MixedThe Seattle TimesIf Jane Austen had written fairy tales, they might read like Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell ...creates a world in which the pastel remnants of a much wilder medieval magic are studied by eccentric country gentlemen ... Strange is 782 pages long. And it's the result of more than 10 year's imagining, writing and research, a creation so densely detailed that the footnotes with which the text is larded pique rather than satisfy the reader's interest ...in a novel of Strange's scope there are other themes, other subplots, other finely drawn characters... but Clarke's most impressive show of authorial skill is in how she resolves this tension without destroying it.
Annihilation Jeff VanderMeer
PositiveThe Seattle TimesGradually, the narrator realizes she herself has been contaminated by spores inhaled as she examined a mosslike growth that spelled out gloomy poetry on the walls of a living shaft plunging deep into the earth. The biologist’s persistence in calling this shaft a tower, despite the fact that it rises only 8 inches above the ground, is one way VanderMeer shows the extent of her disorientation: up is down, in (toward the heart of the mystery) is out — toward the border between Area X and normalcy … VanderMeer ups the book’s eeriness quotient with the smoothest of skill, the subtlest of grace. His prose makes the horrific beautiful.
RaveThe Seattle TimesIn scenes sometimes gorgeously sensual, sometimes wrenchingly grotesque, Horns ranges between flashbacks of Ig's childhood and first experience of love to his hate-filled quest for revenge ...Richly allusive, Horns references not only classical mythology, but Biblical texts, pre-Christian folklore, and such rock 'n' roll legends as Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels … Evil and suffering exist, Horns postulates, so whoever created the world can be either all-powerful and given to random cruelties, or good and merciful, but with limited capabilities. And devils, evil's personifications, can be seen in dizzying perspective as servants of good when, like Ig, they punish sinners.
PositiveThe Seattle TimesThis is a complicated scenario. Atwood handles it well. Repetition becomes recursiveness, and she writes with insight and no pretension about how narratives work with and through one another: ‘There’s the story, then there’s the real story, then there’s the story of how the story came to be told.’ She tells all these sorts of stories in MaddAddam satisfyingly, and of course, beautifully … Eventually, toward MaddAddam’s conclusion, birth and decay, death and growth bring about quite a different world than the one in which the trilogy began. But tales are still told, and in this, the third and final book, Atwood presents a moving and convincing case for our stories’ continued existence long after we’re gone.
PositiveThe Seattle TimesNOS4A2 is his longest and most ambitious work yet. Besides fussy, strait-laced evildoer Manx; fierce, fragile, stubborn McQueen; and her confident yet vulnerable son Wayne; Hill gives us a host of other involving characters. There’s Bing Partridge, a misogynistic murderer with a handy supply of psychotropic gases. There’s Maggie Leigh, a librarian and self-mutilator with a set of oracular Scrabble tiles. There’s my favorite, Wayne’s father Lou Carmody, a morbidly obese Klingon scholar and comics geek who fights to save his family come hell or heart attacks. Very few of NOS4A2’s 700-plus pages are static descriptions of these folks; most of the time Hill tethers us to their viewpoints and has them tow us along as they blunder or slink or sleuth their way through the story. Their actions reveal their essences.
RaveThe Washington PostVanderMeer’s undeniable skill as a writer keeps what could be an unwieldy blur of a plot from devolving into grim melodrama or atmospheric nihilism ... Rachel, a brown-skinned, kinky-haired refugee woman, will also satisfy readers eager to see marginalized figures move to the center of an adventure novel. And there’s enough allusiveness in this story to satisfy a whole conference of literary critics. Ultimately, though, these heady delights only add to the engrossing richness of Borne. The main attraction is a tale of mothers and monsters — and of how we make each other with our love.
RaveThe Seattle TimesEver alert to change’s human impact, Willis explores the always humorous and sometimes frightening consequences of heroine Briddey Flannigan’s awareness of exactly what those around her think. Willis also provides convincing explanations of telepathy’s advantages and the likelihood of its survival as a genetic trait. But the novel’s screwball elements, and especially the klutzy-cute interactions between Briddey and maverick nerd C.B. Schwartz, are what charmed me. Rapier wit and sparkling ripostes form the heart of the romantic comedies Willis praises at public appearances, sharing her love for the art form. They’re very much in evidence here.
The Paper MenagerieKen Liu
RaveThe Seattle TimesLike childhood, these stories are simple — but far from simplistic. Besides making compelling points about subjects such as domination and empowerment, responsibility and freedom, they leave lingering impressions of smooth-gaited water buffalo; sky-filling solar sails; proto-sapient, lemurlike aliens; and camera implants disguised as prostitutes’ eyes. Long after the book has been read, these telling details continue to lend their subtle heft to stories that pierce to the core of what’s right.
Lovecraft CountryMatt Ruff
PositiveThe Seattle TimesThough white, Ruff writes plausibly from the viewpoints of his black characters. Their concerns — whether they confront faceless mobs or respond to surprise invitations from scions of America’s unacknowledged aristocracy — seem genuinely driven by their own agendas, not the author’s. Ruff also avoids the common error of homogenizing the thoughts and feelings of these black 'others.'
Hidden FiguresMargot Lee Shetterly
MixedThe Seattle TimesHidden Figures author Margot Lee Shetterly, herself the daughter of a black NASA engineer, has written a detailed account of the women who broke through race and gender barriers to become key factors in the U.S. space program’s success ... Most important to the heroines of Hidden Figures were assumptions about who could ask the right questions concerning aeronautic efficiencies and potential flightpaths, and who was best suited to translate those questions into mathematical equations others would solve ... Unfortunately, at times she seems unable to meld her material into a smoothly flowing storyline ... This hardworking, earnest book is the perfect foil for the glamour still to come.
Gold Fame CitrusClaire Vaye Watkins
RaveThe Seattle Times[Watkins's] story toys with supernatural explanations for the survival of outcasts living in the super-dune’s shadow, but ultimately rejects them. Rather than the wild imaginings that members of SF’s community of writers have trained themselves to give voice to, and have nourished by reading the work of fellow imaginers, Watkins’s depictions are grounded in an almost fatalistic view of our current situation ... All the strength and utility of Gold Fame Citrus come from the unrelentingness of its author’s well-schooled gaze. But that gaze encompasses more than tragedy, more than the chaos of civilization’s gradual collapse. It also shares with us the feverish glow of a world lit only by fugitives’ fires, the hallucinatory shimmer surrounding each individual grain of pulverized stone, each tiny tributary to an overwhelming flood of uncontrollable forces: heat, wind, dreams.
The Last Days of New ParisChina Miéville
PositiveThe Seattle Times[Mieville] dices up and disposes of narrative continuity with the flair of a collage artist. The resulting portrait of a city outside of time entices and rewards readers, even as it rebuffs traditional ideas about how stories should be told ... At once old-fashioned and unconventional, Miéville’s novel transcends expectations of modernism raised by its recent publication.