The Kaiju Preservation Society
By John Scalzi
(Tor, $35.99, 264 pages)
When one of SF’s most bubbly writers decides to write a self-proclaimed “pop song” from a novel that’s only “meant to be light and catchy,” it’s hard not to hum along. “The Kaiju Preservation Society” is nothing more than an amusement park ride, but if you’re looking for that kind of entertainment, grab your popcorn and hop on.
The fairground in this case is Jurassic Park. A dimensional gate has opened between Earth and a parallel Earth where the apex predators are nuclear-powered kaiju (the Japanese name for giant monsters like Godzilla). By a series of coincidences, Jamie Gray, a food delivery driver, gets a job at one of the extra-dimensional bases (in the scorching jungles of a parallel Labrador), where things start going south in the best CGI-blockbuster style when an evil corporation tries to get into the kaiju business.
You’re not supposed to take any of this seriously or worry about sketchy science. It is the fictional equivalent of ear candy. It’s hard to imagine a book so driven by dialogue, and the back and forth never let up on its relentless flow of catchy pop culture references and fast-paced sarcasm. The big action scenes actually come as timeouts. But it’s great fun.
By Arlene F. Marks
(Brain Shift, $21.99, 235 pages)
It’s always a pleasure to open a first collection of short stories by an author who has been publishing them for years. That’s again the case here with “Imaginary Friends,” where the content is a mix of old and new, and ranges from fantasy to horror to sci-fi, and from quick sketches to new about pioneers from another planet.
Underlying all of this is Marks’ fascination with storytelling itself. Without getting too meta, it features characters who feel aware in different ways of the genre they find themselves in, aware of being part of stories they shape and are shaped by. Examples include a vampire, a neighborhood witch, a superhero, and even the devil himself, all transposed into a new environment (Old Scratch is in a computer store looking to buy a new office networking system) . The results take us on unexpected diversions into new fictional territory, but with familiar characters as guides.
Radium Age Voice
Ed. by Joshua Glenn
(MIT Press, $25.95, 193 pages)
Defining literary genres and periods can be tricky business. For example, in this new series from MIT Press, Joshua Glenn seeks to label science fiction written between 1900 and 1935 as the age of radium, which he sees as an interregnum between 19th century science fiction and the age gold from the American SF pasta that took off in the 1930s.
Whatever you think of the Radium Age as a label, this first volume is a great launch, containing a good mix of stories from some big names (EM Forster, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack London, WEB Du Bois) and some who should be better known (Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, William Hope Hodgson and Neil R. Jones). The nature of the Radium Age, and whether these works can or should be read as proto-SF or something else, is a question fans can debate. But even if you’re just looking for old-school adventure mixed with still incisive social allegory, this is a lineup full of winners. The rest of the series promises to be an equally big treat, and along with the covers by Guelph artist Seth, they’re eye-pleasing too.
The Sputnik Sisters
By Terri Favro
(ECW Press, $24.95, 416 pages)
It’s hard to know where to start when describing a book like “The Sisters Sputnik.”
The titular heroines are comic book characters whose real lives are stranger than the comics they inspire. The original Sputnik Girl is Debbie Reynolds Biondi, who is one of those people who got unstuck in time. The way it works is that starting with the Trinity atomic test in New Mexico in 1945, a different alternate universe has formed every time there’s been a nuclear explosion in what’s called standard time. of the earth. Debbie now hops between these various realities, not always of her own free will. It’s a condition that feels more like a disease than a superpower, though that’s also what gives him a chance to save the world. Or worlds, as the case may be.
Summing up the plot is impossible. There are plenty of crazy adventures, mostly centered around alternate Torontos, and a host of weird characters with different names and changing identities depending on the area code of the reality we find ourselves in. Underlying all of this is a message about the power of stories to shape reality in a variety of quirky directions (cyborgs and AI are just a part of that). Evolution and historical change, especially when we try to direct it, can indeed be a messy business.
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