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Unpossible To Alpha

I have not done a good job of talking about the books I've been reading, so here's a rundown of everything I've read since the last time I did so (which was back in the middle of March. Yikes!)....

Unpossible and Other Stories by Daryl Gregory - When I read the titular story when it was first published in F&SF, I knew that Gregory was a writer worth reading. "Unpossible" is about a man who used to travel between worlds when he was a child and how he tries to do it now that he's middle-aged and it is utterly brilliant. Other stories are about a world of super-heroes and villains (for which I am a sucker), the rise of a new religion, a woman who spends most of her time thinking and needs others to watch her body, and so much more. All are well worth reading.

Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records by John Cook with Mac McCaughn and Laura Ballance - Merge Records is one of, if not the best record label out there. This book came out a few years ago to celebrate Merge's 20th anniversary and it is mostly an oral history of not only the label but bands they work with, such as Spoon, Arcade Fire, Neutral Milk Hotel, and more. Naturally, Superchunk gets a lot of chapters in the book. Why naturally? That's the band that started the label...well, two of the members anyway. I've become a huge Superchunk fan over the last few years, so I loved reading about the history I missed while it was happening.

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell - I liked this book but didn't love it. I felt like it was inconsistent and not just because there were different sections about the three Bigtree children, who grew up in the titular theme park. The children are having separate experiences and I connected more with Kiwi's attempts to venture out into the world as a janitor for The World of Darkness, another theme park. Osceola was just odd. I really liked Ava but the further I read, the more I hoped a really bad thing wouldn't happen...and then it did. I'm glad I read the book but even months later I'm still not sure how to process it.

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway - I read and absolutely loved Harkaway's The Gone-Away World last year and was eagerly awaiting his second novel. It didn't disappoint even if I ultimately didn't love it quite as much as the debut, though that could have had something to do with the fact I couldn't devote time to devouring it. Anyway, Joe Spork is a clock repairman who helps to set a catastrophe in motion and then has to truly become his father's son to help set things right again. Plus, 80 year-old former spy Edie Banister is awesome.

The Professionals by Owen Laukkanen - This one, on the other hand, I did have the time to devour and did so in three days. It's about a group of struggling former college students who decide to become kidnappers for a living. Needless to say, things go wrong. Besides their viewpoint, we also learn about the various parties who pursue them. It's a page-turner in the best way.

Summer of '68 by Tim Wendel - I try to read a baseball book every year around when the season starts and this was this year's model. It focuses on the "Year of the Pitcher" and specifically the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals that year, though it delves into other teams, other sports, and other events. Interesting to read this during this new era of the pitcher - we've had 5 perfect games in the last three years.

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 6 edited by Jonathan Strahan - This is a massive collection of really good stories published in 2011 and I'm amazed at how quickly Strahan gets this volume out. No way to talk about all the stories, of course, but highlights include Cory Doctorow's "The Brave Little Toaster," M. Rickert's "The Corpse Painter's Masterpiece," Kij Johnson's "The Man Who Bridged the Mist," and Neil Gaiman's "The Case of Death and Honey."

Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation by Tom Bissell - Oh, this is the goods. Bissell's essays range from looks at filmmakers and TV creators to thoughts on literature and how-to writing books (the brilliant "Writing About Writing About Writing") to much more. He's a great writer and someone you should be reading,

I Am An Executioner by Rajesh Parameswaran - I'd never heard of this writer but I'd heard good things about this story collection and those things were right. He writes about a tiger on the loose, a man who pretends to be a doctor, someone whose job it is to observe the minute details of part of someone's life (or is it?), and more. My favorite story was "Bibhutibhushan Malik’s Final Storyboard,” which deals with love and creation in a man's later years.

The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel - The choices the members of The Lola Quartet make in high school come back to haunt them in a novel that deals with answering questions of what kind of people they are and what kind of people they want to be. And yes, I know that description makes the book seem lame but it's well-written and engaging.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain - This novel started slowly for me and I wasn't sure I was really into it. A group of soldiers is being honored at halftime of a Dallas Cowboys game at Thanksgiving; they are famous for winning a firefight in heroic fashion. At first, the soldier banter bothered me but then the book gets into a rhythm of comedy and the seriousness of life. Billy Flynn is a fascinating character who I really became invested in. I really recommend this one.

Fear of Music by Jonathan Lethem - This is part of the 33 1/3 book series where writers tackle an album for 100 plus pages. Fear of Music was the 3rd album from the Talking Heads, an album I was not familiar with, so when I knew Lethem was doing one of these books I bought the album. I've always liked Talking Heads and actually have a two-disc overview of their work but most of the songs were new to me. Lethem alternates his chapters between talking about the songs on the album and larger questions about the album as a whole. Interesting, though I would recommend the album more than the book.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins - I've already mentioned that I was reading this and I quickly went from reading a chapter a night to just reading it as much as possible. Once the plot kicks into gear, it's hard to put it down. I was necessarily surprised that the plot went the way it did but I do like the cliffhanger ending - it was hard not to start reading the third book right away and I'm sure I'll get to it before too long. I also really like that Katniss is a flawed hero, a reluctant hero. Anyway, I'm sure you've all read this one before me.

Alpha by Greg Rucka - This is the first novel in a new trilogy by Rucka, whom I've long been a fan of for his novels and his comics. Jad Bell is a soldier placed in Wilsonville, an amusement park along the lines of Disneyland, in order to keep his eye out for a terrorist attack. He gets one and there are complications, the main one being his ex-wife and deaf teenage daughter are in the park when the attack finally happens. It's a thriller of the highest order and compulsively readable. I'm already looking forward to the next book in the series.


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