Ancillary Justice Book JacketIt’s been a great year for questing, battles with the stakes starting at the survival of humanity, and the wonders of imagined cultures and technologies.

Watching Guardians of the Galaxy was huge fun, and Ann Leckie’s debut Ancillary Justice fell into my hands shortly after it won the Hugo. And barely left my hands for a moment until it was done.

It’s wonderfully original and highly compelling. I generally read only the first book in a series (as my mission is to help you all find great reads, I choose reading widely over reading deeply) — however, I’m so attached to the main character that I will be dropping everything when Ancillary Sword is published next month.

Breq was once a spaceship, and a soldier, and a thousand other parts of a vast artificial intelligence that existed for hundreds of years. Now Breq is just one heartbroken cyborg, bent on vengeance against the ruler of the culture that created him. If you are familiar with the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy-inspired song "Marvin, I Love You" (You Tube), then you have an inkling of how I feel about Breq. 

Looking for more good space opera? Check out my list.

"I've been studying Brando's scene in The Gnuppet Movie [...] We're players in a Gnuppet realm, reading from the same script. We're All Gnuppets. Brando was saying: abolish this boundary, tear down the wall or the curtain, and look at the Gnuppeteers." — Jonathan Lethem, Chronic City
 
The Intuitionist book jacket
“What does the perfect elevator look like, the one that will deliver us from the cities we suffer now, these stunted shacks? We don't know because we can't see inside it, it's something we cannot imagine, like the shape of angels' teeth. It's a black box.” — Colson Whitehead, The Intuitionist
 
“He walked with equipoise, possibly in either city. Schrödinger’s pedestrian.”  — China Miéville, The City & the City
 
Call them alternate history, slipstream fiction, or elastic fiction, these novels and others like them take the world that we live in and shake up its parts, magnifying some, shrinking others, changing shapes and colors. They do not fit comfortably into the genres of science fiction or fantasy, but lift the blocks of the concrete world like Styrofoam, commenting on the real by lacing it with veins of the marvelous.
 
Ready to stretch? Try the books on the list Thoughtful alternates, slips and streams.
The era of flipping channels may be coming to an end, and with it goes a certain variety of serendipitous discovery — the late night movie that haunts your imagination, the La Lupe performance that blows your mind.

Picture of Elaine MayMy first encounter with Elaine May was a stumbled-upon PBS special about her years performing comedy with Mike Nichols. Surprising, smart, subversive stuff (some skits available on YouTube). It gave me a hankering to seek out her work as a director. 

Of those May-directed works the library’s collection, my favorite is A New Leaf. May both directs and plays the, er, love interest of Walter Matthau. Matthau is a once rich schmo who has lived beyond his means and is broke. In his mind, the only solution is to find a wealthy woman to marry him. Enter May's character, Henrietta Lowell, an heiress and a shy guileless klutz of an amatuer botanist. Since this is May, you seriously wonder if their relationship is a romcom or a build up to a horrible crime. Rumor has it that in the original cut multiple bodies pile up.
 
There was a wonderful interview called "Who’s Afraid Of Nichols & May?" posted by Vanity Fair in January 2013. It is a very fun read, with May still delivering her utterly original comedy. 
 
And should you be interested in stumbling upon more movies made by the 50%, check out my list Flickering females.
 
 
 

Tigerman, by Nick Harkaway, is due to be published on July 29th. It’s funny, sweet, surprising and SUPER.

The fictional island of Mancreau is scheduled for UTTER DESTRUCTION. A chemical company has been stuffing its waste products into the empty spaces in the rocks. When magma bubbles into this waste brand new forms of life are created, not intelligent, but perhaps malevolent. The United Nations designates the island as the first official ‘International Sacrifice Zone’ to prevent contamination.

Representing authority in this EXPLOSIVE situation is Lester Ferris, a comically reserved British bobby-type. The only chink in his armor is his paternal love for a brilliant, comic book-loving boy who only gives his name as ‘Robin.’

Before long, the boy is looking to Lester to be a hero, and hence TIGERMAN IS BORN!

For more superheroes in prose, check out my list Cape not pictured.

Two of the books I’ve read this year involve travel by unusual vehicles.

In the thoughtful The Man with the Compound Eyes Atile'i lives on the imaginary and fastastical island of Wayo Wayo, where second sons are exiled into the sea, never to return, and probably to die. Atile'i washes up on a floating island of garbage — the non-imaginary Great Pacific Garbage Patch, rendered fantastically stable enough to support a young man. He has no words for the things that carry him — he has never seen a plastic bag, or a plastic toy, or a plastic anything. The gyre carries him to Taiwan, to an eroding coast and a woman who cannot accept several of the cornerstones of her reality, including the fact that her house is falling into the sea.

In the much poppier Shovel Ready our hero Spademan is a hitman. Generally his hits are simple, because in his world most of the people spend their lives in wired sarcophagi, their consciousness moving through a sophisticated virtual reality (the ‘limnosphere’) while their bodies lie fallow. Spademan eschews this escape, living in the concrete world made miserable by a series of dirty bombs. However, before the book is over he has to travel into the limnosphere himself — and finds it has miseries of its own.  

Check out some other books with unique modes of travel in the list My other car is a….

(Image from Le Voyage de M. Dumollet by Albert Robida.)
 

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