Jedediah Berry

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The distant future finds humanity scattered over hundreds of worlds, enslaved to an alien race, laboring in mines and building fortresses for their spider-like masters, the Archon. Earth has been transformed into a mass grave, and all that remains of human culture is the daily fare of pubs and churches. And also, as luck would have it, the plays of William Shakespeare.

Wilbr, the narrator of the tale, is by his own admission not the most talented of actors. His Rosencrantz is fine, but he knows he'll never have a shot at Hamlet. Meanwhile Aglaé, "the best and most attractive Juliet and Rosalind," hardly acknowledges his existence. They and the rest of the crew of The Muse of Fire tour the galaxy, offering residents of the planets they're allowed to visit a moment's respite from lives of drudgery. When a group of Archons join the audience to observe one otherwise routine production, the players find themselves conscripted into a series of shows put on for the benefit of ever more strange and powerful alien races. Naturally, the survival of the human race hangs in the balance.

Muse of Fire is a short novel (it originally appeared in the New Space Opera anthology edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan), but it feels expansive. As the crew travels from one stage to another, each more grand and bewildering than the last, the member of their troupe who usually plays Iago plots to overthrow their cruel masters, while Wilbr and Aglaé prepare for a final performance on which everything depends: a rendition of Romeo and Juliet unlike any other.

This is not the first time Dan Simmons has yoked the classics of the Western canon to space opera science fiction. The novels of his Hugo Award-winning Hyperion Cantos bore the influences of Keats and The Canterbury Tales (for starters) and Ilium featured a re-creation of the Trojan War on Mars. Fans of those masterly works will adore Muse of Fire for its layered symbology, intertextual wit and deep humanism. But Muse of Fire also shows Simmons at his best as a storyteller, and readers will be delighted by a tale so expertly told.

Jedediah Berry is the author of The Manual of Detection, forthcoming from Penguin Press. 

The distant future finds humanity scattered over hundreds of worlds, enslaved to an alien race, laboring in mines and building fortresses for their spider-like masters, the Archon. Earth has been transformed into a mass grave, and all that remains of human culture is the daily fare of pubs and churches. And also, as luck would […]
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The City & The City is a murder mystery, old-fashioned in its way, narrated by a tough-talking police investigator and layered with all the shadow and menace of a film noir. China Miéville, known for such sprawling and often innovative fantasies as Perdido Street Station and Iron Council, turns to a leaner approach in this novel, hanging his story on prose that is at once precise, mordant and vivid. The result is a tightly plotted, thoroughly engaging read, at turns beguiling and revelatory.

The most original aspect of the book is its setting. The two cities of the title, Bes?el and Ul Qoma, are vastly dissimilar places, each with its own language, culture and forms of political unrest. Ul Qoma is undergoing an economic boom while Bes?el decays in a slump. Though the two cities are located in different countries, they share a common past and—this is the extraordinary conceit that drives the narrative—they occupy the same geographical space. Residents of one city are strictly prohibited from interacting with residents of the other, even though they walk the same streets. Failing to “unsee” the other city and its citizens is a crime; to actually have dealings with them is “Breach,” something rather worse than illegal border-crossing.

Complications arise when Inspector Tyador Borlú is called upon to investigate the murder of a young woman whose body is discovered in his home city of Bes?el. The problem is that the murder seems to have taken place in Ul Qoma. If the murder is an instance of Breach, then the crime is outside of Borlú’s jurisdiction, and responsibility lies with a power more dangerous and enigmatic than his police squad.

Borlú is unable to leave the case alone, however, and to continue his investigation he must travel to Ul Qoma, where he is ensnared in a conspiracy involving the government, a forbidden book, an archaeological site and the cities’ ancient past. The paradox of his situation—to seek truth in a place which demands that one willfully ignore a part of what is real—allows Miéville to construct a fascinating and original hybrid of fantasy and crime fiction.

Jedediah Berry is the author of a novel,
The Manual of Detection.

The City & The City is a murder mystery, old-fashioned in its way, narrated by a tough-talking police investigator and layered with all the shadow and menace of a film noir. China Miéville, known for such sprawling and often innovative fantasies as Perdido Street Station and Iron Council, turns to a leaner approach in this […]
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Henry Lamb, formerly the child star of a BBC sitcom, is working a dead-end job in London’s Storage and Record Retrieval unit. He’s helplessly single, hopelessly in love with his landlady, and he can’t escape his oppressive mother. When his alcoholic grandfather falls suddenly into a coma, he learns that his family is tied to a secret government agency known as the Directorate, which for over a hundred years has been fighting a clandestine war to protect the people of the United Kingdom from an ancient and malevolent force.
Their enemy? Nothing less than the British royal family.

The Domino Men is a funny and often gripping entertainment, a wry mash-up of espionage thriller and Lovecraftian horror reminiscent of the Hellboy graphic novels. It is also a satire that cleverly draws parallels between the tropes of cosmic horror and the mundane tyrannies of the modern bureaucratic state.

Though The Domino Men takes place in the same world as Barnes’ first book, The Somnambulist, it is not properly speaking a sequel, and readers may enjoy this novel’s mysteries and intrigues without knowledge of what has come before. Queen Victoria, fearing the downfall of the Empire, made a deal with—well, not the devil exactly, but something quite bad. Now, conscripted into the Directorate by its gilled and aquarium-bound chief, Henry must thwart the House of Windsor by turning to something arguably worse: the Domino Men of the title, a pair of immortal goons who delight in human suffering but who possess the secret that could tip the war in the Directorate’s favor.

In what may be the novel’s most effective gambit, interpolations from the opposition are scattered throughout Henry’s account of his final stand, representing the voice of doubt and fear that threatens to undo the protagonist and maybe the world itself. Though the novel veers at times into overtly grotesque terrain, its horrors are usually of the subtle and psychological kind, a dark lens through which to observe a beguiling story of power and corruption.

Jedediah Berry is the author of The Manual of Detection, published by Penguin Press.

Henry Lamb, formerly the child star of a BBC sitcom, is working a dead-end job in London’s Storage and Record Retrieval unit. He’s helplessly single, hopelessly in love with his landlady, and he can’t escape his oppressive mother. When his alcoholic grandfather falls suddenly into a coma, he learns that his family is tied to […]
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Some works of fiction follow the rules of their genre, applying them like trusty tools to a familiar, well – worn machine. Others take those rules and revamp or retrofit them, then borrow spares from other sets and build something that is recognizable but completely, refreshingly new. Gene Wolfe's An Evil Guest is one of these books.

The novel is set about a century in the future, but despite the holographic video broadcasts and intergalactic space transports, the world feels like that of the 1930s, complete with tough – talking cops, wily dames and shady operatives; it's more pulp thriller than Space Age adventure. Though this results in a future with some oddly old – fashioned gender roles, it allows Wolfe to mine his many sources and inspirations – from the detective novels of Raymond Chandler to the fantastic tales of H.P. Lovecraft – to dazzling effect.

Dr. Gideon Chase is recruited by the U.S. government to track down the elusive and wealthy William Reis, whose years as ambassador to an alien planet have granted him unusual talents – talents the government would like to understand and control. Chase is at once a private detective, secret agent and sorcerer for hire, and not without talents of his own. But rather than confront Reis directly, he enlists the help of Cassie Casey, a woman whose latent abilities are awakened by Chase's magic, transforming her into perhaps the most gifted actress in the world. That is a skill she finds doubly useful, because she is soon at the center of a vast and deadly game of intrigue, with players ranging from secret government agencies to vengeful ex – husbands, from dark alien powers to the two men – Chase and Reis – with whom she has fallen in love.

Devotees of the Lovecraft Mythos will quickly recognize the source of the ultimate threat, but whether or not its readers have ever pondered the course curriculum at Miskatonic University, An Evil Guest is sure to sweep them along with a conspiracy that grows more thrilling and more deadly with every double – cross and dark revelation.

Jedediah Berry is the author of a novel, The Manual of Detection, to be published by Penguin Press in February. He is an assistant editor of Small Beer Press.

Some works of fiction follow the rules of their genre, applying them like trusty tools to a familiar, well – worn machine. Others take those rules and revamp or retrofit them, then borrow spares from other sets and build something that is recognizable but completely, refreshingly new. Gene Wolfe's An Evil Guest is one of […]
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When Carmen Dula leaves Earth with her younger brother and their scientist parents, she is not entirely at ease with the notion of a six-year sojourn on Mars. The change of address requires a 50,000-mile ride on a Space Elevator, and then six months aboard a cramped shuttle. And like many 18-year-olds, Carmen is concerned about beginning her college studies, making friends and maybe even conducting a love life. All this in a new hometown, partway across the solar system.

The first section of Marsbound is science fiction with an emphasis on the science. Joe Haldeman lays out a fascinating course for one potential future of space travel, complete with an orbiting Hilton hotel. The reader is treated to an in-depth tour of the Space Elevator, with insights into the technical as well as the human challenges. Carmen’s narration of the trip, charming and often wry, keeps the story fun and the science accessible.

Once on Mars, Carmen quickly earns the enmity of the colony’s chief administrator. Their mounting antagonism results in an act of transgression with unexpected and far-reaching results. When Carmen strikes out across the surface of the planet in a stolen Mars suit, she falls and injures herself; rescue does not come from the human colony, but from members of another species already inhabiting the planet.

Marsbound then becomes an intriguing story of first contact. The tale’s inventiveness lies in the fact that the aliens are a mystery not only to the earthlings who encounter them, but also to themselves. They have only a limited sense of their own history, origins and purpose—and only a vague, half-remembered notion of the forebears who left them on Mars millennia before. As the consequences of the encounter take on global, and then intergalactic significance, Carmen must gather what allies she has in order to avert a catastrophe of horrific proportions. The stakes are high, but at its heart Marsbound is a thought-provoking meditation on time, history and the potential for human evolution.

Jedediah Berry is the author of a novel, The Manual of Detection, forthcoming from Penguin Press in February 2009. He is an assistant editor of Small Beer Press.

The stakes are high, but at its heart Marsbound is a thought-provoking meditation on time, history and the potential for human evolution.
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The story of This Is Not a Game is driven by a force located at the nexus between commercial marketing and geek culture: the alternate reality game, or ARG. Though the book is set in the near future, ARGs are being planned and played right now: these are the massive and complexly plotted entertainments that have driven millions to hunt for clues on hidden websites, deliver packages to secret locations and call studios where live actors impersonate characters from a carefully crafted fiction.

The novel follows Dagmar Shaw, an architect of such games. In her role as “puppetmaster” she has cunningly led players through countless twists and revelations by carefully weaving elements of her dangerous virtual worlds into our own. But the real world has turned suddenly dangerous for her: stranded in Jakarta during a collapse of the national economy, she watches helplessly as riots tear the city apart.

When Dagmar—with assistance from her friends and associates at the Great Big Idea company—alters her game in an attempt to summon the aid of its players, the novel takes on fascinating new dimensions and becomes a genuine page-turner. Spurred into action, the group mind of a million and more gamers eagerly applies its problem-solving skills to the real-life crisis.

But getting Dagmar out of Jakarta is only the beginning. Back in Los Angeles, another member of the company (and one of Dagmar’s oldest friends) is gunned down in the parking lot by an assassin. The Russian mafia may be involved, and there are hints of an international finance conspiracy. Soon Dagmar is tracking down the killer while trying to keep the game going, even as outside influences alter the rules of her own creation.

Walter Jon Williams begins with a knowing and sympathetic grasp of gamer culture, and proceeds through schemes and stratagems with a good deal of gamesmanship himself. This Is Not a Game is a tale every bit as engaging as one of the intrigues its characters might have dreamed up.

Jedediah Berry is the author of a novel, The Manual of Detection.

The story of This Is Not a Game is driven by a force located at the nexus between commercial marketing and geek culture: the alternate reality game, or ARG. Though the book is set in the near future, ARGs are being planned and played right now: these are the massive and complexly plotted entertainments that […]

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