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Universe at Play:
Two Must-Read Novels of the Fantastic


Link - reviews by Avi Abrams

Just when you thought science fiction had safely settled into predictability and conventional form - along come two books that turn all those conventions upside-down, by writers who create their own impossible-to-classify sub-genres and do it with such ridiculous aplomb that the world immediately recognizes this as a SF "History in the Making", and bestows upon them truckloads of awards.

I'm glad to see the critics and readers agree for once... indeed, these books are as immensely entertaining as they are esoteric and complex.

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Michael Chabon
"The Yiddish Policemen's Union" (nv)

© 2007, Fourth Estate / Harper Collins
--novel : 2008 Hugo W
--novel : 2008 Nebula W
--second place : 2008 Campbell Memorial/2
--sf novel : 2008 Locus W
--novel : 2008 British SF
--long form : 2008 Sidewise W
--/ second place "alternate history" sf novel
--/ idea award
--/ style award
--/ emotion award
--/ mystery award

A simply astonishing achievement. The novel is a gut-wrenching, soul-churning, emotional wreck, bringing to mind some Harlan Ellison's "phantasmagorical" hara-kiris - combined with Raymond Chandler, no less. The idea that Jewish people would end up in Alaska instead of Israel, is preposterous and yet... strangely plausible; the mystery plot is engaging (though somewhat blurry in places, as though seen through a swirling Northern fog), the writing style is incisive and sublime - even laconic, but never lacking in subtle poetry and realism. In fact, the weird characters inhabiting this novel are sometimes too real for comfort - with others taken from a lurid roster of pulp fiction heroes - and indeed they all create a marvelous mess, which only a true Messiah can possibly redeem.

If you can stomach the idea of universal angst blown to alternate-history proportions, and if you can catch the typically Jewish sense of optimism against the overwhelmingly miserable odds (in this book's brightest moments), then ‘The Yiddish Policemen’s Union’ will become the most memorable reading event of the year. Trust me, it's that good. Audacious! Atrocious! Brilliant!


(image credit: Aexion)

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David Mitchell
"Cloud Atlas" (nv)

© 2004, Hodder & Stoughton / Random House
--novel : 2004 Nebula r-up
--novel : 2005 Arthur Clarke Award r-up
--Locus Poll Award, Best SF Novel (Place: 10)
--/ second place sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award
--/ style award
--/ emotion award
--/ awesome scale

A novel of this scope and magnitude cannot be read and reviewed as a piece of literature, but rather as a piece of the Universe (think of some rough-hewn blocks of reality, unprocessed), with time, higher powers, human misery and angelic beauty intertwined into one bewildering whole - possible to untangle only by degrees, and not always to one's complete satisfaction. But such incompleteness, perhaps, is part of the book's charm. It does not really have a beginning or end, and could've been written on a far bigger scale, eventually swallowing all the space available in all the world's libraries.

In other words, dear reader, you will be entertained on a highly subliminal level - the language, the wordplay will reach deep inside your soul, the virtuoso (almost Mandelbrodt-like in its complexity) plot will thread your heart though many glorious loops, and the unifying idea behind the book - the Cloud Atlas itself - will be unveiled only in the act of "flipping the proverbial rug" upside-down and gazing on the revealed celestial pattern (instead of random tangle of knots underneath).

This book is about the arrow of human destiny pointed at the vague but glorious destination; it is about victory over time and entropy (to a certain degree); it is about pre-meditated blessings and casual cataclysms; it is a tapestry woven from only the finest literary and science-fictional ingredients. Something that Sir Arthur Clarke would dream up in his sleep but be powerless to remember in the morning. A package and a marvel to be forever entrenched in your imagination. A Cloud Atlas, indeed.

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(image credit: 0encrypted0)

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COMMENTS:

2 Comments:

Blogger Jon said...

My wife and I attended a radio interview in which David Mitchell was the guest.

It probably comes as no surprise that he was as erudite and charming in real-life (and there were some delightfully english moments of being flustered) as you would expect

12:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would also recommend
"nSpace" by Dovin Melhee
completely out of the box sci fi novel

http://www.lulu.com/content/paperback-book/nspace/7534554

5:24 PM  

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