Sunday, September 12, 2010

On the inventiveness of Stross and Diaz

Book 80: The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross

Let's call it a guilty pleasure and be done with it. Charles Stross is among the more inventive writers working in the science fiction genre today. He's also among the most entertaining, deftly ranging from hard sci fi to space opera.

The books in two of his series -- the Laundry novels and the Merchant Princes -- make an unusual claim to inventiveness by re-inventing works created by others.

The Merchant Princes series recalls the work of Roger Zelazny. The Laundry novels tap directly into the writing of H.P. Lovecraft. There is magic in the world, but it's mathematically based and the rise of the personal computer -- among other things -- opens doorways into our world to things that go-bump-in-the-night and serves to hasten the end of the world.

It's the job of Stross hero (or anti-hero) Bob Howard to keep the gibbering, soul-eating horrors at bay. Howard does so again in The Fuller Memorandum, calling upon a horde of zombies to defeat a cult, the Brotherhood of the Black Pharaoh, that's attempting to bring about the end of the world.

I know how it sounds, but the novels are hugely entertaining and after Guillermo del Toro bring's Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness to the big screen, well, the Laundry novels are going to find a whole new audience.

Book 81: Drown by Junot Diaz

Talking about wildly inventive authors is the perfect time to segue to Junot Diaz, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Diaz explores much the same territory in the short stories in Drown that he later expanded into a novel with Oscar Wao. Shall we call these stories gems? Works for me. They're wonderful. It's impressive that someone has young as Diaz has such command of his craft.

Read these stories out of sequence. Start with the first story, Ysrael, but then jump to No Face and then simply absorb the astonishing fact of Diaz's powers of observation, his empathy and his penetrating insight into the lives of these struggling Dominicans.

Diaz is among the most authentic and commanding writers of his generation. I eagerly await his next book.

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