA)
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The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History
The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History
by Jonathan Franzen
Edition: Hardcover
38 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling Memoir As An Essay Collection from Jonathan Franzen, Aug. 3 2012
"The Discomfort Zone" is an autobiographical essay collection - and memoir - from Jonathan Franzen that is among the most impressive examples of memoir writing that I've stumbled upon lately. Readers will get a most vivid and compelling portrait of Franzen - the person and the writer - and one that may illuminate their subsequent reading of his great novels. But this is an essay collection that is somewhat nonlinear with respect to time, opening and closing with important events in his adulthood. Surprisingly for me, given the realism of his current fiction, Franzen expresses ample admiration for the fantasy novels of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkein, invoking them repeatedly in his essay collection. Franzen renders a most affectionate portrait of his late mother and his family's former residence in Webster Groves, a financially elite suburb of Saint Louis, in the opening essay "House for Sale". He recounts his childhood love for comics, and especially, "The Peanuts" comic strip, in "Two Ponies", touching upon his childhood relationship with his older brother Tom and their father. "Then Joy Breaks Through" describes his membership in a youth Christian fellowship, fondly recalling it as a sanctuary in an otherwise difficult adolescence that will resonate with many readers. Among the most memorable essays is the concluding one, "My Bird Problem", in which he compares and contrasts his love of birding with his efforts at saving his marriage and then, later, finally finding romantic bliss with a much younger woman from California. Franzen's simple, unadorned, prose shines through in each of the essays, reminding readers of his greatest works in fiction. Without question, "The Discomfort Zone" is an important addition to the memoir of genre, worthy of recognition as among its best.

Fairyland
Fairyland
by Paul McAuley
Edition: Paperback
14 used & new from CDN$ 6.13

5.0 out of 5 stars A Memorable Post-Cyberpunk Novel Set in a Wasted, Near Future Europe, Aug. 3 2012
This review is from: Fairyland (Paperback)
"Fairyland" remains one of the most impressive works in post-cyberpunk fiction, conjuring a nightmarish vision of a near future Europe in which biotechnology has run amok, creating new species of humans designed for pleasure and violent sport. Paul J. McAuley's novel is a fast-paced thriller reminiscent of William Gibson and John Shirley's early cyberpunk novels in its pacing. Succumbing to the charm and vision of a megalomaniac brilliant young child, Milena, genetic engineer Alex Sharkey helps unleash a dire threat to humanity's existence, allowing "dolls" - bioengineered beings based on human DNA, designed for pleasure, slavery and wanton destruction in gladiator-like amusement games - the opportunity to think for themselves and understand the notion of free will. He will pursue these beings and other, similar, creatures across decades across a European landscape wasted by the ravages of war and poverty, searching for Milena and a means to ensure humanity's survival. Without question, "Fairyland" is still one of Paul J. McAuley's greatest works in fantasy and science fiction, demonstrating his great gifts in storytelling and writing.

Sorry Please Thank You: Stories
Sorry Please Thank You: Stories
by Charles Yu
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.24
24 used & new from CDN$ 2.09

5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Short Story Collection from Charles Yu, Aug. 3 2012
One of the most celebrated emerging writers of literary science fiction of our time, Charles Yu's magnificent "Sorry Please Thank You" is yet another remarkable literary achievement, demonstrating both the ample originality and vitality of his writing. Yu has breathed astonishingly new life into such time-honored fantasy, science fiction and horror tropes as zombies, space opera and Artificial Intelligence into his latest short story collection; one which will resonate strongly with fellow admirers of science fiction and fantasy as well as a more mainstream literary audience which recognizes just how astute and humorous Charles Yu is as an observer of modern society and its emphasis on science and technology. The opening story, "Standard Loneliness Package", is a witty post-cyberpunk tale of sharing one's emotions that reads as a hilarious cross between Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash" and Gary Shteyngart's "Super Sad True Love Story". It's followed by the irresistibly funny "First Person Shooter" about a department store clerk thinking how he'll win the affections of a fellow employee while contending with a zombie obsessed in making her own "fashion statement"; Yu's zombie tale is the most original one I have stumbled upon in years. "Hero Absorbs Major Damage" chronicles the epic quest of one noble warrior leading a ragtag band of warriors across a desolate, often dangerous, computer-generated landscape. "Yeoman" is a hysterically humorous send-up of "Star Trek", describing a lowly crewmember's feelings as he finds himself tempting fate as the "expendable" member of a starship's "away team" as the starship hurls deeper into the "final frontier". "Designer Emotion 67" is a gung-ho market research "report" of a new drug developed in the middle of the 21st Century, and one replete with ample wit of some futuristic Madison Avenue advertising executive. While others have compared him with the likes of Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut, Charles Yu is making a most persuasive case as the greatest living satirist in modern American fiction not named Gary Shteyngart; he is most certainly the finest writing in science fiction today.

Big Machine: A Novel
Big Machine: A Novel
by Victor LaValle
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.68
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing Blend of Genre With Mainstream Literary Fiction Courtesy of Victor LaValle, July 31 2012
This review is from: Big Machine: A Novel (Paperback)
Another reviewer once compared Victor LaValle with Haruki Marukami; I'll go further by saying that LaValle is the English language equivalent of Marukami, which he demonstrates in his great novel "Big Machine"; an intoxicating blend of genre with mainstream literary fiction. "Big Machine" evokes not only the surreal supernaturalism found in recent Murakami novels like "Kafka On the Shore", and "1Q84", but it also draws heavily from crime noir, horror and fantasy in creating a work that is compelling in its lyrically beautiful prose, richly drawn characters and settings, and also frightening in the degree to which LaValle draws upon the macabre; in short, what LaValle has written here is something that could be viewed as part of the "weird fiction" defined by China Mieville; indeed, in the most nightmarish passages of "Big Machine", readers will find events that are as bloody and surrealistic as those found in Mieville's recent "adult" fantasy novel "Kraken". More so than Murakami in the latter's most recent fiction, LaValle has created two memorable, and compelling, characters; down-on-his-luck hustler and recovering heroin drug addict Ricky Race and Adele Henry, a former prostitute with a history almost as dark as Ricky's, whose paths cross unexpectedly at the mysterious Washburn Library, the home of the "Unlikely Scholars", a ragtag band of ex-thieves and drug addicts who've become paranormal investigators intent on listening to "The Voice". LaValle demonstrates here that he is among the best prose stylists in contemporary American fiction, and one who courageously uses his great literary gifts to delve into the nature of faith and the state of race relations in the United States, since these are underlying motifs that reappear throughout "Big Machine". If H. P. Lovecraft , Ralph Ellison and Sinclair Lewis had merged together their literary "genes", their offspring would still be Victor LaValle, who has wrought an exceptional blend of genre and mainstream fiction; one which truly deserves the ample critical and popular acclaim it has earned. While there are other mainstream literary Afro-American writers who think they understand genre fiction well, such as Colson Whitehead and Walter Mosley, LaValle may be the sole exception; a mainstream literary writer who truly understands and appreciates the conventions of genre fiction such as fantasy and horror, and can transform them successfully into high literary art.

The Quantum Thief
The Quantum Thief
by Hannu Rajaniemi
Edition: Paperback
18 used & new from CDN$ 0.61

5.0 out of 5 stars Fast-Paced Blend of Crime Noir and Space Opera From An Exciting New Talent, July 20 2012
This review is from: The Quantum Thief (Paperback)
A fast-paced blend of crime noir and space opera science fiction, Hannu Rajaniemi's "The Quantum Thief", is a bold, brash novel of ideas and action that represents all that is great about science fiction, coupled with a kinetic literary style which echoes Iain M. Banks' "Culture" and Alastair Reynolds' "Revelation Space" space opera science fiction in its descriptive, eloquent prose. It's a clever, quite entertaining, blend of Charles Stross' early post-cyberpunk science fiction and Dan Simmons' British literature literary-referenced space opera ("Hyperion Cantos", "Ilium" and "Olympos"), especially in its ample references to French and Hebrew literature, in a grippingly intense pace reminiscent of Richard K. Morgan's "Takeshi Kovacs" post-cyberpunk space opera novels. While "The Quantum Thief" is traditional hard science fiction in the mode of Alfred Bester, it is hard science fiction that is also highly literate and will make tremendous demands upon the reader. Rajaniemi draws extensively on his backgrounds in string theory and mathematics to pose difficult philosophical questions about life and the nature of human existence that will delight devoted Ayn Rand libertarian fans and infuriate the most militant of Marxists and other, less radical, Socialists. If nothing else, within the confines of what others may view as a more routine crime noirish-science fiction mystery in which protagonist Jean le Flambleur must come to terms with different versions of himself as he finds himself pitted against a Martian Hercule Poirot, Isidore Beautrelet, Rajaniemi dares to ask whether we, as individuals, are important because we exist, or because we've chosen to make ourselves important by virtue of whatever talents we possess. Without question, "The Quantum Thief" is among the most important debut novels of science fiction published in decades, introducing us to a brand new writer worthy of comparison with the likes of William Gibson, China Mieville and Neal Stephenson. Rajaniemi has definitely thrown down a literary gauntlet that few native speaking writers of Anglo-American mainstream literary and classic science fiction can ever dare to match.

Palimpsest
Palimpsest
by Catherynne Valente
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.27
37 used & new from CDN$ 5.90

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Literary Jewel of a Fantasy Novel Courtesy of Catherynne Valente, July 19 2012
This review is from: Palimpsest (Paperback)
"Palimpsest" is a literary jewel of a novel, not only of fantasy, but also of mainstream fiction too. Catherynne Valente writes as though she is an angel obsessed with creating high literary art, writing beautifully wrought lyrical descriptive prose that I have seen equaled by few. For no other reason, "Palimpsest" deserves a broad readership simply for its great writing as well as the critical praise bestowed upon it by notable literary critics such as Time Magazine's Lev Grossman. (To whom I remain indebted, as well as to Kelly Link - both compelling writers of literary fantasy and science fiction in their own right - for their high praise as recommended reading.) In a city that is visited by a lucky few in their dreams, who are passionate believers in a world beyond present-day reality, Palimpsest lures the most unlikeliest quartet of travelers seeking to transform their lives; New York City locksmith Oleg, beekeeper November, rare book binder Ludovicio and Sei, a young Japanese woman. Valente takes readers on epic journeys between fantasy and reality, between reason and faith, as the four travelers find themselves drawn irresistibly to both Palimpsest and to each other, and discover that they have uncovered wonders and fates far more compelling than what they had thought they had bargained for in making their separate treks to this enchanted city in their dreams. A most beguiling crafter of tales and an excellent prose stylist, Valente demonstrates just how relevant contemporary fantasy is to readers who value great writing, regardless of genre and setting, and that she is indeed a most worthy successor to the likes of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Ursula Le Guin, producing work that will endure as long as theirs.

The Dispossessed
The Dispossessed
by Ursula K. Le Guin
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.02
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5.0 out of 5 stars Still Among the Masterpieces of Science Fiction Literature Courtesy of Ursula Le Guin, July 19 2012
One of the most overtly political science fiction novels - and one certainly deserving of the term "speculative fiction" - ever published, "The Dispossessed" remains Ursula K. Le Guin's literary masterpiece. It chronicles the journey of "post-relativistic" physicist Shevek from his home world of Arras to the planet Urras, seeking the answer to the puzzle that has eluded him, and one that will allow him to develop the ansible, the faster-than-light means of communication, that will bind humanity and other, closely related, sapient beings into a interstellar commonwealth known as the "Ekumen"; the setting for many of Ursula Le Guin's anthropological science fiction novels, of which "The Left Hand of Darkness" and "The Dispossessed" remain the best known examples, though the latter is set in a time prior to the Ekumen's founding. (In Le Guin's "Ekumen" series of novels and short fiction, humans and others are descendants of early interstellar colonization by the natives of Hain.) Hers is a political science fiction novel in the sense that it compares and contrasts the vibrant, politically Byzantine-like world of Urras, orbiting the star Tau Ceti, eleven light years from Earth, with the anarchist utopia on the barren, desert world of Arras. Originally a "Botany Bay"-like penal colony, settled by dissidents from Urras centuries before Shevek's birth; Arras is a world close to Urras, as an orbiting moon of the much larger planet, and yet, one that is distant too, since Shevek is the first Arras native to visit Urras in nearly two centuries. Le Guin offers readers a captivatingly poignant portrait of Shevek as he contends with the almost polyglot nature of Urras' governments, which are predominantly capitalist in orientation, rejecting the notion of "fairness" that is prevalent on Arras; a world where there are no laws that govern the behavior of its human residents. While Le Guin describes the vast inequities that exist still on Urras, she also emphasizes the importance of personal liberty, and by referring to both Arras and Urras as though they are the polar opposites, the "Yin and Yang ", of human political behavior she does imply that both are of equal importance, especially with regards to Shevek's quest toward developing the ansible. As a novel of both ideas and a riveting, insightful, character study of Shevek, blessed with Le Guin's elegant, often poetic, prose, "The Dispossessed" is a science fiction novel that has earned deservedly, ample critical and popular acclaim from those otherwise unfamiliar with the genres of fantasy and science fiction. Without a doubt, "The Dispossessed" is not only a great work of 20th Century Anglo-American speculative fiction, but one that should be viewed as among the most important novels ever published in the latter half of the 20th Century.

Maps and Legends
Maps and Legends
by Michael Chabon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 24.80
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5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling Collection of Essays Which Salute Genre Fiction from Michael Chabon, July 19 2012
This review is from: Maps and Legends (Hardcover)
One of the most insightful essay collections on the craft of writing published in recent times, Michael Chabon's "Maps and Legends" not only offers readers some invaluable insights into Chabon's literary influences, but also, it should enlighten them on the importance of genre fiction - especially fantasy and science fiction - and its relevance to mainstream "domestic realism" literary fiction. (I borrow the term coined by noted fantasy writer Ellen Kushner on what she condemns as artistic "boredom" prevalent within contemporary mainstream literary fiction.). The opening essay, "Trickster in a Suit of Lights" is an excellent preamble for Chabon's elevation of fantasy and science as a literary genre worthy of critical respect and veneration from those who are primarily interested with mainstream fiction; he makes the important point that prior to 1950, most of the important short fiction was published as genre, ranging from fantasy and science fiction to mysteries and notes, that in today's realm of contemporary mainstream fiction, one might perceive that "....'naturalistic' writers come from the tribe of community-based lore-retellers while the writers of fantasy, horror, and sf are the sailors of distant seas and that our finest and most consistently interesting contemporary writers are those whose work seem to originate from both traditions." (This is Chabon paraphrasing Walter Benjamin's view, and one he doesn't entirely share, noting instead the importance of the "Trickster" in mythology as a reference for explaining how the best short fiction tends to be both playful and genre-bending.) The third essay, "Fan Fictions: On Sherlock Holmes", is a critical "fan letter" of appreciation to both Arthur Conan Doyle and his most famous literary creation, the misanthropic detective Sherlock Holmes. Other intriguing essays delve on the importance of mythology and its relevance to fiction ("Ragnarok Boy") and a critical assessment of Philip Pullman's Atheist-friendly "His Dark Materials" trilogy ("On Daemons & Dust"). Science Fiction writers and fans may find ample disagreement with Chabon's favorable assessment of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" as an almost quintessential "post-apocalypse" science fiction novel, but Chabon's arguments are worthy of note nonetheless ("Dark Adventure: On Cormac McCarthy's `The Road'"), explaining the recent interest by mainstream literary writers of this time-honored trope of science fiction that has yielded classics like Walter J. Miller's "A Canticle for Leibowitz" and Ray Bradbury's "Farenheit 451". There are, of course, several essays which stress the importance of comic books and graphic novels to contemporary literature, in which he emphasizes the literary and artistic virtues of some of their best. One of the final essays, "Imaginary Homelands", explains Chabon's rationale for writing the Hugo-Award winning alternate history novel "The Yiddish Policeman's Union".

The Drowned Cities
The Drowned Cities
by Paolo Bacigalupi
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 14.44
37 used & new from CDN$ 3.20

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Our Best Recent Dystopian Science Fiction Novels, July 19 2012
This review is from: The Drowned Cities (Hardcover)
Set in the same petroleum-free dystopian future history as his critically acclaimed "Shipbreaker", with characters and a setting as compelling as his great literary debut "The Windup Girl", Paolo Bacigalupi's "The Drowned Cities" ranks among our best recent dystopian Science Fiction novels. It is also among the finest novels published this year, a mesmerizing tale about war and survival, friendship and loyalty that I have found far more compelling than recently published dystopian fiction from the likes of Ernest Cline, Colson Whitehead and Karen Thompson Walker. Paolo Bacigalupi demonstrates once more why he is one of our most impressive young writers of science fiction, conjuring yet another spellbinding tale that takes readers into some of the darkest corners of human behavior, emphasizing American Civil War Union general William T. Sherman's observation that "War is Hell". With "The Drowned Cities", Baciogalupi offers ample evidence that he is becoming one of the finest prose stylists writing in contemporary science fiction, joining the ranks of such impressive stylists as China Mieville and Michael Swanwick, and deservedly worthy of appealing to a broad spectrum of readers, not only those interested in Young Adult fiction. An unlikely encounter with a bioengineered living weapon of war, Tool, plunges adolescent outcasts Mahlia and Mouse into an epic journey of survival, as they attempt fleeing the pillaged, almost desolate, war-torn landscape of the Drowned Cities, located amidst a bleak dystopian futuristic America that readers may find all too probable. Theirs is also an epic quest in attaining adulthood, brought about by circumstances beyond their control - and those all too brutal and harsh -within a fictional setting far darker and dire than that depicted in Cormac McCarthy's "The Road". Without question, "The Drowned Cities" is one that merits ample consideration for science fiction's highest literary honors; it is such an engrossing work that it should be noticed and celebrated by those familiar only with mainstream literary Anglo-American fiction too.

Savage Girl
Savage Girl
by Alex Shakar
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.51
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5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining Debut Novel on Marketing That Mixes Genres Well, July 8 2012
This review is from: Savage Girl (Paperback)
Irresistibly funny and smart, Alex Shakar's "The Savage Girl", is a great blend of genres, throwing in elements of fantasy and science fiction into a briskly paced fictional exploration of marketing that is written in a literary style which resembles Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon, while also evoking Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jose Luis Borges in its reliance on magical realism. It's also a fine satirical critique of popular culture as viewed from the lens of marketing, and, as such, compares favorably with William Gibson's "Blue Ant" trilogy ("Pattern Recognition", "Spook Country" and "Zero History") even if it doesn't quite echo Gibson in the latter's uncanny ability to make the present day read like an engrossing chapter envisioned by Gibson in one of his early classic cyberpunk science fiction novels and short stories. "The Savage Girl" is set in some alternative reality of the present and near future, in an American city, Middle City, that sits on the slopes of a volcano. In this reality we encounter former art student Ursula Van Urden as she comes to grips with the publicity surrounding her older sister - and celebrated fashion model - Ivy's suicide attempt and starts her new job as a trend spotter with marketing firm Tomorrow, Limited. She's told to "find the future" and soon finds it in the form of the "savage girl", a homeless child who hunts for her food, making her the key aspect of a marketing campaign that goes awry. Shakar's very well written novel is yet another fine literary debut by a fellow Stuyvesant High School alumnus (e. g. Matt Ruff's "Fool on the Hill" and David Lipsky's "The Art Fair"), and one that should remind readers of Gary Shteyngart's "Super Sad True Love Story" with regards to the latter's dark humor -tinged post-cyberpunk science fiction.

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