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John Kwok (New York, NY USA)
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Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories
Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories
by China Miéville
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 26.25
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5.0 out of 5 stars Quite Possibly This Year’s Best Short Story Collection, Aug. 31 2015
One of the premier literary stylists and storytellers in contemporary Anglo-American literature, not only speculative fiction, China Miéville demonstrates why he may be the most interesting writer currently working in Great Britain in this splendid collection of short stories, "Three Moments of an Explosion". Most of these are recently published stories, having appeared in print - or online - in journals like Icon Magazine ("The Rope is the World"), Tor.co.uk ("Polynia" ), and Granta ("The Buzzard's Egg"), though there are some, like the title story ("Three Moments of an Explosion") that appeared in self-published form on his website. Miéville - who coined the term "weird fiction" and may be its finest practitioner - offers readers a compellingly readable blend of science fiction, horror and fantasy in memorable flash fiction pieces like the title story to longer works like those I have mentioned. "Polynia" is a spellbinding eyewitness account of what happens with floating icebergs hover in the sky above London. "The Rope is the World" may be the most fascinating space elevator speculative fiction tale I have read, in which the narrator recounts tersely, the history of their construction. In "The Buzzard's Egg", the narrator has a "conversation" with the statue of the demi-god, that is memorable for its melancholy tone, and vividly descriptive prose. The flash fiction piece "A Mount" may be the collection's best, about a young boy who has an intense fascination with a porcelain horse sculpture. And then there is "The Design", about a medical student who unexpectedly finds an elegantly wrought design on the skeleton of a corpse he is studying in his anatomy course, which may be one of Miéville's most disturbing - and engrossing - weird fiction tales. Without a doubt, "Three Moments of an Explosion" is a long overdue addition to Miéville's oeuvre of notable, quite compelling, novels and short story collections; it must be seen as one of the most important - if not the most important - short story collections newly published this year.

You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine: A Novel
You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine: A Novel
by Alexandra Kleeman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 25.59
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Weird Psychological Thriller about the Body and Consumerism, Aug. 29 2015
For those unfamiliar with great writing about science and nature from the likes of Diane Ackerman, Jared Diamond, Stephen Jay Gould, David Quammen, and E. O. Wilson, Alexandra Kleeman''s ''"You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine"', will be a revelation, and more than a few have noted elsewhere how she writes about the human body like no other, in her compellingly readable debut novel. While there is much to admire in Kleeman''s descriptions of human anatomy, it may be wrong to conclude that her descriptions are as unique or as well written as those I have mentioned, especially Gould's, who drew repeatedly upon references to popular culture, music, architecture, history and literature in his notable nonfiction pertaining to paleobiology and other aspects of evolutionary biology. Instead, Kleeman has written a memorably weird psychological thriller that owes much to Haruki Murakami, early Thomas Pynchon, and perhaps, to an extent, Rick Moody too, exploring a literary terrain well-traveled by the likes of China Miéville, David Mitchell, and Jeff VanderMeer, among others, which Miéville has dubbed 'weird fiction'. A weird psychological thriller whose speculative fictional aspects rank her debut novel alongside Jess Row''s '"Your Face in Mine"' as the best recently published speculative fiction novel written by an American mainstream literary fiction writer, in a literary style that will remind some of William Gibson''s recent work, especially his 'Blue Ant' trilogy ('"Pattern Recognition"', "'Spook Country"', '"Zero History'"). Gibson has said that we live in a 'science fictional present', and Kleeman''s debut novel may be the closest I have seen from a mainstream literary fiction writer that explores this very notion, adhering to an extent, what J. G. Ballard has dubbed the "'tool kit of science fiction"'.

In a manner reminiscent of Murakami, and perhaps Franz Kafka too, Kleeman introduces us to three characters known only as A, B and C, with A and B female roommates in some nondescript New York City apartment, and C, A's long-time boyfriend. Told in first person from A's perspective, she describes how she spends her time eating popsicles and oranges, and watches television, especially commercials, and, in particular, those promoting Kandy Kakes that have become her dietary obsession. How she becomes absorbed in trying to reshape her body, as a means of making herself more physically attractive like those actors she has seen in many television commercials. Meanwhile B has become obsessed with transforming herself into A's twin, seeing in A, a role model well worth emulating. After becoming obsessed with Michael, an unlikely television hero who has purchased all the veal from a local supermarket chain, A decides to apply to the reality television show '"That's My Partner!"' and joins a Christian church that mandates a most unique set of dietary restrictions upon its members.

Wildly imaginative and darkly satirical in her writing, Kleeman demonstrates that she is a keen observer of human nature. Her writing sparkles with ample intelligence, in a manner not too dissimilar from Rick Moody''s best writing. It is a noteworthy fictional exploration of love, sex, faith, appetite and marketing, deserving of some favorable comparisons with the likes of Gibson and Murakami. However, her heroine, A, isn't nearly as riveting a character as Gibson''s Molly, from his exceptional debut novel '"Neuoromancer"', Chloe Bathurst from James Morrow''s recently published, quite brilliant ' and unfortunately, ignored - "'Galapagos Regained"' or the heroine in Haruki Murakami''s "'1Q84"'. While this is a notable flaw in an otherwise fine literary debut, it shouldn't discourage readers from buying copies of Kleeman''s debut novel, for which there is much to admire for the reasons I have stated. Kleeman demonstrates she is one of the most distinctive, and original, voices of her generation, having written a debut novel worthy of consideration as among this year's best.

Chasing the Phoenix: A Science Fiction Novel
Chasing the Phoenix: A Science Fiction Novel
by Michael Swanwick
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.85
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Delightful Darger and Surplus Romp Through a Post-Utopian China, Aug. 28 2015
Demonstrating once more why he is one of the premier literary stylists and storytellers in Anglo-American speculative fiction, Michael Swanwick's "Chasing the Phoenix" is yet another madcap romp through the post-Utopian future of Aubrey Darger and Sir Blackthorpe Ravenscairn de Plus Precieux - better known as Surplus; a compelling sequel to his earlier "Dancing with Bears" and the all too brief, quite hilarious, short fiction he's written about these two extraordinary con men (or rather, genetically modified dog, Surplus) who may be among the most compelling fictional creations in contemporary American literature, not just speculative fiction. Those unfamiliar with Swanwick's earlier novel, or his other Darger and Surplus tales, will find "Chasing the Phoenix" a most delightful read, not least because Swanwick's exceptional literary talents have raised what should be an ordinary example of pulp speculative fiction to high literary art. What more can you ask of a novel that has bioengineered extinct creatures, hordes of invading armies, and a long-lost nuclear warhead? In "Chasing the Phoenix", Darger and Surplus find themselves the unexpected architects of a successful effort to reunite China under the rule of a single emperor, merging a motley collection of warring states into a revived Chinese Empire. Without question, Michael Swanwick has written yet another notable addition to his splendid oeuvre of novels and stories, and one that may be remembered as among the finest new novels of speculative fiction published this year.

The Fifth Season
The Fifth Season
by N. K. Jemisin
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.63
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Finest Fantasy Novel of the Year, Aug. 27 2015
This review is from: The Fifth Season (Paperback)
"The Fifth Season" is the fantasy novel of the year, worthy of comparison with Robert Jackson Bennett's "City of Stairs" published last year for the exceptional quality of Jemisin's world-building, memorable characters, vividly realized plotting, and exceptionally crafted prose. Both superb novels are the finest fantasy novels published in recent years, with Jemisin demonstrating that she may be our foremost contemporary epic fantasy writer of our time. While I admire greatly, N. K. Jemisin's earlier "The Inheritance Trilogy", "The Fifth Season" represents her maturation as one of the most important storytellers and literary stylists in contemporary speculative fiction. Clearly she has embarked upon her most ambitious fantasy epic yet; an epic fantasy that is a compelling saga about love, identity and power, coupled with thoughtful reflections about gender, race and class which are persistent themes ever present in her fiction. But more importantly, in her dramatically realistic depictions of her characters, she reminds us of some of the foremost literary stylists of "New Wave" Anglo-American Speculative Fiction; not only such obvious candidates as Ursula K. Le Guin, Samuel R. Delany and Joanna Russ, but even, the likes of Angela Carter too. As a former geologist, I'll concede my initial skepticism with using terms like "orogenes" and "orogeny", but I was soon won over by her exceptionally high literary craft, starting with her exceptional world building. Without question, "The Fifth Season" is destined to be remembered as one of this year's most notable new works of speculative fiction, and one that should be a strong contender for all of the major awards in science fiction and fantasy.

Microsoft Windows 10 Pro 64Bit English DVD OEM
Microsoft Windows 10 Pro 64Bit English DVD OEM
Offered by ESPrice
Price: CDN$ 189.99
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Microsoft Gets It (Mostly) RIght, Aug. 6 2015
Finally Microsoft gets it right, offering users an operating system that offers the best from Windows 7 and Windows 8, that may be the most pleasant using - and viewing - experience I have had on a laptop, including those made by Apple. (In fact, I think the new Windows 10 is superior to Apple's latest operating system.) I've been able to upgrade to Windows 10 Professional for free, replacing Windows 7 Professional on several laptops. In each case, the upgrade was surprisingly easy, taking at most an hour and a half to download and then install the upgraded software. Those familiar with Windows operating systems up to Windows 7 will greatly appreciate the return of the start menu, but in a greatly improved, updated form, which has Windows 8's visual appeal, but still opts for a KISS (Keep IT Simple Stupid) philosophy. I've tried the new Microsoft Edge browser and like it, but don't like that I have to important favorite pages from my earlier Internet Explorer browser, or that the new Microsoft Edge doesn't support add-ons to allow searching via Google or Norton Safe Search. Instead, I would recommend that users try to retain Internet Explorer 11 as their default browser so they can use online security software like Norton's easily. However, despite my strong misgivings with respect to Microsoft Edge, I think overall, Microsoft has released a superior operating system that looks to be better than Apple's.

California: A Novel
California: A Novel
by Edan Lepucki
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 21.75
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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
Offered by importcds__
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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$ 22.49
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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$ 29.99
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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$ 22.49
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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.

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