Best Books is a sampling of my favouite new books (fiction or non-fiction). In some cases, these reviews will be based on advance copies of books that may not yet have been released. In such instances, the release dates will be printed within the review in question.
Red Planet Blues
Robert J. Sawyer
Robert J. Sawyer’s twenty-second novel is somewhat of a departure from his more recent works. While his most popular sci-fi thrillers such as FlashForward (the basis for the 2009 ABC series) and the WWW trilogy tell near-future or present-day stories, his latest, Red Planet Blues, follows some of the genre’s more traditional conventions—the book is set on Mars, after all.
But Sawyer doesn’t limit himself to one genre; Red Planet Blues also pays homage to classic noir crime novels, most notably Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.
Set against the backdrop of the Great Martian Fossil Rush—a tip of the hat to the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1800s—the story follows the exploits of Alex Lomax, a private detective living in a domed city on future Mars. Very quickly, Lomax becomes involved in a series of investigations revolving around stolen identities, stolen fossils, murder…and naked ladies. And then there are the transfers: wealthy individuals who’ve had their minds uploaded to immortal android bodies. In other words, this is a compelling fusion of classic sci-fi and detective mystery fiction.
Although Red Planet Blues doesn’t explore the “Big Ideas” as fully as Sawyer’s previous works, there’s still no denying that this latest novel is a heck of a lot of fun.
Chocolates for Breakfast
*Coming July 2013
To this day, frank discussions of teen sexuality often ruffle a few feathers. It should come as no surprise, then, that Pamela Moore’s debut novel, Chocolates for Breakfast, turned a lot of heads when it was first released in 1956. Shocking for its time, the novel tells the story of Courtney Farrell, a fifteen-year-old girl who struggles to right herself after a crush on a female teacher ends poorly. Very quickly Courtney finds herself awash in a world of affairs, drinking, and adolescent disaffection. Hers is a story of love and sex, of tragic friendships and broken families, and – ultimately – of growing up.
Though over five decades old, Chocolates for Breakfast remains a fresh and compelling coming-of-age story, and one that will resonate with contemporary readers despite our current familiarity with such subject matter. From its consideration of teen sex and homosexuality to its exploration of alcoholism and depression, the novel offers a thoughtful look at a young girl’s troubled rise to adulthood.
Fans and critics alike often mention that Moore was only eighteen years old when Chocolates for Breakfast was first published. And, indeed, the sophistication of her writing in light of her youth makes that fact all the more astonishing. More important, however, is the novel’s ability to stand on its own despite its author’s age. And on that front it succeeds fully.
Michael Farris Smith
*Coming September 2013
The terrible futures predicted in dystopian novels are usually only possible futures, inspired by humanity’s darker moments. In Rivers, however, Michael Farris Smith offers a startling and much more likely depiction of the troubled waters we may face in the years to come. Neither preachy nor academic, Smith’s debut novel is a compelling and literary cautionary tale that explores humanity’s plight in the wake of devastating climate change.
Set in the near future, Rivers tells the story of Cohen, a man who has chosen to live below a government instituted boundary known as the Line. Having refused to abandon his home, Cohen and those like him who live along the hurricane ravaged coast are at the mercy of worsening storms and roving thieves. Below the Line there is no government aid, no police, and no hospitals or schools.
At its heart, Rivers is the story of a man trying to overcome the death of his wife and unborn daughter. It is a personal story, and one that is haunting and not soon forgotten. As in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Smith’s use of language and imagery is strikingly powerful, though Smith’s vision of the future is not as bleak as McCarthy’s.
Ultimately, Rivers is a story of hope, and that is a story worth reading.
Best Books: the reviews in these columns also appear on the Bookshelf review website. For those not in the know, the Bookshelf is a bookstore, e-bar, and theatre located in Guelph, Ontario (Canada). You can learn more about them by visit their website.