Sep 032013

I’m saddened by the news of Frederik Pohl’s passing over the weekend. Pohl was one of the great science fiction writers of the twentieth century; he brought a wry sense of pathos to his stories that stood in opposition to the more aloof sensibilities of Asimov and Clarke. His 1977 book Gateway is one of my favorites and I often recommend it to younger readers who are curious about science fiction but aren’t sure where to begin. It’s a fun adventure story with surprising intellectual and emotional heft. In his later years, Pohl also maintained a charming and insightful blog.

Farewell, Mr. Pohl. Perhaps I’ll see you beyond the blue event horizon.

Jul 292013

Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls is a thrilling summer read that mashes up several genres into a propulsive narrative that never flags or becomes too enamored with itself. The story is a twist on the standard serial killer plot. We meet Harper, a sociopathic loner living in Depression-era Chicago who stumbles across a mysterious house that has doors into the city spanning the twentieth century. For reasons never fully explained, the house uses Harper as its instrument to kill several young women across time. We also meet Kirby, a college-age woman in early-90s Chicago who is the only person to survive one of Harper’s attacks. She is obsessed with finding her assailant and, thanks to an internship at the Sun-Times, begins piecing together the strange connections that link her with the other victims.

The plot may seem outlandish, but Beukes grounds it with rich characterizations. The inner dialogues of her characters are some of the best writing I’ve seen in recent years. Her meticulous research also pays off in vivid depictions of Chicago across the years. The ending left me a bit frustrated because I wanted more of an explanation for the book’s terrible events. But by not giving the reader a pat conclusion, the book leaves a more lasting impression.

Jun 272013

I’ve enjoyed Stephen King’s books since I was a kid, but I’m the first to recognize his penchant for overwriting. He sometimes delves into a character’s head for several pages when a few paragraphs would do. That’s why Joyland is such a pleasant surprise. It’s an economical thriller that is thoroughly engaging but doesn’t overstay its welcome. It tells the story of Devon Jones, a lovelorn college student coming of age in the early 1970s who takes a summer job at Joyland, a struggling amusement park in North Carolina. This being a King novel, there are plenty of eccentric characters, a restless ghost, and a romance, all of it infused with a bittersweet nostalgia.

Joyland doesn’t break any new narrative ground. It’s marketed as a pulpy murder mystery, but King’s prose is graceful and understated. For a beach read (it’s not available as an e-book), it’s surprisingly thoughtful. I read it in just a few hours, but the story still lingers in my thoughts.

May 102013

Your reading recommendation for the weekend is the first volume of Locke and Key, the brilliant comic scripted by Joe Hill. The story introduces us to the Locke children, who suffer a horrific family tragedy in the first few pages and find themselves moving across country to start a new life in their father’s New England hometown of Lovecraft. The Lockes are the heirs to the Keyhouse estate, a Gothic mansion that looks like something out of a, well, Lovecraft novel. The children soon discover why their new home is called Keyhouse as the supernatural begins to make its presence known.

I recently read the first volume again and enjoyed it as much as I did the first time. Hill’s tight plotting doesn’t skimp on character development; all three Locke kids have distinct personalities that come into full view as they struggle to understand the strangeness creeping into their lives. Subsequent volumes delve into Keyhouse’s history, but Welcome to Lovecraft begins the bizarre tale on a deeply human note.

Apr 232013

I’m in a desperate race to finish my book club selection before Thursday, so you’ll have to excuse the abbreviated post. If you’re looking for something to read, you could do much worse than Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood. I’ll give a brief review in a few days. But first, the text awaits.

Jan 172013

If you’re a fan of the original Star Wars trilogy, you owe it to yourself to check out the first issue of Brian Wood’s ongoing Star Wars comic. It picks up the story in the aftermath of the first Death Star’s destruction, with the Rebel Alliance trying to figure how to capitalize on its first significant victory and Darth Vader enduring the wrath of the Emperor. Wood gives us a bit of insight into how Luke, Leia, and Han cope with the toll of war while telling a brisk story of intrigue that will keep me buying future issues. And the book’s artwork nicely captures the visual sweep of the movies. Until Episode VII hits theaters, this should be enough to scratch your Force itch.

Jan 152013

My good friend (and publisher) Adam Wahlberg has unveiled the website for Think Piece Publishing, his one-man imprint. I remember when Adam first shared, over my beers in my living room, his plans to start a publishing business and I’m thrilled to see his dream take shape. Take a moment to check out the eclectic lineup of authors Adam has assembled and the titles he has lined up for the coming year. You’ll even find a photo that makes me look better than I reasonably should.

Jan 072013

This charming illustrated interpretation of a Fresh Air interview between Terry Gross and author Maurice Sendak is worth your time:

Sendak makes some clear-eyed yet deeply humane observations about growing old, losing the people he loves, and his atheism. He also manages to leave Terry Gross momentarily speechless with a comment so generous that it made me cry a little bit as I sat at my desk. If only we all had the words and presence of mind to tell the people we love how much they mean to us.

Dec 252012

My dad was very puzzled by the copy of Building Stories that I received as a gift from my sister and her husband. “What do you do with it?” he asked.

“You read it, Dad,” I said.

His brow furrowed in consternation. “And what happens when you’re done with it?”

“I don’t know, Dad. It’s a book. You put it on a shelf and maybe read it again someday.”

“It’s a book?”

“Basically, yes.”


But I think he remains unconvinced.

Dec 202012

I’m on vacation for the next ten days, which should allow me to catch up on my comics reading. I’ve been sampling some of the Marvel Now! reboots and the new Thor and All-New X-Men series are compelling enough to keep me purchasing subsequent issues. I’ve largely avoided X-Men titles because they require a map, compass, and slide rule to understand the continuity. But Marvel may have found the recipe to attract new readers like me who might have been previously intimidated by the decades of backstory. Of course, they did something similar with the Ultimate line a few years back and that universe is still going strong. So I might need that map after all.

I want to say more about other comics like Saga and The Massive, but I’ll save that for my year-end round-up.