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Science Fiction

Amazon Asks: Christopher Priest, author of "The Adjacent"

The AdjacentOne does not simply read a book by Christopher Priest (The Prestige, The Glamour, etc.). It is not a casual, relaxing, kick back and enjoy type of experience. His books are often intentionally confusing, reality-mangling, complex adventures in which the reader must be a vigilant participant, attentive to hidden details and willing to dig deep into the layers. Priest's latest, The Adjacent is no different. The story shifts across time and space, between similar yet different characters. Sometimes it provides real links between them, and sometimes it provides red herrings... and rarely is there solid evidence as to which is which. Oh, and if you expect him to tie it all up in a pretty package by the last page, you've simply come to the wrong author. It's just part of his frustrating charm.

And so, anticipating that any questions we ask about The Adjacent will only result in our having more questions than we did to begin with (not to mention ruining the experience of reading for anyone who hasn't yet), let's focus on Priest himself. We asked him to answer a few of our favorite questions, and, true to form, we received answers that beg further illumination (which, of course, we know we'll never fully get).


What's the elevator pitch for your book?

He was a 21st century photojournalist with a camera that changed reality, she flew a Spitfire in World War 2, they were supposed never to meet.

What's on your nightstand/bedside table/Kindle?

The Third Reich by Roberto Bolano, The Red Line by John Nichol, the latest edition of "Fortean Times".

Top 3-5 favorite books of all time?

Song of the Sky by Guy Murchie, The Magus by John Fowles, The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, A Sort of Life by Graham Greene

Important book you never read?

Almost everything else. I never got past the Battle of Borodino in War and Peace.

Book that changed your life?

Song of the Sky by Guy Murchie

Book that made you want to become a writer?

Non-Stop by Brian Aldiss

What's your most memorable author moment?

Finishing a book.

Preferred reading format: print? digital?

Print

What talent or superpower would you like to have (not including flight or invisibility)?

Perfect pitch.

What are you obsessed with now?

The forthcoming film of The Glamour.

What are you stressed about now?

The forthcoming film of The Glamour.

What are you psyched about now?

The forthcoming -- no, scrub that. The advent of spring and my cats are bringing in half-dead small animals.

What's your most prized/treasured possession?

Property is theft.

Author crush -- who's your current author crush?

Self-love is a sin.

Pen Envy -- Book you wish you'd written?

2666 by Roberto Bolano, The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein

What's the last dream you remember?

Never can remember them.

What's your favorite method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?

Questionnaires.

What do you collect?

I never collect anything ... I accumulate stuff. Mostly books and cameras.

Best piece of fan mail you ever got?

"Dear Chris -- I loved your new novel. Brought back all those sexy memories. My lawyer will be in touch."

Favorite line in a book?

"This is the saddest story I have ever heard." (The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford.)

What's next for you?

The forthcoming film of The Glamour. The forthcoming stage play of The Prestige. My new novel in progress. A non-fiction work about aviation.

Up All Night: Karen Russell on Writing "Sleep Donation"

Sleep-donation

If the power of books is to bring people together, then there's perhaps no example more literal than the Craigslist missed connection I stumbled across just minutes before interviewing Karen Russell. The posting, titled (sic) "karen russel cutie - w4m", was written by an Austin-based woman who met a man reading one of Russell's books at a coffee shop. They hit it off, sort of.

"I said, "hey. karen russell. Right?" And i flashed you the cover of my book. As if you didn't KNOW i was reading it. We talked for a few minutes. You didn't even know. You didn't even know that um. You didn't even know that she had written other books. But i felt a connection."

I forwarded the link to Russell, who, delighted by the idea that her work could play matchmaker, said, "I want these people to find each other, and then I want to officiate at their wedding." Speaking with Russell, I found her sense of humor arresting, her laugh totally charming — a little surprising considering the darkness and moodiness of her latest work, Sleep Donation (one of our Best Books of the Month picks for March and a Kindle Single). It's a clever, haunting novella about a dystopian world where insomnia has become a fatal epidemic. The story follows a young woman named Trish who works at Slumber Corps, a company that helps those who are able to catch some Z's the ability to donate their shut-eye to the sleepless. Those familiar with Russell's previous work — her two short story collections, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and Vampires in the Lemon Grove, and her novel Swamplandia, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize — will find the same sci-fi and fantasy-mashing sensibilities here. Russell attributes her category-bending to a childhood reading lots of sci-fi and fantasy and not recognizing the lines between the different genres.

"I actually had so little awareness of what distinguished Jane Eyre from A Handmaid's Tale. When I was a kid, they all just read like great stories to me," she said.

Her influences include many classic sci-fi authors, such as Robert A. Heinlein, Frank Herbert, Octavia Butler, Ray Bradbury, and Aldous Huxley. But since her world experience first came from novels, her reality is grounded in fictions that existed to critique the real world. She jokes that her upbringing was like visiting the fantastical version of Paris at Epcot Center, then actually visiting Europe decades later.

Continue reading "Up All Night: Karen Russell on Writing "Sleep Donation"" »

Page to Screen -- Spring to Summer 2014

With or without warmer weather, summer is on its way. And plenty of book-based stories are about to appear on our TVs and in movie theaters. We've rounded up the trailers for a few of our favorites below and an even bigger list of upcoming book adaptations in our Page to Screen store.


Divergent, the first book in Veronica Roth's Divergent Universe series, is officially an adaptation hit! The movie, starring Shailene Woodley (The Descendents) opened March 21, and two more are already planned to follow Roth's trilogy. Here's a glimpse of what you can now see on the big screen.

While everyone's trying to predict what will happen if George R.R. Martin doesn't finish A Song of Ice and Fire fast enough, "Game of Thrones" returns to HBO for its fourth season on April 6. This season draws from the second half of the third book in the series, A Storm of Swords. HBO has released four trailers for the season, but this one's my fave (maybe because Arya is my favorite character and that cover of Siouxsie and the Banshees "Cities in Dust" is wickedly perfect!)


 

The news recently broke that another of author John Green's books (Paper Towns) will be getting the Hollywood treatment soon, but right now, let's enjoy The Fault in Our Stars, starring... oh look, it's Shailene Woodley again! You'll also see Willem Dafoe and Laura Dern. It opens June 6.


 

Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt are starring in an action movie called The Edge of Tomorrow, opening on June 6. But if you're looking for the book it's based on, check out Hiroshi Skaurazaka's breakthrough sci-fi novel All You Need is Kill.


 

The How to Train Your Dragon movies don't correspond directly with the book series by Cressida Cowell. Guess you'll just have to read them all before seeing How to Train Your Dragon 2, opening June 13.


 

The Giver, Lois Lowry's children's novel about a utopia that's not what it seems, was published way back in 1993, but it's hitting the big screen this summer on August 15. Australian actor Brenton Thwaites takes on the lead role of Jonas, with Alexander Skarsgård as his father. Other faces you'll recognize: Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes, Jeff Bridges, Taylor Swift...


Peter Liney Dissects "The Detainee"—a Big Spring Books Selection

The DetaineeThe book I'm most excited about this spring, and therefore my selection for the Big Spring Books Editors' Picks, is The Detainee, the debut novel by British author Peter Liney. From the moment I read the book's description months ago, I was antsy to get my hands on this one. And once I read the first page, I didn't put it down until I'd turned the last --literally. It's the story of a 60-something man named "Big Guy" Clancy. He used to be a tough guy for the mob, but now he's just another aging prisoner on an island where society ships all of its garbage, including the elderly and the infirm. Kept in line by satellites armed to kill at any sign of attempted escape or violence, Clancy and his neighbors are in constant danger whenever the fog rolls in; that's when the satellites malfunction and island's other residents get their violent kicks.

The island felt so vivid to me, and Clancy was such an unusual choice for a hero. I asked Liney to tell us more about where the idea for the island came from, a little more about this old man through whose eyes we see the story unfold, as well as the socio-political concerns that provided the author's own underlying motivation to write this book. Here's what he had to say.


One day, while on a trip to New York City, I ran across a remarkable exhibition at the Public Library on garbage, more precisely, the massive landfill on Staten Island. Most of the people there weren’t terribly interested; they gave it a quick glance and hurried by in search of more exciting things. I stood there with a big smile on my face. I didn't actually shout "Eureka!", but the sentiment was written across my face for all to see.

I saw this huge island of garbage, where all those who society regards as disposable, who can no longer support themselves—the old, the sick, unwanted children, hardened young criminals who have no one willing to pay for their incarceration, etc. -- are shipped out and told they're taking part in the Island Rehabilitation Program, a new chance at life, when in fact they're to be prisoners, enduring the most squalid and terrifying existence, unable to escape because of the constant threat of immediate death.

Now I had my setting and situation; where was my hero? What manner of person could cope with all this and prevail? Clancy was a professional "big guy" with a lifetime of crime behind him. Just for him to be seen walking the streets was enough to enforce the rule of his master. But as I said, no one useful gets sent out to the Island. No matter how much he hates it, the truth is, Clancy is old: his muscles have started to sag and lose their strength, and as years have passed on the Island, he's become a grouchy and reclusive figure that most people wish to avoid.

Some of the ideas I used for The Detainee have been jangling around in my head for years -- like a set of keys in my pocket whose purpose I had long forgotten. Several of these ideas weren't so much ideas as they were concerns. With the advances in healthcare, greater life expectancy, and a falling birth-rate, populations of the developed nations are getting much older. And suddenly, there are more elderly people than young, causing a strain on social services and healthcare for the aging population.

Another thing that was troubling me was why was I living in one of the most monitored societies on Earth? A place where cameras are constantly spying on me. Big Brother, Big Sister, Big Momma—they're all out there the moment I open my front door. Where am I talking about? North Korea? Russia, perhaps? Somewhere under the rule of some crazed dictator? Actually, it's the United Kingdom. You can spend practically your whole day being spied upon by one camera or another. They tell us they're there to safeguard us. Which is food for thought. What if they aren't there to protect us? What if they are really there to protect a certain status quo in the government's power? Exactly how far would they be prepared to go to maintain this status quo? Possibly as far as the hellish world of The Detainee?

It sounds grim -- it is grim, I know -- but if I had to use only one word to describe the theme of The Detainee it would be hope. More than anything, I wanted to write a book about the fact that we humans thrive on hope; that like those seeds that lie in the desert, year after year, with nothing to sustain them, then with just a drop of rainwater they bloom into the most spectacular of flowers. Clancy's the same. He's living in a desert—a pitiless, God-forsaken, garbage-strewn wasteland; yet one day he happens upon someone who inspires him and gives him hope. He's ready to fight back.

Graphic Novel Friday: Guardians of the Galaxy

This week, Marvel revealed the trailer for their 2014 summer blockbuster effort, Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s a gamble for Marvel, a studio that previously relied on names like Iron Man, Captain America, and the Avengers to carry their comic-to-film adaptations, while Guardians features C-list heroes with names like Drax, Star-Lord, and Rocket Raccoon. Audiences may be unfamiliar (think the Avengers in space, only with more attitude), but the trailer is high on humor and action, and soon-to-be fans can climb aboard with a rich history of source material—a sampling of which follows below.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1: Cosmic Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis, Steve McNiven and Sara Pichelli: Relentless hitmaker Brian Michael Bendis delivers the Guardians to fans both new and old, bringing everyone up to speed on origins and what lies beyond the stars for this disgruntled group. It’s an accessible read, primed for its big screen debut, and features sharp, detailed artwork by McNiven and Pichelli. Vol. 2 is also available (and a better arc, I think!). [Demand is so high that our retail site is temporarily out of stock--but more is on the way!]

 

 

Guardians of the Galaxy by Abnett & Lanning: The Complete Collection Volume 1 by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier, and more: The Guardians may be riding high now, but it was this book that brought them back into the spotlight a few years ago. While the ideas behind the team have always been humorous (a talking raccoon with a machine gun?), Abnett and Lanning introduced a sense of fun to the space opera.

[Releasing this August.]

 

 

 

Rocket Raccoon & Groot: The Complete Collection by various: Mark my words: the breakout stars of the new film will be the least human—Rocket Raccoon, the talking space raccoon, and his buddy Groot, a talking tree/action hero whose vocabulary is limited to “I am Groot.” This collection features stories involving the two pals with a wide range of artists and writers, including Mike Mignola(!), Keith Giffen, Jack Kirby, the aforementioned Abnett and Lanning, and more. It’s absurd stuff and therefore essential.

 

 

 

 

Guardians of the Galaxy by Jim Valentino Volume 1 by Jim Valentino, Al Milgrom, Ron Lim, and more: In the 1990s, this revival by Jim Valentino was my first exposure to the weird team, which features a very different roster than the above collections. These Guardians exist in Marvel’s far future, the 31st century! Occasionally, the heroes would cross paths with future versions of other Marvel characters, like Ghost Rider, or go on missions to find Captain America’s long-lost shield—or turn their space opera into a space soap opera with often overwrought romance.

 

 

 

 

Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow's Avengers - Volume 2 by Roger Stern, Len Wein, Jim Shooter, David Micheline, Sal Buscema, George Perez, David Wenzel, John Byrne: I may catch some heat for doing this, but I am purposefully including Volume 2 instead of Volume 1 from this classic Guardians run, which, like the Valentino book above, is a very different sort of Guardians of the Galaxy than the film or newer titles. But it’s worth a look, because the contributors can’t be beat, the stories are more engaging (than Vol. 1), and it’s here that the present-day Avengers cross paths with the 31st century heroes, making for a lively battle then team-up.

 

--Alex

She and We: Behind "On Such a Full Sea" with Author Chang-rae Lee

On Such a Full SeaChang-rae Lee is intrigued by his audience lately. The award-winning author of five novels has attended countless readings and book signings; he's familiar with who his readers are, and vice versa. Or so he thought. On the road promoting his latest book, On Such a Full Sea, he's seen a shift in who's showing up to the bookstores. His fans are skewing much younger than normal, and half of them, he says, are new to his work.

Promotion could be a reason, he proffers -- a review in a newspaper, a spot on NPR, or even a bookseller's recommendation. But of the many theories he has for the shift, he thinks it could simply be that the nature of the book -- a dark, yet hope-filled story about a young girl venturing forth alone into a dystopian America -- is appealing to young readers. In fact, though he is clear that he didn't write On Such a Full Sea specifically for his two teenage daughters (clarifying emphatically that it is "not YA"), he did intentionally try to keep it within their realm of possibility.

"My other books are very psychologically excruciating," he says with an easy-going laugh. "I mean they're really detailed, they go very deep into the consciousness of the characters. My daughters are teens, and I wanted them to be able to read the book, to engage with the character in quite a different way, identify with the character rather than have to 'understand the character.'"

A petite 16-year-old, skilled in her work and seemingly content in her life, Fan is motivated to leave her labor settlement, B-Mor, after her boyfriend suddenly disappears. The decision is unheard of; the wilds of the counties are daunting. And so we hear of her journey beyond the safety of the gates, coming to know her as compelling and complex, mature beyond her years yet innocent to the dangers of the world, an inspiration and a cautionary tale, an example from which to better understand ourselves.

Nevertheless, as orchestrated by the author, trying to actually understand Fan is not the point.

"I don't really go into all of Fan's thoughts, I'm not interested in that. What I am interested in is her as a kind of almost pre-modern elemental hero. You know, with modernism we get all of this psychology, right? I mean, that's what we understood after Flaubert and Joyce," Lee says, the Princeton professor in him shining through. "But I wanted to have a hero who was more, at least in the minds of the people viewing her, an iconic hero who would be and act more than say and lead."

This focus on a single (and singular) character wasn't the book Lee initially planned to write. For him, it was a story about the lives of factory workers in China's Pearl River Delta -- "their lives, their work, the geopolitical and socio-economic forces around them." But he soon realized that a key element was missing, though the reporting appealed to him.

"I think to write a novel you have to feel not just that you know the material, which I did, but also that there's still a mystery about it," he says. "And that can be a character, that can be a formal consideration, that can be a lot of things, but I just didn't quite have whatever it was."

Continue reading "She and We: Behind "On Such a Full Sea" with Author Chang-rae Lee" »

Amazon Asks: Daniel Suarez, Author of "Influx"

InfluxNot to be too cinematically cliché about it, but imagine a world... one in which your wish list of futuresque inventions actually existed. Imagine now that an organization has suppressed the items on your list, hidden them away so that nobody knows they're really possible. Worse yet, imagine you're the one who invented something world-changing.

That's the sort of position into which author Daniel Suarez puts his genius scientist Jon Grady. Told that "Some technologies are too dangerous to be allowed to spread on their own," Grady is suddenly privy to the fact that advances in fusion, gravity, genetics -- countless examples of scientific progress -- have been made and kept secret. Given the choice to join or be jailed, our hero declines the invitation. Perfectly balancing science, fiction, and thriller, Influx is an intense and engaging sum of its parts.

If you're familiar with Suarez’s bio, you know it's an understatement to call his technological background impressive. We wanted to find out more about him beyond his expertise. Here he tells us about the book report a former lit teacher has reason to be angry about, one way Kurt Vonnegut was ahead of his time, which future inventions he’s most looking forward to, and more.


What's the elevator pitch for your book?

Daniel Suarez A brilliant young scientist develops a technology that can reflect gravity. It's a breakthrough that could transform society as we know it. But instead of receiving widespread acclaim, he's taken prisoner by a secretive organization that covers up his work. It turns out the human race is more technologically advanced than commonly believed. Disruptive innovations like fusion and artificial intelligence are being concealed to 'prevent social and economic upheaval.' But keeping a 21st century Einstein imprisoned is harder than it sounds...

What's on your nightstand/bedside table/Kindle?

Alain de Botton's The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work -- it's beautiful, insightful, and fascinating all at once.

Top 3-5 favorite books of all time?

This is almost impossible to answer because there are so many, but at this moment:

(and a thousand more...)

Important book you never read?

Wuthering Heights (what's the statute of limitations on falsely submitting a book report?)

Book that changed your life or book that made you want to become a writer?

Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut. I read this while still in grammar school, and then reread it several times throughout high school and college. The premise: that technology would advance to the point where most humans no longer needed to work--and that this would rob life of its meaning. That was counter-intuitive to me at the time, and I was endlessly fascinated by such a thought-provoking fiction. Up until then I'd read plenty of science fiction but those stories were usually far into the future. This one stayed with me, and still does to this day. Incidentally, we're seeing shades of Player Piano becoming reality as robotics and automation expands in society. I'd say Vonnegut was on to something way back then...

What's your most memorable author moment?

The first time I saw a stranger reading one of my books in a public place.

Preferred reading format: print? digital?

I prefer print because books on shelves often spark conversations and their spines tell a story about who I am. However, I'll still buy digital versions if I'm traveling. Nothing beats the portability of digital.

What talent or superpower would you like to have (not including flight or invisibility)?

I would like to possess profound mastery of a musical instrument such as the piano or guitar. Music has so often transported me and inspired my writing. I can only wonder what it would be like to have the talent to create and play music for others. Alas, I don't seem to have the patience or the knack, and I suppose knowing this has spared others much suffering -- particularly my cats.

What are you obsessed with now?

I'm really digging "True Detective" on HBO. The writing is sharp and the cinematography evocative, the performances powerful. Did HBO make a deal with the devil somewhere along the way? They're just about the only reason I still have cable.

What are you stressed about now?

I'm stressed about this question... :)

What are you psyched about now?

Clearly I'm psyched about my new book, Influx. The launch of a new book is always exciting, and I often ponder the new people I'll meet as a result of my book entering the world. Books are like that; they go places that are hard to anticipate, and then some time in the future someone will contact me and say, 'Hey, I read your book, X, and I just wanted to reach out to you...' I have met innumerable fascinating people because of my writing -- and that, in turn, leads to ideas for new books.

What's your most prized/treasured possession?

My memories of loved ones. That might sound glib, but as the years go by, there are less and less physical possessions I treasure, and more people whose company I miss. I'm by no means old, but both time and distance work against us here.

What 3 pieces of technology can you not live without? 

  • The Wheel
  • Mastery of Fire
  • Wet Wipes

What 3 future inventions are you most looking forward to? 

  • Fusion
  • Warp drive
  • Perfect interpersonal communication (mind-meld).

That third invention will be necessary to keep humanity from wiping itself out with the other two inventions.

Author crush - who's your current author crush?

Recency is a big factor here, since I'm most enamored of things I've liked most recently. That would mean Alain de Botton (currently on my nightstand).

Pen Envy - Book you wish you'd written?

George Orwell's 1984. The relevance of this book to our times is astounding, and unfortunately, I think it's only going to become more prescient.

What's the last dream you remember?

It involved an ambulatory butter squash being chased by a wood chipper...

What's favorite method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?

The Internet. What makes it so insidious is that it's also the perfect research tool for authors. So I'll start a book project by doing focused research, and the next time I look up, it's February...

What do you collect?

I seldom throw away tech gadgets -- phones and laptops in particular. I've got a mini museum of every device I've ever used, and it's interesting to see their evolution. For instance, going through the layers of laptops, one can see that for the longest time I was striving to obtain the largest screen -- so the machines kept getting wider and deeper. Then at some point I valued portability more, and they started getting smaller. Also, somewhere along the way phones got as fragile as Tiffany glass--quite a few broken. But I've got an old Mitsubishi phone the size and shape of a brick that you could drive nails with. If I could find the charger, I bet it would still work.

Best piece of fan mail you ever got?

A reader once wrote me to say that my books had gotten him through the darkest period of his life, when he didn't have a friend, and couldn't see any reason for continuing. And eventually he worked through his problems and just wanted to thank me for being there for him. I keep a print out of his email on my office wall. Strangely, whenever I feel my writing is pointless, he now gives *me* encouragement.

Favorite line in a book?

"Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs their eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens." -- The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

What's next for you?

Of course, another book. I'm always writing or doing research because there is nothing like the feeling of finishing a book--and then soon enough you want to start all over again.

Geeking Out: News Bits and Utopian Books in an Imperfect World

PotterHarry Potter and the Love That Never Was? Recently J.K. Rowling admitted that she regrets having Hermione end up with Ron. As the author told Emma Watson, guest editor for the upcoming edition of the quarterly British lifestyle magazine "Wonderland," "It was a choice I made for very personal reasons, not for reasons of credibility." Team Ron vs. Team Harry. Phooey! What I want to know is this: Is she Prime Minister yet -- making all of England (at least) safe for and from magic?

In other (ahem) "news" from across the geeky pond, the adaptation of Neil Gaiman's American Gods is back on track. Hurray! Unfortunately HBO is out of the picture. Gaiman expressed nothing but positivity on his blog when he made the announcement that FremantleMedia (the folks behind...um... "The X Factor") would be developing the series. Goodness knows I'll tune in wherever it ends up. Still, the dream of a Sunday evening of "Game of Thrones" into "American Gods" is shattered.American Gods

In my perfect world, such things would simply go my way. And Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut, Frank Herbert, and J.R.R. Tolkien would have been immortal and still bursting with new ideas for new books. And vying for tickets to San Diego Comic-Con wouldn't feel like my soul was being swallowed in a Lovecraftian nightmare.

But alas, this is not my perfect world, or even a perfect world. Even in sci-fi stories that explore societal ideals, we read a lot about the dark underbelly of what turns out to be a false utopia, or the somber, dangerous world after the seemingly inevitable fall of a utopian society. Just take a look at the Utopian Science Fiction list Kindle put together.

Sometimes, I like to look at the bright side, though. So on that note, here are a few stories that take a stab at imagining successful utopias.

A Modern Utopia
A Modern Utopia
by H.G. Wells
Print | Kindle
True, there's a bit of darkness inherent in this vice-free society (located on a replica of Earth) which simply banishes its lower class. Still, it's an interesting approach to imagining a simpler/better world.
Ecotopia
Ecotopia
by Ernest Callenbach
Print | Kindle
The story of the first outsider admitted into "Ecotopia," the green-friendly dream world that was created when the northern west coast seceded from the US decades ago.
Utopia
Utopia
by Thomas More
Print | Kindle
If you can forgive that he thought to emphasize freedom of religion, but wasn't forward-thinking enough to abolish slavery, More's vision of an island that rejects the harsh realities of European sociopolitical landscape in 1516 sounds like a swell place.

Graphic Novel Friday: Guilty Pleasures No More!

I’ve harbored a secret since May of 2013. It’s nothing to be ashamed of—more like a guilty pleasure—but I didn’t advertise it to my comics reading friends. I’m ready to come clean: I read both Avengers Arena and Young Avengers (and I’m in my mid-30s).

Avengers Arena is The Hunger Games meets Avengers sidekicks (note the Battle Royale homage cover pictured at right), an infectious, jump-in-and-read soap opera where the stakes are life or death—and sometimes both. The premise is thin, and yet this comic is more readable, funny, clever, and addictive than most marquee books.

Writer Dennis Hopeless (don’t let the ominous name dissuade you) smartly assigns visible life meters to each character, and they deplete with each act of aggression. It’s a great way for readers to keep powers and character fights in check amidst the explosions, shape-changers, and killer tidal waves. Hopeless doles out the love triangles, and artist Kev Walker supplies jagged, frenetic lines to everyone and everything—giving it all page-turning momentum. All three volumes are now available and tell one heck of a complete and satisfying story.

No less addictive but much headier, the restart to Young Avengers introduces a young Loki to the team along with Ms. America (I didn’t know her, either). The former addition proves to be writer Kieron Gillen’s winning formula, as Loki’s mischievous, know-it-all attitude gives the book its funny backbone. Rejoining the team are series stalwarts Hawkeye (Kate Bishop, who’s also co-starring in Matt Fraction’s sublime Hawkeye), Wiccan and his boyfriend Hulkling, and Marvel Boy. The longtime romance between Wiccan and Hulking has always been the lynchpin of the team, and here it is tested thanks to Loki’s boss-level scheming.

The villain of the first two arcs (a monster mom!) could have quickly run aground, but Gillen keeps the narrative upright by dropping meta-sized plot bombs onto the team, resulting in a book that is full of young adults but reads like a crossover drama. Jamie McKelvie’s art is a pleasure, all clean lines, distinctive character designs, and believable expressions.

My secret’s out, and it seems silly to have kept it so. These are great books that deserve wider recognition. Join me on the rooftop. I’ll be the one shouting.

--Alex

Amazon Asks: Pierce Brown, Author of "Red Rising"

Red RisingI first heard about Red Rising at an after-party during Comic-Con last July. I'll admit I was a little preoccupied at the time: E.L. James was on one side of the room being lovely and effusive. George R.R. Martin was on the other side of the room being surrounded and elusive. "You've really got to read this book," I was being told. And so I filed the info away, as I couldn't very well sit down then and there. I had three places to be at one time, I hadn't even really slept in two days, and it was dark.

But now, it's time. And this knuckle-whitening dystopian page-turner has not only earned my undivided attention, it's garnered an incredible pre-release buzz amongst our team, on Goodreads, and beyond. In fact it's not only one of our Science Fiction and Fantasy picks for February, it's among our February Best of the Month, as well.

Set on Mars, the story follows Darrow -- a member of the lowest classes in a deeply entrenched social hierarchy (Reds) -- from his daily drudgery to his, yes, "rise" beyond the life he's always known. But as the last page is turned, the story has only barely begun. This first installment of a trilogy left me impatient to begin the next. And the fact that this is a debut novel left me curious about the man behind it all.

Author Pierce Brown tells us what he's reading, why he'd put restrictions on time travel, and how the seventh time can be the charm.


What's the elevator pitch for your book?

Red Rising is the first installment of a trilogy that follows a young man's quest to overthrow a government that stole his freedom and the woman he loved.

In the far future, humanity has spread itself across the Solar System, changing the faces of planets and moons to sustain human life. But humanity is divided. Not by race or creed, but by Color. Golds, paragons of beauty and genius, rule with an iron fist over the rest of the Colors -- Blues, Greens, Whites, Grays, and the lowest caste, Reds. This is the story of one Red rising against injustice by infiltrating the halls of the Golds, intent on destroying their cruel reign.

What's on your nightstand/bedside table/Kindle?

Oh man. The piles grow like weeds. There's one pile by my reading chair, another by my bed, another on my bed, another by my desk, another in my car...you get the point. But for simplicity's sake: The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Gaiman), Children of Dune (Herbert), Aesop's Fables, Red Seas under Red Skies (Lynch), Ulysses (Joyce), Macbeth, and T.S. Eliot Collected Poems.

Top 3-5 favorite books of all time?

Count of Monte Cristo, Lord of the Flies, Storm of Swords, LOTR, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

The most important work to me is The Iliad. I can't count it as a book, though. My classics professor from Pepperdine would throw a fit.

Important book you never read?

Ulysses by James Joyce It's been at my bedside for six years. While I've been assured it is wonderful, I'm fifty pages in and have discovered it wonderful only for curing insomnia.

Book that changed your life?

Everyone Poops. At two, I worried it might have just been me.

What's your most memorable author moment?

I am now encouraged to talk in libraries. It's like a super power.

Preferred reading format: print? digital?

Print. I'm analog at heart.

What talent or superpower would you like to have (not including flight or invisibility)?

Time travel. But not the kind of time travel that everyone thinks about when you say, "time travel." I would want the power to travel just one minute back in time.

Who needs the power to jump back 300 years? That would be terrible. I'd be the guy who scared a cat that ran into the street where a man was riding his horse, which avoids the cat and instead barrels into a young Colonial chap named George Washington, thereby precipitously ending his potentially important life. Because of me, we'd all still be drinking tea. I can't have that on my conscience.

But jumping back one minute at a time? Harmless. That, and dates would also go much smoother.

What are you obsessed with now?

Now? Severely, limited time travel!

What are you stressed about now?

See above.

What are you psyched about now?

Increased government accountability due to increased access to information by all social classes. Seriously. This makes me giddy. To information, all tyrants fall.

What's your most prized/treasured possession?

My dog, Oswald. Though I think he thinks I belong to him. He's six pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal. He also wears fuzzy sweaters, which is a bit of an indictment against his masculinity. Or maybe mine...

Author crush - who's your current author crush?

Gene Wolfe. He's just that damn brilliant.

Pen Envy - Book you wish you'd written?

A Song of Ice and Fire. George R. R. Martin astounds me. The scope is incomparable, as are the voices of the characters.

Anything by Hemingway. The clarity and depth of his writing continues to startle and affect me. Every time I re-read a book of his, I find new meaning and new emotions.

What's the last dream you remember?

I keep a dream journal. Let me reference it. Let's see here...

December 15th, "Leaves in the desert. Motorcycle with a lance and my dad is watching myself (sic) fly at a dragon who is a frien (sic) from middle school, but is really Mitch McConnell."

I should note that I'm not fully awake when I write these notes down…

What's favorite method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?

Food. And lists. My New Year's resolution is actually to stop reading lists online. 10 Most Quotable Movie Lines? 25 Epic Cat Fails? I will click every time.

What do you collect?

When I lived in North Carolina, I collected musket balls. The woods in our backyard ran up against the battlefield of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, fought during the American Revolution. I'd spend whole days digging there. When I was five or six I found half a dozen musket balls. I ran home to show them to my dad, who insisted I take them to the park ranger, because that was the moral thing to do. The ranger made a show of inspecting them, verified their authenticity then gave me two more, saying something like "honesty always rewards in the end." It was one of the best moments of my childhood. And I still collect artifacts. Recently I found a Roman coin in the ruins of an old outpost above Ephesus in Turkey.

I also collect scotch and old books.

Best piece of fan mail you ever got?

I haven't really gotten much fan mail as of yet. So instead, I'll say the 120 letters from literary agents rejecting my request for representation.

I wrote six novels before Red Rising. None were quite up to snuff, so I don't fault the agents for passing on the material. In fact, had any accepted me as a client, Red Rising would never exist. I count myself lucky.

No one really likes rejection, but for me it's always served as an effective motivator, much more so than compliments. That said, please don't send me hate mail.

Favorite line in a book?

"Not all who wander are lost." -- J.R.R. Tolkien

Book that made you want to become a writer?

Harry Potter. Before reading Rowling's work, I didn't know an author could very literally shape my dreams.

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

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