This sprawling, dreamlike, and altogether hallucinatory novel follows film fanatic Ike “Vikar” Jerome on his journey from the seminary to 1970s Hollywood. Along the way he becomes an award winning film editor, visits the Cannes Film Festival, gets kidnapped by South American rebels who force him to edit their propaganda film, directs a movie based on an obscure 17th century French novel, and sets out to find the complete print of Danish director Carl Th. Dreyer's masterpiece, The Passion of Joan of Arc. I freely admit that I sort of flipped for this novel because it hit all of my nerd buttons. Much like Vikar, I am slightly “cineautistic,” and this book took me on a journey through the history of New Hollywood that is at once fascinating, haunting, and just a little disturbing. Even if you’re not a rabid cinephile, I still think you will still find something to love about this book, particularly if you appreciate great prose, compelling characters, and an unconventional narrative structure, all of which can be found in Zeroville.
With his latest novel, consummate storyteller Neil Gaiman explores the fleeting nature of childhood memories via a story that is entirely relatable despite the supernatural overtones. In Gaiman’s deft hands, a pond becomes an ocean, a live-in nanny becomes a terrifying monster, and three women living in a ramshackle farmhouse at the end of a dirt road become the mysterious Fates. Gaiman continues to explore themes that have preoccupied him throughout his entire career, but they reach their apex in this touching and intimate novel that is slim yet wholly substantive. Full disclosure: I’ve been a fan of Neil Gaiman for years, starting with his work on the groundbreaking comic book series Sandman, so my opinion is probably a bit skewed by my fandom. Nevertheless, I feel like anyone who has ever tried to remember their childhood only to discover that their memories are a mixture of the mundane and the fantastic will love this novel, just as I did.
Even if they have never before read a comic book, fans of both fantasy and science fiction owe it to themselves to check out Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga. Brought to life by the beautiful and highly detailed artwork of co-creator Fiona Staples, this series feels like the holy matrimony between Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, but with a slick and sexy attitude that is perfectly tailored for the likes of HBO. The story follows Marko and Alana, lovers from two different planets at war with each other, as they flee the opposing forces which threaten their very union - as well as the life of their newborn daughter. It is this family drama that lies at the heart of this ambitious series, though the sheer amount of imagination surrounding the premise is staggering enough to serve as an equally notable focal point. Vaughn and Staples' clever execution of narration at times displays cohesiveness between art and text that is nothing short of an aesthetic triumph. A word of warning; though thematically this title is as magical as any children's fantasy, its content is VERY adult, and is not at all intended for kids. However, if you don’t mind some rather graphic adult situations and language with your sci-fi and fantasy, then this is definitely the book for you!
I don't read a lot of Young Adult literature, but I decided to check this one out because I am a huge fan of author Colin Meloy's band, The Decemberists. I'm so glad I did, because despite some initial skepticism, I ended up totally adoring it. Kind of a cross between The Chronicles of Narnia and Jim Henson's Labyrinth, Meloy and Ellis's fanciful tale is rooted in traditional fairy tale tropes, but successfully updates and integrates them into a singularly 21st Century milieu. The first book is the perfect introduction to the world of Wildwood, while the second book raises the stakes significantly. I love both books, and anxiously await the third. Overall this is a great series that can be enjoyed by both young and old, and it is the perfect book for parents to read with their kids.
Michael Chabon turns his attention to soul music, independent record stores, 1970s era comic books, and trash cinema, and in the process delivers a towering novel that is every bit the equal of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Chabon takes an otherwise simple story that focuses on the travails of two ordinary families living in Berkeley, CA, and applies his deft touch, turning it into an epic story about the nature of love, death, family, friendship, and everything in between. When it comes to florid prose, Chabon is in a class by himself. He can make something as simple as the flight of an escaped parrot into a monumental and poetic event that on the surface is nothing more than an exercise in style, but is nevertheless integral to the story as a whole. Maybe it’s just because it touches on several of my own personal obsessions (comic books, Blaxploitation cinema), but I loved every single thing about this book.
China Miéville returns to the nebulous Young Adult genre, and delivers what is not only one of the most inventive and imaginative books of his career (no easy feat, that), but also one of the most daring and original fantasy books to come along in recent years. While the book is a blatant riff on Moby Dick, it nevertheless manages to be unlike anything I have ever read. On the surface, it appears to be nothing more than another entry in the glut of dystopian fiction that is all the rage these days, but the first sentence of Miéville’s story should dispel that notion immediately. The book manages to stand out from the pack thanks to heaping helpings of pirates, gypsies, trains, tunneling machines, giant beasts, and humor. All of it adds up to what is hands down one of the most satisfying novels I have read in a long time. It is at once a thrilling adventure yarn and a metatextual commentary on that particular type of storytelling. Railsea is absorbing, exciting, innovative, and above all, fun. If you’re tired of vampires, dystopian landscapes, and boy wizards, then you need to do yourself a favor, and check out this book as soon as possible.
Good fantasy is tough to pull off, because it often feels like everything has been done before, but Patrick Rothfuss has managed to do just that with this innovative and highly entertaining series that makes the genre feel fresh again. Sure, he has taken elements from Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, but he spins them into a fresh, inventive, and propulsive fantasy set in a wholly unique world that is delightfully free of orcs, elves, or other familiar archetypes. Rothfuss’ strength lies in his world-building, but thankfully he never allows himself to get bogged down with the details. Instead, he just weaves them into the story, and allows the little tidbits about the characters and the world they inhabit to unfold naturally. If you love fantasy, then you owe it to yourself to check out The Kingkiller Chronicle.
If Walt Disney and Walt Kelly had teamed up to adapt Lord of the Rings, it might look a little something like Jeff Smith’s Bone. What starts as a simple and humorous tale about the foibles of the three Bone cousins quickly blossoms into an epic tale of good versus evil, with the fate of the idyllic Valley hanging in the balance. This is a great all ages story that features gorgeous black and white art, and a grand, thrilling narrative that will appeal to both kids and adults. If you like fantasy, this is a must-read.
Youthful, fresh, vibrant, and yes…even juvenile are all words that can be used to describe Scott Pilgrim, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a kid to enjoy this hilarious and heartbreaking series from creator Bryan Lee O’Malley. At times, the series may feel like that weird spastic kid who used to live up the street from you, but don’t let that stop you from checking it out. There is a wealth of genuine heart and intelligence lying just below the surface, and when you combine that with the engaging story and likable characters, even the most jaded comics reader should come away satisfied. Plus, the art is kinetic and exciting, and practically compels the reader to keep turning the pages. So if you’ve ever been in love, you should give this book a look, even if you’ve never picked up a comic book in your life.
At times humorous and melancholy, this book follows an out of work journalist as he sets off with the coroner who performed the autopsy on Albert Einstein on a fascinating journey across the United States to deliver the famed physicist’s brain to one of his descendants. Along the way, these two very different men reflect on the life of one of the greatest intellects the world has ever known, taking the reader from Einstein’s childhood to his death on April 18, 1955. During the trip, the two men get to know one another better, and also get a better understanding of the United States as both a country and a concept. This is one of those "too incredible to be true" stories, and the fact that it actually happened makes it all the more fascinating. The writing is straightforward but evocative, the story is fun and absorbing, and the characters are all quirky and lovable. It's also very cinematic. As I was reading it, I could almost picture the movie in my head, and I could practically hear the jaunty indie rock soundtrack throughout. I guarantee that once you embark on this journey, you won’t want it to end.
Anybody can write a book about the best movies ever made, but it takes a real special critic to write about some of the biggest flops of all time. Thankfully, the AV Club's Nathan Rabin is just such a critic, and he spent a year watching and re-evaluating some of the most reviled films ever to escape from Hollywood. While I don't always agree with his conclusions, I nevertheless enjoy reading each and every review in this book, as Rabin's writing is sharp, witty, and insightful. Best of all, it made me want to seek out movies I might have otherwise avoided, and revisit some that I had initially written off as not worth my time, in the hopes that I might discover something I had missed the first time around. Overall, the ninety or so reviews contained in this book are some of the best examples of criticism I have ever read, and every true film buff should give it a look.