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We all have times when all we want is to be alone, times when the presence of others is just too much for us to deal with. But even the most misanthropic among us has the occasional desire to see a face, to hear a voice, to interact with another person in some manner. How long could you go without that simple interpersonal contact?

And what would happen to you if you tried to find out?

Alix Nathan’s “The Warlow Experiment” (Doubleday, $26.95) tells the story of one such effort. It’s an evocative and atmospheric work of historical fiction featuring strong Gothic undercurrents and a relentless bleakness; a dark book packed with shadows both literal and figurative. The pull of the narrative is steady and strong, inviting readers into a world that will haunt their imaginations long after the final page is turned.

Inspired by a contextless advertisement from a real-life source, Nathan has imagined a vivid and unsettling place, one where the wealthy can indulge their whims without accountability and the poverty-stricken are willing to sacrifice everything for the perceived comfort money can bring. It is a tale of the power of isolation, the necessity of physical and emotional contact to the well-being of the social animal that is man.

Published in Buzz

Some of the best speculative fiction comes when a writer is able to extrapolate forward in a manner that is both engaging and plausible. And when that speculation leans toward the dystopian? Well – go ahead and sign me up.

That’s what Rob Hart has done with his new novel “The Warehouse” (Crown, $27); it’s an exploration of a near-future that reads like nothing so much as a darkest timeline look at the future of our society as it relates to the corporate monoliths that consume all that lies before them in their quest for ever-increasing growth.

By spinning out the trends toward ubiquity among some of our larger corporations, Hart takes us deep into the shadows cast by the cheerful bright lights of “progress.” His tale of those tangled in that all-encompassing web – those at the top and at the bottom alike – offers a satiric, chilling and bleakly funny perspective on the potential endpoint of our cultural fascination with the biggest of big business.

Published in Style

There are a lot of pitfalls when it comes to choosing to dig into a literary series. The truth is that a lot of these series, while perfectly OK, are just that – OK. And if you’re OK with OK, well … OK. But if you’re someone who wants something more, someone who is looking for a much richer experience than you can get from the standard-issue sci-fi or fantasy series, taking the plunge can be tough.

Tom Miller’s latest is “The Philosopher’s War” (Simon & Schuster, $26.99). It’s the second installment in a series begun last year with “The Philosopher’s Flight.” It is also a book that strives for that richness of experience, one replete with interesting ideas, compelling characters and an ambitious world. And while it might not quite reach the heights to which it ultimately aspires, it still soars plenty high indeed.

Published in Buzz

There’s nothing quite like stumbling upon a great book.

Yes, we all have our favorite authors and our favorite genres, our favorite styles and favorite publishers, but every once in a while, if we’re lucky, we wind up with something unexpected in our hands. Maybe you read a review blurb, maybe a friend pointed it out to you – doesn’t matter how you got it, just that you got it.

“First Cosmic Velocity” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $26) by Zach Powers is one of those books for me. It is an absolute gem of a book, a tale of tragedy disguised as triumph. It is a beautifully-crafted work of literary genre writing – part historical fiction, part sci-fi, with hints of family drama and magical realism thrown into the mix as well. It’s a story unlike anything you’ve read, told from a perspective unlike any you’ve experienced.

Published in Style
Tuesday, 30 July 2019 22:02

Take a chance on ‘Chances Are…’

One of the realities of life is that as we grow older, it becomes more and more difficult to hold onto all of the pieces of our pasts. Parts of our lives that were earth-shattering at the time prove to not be nearly so important or even memorable. Our best friends at 20 are too rarely our best friends at 60 – and even if they are, all of us are so very different.

Time changes us all.

Few contemporary novelists capture that inevitability quite like Richard Russo. He has an incredible gift for treating the passage of time with honesty while also finding ways to accentuate the positives that come with age. His grasp of how relationships ebb and flow with time and place is largely unparalleled.

His latest is “Chances Are…” (Knopf, $26.95), a story of three men, former college roommates now in their mid-sixties, returning to the summer cottage where the paradigm of their relationship had forever changed one fateful decades-ago night. This might be the last time they’re ever together like this, so the question is – what is left to be said?

Russo’s many strengths come together here in one thoughtful and extremely readable package. His quietly elegant prose is perfect for rendering forth the emotional dynamic of the aging man; his knack for bringing small towns to life and his love of the coast come into play as well. And through it all, the steady tick-tock of time passing – a sound that is far less frightening when Russo controls the clock.

Published in Style

Few writers today have been working the cultural criticism beat as long and as successfully as Chuck Klosterman. To many, his is THE voice when it comes to pop analysis and contextualization. But while his latest book might explore some of those same ideas, it does so through a different literary lens.

“Raised in Captivity: Fictional Nonfiction” (Penguin, $26) offers the same sort of quick-hit cleverness that permeates Klosterman’s nonfiction, but via a delivery medium of short fiction. Flash fiction, really – none of the 34 pieces that make up this collection is more than a handful of pages and some are considerably shorter.

The book’s subtitle is an accurate one – the tales contained within are brief, fictionalized explorations of the same ideas and hypotheticals that feature prominently in Klosterman’s nonfiction work. They are strange and offbeat, small and skewed glimpses of the zeitgeist through weird-colored glasses – think “Twilight Zone” or “Black Mirror,” only in a much bigger hurry. And while they vary in length, style and tone, all of them ring loudly with the author’s distinctive voice.

Published in Buzz

One of the most influential authors in the history of sports writing has died.

Jim Bouton, author of the seminal baseball book “Ball Four,” passed away last week at the age of 80. He was a tireless evangelist for the game that he loved … even during the decades in which his book meant that the game didn’t love him back.

“Ball Four” hit bookstores in 1970, a book that explored the world of major league baseball from the inside in a manner utterly unlike anything the public had ever seen. Bouton’s voice was brutally honest and hilariously funny, exposing readers to the true inner workings of the game for the first time.

What separated “Ball Four” from the sports-related books that preceded it was that honesty. Bouton pulled back the curtain of mythology that had long surrounded the game and its players. This book was not saccharine feel-good pap or legend-building. There was none of the hagiography or cronyism that marked baseball writing to that point. It showed fans the truth, warts and all.

Published in Sports

There are good books. There are great books. And then there are books that are … more.

Books that marry deft, propulsive prose with potent, stomach-punch emotions and meticulously-conceived characters. Books that tell remarkable stories while simultaneously transcending the stories being told. Books that take hold of your brains and your guts with equally ironclad grips, demanding your attention and imagination.

Books like Colson Whitehead’s “The Nickel Boys” (Doubleday, $24.95).

Whitehead has long been considered among the best of his writerly generation; his last offering – 2016’s “The Underground Railroad” – won the Pulitzer Prize, among many others. The staggering thing is this: he’s still getting better.

“The Nickel Boys” is Whitehead’s seventh book – and arguably his best yet. He eschews the genre flourishes with which his previous storytelling ventures have been peppered, instead committing to a straightforward realism that allows just the briefest glimmers of hopefulness against a nigh-unrelentingly bleak backdrop.

Published in Style
Tuesday, 09 July 2019 20:23

Set sail with ‘The Porpoise’

There are those who say that there are only so many stories, that the myriad tales we tell are all variations on just a few themes. Even so, there is something truly remarkable that can happen when a writer takes it upon themselves to reinterpret or reimagine an already-extant story.

Mark Haddon has done just that with his new novel “The Porpoise” (Doubleday, $27.95). It’s a weird and fantastical take on William Shakespeare’s “Pericles, Prince of Tyre,” itself a story that was a reimagination of a tale that came before. It’s a strange and at times unsettling adventure, one that bounces back and forth through time and operates on multiple, metatextual levels.

It is a story about history, about how truth morphs into myth and how the stories we tell can bleed into the world in which we live. It’s about the agency of women and the ugliness of men, about the consequences of our choices and the meaning of love. There are stretches of swashbuckling derring-do and moments of quiet introspection. It is a tale that shows that isn’t always much difference between the past and the present.

Published in Style

No matter how far we move into the future, there will always be much that we can learn from the past. And often, the achievements of the former lead directly to paradigm shifts in the latter.

That’s where Dr. Sarah Parcak comes in. She is a professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama-Birmingham who is at the forefront of the cutting-edge field of space archaeology. Yes, you read that right – space archaeology. Through the use of high-resolution satellite imagery and other tools, Parcak and her colleagues have completely changed the game, finding thousands of heretofore unknown potential dig sites and unlocking whole new worlds of investigative possibilities.

The National Geographic Explorer, TED Prize-winner and all-around brilliant researcher has written a new book – “Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past” (Henry Holt and Co., $30) – aimed at sharing her work, its importance and the history behind it. It’s a chance to gain a closer understanding of the complexities of Parcak’s work, as well as the value that comes from digging into our ancient past. It’s a compellingly-written piece of popular science.

But it also offers something that other science-oriented nonfiction doesn’t – the warm, impassioned and funny voice of Sarah Parcak.

Published in Tekk
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