Review(ish): FARGO ROCK CITY by Chuck Klosterman and TWILIGHT OF THE GODS by Steven Hyden

KlostermanC-FargoRockCityUSChuck Klosterman and Steven Hyden are great guides to the worlds of rock and metal music, and their respective (and oft-overlapping) fandoms. In the two books covered in this feature, they examine the bands that meant the most to them, how their music fandom shaped their youths, and also the changes in the industry and soundscapes of the years that forged their tastes. Klosterman’s book is more connected to his own biography, while Hyden’s takes a more in-depth, long-view examination of what makes some rock music “classic”, and how the genre’s mythology has become ever more contentious and troubling. Both authors are passionate music fans and eloquently opinionated. As a result, they are also great guides to rock and metal music. If you have any interest in rock and metal music, then I would certainly recommend these two books. Continue reading

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Quick Review: OHIO by Stephen Markley (Simon & Schuster)

MarkleyS-OhioUSA gripping debut novel about a town in decay, and the inhabitants swept up in the crises of modern America

The debut of a major talent; a lyrical and emotional novel set in an archetypal small town in northeastern Ohio — a region ravaged by the Great Recession, an opioid crisis, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — depicting one feverish, fateful summer night in 2013 when four former classmates converge on their hometown, each with a mission, all haunted by the ghosts of their shared histories.

Since the turn of the century, a generation has come of age knowing only war, recession, political gridlock, racial hostility, and a simmering fear of environmental calamity. In the country’s forgotten pockets, where industry long ago fled, where foreclosures, Walmarts, and opiates riddle the land, death rates for rural whites have skyrocketed, fueled by suicide, addiction and a rampant sense of marginalization and disillusionment. This is the world the characters in Stephen Markley’s brilliant debut novel, Ohio, inherit. This is New Canaan.

On one fateful summer night in 2013, four former classmates converge on the rust belt town where they grew up, each of them with a mission, all of them haunted by regrets, secrets, lost loves. There’s Bill Ashcraft, an alcoholic, drug-abusing activist, whose fruitless ambitions have taken him from Cambodia to Zuccotti Park to New Orleans, and now back to “The Cane” with a mysterious package strapped to the underside of his truck; Stacey Moore, a doctoral candidate reluctantly confronting the mother of her former lover; Dan Eaton, a shy veteran of three tours in Iraq, home for a dinner date with the high school sweetheart he’s tried to forget; and the beautiful, fragile Tina Ross, whose rendezvous with the captain of the football team triggers the novel’s shocking climax.

At once a murder mystery and a social critique, Ohio ingeniously captures the fractured zeitgeist of a nation through the viewfinder of an embattled Midwestern town and offers a prescient vision for America at the dawn of a turbulent new age.

Before reading Ohio, I was familiar with some of Markley’s excellent non-fiction, which reminded me of some of Matt Taibbi’s earlier work (although, perhaps more polished). Slightly off-kilter, but sharp and amusing, his style was immediately attractive and interesting. I therefore came to Ohio with pretty high expectations. I’m happy to report that I was not at all disappointed: this is a fantastic novel, one that straddles Richard Russo-esque examination of struggling America and small town mystery/crime. Continue reading

Upcoming: THE BIRTH OF LOUD by Ian S. Port (Scribner)

PortIS-BirthOfLoudUSBruce Springsteen’s telecaster, Slash’s Les Paul, Kurt Cobain’s stratocaster, Angus Young’s SG… These were the guitars that exemplified rock music for me when I was younger. The story of rock goes hand-in-hand with these two guitar manufacturers, while there are other heavy-hitters in the industry, none have the same cache as these two. (Gibson is my personal favourite.) In January 2019, Scribner are due to publish The Birth of LoudIan S. Port‘s history of the two men who created these brands. I’m really looking forward to reading this. Here’s the synopsis:

A riveting saga in the history of rock ‘n’ roll: the decades-long rivalry between the two men who innovated the electric guitar’s amplified sound — Leo Fender and Les Paul — and their intense competition to convince rock stars like the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton to play the instruments they built.

In the years after World War II, music was evolving from big-band jazz into the primordial elements of rock ’n’ roll — and these louder styles demanded revolutionary instruments. When Leo Fender’s tiny firm marketed the first solid-body electric guitar, the Esquire, musicians immediately saw its appeal. Not to be out-maneuvered, Gibson, the largest guitar manufacturer, raced to build a competitive product. The company designed an “axe” that would make Fender’s Esquire look cheap and convinced Les Paul — whose endorsement Leo Fender had sought — to put his name on it. Thus was born the guitar world’s most heated rivalry: Gibson versus Fender, Les versus Leo.

While Fender was a quiet, half-blind, self-taught radio repairman from rural Orange County, Paul was a brilliant but egomaniacal pop star and guitarist who spent years toying with new musical technologies. Their contest turned into an arms race as the most inventive musicians of the 1950s and 1960s — including bluesman Muddy Waters, rocker Buddy Holly, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Eric Clapton — adopted one maker’s guitar or another. By the time Jimi Hendrix played “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock in 1969 on his Fender Stratocaster, it was clear that electric instruments — Fender or Gibson — had launched music into a radical new age, empowering artists with a vibrancy and volume never before attainable.

Back in June 2018, the Washington Post published a story about “The death of the electric guitar”, which I would also highly recommend.

The Birth of Loud will be published by Scribner in the US, Canada and in the UK.

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Review: WASHINGTON BLACK by Esi Edugyan (Harper Collins/Knopf/Serpent’s Tail)

EdugyanE-WashingtonBlackCAA gripping, beautifully written story about freedom, science, and finding one’s place in a hostile world

When two English brothers arrive at a Barbados sugar plantation, they bring with them a darkness beyond what the slaves have already known. Washington Black – an eleven year-old field slave – is horrified to find himself chosen to live in the quarters of one of these men. But the man is not as Washington expects him to be. His new master is the eccentric Christopher Wilde – naturalist, explorer, inventor and abolitionist – whose obsession to perfect a winged flying machine disturbs all who know him. Washington is initiated into a world of wonder: a world where the night sea is set alight with fields of jellyfish, where a simple cloth canopy can propel a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning – and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human.

But when a man is killed one fateful night, Washington is left to the mercy of his new masters. Christopher Wilde must choose between family ties and young Washington’s life. What follows is a flight along the eastern coast of America, as the men attempt to elude the bounty that has been placed on Washington’s head. Their journey opens them up to the extraordinary: to a dark encounter with a necropsicist, a scholar of the flesh; to a voyage aboard a vessel captained by a hunter of a different kind; to a glimpse through an unexpected portal into the Underground Railroad. This is a novel of fraught bonds and betrayal. What brings Wilde and Washington together ultimately tears them apart, leaving Washington to seek his true self in a world that denies his very existence.

From the blistering cane fields of Barbados to the icy plains of the Canadian Arctic, from the mud-drowned streets of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black teems with all the strangeness of life. This inventive, electrifying novel asks, What is Freedom? And can a life salvaged from the ashes ever be made whole?

I first learned of Esi Edugyan’s latest novel when the Man Booker Long-list was announced. I was surprised that a novel that wasn’t even out yet would be on the long-list, but it led me to try to hunt down a copy. Harper Collins Canada was very kind in supplying me with an ARC, and I started reading it the weekend before it was published. I really enjoyed reading this novel. Continue reading

Upcoming: REJOICE by Steven Erikson (Gollancz)

EriksonS-RejoiceUKSteven Erikson is one of SFF’s modern luminaries — he is, after all, the author of the beloved Malazan series (which began in the late-1990s). I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I’ve read nothing of his… This oversight looks like it’ll be remedied this year, however. His next novel is Rejoice, which sounds really interesting:

A story of mankind’s first contact and a warning about our future.

An alien AI has been sent to the solar system as representative of three advanced species. Its mission is to save the Earth’s ecosystem — and the biggest threat to that is humanity. But we are also part of the system, so the AI must make a choice. Should it save mankind or wipe it out? Are we worth it?

The AI is all-powerful, and might as well be a god. So it sets up some conditions. Violence is now impossible. Large-scale destruction of natural resources is impossible. Food and water will be provided for those who really, truly need them. You can’t even bully someone on the internet any more. The old way of doing things is gone. But a certain thin-skinned US president, among others, is still wedded to late-stage capitalism. Can we adapt? Can we prove ourselves worthy? And are we prepared to give up free will for a world without violence?

And above it all, on a hidden spaceship, one woman watches. A science fiction writer, she was abducted from the middle of the street in broad daylight. She is the only person the AI will talk to. And she must make a decision.

Rejoice is due to be published by Gollancz on October 18th, 2018.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

New Books (August)

NewBooks-20180825

Featuring: Mary Adkins, Jussi Adler-Olsen, David Annandale, Jessica Barry, Flynn Berry, Miles Cameron, M.R. Carey, Victor Montgomery Cornwall, Craig Davidson, Sebastien de Castell, N.S. Dolkart, Esi Edugyan, Ben Fountain, William W. Freehling, John French, Christopher Golden, David Gordon, Charlaine Harris, D.B. Jackson, Gregory B. Jaczko, Steven James, Eyal Kless, Sam Lipsyte, Jonathan Maberry, Mindy Mejia, Sara Paretsky, Matthew Quirk, Kim Stanley Robinson, Axl Rosenberg, Tom Rosenstiel, Michael Rutger, David Small, Anna Smith Spark, Arthur St. John Trevelyan, Martha Wells, Cherise Wolas, Chris Wraight, Jane Yolen

Continue reading

Upcoming: THE GOOD LIE by Tom Rosenstiel (Ecco)

RosenstielT-PR2-GoodLieUSTom Rosenstiel‘s debut novel, The Shining City, is an excellent political thriller that introduced readers to political fixer Peter Rena. The novel presented a rather clear-eyed view of Washington, D.C., which was rather refreshing: lots of cynicism, frustration with the ever-growing divide between parties, etc.

I read it some time ago, and have been eagerly awaiting the follow-up ever since, and my anticipation was only boosted after the author confirmed via Twitter that a sequel was on the way. The Good Lie, which will again feature Peter Rena, is due to be published early next year by Ecco. Because we now have a cover and synopsis, I thought I’d share them on CR. Here’s the synopsis:

An intelligent and propulsive international political thriller in which political fixer Peter Rena is hired by the president to investigate the bombing of an American military base overseas

When a shadowy American diplomatic complex is attacked in North Africa, the White House is besieged by accusations of incompetence and wild conspiracy theories. Eager to learn the truth, the president and his staff turn to Peter Rena and his partner, Randi Brooks. The investigators dive headfirst into the furtive world of foreign intelligence and national security, hoping to do it quietly. That becomes impossible, though, when it blows up into an all-out public scandal: Congress opens hearings and a tireless national security reporter publishes a bombshell exposé.

Now, Rena and Brooks are caught in the middle. The White House wants to prevent debilitating fallout for the president, the military appears to be in shutdown mode, the press is hungry for another big story, and rival politicians are plotting their next move. Rena learns the hard way that secrets in Washington come with a very high price.

With intelligence, style, and a breakneck pace, The Good Lie explores the contours of secrets, lies, and the dangers of a never-ending war.

The Good Lie is due to be published in North America by Ecco, on February 12th, 2019.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter