Saturday, 6 February 2010

The BoSS for 06/02/10

Welcome, everyone, to another episode of the Bag o' Speculative Swag, wherein one humble blogger takes account of the various proofs and review copies that have bravely persevered on their journey to me despite the efforts of a many-tentacled postman since the last installment in late January.

Click through to read Meet the BoSS for an introduction and an explanation as to why you should care about the Bag o' Speculative Swag.

Without further ado, then, let's get this show back on the road.

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The Windup Girl
by Paulo Bacigalupi


Release Details:
Published in the US on
15/09/09 by Night Shade Books

Review Priority:
4 (Very High)

Plot Synopsis: "In a future Thailand, calories are the greatest commodity.

"Anderson is a calorie-man whose true objective is to discover new food sources that his company can exploit. His secretary, Hock Seng, is a refugee from China seeking to ensure his future. Jaidee is an officer of the Environmental Ministry known for upholding regulations rather than accepting bribes. His partner, Kanya, is torn between respect for Jaidee and hatred for the agency that destroyed her childhood home.

"Emiko, meanwhile, is a windup, an engineered and despised creation, discarded by her master and now subject to brutality by her patron. The actions of these characters set in motion events that could destroy the country."

Commentary: Hailed more often than I can count as the best SF novel of 2009 and included among Time Magazine's countdown of the year's ten greatest novels in any genre, The Windup Girl has been on my radar since its release. I've read the reviews and listened to a handful of interviews with the author, not to mention passed a glorious few moments drooling over high-resolution versions of its gorgeous Rapael Lacoste cover; now I get to read the exquisite thing. I still have a pile of ARCs to get through whose respective release dates are looming, but expect a full review of Bacigalupi's full-length fiction debut just as soon as I've cleared that stack.


Mall of Cthulhu
by Seamus Cooper


Release Details:
Published in the US on
19/06/09 by Night Shade Books

Review Priority:
2 (Fair)

Plot Synopsis: "A decade ago, college student Laura Harker was saved from a fate worse than death at the hands (and fangs) of a centuries-old vampire priestess and her Satanic minions. Her rescuer, an awkward, geeky folklore student named Teddy, single-handedly slew the undead occupants of the Omega Alpha sorority house, spurred into heroic action by fate itself, inexorably intertwining his and Laura's destinies.

"After navigating her way through law school, Laura is now a junior FBI agent assigned to the Bureau's Boston office. Unfortunately, she finds her job involves more paperwork than adventure. When Ted stumbles onto a group of Cthulhu cultists planning to awaken the Old Ones through mystic incantations culled from the fabled Necronomicon, he and Laura must spring into action, traveling from Boston to the seemingly-peaceful suburbs of Providence and beyond, all the way to the sanity-shattering non-Euclidian alleyways and towers of dread R'lyeh itself, in order to prevent an innocent shopping center from turning into... the Mall of Cthulhu!

Commentary: I do enjoy a bit of clever wordplay from time to time, but to structure an entire novel around a Lovecraftian pun seems a bit much. That said, the story actually sounds like a great deal of fun. If there's further coverage of this on The Speculative Scotsman, and I'd put good money on it - Mall of Cthulhu should make for a perfect quick palette-cleanser after one massive fantasy epic or another - don't expect it for a few weeks yet.


Lex Trent vs. The Gods
by Alex Bell


Release Details:
Published in the UK on
04/02/10 by Headline

Review Priority:
3 (Moderate)

Plot Synopsis: "Law student Lex Trent’s world is inhabited by fearsome magicians, ageing crones and a menagerie of Gods and Goddesses. And while Lex is seemingly dedicated to his legal studies he’s always enjoyed a challenge – which is why he leads a double life as the notorious cat burglar ‘The Shadowman’ who has been (luckily) evading capture for years.

"But Lex’s luck is about to run out because the Goddess of Fortune has selected him to be her player in the highly dangerous Games. Losing is not an option for Lex (particularly as it so often involves dying) but can he really win each of the perilous rounds? Given that the reward for doing so is money, fame and glory – all things that Lex is quite keen on – he’s going to do whatever it takes to make sure he will... and he’s certainly got good experience of cheating."

Commentary: Alex Bell is younger than I am! And goddamn it, I'm still a spring chicken. How dare she be publishing her third novel while I'm still a-tap tapping away at my first! Childish grudges aside, the lovely Amanda Rutter from Floor-to-Ceiling Books seemed to have a great time with Lex Trent vs. The Gods, and our tastes in fiction aren't at all dissimilar, so I'm hopeful I'll enjoy it too. A young adult treat to be enjoyed between intimidating tomes.


Ruby's Spoon
by Anna Lawrence Petroni


Release Details:
Published in the UK on
04/02/10 by Chatto & Windus

Review Priority:
4 (Very High)

Plot Synopsis: "This is the tale of three women - one witch, one mermaid and one missing - and how Ruby was caught up in between. When Isa Fly appears in the doorway of Captin Len's Fried Fish Shop, thirteen-year-old Ruby is entranced. Isa comes from the coast where the air is fresh; unlike Ruby's home in Cradle Cross, its factory furnaces pumping and filthy slits of canal water sending up a stink. Isa is on the hunt for a missing person, and Ruby is eager to help, convinced she will be repaid with an adventure at sea.

"But some of the townsfolk are instantly suspicious of the outsider with her shock of white hair and glinting mirrored skirts. They have their own lost relatives to mourn, and don't take kindly to Isa's ability to leave their Ruby spellbound. Undaunted, Ruby introduces Isa to Truda Blick, the bluestocking graduate who has just inherited the town's button factory, where carcasses are rendered down and bones turned into buttons. Blickses is on the verge of collapse, and Truda has her work cut out. Ruby is desperate to help Truda and Isa but her alliance with the women is pushing the town to the brink of riot. All the trouble began, it seems, when Isa Fly arrived in Cradle Cross...

"Only Ruby knows enough to save them all. But first, she must save herself."

Commentary: I first came across Ruby's Spoon in a list published on The Guardian - though don't hold me to that - of ten great debuts to keep an eye out for throughout 2010, and if that recommendation weren't enough, the very British plot synopsis sold me doubly on Petroni's first novel. The TBR stack grows by the day, but Ruby's Spoon has me interested enough that it's shuffled a few less promising reads-to-be back down the intimidating pile. Further coverage incoming, though I've already missed the release date, so I needn't rush unreasonably.

>> EDIT TO REFLECT THAT: I've finally come across that list, and it wasn't published on The Guardian at all, but rather here, on The Telegraph's website. Go read!


A Dark Matter
by Pater Straub


Release Details:
Published in the UK on
04/03/10 by Orion Books

Review Priority:
5 (Immediate)

Plot Synopsis: "The charismatic and cunning Spenser Mallon is a campus guru in the 1960s, attracting the devotion and demanding sexual favors of his young acolytes. After he invites his most fervent followers to attend a secret ritual in a local meadow, the only thing that remains is a gruesomely dismembered body-and the shattered souls of all who were present.

"Years later, one man attempts to understand what happened to his wife and to his friends by writing a book about this horrible night, and it's through this process that they begin to examine the unspeakable events that have bound them in ways they cannot fathom, but that have haunted every one of them through their lives. As each of the old friends tries to come to grips with the darkness of the past, they find themselves face-to-face with the evil triggered so many years earlier."

Commentary: Ah, Peter Straub. It's really been too long. Though Ghost Story won me over a decade or so ago, for no reason that I can put my finger on I haven't followed this author from book to book as I'm often wont to do. With A Dark Matter, that changes. It only arrived in the post recently and already I've put aside other, more pressing responsibilities to read a bit. A Dark Matter has drawn me in more quickly than I had reason to expect - I can't wait to give it my fullest attention, but sadly, I must behave. Look for a review of this one perhaps a week before the release date.


Sleepless
by Charlie Huston


Release Details:
Published in the UK on
01/04/10 by Orion Books

Review Priority:
3 (Moderate)

Plot Synopsis: "Parker T. Haas is a straight-arrow LAPD cop whose cast-iron sense of right and wrong has made him a lone wolf on the force. But when a plague of sleeplessness attacks Los Angeles and the world beyond, his philosophical certainties are tested to destruction. Sent undercover to pose as a dealer, Haas is on the trail of a black-market drug that is the one thing providing relief to the sleepless - if you can penetrate the arcane code of its mysterious supplier.

"But as Haas negotiates the increasingly chaotic and dangerous world of a city slowly going mad, he crosses the path of an equally fanatical a-moralist, a hired killer whose extreme sense of aesthetic perfection admits not the slightest humanity. But as their collision course accelerates (two men: one of the old world; one of the newly emerging), Parker must decide not only where the moral centre is located in this frightening new landscape, but also how he is going to save his wife Rose - herself a victim of the disease - and their newborn baby, whose uncertain future is coming into being before their eyes."

Commentary: The insomniac plague at the heart of Sleepless puts me in mind of the sleeping sickness from one or another of China Mieville's Bas-Lag books - Perdido Street Station, my least favourite of the three, I should think. I expect my first Charlie Huston to be something like that with perhaps a helping of high-octane action a la Richard Morgan. This has been out in the States since early January, and all the early reactions I've come across have been positive. As such, I'm very much looking forward to spending a few sleepless nights later this month with Sleepless.

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