Sunday, 9 May 2010

The BoSS for 09/05/10

After last week's rather unremarkable edition of The BoSS... a return to form! Right off the bat, the proofs and advance reading copies which have popped through my letterbox in the past seven days have me excited to start on one or another of them. Don DeLillo, Neal Stephenson, Cormac McCarthy - and that's just for starters. In fact, to hell with this little introduction, let's get to it! After all, the sooner I'm done writing this, the sooner I can started reading the books discussed herein. It's werewolf week, everyone!

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.

Read on for a sneak peek at some of the books - past, present and future - you can expect to see coverage of here on The Speculative Scotsman in the coming weeks and months.

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Point Omega
by Don DeLillo


Release Details:
Published in the UK on
05/03/10 by Picador

Review Priority:
4 (Very High)

Plot Synopsis: "In the middle of a desert 'somewhere south of nowhere,' to a forlorn house made of metal and clapboard, a secret war adviser has gone in search of space and time. Richard Elster, seventy-three, was a scholar – an outsider – when he was called to a meeting with government war planners. For two years he tried to make intellectual sense of the troop deployments, counterinsurgency, orders for rendition. He was to map the reality these men were trying to create.

At the end of his service, Elster retreats to the desert, where he is joined by a young filmmaker intent on documenting his experience. Jim Finley wants to make a one-take film, Elster its single character – 'Just a man against a wall.' The two men sit on the deck, drinking and talking. Finley makes the case for his film. Weeks go by. And then Elster’s daughter Jessie visits – an ‘otherworldly’ woman from New York – who dramatically alters the dynamic of the story. When a devastating event follows, all the men’s talk, the accumulated meaning of conversation and isolation, is thrown into question. What is left is loss, fierce and incomprehensible."

Commentary: I studied White Noise at Uni for one of my courses a few years back, and devoured Underworld thereafter for my own pleasure - or should I say enlightenment? - and though Dan DeLillo is never, ever easy reading, his novels have always been experiences I haven't soon forgotten. I should say Point Omega will be my first DeLillo since the two aforementioned narrative landmarks and from all that I've heard, the author in question has only gotten more difficult. Reviews of his latest have been divisive, but at less than 128 pages it should be a quickie, and I'm keen to make up my own mind on the latest from this postmodern literary master.


All That Follows
by Jim Crace


Release Details:
Published in the UK on
15/06/10 by Headline Review

Review Priority:
3 (Moderate)

Plot Synopsis: "A gunman seizes hostages a short drive from Leonard Lessing's house. His face leaps out of the evening news – and out of Leonard's own past...

"Lennie Lessing is a jazzman taking a break. His glory days seem to be behind him, his body is letting him down, and rather than continue to take on the world, he relives old gigs and feeds his media addiction during solitary days at home. Increasingly estranged from his busy wife Francine, who is herself mourning the sudden absence of her only daughter, Leonard has found his own groove: suburban and safe from surprises. He could continue like this for years. Then comes the news bulletin that threatens to change everything.

"Leonard has a choice to make."

Commentary: After reading - and needless to say loving - The Road by Cormac McCarthy (more on whom later), I set myself on something of a literary trip through the apocalypse which took in, amongst several other world-shattering sights, my first experience of Jim Crace: The Pesthouse. It was a great read, and though it's not considered as among Crace's best novels, nothing I've read since - Quarantine and Arcadia - has quite toppled it in my estimation. Nor do I expect All That Follows to break with that tradition: though I've high hopes for this narrative, split as it is between England and America in 2006 and 2024, the markedly mixed critical reaction to it has my expectations rather guarded.


Bareback
by Kit Whitfield


Release Details:
Published in the UK on
04/01/07 by Vintage

Review Priority:
3 (Moderate)

Plot Synopsis: "Lola Galley is used to doing things she doesn't want. She certainly doesn't want to be assigned the case of Richard Ellaway, the man who, under a cold full moon, mutilated a good friend of hers. But being a bareback, what she wants and what she gets are seldom the same. For those born feet-first, life is comfortable, and one night a month they lock themselves in a secure room to fur up in peace.

"Barebacks, trapped in their human skin and drafted at eighteen into the Department for the Ongoing Regulation of Lycanthropic Activity, don't have it so easy. A full moon means patrolling the silent night in search of transformed citizens breaking the curfew. The rest of the month, Dorla agents mop up the after-effects of the trespasses, the fights and the maulings. Resignedly, she takes the case - but before Ellaway can be tried, her maimed friend is murdered. Lola wants justice. She'll settle for the truth. But in a divided world, asking for the truth may bring answers that you don't want to hear."

Commentary: I really did love In Great Waters. You can read just how much here. Bareback was her first novel, and we'll just have to wait and see if it's half as sophisticated and lyrical as its esteemed successor - though an ostensibly modern-day setting which has werewolves for 99% of its population just doesn't seem to me a premise as ripe for Whitfield's considered and very English treatment as merpeople in 16th century Europe. Nevertheless, I'm very excited to find out once and for all.

The Sunset Limited
by Cormac McCarthy


Release Details:
Published in the UK on
07/05/10 by Picador

Review Priority:
3 (Moderate)

Plot Synopsis: "A startling encounter on a New York subway platform leads two strangers to a run-down tenement where a life-or-death decision must be made.

"In that small apartment, Black and White, as the two men are known, begin a conversation that leads each back through his own history – mining the origins of two diametrically opposing world views, they begin a dialectic redolent of the best of Beckett.

"White is a professor whose seemingly enviable existence of relative ease has left him nonetheless in despair. Black, an ex-con and ex-addict, is the more hopeful of the men – though he is just as desperate to convince White of the power of faith as White is to deny it.

"Their aim is no less than this: to discover the meaning of life."

Commentary: Hold your horses, readers. To answer your question: no. This isn't Cormac McCarthy's first novel since The Road took all our breaths away, but rather a reissue of a 2006 play... or perhaps, as the publicity would have it, "a novel in dramatic form." This edition, one imagines, is being released in anticipation of an adaptation coming down the Hollywood pipeline shortly, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones of No Country for Old Men - certainly the most successful of all the adaptation of McCarthy's body of work to cinema. I'll admit to being good and hyped for the film, and this is a perfect opportunity to bone up on its source material. That said, my feelings of McCarthy are rather mixed: I loved The Road, along with every other discerning reader out there, but Blood Meridian, my only other experience of the man, was so devastating as to almost put me off reading entirely. So we shall see...


The Girl With Glass Feet
by Ali Shaw



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

Review Priority:
4 (Very High)

Plot Synopsis: "A mysterious metamorphosis has taken hold of Ida MacLaird - she is slowly turning into glass. Fragile and determined to find a cure, she returns to the strange, enchanted island where she believes the transformation began, in search of reclusive Henry Fuwa, the one man who might just be able to help... Instead she meets Midas Crook, and another transformation begins: as Midas helps Ida come to terms with her condition, they fall in love. What they need most is time - and time is slipping away fast."

Commentary: Doesn't this sound lovely? Ali Shaw's first novel is already riding high on a wave of good feeling and positive press, and the little I've read of it since receiving a copy do nothing to dispute that. The Girl With Glass Feet has the potential to be great wee fable in the mode of The Life of Pi and Of Bees and Mist and I'm very much looking forward to unwinding with it after finishing one massive tome or another.

Anathem
by Neal Stephenson


Release Details:
Published in the UK on
01/10/09 by Atlantic Books

Review Priority:
4 (Very High)

Plot Synopsis: "Erasmas is a young avout living in the Concent, a sanctuary for mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers. Three times during history's darkest epochs, violence has invaded and devastated the cloistered community. Yet the avout have always managed to adapt in the wake of catastrophe. But they now prepare to open the Concent's gates to the outside world, in celebration of a once-a-decade rite. Suddenly, Erasmas finds himself a major player in a drama that will determine the future of his world - as he sets out on an extraordinary odyssey that will carry him to the most dangerous, inhospitable corners of the planet...  and beyond."

Commentary: Speaking of massive tomes, this behemoth of a book - weighing in just shy of 1000 pages - could well be the next novel on my to-be-read stack I tackle. As with Don DeLillo, Neal Stephenson, he of Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon, has never been easy reading, but in my experience his fiction has always, equally, been thoughtful and immensely rewarding. Maths and science have never been such fun! Anathem is Stephenson's first narrative since the conclusion of the epic Baroque Cycle and I'm rearing to get a start on it.


The Leaping
by Tom Fletcher


Release Details:
Published in the UK on
29/04/10 by Quercus Publishing

Review Priority:
4 (Very High)

Plot Synopsis: "Jack finished university three years ago, but he's still stuck in a dead-end job in a sinister call-centre in Manchester. When the beautiful (and rich) Jennifer comes into his life he thinks he has finally found his ticket out of there. Trouble is that his boss is interested in Jennifer as well, and there's something strangely bestial about him...So when Jennifer buys Fell House, a mysterious old mansion out in remote Cumbria, a house party on a legendary scale seems like the perfect escape. But as the party spins out of control on a seemingly neverending night, they must face up to the terrifying possibility that not all their guests may be human - and some of them want to feed."

Commentary: Though the buzz on Tom Fletcher's debut hasn't been huge, my blogging colleague over at Kamvision devoured of an early copy of this one and enjoyed the experience very much. In fact, he called it "insightful, moody and truly engaging," and I have plenty of respect for Jason's judgment, so my hopes as regards The Leaping are high. Werewolves! I like werewolves; though I'll confess it's been a while since I've read a truly great werewolf story. Between this and Bareback, I think I'm pretty much sorted on that front. Unlike the standalone Kit Whitfield, however, this is the first installment in a series of novels... I mean, of course it is. At this point, though, I've got my head in so many different multi-part narratives that I long for the self-contained stories of old. That said, if Jason's on the money - and he usually is - this is a hell of a horror novel, so I won't hold The Leaping being volume one of a series against young Mister Fletcher.

2 comments:

  1. Point Omega is very brief, but a powerful read... I'm a huge DeLillo fan. Underworld remains one of my favourite novels.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Point Omega was my first DeLillo and I really enjoyed it despite knowing that I was way, way, out of my league. I need to remember to look for more of his books.

    ReplyDelete