Quick Review: INTIMATIONS by Zadie Smith (Penguin)

SmithZ-IntimationsA superb collection of short essays

Deeply personal and powerfully moving, a short and timely series of essays on the experience of lock down, by one of the most clear-sighted and essential writers of our time

“There will be many books written about the year 2020: historical, analytic, political and comprehensive accounts. This is not any of those — the year isn’t half-way done. What I’ve tried to do is organize some of the feelings and thoughts that events, so far, have provoked in me, in those scraps of time the year itself has allowed. These are above all personal essays: small by definition, short by necessity.”

Crafted with the sharp intelligence, wit, and style that have won Zadie Smith millions of fans, and suffused with a profound intimacy and tenderness in response to these unprecedented times, Intimations is a vital work of art, a gesture of connection, and an act of love — an essential book in extraordinary times.

Intimations, Zadie Smith’s new non-fiction collection, includes six fantastic essays that are observant, generous, sometimes wry, passionate, and always engaging. While some of them look at life as the COVID-19 pandemic started to take hold, it is not a book specifically about the pandemic. It is an engaging read throughout. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Annotated Excerpt: DRIFTWOOD by Marie Brennan (Tachyon)

BrennanM-D1-DriftwoodDriftwood might be the oddest novel I’ve written, and I say that as somebody whose previous novel is composed of diary entries, letters, newspaper clippings, and the footnoted translation of an ancient mythological epic.

Part of the reason for that oddness is the setting, which is composed of the still-decaying fragments of mostly-destroyed worlds. But part is that it didn’t start life as a novel: it’s what’s known as a “fix-up,” composed of short stories joined together to make a larger whole. (If you find yourself thinking, “huh, so the form of the book reflects the form of the setting,” give yourself a cookie: that’s why I decided to create a fix-up rather than writing a more conventional novel.) For this excerpt, I’ve decided to give you the opening two scenes of the first story in the book, which is also the first one I wrote.

Continue reading

Review: THE PEOPLE, NO by Thomas Frank (Metropolitan Books)

FrankT-ThePeopleNoThe interesting, if flawed history of American populism and its corruption by the elite

Rarely does a work of history contain startling implications for the present, but in The People, No Thomas Frank pulls off that explosive effect by showing us that everything we think we know about populism is wrong. Today “populism” is seen as a frightening thing, a term pundits use to describe the racist philosophy of Donald Trump and European extremists. But this is a mistake.

The real story of populism is an account of enlightenment and liberation; it is the story of American democracy itself, of its ever-widening promise of a decent life for all. Taking us from the tumultuous 1890s, when the radical left-wing Populist Party — the biggest mass movement in American history — fought Gilded Age plutocrats to the reformers’ great triumphs under Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, Frank reminds us how much we owe to the populist ethos. Frank also shows that elitist groups have reliably detested populism, lashing out at working-class concerns. The anti-populist vituperations by the Washington centrists of today are only the latest expression.

Frank pummels the elites, revisits the movement’s provocative politics, and declares true populism to be the language of promise and optimism. The People, No is a ringing affirmation of a movement that, Frank shows us, is not the problem of our times, but the solution for what ails us.

I’ve been a fan of Thomas Frank’s writing for some time, now. His books have offered plenty of interesting and incisive examinations and critiques of American politics, culture, and economics. In The People, No, he turns his attention to “populism”: a term that has become quite ubiquitous in the age of Trump, but it is a term that is widely misunderstood. Frank provides a history of this movement, and explains how it has been twisted for nefarious ends. Continue reading

Quick Review: MANFLAYER by Josh Reynolds (Black Library)

ReynoldsJ-FB3-ManflayerThe conclusion to the Fabius Bile trilogy

As his Homo Novus project comes to fruition, Fabius Bile faces a new threat – the dreaded haemonculi of the Thirteen Scars. Can he marshal his forces to protect his creations, or are the New Men doomed to death?

In the centuries since his return from Commorragh, Fabius Bile has distanced himself from the affairs of friend and foe, content only to oversee the cruel evolution of his New Men. But when his creations are threatened by the monstrous haemonculi of the Thirteen Scars, the Manflayer is forced to seek out new allies and old enemies alike in an effort to preserve all that he has built. Homo Novus must survive… even if Fabius Bile must die to ensure it.

Josh Reynolds brings his Fabius Bile trilogy to a dramatic close. Bile is one of the most intriguing WH40k characters, one of multiple contradictions and eccentricities. The author once again brings him to life on the page, displaying in full his narcissism, mania, and insatiable thirst for knowledge. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Review: THE VICTORY MACHINE by Ethan Sherwood Strauss (Public Affairs)

StraussES-VictoryMachineAn interesting look at the rise and fall of the Golden State Warriors

How money, guts, and greed built the Warriors dynasty — and then took it apart

The Golden State Warriors dominated the NBA for the better part of a decade. Since the arrival of owner Joe Lacob, they won more championships and sold more merchandise than any other franchise in the sport. And in 2019, they opened the doors on a lavish new stadium.

Yet all this success contained some of the seeds of decline. Ethan Sherwood Strauss’s clear-eyed exposé reveals the team’s culture, its financial ambitions and struggles, and the price that its players and managers have paid for all their winning. From Lacob’s unlikely acquisition of the team to Kevin Durant’s controversial departure, Strauss shows how the smallest moments can define success or failure for years.

And, looking ahead, Strauss ponders whether this organization can rebuild after its abrupt fall from the top, and how a relentless business wears down its players and executives. The Victory Machine is a defining book on the modern NBA: it not only rewrites the story of the Warriors, but shows how the Darwinian business of pro basketball really works.

An interesting account of the rise of the Golden State Warriors, and the behind-the-scenes drama and tension surrounding Kevin Durant’s tenure as part of the team. A little bit gossipy, well-observed, and engaging, I enjoyed this. Continue reading

Interview with MARIE BRENNAN

BrennanM-AuthorPicWelcome back to CR! It’s been a little while, so let’s start with an introduction for new readers: Who is Marie Brennan?

Well, at one point I wound up calling myself “an anthropological compost heap from which stories sprout,” which might be as good a description of my writing as any. I’m a fantasy novelist and short story writer (and occasional game writer, too), with an academic background in anthropology, archaeology, and folklore, which leaves its fingerprints all over my work.

Your new novel, Driftwood, will be published soon by Tachyon. It looks really interesting: How would you introduce it to a potential reader?

The tagline is “where worlds go to die,” but that sounds a little grim, doesn’t it? Driftwood is a setting composed of the fragments of broken worlds, brought together by some unknown force. Driftwood the novel is a fix-up of short stories previously written in that setting, with a new novelette and a frame story to link all the pieces together. If you feel like there might be a thematic connection between the setting and the form of the novel, well, you’re not wrong! Continue reading

Upcoming: THE MANY LIVES OF HELOISE STARCHILD by John Ironmonger (W&N)

IronmongerJ-ManyLivesOfHeloiseStarchildUKI only just heard about John Ironmonger‘s upcoming novel, The Many Lives of Heloise Starchild, but it immediately caught my attention: not only does it have a striking cover, but the premise (see below) sounds great. It’s a little strange that I hadn’t heard about the novel sooner, actually, not sure how I missed it… Anyway, due to be published in the UK on August 6th, by W&N, here’s the synopsis:

REMEMBER ME WHEN THE COMET COMES…

On the day the comet came, a girl named Heloise was born. She would live a fine life, and inherit a fortune, but would meet a cruel, untimely death.

Years later, strange dreams plague Katya Nemcová, a teenager burdened with a rare and curious gift. Memories come to Katya in her dreams – images and stories from a past that isn’t her own. Are these ghosts real? And what of the memory she seems to have of Heloise’s treasures, two centuries old?

A novel that spans the history of Europe – from revolutionary France to the world wars, the Prague Spring, post Brexit Britain, and beyond – this is the irresistible, adventurous and affectionate story of a quite extraordinary woman, her exceptionally talented ancestors and the curious memories they share.

Looking forward to reading this. At the time of writing, I wasn’t able to find any information about a North American publisher, but this might change (the W&N edition is listed on Amazon US, though).

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Interview with TIM MAJOR

MajorT-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Tim Major?

I’m an SF/horror writer. I live in York in the UK with my wife and two sons, and I’m a freelance editor by day and a writer… well, also by day, actually – I need as much sleep as I can get, with two young kids in the house. I’ve published four novels, a short story collection, and a non-fiction film book about the 1915 silent film Les Vampires, as wells as lots of stories in various places.

Your latest novel, Hope Island, was published recently by Titan Books. It looks really interesting: How would you introduce it to a potential reader?

Different readers have described it in quite different ways. I’d say it’s about a mother trying to reconnect with her daughter on a remote Maine island, who encounters a bunch of strange things: creepy island children, a strange artistic commune that has a mysterious archaeological find on its property… and lots of dead bodies. But there’s a lot about sound and silence, which some readers have really responded to – I suppose the book’s a bit unusual in that respect. A lot of the horror elements revolve around sound. Continue reading

Interview with DJANGO WEXLER

WexlerD-AuthorPicWelcome back to Civilian Reader! It’s been a little while, so for newcomers let’s start with an introduction: Who is Django Wexler?

Hi! I’m Django Wexler. I’m currently an author of fantasy series of various kinds — military, middle-grade, and young adult. Before that I was a software engineer and worked on AI research and programming languages. I’m very into games of all sorts (tabletop, board games, wargames, video games, etc) and watch a fair bit of anime. I read a lot, anything SFF on the fiction side and history, economics, and science on the non-fiction side. I’m a big fan of cats.

Your next novel, Ashes of the Sun, is the start of a new series and is due to be published by Orbit. How would you introduce it to a potential reader?

Ashes is an epic fantasy set in a post-fantasy-apocalypse — the aftermath of the collapse of a powerful magical civilization, with survivors living amidst the ruins. It’s about two siblings named Gyre and Maya; at a young age Maya is identified as having the potential to be a powerful wielder of magic and taken to be trained with the Twilight Order. A decade later, their paths cross again. Maya has grown into a committed believer in the Order’s mission of defending civilization, while her brother Gyre has sworn revenge on the callous authority that destroyed their family. Continue reading

Interview with WAYNE SANTOS

SantosW-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Wayne Santos?

The simplest, one-line answer is “Canadian-Filipino Gen-X Geek.” That sums up everything in a nutshell. I’m a second-generation Filipino that grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, which some refer to as “Texas North.” I’m a child of the 80s, so I was there when Neuromancer made its debut, everyone was flipping out over Blade Runner, and I did watch The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in the theatre. I also did time rolling four, six, ten, and 20-sided dice in Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop role-playing games, and, yes, we did it in the basement.

But I also graduated out of university and then spent the next 13 years or so living and working in Southeast Asia, specifically Singapore. That was an eye-opener, since I looked Southeast Asian, but had a North American accent, and sensibility, so it was confusing for everybody. It was a weird feeling to grow up looking like a minority, but not feeling like one, because I shared the same culture as everyone else. Then move to another country and switch to not looking like a minority, but feeling like one, because I culturally did not belong in this world, but no one knew it as long as I kept my mouth shut. Continue reading