For the Win and more...
Ever at the cutting edge, Cory Doctorow’s latest novel takes on technology, indentured servitude, union politics, and the oft-overdone gamer girl shtick. Set in the “near future”, For the Win is about teenagers exploited as virtual gold farmers, drudges who earn virtual goods in popular Massively Multiplayer Online role-playing games for their bosses. Led by the mysterious Big Sister Nor, the virtual sweatshop workers form a union and set about toppling the corrupt gaming elite. Filled with rich imagery and authentic voice, Doctorow’s narrative does occasionally take on a soapbox tone, but the lectures are infrequent, and strangely appropriate given the unionizing tone of the novel. For the Win aptly takes on social stereotypes, casting gamers as more than “geeks” and shredding the gamer girl stereotype so often bandied about gaming circles. All social justice and politics aside, though, For the Win is a compelling story not just full of complex issues, but a surprising amount of heart. Peta Jinnath Andersen
Greg Sadowski, ed.
Clocking in at over 300 10 1/2” x 7 1/2” pages, Four Color Fear is a lovingly accumulated and organized collection of 40 (40!) 5-to-11-page stories starring ghosts, ghouls, zombies, demons, and monsters of all stripes. None of this would pass for literature, nor does it want to: the point was to hook the kids and keep ‘em hooked long enough to reach the end of the story—then hook ‘em again. Some of the writers and artists are well known names from the era, many of whom worked for EC themselves—Wallace Wood, Joe Kubert, Frank Frazetta, Al Williamson, Bob Powell. Others are not as famous, but overall, the consistency of art and story is impressive. Four Color Fear offers some nice bonus features too, which elevate it from being a simple compilation of reprinted stories. A 32-page glossy section features an array of comics covers from the era (I’m assuming they are the covers of the books from which the stories are taken, but don’t quote me on that). These are beautiful reproductions, and their inclusion in the volume is an unexpected delight. David Maine
Stephen King wasn’t screwing around when he named his most recent novella collection Full Dark, No Stars. These four tales of revenge rank as some of the most deeply disturbing in his entire canon, which is no small feat. In fact, the stories are so pitch black that, at points, they become a very tough read (something King even notes in his afterword), going so far as to, in one story, paint one of the most vivid and disgusting scenes of rape ever committed to the printed page. The seemingly lightest tale in the bunch, “Fair Extension”, might be somewhat humorous, but it’s humor based on schadenfreude. Reading this book will, no doubt, leave even the most battle-scarred reader feeling dirty, which makes this work all the more unsettling and vital to read. With this and 2009’s Under the Dome, King has pulled off some of his best writing since his ‘80s heyday. Which is all the more reason why you should read this book: to watch an old master find a newfound well of poisoned inspiration that readers will need to take a very long and hot shower to shake off. Zachary Houle
Kimberly, who is quickly morphing into the more Americanized Kim, is determined to provide a better life not only for herself but also for her mother. Jean Kwok fills Kim’s journey with both highs and lows, and at many times, Kim’s journey becomes all of our journeys. While Kim’s experience as an immigrant may be quite foreign to some, her schoolmates provide universality to the text. The quintessential popular kids, whose hair always seems to fall perfectly, whose faces never seem to break out, and whose lives seem simply impossibly perfect, tease Kim unmercifully at first. However, in a scene that almost rates a fist pump, Kim plants a quick kiss on the lead bully and firmly puts him in his place. He never bothers her again. Girl in Translation is a moving story filled with lively and believable characters. It is an extremely well told story with wonderful syntax, vivid descriptions, and subtlety placed humor. It’s a story with important themes concerning family, determination, and sacrifice. Still, the best part of the novel is the fact that it made me cheer (occasionally out loud) for Kimberly Chang. Catherine Ramsdell
John Ajvide Lindqvist
What if the dead came back? This has been the guiding conceit of stories of ghosts and revenants for millennia. Indeed, its an idea that has guided more than a few religious narratives, opening for us as it does the perennial questions about the loss of those we love and the loss of our selves. John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Handling the Undead examines this question while also becoming a reflection on the precarious nature of humanity in our postmodern context. Consider what might have happened in The Monkeys Paw if there had not been any wishes left. Now consider what happened if not one rotting loved one returned, but thousands of them. Lindqvist has created a parable in which the undead mirror our existence in relation to others, the way in which we move through the world sometimes as placeholders and sometimes as essential lifelines for the people in our lives. His zombies are us in their tendency to become symbols for other people, embodying in ghastly ways how much we can love another, how much we fear one another and how desperately we need one another. W. Scott Poole