This week: inside the golden age of science fiction, plus the epic drama of our atmosphere.
This astonishing selection of photos from photojournalist Addario (It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War) strongly demonstrates her conviction that by risking her life to cover gross injustices she can create visual and visceral proof of human rights violations. Addario’s two decades of documenting wrongs begins with her work on life under the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Photos of children at play in cemeteries, a crowded room in a secret school for girls near Kabul, and a prisoner chained to the wall at an underground prison are interspersed with personal letters from Addario to her family and loved ones, her own field notes, and contact sheets. Later sections feature images of war-torn Iraq and Libya, groups of refugees on the move, and conflict in Congo and South Sudan. There’s a powerful series from the maternity ward at Magburaka Government Hospital in Sierra Leone, featuring a woman giving birth on a blood-soaked floor and a mother spoon-feeding her adult daughter, who was in a coma after having her first child. Addario’s photographs are stunning, and this book, which she dedicates to the “brave and resilient” women and men she’s documented, provides unique insight into the vital work of photojournalists.
Adjei-Brenyah dissects the dehumanizing effects of capitalism and racism in this debut collection of stingingly satirical stories. The arguments that exonerate a white man for brutally murdering five black children with a chainsaw in “The Finkelstein 5” highlight the absurdity of America’s broken criminal justice system. “Zimmer Land” imagines a future entertainment park where players enter an augmented reality to hunt terrorists or shoot intruders played by minority actors. The title story is one of several set in a department store where the store’s best salesman learns to translate the incomprehensible grunts of vicious, insatiable Black Friday shoppers. He returns in “How to Sell a Jacket as Told by IceKing” to be passed over for a promotion despite his impeccable record. Some stories take a narrower focus, such as “The Lion & the Spider,” in which a high school senior has to take a demanding job to keep money flowing into his family’s house after his father’s disappearance. In “Light Spitter,” a school shooting results in both the victim and gunman stuck in a shared purgatory. “Through the Flash” spins a dystopian Groundhog Day in which victims of an unexplained weapon relive a single day and resort to extreme violence to cope. Adjei-Brenyah has put readers on notice: his remarkable range, ingenious premises, and unflagging, momentous voice make this a first-rate collection.
Plunging into the macabre chaos of 18th-century Europe in this exquisite novel, Carey (Alva & Irva) conjures the life of the girl who would become Madame Tussaud. Orphaned at seven, “Little” Anne Marie Grosholz finds herself in servitude to Doctor Curtius, an emaciated recluse who fashions body parts from wax for medical research. He teaches the clever Marie his trade—which she quickly learns, as she’d already developed an early, acute awareness of physiognomy owing to her gargantuan nose and protruding chin. Curtius soon becomes renowned for his wax portrait heads, but when he and Marie must flee to Paris to avoid their creditors, finding lodgings with a tailor’s widow and her son Edmond, Marie is banished to the kitchen by Edmond’s jealous mother. Marie has no choice but to find allies outside the widow’s household, and after a surprise royal visit to Curtius’s workshop, she manages to get herself invited to Versailles to tutor King Louis XVI’s sister Elizabeth. But it is 1780, and only a few years later the monarchy is overcome by the Revolution. Marie manages to make it home, but the Paris she knows implodes, and her royal associations land her in trouble. There is nothing ordinary about this book, in which everything animate and inanimate lives, breathes, and remembers. Carey, with sumptuous turns of phrase, fashions a fantastical world that churns with vitality, especially his “Little,” a female Candide at once surreal and full of heart.
The triumphant 11th novel from de Rosnay (Sarah’s Key) follows the unraveling of long pent-up frustrations within the Malegarde family against the backdrop of a natural disaster. Linden Malegarde, a Franco-American photographer, travels to Paris to celebrate the 70th birthday of his father, Paul. But when Paul suffers a stroke and is hospitalized, Linden decides to stay indefinitely. As Paul’s health ebbs, the river Seine floods the city, relentlessly rising due to driving rain. For Linden, the Paris he knows so well becomes “hardly identifiable, yet painfully familiar,” paralleling his own feelings and memories of his adolescence. Fearing more of the rejection and bigotry he’s experienced throughout his life, Linden, who is in his late 30s, has yet to come out as gay to his father or introduce him to his longtime partner, Sacha. During the days of unexpectedly close quarters with his father, mother, and sister, Linden begins to open up and discovers that each family member has secrets and emotional wounds just as intense as his own. Throughout, de Rosnay stokes the Malegardes’ histories with raw and powerful reminisces and gorgeous descriptions. This is an emotional tour de force and a thoughtful, deliberate examination of personal tragedy and the possibility of redemption.
A prolific poet and essayist, Dewdney (Soul of the World) takes an entertaining and informative look at something everyone talks about but few truly understand: weather. Equal parts science, historical journey, and whimsical reflection that traces to Dewdney’s childhood fascination with meteorology, this book marks an accessible and enjoyable entry into a field more often characterized by dry, uninspired texts. Divided into sections detailing the elements that create clouds, wind, rain, and severe storms, the book quotes a wide range of figures, from Aristotle to Rodney Dangerfield, to illustrate the human fascination with a phenomenon that determines everything from what people put on in the morning to how cities are designed. Dewdney’s expert distillation of the mathematics and physics of weather forecasting and his exciting chronology of weather-related inventions are matched by a generous use of quotations from philosophers and poets evoking sensations inspired by the seasons. With wit and a humbling sense of wonder, this is a book that can be shared and appreciated by a wide audience who now religiously check their phones for daily forecasts.
In this immensely enjoyable illustrated biography, Beastie Boys members Diamond and Horovitz share the band’s history, from the release of its first album, Licensed to Ill, in 1986 to band member Adam Yauch’s death from cancer in 2012. The book is a tribute to him and “the spirit that marked a lot of the adventures” he led the three of them on. Hilarious anecdotes include an episode, before the release of their first album, when record producer Russell Simmons encouraged them to rap onstage at the Danceteria night club in New York City (their performance was completely ignored) and an awkward conversation with Bob Dylan at a party for Dolly Parton in L.A. (he asked the band to join him in a “pro-smoking concert,” then simply stared at them), as well as various details from the heady mayhem of their final world tours, when they were “together having fun, and it was all-consuming.” Densely packed with photographs, set lists, and album track descriptions, the book also features such guest essayists as Amy Poehler (with a “Beastie Boys Video Review”) and L.A. chef Roy Choi, who recalls first hearing the Beastie Boy’s song “Paul Revere” as the moment when “part of my life changed.” This entertaining look at Beastie Boys history is as innovative and raucous as the band’s music.
A lifetime of experience from both bestseller Forsyth (The Day of the Jackal) and his lead character, Sir Adrian Weston, informs every page of this terrifically entertaining spy thriller in the classic tradition. Sir Adrian may be retired from the British Secret Intelligence Service, of which he was once deputy chief, but he remains Prime Minister Marjory Graham’s personal adviser on matters concerning national security. When the U.S. National Security Agency is hacked, and it turns out that the perpetrator is Luke Jennings, an 18-year-old computer genius in the U.K., Adrian not only offers advice but comes up with a plan. After convincing the American president, a thinly disguised stand-in for Donald Trump, that there’s a major espionage opportunity here, Adrian initiates Operation Troy, whose object is “the greatest deception in the history of the cyberworld.” Adrian ensconces Luke, now known as the Fox, with his computer and his mother in a series of British safe houses while the spymaster concocts devilishly clever online attacks on the Russians, Iranians, and North Koreans. The risks for Adrian and Luke increase with each operation. That these attacks seem to explain some real-life events make the book even more fascinating. Along the way, Forsyth details the nuts and bolts of modern espionage. Genre fans will be enthralled.
Fried (Appetite for America) makes the case, in this comprehensive and fascinating biography, that renaissance man Benjamin Rush merits more attention. Rush served the American Revolution “as a doctor, a politician, a social reformer, an educational visionary, and even as an activist editor”— and persuaded Thomas Paine to write Common Sense. He put his life on the line as a battlefield surgeon; wrote a “pamphlet that would transform military medicine in America”; served as a public health advocate and champion of public education for all, including women, African-Americans, and immigrants; and supported abolition and the separation of church and state. He was credited by John Adams as having made more contributions to independence from Britain than Ben Franklin. Despite all this, Fried portrays Rush as a complex, flawed person and not just a list of accomplishments; he describes the doctor’s ill-advised and indiscreet criticisms of the leadership of the Continental Army in 1778, conveyed in a letter to his wife that discussed the possibility of ousting Washington as its commander—a primary source that Fried and his researchers believe had never been transcribed before. That find is a testament to the authorial thoroughness and insight that will keep readers engaged until the last page.
This substantive book by the historian Heidler spouses (Washington’s Circle: The Creation of the President) focuses less on Andrew Jackson’s controversial actions as president than on how he attained that office and, in so doing, permanently altered American political campaigning. Jackson won the presidency by gaining the votes of ordinary white men who viewed him as like them, someone who would be their defender against the entrenched interests of an American aristocracy, but there was nothing accidental about his rise to prominence. As the Heidlers show, it was stage-managed by a number of “managers and handlers” who saw in the hero of the Battle of New Orleans a man who would advance their plans for a national government that was very different in ideology and practice than its predecessors. They are particularly skilled in exploring, in nuance and detail, how a disparate group of politicians, journalists, and fixers created the popularity of a man who had “a nasty temper, a violent streak, and a past littered with appalling lapses in judgement,” setting the template for the modern political campaign of image-building and manipulation of public opinion. This lively and insightful read teaches the reader nearly as much about today’s politics as it does about those of the 1820s.
Johnson’s harrowing, singular first novel (following the story collection Fen) retells the myth of Oedipus Rex, putting a modern spin on a familiar tale. Gretel, a lexicographer in her early 30s, has finally been reunited with her mother, Sarah, after a long search. Sarah, now suffering from dementia, is far from the woman who left Gretel to the foster care system 16 years ago. Gretel’s childhood prior to that had been carefree but insular, spent primarily with Sarah—“a wildish girl and her wilder mother”—on a houseboat in the canals of Oxford, where they spoke in a private language and were stalked by the Bonak, a monster that lived in the river by their home and represented, as Gretel defined it, “what we are afraid of.” For a time, they’d been joined on the houseboat by a transgender boy named Marcus who had left the only home he’d ever known to escape a prophecy, crafting a new identity in the process. As secrets are uncovered (such as the truth of the prophecy that compelled Marcus to flee his home) and the consequences of past decisions reverberate into the present (such as the choice Sarah makes regarding her first pregnancy, before Gretel), Gretel realizes how close the Bonak they feared has been all along. This story about motherhood and self-determination is a stunning fever dream of a novel.
The bludgeoning murder of Corporal Noh Jong-bei, a South Korean assigned to augment American forces, provides the latest high-stakes case for canny U.S. Army CID agents George Sueño and Ernie Bascom in Limón’s superb 13th investigation set in 1970s South Korea (after 2017’s The Nine-Tailed Fox). The sensitive location of the body in the Joint Security Area separating the two Koreas exacerbates tensions: Noh’s left boot is in South Korea, while the rest of him lies in North Korea. The temperature rises even more after Sueño and Bascom are ordered to retrieve the corpse, leading the North Korean army to go on high alert. The case doesn’t get easier after they identify a person of interest, an American private who was dating the dead man’s sister, and the truth about the private’s culpability becomes secondary to their bosses. The maverick agents’ efforts to defy authority take another hit when they’re assigned to trace a major’s missing wife. Limón has never been better at incorporating a logical mystery plot into the politics of his chosen time and place.
Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction
The golden age of science fiction, spanning the years 1939 to 1950, gets an authoritative examination in this fascinating appraisal of its key players. The primary focus is John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, and the three very different writers who served him best: Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and L. Ron Hubbard. The author credits Campbell with turning science fiction “from a literature of escapism into a machine for generating analogies” and using his magazine as “a laboratory in which his writers could work out scenarios for the future.” That helped to conjure countless works of groundbreaking fiction, but after the dropping of the atomic bomb seemed to validate science fiction as prophecy, it drove Campbell into embracing dubious fringe beliefs, including dowsing and astrology, in his search for new intellectual breakthroughs. Nevala-Lee gives abundant insight into the authors’ careers, revealing how Asimov first acquired his love of fiction as a lonely child working at his family’s Brooklyn candy store, while Heinlein chanced into writing as a fallback career after a period of passionate involvement in Upton Sinclair’s failed 1934 California gubernatorial campaign. This book is a major work of popular culture scholarship that science fiction fans will devour.
In a highly illustrated chapter book, four braggart knights and one underappreciated squire square off against dinosaurs, all while learning about teamwork and honesty. Confronted with a dearth of foes in peacetime, Camelot’s lesser knights feel inclined to exaggerate the “battles with beasties, run-ins with rogue trolls, or fisticuffs with fierce giants” that they purport to engage in regularly. Sent back in time by Merlin for such embellishments, Sir Erec, Sir Hector, the mysterious Black Knight, and Sir Bors (and squire Mel) know as little about “terrible lizards” as they know about true feats of strength. Nevertheless, the team finds itself doing spectacular battle with numerous recognizable prehistoric beasts, complete with one-on-one bouts, team attacks, and rescue missions (tricera-joust, anyone?). Motion-filled art by Phelan (Snow White) depicts anachronisms side by side in standalone and sequential panels. And as the time-traveling knights try to fight their way back to their true place in time, plot twists reveal the heroes’ true identifiers, adding depth to this hilarious slapstick romp. Ages 8–12.
Reed and Mayer’s outstanding 12th whodunit set in the sixth century CE (after 2015’s Murder in Megara) takes John the Eunuch, a worshipper of the sun god Mithra and former lord chamberlain to Emperor Justinian, from Greece, where he has been in exile from Constantinople, to Rome, which is under siege by the Goths. General Felix, one of Justinian’s emissaries, has summoned John to help him deal with unspecified troubles. His arrival is viewed suspiciously by the general in charge of the Roman garrison, Diogenes, who dispatches a courier to determine whether Justinian knows that John has left Greece. To John’s further dismay, he learns that Felix has been missing for days, and he races to find him in the city’s labyrinthine catacombs. His explorations uncover a dead man, stabbed with an ancient knife used in ritual sacrifices. The cleverness of the plot and the solution to the murder are among the series’s best.
In this haunting historical fantasy similar to Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series for adults, two sisters struggle with reacclimation to the modern world after spending years in a magical realm. In 1944, as London burns during WWII bombings, Philippa, Jamie, and Evelyn Hapwell are transported to the enchanted Woodlands—only to discover that their refuge has its own troubles with war on the horizon. Six years of Woodlands time later, the trio is returned to the moment that they left London, unchanged physically but possessing a lifetime of experiences. Years later, Evelyn, 16, who hasn’t stopped longing for the Woodlands, vanishes in an attempt to return to the only place she’s ever considered home. Her older sister, Philippa, is consumed with guilt over Evelyn’s fate, even as she tries to create a life that doesn’t revolve around responsibility for her sibling. In this love letter to portal fantasies and Narnia, Weymouth infuses her characters with a rich panoply of emotions set against wartime England. A shining thread of hope and healing mitigates the book’s heartbreak and underlying trauma, suggesting a bright future for all involved. Ages 13–up.