Author: Neil Shusterman
Downsiders, vol. 1
My rating: 4 of 5
In the wake of her parents’ separation and her mother’s latest whimsy (a long-term trip to Africa), Lindsey finds herself shunted off to New York to live with her distracted father and her odious step-brother Todd. Meanwhile, deep beneath that same city, Talon finds himself challenging the precepts and perspectives of his own culture–a people who live beneath the city with their own noble way of life, isolated from the Upsiders whom they view as stupid. And when these two teenagers’ worlds collide, the result is staggering . . . possibly even devastating to both worlds.
Shusterman is one of my favorite authors, as is pretty obvious just from this blog. His books have such a different way of viewing things; they’ve very unique. Downsiders is true to his norm in that it’s quite different from anything I’ve ever read, but it’s also pretty different from any of Shusterman’s other writing. While there are aspects that are similar, I’m not sure I could have picked him out as the author if I hadn’t known. The pacing, while great for this story, is slower than in a lot of his books, and there just isn’t quite as much spark . . . I don’t know how else to put it. Also, the flavor is almost–I want to say Dickensian, but that’s not quite right–it’s as close as I can get to describing it, in any case. Still, while all that sounds kind of negative, I did actually enjoy this book. The concept of a complete, isolated culture living in the abandoned tunnels and forgotten structures beneath New York City is fascinating, and the actual development of this culture in the book was well written. The characters were also believable, and the choices and changes they went through during the course of the story felt true, honest–and important to us as readers because of that. The ending, largely due to those decisions being honest choices not fairy-tale ones, is both beautiful and bittersweet; the story is better for its being so. I wouldn’t recommend Downsiders for everyone, but if you’ve got the patience to dig into it, this book is a rewarding read.
Hey, just wanted to let you guys know that, for those who enjoy good sci-fi, fantasy, and speculative fiction, Humble Bundle is currently hosting a bundle feature Nebula Award winners and nominees, as well as a few other collections and such thrown in. Several of the stories certainly looked interesting, including The Last Temptation by Neil Gaiman and Sister Emily’s Lightship by Jane Yolen. If you’re interested, you can find this bundle at https://www.humblebundle.com/books/super-nebula-book-bundle. As of when I’m writing this post, the deal’s good for 12 more days. Enjoy!
Author: Hao Jingfang/Translator: Ken Liu
Published in Uncanny Magazine, Issue 2 (January/February 2015)
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Lao Dao has spent his entire life in the “Third Space” of the folding city of Beijing, a monument to human ingenuity in combating overcrowding that his father helped to create. Being of the lowest of the three social classes, Lao Dao works hard in waste processing for low wages, so when he is offered a small fortune to run a rather illegal errand smuggling a message to “First Space” during the Change when the city folds in on itself, he can hardly refuse the offer. He needs the money to get his adopted daughter into a good kindergarten, after all.
Folding Beijing is an intriguing little novelette that I first heard of through Fiction Fan’s post on it. The whole concept is quite fascinating and rather jarring–a whole city that folds into the ground in a regular cycle, allowing different social classes time in the sun while letting the others safely hibernate until it’s their turn again. Certainly a novel way to deal with overpopulation. The way in which this operates in this particular tale, however, is perhaps most notable for the way in which it brings to light the shocking differences between the upper and lower classes in the city . . . perhaps a commentary on present-day conditions? For me, I think the best thing about this story was the way in which the author unfolded the concepts gradually, showing the reader just a bit more of what’s really going on with each paragraph, like a flower slowly blooming. It’s actually really beautiful, although a bit perplexing while in the midst of reading it. I also have to note that Folding Beijing is rather more literary in tone than what I usually read–not that that’s particularly good or bad, just something to be aware of. It was nice to get to read something by a Chinese author; I feel like that is a culture and literary group that I have largely missed. So if you know any good suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments. I would be grateful!
Folding Beijing is available to read online at http://uncannymagazine.com/article/folding-beijing-2/.
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 5 of 5
Howard and his little sister (known to one and all simply as “Awful”) wander into their kitchen after school one day to find Fifi (the student who stays in the house to help out) as usual–as well as something most unusual: an enormous, and not particularly clean, man sitting in the middle of the room, taking up almost the whole of the kitchen floor space. Their bafflement increases as it becomes clear that this man, this “goon”, intends to stay right where he is until he can speak with their father, Quentin. The goon’s message, when Quentin does arrive home is even stranger: Archer’s waiting for his two thousand words that Quentin was supposed to write. As it turns out, for the past thirteen years, Quentin has been regularly mailing off random rubbish he’s typed . . . without knowing to whom or for what reason he was doing it. And while this “Archer”, whoever he is, claims to be the root of it all, Howard isn’t convinced; he’s determined to figure this out, especially when his dad goes stubborn (refusing to write anything) and Archer starts making all sorts of trouble, what with the Goon still parking in their house and the lights not always working and such.
I’ve said it before, but anything by Diana Wynne Jones is pretty much guaranteed to be amazing; if you haven’t read her books, you should totally start now. Having said that, Archer’s Goon probably isn’t the best book for someone unfamiliar with her writing to start out with, just because it’s a bit more gradual in its development. But it’s perfect that way. I absolutely loved the vague sense of unease, the way in which the strangeness just seemed to ooze out gradually, getting weirder and weirder. Yet somehow making sense, once you got to the root of it all. I swear, I have never read anyone with more imagination–or the courage to actually write the crazy stuff Jones has and pull it off. I think the slower pacing of the plot is supported–and still very interesting–because of the excellent cast. Howard seems fairly normal, sort of imaginative in a science-y sort of way, dreaming of rocketships and such. Awful lives up to her name with aplomb, which is actually kind of awesome; she’d be terrible to actually be around, but she’s got a stubborn streak and loads of ingenuity and cleverness in employing her loud and obnoxious little girl voice. It’s actually pretty useful, sometimes. I appreciated that their parents were present and involved in their lives . . . but human and distracted enough to be full and complete characters themselves. And let’s face it, no human, even a very responsible adult, would be completely pulled together in the circumstances they were facing. Truly, I think I have rarely, if ever, read a book as colorful and mesmerizing as Archer’s Goon; I would give it the highest recommendations without hesitation.