Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Interzone Book Zone Hivemind

As well as the usual reviews, the December/January Interzone has some reviewers' top picks from 2015 (ish). Here's what I wrote.


Sandra Newman’s The Country of Ice Cream Star (HarperCollins) is technically a YA post-apocalyptic quest, but only in the way that, say, a jack-o’-lantern is technically a berry. Newman’s wrenching, bloodsoaked 600+ page epic is told almost entirely in a speculative English, mostly estranged AAVE with fragments of French (via Senegal) plus wry phonosemantic matches: bon becomes bone and so on. Sparks slip between what words mean to Ice and what they mean to us, so a phrase like “vally and bell” (brave and beautiful) may also ring out like a bell in a valley. It’d be easy to get hung up on the linguistic surface, but the point is really the passion, intelligence and wit unleashed from this shattering language.

Berit Ellingsen’s Not Dark Yet (Two Dollar Radio) is the kind of novella that it’s tempting to call ‘enigmatic.’ Yet it is so self-possessed, so straightforwardly timely, and gazes at you with such open, disciplined frankness ... by the final page, it feels simple and necessary, and all other stories have become enigmas. Ellingsen’s anonymous protagonist applies to be among the first to fly to Mars, while quietly living in a cabin among the owls, humans, and hurricanes of near-future ecologies. Uh, pretty dark already?

Two science non-fiction top picks: Steve Aylett’s Heart of the Original (Unbound) is ostensibly a collection of short essays about creativity; Aylett is, as he sometimes points out, a very, very, very brilliant and original writer. “They pounced, two clowns holding me by the arms while a fourth beat the bejesus out of me.” His work is also tremendously funny, and a bit rebarbative, although he is always kind enough to give the reader some way in. The way into his Heart happens to be reflexivity: there’s a lot of Aylett reflecting on Aylett, with some Thus #Lifehacked Zarathustra thrown in. Eat Aylett’s Heart out, but also beg for a new novel soon.

Laurence Scott’s witty, erudite and utterly selfie-indulgent The Four-Dimensional Human (William Heinemann) is by far the best thing I’ve read about the experience of living with – or living through, or as – social media. Although Scott’s analysis is constrained by the necessity of staying always charming, his meticulous scrutiny and figurative ingeniousness frequently take him far beyond familiar observations.

Five more, briefly: I think Kelly Link perhaps has some imitators, but her latest utterly seelie-indulgent collection of short stories Get in Trouble (Random House) demonstrates she’s still the best Kelly Link on the block. Peter Newman’s The Vagrant (Harper Voyager) is a dark science fantasy, elevated above functional swords ’n’ scariness by its deft downtime: the snatched tender lulls within a crapsack wasteland, the comic flailings of toddler and goat. Karen Lord’s social science fiction Galaxy Game (Del Ray) is a cozy-yet-creepy, subtle-yet-leaden novel of sports, psionics and cosmopolitics. It’s admirable for its serene, twinkle-eyed affront to everything holy in genre storytelling wisdom, but maybe does less with that than did its prequel, The Best of All Possible Worlds. Jonathan L. Howard’s weirdboiled crime-horror novel Carter & Lovecraft (Thomas Dunne) is contemporary, smart, pacey – and gets you to care, despite its glitching reality and homage to campy tentacles. Also see Emma Newman’s Planetfall, reviewed in the same issue.


And I went ahead and compiled the other reviewers' choices. If you want to see who liked what and why, get the issue!

Alexis Wright, The Swan Book
Laura van den Berg, Find Me
Sara Taylor, The Shore
Catriona Ward, Rawblood
John Mandel, Station Eleven
Michel Faber, The Book of Strange New Things
David Hutchinson, Europe at Midnight (more recommendations than anything else)
Chris Beckett, Mother of Eden
Cixin Liu, The Three-Body Problem
Cixin Liu, The Dark Forest
Ann Leckie, Ancillary Mercy
Ian McDonald, Luna: New Moon
Aliette de Bodard, House of Shattered Wings
Max Gladstone, Last First Snow
Kirsty Logan, The Gracekeepers
César Aira, 3 Novels by César Aira
Rod Duncan, Unseemly Science
China Mieville, Three Fragments of an Explosion
Kim Newman, The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School
Paul Meloy, The Night Clock
Michael F. Russell, Lie of the Land
Joyce Carol Oates, Jack of Spades
Jonathan Edwards, My Family and Other Superheroes (hey wait no fair I didn't know we were allowed poetry)
Kate Tempest, Hold Your Own
Don Paterson, 40 Sonnets
Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric
Sam Gayton, The Snow Merchant
David Baddiel, The Person Controller
Julian Clary, The Bolds
Kate Atkinson, A God in Ruins
Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod, Poems
E.J. Swift, Tamaruq
Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant
Brian Taves, Hollywood Presents Jules Verne: The Father of Science Fiction on Screen
Piers Bizony, The Making of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey
Paul Levitz, The Bronze Age of DC Comics: 1970-84
Lance Parkin, Whoniverse: The Unofficial Planet-by-Planet Guide to the Universe of the Doctor, From Gallifrey to Skaro
Stephen Jones, The Art of Horror: An Illustrated History
Adrian Tchaikovsky, Children of Time
Kim Stanley Robinson, Aurora
Carolyn Ives Gilman, Dark Orbit
David Mitchell, Slade House
Ann and Jeff Vandermeer (ed.), Sisters of the Revolution
Julie Wosk, My Fair Ladies
Adam Roberts, Rave and Let Die

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