Feb 6, 2019

Book Recommendations February 2019

Winter was once coming, then decided otherwise and went somewhere else instead… All the better for Berlinale fans, because it is so much more pleasant to wait in endless movie lines when it is not below zero. Yes, the spring is almost here and the Otherland has a pretty full spring programm, which is unfortunately exclusively in German (please see our website for the full schedule). But don’t get discouraged; there will surely be enough time for international events! Until then, you can keep reading for and joining the Otherland Speculative Fiction Book Club, which is in English. Here are the titles and dates for the next few months:

February 8th - Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
February 22nd - Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado (horror special)
March 8th - Tales of the Dying Earth by Jack Vance
March 15th - Otherland Speculative Theory Book Club:
“About 5750 Words” by Samuel R. Delany (published in The Jewel-Hinged Jaw)
“Truth as a Vehicle for Enhancing Fiction, Fiction as a Vehicle for Discovering Truth” by Steven Brust (published here).
April 12th - The Trees by Ali Shaw

The Otherland Speculative Fiction Book Club meetings are always on the second Friday of the month at 7.30 pm at the Otherland Bookstore. The additional sessions on horror and theory also take place on a Friday. There's always snacks and drinks that you don't have to pay for, but contributions are welcome. You never need to sign up to join us, but we appreciate it greatly that you do read the book if you're coming.

Here are our recommendations for February:

Science Fiction

Immobility by Brian Evenson
tor Euro 14,99

Writer Brian Evenson was asked by the The Hypothetical Library to create a short synopsis and a cover for a book that he’s NOT going to write. Evenson dreamed up the outline for Immobility and thought this was it, until he was approached by tor and asked if he didn’t perhaps want to write that book after all.
So, what started as this funny little experiment resulted in the finished novel of medium-length that lies now before us – and what a weird thing it’s turned out to be!
Josef Horkai is woken up from cold sleep and finds himself not only completely disoriented but also paralysed from the waist down. He’s able to remember random kinds of things, but not the real important ones – who he is, what happened to the outside world that rendered it inhabitable and who these strange people are that claim to be his friends and ask him to go on a crazy mission through the radioactive environment to retrieve some kind of stolen object. This does not sound appealing to him, but the only alternative is: back into storage! And as the reader you’ll find yourself at the exact same crossroad – you can either put this book down and never know what the story is (back to storage with you!) or you can choose to follow this guy on his trip into the unknown. He’ll be carried by two (non-human?) people that remind of Tweedledee and Tweedledum by the way.
Evenson does an excellent job in writing from the point of view of a mentally and physically incomplete character that enters a world of catastrophe, of dreamlike unreality and weird humor – “Blade Runner”, ”Altered Carbon”, “The Road” and “Alice in Wonderland” come to mind - only… it’s so indescribably different.

Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville
del rey Euro  9,45

Going through the books on my bookshelves, I realize that over the years blurbs have told us many great things about China Miéville's work in manifold ways; that it is gritty, poetic, dazzling, compelling; challenging but deeply rewarding, a mindbending excursion and, my personal favorite, compulsively readable...
But not a single one mentions the fact that he has a sense of humor, why is that? Well, he does, and a great and dark one at that! If not in any of his other books, it is impossible to ignore this fact in Last days of New Paris.
There is a crooked playfulness that creeps through Last Days, which follows the adventures of Thibaut, a surrealist activist who is fighting to stop a Nazi experiment, an attempt to combine surreal “manifs”, living artwork, with demonic forces, in Paris in 1950; delicately braided with American engineer Jack Parsons’ encounter with a group of revolutionary artists in Marseilles in 1941. Not only do the two tales connect nicely in the course of the book, Miéville also hits us readers with blow after blow of highly referential super-real fantasy - lobster telephones, wolf chairs, superhero pajamas, the exquisite corpse, genuinely scary demon manifs - increasing in absurdity, leading us through at least two comical twists, and concluding in an unforeseen, spectacular, overwhelmingly huge question mark.
Yes, Last Days IS mind-bending and dazzling and puzzling and sizzling and challenging and most certainly readable in any manner; but it is also simply sheer beautiful, political in the usual Miévillean sense and fun to read, and should be read over and over and over again.

Planetfall by Emma Newman
penguin Euro 15,00

I have finally read Planetfall, the first book in Emma Newman’s Planetfall series. Quite a while ago a longtime Otherland-customer read it and told me afterwards: “One of the strangest books I have ever read.” Well, now I agree. It’s different. Somehow personal, almost intimate. From the first page you wonder what’s going on and feel like thrown in a dishwasher on random program. All from the point of view of Renata Ghali, one of the colonists from earth. Step by step you learn what she knows. What happened. Why she is on another planet. Why the colony is next to an alien city, called City of God. You learn Ren is afraid. But all this is like peeling onions: layer after layer you encounter more layers, until finally the truth arrives and it just sweeps you away. It’s about believes. Shame. Personal breakdown. Fear. Truth and illusion. Sometimes while reading, you don’t know if the main plot about an alien planet and the alien city is the strange part or the voyage through the thoughts of Ren.
And with Planetfall, the story is not over, because the second book, After Atlas, looks into the personalities and stories of the people who have been left behind on earth, the third book, Before Mars, does the same on Mars and the final and fourth one, Atlas Alone, goes back to the colony and the alien planet.
Read it. If you like headfucks. Not the Philip K. Dick-kind of headfucks but the “oh, damned, i get what she does”-headfuck.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
canongate Euro 11,10

Somehow there seems to be a new subgenre about time travelling and love - like The Time Traveler’s Wife, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and many more I already forgot (maybe there aren’t any more???), but nevertheless - How to Stop Time is about Tom Hazard, 41 and stuck in time. Meaning: he's been around for quite a while. Knew Shakespeare long time-ish. And he had enough. Wants to be like you and me. Buuuut it’s not that easy and he is not allowed to fall in love. Guess what happens?
How to Stop Time does it right, asks the right questions, and gives the vast possibility of answers (of which only one is right for you) and taps on the difficulty of living one’s own life. But, again, I get the feeling of a subgenre. Know what I mean?

XX by Angela Chadwick
dialogue Euro 21,00

Some time in the very near future, scientists in the UK come up with a procedure to merge ova in a way that results in (exclusively) female babies - rendering male sperms obsolete for reproduction. Angela Chadwick tells the story of Jules and Rosie, a lesbian couple who are among the first women worldwide to try the new procedure. While their baby grows inside Rosie, they are confronted with media outrage fantasizing about a lesbian conspiracy to abolish all men, bigots wearing light blue ribbons “for our little boys” and chanting religious hymns at them, medical uncertainties, but also ambiguous reactions by the people closest to them.
Chadwick does a great job in showing how overwhelming the expectancies regarding pregnancy and parenthood can be, how much pressure lies in normative images of family and childhood, and how excruciating it can be for those who try to do things differently. While the story has some narrative shortcomings, which are perhaps due to this being a debut novel, it is engaging, courageous, and has a clear political and moral standpoint without being didactic about it.

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich
harper collins Euro 16,99

This is tough stuff. Tough in a Handmaid’s Tale-kind of way: in a future America, newborn babies seem more and more stumbling backwards in evolution, and this evokes doomsday-reactions from a society in which the pendulum is swinging back towards religious control. As readers, we are with twenty-six-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, pregnant in her fourth month, and the view on her world around is not pretty.
Does all this sound too real? Well …
It’s a book about a woman and about women in society ruled by men and rules made by men. Sign of times.

Nigerians in Space & After the Flare by Deji Bryce Olukotun
unnamed press Euro 16,99 each

In the beginning of Nigerians in Space, a lunar geologist working with NASA in Houston gets a call from a government official from his native country Nigeria and is asked to join in a programme called "rain gain", which aims at convincing highly qualified Nigerians to return to their home country to start a Nigerian space program. What follows is a thrilling story about several individuals, all of them in different ways entangled in political turmoil, economic hardships, and personal tragedies between Texas, Cape Town, Paris, and Abija. Don‘t expect hard sci-fi – but you‘re guaranteed to learn a lot about abalone and a little about Nigerian diaspora and culture. Nigerians in Space represents a more earthly, less speculative and far-out Afrofuturism than e.g. Binti, and I like it just as much.
I haven’t gotten around to reading the sequel, After the Flare, yet. It deals with the impact of a solar flare that leaves Nigeria the only country with a functioning space program on a planet with collapsing infrastructure - it says as much on the back, so I‘m not spoiling too much here.
These are not completely new (Nigerians in Space came out in 2014, After the Flare in 2017), but they arrived in the Otherland only recently. Also, according to the author, they were "optioned by a major film company" last September, so they might appear on screen some time soon. If you‘re not convinced yet, read Deji Olukotun‘s story about „Meeting my protagonist“ – turns out, there really is a Nigerian space program!


Mirror Visitor Quartet #1: A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos
europa editions Euro 19,95

Complaints first: This book suffers from the “trilogy-syndrome” that is so widespread in contemporary fantasy - by which I mean that, for me, neither plot nor narration needed ~ 500 pages, but could have been condensed into half that length. Less telling and more showing would have done the trick. Contentwise, I’m not sure the world needed another story about a young girl being forced to marry a rude, unattractive, obviously disinterested and cold-hearted man with an aggressive and violent family… I definitely didn’t.
Still, there are things to like about this novel. The protagonist, Ophelia, is nothing but likable: bookish, quiet, clumsy, smart, prefers to spend time with old stuff rather than with people, and able to slip through mirrors. Her best friend is an old scarf that purrs like a cat and gets nervous when she's not around, to the point where he trashes a whole room at some point. The world Ophelia inhabits is magical, but also steampunky (sort of like a mixture between "Howl’s Moving Castle" and Pullman’s Dark Materials) and most of the characters are eccentric (and I don’t mean the special powers they have, like reading the history of objects by touching them, or giving other people pain without having to touch them). Especially the giant floating castle on the book’s cover (the original motif appears on the French, as well as English and German version) is a great construction, full of optical illusions, magical-mechanical shortcuts, and populated by maniacs of different talents who all strive to please a living, walking, talking, and procreating marble god.

The Binding by Bridget Collins
borough press Euro 15,95

I always love a great story about books and this one is no exception. The very cool but unfortunately dying craft of bookbinding takes center stage here. But it is not just about how books are made, but also the magic behind it.
Every emotion, every pain and every thought that a person ever had can be bound into a book and thus free that person. But to what consequence? Well, you should read it to find out!

How Long ‘til Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin
orbit Euro 12,50

Dragons in post-Katrina New Orleans, a black girl who refuses to underachieve and has to pay for it, culinary magic, ghosts in the New York subway: in marvellous 22 stories that take place in a wide range of times and universes, Jemisin mixes magical realism, fantasy and SF in an extraordinary way. If you thought the Broken Earth series was good, I have good news: these imaginative, thought-provoking and ever so political short stories are even better!

The Books of Babel # 3: The Hod King by Josiah Bancroft
orbit us Euro 15,99

Too slow, too slow, always too slow! While most of our customers wait eagerly for the next volume of one or the other beloved series, I myself keep finding the sequels rushing by … it feels like I read Senlin Ascends, the first volume of the Books of Babel, yesterday, and now volume 3 is already out, and I’ve only just started reading volume 2! And don’t think this is the case because I wasn’t utterly in the thrall of Senlin’s adventures, because I was, and now again,  I am! It’s just that there’s so much else to be enthralled by … anyway, if you’ve read the previous two novels in this marvellous, not-quite-steampunkish airship pirate/class struggle/bildungsroman adventure, you’ll be back for The Hod King anyway; so this is basically just me telling you that it has arrived and is waiting for you to come and get it - and for me to catch up!

The Tangled Lands by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell
saga press Euro 12,50

I’m very much in two minds about this cooperation between two brilliant authors. I read the first two parts of The Tangled Lands as the two separate but connected novellas they were published as originally, and couldn’t help but feeling that especially Paolo Bacigalupi was thinking he was writing a terribly original fantasy story, while actually being slightly behind on what has been accomplished within the genre in the last few years … Magic, here, is basically a metaphor for dirty technology. Each time someone weaves a spell, thorny, poisonous brambles sprout … I can’t quite recall the plot of the first novella, The Alchemist, but it was about corruption and greed and the road to hell being paved with good intentions and felt a little on-the-nose. All in all, I felt that Bacigalupi might have been subconsciously writing down to the fantasy crowd.
Tobias S. Buckell’s novella The Executioness, which forms the second chapter of the book, also felt a little disappointing, mainly because the aging, eponymous main character sounded more interesting in concept than in execution (pardon the pun).
Still, my verdict might not be final - The Tangled Lands encompasses two more novellas by Bacigalupi and Buckell, “The Children of Khaim” and “The Blacksmiths Daughter", which implies that the world of the tangled lands is one that both authors like to revisit and that is probably dear to their hearts. Maybe the additional two novellas make the whole thing work, or maybe I was just in a grumpy mood when I read the first two ... so I guess a second look is warranted.


Jeremy C. Shipp
tor Euro 11,99
Hendrick prides himself on always responding well to an emergency, but he freezes in place when a man in a Space Jam nightshirt crawls through their living room window.”

I love a book that has a catchy first sentence. And this one isn't only catchy, it also summarizes the premise of the whole book quite neatly: home invasion of the weird sort.
Told from the points of view of the four members of a family, the story starts out as home invasion and then turns into a macabre, mindfuck sort of psychological exploitation.
The less I tell you now the better your read; so let me just say that this novella definitely isn't for readers who like everything explained to them. It starts off somewhat falteringly, but escalates and progresses to almost grotesque heights after the first 50 pages. If Jeremy C. Shipp's last gothic novella The Atrocities wasn't weird enough for you, then this strange, surreal, dreamlike little story is just perfect!

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