Posted tagged ‘Jonathan Lethem’

Review: The Manual of Detection

May 8, 2009

I have somewhat mixed feelings when it comes to Jedediah Berry’s first novel.  On one hand this makes for an impressive debut work, with plenty of brilliant ideas (especially the literal theft of November 12th).   I also have to give bonus points to Berry for being a fellow UMass: Amherst English department alum.

On the other hand, I think Berry spends too much time in the novel paying tribute to his influences instead of finding his own voice.  I spent the first third of the novel thinking “I get that you like Kafka, please move on”.  Fortunately Berry does eventually manage to overcome this and begins to borrow from his sources instead of merely emulating them.

The end result is a very surreal, faintly dreamlike, noir meditation on the need to achieve a balance between chaos and order.  The closest think I can think of to compare it to is Jonathan Lethem’s Gun With Occasional Music, which definitely puts Berry in some good company.  I definitely recommend this to anyone that’s a fans of the New Weird.  And I’ll definitely be back for whatever Berry chooses to follow up this novel with to see where he goes from here.

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Review: The Man In the High Castle

August 1, 2008

I’ve been slowly working on reading the complete works of Philip K. Dick, maybe two books a year.  He is one of my absolute favorite authors, and thus I’m sort of ashamed to be getting to the Man in the High Castle, one of his most well known and well regarded works, so late.  I’m happy to report that the novel lived up to much of the hype, becoming one of the few works of alternate history I thoroughly enjoyed.

Very roughly stated, this is a novel in which the axis powers won world war two and divide up the globe accordingly.  What set the story apart, enough so that it won Dick his only major science fiction award (a slight now made up for by naming an award in his honor) is the multiple narrative structure that Dick employs.  This is a technique he used in quite a few of his better novels, A Martian Time-Slip comes to mind, but this is where it may be put to it’s best use.  Every character is fully realized and they all have their own perspectives on the world of the novel that grants the reader an incredibly nuanced feel for the environment, especially consider this is such a short book.

This is not quite at the top of my list of Dick’s works, but it’s very close.  At Readercon (yet again), Jonathan Lethem mentioned that this is his book that is most likely to make a new reader want to seek out another of his novels.  I think I agree with that assessment, and Dick is very much an author that more people should read.

Conreport: Readercon 19

July 21, 2008

I’m back from this year’s Readercon, and fighting off the effects of sleep deprivation so we’ll see how this goes.  The con was was always the most interesting and rewarding of the year, and yes that includes the library conferences I attend.  In fact nothing else even comes close.

It certainly didn’t hurt that Jonathan Lethem (my favorite author this week) was one of the guests of honor.  Although a disapointingly large portion of the conference seemed to be dedicated to making him defend the path of his career (from a genre author to a literary one according to quite a few critics).  There was even an entire hour dedicated to an interview on the subject (apart from the typical guest of honor interview).  However, the session was very revealing, both of Lethems views and of the regard that fandom holds him in.

Another interesting trend this year was a focus on modern horror, largely due to the inclusion at the convention of the first Shirley Jackson awards.  Hosting the awards ceremony at Readercon was great in that it attracted a number of newer writers to the con, and allowed for one of the highlights for me, namely getting to see Caitlin R. Kiernan recall the words to Come Sail Away (one of the odder panels).

As for other highlights for me.  The large focus on Stanislaw Lem, another of my favorite writers, particularly in regards to both his reoccuring theme of language barriers and the effects translators have on literature, with a lot of input from the great Michael Kandel.  There was a particularly good reading by Michael Swanwick and his wife Sunday morning.  And of course the Saturday night entertainment (two one act plays by guest of honor James Patrick Kelly followed by the annual Kirk Poland Memorial Bad Prose Competition) were a great cap to the entire thing.  I think I’m going to have nightmare of enduring Yves Meynard’s alphabetic onslaught on Robert E. Howard for quite some time (I think it took a good 10 minutes to fully recover my breathe from laughter after that).

Readercon is Upon Us

July 17, 2008

I’m heading off to Readercon for the weekend, the best convention by far on the East coast.  If anyone happens to be in the greater Boston area this weekend and has some free time I highly recommend it.  This convention has the best ratio of pros to attendees of any con I know of, and the level of the discourse (one panel this year is entitled Consciousness, Free Will, Evolution, and Memory) is just lightyears beyond what you’d experience elsewhere.

Oh and since the guests this year are Jonathan Lethem and James Patrick Kelly (along with Stanislaw Lem as the ghost of honor) this is the must attend con this year.  I’ll be back on Monday.

Review: This Shape We’re In

July 14, 2008

For part two of my pre-readercon reading list it’s second guest of honor, Jonathan Lethem’s novella This Shape We’re In.  To be upfront about my review, I am biased when it comes to Lethem.  He’s probably my favorite modern author, in large part because his two primary influences, Philip K. Dick and Steve Gerber are the same writers I grew up devouring.  He’s also the author of my favorite book of the last decade, Motherless Brooklyn.

So, with that little disclaimer out of the way, on to the review.  This Shape We’re In is a very odd and incredibly tightly written story.  It focuses on two characters searching for one of their sons who has run away to join a cult, as well as the purpose of their lives, oh and lest I forget the purpose of their environment as well.  The environment in question, the shape, is a body that may or may not be human.  It could also be a generational ship, a fallout shelter, or possibly a trojan horse.

The brilliance of the story comes from the craft on display.  For nearly any other writer a story this ambitious would form a novel.  For Lethem, the tale encompases a total of 55 pages and feels like it’s exactly the length it ought to be.  This is world building of the first order, there is no extraneous exposition (or really any exposition at all for that matter), yet the environment feels fully realized.

This story (if you can still find a copy) makes a great introduction to Lethem’s work, very highly recommended.