Category Archives: strange

Benjamin Wood — The Ecliptic

The setting for most of this novel is an artist’s colony on a remote island off the coast of Turkey where artists who have lost their muse have come to recapture their creative brilliance. No one knows the other residents actual names or backgrounds. There is no contact with the outside world. There are no clocks to keep track of time.

The protagonist, Knell, is a painter who has been living on the island for years. Her friends, other longtime residents, are a playwright, an architect, and a novelist. The story begins when a young disturbed man arrives at the colony and upsets the routine.

The novel explores the twisted mental state of Knell’s mind and her creativity. The second section of the book takes us back to her previous life in the London art world of the 1960s and what brought her to the island.

This is a well written literary novel. The characters are captivating, the settings are beautifully painted, and the twisted plot keeps you reading. But a warning—you may be disappointed with the ending. I’m not sure if I was or not.

e·clip·tic

/əˈkliptik/
noun     ASTRONOMY
  1. 1.
    a great circle on the celestial sphere representing the sun’s apparent path during the year, so called because lunar and solar eclipses can occur only when the moon crosses it.

Steve Hamilton — The Second Life of Nick Mason

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There is no fun or laughter in this story, but it gripped me and kept me reading into the wee small hours of the morning. I’m not even sure how to classify this book—thriller, crime fiction—but from the point of view of the crook, not the cop.

Nick Mason is a small time criminal in Chicago. Caught in a bad situation, he is sent to prison for 25 to life. He makes a deal with mob boss Cole who is running the crime world from prison. Cole manages to get Mason’s conviction overturned and his release after five years’ time. The condition is that when his phone rings, he will answer and do whatever is asked.

Mason fascinated me. He hates what he is doing but is extremely good at it. His ex-wife has remarried and won’t allow him to see his daughter. He hangs around her soccer games in the shadows to watch her play. He buys a dog and starts dating the woman at the pet store. He shares a luxury apartment, supplied by Cole, with the woman who runs the restaurant where his “official job” is assistant manager. They barely speak to each other.

Tense, well written, many good characters, a great picture of the underside of Chicago.

Cory Doctorow and Charles Stress — The Rapture of the Nerds

Full Title:  The Rapture of the Nerds 
A tale of singularity, posthumanity, and awkward social situations.

I read somewhere that speculative fiction that predicts the future is truly about the era in which it is written. I believe this was in reference to one of the classic dystopian novels, Brave New World or 1984. The Rapture of the Nerds is written in our far-flung future but definitely reflects our current world.

The novel is set in a future Earth where most of the population has chosen to leave and become part of “the cloud,” which occupies the inner solar system. The protagonist, Huw, is quite happy in his simple home and garden in Wales where he spends his time throwing pottery. His parents gave up their earthly bodies and left for the posthuman cloud fifty years ago.

Huw volunteers for jury duty to judge whether or not to accept the latest technology tossed back to Earth from the cloud. This leads him to being chosen as witness for those still living on our planet when a decision is eminent as to whether to preserve Earth or use its resources and move everyone into the cloud.

The book is ridiculously funny, full of pokes and prods at today’s world. If I read it ten times I would probably catch something new each time.

I have read other novels by Doctorow but none by Stress. Together they wrote a rollicking good story.

Curtis C. Chen — Waypoint Kangaroo

Waypoint Kangaroo is a delightful, high-tech, SF thriller with lots of humor thrown in. Kangaroo is the code name for a spy who has the unique ability to open a “pocket” into an alternate universe where he can store all sorts of tools and toys and retrieve them later. Since he’s somewhat of a loose cannon, he has been ordered to go on vacation on a tourist ship to Mars so that he’ll be out of the way while the home office is audited.

Of course, he runs into trouble on his vacation.

The characters are fun and the plot is fast-paced and full of twists and turns. The author has a vivid imagination when it comes to the space ship, the techy stuff, and the weird “pocket.”

Chen wrote a captivating first novel. Try it. You might like it.

Walter Mosley — Inside a Silver Box

I’ve read Walter Mosley novels before, usually mysteries. Knowing he writes science fiction too, I thought Inside a Silver Box was one of his SF works. But it is much, much more. I’ve posted about mixed genres; this is the ultimate mix. It probably can’t be classified. Try fantasy, SF, mystery, thriller, quest, literary, psychological, philosophical…. It also fits all of my three H’s—Head, Heart, and Humor.

Two people, black thug and rich white girl, are perpetrator and victim brought together when he saves her life. They become friends and together they set out to save the world from the Silver Box and its evil alter ego. If it sounds like a wild tale, it is. But Mosley is an excellent writer who makes you think.

The book is unique, strange, and for me captivating.

Gene Wolfe — Borrowed Man

Talk about weird concepts — E. A. Smithe is a clone of an author from a previous time who lives in a library and can be checked out like a book. Colette Coldbrook’s father died and her brother was murdered. Before being murdered he passed a book (written by Smithe) to Collete that he believed held a secret. So she checked the Smithe clone out of the library to help her discover the secret. Then she disappeared. Smithe sets out to try to find Colette.

It’s a good mystery/SF story. Devious twists and turns and lots of fun along the way.

Matthew Quick — Love May Fail

This book is interesting to me as a writer because it is character driven with multiple first person point of view (POV). Very unusual. I tried writing a novel that way, years ago, but it didn’t work too well. Maybe I’ll try it again.

Each section of the book is a different POV, returning to the first POV for the last section.

First we meet Portia Kane (first POV), a woman leaving a twenty-year, unhappy marriage. She returns to her hometown where she hears that her high school teacher, Nate Vernon (second POV) —“Mr. Vernon,” Portia’s mentor— has left teaching and disappeared after being beaten by a student. She searches for him, wanting to save him and bring him back to teaching.

She crosses paths with Chuck Bass (third POV), who was also a student of the same teacher. He carries a card Mr. Vernon gave his students on the last day of his class, which reads “Official Member of the Human Race.” Chuck is a recovered drug addict who has turned his life around and is studying to be a teacher.

There is even a fourth POV slipped in between Nate Vernon and Chuck Bass. The late Sister Mauve Smith’s section is written in the form of letters to her son, Nate.

The story is full of coincidences or “God’s will” as Sister Mauve calls them. It was a good read, although I almost didn’t finish it after the first chapter.

Gregory Benford & Larry Niven — Shipstar

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Larry Niven is one of my all-time favorite science fiction authors and Gregory Benford is not far behind. Shipstar is hard SF based on science and technology pushed beyond our imaginations, but not beyond Niven’s and Benford’s. An Earth starship visits a huge bowl in space, powered across the galaxy by a star, filled with multiple forms of alien intelligent life. We are not only entertained by the humans’ reactions to this wonder, but we are exposed to aliens point of view trying to figure out what these strange primates are all about.

This is the second of a two volume saga. You can read it alone but will understand much more if you read the first volume, Bowl of Heaven, first.

Christopher Fowler — The Invisible Code

How many times have you read a novel with a pair of police detectives as protagonists? I must have read hundreds. But these two are old men who should have been retired from the police years ago. One is well dressed and organized and follows the facts. The other is beat-up, rumpled, intuitive, and he consults with psychics, historians, museum curators… He’s more of a historian than a detective. They work out of the Peculiar Crimes Unit in London.

Author Fowler brings us the English culture, atmosphere, history, social mores, foibles, superstitions, and more. His characters are humorous, interesting, quirky, and intelligent. His plot twists and turns. The two detectives, Bryant and May, start with their boss requesting an investigation of his wife who is behaving strangely and circles into investigating the boss for murder and more.

The Invisible Code is a delightful read.

Lydia Netzer — How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky

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Ms. Netzer is an author with a unique twist to her storytelling. I don’t know how to classify this book. The genre could be science fiction, fantasy, romance, humor…take your pick. Whatever you call it, the book is enchanting.

The story revolves around two people who have much in common (both astronomers, born at the same time in the same place) but whose personalities are polar opposites. Irene is all about facts and science, doesn’t believe in love, and is creating black holes. George is a dreamer, mixing astronomy and astrology, trying to prove the gods exist. They are drawn together like magnets, but neither realizes that their mothers were best friends who plotted and planned their children’s lives.

The fabric of the story is woven with family and friendship, sex and love, science and fantasy, romance and loneliness, humor and heart.

The author’s previous novel Shine, Shine, Shine was also a delightful tale combining science fiction, fantasy, romance, and humor.