Boing Boing Gift Guide 2009: fiction! (part 5/6)

Mark and I have rounded up some of our favorite items from our 2009 Boing Boing reviews for the second-annual Boing Boing gift guide. We'll do one a day for the next six days, covering media (music/games/DVDs), gadgets and stuff, kids' books, novels, nonfiction, and comics/graphic novels/art books. Today, it's novels!

Makers (Cory Doctorow): Technology lets low-cost providers take market share away from established companies, as Detroit auto makers and Paris fashion house designers have seen. Even high-tech companies have a hard time building sustainable businesses now that good ideas are copied so quickly that they become commodities.

In a time of great change, fiction can sometimes provide better understanding than facts alone. "As the pace of technological change accelerates, the job of the science fiction writer becomes not harder, but easier--and more necessary," he writes. "After all, the more confused we are by our contemporary technology, the more opportunities there are to tell stories that lessen that confusion." L. Gordon Crovitz, Wall Street Journal Full review | Purchase

The Strain: Book One of The Strain Trilogy Someone said The Strain is a combination of The Stand, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and I am Legend, which I'd say is a pretty fair way of describing it. The first chapter is about an airplane that lands at JFK from Germany and goes completely dark on the runway. It's so creepy that when I told my wife and daughter about it *they* got creeped out just from my description. Full review | Purchase

World Made by Hand In the sweet and sad novel, World Made By Hand by James Howard Kunstler, the population of the United States (and most likely, the world) has been decimated by an energy shortage, starvation, plagues, terrorism, and global warming. The story takes place in an unspecified time in the near future (I'm guessing it's around 2025 or so). Full review | Purchase

Unseen Academicals (Terry Pratchett): Here's the setup: the wizards of Unseen University have discovered that a key grant from a former Archchancellor requires them to keep a football team that plays regular matches. It's been decades since the last UU team was fielded, and they're in imminent danger of losing a substantial source of funding. Meanwhile, football itself -- as played on the streets of Ankh-Morpork -- is a vicious game that is more riot than sport, and the wizards of UU have no intention of getting involved in that mess.

Full review | Purchase

Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book: A Primer for Adults Only (Shel Silverstein): R is for Red: The fire is red, the fire engine is red, the fireman's hat is red... Too bad the fireman only goes to places WHERE THERE IS A FIRE.

T is for TV: See the nice TV. The TV is warm... The TV loves you. Do you know that there are little elves who live inside the TV? ...If you take Daddy's hammer and break open the TV you will see the funny little elves. What will you name them? Full review | Purchase

The Caryatids (Bruce Sterling): In The Caryatids, global warming has melted practically every government in the world (except China) -- leaving behind a slurry of refugees, rising seas, and inconceivable misery. But there are two stable monoliths sticking out of the chaos, a pair of "civil society groups" that embody the two major schools of smart green thought today: the Dispensation are Al Gore green capitalists based out of California who understand that glamor and profits, properly aimed, achieve more than any amount of stern determination and chaste conservation; their rivals are the Aquis, mostly European anarcho-techno-geeks who have abandoned money in favor of technologically mediated communal life where giant, powerful, barely controlled machines are deployed to save the refugees and heal the Earth. Full review | Purchase

Shatnerquake (Jeff Burk): It's the first ShatnerCon with William Shatner as the guest of honor! But after a failed terrorist attack by Campbellians, a crazy terrorist cult that worships Bruce Campbell, all of the characters ever played by William Shatner are suddenly sucked into our world. Their mission: hunt down and destroy the real William Shatner. Full review | Purchase

Sandman Slim (Richard Kadrey): Eleven years ago, James Stark was banished to hell by his circle of magic buddies, betrayed by his supposed friends for the crime of being a better magician than them. For eleven years, he's suffered hell's torments as Azazel's mortal slave, first made to fight in the pits and then turned into an assassin. And now he's escaped hell by stabbing himself in the heart with a key that opens every lock, and he's returned to Los Angeles to seek his vengeance on the magicians who betrayed him. He hunts them across a demon-infested Los Angeles, dishing out and receiving relentless, graphic violence, determined to take his revenge and then die and leave the Earth behind forever. Full review | Purchase

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance - Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem! (Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith): Here's the pitch: Seth Grahame-Smith has taken Jane Austen's classic, beloved novel Pride and Prejudice and, by means of cunning textual insertions and deletions, changed the story so that it takes place in the midst of a Regency England that has been plunged into chaos by a plague of the living dead. It takes surprisingly little work to do this, and the book ends up feeling substantially like the classic mannered novel that so many adore. Except with zombie mayhem. The execution is flawless, often hilarious, and just plain clever. Full review | Purchase

Mind Over Ship (David Marusek): Mind Over Ship returns to the awesomely weird and exciting Marusek future, where humanity trembles on the verge of transcendence, splintering into people, clones, avatars, AIs, temporary and permanent models (some made without the model-ee's consent) and a thousand other fragments. Each of these factions battles for the best deal it can get -- even as the individual members of each clade fight for their own personal best interests. Full review | Purchase

Leviathan (Scott Westerfeld): Leviathan is set in an alternate steampunk past, in which the powers of the world are divided into "Clankers" who favour huge, steam-powered walking war-machines; and "Darwinists," whose hybrid "beasties" can stand in for airships, steam-trains, war-ships, and subs (they even have a giant squid/octopus hybrid called the kraken that can seize whole warships and drag them to their watery graves). Full review | Purchase

Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America (Robert Charles Wilson): Julian is the story of a world sunk into feudal barbarism, 150 years after Peak Oil, plagues, economic collapse and war left the planet in tatters. Now, America (grown to encompass most of Canada, save for deeply entrenched Dutch and "mitteleuropean" forces in the now-verdant Labrador) is ruled over by a mad hereditary president, whose power is buoyed up by the Dominion, a religious authority that represents the true power in a nation where the new First Amendment guarantees the right to worship at any sanctioned church of your choosing. Full review | Purchase

Ariel (Steven R Boyett): I first read Steven R Boyett's novel Ariel in 1983: I was twelve years old, and I was absolutely, totally hooked.

Here's the premise: one day at 4:30 PM, the world Changes. Complex technology (anything beyond a simple machine) stops working. Magic starts working. Planes fall out of the sky, dragons take wing. Chaos wracks the world. Riots. Starvation. Murder. Full review | Purchase

Cyberabad Days (Ian McDonald): In Cyberabad Days, seven stories (one a Hugo winner, another a Hugo nominee) McDonald performs the quintessential science fictional magic trick: imagining massive technological change and making it intensely personal by telling the stories of real, vividly realized people who leap off the page and into our minds. And he does this with a deft prose that is half-poetic, conjuring up the rhythms and taste and smells of his places and people, so that you are really, truly transported into these unimaginably weird worlds. McDonald's India research is prodigious, but it's nothing to the fabulous future he imagines arising from today's reality. Full review | Purchase

Boneshaker (Cherie Priest): Cherie Priest's zombie steampunk mad-science dungeon crawl family adventure novel Boneshaker is everything you'd want in such a volume and much more. Full review | Purchase

Enemy of Chaos (Leila Johnston): Leila Johnston's Enemy of Chaos is a geekily hilarious modern choose-your-own-adventure novel in which you play a middle aged bitter geek who is drafted into a branching narrative in which your goal is to save reality, while negotiating many of the familiar indignities of modern geekish life, from over-exuberant role-players to nuclear apocalypse. Full review | Purchase

The Magicians (Lev Grossman): Lev Grossman's novel The Magicians may just be the most subversive, gripping and enchanting fantasy novel I've read this century. Quentin Coldwater is a nerdy, depressed, high-achieving Brooklyn kid who finds himself hijacked from his Princeton interview and whisked away to Brakebills Academy, a school of magic upstate on the Hudson. He passes the entrance exam and begins his education as a wizard.

Full review | Purchase

Other installments:

Part One: Kids
Part Two: Media
Part Three: Gadgets
Part Four: Nonfiction
Part Five: Fiction
Part Six: Comix, Art Books, etc



  1. For a really great Young Adult post-apocalyptic Zombie book, Check out the Forest of Hands and teeth by Carrie Ryan

    Amazing and intelligently written and recommended by Scott westerfeld

    Sequel’s coming out in Feb!

  2. I just finished reading Julian Comstock yesterday, and it is so, so, so good! It’s Tom Sawyer mixed with Handmaid’s Tale and some Thucydides. The characters were flawed and the story was unique.

  3. These books may be great, but this list of fiction seems awfully narrow in its scope. You should wander out of the Sci-Fi Fantasy section once in a while.

    1. There are books that aren’t sci-fi/fantasy??? o.O The hell, you say! ;)

      In other commentary, I somehow missed the ‘Shatnerquake’ review previously. That book sounds amazingly wonderful. The thought of Jim Kirk and Denny Crane joining forces to hunt down William Shatner is making my toes wriggle in glee.

      Must. Acquire!

  4. Avoid P&P&Z, it doesn’t live up to its promise (and has a lot of annoying historical errors to boot.) The Magicians, OTOH, is well worth your time.

  5. I have read “The Strain” and “Julian Comstock”–both are superb.

    I might also suggest “Otherlands” by David Anthony Durham. It is the second book of his “Acacia” trilogy. If you are into the George RR Martin “Song of Ice and Fire” series, you will probably enjoy the Acacia universe.

  6. Cory, you should start a Boing Boing Book Club or something. I swear probably 75% of what I’ve read in the past couple years is something I’ve heard of here first, most of the time recommended or reviewed by you. Currently reading “World Made by Hand” and have “BoneShaker” and “Makers” queued up at my local library. Thanks so much for all the great reads.

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