OCTOBER 22-28, 2014: What was already an absolutely packed release week for concurrent new releases (Gibson, Faber, Rothfuss, Martin, Rice) and already with one back-list gem (Lewis Shiner’s Frontera) includes the magnificent surprise of China Mieville’s The Scar and Iron Council finally coming to US audio. It’s been over a year and a half since I last fully turned my attention to the digital regional divide and these are two right from the top of the overseas wishlist, though in the meantime, several more have gone onto the list, from Lavie Tidhar’s just-released (in the UK only) A Man Lies Dreaming to The Islands of Chaldea by the late Diana Wynne Jones. The digital divide giveth, and the digital divide taketh away. It happens. Also out this week: A new Doctor Who short story by Holly Black, W. Bruce Cameron’s The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man, Sheckley’s The Game of X read by Oliver Wyman, Weis and Krammes’ The Seventh Sigil, Jason Stoddard’s Winning Mars, and an I’m-not-sure-is-it-imaginative-or-just-weird full cast Cold War-set adaptation of The Island of Doctor Moreau. There’s also plenty of fiction (David Nicholls’s Us, Nick Hornby’s About a Boy, Molly Gloss’s Falling from Horses), thrillers (John Connolly’s The Wolf in Winter, Clive and Dirk Cussler’s Havana Storm), and non-fiction (Peter Ackroyd’s Charlie Chaplain, read by Ralph Lister, and Herbie Hancock reading his own Herbie Hancock) to tempt your earbuds. In “seen but not heard” listenings do check out Lavie Tidhar’s A Man Lies Dreaming among others, including The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes and We Will All Go Down Together by Gemma Files. Enjoy!
PICKS OF THE WEEK:
The Peripheral by William Gibson (Putnam Adult, October 28) is Gibon’s first novel since 2010’s New York Times–bestselling Zero History, and while I loved the “Big End” books (particularly Pattern Recognition and even more particularly Spook Country) I am also thrilled that he’s turned his gaze to the near and medium future sf. We are in Neuromancer territory again, with 30 more years of confidence and wisdom — and a bit of snark — since that groundbreaking, visionary debut novel which crystallized the cyberpunk genre and envisioned cyberspace to the point of self-fulfilling prophecy. Gibson here takes a fresh, clear look at both our near future — of a metastasized Wal-Mart esque megacorp, of living to pay healthcare bills, of the unevenly distributed now-future of millionaires and billionaires and trailer parks where crippled military veterans toil to make ends meet between bouts of PTSD. We have not one but two futures here. The first, that crystal-clear near future, the second, a just-incomprehensible enough to bear some likely resemblance to the target medium future of high-rises, AI, and the titular “peripherals” — humanoid androids which can be controlled remotely by the user’s thoughts. Through short, taut, interleaving chapters of these two futures we’re introduced to the worlds each inhabit, and when not too far in the worlds begin to connect across the time (and “jackpot” event) which separates them through a mysterious technology — which neatly sidesteps the time travel paradox question through in-story means which I don’t want to spoil here — an even deeper spiral of overlapping experiences emerges.
Here’s what it says on the tin: “Where Flynne and her brother, Burton, live, jobs outside the drug business are rare. Fortunately, Burton has his veteran’s benefits, for neural damage he suffered from implants during his time in the USMC’s elite Haptic Recon force. Then one night Burton has to go out, but there’s a job he’s supposed to do—a job Flynne didn’t know he had. Beta-testing part of a new game, he tells her. The job seems to be simple: work a perimeter around the image of a tower building. Little buglike things turn up. He’s supposed to get in their way, edge them back. That’s all there is to it. He’s offering Flynne a good price to take over for him. What she sees, though, isn’t what Burton told her to expect. It might be a game, but it might also be murder.”
The audio arrives concurrently from Penguin Audio, read by Lorelei King, whom I don’t have much experience with but is well-regarded as the narrator for Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson, Darynda Jones’ Charley Davidson, and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. She handles Flynne quite well, and though so much of the further future takes place in London, in the male POV of British PR lackey Netherton (with conversations with his wealthy Russian friend Lev) she is fantastic on these as well.
The novel is not full of immediately groundbreaking new ideas. We have seen haptic controlled drones, we have seen remote presence androids like these “peripherals”, we have seen AI, we have seen time travel communication. In all it’s the characters and the synthesis of these ideas, and the deadpan delivery of the vision that’s both so immediately real — can we really refute the Mega-Walmart-ized near future, the healthcare debt, the forgotten military veterans? — and strange, at once, that makes it one of the novels of the year, perhaps one of those once-a-decade glimpses at our “now” through the backdraft plot from the futures that Gibson sets before us. More: An interview at Tor.com. Get: [Downpour | Audible]
The Book of Strange New Things: A Novel by Michel Faber (Hogarth, Oct 28) — “Faber’s latest novel – which David Mitchell called his “second masterpiece” after The Crimson Petal and the White – touches on interstellar space travel, cataclysmic events, romantic love, and religious faith. Such broad territory seems befitting for an author claimed simultaneously by the nations of Scotland, Australia, and the Netherlands.” (via The Millions). Read by Josh Cohen for Random House Audio: “It begins with Peter, a devoted man of faith, as he is called to the mission of a lifetime, one that takes him galaxies away from his wife, Bea. Peter becomes immersed in the mysteries of an astonishing new environment, overseen by an enigmatic corporation known only as USIC. His work introduces him to a seemingly friendly native population struggling with a dangerous illness and hungry for Peter’s teachings – his Bible is their “book of strange new things”. But Peter is rattled when Bea’s letters from home become increasingly desperate: typhoons and earthquakes are devastating whole countries, and governments are crumbling. Bea’s faith, once the guiding light of their lives, begins to falter.” More: A review by M. John Harrison in The Guardian; a NY Times article in which Faber states this will be his last novel. Get: [Downpour | Audible]
The Slow Regard of Silent Things: A KingKiller Chronicle Novella by Patrick Rothfuss (DAW Hardcover and Penguin Audio, October 28, 2014) is “set at The University, where the brightest minds work to unravel the mysteries of enlightened sciences, such as artificing and alchemy. Auri, a former student (and a secondary but influential character from Rothfuss’s earlier novels) now lives alone beneath the sprawling campus in a maze of ancient and abandoned passageways. There in The Underthing, she feels her powers and learns to see the truths that science—and her former classmates—have overlooked.” And yes indeed, it’s read by the author. I’ve heard him read in person and he’s an energetic, bombastic, bright narrator. (I can’t recall hearing more passion than when he regaled a StellarCon audience with a brief scene from memory from Cyrano de Bergerac.) Since then, he’s grown ever more comfortable in front of the microphone, whether at conventions, readings, or his YouTube videos, and this maturation and confidence shows in this well-produced recording. As far as the story goes, Rothfuss has warned readers that they should know what they are getting — this is not the Kvothe show — but I think he underestimates just how much his fans want to know and read and hear everything that’s going on under every nook and cranny. Or, perhaps, how desperate they are for a fix, any fix, until book three is due? Get: [Downpour | Audible]
The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones by If the past is prologue, then George R. R. Martin’s masterwork – the most inventive and entertaining fantasy saga of our time – warrants one hell of an introduction. At long last, it has arrived with The World of Ice & Fire. This volume is a comprehensive history of the Seven Kingdoms, providing vividly constructed accounts of the epic battles, bitter rivalries, and daring rebellions that lead to the events of A Song of Ice and Fire and HBO’s Game of Thrones. In a collaboration that’s been years in the making, Martin has teamed with Elio M. García, Jr., and Linda Antonsson, the founders of the renowned fan site Westeros.org – perhaps the only people who know this world almost as well as its visionary creator.” There’s full family trees — though not, of course, a Jon Snow parentage reveal — and in-depth explorations of the history and culture of Westeros. It’s all original content, though perhaps not as much narrative as we’d like. Still, we get Dotrice saying “Westeros” and for that I can only be happily content. I’m happy to feast here while we settle in further for the wait for Winds of Winter. Get: [Downpour | Audible]
Prince Lestat: The Vampire Chronicles by , narrated by The Vampire Chronicles, book 11, the novel “opens with the vampire world in crisis… vampires have been proliferating out of control; burnings have commenced all over the world, huge massacres similar to those carried out by Akasha in The Queen of the Damned… Old vampires, roused from slumber in the earth are doing the bidding of a Voice commanding that they indiscriminately burn vampire-mavericks in cities from Paris and Mumbai to Hong Kong, Kyoto, and San Francisco.” I could listen to Vance read pretty much anything, but his continuing penchant for exquisitely frightening vampires is a delight. Get: [Downpour | Audible]
Frontera by Lewis Shiner, read by Gabrielle de Cuir and Stefan Rudnicki for Skyboat Media (Oct 28) is Shiner’s Philip K. Dick and Nebula Award finalist debut sf novel, first published in 1984: “After the world’s governments collapsed, the corporations took control. Houston’s Pulsystems has sent an expedition to the lost Martian colony of Frontera to search for survivors, but Reese, aging hero of the US space program, knows better. The colonists are not only alive; they have discovered a secret so devastating that the new rulers of Earth will stop at nothing to own it. But none of them have reckoned with Kane, tortured veteran of the corporate wars, whose hallucinatory voices are urging him to complete an ancient cycle of heroism and alter the destiny of the human race.” Quoth George R. R. Martin: “Hard-edged and colorful and relentless, and altogether a compelling read.” I can’t wait to dig in further.
The Scar: New Crobuzon, Book 2 [Downpour] and Iron Council: New Crobuzon, Book 3 By Narrated By Jackson for new production. Jackson has narrated Mieville (in his Looking for Jake: Stories collection) as well as having turned in fantastic performances for Marcel Theroux (Strange Bodies), Karen Miller (The Falcon Throne), Benedict Jacka (the Alex Verus series), and Oliver Bowen (his Assassin’s Creed tie-in novels), and if we can’t have John Lee (whose Perdido Street Station is one of my favorite audio performances of all time) then Jackson, who truly does some marvelous characterization on these books from what I’ve gotten to so far, is far from a mere consolation.