Over the last few weeks I’ve read quite a few interesting books, which for some reason mostly fall into a fantasy/sci-fi bag. I read a lot of what is commonly called literary fiction and I often fall in love with the quality of the prose or the way a character is fragile yet strong and true to the world, so to speak. But it is more often the strange books that really grab me, the ones with magic and dragons or spaceships or vampires. So here we go.
The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman: The first thing I read by Felix Gilman was a short story in Weird Tales a few years ago. I looked him up and read Thunderer, a steampunk/fantasy novel that smelled faintly of Charles Dickens. The Half-Made World continues in the same direction, genre-wise, as Thunderer, but now adds a sort of wild-west feel to everything. We have outlaws with demon-possessed guns fighting a 1984-esque technology-based regime that is expanding into an unmade world, where the earth itself behaves like an ocean, unknown in the distance. It is well-written and engaging but slow going in parts. Recommended for fans of steampunk that think steampunk has stagnated, or fans of fantasy who grow tired of dragons and easy magic.
Verdict: If the words “Weird-fiction”, “steampunk” or “demon-possessed guns” appeal to you: buy. Otherwise bypass, as it will not be your cup of tea. There is no borrowing this book.
The Twelve by Justin Cronin: The second in the series of apocalyptic vampire fiction by the literary-author-turned-genre-writer (oh, how I think he hates that distinction) carries on where The Passage left off, in a future where mankind clings to life hiding from monstrous vampires. We are treated to glimpses of the world as it collapses, but mostly the timeline is the same as in The Passage, with the same characters. The pacing is faster, and I found myself enjoying it more, perhaps because I knew what to expect. One of the best books I read this year. Exactly my cup of tea, well-written vampire fiction, where the vampires are true monsters.
Downside Girls by Jaine Fenn: Downside Girls is a collection of science fiction short stories that all take place in a city in the sky. The city is split into the more prosperous “Upside” where the wealthy live, and “Downside.” Introduce into the flying city the fact that politicians are not voted out of office but assassinated by “Angels” with superhuman abilities and you have a very interesting setting. The stories themselves are well-written, if a little unforgiving in the sense that they assume that the reader is familiar with the world, which Jaine has used in her previous novels. Good for fans of gritty science fiction, or fans of Jaine’s previous work. Good, but not great.
Trust Me, I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday: I don’t read much nonfiction these days, but this book caught my attention somehow. It is about how the media can be (and is) manipulated to report “news” that is in essence fabricated. Rumors are printed as fact, and product advertisements presented as news. The system feeds on itself as the most outrageous stories get the most views, allowing the media to sell more advertising. This rush-to-report without checking facts is especially true around elections, since the important thing is not to inform voters, but to sell ad space and gather “hits.” Everything from small blogs to CNN and The Guardian get a beating in this book, which I consider important reading for anyone interested in the media, especially now that so many of us consume it online.
Verdict: Buy a few copies and pass around to friends and family.