To Omaha, Paris, and an Alternate Eastern Europe
Hello again, speculative fiction readers!
I have three new reading recommendations for you and your patrons, but first let’s talk about the ALA Annual Conference.
Some incredible Macmillan authors are joining us in Chicago for panels and signings and we would love to see you at their events (schedule here). When you get to the exhibit hall, please come by our booth (#2103) and introduce yourself!
We all know that the exhibits will be an extravagant feast of literary dishes, but before we go all Templeton-at-the-fair among the veritable banquet of fantastic fiction, I would love to tell you about three speculative delights that I recently devoured.
In Omaha, 2011:
by Rainbow Rowell
What's it all about?
Once upon a time in high school there were two fangirls, Cath and her twin sister, Wren. Together they used to write the internet’s most-read Simon Snow fan fiction stories in which coming-of-age wizard Simon and his canonical nemesis, Baz, have fallen in love. When the twins arrive on campus for their first year of college, only Cath remains loyally obsessive to the Harry Potter-style series. Wren, on the other hand, has grown away from the fandom and taken up the hobbies of a typical freshman (e.g. getting sh*tfaced at bars that don’t check I.D.). So Cath writes alone. Over the course of the year, Cath deals with the tumultuous anxieties of dorm life, a mean roommate, her mean roommate’s flirty boyfriend, a cute writing partner, dining hall etiquette, her father’s breakdown, reconnection attempts from her estranged mom, and a creative writing teacher who labels her most prized skill “plagiarism.”
Tell me more!
So… this is awkward. Fangirl isn’t actually speculative fiction. Well, it kind of is. In Cath’s world everything is exactly the same as our world except there’s a massive literary and pop culture phenomenon based on a wizard named Simon Snow… which makes it like an alternate reality, right? AND there are excerpts from both the canonical fantasy books and Cath’s fanfic, so those are all genre-y. I know. I’m reaching.
I knew going into this book that it was a contemporary novel and I didn’t think I was going to include it here, but to my great delight I discovered that Fangirl is not only a beautifully-written, familiar story about the difficult transition from high school to college, it’s also specifically about the growth of a reader more devoted to a fantasy world than to her own. It’s a story that I believe will resonate with your patrons who are torn between their day-to-day reality and their favorite literary worlds.
Fangirl belongs in the hands of high school grads, sandwiched between Oh, the Places You'll Go! and Make Good Art, and also in the hands of all active Pottermore users, and definitely in the hands of readers, writers, romantics, m/m slash fans, and—you know what? If you see a pair of hands, just assume that Fangirl belongs in them.
NOTE: We will have lots of Fangirl galleys in our booth (#2103) at ALA Annual, but they will go quickly so find us fast!
In Paris, 1959:
by Toby Barlow
What’s it all about?
Zoya and Elga are very old friends. By “very old,” I mean hundreds of years into their immortal lives as witches and by “friends,” I mean long-time traveling partners that are generally tired of each other’s bullsh*t. In 1959 both witches are living under the radar in Paris—that is, until Zoya botches a murder spell that she placed on her most recent lover-cum-victim and accidentally sends the police to Elga’s apartment door. Elga transforms the detective and his partner into fleas and sets out to rid herself of Zoya once and for all. Meanwhile, Zoya has targeted a new lover, Will, an ad man from Detroit who also happens to work for the C.I.A.. The witches, the spies, the fleas, and various entertaining and nefarious others come together over a series of murders, affairs, and spells gone awry.
Tell me more!
Russian Lit. majors, Francophiles, and hag-sympathizers, prepare to be ensorcelled!
Toby Barlow’s debut, Sharp Teeth, was not only a 2009 Alex Award-winner, but also on RUSA’s Best Adult Genre Fiction Reading List. In his sophomore effort, Barlow abandons L.A. for Paris and trades werewolves for witches, to tell a supernatural murder mystery that also happens to be a sexy love story and a wicked revenge plot. I picked this one up specifically for the witches (surprise!), and genre readers such as myself will not be disappointed, but the writing may appeal even more to lovers of surreal, romantic prose, rich atmosphere, and somewhat absurd characters.
The Francophiles will love the affection with which the characters view the City of Light:
“Will awoke twisted up in his suit, as the dawn’s first pink flush was tinting red, yellow and orange off the clouds and glinting gold and bronze off the Paris rooftops.”
And the Mad Men-ophiles will relish the 1950’s corporate flavor:
“The slow clatter of typewriters filing out reports and the scent of stale cigarettes mixed with the smell of mimeograph ink permeated the rooms they passed through.”
Babayaga is all sorts of fantastic. Highly recommended!
In Eastern Europe, Present Day:
The Land Across
by Gene Wolfe
What's it all about?
An American travel writer is touring an alternate Eastern Europe as research for his next guidebook. After much persistence he gains admittance to a small, unnamed country only to have the border guards confiscate his passport and place him under house arrest in the home of an untried enemy of the state. Thereafter follows years—years!—of harrowing misadventures in captivity of government entities, private citizens, rebel groups, and an intelligence agency. In various hostage roles he hunts treasure, gets in fights, goes to prison, sleeps around a little, walks around a lot, sails, shops, encounters a sentient severed hand and magical voodoo dolls, and goes undercover seeking someone known as the Unholy Way’s Undead Dragon—as you do—all the while noting the country’s customs, food, and geography in the language of a well-traveled guide.
Tell me more!
Uncharted Pages was created specifically out of a desire to champion some of Macmillan’s incredible, otherworldly stories that Readers’ Advisory librarians might overlook. I try to select debut novels, reading level crossovers, new series, and genre-benders.
Needless to say, Gene Wolfe does not have a discoverability problem. So I’ll just come right out with my hidden agenda for selecting a novel by a bestselling, World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement-winning SFWA Grand Master with multiple Nebula and Locus Awards, and it is this: your A Song of Ice and Fire fans desperately need something to read to fill the Westeros-shaped hole in their hearts and that something should be Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun series.
The Shadow of the Torturer (book 1, collected in Shadow & Claw) is the first thing I would hand to a grief-stricken A Game of Thrones fan facing the long, dark void until the release of The Winds of Winter (or at least until HBO’s fourth season).
So anyway, when I saw a new Gene Wolfe book on our list, I crossed my fingers that I would enjoy it enough to slip in that recommendation; I didn’t expect The Land Across to be so delightfully unlike any other fantasy I’ve ever read.
All through his imprisonments, hauntings, and espionage games, our travel guide peppers his storytelling with helpful traveler tips in the direct conversational tone that readers of Bill Bryson will find familiar.
“In a day, you might see three or four trucks and a dozen wagons. But private cars? Buses and cabs? All that sh*t? Forget it! Ordinary people walk everywhere.”
This makes the worldbuilding not only palatable to less forgiving speculative fiction readers, but also pleasurable and grounded. All in all, this is kind of like a Let’s Go Oceania 2013 meets Time Out Kafka’s Berlin as written by your coolest uncle.