Fiction Affliction: Genre-Benders for February

Seventeen genre-shifting novels spin into the literary atmosphere this month, from John Darnielle’s sophomore novel, Universal Harvester, to the latest from Michael Tolkin, to Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough. A 40-year-old cult Italian novel gets its first English translation; Elan Mastai imagines a world in which this IS the crappy dystopia; and Caitlín R. Kiernan goes Lovecrafty. You’ve got a lot to read; what are you still hanging out with the intro for?

Fiction Affliction details releases in science fiction, fantasy, and “genre-benders.” Keep track of them all here. Note: All title summaries are taken and/or summarized from copy provided by the publisher.

 

WEEK ONE

The Voices of Martyrs—Maurice Broaddus (February 7, Rosarium)
We are a collection of voices, the assembled history of the many voices that have spoken into our lives and shaped us. Voices of the past, voices of the present, and voices of the future. There is an African proverb, “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi,” which translates as “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.” This is why we continue to remember the tales of struggle and tales of perseverance, even as we look to tales of hope. What a people choose to remember about its past, the stories they pass down, informs who they are and sets the boundaries of their identity. We remember the pain of our past to mourn, to heal, and to learn. Only in that way can we ensure the same mistakes are not repeated. The voices make up our stories. The stories make up who we are. A collected voice.

Universal Harvester—John Darnielle (February 7, Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Jeremy works at the Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa. This is the late 1990s, and even if the Hollywood Video in Ames poses an existential threat to Video Hut, there are still regular customers, a rush in the late afternoon. It’s good enough for Jeremy: it’s a job, quiet and predictable, and it gets him out of the house, where he lives with his dad and where they both try to avoid missing Mom, who died six years ago. But when a local schoolteacher comes in to return her copy of Targets—an old movie, starring Boris Karloff, one Jeremy himself had ordered for the store—she has an odd complaint: “There’s something on it,” she says, but doesn’t elaborate. Two days later, a different customer returns a different tape, a new release, and says it’s not defective, exactly, but altered: “There’s another movie on this tape.” Jeremy doesn’t want to be curious, but he brings the movies home to take a look. And, indeed, in the middle of each movie, the screen blinks dark for a moment and the movie is replaced by a few minutes of jagged, poorly lit home video. The scenes are odd and sometimes violent, dark, and deeply disquieting. There are no identifiable faces, no dialogue or explanation—the first video has just the faint sound of someone breathing—but there are some recognizable landmarks. So begins John Darnielle’s haunting and masterfully unsettling Universal Harvester. The novel will take Jeremy and those around him deeper into this landscape than they have ever expected to go. They will become part of a story that unfolds years into the past and years into the future, part of an impossible search for something someone once lost that they would do anything to regain.

Black Feathers: Dark Avian Tales—Ellen Datlow, editor (February 7, Pegasus)
Birds are usually loved for their beauty and their song. They symbolize freedom, eternal life, the soul. There’s definitely a dark side to the avian. Birds of prey sometimes kill other birds, destroy other birds’ eggs, and even have been known to kill small animals. And who isn’t disgusted by birds that eat the dead—vultures awaiting their next meal as the life blood flows from the dying. Is it any wonder that with so many interpretations of the avian, that the contributors herein are eager to be transformed or influenced by them? Included in Black Feathers are those obsessed by birds of one type or another. In each of these fictions, you will encounter the dark resonance between the human and avian. You see in yourself the savagery of a predator, the shrewd stalking of a hunter, and you are lured by birds that speak human language, that make beautiful music, that cypher numbers, and seem to have a moral center. You wade into this feathered nightmare, and brave the horror of death, trading your safety and sanity for that which we all seek—the promise of flight.

The Twenty Days of Turin—Giorgio de Maria (February 7, Liveright)
In the spare wing of a church-run sanatorium, some zealous youths create “the Library,” a space where lonely citizens can read one another’s personal diaries and connect with like-minded souls in “dialogues across the ether.” But when their scribblings devolve into the ugliest confessions of the macabre, the Library’s users learn too late that a malicious force has consumed their privacy and their sanity. As the city of Turin suffers a twenty-day “phenomenon of collective psychosis” culminating in nightly massacres that hundreds of witnesses cannot explain, the Library is shut down and erased from history. That is, until a lonely salaryman decides to investigate these mysterious events, which the citizenry of Turin fear to mention. Inevitably drawn into the city’s occult netherworld, he unearths the stuff of modern nightmares: what’s shared can never be unshared. An allegory inspired by the grisly neo-fascist campaigns of its day, The Twenty Days of Turin has enjoyed a fervent cult following in Italy for forty years. With its stunning anticipation of the Internet—and the apocalyptic repercussions of oversharing—this bleak, prescient story is more disturbingly pertinent than ever. Brilliantly translated into English for the first time by Ramon Glazov, The Twenty Days of Turin establishes De Maria’s place among the literary ranks of Italo Calvino and beside classic horror masters such as Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft.

Amberlough—Lara Elena Donnelly (February 7, Tor Books)
Trust no one with anything—especially in Amberlough City. Covert agent Cyril DePaul thinks he’s good at keeping secrets, especially from Aristide Makricosta. They suit each other: Aristide turns a blind eye to Cyril’s clandestine affairs, and Cyril keeps his lover’s moonlighting job as a smuggler under wraps. Cyril participates on a mission that leads to disastrous results, leaving smoke from various political fires smoldering throughout the city. Shielding Aristide from the expected fallout isn’t easy, though, for he refuses to let anything—not the crooked city police or the mounting rage from radical conservatives—dictate his life. Enter streetwise Cordelia Lehane, a top dancer at the Bumble Bee Cabaret and Aristide’s runner, who could be the key to Cyril’s plans—if she can be trusted. As the twinkling lights of nightclub marquees yield to the rising flames of a fascist revolution, these three will struggle to survive using whatever means—and people—necessary. Including each other. Combining the espionage thrills of le Carré with the allure of an alternate vintage era, Amberlough will thoroughly seduce and enthrall you.

The Burning World (Warm Bodies #2)—Isaac Marion (February 7, Emily Bestler Books)
Being alive is hard. Being human is harder. But since his recent recovery from death, R is making progress. He’s learning how to read, how to speak, maybe even how to love, and the city’s undead population is showing signs of life. R can almost imagine a future with Julie, this girl who restarted his heart—building a new world from the ashes of the old one. And then helicopters appear on the horizon. Someone is coming to restore order. To silence all this noise. To return things to the way they were, the good old days of stability and control and the strong eating the weak. The plague is ancient and ambitious, and the Dead were never its only weapon. How do you fight an enemy that’s in everyone? Can the world ever really change? With their home overrun by madmen, R, Julie, and their ragged group of refugees plunge into the otherworldly wastelands of America in search of answers. But there are some answers R doesn’t want to find.

All Our Wrong Todays—Elan Mastai (February 7, Dutton)
You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we’d have? Well, it happened. In Tom Barren’s 2016, humanity thrives in a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks, and moon bases, where avocados never go bad and punk rock never existed … because it wasn’t necessary. Except Tom just can’t seem to find his place in this dazzling, idealistic world, and that’s before his life gets turned upside down. Utterly blindsided by an accident of fate, Tom makes a rash decision that drastically changes not only his own life but the very fabric of the universe itself. In a time-travel mishap, Tom finds himself stranded in our 2016, what we think of as the real world. For Tom, our normal reality seems like a dystopian wasteland. But when he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career, and—maybe, just maybe—his soul mate, Tom has a decision to make. Does he fix the flow of history, bringing his utopian universe back into existence, or does he try to forge a new life in our messy, unpredictable reality? Filled with humor and heart, and saturated with insight and intelligence and a mind-bending talent for invention, this novel signals the arrival of a major talent.

The People’s Police—Norman Spinrad (February 7, Tor Books)
Norman Spinrad, a National Book Award finalist for his short fiction collection The Star-Spangled Future, has now written The People’s Police, a sharp commentary on politics with a contemporary, speculative twist. Martin Luther Martin is a hard-working New Orleans cop, who has come up from the gangland of Alligator Swamp through hard work. When he has to serve his own eviction notice, he decides he’s had enough and agrees to spearhead a police strike. Brothel owner and entrepreneur J. B. Lafitte also finds himself in a tight spot when his whorehouse in the Garden District goes into foreclosure. Those same Fat Cats responsible for the real estate collapse after Katrina didn’t differentiate between social strata or vocation. MaryLou Boudreau, aka Mama Legba, is a television star and voodoo queen—with a difference. The loa really do ride and speak through her. These three, disparate people are pulled together by a single moment in the television studio when Martin, hoping for publicity and support from the people against the banks, corporate fat cats, and corrupt politicians. But no one expects Papa Legba himself to answer, and his question changes everything. “What do you offer?”

Nowhere Near You—Leah Thomas (February 7, Bloomsbury)
Young adult. Ollie and Moritz might never meet, but their friendship knows no bounds. Their letters carry on as Ollie embarks on his first road trip away from the woods–no easy feat for a boy allergic to electricity–and Moritz decides which new school would best suit an eyeless boy who prefers to be alone. Along the way they meet other teens like them, other products of strange science who lead seemingly normal lives in ways Ollie and Moritz never imagined possible: A boy who jokes about his atypical skeleton; an aspiring actress who hides a strange deformity; a track star whose abnormal heart propels her to victory. Suddenly the future feels wide open for two former hermits. But even as Ollie and Moritz dare to enjoy life, they can’t escape their past, which threatens to destroy any progress they’ve made. Can these boys ever find their place in a world that might never understand them?

NK3—Michael Tolkin (February 7, Atlantic Monthly)
With The Player and The Return of the Player, Michael Tolkin established himself as the master novelist of modern Hollywood. In his new novel, NK3, the H LYW OD sign presides over a Los Angeles devastated by a weaponized microbe that has been accidentally spread around the globe, deleting human identity. In post-NK3 Los Angeles, a sixty-foot-tall fence surrounds the hills where the rich used to live, but the mansions have been taken over by those with the only power that matters: the power of memory. Life for the community inside the Fence, ruled over by the new aristocracy, the Verified, is a perpetual party. Outside the Fence, in downtown Los Angeles, the Verified use an invented mythology to keep control over the mindless and nameless Drifters, Shamblers, and Bottle Bangers who serve the gift economy until no longer needed. The ruler, Chief, takes his guidance from gigantic effigies of a man and a woman in the heart of the Fence. They warn him of trouble to come, but who is the person to watch: the elusive Eckmann, holed up with the last functioning plane at LAX; Shannon Squier, the chisel-wielding pop superstar from the pre-NK3 world, pulled from the shambling masses; a treacherous member of Chief’s inner circle; or Hopper, the uncommon Drifter compelled by an inner voice to search for a wife whose name and face he doesn’t know? Each threatens to upset the delicate power balance in this fragile world. In deliciously dark prose, Tolkin winds a noose-like plot around this melee of despots, prophets, and rebels as they struggle for command and survival in a town that still manages to exert a magnetic force, even as a ruined husk.

 

WEEK TWO

Shadowbahn—Steve Erickson (February 14, Blue Rider Press)
When the Twin Towers suddenly reappear in the Badlands of South Dakota twenty years after their fall, nobody can explain their return. To the hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands drawn to the “American Stonehenge”—including Parker and Zema, siblings on their way from L.A. to visit their mother in Michigan—the Towers seem to sing, even as everybody hears a different song. A rumor overtakes the throng that someone can be seen in the high windows of the southern structure. On the ninety-third floor, Jesse Presley—the stillborn twin of the most famous singer who ever lived—suddenly awakes, driven mad over the hours and days to come by a voice in his head that sounds like his but isn’t, and by the memory of a country where he survived in his brother’s place. Meanwhile, Parker and Zema cross a possessed landscape by a mysterious detour no one knows, charted on a map that no one has seen. Haunting, audacious, and undaunted, Shadowbahn is a winding and reckless ride through intersections of danger, destiny, and the conjoined halves of a ruptured nation.

The Release (Prey #3)—Tom Isbell (February 14, HarperTeen)
Young adult. Two months have passed since Book, Cat, Hope, and the others rescued the remaining Less Thans from Liberty, but they aren’t safe yet, and soon they’ll have to risk everything in order to defeat their enemies. The group must leave the camp for good and escape the wolves, the Brown Shirts, and the Hunters. Most important, they need to stop Chancellor Maddox before she executes her Final Solution and grows even more powerful. While the others are seeking freedom, for Hope, the battle has become personal. She wants revenge, no matter what the cost—and she’s willing to sacrifice anything standing in her way. The group may still be weak, but they don’t have time to wait. They must overthrow the Chancellor, even if it means joining forces with those who once betrayed them.

Best Worst American—Juan Martinez (February 14, Small Beer Press)
These are the best Americans, the worst Americans. In these stories (these cities, these people) there are labyrinths, rivers, wildernesses. Voices sound slightly different than expected. There’s humor, but it’s going to hurt. In “On Paradise,” a petshop manager flies with his cat to Las Vegas to meet his long-lost mother and grandmother, only to find that the women look exactly like they did forty years before. In “The Spooky Japanese Girl is There For You,” the spooky Japanese girl (a ghost) is there for you, then she is not. These refreshing and invigorating stories of displacement, exile, and identity, of men who find themselves confused by the presence or absence of extraordinary women, jump up, demand to be read, and send the reader back to the earth changed: reminded from these short stories how big the world is.

Ubo—Steve Rasnic Tem (February 14, Solaris)
Daniel is trapped in Ubo. He has no idea how long he has been imprisoned there by the roaches. Every resident has a similar memory of the journey to Ubo: a dream of dry, chitinous wings crossing the moon, the gigantic insects dropping swiftly over the houses of the neighborhood, passing through walls and windows as if by magic, or science. The creatures, like a deck of baroquely ornamented cards, fanning themselves from one hidden world into the next. And now each day they force Daniel to play a different figure from humanity’s violent history, from a frenzied Jack the Ripper to a stumbling and confused Stalin to a self-proclaimed god executing survivors atop the ruins of the world. The scenarios mutate day after day in this camp somewhere beyond the rules of time. As skies burn and prisoners go mad, identities dissolve as the experiments evolve, and no one can foretell their mysterious end.

 

WEEK THREE

The Mercy of the Tide—Keith Rosson (February 21, Meerkat Press)
Riptide, Oregon, 1983. A sleepy coastal town, where crime usually consists of underage drinking down at a Wolf Point bonfire. But then strange things start happening—a human skeleton is unearthed in a local park and mutilated animals begin appearing, seemingly sacrificed, on the town’s beaches. The Mercy of the Tide follows four people drawn irrevocably together by a recent tragedy as they do their best to reclaim their lives—leading them all to a discovery that will change them and their town forever. At the heart of the story are Sam Finster, a senior in high school mourning the death of his mother, and his sister Trina, a nine-year-old deaf girl who denies her grief by dreaming of a nuclear apocalypse as Cold War tensions rise. Meanwhile, Sheriff Dave Dobbs and Deputy Nick Hayslip must try to put their own sorrows aside to figure out who, or what, is wreaking havoc on their once-idyllic town. Keith Rosson paints outside the typical genre lines with his brilliant debut novel. It is a gorgeously written book that merges the sly wonder of magical realism and alternate history with the depth and characterization of literary fiction.

 

WEEK FOUR

The Wrong Dead Guy (Another Coop Heist #2)—Richard Kadrey (February 28, Harper Voyager)
Coop, a master thief sort of gone legit, saved the world from an ancient doomsday device—heroism that earned him a gig working for the Department of Peculiar Science, a fearsome top secret government agency that polices the odd and strange. Now Woolrich, Coop’s boss at the DOPS, has Coop breaking into a traveling antiquities show to steal a sarcophagus containing the mummy of a powerful Egyptian wizard named Harkhuf. With the help of his pals Morty, Giselle, and a professor that’s half-cat, half-robotic octopus, Coop pulls off the heist without a hitch. It’s not Coop’s fault that when DOPS opened the sarcophagus they didn’t find the mummy they were expecting. Well, it was the right mummy, but it wasn’t exactly dead—and now it’s escaped, using a type of magic the organization hasn’t encountered before. Being a boss, Woolrich blames his underling for the screw up and wants Coop to find the missing Harkhuf and make it right, pronto. Coop would very much like to run from the oncoming chaos. It’s one thing to steal a mummy, but another to have to deal with head-hunting bureaucrats, down-on-their luck fortune tellers, undead mailroom clerks, and a rather unimpressed elephant. Unfortunately, there’s nowhere to run. But if Coop manages to save the world AGAIN, he’s definitely going to want a lot of answers. And a raise.

Agents of Dreamland—Caitlín R. Kiernan (February 28, Tor.com Publishing)
A government special agent known only as the Signalman gets off a train on a stunningly hot morning in Winslow, Arizona. Later that day he meets a woman in a diner to exchange information about an event that happened a week earlier for which neither has an explanation, but which haunts the Signalman. In a ranch house near the shore of the Salton Sea a cult leader gathers up the weak and susceptible — the Children of the Next Level — and offers them something to believe in and a chance for transcendence. The future is coming and they will help to usher it in. A day after the events at the ranch house which disturbed the Signalman so deeply that he and his government sought out help from ‘other’ sources, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory abruptly loses contact with NASA’s interplanetary probe New Horizons. Something out beyond the orbit of Pluto has made contact. And a woman floating outside of time looks to the future and the past for answers to what can save humanity. Agents of Dreamland is a new Lovecraftian horror novella from award-winning author Caitlín R. Kiernan.

0 Comments

Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in Tor.com's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? Tor.com members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!