Featuring: Elliot Ackerman, Bae Myung-hoon, Ava Barry, Eula Biss, Sexton Blake, Melissa Broder, Bryan Christy, Glenn Dixon, Kristin Kobes Du Mez, David Ebenbach, Richard Falkirk, Paul French, Walter Isaacson, Alma Katsu, Cassandra Khaw, Andrew McCarthy, C.K. McDonnell, Graham McNeill, Premee Mohamed, Amanda Montell, Dan Morain, S.J. Morden, Samuel L. Popkin, Tahi Saihate, Anthony Veasna So, Charles Soule, Dana Stabenow, Wallace Stroby
Elliot Ackerman & Admiral James Stavridis, 2034 (Penguin Press)
A chillingly authentic, geopolitical thriller that imagines a naval clash between the US and China in the South China Sea in 2034 — and the path from there to a nightmarish global conflagration.
On March 12, 2034, US Navy Commodore Sarah Hunt is on the bridge of her flagship, the guided missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones, conducting a routine freedom of navigation patrol in the South China Sea when her ship detects an unflagged trawler in clear distress, smoke billowing from its bridge. On that same day, US Marine aviator Major Chris “Wedge” Mitchell is flying an F35E Lightning over the Strait of Hormuz, testing a new stealth technology as he flirts with Iranian airspace. By the end of that day, Wedge will be an Iranian prisoner, and Sarah Hunt’s destroyer will lie at the bottom of the sea, sunk by the Chinese Navy. Iran and China have clearly coordinated their moves, which involve the use of powerful new forms of cyber weaponry that render US ships and planes defenseless. In a single day, America’s faith in its military’s strategic pre-eminence is in tatters. A new, terrifying era is at hand.
So begins a disturbingly plausible work of speculative fiction, co-authored by an award-winning novelist and decorated Marine veteran and the former commander of NATO, a legendary admiral who has spent much of his career strategically out maneuvering America’s most tenacious adversaries. Written with a powerful blend of geopolitical sophistication and literary, human empathy, 2034 takes us inside the minds of a global cast of characters — Americans, Chinese, Iranians, Russians, Indians — as a series of arrogant miscalculations on all sides leads the world into an intensifying international storm. In the end, China and the United States will have paid a staggering cost, one that forever alters the global balance of power.
Everything in 2034 is an imaginative extrapolation from present-day facts on the ground combined with the authors’ years working at the highest and most classified levels of national security. Sometimes it takes a brilliant work of fiction to illuminate the most dire of warnings: 2034 is all too close at hand, and this cautionary tale presents the reader a dark yet possible future that we must do all we can to avoid.
Bae Myung-hoon, TOWER (Honford Star)
Tower is a series of interconnected stories set in Beanstalk, a 674-story skyscraper and sovereign nation. Each story deals with how citizens living in the hypermodern high-rise deal with various influences of power in their lives: a group of researchers have to tell their boss that a major powerbroker is a dog, a woman uses the power of the internet to rescue a downed fighter pilot abandoned by the government, and an out-of-towner finds himself in charge of training a gentle elephant to break up protests. Bae explores the forces that shape modern life with wit and a sly wink at the reader.
I hadn’t heard of Bae Myung-hoon’s Tower before it arrived in the mail. It does, however, look really interesting. Hope to read it very soon. Tower (originally published as 타워) is due to be published by Honford Star in the UK, on February 15th, 2021.
Ava Barry, WINDHALL (Perseus)
A stunning literary thriller in which an investigative journalist in modern Los Angeles attempts to solve the Golden Age murder of a Hollywood starlet.
1940s Hollywood was an era of decadence and director Theodore Langley was its king. Paired with Eleanor Hayes as his lead actress, Theo ruled the Golden Age of Hollywood. That ended when Eleanor’s mangled body was discovered in Theo’s rose garden and he was charged with her murder. The case was thrown out before it went to trial and Theo fled L.A., leaving his crawling estate, Windhall, to fall into ruin. He hasn’t been seen since.
Decades later, investigative journalist Max Hailey, raised by his gran on stories of old Hollywood, is sure that if he could meet Theo, he could prove once and for all that the famed director killed his leading lady. When a copycat murder takes place near Windhall, the long reclusive Theo returns to L.A., and it seems Hailey finally has his chance.
When Hailey gets his hands on Theo’s long-missing journals, he reads about Eleanor’s stalkers and her role in Theo’s final film, The Last Train to Avalon, a film so controversial it was never released to the public. In the months leading up to her death, something had left her so terrified she stopped coming to work. The more Hailey learns about Avalon, the more convinced he becomes that the film could tell him who killed Eleanor and why she had to die. But the implications of Avalon reach far beyond Eleanor’s murder, and Hailey must race to piece together the murders of the past and present before it’s too late.
Spotted this in a catalogue, and thought it sounded interesting. Was lucky enough to get a DRC. Before becoming a novelist, the author was a script reader, and editorial assistant for Francis Ford Coppola’s lit magazine. Which is quite interesting. Hope to read this very soon. Windhall is due to be published by Pegasus Books in North America and in the UK, on March 2nd, 2021.
Follow the Author: Goodreads
Review copy received via Edelweiss
Eula Biss, HAVING AND BEING HAD (Faber)
‘My adult life can be divided into two distinct parts,’ Eula Biss writes, ‘the time before I owned a washing machine and the time after.’ Having just purchased her first home, she now embarks on a roguish and risky self-audit of the value system she has bought into. The result is a radical interrogation of work, leisure and capitalism. Described by the New York Times as a writer who ‘advances from all sides, like a chess player’, Biss brings her approach to the lived experience of capitalism. Playfully ranging from IKEA to Beyoncé to Pokémon, across bars and laundromats and universities, she asks, of both herself and her class, ‘In what have we invested?’
I first spotted this via the Guardian, and thought it sounded interesting. Checked out a sample, and my interest grew. So, I bought it. Eula Biss’s Having and Being Had is out now, published by Faber in the UK and Riverhead in North America.
SEXTON BLAKE ON THE HOME FRONT (Solaris)
SPY-MASTERS, NAZIS AND SECRETS
It’s the Second World War, and Sexton Blake is matching minds with the very best… and the very worst.
When an innocent woman is condemned as a spy and her fiancé arrested while trying to escape to France, Sexton and Tinker have to travel into enemy territory in their hunt for the mastermind… and on the home front, a man is found murdered – but the suspect doesn’t know if he did it! Who else to find the truth but Sexton Blake?
Join the greatest detective as he battles with a mysterious house, a ring of traitors — and a deadly secret.
This is the fourth (of five planned) collections in the Sexton Blake Library Series, edited by Mark Hodder. Looks interesting. Sexton Blake on the Home Front is due to be published by Solaris in North America (February 16th) and in the UK (February 18th).
Review copy received from publisher
Melissa Broder, MILK FED (Scribner)
Rachel is twenty-four, a lapsed Jew who has made calorie restriction her religion. By day, she maintains an illusion of existential control, by way of obsessive food rituals, while working as an underling at a Los Angeles talent management agency. At night, she pedals nowhere on the elliptical machine. Rachel is content to carry on subsisting — until her therapist encourages her to take a ninety-day communication detox from her mother, who raised her in the tradition of calorie counting.
Early in the detox, Rachel meets Miriam, a zaftig young Orthodox Jewish woman who works at her favorite frozen yogurt shop and is intent upon feeding her. Rachel is suddenly and powerfully entranced by Miriam — by her sundaes and her body, her faith and her family — and as the two grow closer, Rachel embarks on a journey marked by mirrors, mysticism, mothers, milk, and honey.
Pairing superlative emotional insight with unabashed vivid fantasy, Broder tells a tale of appetites: physical hunger, sexual desire, spiritual longing, and the ways that we as humans can compartmentalize these so often interdependent instincts. Milk Fed is a tender and riotously funny meditation on love, certitude, and the question of what we are all being fed, from one of our major writers on the psyche — both sacred and profane.
I hadn’t heard of this before the publisher got in touch — nor have I read the author’s debut novel, The Pisces (although, it has been on my TBR pile for some time). The premise sounded interesting, if a bit odd, but there was a good blurb from Tom Perrotta. Milk Fed is due to be published by Scribner in North America (February 2nd) and Bloomsbury in the UK (March 4th).
Bryan Christy, IN THE COMPANY OF KILLERS (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
In this intricate and propulsive thriller–from National Geographic‘s founder of Special Investigations — Tom Klay an investigative reporter leading a double life as a CIA spy, discovers that he has been weaponized in a global game of espionage pitting him against one of the world’s most ruthless men.
Tom Klay is a celebrated investigative wildlife reporter for the esteemed magazine The Sovereign. But Klay is not just a journalist. His reporting is cover for an even more dangerous job: CIA agent. Klay’s press credentials make him a perfect spy — able to travel the globe, engage both politicians and warlords, and openly record what he sees. When he needs help, the Agency provides it to him, and asks little in return. But while on assignment in Kenya, Klay is attacked and his closest friend is murdered. Soon Klay’s carefully constructed double life unravels as his ambition turns to revenge.
The CIA has an answer. Klay is offered a devil’s bargain to capture the man who killed his friend by infiltrating the offices of the woman he once loved, South Africa’s special prosecutor, Hungry Khoza. But Klay soon discovers that he and Hungry are part of a larger, more lethal game — one that involves a ruthless mercenary and a global superpower. The deeper he digs, the more Klay realizes that everything he thought he knew about his work may have been a lie, and his sworn enemy may be his only ally. In this riveting, timely thriller, the lines between good and evil blur, and absolutely nothing is as it seems.
Spotted this a while ago in a catalogue, and thought this sounded really interesting. Bryan Christy’s In the Company of Killers is due to be published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in North America and in the UK, on April 13th, 2021.
Glenn Dixon, BOOTLEG STARDUST (Simon & Schuster)
A debut novel about a young musician who auditions for a band and is suddenly catapulted into the wild world of rock and roll stardom, where nothing is quite what it seems.
Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom on your way to the top.
It’s 1974. The music world is rocking with bellbottoms, platform shoes, and lots and lots of drugs. This year’s sensation is an American band called Downtown Exit and their latest album has just gone gold.
For high school dropout Levi Jaxon, things aren’t so great. After bouncing around foster homes for years, he’s living in his best friend’s basement. His dream is to someday be a rock star, but he has a problem — his own band has just broken up.
In an uncanny stroke of luck, Levi lands an audition for Downtown Exit, who are now recording their second album at Abbey Road Studios. He arrives in London and aces his audition, only to learn he’s not really in the band. No, Levi’s job is to sit in the wings and cover for the band’s real guitarist when he inevitably starts tripping on stage.
Levi sticks with it, hoping to step into the role he’s always dreamed of. But he must first navigate egos, jealousies, and deceptions. Frankie, the band’s front man, has it out for him. And Levi has fallen for Ariadne, the band’s photographer. All of them have their secrets, Levi included. And as the band tours through Europe and struggles to finish their new album, Levi comes face to face with unanswered questions from his past and the impossible price that fame demands.
Utterly magical and transporting, Bootleg Stardust is a one-of-a-kind joyride about the power of music to bring people together — and break them apart — and the courage it takes to find your own voice.
Pitched as “Daisy Jone & the Six meets Nick Hornby”, I’m really looking forward to reading this (apparently, I’ll read anything pitched as being similar to Daisy Jones…). Bootleg Stardust is due to be published by Simon & Schuster in North America and in the UK, on April 6th, 2021.
Kristin Kobes Du Mez, JESUS AND JOHN WAYNE (Liveright)
A scholar of American Christianity presents a seventy-five-year history of evangelicalism that identifies the forces that have turned Donald Trump into a hero of the Religious Right.
How did a libertine who lacks even the most basic knowledge of the Christian faith win 81 percent of the white evangelical vote in 2016? And why have white evangelicals become a presidential reprobate’s staunchest supporters? These are among the questions acclaimed historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez asks in Jesus and John Wayne, which delves beyond facile headlines to explain how white evangelicals have brought us to our fractured political moment. Challenging the commonly held assumption that the “moral majority” backed Donald Trump for purely pragmatic reasons, Du Mez reveals that Donald Trump in fact represents the fulfillment, rather than the betrayal, of white evangelicals’ most deeply held values.
Jesus and John Wayne is a sweeping account of the last seventy-five years of white evangelicalism, showing how American evangelicals have worked for decades to replace the Jesus of the Gospels with an idol of rugged masculinity and Christian nationalism, or in the words of one modern chaplain, with “a spiritual badass.” As Du Mez explains, the key to understanding this transformation is to recognize the role of culture in modern American evangelicalism. Many of today’s evangelicals may not be theologically astute, but they know their VeggieTales, they’ve read John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart, and they learned about purity before they learned about sex — and they have a silver ring to prove it. Evangelical books, films, music, clothing, and merchandise shape the beliefs of millions. And evangelical popular culture is teeming with muscular heroes — mythical warriors and rugged soldiers, men like Oliver North, Ronald Reagan, Mel Gibson, and the Duck Dynasty clan, who assert white masculine power in defense of “Christian America.” Chief among these evangelical legends is John Wayne, an icon of a lost time when men were uncowed by political correctness, unafraid to tell it like it was, and did what needed to be done.
Trump, in other words, is hardly the first flashy celebrity to capture evangelicals’ hearts and minds, nor is he the first strongman to promise evangelicals protection and power. Indeed, the values and viewpoints at the heart of white evangelicalism today — patriarchy, authoritarian rule, aggressive foreign policy, fear of Islam, ambivalence toward #MeToo, and opposition to Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQ community — are likely to persist long after Trump leaves office.
A much-needed reexamination, Jesus and John Wayne explains why evangelicals have rallied behind the least-Christian president in American history and how they have transformed their faith in the process, with enduring consequences for all of us.
While Trump’s extremist supporters were engaging in a spot of sedition on January 6th, a friend of mine recommended Du Mez’s book, and I thought it looked really interesting — the extent of white supremacism and domestic terrorism in US politics, as well as the oft-extremist nature of religious politics, has long been an interest of mine (as has the fact that fiction writers have been writing about it for decades, while it’s only relatively recently that it’s getting the new media attention it needs). Trump didn’t give birth to this — he is a symptom of a long-running cancer at the heart of American society. So, after I read the synopsis for this book, I got it right away. Hope to read it very soon. Jesus and John Wayne is out now, published by Liveright in North America and in the UK.
David Ebenbach, HOW TO MARS (Tachyon)
What happens when your dream mission to Mars is a reality television nightmare?
For the six lucky scientists selected by the Destination Mars! corporation, a one-way ticket to Mars — in exchange for a lifetime of research — was an absolute no-brainer. The incredible opportunity was clearly worth even the most absurdly tedious screening process. Perhaps worth following the strange protocols in a nonsensical handbook written by an eccentric billionaire. Possibly even worth their constant surveillance, the video of which is carefully edited into a ratings-bonanza back on Earth.
But it turns out that after a while even scientists can get bored of science. Tempers begin to fray; unsanctioned affairs blossom. When perfectly good equipment begins to fail, the Marsonauts are faced with a possibility that their training just cannot explain.
Irreverent, poignant, and perfectly weird, David Ebenbach’s debut science-fiction outing, like a mission to Mars, is an incredible trip you will never forget.
This looks like a lot of fun. Hope to read this very soon. I’ll be posting an interview with the author on May 11th, and an excerpt from the novel on May 12th — so check back then, in case you still haven’t pre-ordered it and need more convincing! How to Mars is due to be published by by Tachyon Publications in North America and in the UK, on May 25th, 2021.
Richard Falkirk, THE CHILL FACTOR (Harper Collins)
Iceland. In the winter it gets light at 10am and dark at 2pm. The daily announcement of the Chill Factor allows you to calculate how quickly you could die from exposure…
Iceland is erupting – and not just its volcano.
It is 1971, the height of the Cold War, and anti-American feeling among Icelanders is running high. When a teenager is found dead after a drunken night out, her clothes torn and face bruised, anger is directed towards the military personnel at the NATO air base at Keflavik who outnumber the local population.
British agent Bill Conran, invited by the Americans to uncover a Russian spy ring, comes to realise that this is no routine assignment. Unsure who can be trusted, and targeted by an unknown assassin, he discovers that Iceland, for all its cold beauty, has never been hotter.
This is a re-issue of a novel first published in the 1970s. Falkirk is a pseudonym for Derek Lambert, who published many Cold War espionage novels under his own name (I wonder why this one was released under a pen name?). The Chill Factor is due to be published by Harper Collins in the UK, on January 21st, 2021. (It looks like another Falkirk novel is going to be re-issued next year, too: The Twisted Wire.)
Follow the Author: Goodreads
Review copy received via NetGalley
Paul French, DESTINATION PEKING (Blacksmith Books)
New York Times bestselling author Paul French (Midnight in Peking) returns to the Chinese capital to tell 18 true stories of fascinating people — many Americans among them — who visited the city in the first half of the 20th century. From the ultra-wealthy Woolworths heiress Barbara Hutton and her husband the Prince Mdivani, to the poor “American girl” Mona Monteith, who worked in the city as a prostitute; from socialite Wallis Simpson and novelist JP Marquand, who held court on the rooftop of the Grand Hôtel de Pékin, to Hollywood screenwriter Harry Hervey, who sought inspiration walking atop the Tartar Wall; from Edgar and Helen Foster Snow – Peking’s ‘It’ couple of 1935 — to Martha Sawyers, who did so much to aid China against Japan in World War II; Destination Peking brings a lost pre-communist era back to life.
Paul French, STRANGERS ON THE PRAIA (Blacksmith Books)
Based on true stories and new research, Paul French weaves together the stories of those Jewish refugees who moved on from wartime Shanghai to seek a possible route to freedom via the Portuguese colony of Macao the Casablanca of the Orient. The delicately balanced neutral enclave became their wartime home, amid Nazi and Japanese spies, escaped Allied prisoners from Hong Kong, and displaced Chinese. Strangers on the Praia relates the story of one young womans struggle for freedom that would ultimately prove an act of brave resistance.
Two new books from Paul French, the acclaimed author of Midnight in Peking, City of Devils, and more. These two histories are, in a way, complements to Destination Shanghai — each offers more short accounts/histories of foreigners who ended up in Beijing and Macao, during the first half of the 20th Century. If you haven’t tried French’s books, yet, I strongly recommend them — especially if you have any interest in East Asian history, and foreigners’ experience therein. Both Destination Peking and Strangers on the Praia are out now, published by Blacksmith Books.
Walter Isaacson, THE CODE BREAKER (Simon & Schuster)
A gripping account of how Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna and her colleagues launched a revolution that will allow us to cure diseases, fend off viruses, and have healthier babies.
When Jennifer Doudna was in sixth grade, she came home one day to find that her dad had left a paperback titled The Double Helix on her bed. She put it aside, thinking it was one of those detective tales she loved. When she read it on a rainy Saturday, she discovered she was right, in a way. As she sped through the pages, she became enthralled by the intense drama behind the competition to discover the code of life. Even though her high school counselor told her girls didn’t become scientists, she decided she would.
Driven by a passion to understand how nature works and to turn discoveries into inventions, she would help to make what the book’s author, James Watson, told her was the most important biological advance since his co-discovery of the structure of DNA. She and her collaborators turned a curiosity of nature into an invention that will transform the human race: an easy-to-use tool that can edit DNA. Known as CRISPR, it opened a brave new world of medical miracles and moral questions.
The development of CRISPR and the race to create vaccines for coronavirus will hasten our transition to the next great innovation revolution. The past half-century has been a digital age, based on the microchip, computer, and internet. Now we are entering a life-science revolution. Children who study digital coding will be joined by those who study genetic code.
Should we use our new evolution-hacking powers to make us less susceptible to viruses? What a wonderful boon that would be! And what about preventing depression? Hmmm… Should we allow parents, if they can afford it, to enhance the height or muscles or IQ of their kids?
After helping to discover CRISPR, Doudna became a leader in wrestling with these moral issues and, with her collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier, won the Nobel Prize in 2020. Her story is a thrilling detective tale that involves the most profound wonders of nature, from the origins of life to the future of our species.
The latest biography from one of the best in the business. This time, it’s of someone I’ve not heard of before (although, I have heard of CRISPR). Looking forward to reading it soon. The Code Breaker is due to be published on March 9th, 2021, by Simon & Schuster in North America and in the UK.
Alma Katsu, RED WIDOW (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
An exhilarating spy thriller about two women CIA agents who become intertwined around a threat to the Russia Division — one that’s coming from inside the agency.
Lyndsey Duncan worries her career with the CIA might be over. After lines are crossed with another intelligence agent during her most recent assignment, she is sent home to Washington on administrative leave. So when a former colleague, now Chief of the Russia Division, recruits her for an internal investigation, she jumps at the chance to prove herself once more. Lyndsey was once a top handler in the Moscow Field Station, known as the “human lie detector” and praised for recruiting some of the most senior Russian officials. But now, three Russian assets have been discovered — including one of her own — and the CIA is convinced there’s a mole in the department. With years of work in question, and lives on the line, Lyndsey is thrown back into life at the agency, only this time tracing the steps of those closest to her.
Meanwhile, fellow agent Theresa Warner can’t avoid the spotlight. She is the infamous “Red Widow,” the wife of a former director killed in the field under mysterious circumstances. With her husband’s legacy shadowing her every move, Theresa is a fixture of the Russia Division, and as she and Lyndsey strike up an unusual friendship, her knowledge proves invaluable. But as Lyndsey uncovers a surprising connection to Theresa that could answer all of her questions, she exposes a terrifying web of secrets within the department, if only she is willing to unravel it…
Spotted this ages ago in a catalogue, and have been looking forward to reading it ever since. Will do so hopefully very soon. Alma Katsu’s Red Widow is due to be published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in North America and in the UK, on March 23rd, 2021.
Also on CR: Interview with Alma Katsu (2013)
Cassandra Khaw, NOTHING BUT BLACKENED TEETH (Tor Nightfire)
A gorgeously creepy haunted house tale, steeped in Japanese folklore and full of devastating twists
A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company.
It’s the perfect wedding venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends.
But a night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare. For lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.
And she gets lonely down there in the dirt.
This sounds creepy and very interesting (and that cover!). Looking forward to reading it (with the lights on). Nothing But Blackened Teeth is due to be published by Tor Nightfire in North America and in the UK, on October 19th, 2021.
Andrew McCarthy, BRAT: AN ’80s STORY (Grand Central)
Most people know Andrew McCarthy from his movie roles in Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire, Weekend at Bernie’s, and Less than Zero, and as a charter member of Hollywood’s Brat Pack. That iconic group of ingenues and heartthrobs included Rob Lowe, Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, and Demi Moore, and has come to represent both a genre of film and an era of pop culture.
In his memoir Brat: An ’80s Story, McCarthy focuses his gaze on that singular moment in time. The result is a revealing look at coming of age in a maelstrom, reckoning with conflicted ambition, innocence, addiction, and masculinity. New York City of the 1980s is brought to vivid life in these pages, from scoring loose joints in Washington Square Park to skipping school in favor of the dark revival houses of the Village where he fell in love with the movies that would change his life.
Filled with personal revelations of innocence lost to heady days in Hollywood with John Hughes and an iconic cast of characters, Brat is a surprising and intimate story of an outsider caught up in a most unwitting success.
I spotted this in a catalogue a while ago, but I couldn’t place the author. The cover photo didn’t call to mind any movies I’ve seen. So, off to IMDb I went, and learned that I’ve seen McCarthy in a lot of roles. So, I decided to give this a read. Brat: An ’80s Story is due to be published by Grand Central Publishing in North America and in the UK, on May 11th, 2021.
Also on CR: Review of Brat: An ’80s Story
C.K. McDonnell, THE STRANGER TIMES (Bantam Press)
There are dark forces at work in our world (and in Manchester in particular), so thank God The Stranger Times is on hand to report them…
A weekly newspaper dedicated to the weird and the wonderful (but mostly the weird), it is the go-to publication for the unexplained and inexplicable.
At least that’s their pitch. The reality is rather less auspicious. Their editor is a drunken, foul-tempered and foul-mouthed husk of a man who thinks little of the publication he edits. His staff are a ragtag group of misfits. And as for the assistant editor… well, that job is a revolving door — and it has just revolved to reveal Hannah Willis, who’s got problems of her own.
When tragedy strikes in her first week on the job The Stranger Times is forced to do some serious investigating. What they discover leads to a shocking realisation: some of the stories they’d previously dismissed as nonsense are in fact terrifyingly real. Soon they come face-to-face with darker forces than they could ever have imagined.
I seemed to miss this one in the run-up to publication, but then I saw this video by the author on Twitter and hunted down an excerpt. It made me smile and laugh pretty quickly, so I knew I had to read the whole thing. I’ll do so very soon. The Stranger Times is out now, published by Bantam Press in the UK.
Graham McNeill, FURY OF MAGNUS (Black Library)
Of all the Emperor’s sons who fell to Chaos, it is perhaps Magnus the Red whose tale is the most tragic. Sanctioned because of his desire for knowledge, chastised, judged and shattered to his very elements – there is much for the Crimson King to feel vengeful for. Yet revenge is not the only thing that draws him to Terra alongside the Warmaster’s besieging armies. He seeks something, a fragment, the missing piece of himself that lies within the most impregnable place on the planet – the inner sanctum of the Imperial Palace. As the greatest conflict of the ages reaches fever pitch, Magnus fights his own inner battle. To be whole once more, he must not only overcome the fiercest of defences, but also face the one being whom he loves and hates with equal fervour more than any other – his errant father, the Emperor of Mankind.
McNeill’s second Siege of Terra novella. The end of Magnus’s Horus Heresy story, I’m really looking forward to reading this. A Thousand Sons marked the Horus Heresy series’ return to form, and it was the beginning of a tremendous run of excellent fiction. Fury of Magnus is out now, published by Black Library in North America and in the UK.
Also on CR: Interview with Graham McNeill (2011); Guest Post on “Big vs. Small”; Reviews of Mechanicum, A Thousand Sons, The Outcast Dead, Angel Exterminatus, Vengeful Spirit, The Crimson King, Magnus the Red, Sons of the Selenar
Premee Mohamed, A BROKEN DARKNESS (Solaris)
It’s been a year and a half since the Anomaly, when They tried to force their way into the world from the shapeless void.
Nick Prasad is piecing his life together, and has joined the secretive Ssarati Society to help monitor threats to humanity – including his former friend Johnny.
Right on cue, the unveiling of Johnny’s latest experiment sees more portals opened to Them, leaving her protesting her innocence even as the two of them are thrown together to fight the darkness once more…
Also on CR: Guest Post on “Influences & Inspirations”
Amanda Montell, CULTISH: THE LANGUAGE OF FANATICISM (Harper Wave)
What makes “cults” so intriguing and frightening? What makes them powerful? The reason why so many of us binge Manson documentaries by the dozen and fall down rabbit holes researching suburban moms gone QAnon is because we’re looking for a satisfying explanation for what causes people to join — and more importantly, stay in — extreme groups. We secretly want to know: could it happen to me? Amanda Montell’s argument is that, on some level, it already has…
Our culture tends to provide pretty flimsy answers to questions of cult influence, mostly having to do with vague talk of “brainwashing.” But the true answer has nothing to do with freaky mind-control wizardry or Kool-Aid. In Cultish, Montell argues that the key to manufacturing intense ideology, community, and us/them attitudes all comes down to language. In both positive ways and shadowy ones, cultish language is something we hear — and are influenced by — every single day.
Through juicy storytelling and cutting original research, Montell exposes the verbal elements that make a wide spectrum of communities “cultish,” revealing how they affect followers of groups as notorious as Heaven’s Gate, but also how they pervade our modern start-ups, Peloton leaderboards, and Instagram feeds. Incisive and darkly funny, this enrapturing take on the curious social science of power and belief will make you hear the fanatical language of “cultish” everywhere.
Thought this sounded interesting. It’s also a little outside my usual reading, and felt like something different. Looking forward to reading it. Cultish is due to be published by Harper Wave in North America and in the UK, on June 15th, 2021.
Dan Morain, KAMALA’S WAY (Simon & Schuster)
A revelatory biography of the first Black woman to stand for Vice President, charting how the daughter of two immigrants in segregated California became one of this country’s most effective power players.
There’s very little that’s conventional about Kamala Harris, and yet her personal story also represents the best of America. She grew up the eldest daughter of a single mother, a no-nonsense cancer researcher who emigrated from India at the age of nineteen in search of a better education. She and her husband, an accomplished economist from Jamaica, split up when Kamala was only five.
The Kamala Harris the public knows today is tough, smart, quick-witted, and demanding. She’s a prosecutor — her one-liners are legendary — but she’s more reticent when it comes to sharing much about herself, even in her memoirs. Fortunately, longtime Los Angeles Times reporter Dan Morain has been there from the start.
In Kamala’s Way, he charts her career from its beginnings handling child molestation cases and homicides for the Alameda County District Attorney’s office and her relationship as a twenty-nine-year-old with the most powerful man in the state: married Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, a relationship that would prove life-changing. Morain takes readers through Harris’s years in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, explores her audacious embrace of the little-known Barack Obama, and shows the sharp elbows she deployed to make it to the US Senate. He analyzes her failure as a presidential candidate and the behind-the-scenes campaign she waged to land the Vice President spot. Along the way, he paints a vivid picture of her values and priorities, the kind of people she brings into her orbit, the sorts of problems she’s good at solving, and the missteps, risks, and bold moves she’s made on her way to the top.
Like many non-Californians, I first became aware of Kamala Harris via her fantastic questioning as a Senator at various hearings during the Trump administration. During the Democratic primaries, I decided to give Harris’s books a try. I started with Smart on Crime, and I was… well, a bit shocked. It was not the book I had been expecting — even understanding that it was written while Harris was running for Attorney General of California, it was nowhere near the progressive book I had assumed it would be. When I saw that Morain had written a biography of Harris, I was curious to see how she is written about by others. I’ll be reading this hopefully very soon (after I finish Joe Biden’s first memoir). Kamala’s Way is out now, published by Simon & Schuster in North America and in the UK.
S.J. Morden, GALLOWGLASS (Gollancz)
The year is 2069, and the earth is in flux. Whole nations are being wiped off the map by climate change. Desperate for new resources, the space race has exploded back into life.
Corporations seek ever greater profits off-world. They offer immense rewards to anyone who can claim space’s resources in their name. The bounty on a single asteroid rivals the GDP of entire countries, so every trick, legal or not, is used to win.
Jack, the scion of a shipping magnate, is desperate to escape earth and joins a team chasing down an asteroid. But the ship he’s on is full of desperate people – each one needing the riches claiming the asteroid will bring them, and they’re willing to do anything if it means getting there first.
Because in Space, there are no prizes for coming second. It’s all or nothing: riches beyond measure, or dying alone in the dark.
The latest novel from Morden, this one is a standalone. It looks great, too, so I hope to read it very soon. Gallowglass is out now, published by Gollancz in the UK.
Samuel L. Popkin, CRACKUP (Oxford University Press)
A consistently surprising analysis of how and why the Republican Party imploded in the last decade, setting the stage for the rise of Trump and extremist candidates more generally.
In Crackup, the eminent American politics scholar Samuel L. Popkin tells the story of how the Republican Party fractured into uncompromising groups with irreconcilable demands. Changes in campaign finance laws and the proliferation of mass media opened the way for newly energized groups to split the party. The 2002 “McCain-Feingold” campaign finance reform bill aimed to weaken the power of big corporations and strengthen political parties by ending corporate donations to the parties. Instead, it weakened legislative leaders and made bipartisanship toxic.
Popkin argues that moving money outside the political parties fueled the rise of single-issue advocacy groups and Super PACs funded by billionaires with pet issues. This allowed self-promoting politicians to undermine colleagues with an unprecedented use of tactics once only used to disrupt the other party. One such politician was Ted Cruz, who effectively promoted himself at the expense of the party, mobilized other obstructionists in Congress, and blocked compromises on immigration and healthcare. Into this abyss came Donald J. Trump, who took advantage of the party’s inability to do anything for Republican voters struggling with economic decline. No other candidate, when forced to try to satisfy the irreconcilable demands of major donors and party leaders, could offer a credible alternative to his moon-promising bravado.
A gripping structural explanation of why the GOP ended up with Trump as their standard bearer, Crackup forces us to look at the deeper forces set in motion two decades ago. It also reveals how self-fashioned rebels like Cruz are inevitable given the new rules of the game. Unless the system for financing elections changes, we will continue to see opportunists emerge — in both parties — to block intra-party compromise.
Tahi Saihate, ASTRAL SEASON, BEASTLY SEASON (Honford Star)
Astral Season, Beastly Season is the debut novel by Japanese writer Tahi Saihate. The story follows Morishita and Yamashiro, two high-school boys approaching the age in life when they must choose what kind of people they want to be. When their favourite J-pop idol kills and dismembers her boyfriend, Morishita and Yamashiro unite to convince the police that their idol’s act was in fact by them. This thrilling novel is a meditation on belonging, the objectification of young popstars, and teenage alienation.
This looks sounds interesting. Hope to read it very soon. Astral Season, Beastly Season (originally published as 星か獣になる季節) is out now, published by Honford Star in the UK.
Also on CR: Review of Astral Season, Beastly Season
Anthony Veasna So, AFTERPARTIES (Ecco)
A vibrant story collection about Cambodian-American life — immersive and comic, yet unsparing — that offers profound insight into the intimacy of queer and immigrant communities
Seamlessly transitioning between the absurd and the tenderhearted, balancing acerbic humor with sharp emotional depth, Afterpartiesoffers an expansive portrait of the lives of Cambodian-Americans. As the children of refugees carve out radical new paths for themselves in California, they shoulder the inherited weight of the Khmer Rouge genocide and grapple with the complexities of race, sexuality, friendship, and family.
A high school badminton coach and failing grocery store owner tries to relive his glory days by beating a rising star teenage player. Two drunken brothers attend a wedding afterparty and hatch a plan to expose their shady uncle’s snubbing of the bride and groom. A queer love affair sparks between an older tech entrepreneur trying to launch a “safe space” app and a disillusioned young teacher obsessed with Moby-Dick. And in the sweeping final story, a nine-year-old child learns that his mother survived a racist school shooter.
Another title I spotted a while ago in a catalogue (I spend quite a lot of free time browsing publisher catalogues — I find it soothing). I thought the book sounded interesting and requested it. Unfortunately, I also learned that the author tragically passed away in December, at just 28 years old. I started reading this very soon after I got it (at the time this post goes live, I should have finished it). Afterparties is due to be published by Ecco in North America (August 3rd) and Grove Press in the UK (August 19th).
Charles Soule, LIGHT OF THE JEDI (Del Rey)
It is a golden age for the galaxy.
Intrepid hyperspace scouts expand the reach of the Republic to the furthest stars, worlds flourish under the benevolent leadership of the Senate, and peace reigns, enforced by the wisdom and strength of the renowned order of Force users known as the Jedi. With the Jedi at the height of their power, the free citizens of the galaxy are confident in their ability to weather any storm But the even brightest light can cast a shadow, and some storms defy any preparation.
When a shocking catastrophe in hyperspace tears a ship to pieces, the flurry of shrapnel emerging from the disaster threatens an entire system. No sooner does the call for help go out than the Jedi race to the scene. The scope of the emergence, however, is enough to push even Jedi to their limit. As the sky breaks open and destruction rains down upon the peaceful alliance they helped to build, the Jedi must trust in the Force to see them through a day in which a single mistake could cost billions of lives.
Even as the Jedi battle valiantly against calamity, something truly deadly grows beyond the boundary of the Republic. The hyperspace disaster is far more sinister than the Jedi could ever suspect. A threat hides in the darkness, far from the light of the age, and harbours a secret that could strike fear into even a Jedi’s heart.
Set long before the Star Wars movies, this could be quite interesting. Years ago, I read some of the Knights of the Old Republic comic series, and I wonder if this is the post-retcon version (but in prose)? Looking forward to finding out. Light of the Jedi is out now, published by Del Rey in the UK and North America.
Dana Stabenow, SPOILS OF THE DEAD (Head of Zeus)
It’s Labor Day in Blewestown, Alaska, and it seems most of the town’s thirty-five hundred residents have turned out to celebrate – or to cause trouble. Not Liam Campbell, though. He’s checking out the local watering hole in his new town. He’s finally made it out of Newenham and is ready for a quiet life with his wife.
He’s been in town for about a week when an archaeologist invites him out to his dig site outside of town. He’s on the verge of a momentous discovery, one he says will be worth the State Trooper’s time.
Two days later, the archaeologist is dead, murdered on his own dig site. And Liam Campbell is about to learn that he’s traded one troubled bush town for another.
This is the fifth novel in Stabenow’s Liam Campbell crime series, set in Alaska. I haven’t yet had a chance to get caught up with the first novels in the series, but hope to do so in a timely manner. Spoils of the Dead is due to be published by Head of Zeus in North America and in the UK, on February 4th.
Also on CR: Excerpt from Spoils of the Dead
Wallace Stroby, HEAVEN’S A LIE (Mulholland)
When a young widow witnesses a fatal car accident outside a Jersey Shore motel, she’s suddenly thrust into a nightmare of gang violence, guns, and money that she can’t outrun.
Joette Harper’s life brings new meaning to the phrase “paycheck to paycheck.” Struggling to afford her mother’s sky-high medical bills and also keep the lights on in her trailer home, Joette needs a break.
So, when she spies a briefcase full of money amongst the wreckage of a fiery car accident, she knows she can’t just let it be. Inside is a bounty better than she could have dreamed-just shy of $300,000 in neatly stacked hundreds and fifties. Enough to pay off her debts, give her mother the care she deserves, and maybe even help out a few of her friends.
But, of course, the missing briefcase didn’t go unnoticed by its original owner, Travis Clay — a ruthless dealer who’ll stop at nothing to get back what’s his.
Joette is way out of her depth, but can’t seem to stop herself from participating in this cat-and-mouse chase. But can she beat Travis at his own game?
Various & Denise Hamilton (ed.), SPECULATIVE LOS ANGELES (Akashic)
As an incubator of the future, Los Angeles has long mesmerized writers from Aldous Huxley to Octavia E. Butler. With its natural disasters, Hollywood artifice, staggering wealth and poverty, and urban sprawl, one can argue that Los Angeles is already so weird, surreal, irrational, and mythic that any fiction emerging from this place should be considered speculative. So, bestselling author Denise Hamilton commissioned fourteen stories (including one of her own) and did exactly that. In Speculative Los Angeles, some of the city’s most prophetic and diverse voices reimagine the metropolis in very different ways.
In these pages, you’ll encounter twenty-first-century changelings, dirigibles plying the suburban skies, black holes and jacaranda men lurking in deep suburbia, beachfront property in Century City, walled-off canyons and coastlines reserved for the wealthy, psychic death cults, robot nursemaids, and an alternate LA where Spanish land grants never gave way to urbanization.
As with our city-based Akashic Noir Series, each story in Speculative Los Angeles is set in a distinct neighborhood filled with local color, landmarks, and flavor. Since the best speculative fiction provides a wormhole into other worlds while also commenting on our own, that is exactly what you’ll find here.
Featuring brand-new stories by: Charles Yu, Aimee Bender, Lisa Morton, Alex Espinoza, Ben H. Winters, Denise Hamilton, Lynell George, Stephen Blackmoore, Francesca Lia Block, Duane Swierczynski, Luis J. Rodriguez, A.G. Lombardo, Kathleen Kaufman, and S. Qiouyi Lu.
Thought this looked like a really interesting collection of LA-based fiction. (The blurb from Michael Connelly certainly didn’t hurt.) Looking forward to reading it. Speculative Los Angeles is due to be published by Akashic in North America and in the UK, on February 2nd, 2021.
Review copy received from publisher