A writer fans of experimental fiction should know.

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MACHINES IN THE HEAD

Artfully strange short stories from a mostly forgotten 20th-century British writer.

Anna Kavan first appeared as a character in Helen Ferguson’s coming-of-age novel, Let Me Alone, in 1930. Ten years later, Kavan would reappear as Ferguson’s nom de plume. In the foreword to this new collection of stories, editor Walker asserts that this pen name freed Ferguson—who was also a journalist—to try new forms and explore “darkness, fantasy, madness and dystopia.” Ice (1967), Kavan’s eerily prescient novel about climate catastrophe provoked by human action and the last book to be published before her death in 1968, is probably her most well-known work, but these stories—written over three decades—offer a fascinating study of a writer who was always evolving and are exceptional as literature qua literature. Many of these stories are set in hospitals—or places that might be hospitals or prisons or some combination of the two. Human existence in these spaces is depicted as a nightmare from which neither the protagonist nor the reader can awaken. First published in the New Yorker in 1945, “The Blackout” is the story of a soldier who knows that something terrible happened while he was on leave, but he can’t remember what, exactly, it was. As a doctor’s questions push him closer and closer to the truth, Kavan creates a sense of dread that she refuses to alleviate, leaving the reader in sickening uncertainty. Set in a psychiatric hospital, “Face of My People” is similarly horrific. “He glanced up at the waiting nurse and smiled at her. She was his best nurse; he had trained her himself in his own methods, and the result was entirely satisfactory.” This line occurs just a page and a half into the story, but Kavan has already created an atmosphere so obviously insalubrious that we shudder to think of what this doctor’s methods might be. Not every story succeeds. “The Gannets” is simply grotesque. “The Old Address” is both grotesque and maudlin.

A writer fans of experimental fiction should know.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68137-414-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA

A tightly wound caseworker is pushed out of his comfort zone when he’s sent to observe a remote orphanage for magical children.

Linus Baker loves rules, which makes him perfectly suited for his job as a midlevel bureaucrat working for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, where he investigates orphanages for children who can do things like make objects float, who have tails or feathers, and even those who are young witches. Linus clings to the notion that his job is about saving children from cruel or dangerous homes, but really he’s a cog in a government machine that treats magical children as second-class citizens. When Extremely Upper Management sends for Linus, he learns that his next assignment is a mission to an island orphanage for especially dangerous kids. He is to stay on the island for a month and write reports for Extremely Upper Management, which warns him to be especially meticulous in his observations. When he reaches the island, he meets extraordinary kids like Talia the gnome, Theodore the wyvern, and Chauncey, an amorphous blob whose parentage is unknown. The proprietor of the orphanage is a strange but charming man named Arthur, who makes it clear to Linus that he will do anything in his power to give his charges a loving home on the island. As Linus spends more time with Arthur and the kids, he starts to question a world that would shun them for being different, and he even develops romantic feelings for Arthur. Lambda Literary Award–winning author Klune (The Art of Breathing, 2019, etc.) has a knack for creating endearing characters, and readers will grow to love Arthur and the orphans alongside Linus. Linus himself is a lovable protagonist despite his prickliness, and Klune aptly handles his evolving feelings and morals. The prose is a touch wooden in places, but fans of quirky fantasy will eat it up.

A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21728-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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