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John Kwok (New York, NY USA)
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The Peripheral
The Peripheral
by William Gibson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.69
29 used & new from CDN$ 14.61

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Unsettling, But Brilliant, Look at the Future Courtesy of William Gibson, Oct. 28 2014
This review is from: The Peripheral (Hardcover)
In a year that has seen an ample abundance of more or less routine dystopian near future speculative fiction novels – of which the least admirable was a highly touted debut novel about “word viruses” – William Gibson’s “The Peripheral” is an exceptional bit of literary fresh air. It represents the long overdue return of not only one of speculative fiction’s most important intellectuals, but also, one of the most noteworthy writers of our time, regardless of genre. Reading a William Gibson novel can be a difficult, and challenging, task, and his latest is no exception, since he takes readers on a whirlwind tour into the future twice; the first set approximately three to four decades into the future, and the other, the early 22nd Century. But it is a task well worth taking by the reader, since Gibson has some interesting things to say about time travel, robotics, nanotechnology, and corruption – corporate, financial and government – on a global scale, through a tale that is nearly as dark and depressing as the one recounted in “Neuromancer” - his award-winning debut novel that noted critic and fantasy writer Lev Grossman regards as the most important novel of our time – while relying on literary techniques introduced in “Virtual Light”, and especially, “Idoru”, and perfected in “Pattern Recognition”, “Spook Country” and “Zero History”, such as terse, often fragmented, sentences, brief chapters, and realistic dialogue that, for some readers, may be faint literary echoes of the hallucinatory prose written in his early “Sprawl Trilogy” novels “Neuromancer” and “Count Zero”.

“The Peripheral” is Gibson’s best work of speculative fiction since “Idoru”. Flynne Fisher lives with her United States Marine Corps veteran brother Burton, a former member of its elite Haptic Recon force, who suffers from neural damage caused by implants he received while serving in it. She volunteers as a substitute for a job she doesn’t know he has, beta-testing a virtual reality game, and witnesses a murder in a futuristic London building. (A murder that readers will see Rashomon-like, repeatedly through her eyes.) Contacted digitally from that futuristic London by Wilf Netherton, a down on his luck public relations specialist, Flynne journeys into that future as a “peripheral”, hoping that she can help solve that murder. Through her "peripheral", she encounters a decaying far future London ruled by the "klept", the corrupt world government, and one of its cynical espionage agents, Ainsley Lowbeer, who comes across as a jaded, all knowing, ageless version of Edie Banister, the eccentric ex-spy spinster of Nick Harkaway's "Angelmaker". Unexpectedly, she becomes an important player in an effort by Netherton and others to change the course of history, resulting in a future far more benign than theirs.

“The Peripheral” is an unsettling, but brilliant, look into our future, with Gibson writing what must be seen as an exceptional blend of dystopian and time travel speculative fiction, coupled with superb nanotech-driven post-cyberpunk and memorable world building of a kind associated with China Miéville and Neal Stephenson’s best recent work. Especially noteworthy is his depiction of quasi time travel, in which his protagonists can only exchange messages digitally, that displays the intelligence and attention to detail seen in the two time travel speculative fiction novels that I regard as the best published so far this century; Charles Yu’s “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe” and Michael Swanwick’s “Bones of the Earth”. Gibson’s conception of peripherals, the flesh and blood biopunk analogues of robots, should be remembered as a most distinguished contribution to robotic speculative fiction. His fictional exploration of the corporate, financial market and government corruption that extends from the recognizably familiar near future of heroine Flynne Fisher’s small-town United States to the nightmarish nanotech-dominated London of the early 22nd Century, is an exceedingly well crafted dystopian vision that readers won’t find in any recently published dystopian fiction, especially by mainstream literary fiction writers who, like the author of the “word virus” novel, lack the familiarity and understanding of what Gibson has referred repeatedly as the “tool kit of science fiction”. These are among the reasons why “The Peripheral” should be seen as one of the most important novels published not only this year, but so far, in this century, reaffirming Gibson’s status as one of the most visionary writers of our time.

High as the Horses' Bridles: A Novel
High as the Horses' Bridles: A Novel
by Scott Cheshire
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.81
37 used & new from CDN$ 15.53

5.0 out of 5 stars An Emotionally Intense Fictional Depiction of Contemporary Fundamentalist Christian Faith, Sept. 5 2014
In the streetwise realism of 1980 and present-day Queens, New York, Scott Chesire's "High as the Horses' Bridles", echoes the gritty realism found in the best novels of Pete Hamill and Jimmy Breslin. But it is more, much more, than a very good New York City-centric novel bordering on greatness. Its universal themes of seeking love and redemption should appeal to those unfamiliar with New York City, a debut American novel that may well earn ample praise from a worldwide audience, simply for its intensely psychological portrayal of its main protagonist Josiah (Josie) Laudermilk, whose defining moment in life comes at the age of twelve, when, as a child preacher in a Queens movie theater - turned - church, he announces an apocalyptic vision of Christ's return to the audience. Much to his credit, Cheshire has written an intelligent, often profound, and emotionally resonating, fictional exploration of Fundamentalist Protestant Christianity in the most unlikely of settings, the Borough of Queens in New York City, with a compelling protagonist, Josie, the adult Josiah, embarked on a life-long quest to arrive at some semblance of normalcy, beginning with severing his emotional and intellectual ties with his faith. A faith still possessing the mind and soul of his dying father, whom Josie finds living a most destitute existence in their Queens home, even after father and son formally abandoned that faith decades ago.

Cheshire has written a psychologically gripping epic into the depths of Josie's heart and soul, even as he takes us on a journey encompassing both Los Angeles and New York City, as well as into the past, to a tent revival meeting somewhere in rural Kentucky at the dawn of the 19th Century. He introduces us to an emotionally scarred protagonist, who, as an adult, is unable to come to terms with the deaths of two friends from his youth, and especially, his mother, who loses a long-term battle with cancer. From the very first page until the very last, Cheshire demonstrates that he is both a master storyteller and a superb prose stylist, yielding a debut novel which has reminded others of the likes of Feodor Dostoyevsky, E. L. Doctorow and Don DeLillo, and writing one that is more the work of a writer at the height of his creative powers, than as a debut novelist. Cheshire's depiction of Josie's relationship with his father may be the most memorable one I have encountered in recent mainstream literary fiction, and one that will interest readers. "High as the Horses' Bridles" is not just one of the finest debut novels published this year; its publication announces the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary American fiction destined for greatness.

The Magician's Land: A Novel
The Magician's Land: A Novel
by Lev Grossman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.65
29 used & new from CDN$ 17.56

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Epic, Quite Compelling, Conclusion to 'The Magicians' Fantasy Saga, Aug. 5 2014
With the debut of "The Magicians", Lev Grossman introduced readers to a new form of heroic epic fantasy, one in which the rules of magic existed with ample realism; a heroic epic fantasy novel that had more in common with Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy than anything written by the likes of Neil Gaiman, George R. R. Martin, or J. K. Rowling, especially when Grossman's "Magician" novels have been dubbed "Harry Potter for adults". "The Magician's Land" is the most "adult" of the "Magician" novels, and yet, one which will dazzle readers with more feats of magic and heroic fantasy quests, than in the prior "Magician" novels. One of the greatest - I would say even guilty - pleasures in reading the work of a most gifted and thoughtful writer, Lev Grossman, has been watching the development of a great cast of memorable characters, of whom Quentin Coldwater, the main protagonist in the "Magician" novels, may be the most complicated hero ever envisioned within the genre of heroic epic fantasy. Indeed Quentin's ongoing struggles to understand his magical powers, and to deal with his personal crises, clearly has struck a nerve with many of Grossman's younger, often twenty-something, readers, making him a realistic figure far more sympathetic and intriguing than Bilbo Baggins, Frodo Baggins or the wizard Gandalf in J. R. R. Tolkien's "Middle-Earth" novels and tales.

While one doesn't have to read the other two novels in the "Magicians" trilogy to get ample pleasure reading the latest exploits of Quentin and his friends, readers who are familiar with the earlier novels will understand the great emotional arcs undertaken by them, showing great capacities for personal growth both here, in the real world, and in the magical realm of Fillory. We're introduced to Quentin as part of a team of magicians planning a most spectacular heist, before we are treated to an engrossing back story regarding his all too brief tenure as a new Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic professor, and his unexpected encounter with brilliant, and exceptionally talented, Brakebills student Plum; an encounter that will take them on an epic quest that will lead them to a most powerful spell, and eventually, even Fillory itself. A Fillory whose future seems dark, as its rulers, Eliot and Janet, old friends of Quentin's, try saving it. Grossman's superb gifts as both a fine prose stylist and engrossing storyteller are in ample abundance in "The Magician's Land", and, even more than its predecessors, yielded a novel so compellingly readable that I found it impossible to put down. It is no mere understatement to note that "The Magician's Land" is a spectacular conclusion to the best fantasy series published so far in this century, and one that will be remembered as one of the greatest fantasy sagas of all time.

The Painter: A novel
The Painter: A novel
by Peter Heller
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 17.52
34 used & new from CDN$ 17.52

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Psychologically Intense Fictional Portrait of a Western Painter, July 21 2014
This review is from: The Painter: A novel (Hardcover)
Peter Heller follows up his brilliant debut novel "The Dog Stars" with "The Painter", which firmly establishes him as one of the most important writers writing about the contemporary West in fiction. In naming his protagonist Jim Stegner, Heller is probably paying homage to the late Wallace Stegner, often viewed as the "Dean of Western Writers", whose former students include the likes of Larry McMurtry and Edward Abbey, among others. Heller offers us a psychologically intense fictional portrait of Stegner, an extremely gifted, largely self-taught, painter who is represented by a noted Santa Fe, New Mexico art dealer. In a literary style that owes much to McMurtry and Ivan Doig ("The Bartender's Tale") as representative in chronicling the contemporary West, Heller introduces us to a compellingly flawed character who is haunted by the senseless murder of his teenaged daughter, and one who resorts to violence merely to defend those whom he perceives are helpless, whether it is his daughter, or a badly mistreated horse. However, in comparison with those whom Stegner is compelled to kill, he comes across more as an avenging vigilante seeking justice, than as a homicidal lone wolf. Heller's superb prose and excellent storytelling skills are as compelling as they were in "The Dog Stars", and yet, readers who aren't familiar with contemporary American painting devoted to the West or, in general, the Western United States, or cherish Heller's excellent descriptive prose describing nature, may find "The Painter" a less satisfying read than his debut novel. However, I believe "The Painter" will be acknowledged by many as a worthy successor to "The Dog Stars" and one that may be viewed as one of the best American novels published this year. (EDITORIAL NOTE: While I acknowledge the assistance rendered again by a mutual friend of Heller and yours truly, it hasn't influenced my favorable appraisal of this novel.)

Shadow World
Shadow World
by Chris Impey
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.84
11 used & new from CDN$ 15.52

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Notable Debut Novel from an Astronomer and Science Writer, July 21 2014
This review is from: Shadow World (Paperback)
Astronomer and science writer Chris Impey’s “Shadow World” should be viewed more as a collection of seven short stories, rather than a novel, that tie together the life-long journeys made by McEvoy, a compellingly curious Scot, who literally wanders all over the globe. Journeys which he can barely remember, but are recorded in ample detail in the diary he keeps over a span of twenty years. He’s a compelling protagonist in each of the seven chapters, often trying to win – and then to lose – the affection of a woman. We meet a fugitive Navajo shaman in the almost pristine wilderness of the Arizona desert, listen to classical music at New York City’s Lincoln Center, search for a long-lost civilization in some remote corner of Mongolia, and go dinosaur fossil hunting in Patagonia. Impey does a great job in transporting readers to each locale, teaching us aspects of science and philosophy that many may have not known before. As science fiction, “Shadow World” barely qualifies, except in its depiction of McEvoy, who seems all too forgetful of his prior Walter Mitty-esque adventures. As a self-published work of fiction, “Shadow World” comes close to adhering to professional publishing standards, though there are a few errors and other typos lurking within the text. Regardless, “Shadow World” remains an impressive debut novel for Impey, and hopefully, we, the readers, won’t see the last of him with respect to writing fiction.

Dark Eden
Dark Eden
by Chris Beckett
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 43.41
19 used & new from CDN$ 9.55

5.0 out of 5 stars Phenomenal Debut Novel Which Cleverly Reimagines the 'Lost Colony' Trope, July 21 2014
This review is from: Dark Eden (Hardcover)
One of the major reoccurring tropes in science fiction has been depicting lost colonies - or lost generation starships - which have been cut off from the rest of humanity. Much to his credit, Chris Beckett's "Dark Eden: A Novel" is a spectacular new addition, and one deservingly worthy of being the recipient of the 2013 Arthur C. Clarke Award for the Best Science Fiction Novel of the Year. On a remote sunless world, the descendants of survivors of an unexpected landing, treat as myth, Family lore about having crossed the "Starry Swirl" in a vast "boat" - the starship Defiant - from a remote, distant world, Earth, dreaming that one day another "boat" will arrive, taking them "home" to the birth world of their ancestors. One of the most bold, most courageous, members of the Family, John Redlantern, will break taboos and longstanding Family customs, seeking the truth behind their unexpected arrival. What he discovers in his quest will change forever, the Family's history, and its future prospects for survival on a world whose only lights are those from the lantern trees and the bizarre animals which inhabit Eden. Beckett is an exceptional storyteller and fine prose stylist, writing an engrossing tale that could be seen as a space opera twist on William Golding's "Lord of the Flies", with characters and prose easily comparable with Ursula Le Guin's finest "Hainish" tales. "Dark Eden: A Novel" is an important literary debut from someone with great promise as an important new voice in Anglo-American speculative fiction.

The Girl in the Road: A Novel
The Girl in the Road: A Novel
by Monica Byrne
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.81
36 used & new from CDN$ 12.20

5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Debut Novel of This Year, July 21 2014
"The Girl in the Road" announces the arrival of a major new talent in literary mainstream fiction and speculative fiction, one Monica Byrne, whose anthropologically-oriented science fiction novel could be mistaken easily as something written during the Anglo-American "New Wave" literary movement in fantasy and science fiction of the 1960s and early 1970s; however, none of the writers back then were aware of nanotechnology, which plays an important role in the near future Africa and Asia that Byrne has envisioned for the middle 21st Century. In a literary style that may remind mainstream literary fiction readers of Teju Cole and Paul Theroux, with more than a nod or two to J. G. Ballard and Ursula K. Le Guin, Byrne recounts the incredible journeys of a young woman, Meena, and a young girl, Mariama, across the span of decades and across the Arabian Sea (Meena) and Saharan Africa (Mariama), that is told in first person primarily through their eyes. She introduces us to a near future not unlike the present, with poverty and war still an ever present danger in Saharan Africa, and with Ethiopia plagued by decades of economic and political strife dating from the latter half of the 20th Century. Across the Arabian Sea, India has emerged as the regional economic hegemon, its densely populated cities like Mumbai still teeming with people who willingly herd themselves into crowded trains filled with hundreds of people, while still retaining much of its traditional Hindu-dominated culture.

When Meena wakes up one morning in Mumbai, India, covered in snakebites, she resolves to return home, to the land of her birth, Ethiopia, a land she has not seen since her birth. When she learns of The Trail, the nanotechnological bridge which links India to Africa across the Arabian Sea like a metallic strip extending outwards towards infinity, she takes only a few items - a pozit GPS device, a scroll reader, and a sealable waterproof bag - and sets out on that long and winding road across that sea towards distant Ethiopia. Decades earlier, a young West African girl, Mariama, leaves her home and joins a caravan of strangers crossing Saharan Africa, headed towards Ethiopia. She befriends Yemaya, a beautiful and enigmatic woman, who becomes not only her friend, but also her protector, during the long, arduous trek that will take her from the West African port of Dakar to distant Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capitol. Byrne not only gives us two compelling fictional accounts of these two protagonists, but manages, at the end, to unite them, in a manner that will surprise and delight readers, demonstrating the remarkable resiliency of her storytelling and her emotionally charged, compellingly readable, literary style.

"The Girl in the Road" is one of those rare instances where a mainstream literary fiction writer has crafted a compelling speculative fiction novel worthy of praise and comparison with Kim Stanley Robinson and Ursula K. Le Guin's work, demonstrating that speculative fiction is indeed a genre worthy of recognition by mainstream literary audiences for its exceptional storytelling and literary craft, which not only Robinson and Le Guin, but many others, have demonstrated for years, whether they are other major figures in speculative fiction such as Pat Cadigan, Samuel Delany, William Gibson, Christopher Priest and Neal Stephenson, or emerging giants like China Mieville and Catherynne Valente. Byrne's debut novel is one worthy of comparison with Madeline Miller's "The Song of Achilles" and Erin Morgenstern's "The Night Circus" for the exceptional qualities of its storytelling and prose. It may earn for its writer ample critical acclaim not only within the ranks of speculative fiction, but also, I suspect, mainstream literary fiction too.

Where Earth Meets Water
Where Earth Meets Water
Price: CDN$ 8.79

5.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Debut Novel About Fate, Love And Trying To Understand the Meaning of Life, July 21 2014
“Where Earth Meets Water”, the debut novel of fellow Stuyvesant High School alumnus Pia Padukone, is not, in the words of my friend Gary Shteyngart, just a “smart and insightful” novel that is “…[a] worthy addition to the burgeoning field of Indian literature”. It is an elegant, often mesmerizing, debut novel about fate, love and trying to understand the meaning of life; a compelling tale with universal themes that should appeal to anyone reading contemporary Anglo-American literature. Padukone introduces us to Karom Seth, like the author, a native New Yorker of Indian descent, having had two miraculous brushes resulting in a personal sense of invincibility; first, by not being present at the World Trade Center on the morning of 9/11/2001, and second, by his absence at a family reunion in December 2004 on the southeast coast of India, missing the tsunami which swept his entire family out to sea, leaving him, an orphan. In the course of the novel, Seth struggles with his sense of invincibility, which impacts the lives of those around him, most notably his friend – and MIT classmate – Lloyd, and Gita, who becomes the love of his life. On a return journey to India years after both disasters, Karom comes to terms with his destiny and understanding the meaning of his life by meeting Gita’s grandmother Kamini, a larger-than-life figure throughout the novel, whose sagacious advice prepares him for his future. Padukone is both a compelling storyteller and a superb prose stylist, creating a most truly memorable cast of characters for a novel that should be viewed as among the best published this year. Along with Monica Byrne’s “The Girl in the Road”, Pia Padukone’s “Where Earth Meets Water” is the best debut novel published so far this year, and one which should earn ample critical and popular acclaim.

Memory Of Water: A Novel
Memory Of Water: A Novel
by Emmi Itäranta
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.51
31 used & new from CDN$ 6.15

5.0 out of 5 stars A Poetic, Dark, Dystopian Speculative Fiction Novel That Is One of the Year's Best, July 21 2014
In hauntingly beautiful prose, Emmi Itäranta's "Memory of Water" is one of the finest dystopian speculative fiction novels I have read, worthy of comparison with Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale", George Orwell's "1984" and Walter Miller's "A Canticle for Leibowitz", offering readers a future that is as bleak and as terrifying as those depicted in Atwood, Orwell and Miller's celebrated novels. It is also one of the year's best debut novels, written by a novelist who is familiar with the genre of speculative fiction, and one worthy of a wide readership. Centuries after global warming has destroyed modern civilization, with China now the ruler of the world, "Memory of Water" is set in what was once Finland, part of the Scandinavian Union, now ruled by the Chinese dictatorial state of New Qian. In a style almost reminiscent of early Ursula K. Le Guin, Itäranta introduces us to seventeen-year-old Noria Kaitio, who becomes the last member of her family to become a tea master, an important ceremonial position that helps bind the community, while also allowing the bearer to possess important secrets regarding water usage. After her father dies and her mother leaves for an academic position in distant China, Kaitio embarks on a struggle to preserve her father's secrets, while also learning something unexpected about the final years of the "Twilight Century", the last century of global technological civilization, brought to an end by wars and the unrelenting spread of global warming. Readers should note that this is indeed a depressing novel to read, but one worth reading thanks to Itäranta's superb, often poetic, elegant prose and excellent storytelling. It is an excellent fictional testament to free will and an individual's right to think and to act for oneself, even under the worst circumstances of political repression. I have no doubt that this will be remembered as one of the most important debut novels published this year, and one that should earn ample critical praise from critics and audiences familiar with mainstream literary fiction as well as speculative fiction.

The Lost
The Lost
by Sarah Beth Durst
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.96
27 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Splendid New Adult Fantasy/Romance Novel, July 21 2014
This review is from: The Lost (Paperback)
Recognized as one of our foremost American writers of teen fantasy fiction, Sarah Beth Durst's "The Lost" is the debut novel in a series that introduces New Adult readers to a metaphysical alternate reality as compellingly realistic as Lev Grossman's "Magician" novels, with the surreal fantastical elements of "Lost" (the American television series) and maybe, more than a nod or two to Akira Kurosawa's great film "Rashomon" added as well. This is a compellingly readable fantasy mixed with thriller and romance, which should appeal to older as well as younger readers, especially for dealing with themes related to personal loss and dealing effectively - mentally and emotionally - with them. Having made an unexpected wrong left turn on a desert highway, Lauren stumbles upon an almost deserted, rather mysterious, town, Lost, at the edge of the desert, whose inhabitants have, like herself, lost their way, finding themselves stranded and alone, cut off from those they knew in the outside world. An unexpected encounter with one of the town's most mysterious inhabitants, becomes much more, as Lauren finds herself increasingly attracted to Peter, who becomes both a compelling reason why she should stay and her potential means of escape as she plots her return to the outside world. Durst is an exceptional storyteller and fine prose stylist who has crafted a memorable page-turner of a novel; I look forward to reading the rest of her New Adult series, starting with "Missing" which is due to be published towards the end of this year.

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