November 23, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Two Speculative Fiction Genre Blends

Two books with huge teen appeal today, both by authors comfortable writing in multiple speculative fiction genres.

First, a fantasy novel by Daryl Gregory. You may have heard of Afterparty, last year’s science fiction novel that created quite a buzz and ended up on a few Best lists. I read Raising Stony Mayhall back in 2011, an unusually thoughtful entry in the zombie canon that made LJ’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy list that year. With Harrison Squared, I believe he has written a book with genuine Alex Award possibilities.

Combining fantasy, Lovecraftian horror, mystery, and humor, the novel starts off with a great title character, adds a wonderfully weird setting, and proceeds to follow the adventures of H2 and his gaggle of allies as they search for his mother after she disappears.

And what can we say about a new collection from Neil Gaiman? Read Sarah’s review–she says it all! Then go listen to Neil speak (briefly) about Trigger Warning on NPR, because no one can talk reading & writing quite like he can.

GREGORY, Daryl. Harrison Squared. 304p. Tor Bks. Mar. 2015. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780765376954.  Harrison Squared

Harrison Harrison, aka H2 or Harrison Squared, is the only child of an AMP (absent-minded professor), a marine biologist who studies squids and other giant sea creatures. Harrison’s earliest memory is of tentacles, teeth, and an upside-down boat in the ocean—the incident in which his father died and he, Harrison, lost a leg. Now, at 16, he and his mother have traveled across the country from San Diego to dreary and isolated Dunnsmouth, on the Atlantic Ocean, so that his mother can continue her research. It’s not long before weird things start happening. School is odd; all the students look as if “they did their shopping at ClinicalDepression.com,” they have classes like “Practical Skills” (knot-tying) and cryptobiology, and no one ever seems to go to the library. Then his mother disappears, and Harrison has a hard time persuading anyone that there is something wrong, so he sets out to find her on his own. But things get even weirder in the next few days, as Harrison must deal with a knife-wielding bogeyman called the Scrimshander, a monstrous female of the deep, and a weird cult. Fortunately, he also has some help, including a fish-boy who loves comics, a Dorothy Parker-esque aunt, a ghost, and some humorless but practical friends from school. Harrison is a bright, funny, determined protagonist, and readers will be glad that the ending of this book leaves open the possibility of a sequel. VERDICT Suspense, humor, and weird, creepy monsters combine to make this one a winner for teens.—Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County (CA) Library

GAIMAN, Neil. Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances. 310p. William Morrow. Feb. 2015. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780062330260. LC 2014053154.  

Gaiman’s latest collection could serve as a primer on speculative fiction. It’s all here: science fiction, fantasy, horror, even mystery. In his own inimitable way, he mines the various genres, taking off from the existing canon and putting his own particular spin on each. There’s a Sherlock Holmes story here, a Doctor Who tale, several entries based on fairy tales, and a short work set in the universe of his own novel, American Gods. “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” is full of Bradbury-like elements, a another vignette is based on a Jack Vance novel, and a story inspired by lines from a William Blake poem. He sometimes plays with form, as in a work that is composed entirely of responses to an interrogation, and another one that is written in verse. As always, Gaiman’s writing is lovely and his imagination is fascinating to observe. In this anthology, he even provides an aid to that observation by including a lengthy introduction with background and context for each story. Many teens (and adults) are already huge fans of the author—most of whom have probably already been anticipating this collection. No previous knowledge of Gaiman’s work is required for enjoyment of this book—only an openness to the places the mind can take you. VERDICT A surefire win anywhere there are fans of speculative fiction, short stories, or Gaiman.—Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County (CA) Library

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Angela Carstensen About Angela Carstensen

Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.

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