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Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

I am determined to explore as much of the World as I can in my lifetime. To this end I have travelled as far as the Nine-Hundred-and-Sixtieth Hall to the West, the Eight-Hundred-and-Ninetieth Hall to the North and the Seven-Hundred-and-Sixty-Eighth Hall to the South. I have climbed up to the Upper Halls where Clouds move in slow procession and Statues appear suddenly out of the Mists. I have explored the Drowned Halls where the Dark Waters are carpeted with white water lilies. I have seen the Derelict Halls of the East where Ceilings, Floors — sometimes even Walls! — have collapsed and the dimness is split by shafts of grey Light.

In all these places I have stood in Doorways and looked ahead. I have never seen any indication that the World was coming to an End, but only the regular progression of Halls and Passageways into the Far Distance.I can't be alone in having assumed that this book would never happen. Susanna Clarke burst onto the scene in 2004, seemingly out of nowhere, wit…

The Haunting of Bly Manor

By a funny coincidence, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House and Henry James's The Turn of the Screw—the novels on which Mike Flanagan has (loosely) based the two seasons of his Netflix anthology series, The Haunting—are both books I read as a teenager and didn’t get on with. Hill House offended my expectations of how a haunted house story was "supposed" to work, by refusing to solve the mystery of the titular house or deliver up a standard heroic plot in response to its horrors. It was only years later, having fallen in love with Jackson's other novels and short stories, that I returned to Hill House and realized that this refusal to solve itself was, in fact, the point, and the source of the novel's chilling horror. In honor of The Haunting of Bly Manor, I decided on a similar return to The Turn of the Screw, hoping to once again discover greater depths as an adult reader. Instead, and to my surprise, I found myself having almost exactly the same re…

Review: Greensmith by Aliya Whiteley at Strange Horizons

I've been a fan of Aliya Whiteley since reading her bizarre, disturbing novella The Beauty in 2015. Since then, I've approached all of Whiteley's books and stories knowing that I'll find weirdness and thought-provoking ideas in equal measure, and have never been disappointed. I have a review of Whiteley's latest up at Strange Horizons. It's a sly piece of writing that starts out pulpy and strange and then gets deeper (but no less strange) as it goes on.the horror in Whiteley’s stories runs deeper than mere disgust. It is the horror of the loss of self, of loneliness, and of realizing that the world is more dangerous and cruel than you had been raised to believe.

In her most recent novella, Greensmith, Whiteley once again delivers a compelling and plausible future world alongside disquieting horror, but she also adds a new weapon to her arsenal: humor. Greensmith is a tale about the end of the world, about looking back on your life and evaluating your mistakes an…

Three Emmas

2020 seems to be the year of Emma. Early in the spring, we saw the release of a new film adaptation of the novel, the first since the Gwyneth Paltrow-starring one from 1996 (though there have been a few TV versions in the interim). Not long after, the world of pop culture conversation joined in a celebration of Amy Heckerling's Clueless, arguably the definitive screen adaptation of the novel, on the occasion of its twenty-fifth anniversary. And now in the fall, I've finally gotten around to reading Mahesh Rao's Polite Society, which like Clueless, retells the story of Emma in a modern setting, this time the enclaves of the super-rich, old money families of New Delhi. OK, so I'm cheating a bit with that last one. Rao's novel was actually published last year (and a year earlier than that in India). But the confluence of the three adaptations in my own personal cultural landscape has been an opportunity to revisit my feelings towards the original novel, which stands a…

The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox

"I think he gets everything from novels," Taryn explained to Berger.  
Berger was exasperated. "Everyone gets everything from novels."  New Zealand author Elizabeth Knox is a literary nomad. In a career that has spanned thirty years and nearly twenty novels, she has written historical romance (The Vintner's Luck, 1998), YA fantasy (Mortal Fire, 2013; The Dreamhunter Duet, 2005 & 2007), and Stephen King-esque horror (Wake, 2013). Her most recent novel, The Absolute Book, is at once a leveling up and an inevitable culmination of this wandering quality in Knox's career. It is, as its title suggests, a novel about books and their magic. But it is also a novel about stories and how they shape the world. The result has a bit of a magpie quality to it, dipping into different genres and story types, mixing various references and homages, often losing the thread of its story in cul-de-sacs and set-pieces that are more interesting than the whole that contains them.…

Review: The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez, at Strange Horizons

My review of Simon Jimenez's debut novel The Vanished Birdsappears today in Strange Horizons. This is a fantastic novel that hasn't really gotten the attention it deserves--perhaps because its title and artsy cover design obscured its meat-and-potatoes SF premise, which in turn may have alienated readers who picked it up expecting a straightforward literary novel. Whatever the reason, if you're a fan of smart, well-written, thought-provoking science fiction, you should absolutely pick up The Vanished Birds, which riffs off the space freighter found family premise (familiar to us from everything from Firefly to the novels of Becky Chambers) in several intriguing ways, and uses it to give readers a glimpse of how the logic of capitalism asserts itself in far-future, spacefaring civilization.The Vanished Birds both honors the space freighter premise and dismantles it—at one point, literally. Only part of the novel is set on a ship and among a crew, and by its end both feel ir…