Arcadia

Arcadia
By Iain Pears

arcadiaWriters have always adapted to new methods of storytelling, so when Iain Pears tells us that his latest book was conceived and written as an app – and is indeed also available as an app, in which form it includes extra material – we shouldn’t be surprised.

Of course some novels lend themselves to this approach more than others. Arcadia is a good example of what works, being a complex story about a woman living in (our) future who invents a time machine that can also create fictional worlds. The narrative then splits into multiple threads that follow various characters (and their doubles) through different timelines or realities, from pastoral fantasy to dystopic technopoly. Entanglement is the name of the game and Pears does a great job manipulating his cat’s cradle of a plot to its unexpected conclusion.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
By Alan Dean Foster

force-awakensAlan Dean Foster is a screen-to-page veteran with dozens of novelization credits to his name, including such titles as Alien, The Thing, and even, “a long time ago,” the original Star Wars novel, whose basic plot is re-heated and served up here as The Force Awakens.

It was during the making of that first part of the franchise, or Episode IV, that Harrison Ford famously said of the screenplay, to its author George Lucas, “you can type this shit, George, but you can’t say it.” The same oddly engaging blend of fast, swashbuckling action and lithic dialogue is still very much of the essence here as the next generation of star warriors gets hip to the Force and tries to save the universe. A section of colour photos from the movie is included.

The Deep Sea Diver’s Syndrome

The Deep Sea Diver’s Syndrome
By Serge Brussolo (translated from the French by Edward Gauvin)

deepseadiverSerge Brussolo is a prolific and popular French author of genre-stretching speculative fiction that until now has been unavailable in English translation. The Deep Sea Diver’s Syndrome fixes the translation problem, and with any luck more of Brussolo’s intriguing work will soon be on the way.

Our hero, David Sarella, is an artist of the future. What this means is that he has a psychic gift that allows him to descend into a somewhat stable subconscious dream world and bring back material artefacts sculpted from his spiritual-psychological essence: fleshy objets d’art or “oneiric ectoplasms” that have cornered the art market and consigned all those paintings and sculptures by Old Masters to the dustbin of history.

The problem is that “diving” can be addictive. David grows ever more attached to his imaginary world, which leads to conflicts and complications in his surface life. If you’ve seen the movie Inception you’ll have some idea of how it all works, but the presentation here is really so original, provocative, and beautiful, in a surreal way, that it results in one of the most fascinating allegories ever for the mystery of artistic creation.

Three Moments of an Explosion

Three Moments of an Explosion
By China Miéville

three-momentsChina Miéville’s stories resist classification, ranging from speculative fiction to fragmentary experiments in narrative form. At times they also resist clear meaning, remaining enigmatic parables of something that can only be vaguely sensed.

If these stories are parables, or trailers for a film we’ll never see, how do we interpret them? What are we supposed to make of icebergs floating over the streets of London, ruined oil rigs that walk on shore to give birth, a phantom-disease syndrome born of the performance of its symptoms, and J-horror-style ghosts rising from a German lake?

You can find political or environmental meanings in Miéville’s fantasies, but perhaps the best way to interpret them is as parables of interpretation. This is fiction written for a new world and a new century: concerned with how to read its signs and understand our place in a suddenly alien culture.

Power Surge

Power Surge
By Ben Bova

power-surgeThe dark side of American politics is the subject of Ben Bova’s Power Surge. The prolific SF veteran is on familiar ground with this swift sequel to his novel Power Play, detailing the further adventures of an idealistic young astronomy professor named Jake Ross who comes to Washington, D.C. as the science advisor to a freshman senator.

Ross has a plan to revolutionize America’s energy supply with alternative, sustainable fuels, but quickly runs afoul of powerful interests and the bottomless cynicism and corruption of the political system.

Crooked

Crooked
By Austin Grossman

crookedAlternative history takes some weird detours indeed in Crooked, Austin Grossman’s imaginative re-telling of the political career of Richard Nixon.

In Grossman’s version of the story, American exceptionalism has come about thanks to the use of occult rituals and necromancy to harness dark, supernatural forces. But while Washington, Lincoln, and Eisenhower were all master mages, Nixon is a bumbling neophyte when it comes to understanding the portals to other dimensions that open in the Oval Office, or the monstrous secrets torn from the pages of H. P. Lovecraft and The X Files that lurk behind the fabric of everyday reality.

The Soviets are adept at playing this great dark game as well, and from the McCarthy hearings all the way through to Watergate we see Tricky Dick entangled in a truly countercultural Cold War that has him fighting alongside a pair of Russian agents against the forces of evil.

Crooked is a clever, fun read, and one that raises an interesting question. Are we now so used to conspiracy theories that the only room left for parody is in fantasies this extreme?

Extreme Dentistry

Extreme Dentistry
By Hugh A. D. Spencer

extreme-dentistrWho knows what horrors and madness lies behind the storefronts of North American shopping malls?

Hugh A. D. Spencer knows, and in this entertaining romp, which begins in the food court of Toronto’s Sherway Gardens Mall, he lets us in on the terrifying secret.

The setup basically re-visits Men in Black, with Mormons filling in as the well-dressed monster hunters tracking down members of a bloodthirsty alien Hive, but Spencer stacks the story with so many odd elements – like using shopping malls as alien vectors, and the Hive’s fatal predilection for trashy concept art – that it all seems wonderfully strange. Published by a small press, this is one that may have slipped under a lot of radars, but it’s well worth hunting down.