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Sweatpants & Books | Shelf Awareness | Well, That’s New

By Alex Doyle

Welcome to Shelf Awareness, where I review three books related by a theme. These aren’t necessarily the latest releases, but are hopefully books you can’t believe you missed.

This column’s theme: “Well, that’s new.”

So many themes have been played out and done to death, so it’s something of a rarity to find an original idea, or a fresh take on an old one, but it’s clearly not impossible. For example:

If you like:

Highlander

Time loops (as seen in the movie Groundhog day)

You might like:

The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August, by Claire North.

Harry August is an immortal, but the twist is that he relives his life from the beginning of the 20th century over and over again, aging and dying, taking the experiences of one lifetime into the start of the next.  The exploration of knowing what’s coming next, and knowing he can’t die for real gets fleshed out when Harry discovers he’s the only one in a position to solve a very pressing problem.

Sample passage

She smiled, and understood my meaning without needing it to be said. She leaned in close and murmured in my ear, “The world is ending, as it always must. But the end of the world is getting faster.”

That was the beginning of the end.

Takeaway

The concept really carries the book, and the world Harry lives in is very well thought out, as his lifestyle has some unexpected but totally reasonable consequences. I found middle of the book a bit slow, and maybe it’s conclusion wasn’t perfect, but Claire North’s execution of the questions raised by the premise made for an entertaining ride.

Or if you like:

 Alternate realities.

Nuclear war
Zombies
Supervillains
Rampant AI

You might like:

The Last Man On Earth Club, by Paul R Hardy

From the title it seems it’d be a pretty small gathering, but it’s a self-help group for six sole survivors rescued from an assortment of apocalypses on alternate earths. And while nuclear war, zombies, and robot overlords have been covered elsewhere, rarely does the story start when everything has been lost. As their therapist digs into the past of each survivor, she discovers that they’re facing a problem very much in the present.

Sample passage:

Nor had the forest ever been stripped of leaves and branches by rain so acidic it could mark steel. It had not known the blast, the light, the heat, or the radiation from a nuclear fireball. Survivors of a terrible war had never fled through the trees, pursued by robotic hunters. Gene-mutated horrors had never oozed across the leaf litter, digesting all the biomass they could absorb. Invaders from a distant universe had never swept down from the skies, darting tentacles among the branches to drag the last remaining people to slavery on another world.

Convincing my patients of this was sometimes difficult. Many had lived through similar horrors before they were evacuated to the safety and security of Hub. Even though they knew they were on another world, it still took time for them to accept that they’d escaped their apocalypse; but the peaceful setting eventually proved beneficial to even the most traumatized survivors.

Takeaway

While this does have the feel of a first novel because the writing was maybe a bit over-expository at times, it’s a well-structured story with thoroughly thought-out  concepts. A definite recommend.

Or if you like:

The Ikea catalog
Haunted houses

You might like:

Horrorstor, by Grady Hendrix

After reading this book about a haunted Scandinavian furniture store, you’ll never look at an Ikea the same way again.  The plot slowly builds with some subtle social commentary as just-there-for-the-paycheck Amy has to deal with workday frustrations and overeager managers, and ends up discovering there’s a whole lot more going on at the store after hours.

Sample quote:
She’d bought the coffee cup at the Speedway three weeks ago because it promised unlimited free refills and Amy needed to stretch her $1.49 as far as it would go. This was as far as it went. As she stared in dismay at the mass of partners, the bottom of her cup finally gave up and let go, dumping coffee all over her sneakers. Amy didn’t even notice. She knew that a crowd meant a problem, and a problem meant a manager, and this early in the day a manager meant Basil. She could not let Basil see her. Today she had to be Basil Invisible.

Takeaway

This was a great read, start to finish, with believable characters making believable decisions in uncomfortable circumstances.  Prefacing every chapter with an item out of the store’s catalog added a nice bit of foreshadowing as well.  Rumor has it that it was being optioned as a TV series, and while I can’t see the material being stretched that far, the book’s straightforward narrative would make a great movie.

So, what other books should have been on this list? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and stay tuned for my next column, where the theme will be: The Men Who Could Be King.

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About Alex Doyle (4 Articles)
Alex Doyle is a father, programmer, smartass and a fan of anything that wastes no time to getting to the point. When he's not trying to be clever on the Internet, or irritating his kids with dad jokes, he can be found looking for the next great story that everyone has to read.

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