Fine modern fantasy from up-and-coming SF writer (Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, 2003) and happening Web editor (boingboing.net) Doctorow, with the potential to please both SF and mainstream readers.
This chimera of a novel takes a plot with the geek appeal of a Neal Stephenson story and combines it with a touching family tale built out of absurdist elements that could have come from Italo Calvino or Kurt Vonnegut. We first meet Alan in Toronto, after he’s made some money running a series of vaguely bohemian enterprises—bookstores, used-clothing stores, etc. He has painstakingly renovated a house in the student district as the perfect setting for writing, but he’s distracted by his neighbors, primarily the sadistic punk Krishna, who is immediately hostile, and Krishna’s girlfriend, Mimi, an attractive young woman who’s revealed to have a set of wings, which Krishna regularly hacks off so that Mimi might pass among us. Both recognize Alan as something other than normal, and in the story’s other thread, they’re proven right. His mother was a washing machine, his father the mountain in which he grew up. Among his brothers are an island and three nesting-doll-like creatures, all of whom help Alan murder their resentful and dangerous brother David. Alan is further distracted when he meets Kurt, a techno-punk slowly installing wireless access points throughout the city to provide universal free Internet, a scheme that immediately engages Alan, who becomes the co-mastermind. Crisis blossoms when, with Krishna as his Renfrew, decomposing brother David returns to seek revenge, first by murdering the brothers, then targeting Mimi, now with Alan, and Kurt.
Smart, clever, delightful stuff; it falls short of perfect—there are some unconvincing moments—but it’s still likely to be one of the better non-magic-and-dragon fantasies this year.