October 31, 2014

Book Review: "By Way of Water," by Charlotte Gullick

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)
 
By Way of Water, by Charlotte Gullick
 
By Way of Water
By Charlotte Gullick
SFWP
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
 
Justy lives with her family in a small cabin in the woods of California timber country. Her father is Jake: of Native American heritage, unemployed, alcoholic, a violent drunk, but a master of the fiddle. Her mother is Dale: quiet, a devout Jehovah's Witness, and once a wonderful singer. Her older siblings are Lacee, a voracious bookworm, and Micah, excited for his impending baptism. It's 1977, there's no timber jobs, and the outlook is bleak. Then one day Justy decided not to talk, perplexing her teachers. We see the world through Justy's eyes in By Way of Water by Charlotte Gullick.

Unlike her depressed father and devout mother, Justy sees the world through its natural wonders. She identifies with the nearby Eel River, wanting to be one with it. Despite the paranoia instilled by her Jehovah's Witness upbringing, she befriends a boy named Ochre in her first grade class. Ochre is the son of Sunshine, the local hippies. When Jake's father Kyle returns, home life gets even more complicated. Employed by the local mine owner to dig up the graves at a proposed mine site, Jake and his father end their day in a fist fight.

Charlotte Gullick has been compared to John Steinbeck and it is easy to see the comparison. The cast of characters ride that fine line between lived-in individual and stock caricature. Each character feels real despite their tendency to make your blood boil. The mine owner, Gaines, is rich, racist, and arrogant, but in a charming down-home way. Justy's first grade teacher is a cheerful hippie-type who speaks her mind against the mining and timber industries, seemingly oblivious to the fact that most of her students are children of lumberjacks. Jake and Dale seem engineered to infuriate the reader, each with their own brand of personal stubbornness. Dale came to the Witnesses when Jake became violent and abusive, yet she gave up her gift as a singer. One of Jake's first acts in the novel is an act of poaching, illegally hunting a deer. He does so to feed his family. Despite such Jean Valjean-ish acts of heroic theft, he also refuses to apply for welfare. (It's one thing when there is an ideological ax to grind, it's another when children are involved.) Under other circumstances, one could see Jake and Dale as a musical duo. Sometime one endures suffering that is self-inflicted.

Gullick's description of nature, especially through Justy's eyes, recall Steinbeck. Nature is not the benevolent Earth Mother of hippie mythology, but a thing containing both beauty and cruelty. Justy observes the field dressing of a deer in all its anatomical evisceration. (Remember the pig slaughtering scene from Grapes of Wrath?) Even though the scene traumatized her, she is hungry. Later Kyle tells her sad stories about the Native American side of her family. Deep down Justy wants one thing: to escape. Her family history contains more personal despair than can be endured and within the framework of the Witnesses, she simply does not fit. During a day of service, she goes to Ochre's family and marvels at their tipi, drinks flavorful tea, and smells the richness of herbs. Joella, Dale's friend and leader of the expedition, writes them off as pot heads.

Make no mistake, this is a bleak read. Shameless or Trailer Park Boys minus the jokes. While Gullick is a gifted writer, a master of both descriptive scene and realistic characters, there are occasions where the novels sounds too "writerly." A few of the more polished sections could have been pared down and made plain. There's the rub. One has to balance the craft of writing with the demands of the story. The beautifully crafted sections just seemed out of place in a novel filled with relentless poverty and bleakness. These passages inadvertently sugar-coated the situation. In a story of this type, I don't want to stop and say, "Wow, that was a well-wrought sentence." But this is purely a subjective assessment. For those interested in California timber country and its controversial politics in the early days of the Carter Administration, By Way of Water offers a unique view through Justy's eyes.
 
Out of 10/8.0
 
Read even more about By Way of Water: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Karl Wolff at 9:00 AM, October 31, 2014. Filed under:
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The CCLaP Weekender for October 31st is here!

CCLaP Weekender for October 31, 2014

This week's edition of our new e-magazine, The CCLaP Weekender released every Friday morning, is now online for your free downloading pleasure. It features a new piece of original fiction by Oliver Zaradi; a photography feature highlighting the work of Russian artist Ruslan Varabyou; and our usual look at the upcoming week of Chicago literary events. Use the links below to access it right now.

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CCLaP Showcase: Patricia Ann McNair

And don't forget about the November edition of our new reading series and open mic, the CCLaP Showcase being held at City Lit Books in the Logan Square neighborhood (2523 N. Kedzie). Being held on Tuesday the 25th at 6:30 pm, it will feature local author Patricia Annn McNair. There will also be room for six open-mic slots, for performances of five minutes apiece (strictly timed); if you'd like to sign up in advance for one of these slots, drop us a line at cclapcenter [at] gmail.com. (Don't forget that the entire thing will be recorded for our podcast as well.) Do make sure to go by the event's Facebook listing for more, and we hope to see all you Chicagoans there.

Don't want to keep coming by the website for all this stuff? Then sign up for our weekly email newsletter, which will send you not only a reminder every Friday morning about each new issue of the Weekender, but also a recap of everything that has happened with the center in the last seven days (including news about recent author features and events from around the US, a look at all our latest eBay rare-book auctions, links to each book review we posted at the blog that week, and a lot more). To subscribe, simply sign up using the box below. We never sell your information nor send more than one email a week, and you can quit at any time!

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, October 31, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | Literature | Photography | Profiles |
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October 29, 2014

Book Review: "Summer of the Long Knives" by L.S. Bassen

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Summer of the Long Knives

Summer of the Long Knives
By L.S. Bassen
Signal 8 Press
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

By now, of course, alt-history novels are nothing new, although unfortunately most of them suffer from the same problem; given that the majority of them are written by genre veterans, they tend to be heavily focused on their overly complex and action-oriented plots, and for the most part are lacking in other traditional literary elements such as character development and style. And that's what makes L.S. Bassen's Summer of the Long Knives so refreshing, because it actually does take the time to get all the little literary details right, creating a balanced and nuanced book by the end that just happens to be a mind-expanding "what-if" thriller as well. Presented to readers as an obscure modern historical tale, about a crazy military leader from the dark days of Germany's past named "Hitler," who scholars agree might've been a real threat if he hadn't been assassinated soon after coming to power, the novel itself plays out this scenario in a traditional three-act format, including such interesting characters as a Catholic priest who is actually heading up the assassination cabal, and a beautiful young woman who accidentally gains psychic abilities after being caught in a brownshirt beatdown in the Jewish section of town, imparting crucial information to the resistance group that helps them carry out their successful plot. But like I said, of equal interest is simply the complex, well-rounded looks at these characters that Bassen (a fiction editor at the prestigious Prick of the Spindle) provides, as well as the very real history lessons she imparts about all the Germans who violently disagreed with Nazi ideas during their rise to power, and how a big part of why they managed to take over was simply that they slaughtered the millions of liberals who disagreed with them. Briskly paced and always a fascinating read, this isn't the best book you will ever read on this subject, but certainly is a higher-than-average look at a classic scenario from the alt-reality chest of tricks, and it comes recommended to those who enjoy this genre and are looking for an especially smart example of it.

Out of 10: 8.8

Read even more about Summer of the Long Knives: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, October 29, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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October 28, 2014

Join us tonight for the "Chicago After Dark" release party!

Chicago After Dark Release Party

Hey, tonight's the night for the big release party for CCLaP's new "city all-star" student anthology, Chicago After Dark! It's from from 6 to 8 pm tonight at City Lit Books in the Logan Square neighborhood (2523 N. Kedzie); it's the only such party we're throwing this year that involves all 31 contributors to the book, so this is definitely the one to make it out for if you're going to make it out to any of them. Lots of free drinks, both alcoholic and non-, and a random selection of six contributors will also be performing tonight, so I hope you'll have a chance to come out. See this event's Facebook listing for even more.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 1:11 PM, October 28, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Chicago news | Events | Literature |
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CCLaP Podcast 122: Author Ryan Kenealy

CCLaP Podcast 122: Ryan Kenealy

It's Monday Tuesday, which means it's time for another episode of the CCLaP Podcast. Today, it's a 45-minute talk with local writer Ryan Kenealy, author of the story collection Animals in Peril. Also featuring the music of Kamp and White Like Fire.

Links to the things and people mentioned in today's episode:
Animals in Peril
Temperance Beer Company
Bridge Magazine
Danny's Reading Series
Open City
Kamp
White Like Fire

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Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, October 28, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Podcast | Chicago news | Literature | Profiles |
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October 27, 2014

Say hello to CCLaP's newest book, Hussein Osman's "The Wounding Time!"

The Wounding Time, by Hussein Osman

Well, after a quiet summer here at CCLaP of getting our ducks back in a row, I'm happy to say that our publishing program is back in full force, with a whopping four new original books that will be coming your way over the next eight week; and I'm extremely proud today to announce the first of those books, the fascinating character study and metaphorical "War on Terror" portrait The Wounding Time, the explosive literary debut of London author Hussein Osman. As always, the book's dust-jacket synopsis does a better job of explaining it than I can off the cuff here, so let me just paste it in below...

Jamie has lost his brother Matt to the war in Afghanistan. What he finds harder to deal with is that he soon starts to lose a sense of Matt. Hurt and confused, Jamie decides he must travel to the place where Matt was killed--he must go to Kabul. There he finds a surreal landscape of mercenaries and soldiers, violent teenage terrorists, diaspora-trained lawyers in a land currently without law, and where he strikes up a friendship with a beautiful, headstrong local woman. As Jamie's life descends into a series of unwelcome encounters, and Afghanistan descends further into chaos, things reach a climactic head for the British blue-collar slacker antihero, and it soon becomes clear that his rash trip to a land he doesn't understand may end up holding deadly consequences. A major new literary achievement, and one of the most metaphorically astute looks yet at the Millennial "War on Terror," The Wounding Time is a darkly poetic contemporary masterpiece, and marks the brilliant literary debut of London author Hussein Osman.

Yeah, I know, right?! I was flabbergasted when this book first came in to our offices over a year ago, it's so amazing and unsettling; and after several delays because of the financial troubles we had earlier this year, I'm very excited to finally release this to all of you for your reading enjoyment. This is literally one of the best contemporary war novels I've ever read, even more astounding for this being Hus's first novel, and I'm sure you'll agree with me after you read it that it's one of the most thought-provoking and well-written books we've ever published in our history.

The Wounding Time at Amazon

As always, the electronic version of The Wounding Time is completely free to download if you choose, over at the book's main online headquarters, in the usual four formats (PDFs for both American and European laserprinters, EPUB for most mobile devices, and MOBI specifically for Amazon Kindles); or if you're a Kindle owner and prefer having the book directly sent to your device, you can purchase it at the Kindle Store for $9.99. And as always, we have a sharp looking paperback that you can order for $14.99, plus $3 shipping, by using the button below...

Options

Although in this case we have a special situation to deal with, since Hus is British and so many of his readers will be ordering copies directly from the UK. If that's the case with you, I instead encourage you to purchase the paperback from Amazon.co.uk, so that you will only have to pay local shipping costs and will receive the book just a few days after your order. (Although we appreciate everyone who orders books directly from us, since we get to keep a lot more of the cover price that way, in this case British readers will have to pay an extra $13 in shipping and wait about a week and a half for their copies, which is why in this case I encourage you to instead purchase it through Amazon.) And of course don't forget that this book has its own listing at Goodreads.com; if you're a regular there like I am, I'd like to ask you to please add the book to your library there, and especially to post a few thoughts about it once you've read it. Word-of-mouth is far and away the number-one way that indie presses like ourselves generate new customers, and your mention of this book online can and does make a legitimately huge difference in how many copies it will eventually sell.

We've got another book coming your way in just another three weeks, the Elmore-Leonardesque crime thriller and black comedy The Links in the Chain by Fred Russell; but for now, I hope you'll have a chance to download or purchase The Wounding Time soon, and see for yourself why this is one of the most exciting releases CCLaP has ever put together. It's sure to blow you away, just like it did for me, and I look forward to hearing what you thought of it.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 10:14 AM, October 27, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Profiles | Reviews |
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CCLaP Rare: "Penrod" by Booth Tarkington (1914), 1st Edition 1st Printing

Penrod, by Booth Tarkington (1914), First Edition First Printing

Penrod, by Booth Tarkington (1914), First Edition First Printing

Penrod, by Booth Tarkington (1914), First Edition First Printing

Penrod, by Booth Tarkington (1914), First Edition First Printing

Penrod, by Booth Tarkington (1914), First Edition First Printing

Penrod, by Booth Tarkington (1914), First Edition First Printing

Penrod, by Booth Tarkington (1914), First Edition First Printing

(CCLaP is now selling rare and unusual books through the main website, shipped to customers through USPS Priority Mail and with full refunds always guaranteed. To see the latest full list of volumes for sale, please click here).

Penrod
By Booth Tarkington (1914)
First Edition, First Printing

DESCRIPTION: Booth Tarkington is of course no stranger to CCLaP's readers; an Indianapolis native who was once the biggest selling author in the entire United States, he is part of that group that the center holds a special candle of vigilance for, which for lack of a better term might be called "Former Midwestern Titans of Early Modernist Literature Who Have Now Been Nearly Completely Forgotten By Mainstream Society At Large." (See also from this club: Sinclair Lewis, Sherwood Anderson, Theodore Dreiser, Upton Sinclair, Arthur Meeker, Harold Bell Wright, and more.) Here in the 21st century, Tarkington is remembered for only two books from his long and popular career, when he is remembered at all -- the Pulitzer-winning The Magnificent Ambersons (which like Anderson's Winesburg Ohio or Meeker's Prairie Avenue tells the history of a Midwestern's city's transition during the early 20th century from a sleepy rural town to an industrial powerhouse); and today's book up for auction, the massively popular childhood-hijinks tale Penrod, so popular in fact that it spawned two equally bestselling sequels and a whole host of blockbuster movie adaptations (including a musical version in 1951 that helped launch the film career of Doris Day). Essentially a ripoff -- or, er, I mean "loving homage" -- of Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer, and a book series that actually outsold Twain among Tarkington's contemporary audiences, Penrod is basically a series of genteel, humorous vignettes about the preteen scamp of the book's title, many of them centered around his ongoing complications and peer humility over being chosen as Lancelot for his school's coming stage production of the King Arthur legend. Now, granted, Tarkington's actual writing style here leaves a lot to be desired among 21st-century readers (among other troubling details, this book is filled with casual racism, thrown out so offhandedly that it ironically becomes an important teaching lesson in why racist stereotypes were so endemically accepted back then); but the book itself remains a hugely important historical document from the transitional time between Victorianism and Modernism, a title celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and one of the most popular books of its entire times. Being sold today at the premium price it deserves (copies in better condition and with the dust jacket sell for literally ten times as much), this is sure to be one of the jewels in the library of any collector of early 20th century American literature, a seminal title from a time in history when the American arts was still trying to decide what exactly it was going to be.

CONDITION: Text: Good Plus (G+). Although the binding of this copy is still in good, strong shape, there are unfortunately several issues with the fabric cover -- including wear and tear on all edges, several stains, and a spine that is starting to lose its color -- with a price today that reflects this. Dust jacket: Missing. Includes an ex-libris sticker on the inside front cover from "Franklin W. Kohler, Number 3T-1." (Interestingly, public census records show that Kohler was thirteen when acquiring this book, and lived in the Chicago-area town of New Trier.) As confirmed by the McBride Guide to the Identification of First Editions, an agreement date of 1914 on the title page and copyright page, as well as a lack of any additional printing notices, makes this a true first edition, first printing.

PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP at the Hyde Park Book Fair, Chicago, October 2014.

eBay auction
MINIMUM BID: US$75 / BUY THIS MOMENT FOR $150
(If coming across this in the future, see CCLaP's main page at eBay for the relisted auction URL)

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, October 27, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Rare | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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October 24, 2014

The CCLaP Weekender for October 24th is here!

CCLaP Weekender for October 24, 2014

This week's edition of our new e-magazine, The CCLaP Weekender released every Friday morning, is now online for your free downloading pleasure. It features a long-form interview with Chicago author Megan Stielstra; a photography feature highlighting the work of South Korean artist Jaejin Hwang; and our usual look at the upcoming week of Chicago literary events. Use the links below to access it right now.

Right-click here for PDF / Voluntarily donate 99 cents
Online version at Issuu.com (or just use the embedded version above if you're seeing it)

Chicago After Dark Release Party

And don't forget about the citywide release party we're having next week for CCLaP's new "city all-star" student anthology, Chicago After Dark! It's on Tuesday, October 28th from 6 to 9 pm at City Lit Books in the Logan Square neighborhood (2523 N. Kedzie); it will feature free food and liquor, plus performances from five of our 31 contributors, as chosen randomly out of a hat. Although we're holding separate smaller release parties at all the contributing campuses as well, this will be the one and only opportunity to meet all 31 contributors together, so I hope all your locals will have a chance to come out. See this event's Facebook listing for even more.

Don't want to keep coming by the website for all this stuff? Then sign up for our weekly email newsletter, which will send you not only a reminder every Friday morning about each new issue of the Weekender, but also a recap of everything that has happened with the center in the last seven days (including news about recent author features and events from around the US, a look at all our latest eBay rare-book auctions, links to each book review we posted at the blog that week, and a lot more). To subscribe, simply sign up using the box below. We never sell your information nor send more than one email a week, and you can quit at any time!

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, October 24, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | Literature | Photography | Profiles |
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October 21, 2014

CCLaP Podcast 121: "Chicago After Dark" Columbia College Contributor Party

CCLaP Podcast 121: 'Chicago After Dark' Columbia College Contributor Party

It's Monday Tuesday, which means it's time for another episode of the CCLaP Podcast. Today, it's a special half-hour live recording from last week's Chicago After Dark Columbia College contributor party, featuring performances from four of the book's authors as well as some work from student editor Taylor Carlile.

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Chicago After Dark Citywide Release Party

And don't forget our main general citywide party for Chicago After Dark, happening next Tuesday, October 28th from 6 to 8 pm, at City Lit Books in the Logan Square neighborhood (2523 N. Kedzie). This will be our only party this year to feature all 31 contributors, and there will also be free food and alcohol, so I hope all of you will have a chance to stop by. Make sure to go by the event's Facebook listing for more information.

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Filed by Jason Pettus at 12:24 PM, October 21, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Podcast | CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Chicago news | Events | Literature |
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Meet Chris Schahfer, CCLaP's newest book reviewer!

Meet Chris Schahfer, CCLaP's newest book reviewer

Hey, everyone, just wanted to take a moment and make sure you got introduced to CCLaP's newest book reviewer, Chris Schahfer based right here in Chicago. Chris is a graduate of Wayne State University who is now a creative writing MFA candidate at the local Roosevelt University; like all our other reviewers, he'll be posting a write-up about a contemporary book once every week or two, as well as an ongoing essay series over the next year in which he tackles notoriously thick and dense novels throughout history. Chris's first review, regarding Lydia Davis' Can't and Won't, just went live the other day, so I hope you'll have a chance to check it out. We're really glad to have him onboard, and I hope you grow to be as big a fan of his astute literary analysis as I've recently become.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 12:17 PM, October 21, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP news | Chicago news | Chris Schahfer | Literature | Reviews |
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October 20, 2014

Book Review: "Gone Girl," by Gillian Flynn

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl
By Gillian Flynn
[Press]
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

It's telling, I think, that when I was posting real-time comments about Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl to my friends at Facebook while I was reading it last week, I ended up remarking while still in the first half that the plot itself isn't really that clever, just basically a fictionalized version of the Scott Peterson affair from the early 2000s (in which an angelic suburban mom was found hacked up into pieces one day, and the more the media glare was laser-sighted on her husband, the more it was revealed what a scheming, soul-dead, sociopathic frat boy he really is). Because of course without revealing any spoilers today, it's impossible to see this book's surprise rise into "international phenomenon" status, including resulting smash Hollywood adaptation by the Oscar-winning David Fincher, without at least realizing that some awfully clever thing must happen somewhere in this pitch-black contemporary crime novel; and an awfully clever thing does eventually happen, and it's exactly as brilliantly evil as its reputation has it, and that's ultimately what's raised the book from "unusually well-done domestic thriller" territory into the DaVinci-Code-like level of popularity and influence it now has.

But as long as we're there in the first half and are still thinking that it's just a Scott Peterson story, we understand it as the best Scott Peterson-type story ever written, so much so that it wouldn't surprise us to find out that it had become such a huge runaway bestseller simply for its excellent character development, simply for its well-rounded look at all the principals involved and how each have both their good and bad sides which both come out in specific situations. And that in a nutshell is the genius of Flynn as a writer, and why her midlist low-profile crime thriller has blown up in a way that almost no other midlist low-profile crime thriller ever has; because she is a sophisticated, highly literary writer first and foremost, but unlike "literary novelists" who dabble in genre work, she is also obviously an unabashed fan of all the tropes that come with "ripped from the headlines" supermarket potboilers, giving us a book that highly satisfies the latter audience while also surprisingly impressing the former.

That's really the key to this book working, apart from any "gotchas" in the novel's admittedly very inventive storyline; it's because Flynn really sucks us into this world at first, and makes us if not entirely sympathetic to our narrator under suspicion, the charming yet put-upon Nick Dunne, at least understanding of the way his history, his family and his genetics makes him behave, inventing a crippling lack of self-confidence and an obsessive need to please others to explain his cold manner of fake-polite demeanor while in public, even while in the wake of a missing wife and under the scrutiny of a nation's worth of cameras. And there is the brilliant use of symbolism, too, a literary quality that's dropped in popularity since its heyday of late-1800s Europe, but deployed to such effective measure here: like the abandoned mall on the edge of town, for one good example, that used to employ the vast majority of the northern Missouri small city where Nick grew up (and where he and his wife now live, post-New-York and post-Great-Recession, yet another effective symbol), but that has become a menacing and mysterious haunted house since its closure and subsequent lack of demolition, becoming a dark and dangerous shantytown for meth-addicted unemployed workers that may or may not have played a major role in our hero Amy's disappearance. There are a dozen other examples like these that I could mention, traditional building blocks of "literary fiction" that Flynn gets so right here, and that gets us so emotionally invested in this story long before the big twists begin to happen -- from Amy's background as the true-life inspiration for a hit series of Young Adult books by her overprotective parents, featuring a Pollyannish version of her that can literally do no wrong, to the overblown scavenger hunts that Amy creates for each of their wedding anniversaries, which says so much about her and her obsessive need for grand projects taken too seriously, and says so much about him and his cool refusal to at least play along.

But like I said, though, Gone Girl does indeed have a major twist about halfway through -- and without saying anything about what it is, in general you can say that if the first half is a literary take on the Scott Peterson story, then the second half is a literary take on Lisa Nowak, the NASA astronaut who went bat-crap crazy in 2007 and tried to kill her husband's lover, by driving halfway across the country in the middle of the night with a trunk full of horror-show implements, and wearing adult diapers so she could just defecate in her pants and not have to stop the car. And that's a brilliant twist to add to a Scott Peterson-type story, because it calls into doubt everything we've read before -- suddenly we're not so immediately sure anymore just how much of a cad Nick actually is, and how much of his "guilt" is actually the result of a media frenzy spearheaded by a barely disguised Nancy Grace, which of course is one of the main points Flynn wants to make here. Ultimately the surprises in Gone Girl's second half act as much more than simple shocks designed to keep the reader engaged (although, brother, believe me when I say that they act as that as well); they're meant to comment on our modern society of digital finger-pointing, meant to comment on marriage and the impossibility of truly knowing someone 100 percent, meant to comment on gender and mental illness and the sociological effects of a prolonged period of national financial trouble.

Ultimately, though, perhaps the best way to define Gone Girl is simply as a highly effective contemporary noir, despite the lack of all the cliches from the classic '30s and '40s definition of the term; because when all is said and done, what this book is really about is two pretty horrible people, who held it together just long enough to fall in love, then reverted back to their horrible selves so thoroughly that eventually they both became devoted to the idea of destroying the other, an impulse just kept in check until the day they both finally lost their jobs and were forced to move to a town neither of them wanted to be in. Regardless of any more general issues of gender politics that Flynn might be addressing here (and to be clear, an entire Master's thesis could be written on the subsumed issues of gender politics seen in this novel), ultimately she's telling the story of two unusual and unique cases, two people whose irredeemable natures, cowardly spirits, and propensities for doing the exact wrong thing at the exact wrong time make them almost textbook examples of great noir characters, and what makes noir a separate genre away from simply tales about crime or the "war between the sexes." When viewed in this light, Gone Girl is about as perfect as crime noirs get, which is why today's it's becoming our sixth review of 2014 to receive a perfect score of 10. It comes highly recommended to one and all, one of those proverbial "books to read this year if you only read one book this year."

Out of 10: 10

Read even more about Gone Girl: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Jason Pettus at 10:08 AM, October 20, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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October 17, 2014

Chicagoans, hope to see you at tonight's Columbia College party!

Chicago After Dark Columbia College Contributor Party

Hey, Chicagoans, will you be close to the South Loop area tonight? Then I hope you'll have a chance to stop by the Columbia College contributor party for our new "city all-star" student anthology, Chicago After Dark, being held at the school's "Stage Two" space on the second floor of their 618 S. Michigan building from 7 to 9 pm tonight. It'll feature free food and drinks, plus around a half-hour of performances culled randomly from the various contributors who will be there that night (including Virginia Ilda Baker, Hal Baum, Marquise Davion, Austin Eskeberg, Alyssa Fuerholzer, Charlie Harmon, Alicia Ann Hauge, Melissa Huedem, Amy Kisner, Elizabeth Major, Maggie McGovern, Ka'Mia Miller, Nicole Montavlo, Rachel Lee Ormes, Zack Reiter, and Megan Shattuck); and although it's mostly a way for the Columbia contributors and their friends to celebrate the book, certainly we welcome any member of the public to come by, so I hope you'll have a chance to attend too. Check out its Facebook event for more, and I look forward to seeing you tonight!

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:05 AM, October 17, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | Events | Literature |
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Book Review: "Predator: the Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution," by Richard Whittle

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)
 
Predator, by Richard Whittle
 
Predator: the Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution
By Richard Whittle
Henry Holt and Company
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
 
Drone warfare. Those two words unleash a maelstrom of outrage, hysteria, and paranoia. Former Pentagon correspondent Richard Whittle traces the development and deployment of the Predator drone in Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution. He takes us into the shadowy territory of covert operations, military procurement, and new weapons development. Despite this being a history of covert military operations and groundbreaking inventions, this isn't about triumphalist saber-rattling or wallowing in the throes of cheap patriotism. Whittle does offer enthusiastic moments of gee-whiz technological innovation, but this is tempered with a grounded objectivity gained from years working as a journalist.

(Predator can be read in concert with other intelligence histories like The Puzzle Palace, Body of Secrets, and The Shadow Factory, all by James Bamford, about the National Security Agency.)

To the general public, drone warfare is a new thing. Whittle traces drone warfare back all the way to the Second World War. Drones originated as remote-controlled and unmanned aircraft. An early experiment included claimed the life of Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., eldest brother of JFK. He flew an explosives laden Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress into enemy territory. Ideally, after parachuting to safety, the unmanned B-17 would fly to its target destination. Unmanned aircraft and primitive drones were also used by the Army and Air Force for target practice. As with any new technology, there was institutional and bureaucratic resistance. When General Atomics, the manufacturer of the earliest Predator, proposed its use to the armed services, it met with universal rejection. The Army preferred using helicopters; the Air Force scoffed, devoted as it was to the cult of the fighter pilot; and the Navy had better things to do.

Then history intervened. In this case, the civil wars resulting from the breakup of Yugoslavia. A combination of reconnaissance needs, mountainous landscape, and budget constraints came into play. Unlike spy satellites and stealth recon planes (SR-71 and U-2), the drone could linger. Not just for hours, but for days. Unseen and unheard by enemy forces, it could paint a target (laser-sight it) for an air-strike.

Technological change brings institutional change. But institutional change was neither gradual nor immediately accepted. For decades intelligence analysts pored over still photographs. This was the case with the Cuban Missile Crisis and the CIA interpreting what those small rectangles were on the Cuban island. Trucks? Nukes? Then, all of a sudden, with the Predator, the CIA and the Pentagon were getting live streaming video. The analysts literally didn't know what to do with the information. Along with this embarrassment of riches came the usual hiccups. One of the unsung heroes of the drone revolution is a techno-scientist named Werner (he prefers to remain anonymous). Like Q from James Bond, he continually develops new technologies or workarounds for issues with the drone. In its earliest conception, the drone was piloted with line-of-sight technology, so the GCS (ground control station) had to remain nearby. Werner created a workaround where it could take off and land via a GCS, but in the interim fly via satellite. (Whittle goes into detail about the various hand-offs and the technical specifications involving different bandwidths.) This is astonishing. Not only does the drone remove the pilot from the craft, but with this innovation, the drone can be handed off to different pilots in a different geographical location!

Despite the caricatures given to drone warfare by critics, piloting the drone isn't the same as waging war via Playstation. There is a pilot and a sensor operator. As a consequence of its reconnaissance capabilities, drone pilots could see figures running away after a successful hit. (Note: Due to technological limitations, they could see figures, not individual faces.) But because of this, many were emotionally shaken by their duties. Drone pilots came closer to snipers than bomber pilots dropping their payloads at 30,000 feet.

When drones became weaponized during the Afghanistan campaign, the drone was outfitted with the twenty-pound Hellfire missile. In its first operation, it spotted and tracked Muhammad Omar, the Taliban leader. Unfortunately, due to a snarled chain of command, the drone never fired its missile on the target. After this farcical mishap, the chain of command for drone operations was streamlined. But this left a big unanswered question: Who would pull the trigger? In addition, who would be held responsible for any assassinations by Predator drone? The CIA was reluctant to seize responsibility due to the longtime ban on assassinations.

Whittle takes us through the corridors of power and the clashes between Predator advocates and gun-shy politicians. Richard Clarke, the counter-terrorism advisor in the National Security Council, badgering Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush to hunt down Osama bin Laden. Clinton became gun-shy of drone warfare following the botched Sudan bombing of a pharmaceuticals plant. Bush and company brushed off Clarke to focus on Iraq to the point of it becoming a perverse fetish. Clinton's reluctance was tragic, Bush's Iraq obsession was farce. Then 9/11 happened.

After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Bush Administration's reluctance vanished. The Predator racked up a sizable list of hits, including Al-Qaeda's #3 Mohammad Atef. But it's not all wine and roses for unmanned warfare. The Obama Administration has expanded drone warfare to an alarming degree. Drones have hit targets in Yemen and Syria, both places where the United States has not declared war in an any official capacity. Part of this involves who pulls the trigger on the drone. Currently, the CIA has control over Predator operations, but critics have said it would make more sense for the Pentagon to have control. There are also legal, moral, political, and diplomatic questions that remain unanswered. With Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's recent statement saying ISIS will involve "thirty years of war," these questions better get resolved quick.

Drones are cost-effective long-range reconnaissance and ground-attack weapons. They remove the pilot from immediate danger. They also open a Pandora's Box of issues. The technology makes them capable of long-range assassinations, raining death from above in a darkly ironic twist to the planes hijacked by Al-Qaeda. But every technology is only as good as its user.
 
Out of 10/9.0
 
Read even more about Predator: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Karl Wolff at 9:00 AM, October 17, 2014. Filed under: Karl Wolff | Literature | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |
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October 16, 2014

CCLaP Rare: "Slaves of New York" by Tama Janowitz (1986), First Edition First Printing

Slaves of New York, by Tama Janowitz (1986), First Edition First Printing

Slaves of New York, by Tama Janowitz (1986), First Edition First Printing

Slaves of New York, by Tama Janowitz (1986), First Edition First Printing

Slaves of New York, by Tama Janowitz (1986), First Edition First Printing

Slaves of New York, by Tama Janowitz (1986), First Edition First Printing

Slaves of New York, by Tama Janowitz (1986), First Edition First Printing

Slaves of New York, by Tama Janowitz (1986), First Edition First Printing

(CCLaP is now selling rare and unusual books through the main website, shipped to customers through USPS Priority Mail and with full refunds always guaranteed. To see the latest full list of volumes for sale, please click here).

Slaves of New York
By Tama Janowitz (1986)
First Edition, First Printing

DESCRIPTION: Oh, Tama Janowitz, you saucy Postmodernist minx! Although time has not been kind to her subsequent career, in 1986 her celebrated book Slaves of New York vaulted her into national attention and adoration, a hip and contemporary "novel in stories" that got her placed by the media into the notorious "literary brat pack" that also included Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney. (And of course the high-profile 1989 Hollywood adaptation of the book, starring Bernadette Peters, Steve Buscemi, and Janowitz herself, didn't hurt.) Loosely based on events from her real life (among other things, Janowitz was well known in those years for being buddies with Andy Warhol), the book is a series of related vignettes about artists bumming around a pre-gentrified lower Manhattan in the early '80s, a fascinating look at how commerce and slumming came crashing together in those years to produce the re-gentrification of the area for the first time in decades, all through a vibrant and possibly overhyped gallery scene that eventually produced such superstars as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cindy Sherman, Keith Haring and more. Janowitz's literary qualities as a writer are still hotly debated to this day (see online reviews of her newest work for vitriolic evidence of this), but it can't be denied that Slaves of New York is a fascinating and important historical document of a time now passed -- a magical age when hipsters could still secure entire warehouses of space in the East Village for a song, and when Brooklyn was still a far-off wasteland of dumpy blue-collar immigrant families -- and a must-have touchstone for any collector of Postmodernist first editions (not to mention a perfect gift for that nostalgic, aging Gen-Xer in your life). Being offered at a very affordable price today, this is a great acquisition for those looking to fill out the '80s shelf of their personal library.

CONDITION: Text: Very Good (VG). Mostly in excellent shape, except for a dent in the front cover, and the starting of foxing on the page edges (see photos for more). Dust jacket: Very Good Plus (VG+). Almost in like-new condition, with price unclipped, except for a bit of dirt and one small wrinkle on the front cover. Stated "First Edition" on the copyright page; existence of "1" on copyright page marks this as a true first printing as well.

PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP at the Hyde Park Book Fair, Chicago, October 2014.

eBay auction
MINIMUM BID: US$20 / BUY THIS MOMENT FOR $40
(If coming across this in the future, see CCLaP's main page at eBay for the relisted auction URL)

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, October 16, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Rare | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Profiles | Reviews |
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October 15, 2014

CCLaP Rare: "Push" by Sapphire (1996), SIGNED First Paperback Edition, First Printing

Push, by Sapphire, SIGNED First Paperback Edition, First Printing

Push, by Sapphire, SIGNED First Paperback Edition, First Printing

Push, by Sapphire, SIGNED First Paperback Edition, First Printing

Push, by Sapphire, SIGNED First Paperback Edition, First Printing

Push, by Sapphire, SIGNED First Paperback Edition, First Printing

Push, by Sapphire, SIGNED First Paperback Edition, First Printing

Push, by Sapphire, SIGNED First Paperback Edition, First Printing

(CCLaP is now selling rare and unusual books through the main website, shipped to customers through USPS Priority Mail and with full refunds always guaranteed. To see the latest full list of volumes for sale, please click here).

Push
By Sapphire (1996)
SIGNED First Paperback Edition, First Printing

DESCRIPTION: It's a bit of a minor miracle that Ramona Lofton, otherwise known by the pen-name Sapphire, even had a writing career to begin with -- one of four siblings raised by a single parent (and an Army brat to boot), she was a homeless high-school dropout who managed to self-fund her GED, then a college dropout and self-professed "wandering hippie" before eventually getting her MFA at Brooklyn College in the mid-1970s, eventually getting involved with slam poetry right at the birth of that movement in the mid-'80s. It's all of these experiences and more that went into her debut novel, 1996's Push, an astounding and controversially graphic look at a young black teen who literally has everything in the world against her (mentally challenged, an incest and abuse survivor, overweight and hard to get along with), which in the linguistically clever style of Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon tells the tale of Precious's eventual triumph literally in the semi-literate, barely comprehensible language that she only knows at the beginning of the tale, the sentence structure and spelling magically improving bit by bit in front of our eyes as Precious frustratingly succeeds and fails and succeeds and fails in a tough special-needs program in New York City. (BONUS: Read CCLaP's 2010 critical review of Push.) It was the first 100 pages of this unfinished novel that started a bidding war in the mainstream publishing industry, eventually landing Sapphire a half-million-dollar advance to complete it; then it was the Oscar-winning Hollywood adaptation and legitimate cultural phenomenon thirteen years later that cemented Sapphire's role as one of the most influential African-American writers of the entire Postmodernist period. Destined to eventually be one of the most important books for collectors of writers of color, and for fans of Millennial-Era fiction in general, its relatively low price today is a steal compared to what its eventual value will be in just another decade or two, a smart acquisition for the young and serious book collector with the long-range view in mind.

CONDITION: Very Good Plus (VG+). Mostly in excellent shape, except for two small bends in the lower-right corner of the front cover (see photos for more). Signed by Sapphire on the half-title page and dated "5/12/97." Please note that this is a first edition of the PAPERBACK version, issued the same month as the author's signature (May 1997, one year after the hardback version). Existing "1" on the copyright page marks this as a first printing as well.

PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP at the Hyde Park Book Fair, Chicago, October 2014.

eBay auction
MINIMUM BID: US$40 / BUY THIS MOMENT FOR $60
(If coming across this in the future, see CCLaP's main page at eBay for the relisted auction URL)

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, October 15, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Rare | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Profiles | Reviews |
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October 14, 2014

Book Review: "Can't and Won't," by Lydia Davis

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Can't and Won't
By Lydia Davis
Farrar Straus & Giroux
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer

It's natural to think of experimental and realist fiction as two different poles: authors either write form-busting stories that ask readers to rethink what a story can be, or they write small-scale dramas about ordinary people told in a down-to-earth form. If we're to follow this thought through to its logical conclusion, a story in the experimental mode will be more concerned with its form, with factors like chronology and presentation, while a story in the realist mode will be more concerned with content, with factors like plot and characters. Lydia Davis has always bridged this gap, though: her stories focus on ordinary people doing ordinary things, but she's always been interested in how many different ways she can tell about those ordinary people doing their ordinary things, and through a combination of the two modes filter ordinary life through a completely new lens. More on that later.

In some ways, this, her latest collection, is her way of running in place after 2007's excellent Varieties of Disturbance. I can't help but think of this as a slight step down from that book, but Varieties is a career high for her, so it's no big deal. For the most part, Can't and Won't is typical of Davis. The stories are of microscopic length: "Bloomington" and "Housekeeping Observation," among others, are just single sentences long, although they're both masterfully crafted sentences full of conflict, contradiction, and character. Their subject matters -- professors receiving prizes, customers' complaints about restaurants -- are so mundane that you might wonder why anyone would even write about such things. Yet her precision of language and her commitment to exploring new forms (besides the super-short stories she's made her name with, she loves using letters and studies as forms; there are three letters in this collection, for instance: one to a fictional frozen peas manufacturer, one to a peppermint candy company, one to a grant foundation) has a peculiar effect on the reader; you might catch yourself thinking harder about the small conflicts in these experiences that seem so minor than you had without reading Davis. You might realize these boring moments aren't so boring after all; they're full of these strange and rich and often funny details that Davis invites us all to look over; consider what you might otherwise miss in your rush to get through the mundane. These stories are so mindful, so meditative; full of jittery angst, yes, but with a sense of center among the angst that's also downright relaxing. Transformative is today's word. This volume contains stories about vacuum cleaners, abandoned luggage, and a variety of other topics that might be considered too mundane to write fiction about, until Lydia Davis stops you and makes you wonder just why you consider it too mundane.

Now, I find it hard to talk about a collection like this in terms of its individual stories; since Davis' stories are often so short in the first place, I find they function best within the context of one another, surrounded by brief (and sometimes, in fairness, not-so-brief; consider the brilliant "Cows") companions. However, a special mention for sheer brilliance must be made for "The Cows." This is an incredible story. It's about exactly what its title promises, cows on a ranch, but Davis lends conflict and even subtle character to her bovine subjects. It kept me enthralled for the whole of its length, and it's a longer piece. About cows. Just ordinary cows. That's one of the best short stories I've read all year. Couple these great stories with a few dream diaries (some of which are more interesting than others, I'll admit) and stories culled from Flaubert's notebook -- Davis has earned acclaim for her translation of the Madame Bovary author, and also has the courage to take on Proust -- and you've got another terrific collection. It might even change you a little if you let it.

Out of 10: 9.0

Read even more about Can't and Won't: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Chris Schahfer at 10:31 PM, October 14, 2014. Filed under: Chris Schahfer | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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Book Review: "The Martian," by Andy Weir

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

The Martian, by Andy Weir

The Martian
By Andy Weir
Crown Publishing
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

If Andy Weir's originally self-published The Martian (now a national phenomenon from Crown Publishing, and about to become a major motion picture from Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon) had been just a short story, it would've been perfect -- a ten-thousand-word thriller about a NASA botanist who is accidentally left for dead on Mars after a disastrous mission, when in fact he's still alive, using THE POWER OF SCIIIIIIEEEENCE!!!!!! to keep himself surviving for the several years it takes for Earth to mount and send a rescue mission. But since this is a full-length novel, I am forced to judge it on those terms; and in those terms, the book has some serious freaking problems, not the least of which is that 300 detailed pages about THE POWER OF SCIIIIIIEEEENCE!!!!!! makes for some awfully dull reading, once you get past the sheer novelty of a highly technically accurate action thriller set on another planet.

That's the main problem I had with The Martian when all is said and done, far more than the traditional literary aspects that are either missing or badly handled -- merely that I had become fatally bored with the endless jargony mumbo-jumbo by the book's midway point, especially once you realize that in good scientific-paper style (betraying the scientific background of the author), you can simply read the first paragraph and last paragraph of any chapter to know exactly what actually happens in that chapter. Granted, that can be said about a lot of genre novels out there, whether or not they're scientific in nature; but what keeps a person reading in those cases are all the other literary aspects that an author might bring to a book -- complex characterization, a mature personal style, nuances in the storyline that are only revealed in the those paragraphs between the first and last ones of each chapter -- but given that The Martian completely forgoes all these things in favor of its "all plot momentum all the time" approach so endemic of self-published genre thrillers, there's literally no reason left to read this book than to find out "what happens," and unfortunately this can be done merely by reading one out of every twenty of the tech-filled paragraphs found within, making it easy to see why its ultra-simple adaptation might be so seductive to Hollywood producers.

Ultimately The Martian reads exactly like what it is -- a polyannish ode from a scientist fan to the impossible nobility of the NASA space program, a nobility that no government agency on the planet could ever actually live up to in the real world, and an angry reaction by a scientist writer to all the dumbed-down science-fiction stories that now exist, which itself becomes dryly problematic precisely because it's an angry reaction to dumbed-down science-fiction from a person who's a scientist first and a creative writer second -- and while all this would be forgivable coming from a tiny self-published volume that an unedited author might directly send me through Smashwords for review, it's unfortunately intolerable when learning that an extra million dollars has been spent on it, and an extra hundred publishing professionals have now looked at it, in their attempt to turn it into the massive mainstream national hit it now is. Unless you're a scientist yourself, and get off on 4,000-word descriptions of aeronautical mathematical formulas interspersed with clunky, sometimes slightly homophobic "dad jokes," just do yourself a favor and wait for the movie, where this book's admittedly addictive ticking-clock plot will undoubtedly be put to better use.

Out of 10: 7.8

Read even more about The Martian: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, October 14, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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October 13, 2014

Book Review: "Ancillary Justice" by Ann Leckie

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice
By Ann Leckie
Orbit Books
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

Imagine a futuristic Roman Empire that spans that galaxy, working the same way the original one did -- with every new territory gaining all the benefits of any other Roman citizen after annexation, but with annexation happening whether they like it or not, including genocidal-style violence for those who resist. Now imagine that, as a way of providing the firepower to handle such a new annexation, the empire has built giant city-sized spaceships containing hundred of thousands of soldiers, run by a single AI whose consciousness has been split into dozens of zombie-like human "hosts," that allow her to be in multiple places at once and working on multiple things at once. Now imagine that it's a thousand years later, that the aggressive expansion of this empire has gone out of style, and that these massive ships are being retired in order to become permanent unarmed space stations instead, the AIs becoming nothing more than perpetually bored caretakers. If you were one of these AIs facing obsolescence, what would you do?

That's merely page one of Ann Leckie's 2013 Ancillary Justice, with the story going in unexpected new directions starting on page two; and that gives you a good idea of why over the last year, this has become one of the only books in history to win the Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke Award and BSFA Award simultaneously, an unheard-of event that demands that this novel be taken seriously, no matter how silly and '70s its cover art. And indeed, after reading this it's easy to see why it's been gaining so much attention, because it's the kind of perfect blend of mind-blowing theoreticals with action-oriented adventure that represents the "holy grail" of science-fiction, a space-opera and brain-teaser rolled into one perfect story bound to satisfy all genre fans no matter who they are. Told simultaneously through three different periods of this ship's thousand-year life, the complicated storyline on display relies on surprise for maximum effect, so I won't go much into the plot itself; but along the way it poses plenty of questions about what the emotional life of an artificially sentient being might be destined to actually be, and how the moral and ethical decisions an AI might make might be heavily influenced by its non-corporeal form and profoundly longer life span than the average human, taking everything about artificially intelligent behavior we've started combining into the "conventional wisdom" and turning it all on its head, within a sweeping vista that spans hundred of planets under an empire more influenced by Indian Hinduism than anything else. The book has a few problems at the very end, which is why it's not getting a perfect score today -- in a nutshell, too much Star Wars, not enough Philip K. Dick -- but in general one can very safely say that Ancillary Justice earns every award it's received in the last year, and I'm looking forward now to reading the other two coming volumes in this heady, satisfying series, including the sequel Ancillary Sword which came out just this month.

Out of 10: 9.5

Read even more about Ancillary Justice: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, October 13, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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October 3, 2014

The CCLaP Weekender for October 3rd is here!

CCLaP Weekender for October 3, 2014

This week's edition of our new e-magazine, The CCLaP Weekender released every Friday morning, is now online for your free downloading pleasure. It features a new piece of original fiction by Daniel S. Libman; a photography feature highlighting the work of globetrotting artist Lukas Horch; and our usual look at the upcoming week of Chicago literary events. Use the links below to access it right now.

Right-click here for PDF / Voluntarily donate 99 cents
Online version at Issuu.com (or just use the embedded version above if you're seeing it)

Chicago After Dark Release Party

And don't forget about the citywide release party we're having this month for CCLaP's new "city all-star" student anthology, Chicago After Dark! It's on Tuesday, October 28th from 6 to 9 pm at City Lit Books in the Logan Square neighborhood (2523 N. Kedzie); it will feature free food and liquor, plus performances from five of our 31 contributors, as chosen randomly out of a hat. Although we're holding separate smaller release parties at all the contributing campuses as well, this will be the one and only opportunity to meet all 31 contributors together, so I hope all your locals will have a chance to come out. See this event's Facebook listing for even more.

Don't want to keep coming by the website for all this stuff? Then sign up for our weekly email newsletter, which will send you not only a reminder every Friday morning about each new issue of the Weekender, but also a recap of everything that has happened with the center in the last seven days (including news about recent author features and events from around the US, a look at all our latest eBay rare-book auctions, links to each book review we posted at the blog that week, and a lot more). To subscribe, simply sign up using the box below. We never sell your information nor send more than one email a week, and you can quit at any time!

Filed by Jason Pettus at 11:14 AM, October 3, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Photography | Profiles |
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Book Review: "Nebula Awards Showcase 2014," edited by Kij Johnson

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)
 
Nebula Awards Showcase 2014, edited by Kij Johnson
 
Nebula Awards Showcase 2014
Edited by Kij Johnson
Pyr
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
 
Once again I have the opportunity to review a volume of Nebula Award-winning authors and runners-up. Nebula Awards Showcase 2014, edited by Kij Johnson offers a variety of material to peruse and enjoy. Besides the winners and runners-up, there is an essay by Neil Gaiman on how to read the fiction of Gene Wolfe, this year's winner of Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master award. Johnson selects the Wolfe story, "Christmas Inn," a short story that reads like a Christmas holiday tale about family and togetherness. It also reads like a story about aliens, or cosmic horror, or humanity versus Nature. Which one is it? One of them, all of them? As Gaiman says, "(1) Trust the text implicitly. The answers are in there. (2) Do not trust the text farther than you can throw it, if that far. [...] (4) There are wolves in there, prowling behind the words." In addition, critic Michael Dirda likens Gene Wolfe's literary merit to Thomas Pynchon, Toni Morrison and Cormac McCarthy. Previous Grandmasters include Anne McCaffrey, Poul Anderson, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Robert Silverberg.

Kij Johnson edits this year's anthology. Johnson has a multifaceted career. She writes fantasy, worked as managing editor for Tor Books and TSR, is the creative director for AD&D settings Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms, and teaches creative writing at the University of Kansas "where she is associate director for the Study of Science Fiction." Like other awards, this year's winners left me largely unsatisfied. But I did find the runners-up entertaining.

The Nebula Award winner for Best Novelette, "Close Encounters," took an old premise, in this case humans encountering aliens and filtered it through the mind of an old farmer. Unfortunately, it comes across like William Faulkner-does-sci fi. The Noble Hillbilly patois distracts from the story. Writing dialect phonetically is a daring gambit.

Kim Stanley Robinson won the Nebula Award for Best Novel for 2312. This I did like, but I'm biased, since I've read his novels Antarctica and The Years of Rice and Salt. Robinson's novel is a Solar System-based, near-future, hard science "progressive" quasi-Utopian space opera. (I'm using the word progressive, because many of Robinson's critiques and ideals fall roughly into that niche of political leftism.) Robinson combines a crackerjack plot involving a suspicious death with stylistic experimentalism and fascinating digressions. In "Extracts (1)" he describes how to terraform an asteroid and populate it with animal and human life. The novel's experimental bravado, narrative drive, and just plain fun reminded me of Iain Banks's Culture novels.

The standout runner-up for Best Short Story was Cat Rambo's "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain." Rambo's short story melded elements from steampunk, automatons, the Multiverse, and erotica into a precise little package. The story follows the misadventures of Tikka, Minor Propagandist for the planet Porcelain's Bureau of Tourism. She falls in love with a human tourist and complications ensue. What is so wonderful is that Rambo makes the lives and culture of planet Porcelain plausible. Imagine a world populated with Chinese porcelain figures. Life may look pretty on the surface, but Porcelain is a tyranny and the Bureau of Tourism a shark tank full of ambitious civil servants. On top of all that, these humanoid porcelain figures have to take care of themselves or else they'll crack and fissure. If that happens, they are about as useful as the low-class clays that also live on the planet. With the success of Guardians of the Galaxy and its exemplary CGI work, I'd love to see "Planet Porcelain" made into a feature film, or at least a short.

Nebula Awards Showcase 2014 has a lot to offer. With such variety, you will like certain stories but not others. But that's no different from Oscar winners and losers.
 
Out of 10/9.0; and higher for science fiction and fantasy fans.
 
Read even more about Nebula Awards Showcase 2014: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Karl Wolff at 9:00 AM, October 3, 2014. Filed under: Karl Wolff | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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