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review 2017-08-17 11:08
There Are no Golden Ages: "New Maps of Hell" by Kingsley Amis
New Maps Of Hell: A Survey Of Science Fiction - Kingsley Amis

“No wife who finds her husband addicting himself to science fiction need fear that he is in search of an erotic outlet, anyway not an overt one.”

 

In "New Maps of Hell" by Kingsley Amis

 

To put it in another context, imagine I'd be teaching F. Scott Fitzgerald to undergraduates, some of whom would be of African descent. Do we look at the casual racism found in the books and say "that's wrong?" No, we assume that everyone "gets" that it's wrong. But we look at the fact that this was considered normal/acceptable in F. Scott's day. He's still a magnificent writer, but he reflects his own era. Scott’s similar to Amis. His attitude to women is a reflection of the times. We can't shy away from that and pretend it isn't so, and we can't negate him as a writer, because of it.

 

Imagine yourself living in Lisbon as a young woman; wouldn’t you dread the endless comments, abuse, physical assaults that were part of your everyday experience. Maybe this young woman dreamt of buying an electric cattle prod and zapping those who threatened her. But it was the times in which they lived back then. Women had no rights in the 60s. The literature of the times, reflected that. Shall we zap Amis with a cattle prod for being a man of his time? No. First of all, I believe that all good books, whether niche or mainstream or somewhere in-between, must have an implicit message they are trying to put across, which should stick out almost like a sore thumb. That said, I in no way think this should make books programmatic. Writing a novel with the sole purpose of creating a text more politically correct than anything that has ever been written might take away, all at once, all the drama and conflict that all good novels - needless to say, I am merely expressing my own point of view here - play with to a certain extent. Secondly, SF (fantasy and science-fiction), possibly more so than any other genre, and even at their most mechanically chlichéd, are written and read not simply for "idle entertainment", but as a platform for escapism. And "entertainment" and "escapism" are definitely not the same thing. Sure, escapism includes enjoyment, but there are many other elements to it as well. 

 

 

If you're into SF Criticism, read on.

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review 2017-07-11 19:34
THE REMINDERS Review
The Reminders - Val Emmich

Release Date: 05.30.17

Val Emmich's debut novel, The Reminders, is a Beatles lover's fantasy. This one is filled to the brim with song references and nods to John Lennon's New York City life (where, incidentally, a large chunk of this story takes place), I was almost too distracted by the shout outs to focus on the characters and their goings-on. 

Told in alternating first-person POVs, The Reminders is the story of two people: Joan, a young girl with the rare ability of being able to recall in vivid detail every memory of her life; and Gavin, a family friend currently mourning the loss of his husband, Sydney. Gavin, having grown up with Joan's parents, moves in with the family and soon he and Joan become close. She helps him by sharing with him every memory she has of Sydney (who is another friend of the family); he helps her by co-writing a song with Joan for an upcoming contest. Joan is a lover of music and aspires to be famous. 

Honestly, I wanted to like this novel . . . but just couldn't. The emotions are contrived; there is no "there" there. Toward the beginning of the novel, Joan decides she wants to write a crying song for the contest, because crying songs get remembered most. I feel Emmich tried writing a crying novel but forgot to give these characters enough life for the reader to care about them. A major part of the novel is Gavin's grieving over his late husband, but Sydney is nothing more than a name and a few memories. Their relationship is never shown in the light; Emmich tells the reader he or she should care, but doesn't show much of whythat is. 

Really, that's this novel's largest fault: the novelist falls prey to one of the oldest predators in fiction-writing — telling, not showing. I never got a grasp on these characters; they feel like ciphers and nothing more. Joan's extraordinary memory gift is almost never utilized, except to rattle off dates at random or tell Gavin about Sydney's visits through the years. The rest of the time, Joan is too preoccupied with writing her song and Gavin spends his days wallowing in grief and Joan's parents are basically big nothings. 

I wanted to love this novel, and for a moment I thought I did . . . but I realized I was in love with the Beatles references and not much else. This could have been a big literary experience; instead, it is a flimsy paint-by-the-numbers bore set against the smog and rush of the Big Apple. 

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC, which was given in exchange for an honest review.

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review 2017-05-05 22:42
BEARTOWN Review
Beartown: A Novel - Fredrik Backman

What can I say? Fredrik Backman, you've done it again. I am speechless and shocked and in awe etc etc.

 

I had the time of my life reading Beartown: a chilly, honest examination of a small, poor town whose future rests on the shoulders of the local teenage hockey team.

 

Unlike Backman's previous works, which focus on one (sometimes two, but usually) one character, Beartown features a large cast. I was very thrown off by this at first, as I'd become used to Backman's style; he really changes it up here. It took fifty or so pages for me to get a handle on all the characters, but once I did I really enjoyed the ride. All these people are endlessly fascinating to read about--they harbor grudges and secrets and hopes; Backman writes about the powerful, underdogs, and everyone in between with precision and raw skill. Topics such as homosexuality, the alluring power of groupthink, small town politics, rape culture, and parenthood are handled with surprising ease and dignity. Backman is a master of misdirection: he leads his readers in one direction, only to reveal it's all a fake out and, instead, takes them to a much more fulfilling place. Sorry, fanboying here. I just really love this author, okay?

 

Beartown is a fabulous novel. I couldn't find anything to complain about if I tried. I don't even like hockey, but the author made it not only interesting — he actually had me on the edge of my seat during the game scenes. That's a feat in itself!

 

Highly recommended to any and all readers. This is slightly different from his previous work, and I welcome the change. An author has to grow to survive. I cannot wait to see what Backman publishes next!

 

(I'd also like to show my appreciation for Neil Smith, who translated this fine novel from the original Swedish to English. Great job!)

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review 2017-04-23 17:01
THE WATCHER Review
The Watcher - Emery Armstrong Ross

Release Date: 04.25.17

 

Ross Armstrong's forthcoming debut novel, The Watcher, is a stylish and experimental challenge — one that will surely leave many a reader scratching his or her head when the story is done, but not without a faint sense of satisfaction . . . an inkling that something unique was just experienced.

 

Lily, the protagonist, lives in a new apartment building with her husband, Aiden. An avid bird watcher, she has taken to watching the people in the apartment building next to hers. Though she does not know these people, she is fascinated by them — going so far as to make names and backstories up for them. Soon she witnesses a murder and becomes entirely obsessed with catching the culprit, for she suspects he lives in the apartment she has spent so much time studying. Things get dangerous, out of control, and confusing . . . needless to say, Lily is the definition of an unreliable narrator (and I don't consider that a spoiler, as it is very much hinted at in the synopsis and apparent from page one). This is an in-depth look at a spiraling character in duress. The reader is totally inside her mind, helpless to do anything except hang on tight.

 

Like most reviewers have said, this novel confused me — but that's the point. It's intentional, though the reason for that does not become apparent until the story's final quarter. I must admit, I spent the first 50% of this one annoyed, lost . . . intrigued, too. This one just broods, right from the start. Lily is an interesting character, for sure. The author keeps the reader at a distance from her, yet by the end one feels as if he or she fully knows this character. I can't explain it, for this book is up to tricks I've ever experienced in modern fiction. I'll say this: The Watcher contains reveals that will knock you on your ass. So buckle up.

 

I finished this one feeling relieved that I made it through, relieved that it was over . . . and so happy I requested an ARC. While I can't award it a full five stars (the experimental style isn't a full success; I don't feel as though I fully grasped everything, either . . . maybe that's the point?), I can give it a solid four. Recommended. The Watcher hits shelves on Tuesday; check it out if you're looking for something off-beat and a little weird.

 

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review 2017-04-21 18:39
THE PERFECT STRANGER Review
The Perfect Stranger: A Novel - Megan Miranda

Megan Miranda's debut novel, All the Missing Girls, was a smash hit last year and put her name on the map. Seriously, is there anyone who book blogs and isn't aware of this woman? I'd think not.

 

I somehow never got around to reading that book, though I do have it on my shelf. Instead, my first Miranda novel is her second outing, The Perfect Stranger. This one focuses on former reporter-turned-teacher Leah, who has recently moved in with an old college roommate and taken a teaching job in western Pennsylvania. One day, her roommate (Emmy Grey is her name) disappears . . . and it's almost as if she never existed at all. While that is going on, there is another mystery unfolding: a couple of people are found murdered in a nearby lake, and Leah seems to be the nucleus of all these strange happenings.

 

Truth be told, this novel's synopsis in any form is more exciting than the story itself. This one just plods, never finding its legs. The narrative has as much energy as I do after sixty minutes on the elliptical at the gym. Leah is a decent character, though, and I like that Miranda made her a teacher. I just like reading about that occupation; it's fun, for me. It doesn't particular serve or hurt the story in any way.

 

The Perfect Stranger just feels too safe. You can sense the author wanting to say more, do more; this story wants to be more, but it falls woefully short. It says nothing of import and leaves the reader sorely disappointed. I guessed the 'twist' (if it can be called that) at approximately the 5% mark. Oops. I haven't felt this let down by a novel since reading Ruth Ware's latest. Ugh.

 

I plan to read this author's debut novel at some point, simply because I always give writers two chances to impress (or disappoint) me. But that won't happen any time soon.

 

Thanks to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for the ARC (which I am just now getting around to reading and reviewing - sorry!), which was given in exchange for an honest review.

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