PositiveTor...as expansive a narrative as any I’ve ever read ... Death’s End is so stupidly full of electrifying ideas that a good many of them are roundly erased mere pages after they’ve been raised...That said, some of Death’s End‘s overabundance of substance rather drags ... Ultimately, it’s the ideas Cixin Liu tends to in Death’s End that are going to grab you, rather than its protagonist. It’s the incredible ambition of this book that you’re going to write home about, as opposed to its fleeting focus on the minor moments. And that’s...disappointing, I dare say. But it’s nowhere near a deal-breaker.
The GradualChristopher Priest
PositiveTorThe Gradual doesn’t satisfy in the classic fashion. It’s relatively eventful at the outset, but less and less as the novel progresses. It doesn’t have much momentum, and in its slow moments seems positively stodgy. It’s confusing before it’s clear, maddening before it’s mysterious. You’ll come out of the singular experience of reading it with more questions than you went in with—but read it you should, to be sure, because like a dream, baffling though it may be, it really could renew you. Intellectually, yes—the extraordinary ideas The Gradual explores are, as ever, brilliantly belied by the plainness of Priest’s prose—but also intimately ... The Gradual is a great many things—exhilarating, frustrating, hypnotic, semiotic—but above all else, it’s an inspiring novel about inspiration.
The Obelisk GateN. K. Jemisin
MixedTorMiddle volume syndrome sets in in the surprisingly circumspect sequel to one of the best and bravest books of 2015. Though the world remains remarkable, and the characters at the heart of the narrative are as rich and resonant as ever, The Obelisk Gate sacrifices The Fifth Season‘s substance and sense of momentum for a far slighter and slower story ... a sedentary, albeit completely readable sequel.
MixedTorTo a greater or lesser extent, each of its short chapters progresses the text’s central threads but the bulk of the book is given over to barbed banter that, however eye-opening or entertaining, adds little but length to Normal‘s narrative. Similarly, its cast of characters, though conceptually clever and immediately either appealing or appalling, are mostly mouthpieces in practice—a problem perhaps exacerbated by the fact that there are so very many of them ... That Normal is nevertheless violently insightful and at times dangerously entertaining is no mean feat given its various failings, many of which, I fear, follow from its form: from the stranding of a novel’s worth of characters and the plot of a short in a novella that needs focus as opposed to filler.
The WarrenBrian Evenson
RaveTor...a marvellously mystifying novella that wants to know what it means to be human in a world where people can be constructed like sculptures shaped from clay ... The Warren‘s broken story mirrors the broken being at its breast brilliantly, revealing fragments of fantastical narrative in the same breath as expanding our understanding of X as a character ... I’ve had my ups and downs with Brian Evenson’s work over the years, particularly with his tiresome tie-ins, but The Warren has all the intensity and intelligence of his tremendous 2009 novel Last Days. It may well be the best thing he’s written since.
Behind Her EyesSarah Pinborough
MixedTorA work of fiction twined around a twist that is, shall we say, entangled with something supernatural, Behind Her Eyes is likely to elicit a few screams of 'Don’t cross the streams!' And understandably so, I suppose ... Like The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl before it, Behind Her Eyes is a book that you don’t so much read as ride. It’s a little slow for a rollercoaster, though. The first act, in fact, is all superficial setup ... there are two twists, in truth, and the first isn’t far off. But rest assured that it turns this text into something else. Something markedly more interesting than either the grip-lit of its underpinnings or the dark fantasies Pinborough has purveyed in the past ... Behind Her Eyes isn’t quite as clever as it thinks it is; its central perspectives are initially rather rote; its beginning is at bottom boring—and that’s quite the laundry list of issues. But they’re issues Pinborough saves face by putting in their place later, when the song and dance of the secrets at the dark heart of this narrative is done. Would that I could talk more openly about those, but to do so would deny you the undeniable delight of discovery, and that’s what Behind Her Eyes is about, at bottom: shocking your comfy cotton socks off. And it does that, dear reader. It does that as well as any novel I remember.
A Closed and Common OrbitBecky Chambers
RaveTorA Closed and Common Orbit is entirely standalone—unlike so many of the struggling sequels that insist on this—although a passing familiarity with the larger canvas of said series is sure to prove a plus ... it doubles down on the small, character-focused moments that made its predecessor such an unfettered pleasure, and in that respect, it’s no less of a success ... A Closed and Common Orbit may be smaller in scope than the book before it, but in its focus and its force, in the sheer delight it takes in the discoveries it documents, it’s as fine and as fantastical and as fun as Chambers’ absolute darling of a debut.
The ErstwhileB. Catling
MixedTor...explodes the exceptional premise of its predecessor at the same time as falling short of fulfilling its awesome promise ... ultimately, the atrophied angels after which this novel is named just aren’t as effective a focus as the Vorrh was...Unfortunately, as fascinating as the Erstwhile are in the abstract, in practice, they’re baffling ... inasmuch as this distance serves to broaden the overall scope of the series, it also places readers at a regrettable remove from the richness and resonance of the grotesque garden at its centre ... The Erstwhile is a good book, to be sure, but great it ain’t, I’m afraid. In that—and in lieu, too, of either a bona fide beginning or anything resembling an ending—it’s very much a middling middle volume.
RaveTor...a surprisingly beautiful book ... VanderMeer’s focus on the magical and the miserable moments of motherhood is so fine that by the time Borne is grown, it feels like a life has been lived, and an unbreakable bond formed ... At heart, Borne is a small story, a sweet story, a sad story; a cunningly punning, playful and flavourful exploration of parenthood more interested in feelings and in fun than fungus. It’s definitely one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read, and it may well be one of the best. Bravo.
Men Without WomenHaruki Murakami, Trans. by Philip Gabriel & Ted Goossen
PanTor...whilst I wish I could tell you their haunting quality makes up for their wanting quantity, so many of said struck me as uneventful retreads that I can only recommend this collection with a planter of caveats ... alas, most of these stories are inescapably bland: repetitive and rambling accounts of the unremarkable that round the same sorts of scenarios and characters again and again, only to end utterly abruptly just as Murakami finally makes his presence felt ... Though it has its Murakami moments—a few fragrant flowers struggling to push through the kudzu, if you’ll permit me to fiddle with the author’s own imagery—Men Without Women feels to this reader like a garden in desperate need of weeding.
Annihilation Jeff VanderMeer
RaveTorA biologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor, and a psychologist venture into Area X. Sounds like the setup for a joke, doesn’t it? Well halt that thought, because Annihilation is no laughing matter. On the contrary: Jeff VanderMeer’s first new novel since Finch is a nightmarish narrative about the fungus among us which trades in terror and tension rather than simple titters. It’s the award-winning author’s most accessible text yet… though there’s a very real chance the Southern Reach series will leave you with weird dreams for years.
The TwelveJustin Cronin
MixedTorCronin’s core cast members have moved on. They’re all over the place, both figuratively and literally—and so too, in turn, is The Twelve. A stupendous proportion of it is spent simply getting the gang back together; adding insult to injury, almost nothing of note happens until they are. And then? … Excepting sections at the very beginning and end of the text, Cronin’s prose is considerably less… considered than it was at the outset of his epic. Characters new and old are developed in broad strokes only; the plot progresses in frustrating fits and starts; the sense of tension prevalent in The Passage is practically absent. Book two of this trilogy just hasn’t the heart of the first part. Credit to the author, then, that even in light of this laundry list of issues, The Twelve compels—to the point that I had a hard time putting it down.
The Stone SkyN. K. Jemisin
RaveTorAs the conclusion to a trilogy that started strong and then stopped, The Stone Sky gave me everything that I wanted, and then it gave me more. It’s devastating. Poignant and personal and almost impossibly powerful. If my faith in N. K. Jemisin as one of our generation’s most able creators was in any way shaken by The Obelisk Gate—and I confess that it was, somewhat—then The Stone Sky has decimated those doubts. The Broken Earth is in totality one of the great trilogies of our time, and if all is well with the world, its thoroughly thrilling third volume should surely secure N. K. Jemisin a third Hugo Award.