Almost always, things are exactly as they appear. People are continually looking at the painful or boring parts of life with the half-hidden expectation that there is more going on beneath the surface, some saving grace or deeper meaning that will eventually be unveiled; we’re waiting for the shocking reveal, the sudden twist of fate. But almost always things just are what they are, almost always there’s no glittering ore hidden under the dirt.
In the final installment of The Last Policeman trilogy, former detective Hank Palace travels to Ohio searching for his sister in the last days before an asteroid will impact the Earth.
I happened upon these books quite by accident, and was fortunate enough to receive the last two as LibraryThing Early Reviewer wins, and I’m so glad I discovered this writer. Even as a fan of apocalyptic literature, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like this series. On the surface, these novels follow the tropes of the police procedural, but they are set in the Earth’s final months, weeks, and days before an extinction-level impact with an asteroid, which casts an existential pall over Palace’s sleuthing. Even as we get down to the wire, he remains true to his character, doggedly pursuing leads and documenting evidence, and still wondering whether he’ll ever succeed as a detective.
Palace’s journey takes him to surprising places in the final book, far from his home state of New Hampshire where the first two novels were set. He journeys through an America that seems to have emptied out; the world has become like a haunted house, empty and creepy, with half-seen shadows lurking in the corners. Searching for his sister, Nico, who disappeared with a group of conspiracy nuts convinced they could stop the asteroid in the last book (Countdown City), Palace instead discovers a body in the woods near an abandoned police substation in Ohio–a woman with a slit throat who turns out to be not quite dead. Convinced she is linked to his sister somehow, he follows the clues, which bring him into contact with different people sitting out the last days in their own ways. The story slowly transforms from a detective story into something a lot more existential, a meditation on our species’ purpose and whether it was chance or fate that brought us to this end. This is a moody, introspective story, and despite having a couple of traveling companions (his dog and a grifter also tagging along from the previous book), Palace seems utterly alone, at least until the end.
This series just got better as it went along, and this last book was the best one yet, probably destined to be one of my favorite reads of the year. I can’t recommend these books enough to fans of either crime fiction or post-apocalyptic fiction who are looking for something truly new and different.
I received an advance copy of this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.
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Tags: Apocalyptic stories, Ben H Winters, Detective and mystery stories, Police, Science fiction, Suspense fiction, The Last Policeman, World of Trouble
Months after someone plows a Mercedes into a crowd of job seekers, the killer sends a taunting letter to the lead investigator on the case, now retired, prompting him to restart the investigation as an amateur detective.
Mr. Mercedes represents a departure for Stephen King from the horror genre he is best known for, which is refreshing for long-time fans like me who feared his more recent offerings had become somewhat repetitive. There isn’t a single supernatural element in this crime novel, although there is plenty to make your stomach turn, with a truly reprehensible villain whose head King takes us into. Although King is trying his hand at the crime genre, he shakes it up a little by making his detective a retired cop, instead of an active-duty one, and by giving him a couple of unusual sidekicks. This novel does have two typical King trademarks: engaging characters whom the reader comes to care about, and a fast-paced, suspenseful plot that keeps the pages turning. There are also one or two surprises along the way (including one scene that I won’t reveal but that just made the book for me, it was so unexpected but perfectly right). While Mr. Mercedes does not stand out as a great Stephen King novel that I’ll want to read again and again, it is a very entertaining read, which makes it a perfect mid-summer release, just in time for beach reading season.
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Tags: Crime fiction, Horror, Mercedes automobiles, Mr. Mercedes, Serial murderers, Stephen King, Suspense fiction, Vacation
I don’t believe in socialism but I don’t believe in capitalism either. We are small, governments are large, we survive in the cracks.
In the 22nd century, when China is the dominant superpower and the US has had a socialist revolution, Zhang is trying to figure out what to do with his life.
Whenever I read futuristic science fiction written during the Cold War that assumes the Soviet Union continued as a superpower, I find myself mentally substituting “China” for Soviet Union, just to keep the story believable for me. Now here’s a book written in the ’90s that actually does posit China as the dominant superpower, and of course, it’s a lot different and more realistic than those Soviet-era books. For one thing, the United States has declined quite a lot, as well as having undergone its own socialist revolution. This version of the near future also brings in questions of race — people of Chinese ethnicity have privilege here — sexuality, and gender as well as politics.
This future is not dystopian, not really (although I’m sure many Americans would consider a socialist USA the worst thing that could ever happen). It’s far too realistic for that. The characters are all ordinary people with ordinary concerns about work, success, love, and community. I think that’s why I enjoyed this book so much–the story is told by real people with the minor concerns of real life, but it maintains a broad scope. The story begins and ends in New York City, but it travels to an Arctic research station, a rich and glittering Shanghai, even Mars.
The characters, however, are all people who don’t quite fit into this new normal. The protagonist, Zhang, is gay and half Latino (which has been obscured by genetic manipulation) who must keep both these aspects of himself secret in order to get ahead. He chafes against these restrictions and longs for community, finally choosing to do something very American: he starts his own business. Other sections of the book are told from the points of view of characters that Zhang meets peripherally. One is a Chinese woman with a medical condition that has rendered her “ugly”; once she has that corrected, she unexpectedly faces the possibly worse problems of pretty girls. Another is a loner who has finally moved to a commune on Mars in order to be left alone, but yet finds herself reluctantly helping to build her new community.
These are quiet stories, and the events that take place are not big ones. Without the technological enhancements, all of these stories could take place today. Through her speculative premise, McHugh shines a light on the persistent tensions that characterize the human species: the tension between conformity and individuality, and the desire we all have to make our own lives and to truly be ourselves.
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Tags: China, China Mountain Zhang, Maureen F McHugh, Science fiction, United States, Women's SF and Fantasy
July is vacation month for us. For me, the ideal vacation book is a suspenseful page-turner, something I don’t mind reading for hours on end by the pool or on the beach. Or it’s something light and romantic, preferably set in an exotic location or another time. I haven’t yet picked out my vacation reading for this year, although I have several candidates on the “to read” pile, including the latest Stephen King. But here are my top 5 picks for vacation reading culled from my past reads. What are yours?
1. The Ruins by Scott Smith: This is the ideal vacation book. You won’t be able to put it down, it’s set in exotic Mexico among Mayan ruins, and the characters in it are also on vacation!
2. Bag of Bones by Stephen King: King’s big potboilers are tailor-made for beach reading. If you missed this one, it’s a steamy, spooky ghost story set at a summer home on a Maine lake.
3. Island of the Sequined Love Nun by Christopher Moore: It’s set on a South Pacific island, it’s funny, it’s got a lot of action, it’s a perfect vacation read.
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Tags: Beach books, Vacation
“I didn’t and don’t want to be a ‘feminine’ version or a diluted version or a special version or a subsidiary version or an ancillary version, or an adapted version of the heroes I admire. I want to be the heroes themselves.”
Four women from alternate universes come together in this work of feminist speculative fiction.
Although The Female Man is billed as a “classic of feminist science fiction,” I hesitate to call it science fiction. It’s barely even fiction. More accurately, it is a feminist stream-of-consciousness rant that employs speculative what-ifs to imagine worlds both better and worse than our own, specifically the positions of women in those worlds.
Russ herself is one of the four women, the “female man” who tries and fails to change her identity in order to succeed in what is presumably our world, at least our world of the 1970s, when this was published. Russ’s anger is quite palpable throughout, although she tempers it somewhat with snarky humor. Several times, I found myself wondering whether we hadn’t moved past all this male-female behavior that Russ is criticizing, but truthfully, you only have to read a few Internet comments to see it alive and kicking in the 21st century. In that sense, Russ’s book is still needed and we are not yet free.
Those readers who come to The Female Man expecting a more straightforward narrative are bound to feel stymied by the lack of plot and the jumping around, without explanation, from one world to the next. Besides our own world, there is Jeannine’s world, where the Great Depression has never ended and women are primarily preoccupied with catching and pleasing husbands, and there is Janet’s utopian world of Whileaway, where there are no men at all. I was feeling fairly adrift in all this until about three-quarters of the way through the book, when we meet Jael, a woman warrior in a world where men and women live separately are literally at war with one another. This is probably the most cohesive section of the book, where Jael explains more or less what’s going on and the plot, such as it is.
Forget it, this book is not concerned with plot. It’s concerned with women, with what we endure and how things can possibly be different. Unfortunately, Russ does not seem able to imagine a world where men and women can live together with women not being subject to oppression. I hope she’s wrong about that.
If you liked this book, then you may also like: The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper
Filed under: Essential Fantastic Fiction, Essential Women Writers, Novel | Leave a Comment
Tags: American literature, Female Man, Feminist fiction, Joanna Russ, Multiverse, Parallel worlds, Science fiction, Sex role, Speculative fiction, Women's SF and Fantasy
This month, I concentrated on reading science fiction and fantasy written by women. My selections ran the gamut from historical fantasy to post-apocalyptic dystopia to feminist speculative fiction to near-future science fiction. I didn’t get to read all five of my selections (Ammonite was the one I didn’t get to), but I’m not going to stop reading SF/F written by women. There are so many more great books to discover, and new ones coming out all the time.
This was a group read over at LibraryThing, and everyone shared what they were reading. I’ve compiled all their selections into a reading list, for my future reading and to give you a starting place for your reading. I’ve linked to books that I’ve reviewed on this blog, and I’ve starred the books that I’ve already read. I hope you discover some great new authors, just as I have this month!
Books are listed in alphabetical order by author:
- Katherine Addison: The Goblin Emperor
- Emily Anthes: Frankenstein’s Cat
- Catherine Asaro: Sunrise Alley
- Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale*; The Penelopiad
- Elizabeth Bear: Steles of the Sky
- Carol Berg: The Daemon Prism
- Lauren Beukes: The Shining Girls
- Holly Black: Tithe; Zombies vs. Unicorns
- Elizabeth Blackwell: While Beauty Slept
- Marion Zimmer Bradley: The Forest House
- Marie Brennan: The Tropic of Serpents
- Lois McMaster Bujold: Borders of Infinity; Brothers in Arms; Cetaganda; Cordelia’s Honor; The Curse of Chalion; Ethan of Athos; The Hallowed Hunt; Mirror Dance; The Vor Game
- Octavia Butler: Lilith’s Brood*; Parable of the Sower*; Parable of the Talents*
- Elizabeth C. Bunce: A Curse as Dark as Gold
- Gail Carriger: Soulless
- Susan Cooper: Over Sea, Under Stone
- Ariel Djanakian: The Office of Mercy*
- Susan Ee: World After
- Amy S. Foster: When Autumn Leaves
- Kerstin Gier: Sapphire Blue
- Elizabeth Goudge: Linnets and Valerians
- Sally Green: Half Bad
- Kate Griffin: The Minority Council
- Nicola Griffith: Ammonite
- Barbara Hambley: Dragonsbane
- Laurell K. Hamilton: A Shiver of Light
- Deborah Harkness: The Book of Life; A Discovery of Witches**; Shadow of Night **I started this one but didn’t finish it.**
- Alice Hoffman: The Probable Future
- Dianna Wynne Jones: Howl’s Moving Castle
- Sherrilyn Kenyon: Born of Night
- Katherine Kurtz: Childe Morgan; The Harrowing of Gwynedd
- Madeleine L’Engle: A Ring of Endless Light
- Mercedes Lackey: The Sleeping Beauty
- Ursula K. Le Guin: The Dispossessed*; The Lathe of Heaven*; The Left Hand of Darkness*; The Other Wind; The Tombs of Atuan; A Wizard of Earthsea*; Worlds of Exile and Illusion*; The Word for World Is Forest*
- Anne Leckie: Ancillary Justice
- Ann Leonard: Moth and Spark
- Kate Locke: The Queen Is Dead
- Helen Lowe: Thornspell
- Lois Lowry: Gathering Blue
- Louise Marley: The Child Goddess; The Terrorists of Irustan
- Maureen F. McHugh: China Mountain Zhang* (review forthcoming)
- Vonda N. McIntyre: Enterprise: The First Adventure
- Robin McKinley: The Blue Sword; Sunshine
- Liane Merciel: The River Kings’ Road
- Marissa Meyer: Cinder; Cress; Scarlet
- Audrey Niffenegger: Raven Girl
- Nnendi Okorafor: Who Fears Death
- Danielle Paige: Dorothy Must Die; No Place Like Oz
- Laline Paull: The Bees
- Marge Piercy: Woman on the Edge of Time
- Anne Rice: Prince Lestat; The Wolf Gift
- Joanna Russ: The Female Man* (review forthcoming)
- Karen Russell: Vampires in the Lemon Grove: Stories
- Mary Doria Russell: The Sparrow*
- Stephanie Saulter: Gemsigns
- Gaie Sebold: Babylon Steel
- Mary Shelley: Frankenstein* (arguably the first science fiction novel)
- Dana Stabenow: Second Star
- Mary Staton: From the Legend of Biel
- Jodi Taylor: A Symphony of Echoes
- Laini Taylor: Daughter of Smoke and Bone; Dreams of Gods & Monsters
- Sheri S. Tepper: Beauty*; The Family Tree; The Gate to Women’s Country*; Grass*; Jinian Footseer; The True Game
- Debbie Viguie: Midnight Pearls: A Retelling of “The Little Mermaid”
- Helene Wecker: The Golem and the Jinni*
- Connie Willis: Doomsday Book*
- Jeannette Winterson: The Stone Gods
- Jane Yolen: Briar Rose
- Sarah Zettel: Dust Girl
Filed under: Genres, Reading Lists | 8 Comments
Tags: Fantasy, Science fiction, Women writers, Women's SF and Fantasy
Originally posted on Shannon Turlington:
In a recent post, I discussed trying to read books written by women. This led me to consider which women authors I would recommend, and I came up with a list of books by women that I think are entertaining and enlightening reads. Of course, I am not the only person to have come up with such a list, and if you are so inclined, you can find 50, 100, or even 500 more books by women to fill up your “to read” shelf.
Here is my list (my absolute favorite books are starred and my favorite women authors are bolded):
- Kate Atkinson: Life After Life
- Margaret Atwood: Cat’s Eye; The Handmaid’s Tale*; Oryx and Crake*
- Jane Austen: Emma; Persuasion; Pride and Prejudice*
- Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre*
- Octavia Butler: Lilith’s Brood*; Parable of the Sower*; Parable of the Talents
- Kate Chopin: The Awakening
- Daphne du…
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Tags: Women writers