Those who love speculative fiction and are looking for something new and well-written, should run to get a copy of Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning. In her debut novel, most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of climate apocalypse, and Dinétah (the Navajo Nation) has arisen. A magical wall has been built to keep the Diné safe from the outside madness but it can’t keep them safe from the monsters and witches who have awakened. Maggie Hoskie survives in this harsh world using her skills as a supernaturally gifted killer, nicknamed monsterslayer. When Maggie is called to find a girl taken by a monster, she finds she has taken on more than she bargained for. Reluctantly partnering with Kai Aviso, who has powers of his own, they travel the rez in search of clues, battling monsters and more.
Roanhorse creates a wonderful magical world, one obviously based on Native American mythology. I, being completely ignorant of that mythology, found it enthralling and I found myself constantly looking things up on Wikipedia. Her sharp writing and dynamic characters kept me glued to the book until I was done. There’s definitely strength in the book and it’s great to see Native American representation in the fantasy world. Roanhorse is the first Native American to win a Nebula! Unfortunately now, dear Reader, I have to wait until next April for the next book, Storm of Locusts. Argh!
Sorry for the silence around here. I started a new job in November—I’m now a Field Sales Manger for Penguin Random House, selling Penguin books to the independents here in New England. I’ve been busy setting up a home office, getting to know my accounts, and reading Summer 2015 books.
While adding a few books to my Reading List, I noticed that I’m almost at 100 books for 2014. I’m not pressuring myself to hit 100, but sere’s hoping I do it. I’m about to get on a 6 hours flight to San Francisco, so I’m sure I can get at least 1-2 read. It was interesting going my reading list. There were definitely a lot of books that I forgot that I had read and clearly didn’t stick with me. But then there were the ones that did. Here, in no particular order, are my favorite books of 2014.
- Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
- The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
- Another Great Day by Geoff Dyer
- Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty
- The Martian by Andy Weir
- Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
- Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
- Nobody is Every Missing by Catherine Lacey
- A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
- Neverhome by Laird Hunt
- The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
- All 3 of the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante
One of my resolutions for 2015 is to write more here. I’m hoping to review some books, post about cooking projects, and perhaps write some observations about the life of a sales rep. I’m pretty sure I make the same resolution every year, but now that I’m working from home, with no boss looking over my shoulder, I can post as I please! And it’s work-related, so there.
Happy holidays folks. See you in the new year.
If you’ve read World Made By Hand, you get the feeling that James Howard Kunstler is smugly waiting for the apocalypse in his bunker just so he can say “I told you so.” Of course, this is also true in almost any other end-of-the-world fantasy, from Dawn of the Dead and its warning of rampant consumerism to Justin Cronin’s The Passage and its parable of military experiments with vampires.
In Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel manages to avoid that trap entirely. Her novel is divided between post- and pre-apocalypse scenes, each populated by fully realized characters shot through with wistful desires for what it cannot have. A paparazzo wishes for more meaningful work. A successful actor realizes he has been horrible to all three of his wives, and it has in fact been his fault. A woman struggles to remember if both light and coldness came from refrigerators in the world before. A survivor picks through an abandoned library in search of celebrity gossip magazines and Justin Cronin novels.
In Mandel’s world, a particularly virulent flu comes from nowhere to wipe out most of humanity. The survivors cobble together what they can – a museum in a former airport. A newspaper published monthly and disseminated by horse-drawn cart. A traveling orchestra and theater troupe. A cult.
And the villans, if villains there be in this tale, are those who seek to put a moral on the disaster. Who leads the violent cult? A man whose mama always told him “things happen for a reason.”
No they don’t. Nature doesn’t care about you. Only humans care.
Mandel has a masterful novel here. Not just in its narrative structure, or in its language – although it is beautifully built and beautifully told. But it is also a masterpiece in the way it illuminates the flaws of the current world and the folly of our wishing for apocalypse and the simplification it might bring.
I don’t remember when I first read William Gibson’s landmark Neuromancer, but it would have been the early 1990s, and I was entranced. That book defined, a decade before “internet” was a household word, the possibilities and dangers of an online or virtual life at least as compelling as the present flesh-and-blood one.
With The Peripheral, Gibson returns to the theme of operating a virtual body remotely, and the metaphysics of life being a little too close to gaming.
Flynne is a young woman scraping together a living in a dying town whose main industry is illicit drug manufacture. Sometimes she works as a supporting character in rich people’s video games. Paid to fly a security drone around a virtual London, she witnesses a murder. It looks real. It may, in fact, be real.
The linkage between the world Flynne lives in and the world where the murder occurs blurs the line between who’s a real person and who is merely an AI or a character in a game. What happens when a disabled former Marine uses a neurological interface device to operate a prosthetic body in another location, leaving his legless original body in a back room in a warehouse? What if the warehouse is in another universe? What if the software that runs that universe isn’t 100% secure?
What is life, after all, but a completely realistic, totally immersive, massively multiplayer game with very real stakes? And what happens if some of the players are cheating to get ahead – manipulating the fabric of the universe as though the world were merely another virtual reality server?