Blogs at Amazon

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Graphic Novel Friday: This Weekend's Other Space Opera

While I forge my way to the Canadian wilderness for vacation this summer, I will be unable to see The Guardians of the Galaxy film, Marvel’s latest comic book blockbuster. With me, however, is another space epic: Twelve Gems by Lane Milburn.

When the cover art was first revealed, I imagined it had been lifted from the backdrop of pinball machine located in a dingy cantina somewhere in the distant cosmos. A three-headed, horned monstrosity floating above space lava and encircled in glowing lights? Yes, I found my summer read. A copy recently arrived in the mail, and I diligently put it away so that I could save it for my trip. Only now my flight is delayed, I’m stuck in Denver and missing a day of vacation, and Twelve Gems is my only hope—and it’s delivering.

Part Heavy Metal, part Infinity Gauntlet, part progressive metal band's vinyl LP artwork, Twelve Gems offers a space opera send-up that reads like a serious good time. Writer and artist Milburn begins with an eccentric scientist, Dr. Z, who enlists three heroes (Furz, the heavy; Venus, the beautiful warrior; and Dogstar, the talking animal) to find the legendary twelve gems—what they do once collected, no one knows. All that matters is that Dr. Z wants them and he’ s willing to share in the reward, whatever it may be.

Across the stars, the three heroes (who aren’t so heroic) encounter robots, monstrous aliens, and more monstrous aliens, all of whom want the twelve gems for themselves. Dogstar develops a crush as Venus’ outfits only get tighter, and Furz keeps upgrading his murder weapons. It’s absurd how much fun this is, with double-page chapter breaks that would not be out of place on the side of a black van driven by two dudes wearing bandanas. Milburn’s throwback style, the heavy-lined and dense pages are only matched in goofiness by his dialogue: “You who wander this kaleidoscopic cosmos, who possess the mirror-trick of consciousness…speak!” 12Gems_panelAnd the crew can’t seem to catch a break even when they stop at a local space-bar--wherever they go they encounter thieves and assailants. “What?! We don’t get a moment to relax,” Venus bemoans as she readies her battle pose. “This galaxy sucks!” Furz agrees as they both hop into the melee. 

This is exactly what summer blockbusters should be, only Milburn’s is a singular vision. He exploits clichés by embracing them, and he busily captures hyperspace hilarity, while the black and white pages never feel overwhelmed by the dark backdrops or Milburn’s detailed designs. This compact paperback comes with Fantagraphics’ usual high quality paper stock and attention to detail, and I’m so glad it’s here with me—my vacation may have stalled but Twelve Gems gave it a warp core boost regardless.

See also The Comics Journal’s extensive interview with Milburn.


Graphic Novel Friday: Miracleman Returns

Holy hiatus, Batman! The Graphic Novel Friday feature has been MIA for a several weeks, and I apologize. I recently moved, and my comics were all packed away in (too many) boxes, but one new collection stayed with me throughout the process: Miracleman Book 1: A Dream of Flying.

In the early 1980s, well before the gritty deconstruction of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns or Alan Moore’s Watchmen, the latter creator took to lesser-known 1950s United Kingdom hero, Marvelman, and did what he does best: utterly dismantle everything fans knew and rebuild the hero from a grim foundation. After decades of legal issues resulting in the name change to “Miracleman”—and even Alan Moore’s own dismissal of the project (he is now only credited as “The Original Writer”), Marvel Comics brings the out-of-print-run, with later contributions by Neil Gaiman, back to the bookshelves everywhere—and in celebratory fashion.

In Moore’s revamp, alter ego Micky Moran (ha!) has forgotten his superhero identity and slumps in middle age, in a lackluster marriage and job. His dreams haunt and hint at a greater calling, but everything is tinged with darkness, until a moment of panic forces Micky to utter the magic word that eluded him for so long: "Kimota!" And with that exclamation, Alan Moore changed comics forever.

This first volume includes a pre-Moore issue that leads directly into the deconstruction, and the overall story features all the sinister narration, disturbed villains, and pull-the-rug-out-from-under-the-hero origins that would later make Moore such a force in the superhero industry. It’s a revelation to read this story for the first time, to see the comics wizardry take form in an origin story of its own. It’s complemented by artwork from Garry Leach, whose classic lines give characters a subtle lurch. Midway through, an early Alan Davis joins the project, and his artwork, while hemming closely to Leach’s, is still his own—smooth and meticulous. The supplemental section is hefty, with a “Warpsmiths” story that will eventually tie into the larger storyline, and plenty of alternate covers—new and old, sketches, and more.

Welcome back, Miracleman. (Book 2: The Red King Syndrome releases this October!)


P.S. GNF will now return to its regular bi-weekly schedule. Kimota!

Amazon Asks: Daryl Gregory on "Afterparty," Comic Book Geekery, and Plagiarizing His First "Novel"

AfterpartyMy excitement for Afterparty has been growing since the moment I read the book's synopsis back in December. It was a lock for my most anticipated Science Fiction & Fantasy books of 2014. Then, I started reading... and I just couldn't stop. Daryl Gregory has combined addictive elements of multiple genres -- the adrenaline rush of a race against time and enemies, the challenge to distinguish between good and bad guys, the inventiveness of a near future world -- to tell a story that's at once frightening and funny. Some chapters are so well-imagined I've gone back and reread them out of context, just to be there again. Ultimately, I chose Afterparty to lead the Science Fiction & Fantasy list for April, and it earned its place on our Best of the Month list, as well.

What's the elevator pitch for your book?

Numinous is a smart drug that puts you in direct contact with God, giving you that feeling of oneness that you only get once or twice in your life. The drug was suppressed a decade ago, but now it's back on the street, and the woman who helped create it is trying to track it down--with the help of her own permanent hallucination, the angelic Dr. Gloria. I was trying to write a thriller that was one part Philip K. Dick, one part Elmore Leonard, and one part a TED talk by Oliver Sacks.

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

If the stack of books on my bedside table falls onto me, I'm a dead man. I keep buying books on neuroscience to steal ideas from, so near the top of the pile is Oliver Sacks' Hallucinations (which came out, frustratingly, too late to help me write Afterparty), as well as Inside Jokes by Matthew M. Hurley, Daniel C. Dennet, and Reginald B. Adams, Jr., which tries to explain the evolutionary and neurological basis for humor. I wanted to make sure to mention those because they make me sound smart. Lower down is The Best of Cordwainer Smith, Francine Prose's non-fiction book Reading Like a Writer, and Iain Banks' Stonemouth. But there are many more instruments of death teetering next to me. One good thing about the dozens of ebooks on my tablet, it's nearly impossible for them to crush my skull.

Top 3-5 favorite books of all time?

The list changes every day, but three that are touchstones for me are Little, Big by John Crowley, Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks, and Resurrection Man by Sean Stewart.

Important book you never read?

I've taken three runs at The Brothers Karamazov. I will conquer you some day, Brothers.

Book that made you want to become a writer?

I can't separate reading from wanting to become a writer. As soon I read a great book, I wanted to write that book. My first "novel" was eight handwritten pages that I only later realized was a direct steal from The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. I was 32. Just kidding. Eight. Pretty sure I was eight.

What's your most memorable author moment?

The afternoon I opened the acceptance letter to my first short story sale. "Letter" is too strong. It was a check and a piece of paper with one sentence from Ed Ferman, the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. But that sentence was a phase change.

Preferred reading format: print? digital?

I still prefer print, but like the rest of the world, I'm reading more and more in digital. Now if only they can get that new book smell into my tablet.

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

I'm a comic book geek, and I spent way too much time as a kid thinking over this question. Teleportation, definitely. I was a Nightcrawler fan.

What are you obsessed with now?

Thanks to that last question, all I can think about now is teleporting. Bamf!

What are you stressed about now?

I have to go online and schedule a bunch of flights. This drives me crazy. The Internet says, Here are 300 flights, in all combinations of price and date and time and carriers, now please imagine Future Daryl not hating one of these. It's one of those computational tasks that we need quantum computers for. Or a Downton Abbey butler.

What are you psyched about now?

I just want the Ant-Man movie to come as soon as possible.

What's your most prized/treasured possession?

Speaking of comics… I most treasure the statuette of Captain America that sits on our mantle. (It's golden age Cap, before he had the round shield, for you geeks in the audience.) It was given to me by a friend when I was moving out of town. Then I moved back, but kept it. Because, Captain America.

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

Emily Dickinson, DM me back, 'kay? 'Cause I totally get you.

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

Glen David Gold's Carter Beats the Devil. God, I love that book.

Daryl Gregory What's the last dream you remember?

This isn't exactly a dream, but I was recently at the Rainforest Writer's Retreat with 38 other writers. I was sleeping in my cabin when something woke me. I opened my eyes and saw a woman dressed in black standing beside my bed. I may have screamed like a 12-year-old girl in a Korean horror movie. It was then I realized (a) I wasn't quite awake, (b) there was no one there, and (c) it was a really good thing I was in a cabin by myself. Any roommate would have been really annoyed.

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

I have to write in coffee shops, because if I'm home and the writing's not going well, I EAT ALL THE THINGS. Then I take a nap.

What do you collect?

Doubts, fears, the usual.

Best piece of fan mail you ever got?

In my short story "Second Person, Present Tense," the main character wakes up in the hospital after a drug overdose and knows that even though she has the same memories as the girl who previously inhabited her body, she's a new person, not the "owner" of those memories. I was proud of myself for inventing this disorder. Then I got an email from a professor in Tennessee who'd experienced the same thing, though his change was caused by a head injury after a motorcycle accident. For my next trick, I will invent some space aliens, and wait for them to call.

Favorite line in a book?

I live in a town that in the winter is grayer than Seattle, and whenever the sun does come out, I think to myself, "T'was Brillig!" It makes me feel better. Then I go outside and slay a jabberwock.

What's next for you?

I'm really looking forward to lunch. Then in August I have a short novel about horror and small group therapy called We Are All Completely Fine coming out from Tachyon Publications. Sometime after that Tor will be publishing my Lovecraftian young adult novel. And then dinner.

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?


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?


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"


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.



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."

Having come to that conclusion, a train ride past a part of Baltimore prompted a new idea, one about the takeover by foreign countries of American cities suffering urban decay. The thought shed new light on his original concept, and he recognized that his curiosity was less about China itself and more about the dual nature of a cultural domination. "What I was really interested in was the ascendancy of China, but the reciprocal side of that, which is American stagnation and decline."

The realization dictated the setting of his new story: it needed to take place sometime in the future and there had to be some element of a previous decline.

On Such a Full SeaSome futuristic tales rely upon intense world-building and imaginative tech advancement. Some dystopian stories dig into the sources of their world's deterioration or paint a vivid picture of the world, almost treating the setting as a character. Lee turned futurist and dystopian instincts on their heads, reversing the process.

He had no roadmap or outline; he had ideas of things that would happen but no definitive plan for how or when. He simply wrote, and as the characters and the story developed, the details of the world came to life around them.

Incorporating familiar holdovers from our modern lives, each piece was chosen with careful consideration for its meaning to the characters and the reader. Within context, we see the working folks of B-Mor enjoying bubble teas in an underground mall or watching "vids" and playing games on handheld screens, but the counties people using hand-me-down handscreens ("like old Kindles") just to read. We see the well-to-do charters residents on shopping sprees and showing off their wine rooms and saunas.

"My basic interest was 'How does this context shape and reshape the people who are on the ground?'" he explains. "If they're details that are going to tell me about the lives of those characters at that moment…and it seems apt for describing their consciousness and ethos, then yes, I would choose it in writing…I was never interested in set design. I was only interested in how it reflects the people there."

It was the flexibility of his method, eschewing premeditation, that also resulted in one of the most surprising and potentially misunderstood aspects of the book: writing in the first person plural tense, from the perspective of the "we." It's an unusual choice, certainly, and in general can be an awkward way to read. As On Such a Full Sea begins, it's casual enough to pass direct notice: "It is known where we come from, but no one much cares about things like that anymore. We think, Why bother?"

But then things feel a little strange: "Who would tell us we are wrong? Our footings are dug deep. And if they like they can even bring up the tale of Fan, the young woman whose cause has been taken up by a startling number of us."

The reader's reaction mirrors what Lee experienced as a writer.

"When I started writing it I had the first kind of shock of cold water, like 'Oh my God, I'm doing this!' But about four sentences in, I realized ... I didn't plan out everything then, but I could feel instinctively that there was I lot to explore there."

It's soon clear to the reader, as well, that this is much more than a storytelling novelty or structural device. Explaining the thought-process that led him to the decision, Lee says he quickly decided against having Fan narrate the story. "Every time I have her narrate something you'd get more into her actual voice her actual psychology. I didn't want that."

Then he considered a third person approach; however, the more he thought about it, and his extensive research into those factories in China and the essence of the communities there, the more inside that sensibility he felt he wanted to be. "How are individual identities and individual consciousness formed and sometimes misshaped by a community ethos -- a very strong community ethos?"

As a result, the "we" ultimately represents a collective character (one with a shifting perspective) that is as important, if not more so, than Fan herself. The intertwined stories of the "we" and Fan depend upon one another; just as the people of B-Mor have informed who Fan is and the decisions she makes on her journey, Fan, in turn, is informing the development and actions of the "we" that is interpreting her legend.

As that "we" tells us in the book, "A tale, like the universe, they tell us, expands ceaselessly each time you examine it, until there is finally no telling exactly where it begins, where it ends, or where it places you now."

With On Such a Full Sea Lee manifests that belief, offering a narrative we, the readers, are likely to revisit and continue to discover in new ways, yet never with any definitive resolution. As readers, we are in one way a part of the collective consciousness in the story, in another we are the "we" to B-Mor as B-Mor is the "we" to Fan.

"Who the real actor is, we're not sure at the end," Lee says. "You know who has the last word, right? It's the 'we.'"

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.

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

December 2014

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31