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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.


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)


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.


(image credit: 0encrypted0)

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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

5:24 PM  

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"Then world behind and home ahead..."

Exceptional British Scifi Artwork from the 1950s

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Pulp Pleasures: Eando Binder

Great space adventure fiction from the 1930s
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Epic Fantasy: the Start of the Journey

Part 2 of our "Best Classic Fantasy" series
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Strange Shadows: Best Classic Fantasy

Fantasy "glitches in the matrix",
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Classic Cyberpunk SF Novels: Reviews

Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, K. W. Jeter, et al
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10 Possible Sources of "Avatar" in Classic Science Fiction

Going beyond the obvious "Dances with Smurfs"...
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"Steampunk" Anthology: Full Review

some truly crazed stories in there...
(plus artwork by John Coulthart)

"Dune", Plus Often-Neglected
Other Novels by Frank Herbert

"Dune", plus some overlooked gems:
"The Santaroga Barrier" and "The Green Brain"

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

"The Yiddish Policemen's Union" by Michael Chabon...
and David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas"

Two of the Most Entertaining SF Novels from the 1980s

"Vacuum Flowers" by Michael Swanwick...
and Tim Power's "The Anubis Gates", of course!

"The Body Snatchers" and Other Alien Pods

Fiction by Jack Finney, Vance, Simak and Bloch
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Exploring the Noir and the Grotesque

Jack O'Connell "The Resurrectionist"
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Overpopulation, Sex and Sensibility

Robert Silverberg's "The World Inside"
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H. P. Lovecraft "At the Mountains of Madness"

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"Constellations", edited by Peter Crowther

original anthology, 2005
full review: mind-bending stories

The Ultimate Guide to New Writers of SF&F

more than 2,000 writers, 1990-2009
Ratings, awards, web links

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"The Situation", "The Cookie Monster"
Weird fiction by Jeff VanderMeer and Vernor Vinge

Mind-shattering Novels of Philip K. Dick

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Theodore Sturgeon's "More Than Human"

There’s a problem with this new gestalt being: needs a conscience.

Jack Williamson's "Legion of Space" Series

Classic Space Opera
The ultimate weapon, controlled by a gorgeous woman

Astounding Stories, August 1934

Jack Williamson, Nat Schachner, "Doc" Smith
Epic space opera gems and horror surprises

Rare Pulp SF&F, Issue 3

Leigh Brackett, Fritz Leiber, Vic Phillips
Rediscovered gems of wonder & adventure

William Gibson's Novels

"Pattern Recognition", "Neuromancer"
A Fractured Delight...

Alfred Bester "The Computer Connection"

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Pyrokinetic writing in one neat package

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Theodore Sturgeon's "The Cosmic Rape"

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Travel Distant Worlds!

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Alastair Reynolds' Epic Novels

"Chasm City" and "Revelation Space"
And it's only the beginning...

Rare Fantasy Gems by C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner

Hidden Gems of Pulp Fiction
When two star writers become husband and wife

Grand Old Times... in the Future

Overview of Pulp Art
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Exclusive: Interview with Nancy Kress

From High Fantasy to Hard Science Fiction
A Spectrum of Wonder

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"To Live Forever"
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Alastair Reynolds

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Charles Stross

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Hidden Gems of Pulp SF, Part 2

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Ultra-Rare Serials from "Fantasy Magazine"

"Cosmos" + "Challenge From Beyond"
incredible line-up of writers

Hidden Gems of Pulp SF, Part 1

Neat & Rare Stories
incl. the mad rally story "The Racer"

Astounding Stories, June 1935

Full Issue Review
incl. Gallun, Schachner, Campbell

Astounding Stories, May 1941

Full Issue Review
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Horace Gold; P. Schuyler Miller

"Apocalyptic Blockbusters"
"Inflexure" and "Spawn": guilty pleasure

Interview with John C. Wright

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Adventures in Space & Magic

Frank Belknap Long

"The Horror from the Hills"
Great Lovecraftian Weird Novella

Interview with Jeff VanderMeer

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A Triumph of the Bizarre

Alastair Reynolds, Part 2

More "Galactic North" Stories
A Mixture of Hard Sf, James Bond & Jaws...

Alastair Reynolds Review

"Galactic North"
staring down infinity...

Most Shocking Article

"Holey Fools" by M. Christian
Warning: Gross Subject Matter

Alfred Bester Review

"The Stars My Destination"
"...nail it to the Retro Hugo voting board..."

Larry Niven Review

"Neutron Star"
"better get GP alien ship hull"

Poul Anderson Review

"Ensign Flandry"
"or how to start a sub-genre..."

Thomas M. Disch Review

"The Squirrel Cage"
"...seriously mind-bending stuff..."

Henry Kuttner Review

"Mimsy Were the Borogoves" (The Last Mimzy)
"...great storyline for a pretty average movie..."

Robert A. Heinlein Review

"The Moon is the Harsh Mistress"
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Frank Herbert Review

"Destination: Void"
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Harlan Ellison Review

"The Abnormals"
"...editors slapped the most outrageous titles on his stories..."

James White Review

"All Judgement Fled"
"...the tension is palpable, soon to grow almost unbearable..."

Grand Adventure Strikes Again

Space Opera Article, by Avi Abrams
Based on Arthur Clarke's "Against the Fall of Night"

William Gibson Review

"Burning Chrome"
"...sheer pyrotechnics and exuberance of style..."

Ace Double: Murray Leinster

"The Pirates of Ersatz /The Mutant Weapon"
"...the characters might as well be cats or hamsters..."

Astounding Stories, May 1935

Pulp SF Magazine Review
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