Novel Review – Cities in Flight by James Blish

A book about the boundary of real and unreal with flying cities soar through the cosmos.

“The end cannot justify the means; but if there are no other means, and the end is necessary…”
― James Blish, Cities in Flight

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Courtesy of https://davidmattingly.com/scifi/

About

Originally published in four volumes nearly fifty years ago, Cities in Flight brings together the famed “Okie novels” of science fiction master James Blish. Named after the migrant workers of America’s Dust Bowl, these novels convey Blish’s “history of the future,” a brilliant and bleak look at a world where cities roam the Galaxy looking for work and a sustainable way of life.

In the first novel, They Shall Have Stars, man has thoroughly explored the Solar System, yet the dream of going even further seems to have died in all but one man. His battle to realize his dream results in two momentous discoveries anti-gravity and the secret of immortality. In A Life for the Stars, it is centuries later and anti-gravity generations have enabled whole cities to lift off the surface of the earth to become galactic wanderers. In Earthman, Come Home, the nomadic cities revert to barbarism and marauding rogue cities begin to pose a threat to all civilized worlds. In the final novel, The Triumph of Time, history repeats itself as the cities once again journey back in to space making a terrifying discovery which could destroy the entire Universe. A serious and haunting vision of our world and its limits, Cities in Flight marks the return to print of one of science fiction’s most inimitable writers.

A Selection of the Science Fiction Book Club

Awards

Posthumous Awards and nominations

  • 2001 [1951] Retro-Hugo Award nomination for Best Novelette, for “Okie”.
  • 2004 [1954] Retro-Hugo Award for Best Novelette, for “Earthman, Come Home”.

My Thoughts

141805I don’t often do reviews of classic science fiction. It is not that I haven’t read a great deal of it nor am I not interested in it, quite the contrary. I LOVE golden era science fiction. I think some of the greatest literature that has ever came about came out of that era. Early novels are staggeringly important to how science fiction is written now. Tropes and all. Where would we be without books like, “Brave New World,” now more poignant and prophetic as ever? Like with anything in life, if you are trying to garner a true embracement of the genre, look to the roots of it.  I am no expert by any means in science fiction. But, a few years ago I set myself a challenge of reading as many of these classic science fiction novels as possible. I wanted to learn, embrace, and understand. I am so glad I did. This is one of the beauties that was recommended to me by my father, a lover of old science fiction himself.

1003150All of this chatter is a great big segway into the sheer coolness that is “Cities in Flight.” It is considered one of the benchmark hard science fiction novels of the 1950’s and also considered one of the granddaddies of modern hard science fiction. Having garnered Retro Hugo awards in the process.  This books takes two of my favorite things and slams them together into an architecture/science fiction sandwich. Whole cities lift off the Earth and race towards the stars searching out work from other planets. He took the concept of an okie and turned it on its ear.  Each one of these cities still specializes in their main product. Pennsylvanian mining cities now astro-mine and asteroids. New York is a seat of culture for the universe as we know it. Washington DC is the politics. These cities escape a Soviet-dominated rule on earth by heading to the stars via a spindizzy. A spindizzy is the Deus ex Machina of the story.  It is a propulsion and shield system that allows faster than light travel simultaneously making an impenetrable shield.  This is a typical story trope of that time with the fear of communism and McCarthyism ages and dates the story a bit. At the same time as the discovery of the spindizzy; humans create an anti-aging drug that allows humans to travel great distances and pretty much never die unless they choose to. We now have all the factors for unlimited travel. Humans do not age, with a ship that is powered by a machine that needs no batteries, it goes faster than light speed and is completely shielded.

The book, “Cities in Flight” is technically 4 small books that Blish wrote and released independently that eventually became one large book; “They Shall Have Stars,” “A Life for the Stars,” “Earthman Come Home,” and “A Clash of Cymbals.”  Collectively called the Okie Chronicles or Cities in FlightTogether they follow the creation of the spindizzy, the adventure of sixteen-year-old Chris deFord who accidentally ended up on ship Philadelphia, book three is the adventure of ship New York, and book 4 follows the traveling of New York and the new spindizzy planet “He” that undertakes the first intergalactic transit.

While traversing these four books know a few things. The first book is a slog. Matter-a-fact there are no cities yet that have lifted off. It does set the stage for future books, however. Book 2 is a bit juvenile. It touches on McCarthyism and many of the fears of the mid-1950’s. Book three is where it gets interesting. The characters, specifically Amalfi (Mayor of New York) are well written. Some of the characters are harder to read than others. Especially women. Writing in this genre has come a long way. If you can step back from how this story has aged and character flatness, the plot is such a grand idea.

I say try it if you want to leap to the golden era. If you like it there is a literal treasure trove of stories that await you: “Day of the Triffids,” “Slaughterhouse Five,” “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” “I.Robot.” I can go on and on.

If you have any suggestions for books to check out leave a comment in the comment section!

 

 

 

Novel Review – Kill The Dead by Richard Kadrey

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Awards

(for the author, not the “Sandman Slim” series”)

  • British SF Association Awards — for SF works published in the UK, voted by British SF Association members
  • “The First Man Not to Land on the Moon” (Back Brain Recluse #23 1997) — short fiction
  • Locus Awards — for SF/F/H works, polled by readers of Locus Magazine
    Dead Set (Harper Voyager) — fantasy novel — 25th place
  • Metrophage (Ace) — first novel — 3rd place Interzone Readers Poll — for stories published in Interzone magazine, polled by readers”Goodbye Houston Street, Goodbye” (Interzone #19 Spring 1987) — fiction — winner

“Let me make sure I have this straight. The cavalry just now rode into town and it’s a Czech Gypsy porn-star zombie killer. Have I got that right?”
― Richard Kadrey, Kill the Dead

About

 

From the publisher, “What do you do after you’ve crawled out of Hell to wreak bloody revenge? If you’re Stark you turn to bounty hunting, tracking and decimating whatever rogue monsters you’re paid to kill. Stark hates the work, but he needs the money, especially the big bucks Lucifer is offering. In town as an adviser on a biopic of his life, Lucifer needs protection, and he wants Stark as his bodyguard. But the gig isn’t all bad; there is the very sexy, very hot French porn star Brigitte Bardo, a friend of Lucifer’s in LA to remake her reputation as a legit actress. While it isn’t love, it’s pretty damn good, and after 11 years of demonic chastity, it’s enough for now.

Stark has enough trouble juggling a diva devil and a scorching French bombshell without a zombie plague to complicate matters. And just what happens when a human-angel half-breed is bitten by the living dead? His human side begins to die, transforming him into an unstoppable angel of death—a killing machine devoid of emotion or thought, with no regrets or future to worry about. Not a bad way to be when your choices are limited. Now, Stark has to decide . . . if he does find a cure for the zombie infection, will he take it?”

My Thoughts

“Hell is hilarious if you’re the one in charge.” ~ Lucifer

I absolutely love this series thus far. It was one of the books I wanted to finish reading by the end of the year via this list. 10 Books I Want to Read This Year.. And Why

My blog post from earlier this year, Kill the Dead” by Richard Kadrey –   I read the first “Sandman Slim” book, aptly named just “Sandman Slim” and dudddde, holy anti-hero batman. Yaas. Bring on the “I don’t give a shit attitude.” I love that the language in Sandman Slim is punchy. Not overly wordy and detailed.  I want some concisely written words.”

I received everything I asked for and more from reading #2 in the series. Sandman Slim should be on more lists and garner more praise. It should be up there with the likes of Dresden, and October Daye; it is just that damn good. It is so refreshing when there seems to be so much unoriginal urban fantasy out there. Always the same sort of schtick. Not this book…

“Twenty percent? What am I, your waiter? I got you five vampires, not a BLT.”
― Richard Kadrey, Kill the Dead

This story picks up a while after the first Sandman Slim story left off. We have our resident anti-hero having a hell of a time mentally, and in some ways physically while he tries to pay the bills by doing the odd killing or menacing here and there. I don’t want to give too much away, but if you enjoyed the first book in this series, “Sandman Slim” you will probably enjoy this one. They are a little different in style and texture. But, the dark humor and great story come through. There is a bit of a love interest, and a new interesting character getting fleshed out in Lucifer. I am going to keep this short, as this book is a pause in a longer story. But read the series. It is so worth it.

 

 

Graphic Novel Review – The Boys by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson

Question: Who Watches The Watchman?
Answer: The Boys.

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By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39087797
“Remember the seven Ps. Seven what? Proper preparation and planning… Prevent piss-poor performance.” ― Garth Ennis, The Boys, Volume 1: The Name of the Game

Awards

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About

From the publisher, “THIS IS GOING TO HURT! In a world where costumed heroes soar through the sky and masked vigilantes prowl the night, someone’s got to make sure the “supes” don’t get out of line. And someone will. Billy Butcher, Wee Hughie, Mother’s Milk, The Frenchman, and The Female are The Boys: A CIA backed team of very dangerous people, each one dedicated to the struggle against the most dangerous force on Earth-superpower. Some superheroes have to be watched. Some have to be controlled. And some of them-sometimes-need to be taken out of the picture That’s when you call in THE BOYS”

My Thoughts

“As the old saying goes: With great power comes the total fuckin’ certainty that you’re gonna turn into a cunt.”
― Garth Ennis, The Boys, Volume 9: The Big Ride

The Boys is a hefty series written by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson. Ennis, of “Preacher” fame, that “blows the bloody doors off” of the Superhero genre. This is not your tidy and inoffensive Superman story. Rather, this is bloody, gory, disgusting, and brutal.  It is repulsive, but in typical Ennis style, the reader can not turn away.

The Plot

This story takes the adage of absolute power corrupting and applies it to superheroes.  The superheroes in this story are called The Seven, which is a nod to the Justice League, and are your basic despotic, raping, and pillaging psychopaths. They kill for the fun of it, lord over humans, live to the excess and are generally horrible but powerful human beings.  In turn, the book explores governments’ and by extension societies’ response to the superheroes with a band of misfit black ops soldiers of varying degrees of sociopathic and homicidal tendencies. They, too, are extremely screwed up in exciting and equally terrifying ways. Their sole purpose is to keep the “supes” in check.  In the center of all this is a sweet and goofy love story. No really, I am serious. Ennis makes it work and it is awesome.

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The plot follows The Boys through a series of screwed up interactions with superheroes. The Boys “manage, police, and sometimes liquidate Vought-American’s superhumans,” so that is what they do. They attempt to keep the supes in check, things go awry, there is much sex and death, people die in awful ways, and there is always another superhero to stop.  Neither side can claim the moral high ground.  Through the series, we learn backstory about why The Boys are the way they are, and why each of them has a reason to hate supes. By the end, we have a much richer picture of The Boys and some closure to the story. It would be exhausting if the writing and art weren’t so good.

Additionally, Ennis created one of his characters into the guise of Simon Pegg as a sort of fanboy nod. To some, they find it distracting to read about “Wee” Hughie (aka Simon Pegg) walking into an orgy but my sophomoric sense of humor found it utterly hilarious.

The Art and Execution

The art is a very “Marvel comic” style, purposely drawn to convey the superhero motif. The supes and their world are drawn and colored to emphasize the grandness and gaudiness of the superhero world. Versus The Boys who are dark and melancholic.

The Writing

Typical of Garth Ennis’s style, the writing is large, precise, and excessive. If you are familiar with Preacher, you will be familiar with his style. This is a hard book. It is full of sex, and violence to the extremes. If this bothers you, maybe look for something from a different author.  But for me, this severity and excessiveness are part of its charm. Superheroes are maniacs at their core. This book acts on the extremes of superheroes with extreme characters in retaliation. Who else could keep superheroes in check than people with nothing to lose except their own personal moral code?

Novel Review – “Sleeping Beauties” by Stephen King and Owen King

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Awards

“It makes no difference if you’re rich or poor Or if you’re smart or dumb. A woman’s place in this old world Is under some man’s thumb, And if you’re born a woman You’re born to be hurt. You’re born to be stepped on, Lied to, Cheated on, And treated like dirt. —Sandy Posey, “Born a Woman” Lyrics by Martha Sharp”
― Stephen King, Sleeping Beauties

Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Best Novel (2017)

Goodreads Choice Award for Horror (2017)

 

About

In a future so real and near it might be now, something happens when women go to sleep; they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze.

If they are awakened, and the gauze wrapping their bodies is disturbed or violated, the women become feral and spectacularly violent; and while they sleep they go to another place.

The men of our world are abandoned, left to their increasingly primal devices. One woman, however, the mysterious Evie, is immune to the blessing or curse of the sleeping disease.

Is Evie a medical anomaly to be studied, or is she a demon who must be slain?

My Thoughts

“sometimes you get what you want, but mostly you get what you get.”
― Stephen King, Sleeping Beauties

I hates it…

Well no not really, I mean it is Stephen King. He is like pizza, even when it is bad it is still decent.

I dislikes it…

This is on a C grade or lower scale of Stephen King’s work. It is on par with “The Cell”, or pretty much anything he has written in the last ten years. There are plenty of fun references of nostalgia for King fans, the cat and the Mercedes anyone? But, this novel falls flat.

First, let’s talk about the idea instead of the execution. The idea is an interesting one. Male and female and the duality it represents in life, society, and the universe. A big idea. All readers, being members of the human race, can understand and empathize with it. Here is when Stephen King starts to lose me though. The male/female idea. Men = warmongerers and female=caregivers and bringers of life is all well and good, but it is fantasy. It isn’t real. Just like all blondes have fun or all Irish Drink. Society and people are much more nuanced. You can’t boil women down to an idea and be serious about it.  I am not even talking gender politics or people who do not conform to a specific gender here. I am talking about women not being all flowery personifications of a fertility goddess. We can be bad, warmongering fools as well, Just like some men are pacifists. I think The Kings tried to touch on that a little bit with the main setting of the novel being in a woman’s correctional facility. Women in the facility did bad things which is why they are in jail. Even in that, they are still genders, not people.

Secondly, there are no heroes in this story. Not all books need heroes, but they do for it to be a book I like. Why on earth would I want to read 700 pages on people being shitheads, or evil to each other? I know literature..blah blah.. the human condition. But still, there are no true heroes or even likable characters in this story. All are horrifically flawed characters, who don’t get any redeeming moments. Even in that, it is flat. Life has redeeming moments, even for assholes. Show me that. Give me an asshole character, and a redeeming moment. Even if the character turns away and goes another path at least give me that moment.

Thirdly, back to the idea. This is a huge idea told on a microscale. A global pandemic told from a tiny town by the tiny flawed inhabitants. Men have been found wanting, so they got their women taken from them. At this length, I think we could have had more. It doesn’t have to be “World War Z,” but give me a broader perspective. Give me something other than this podunk POS town full of meth and horrible people.

To summarize, get it from the library or Goodwill to read and really only if you are a diehard King fan. It doesn’t even read like a King novel, but if you have a list and are aiming at completion then there you go. Otherwise, I would skip and read a King book that is awesome like “Firestarter,” “Carrie,” or “The Shining.”

 

 

 

Graphic Novel Review of “Punk Rock Jesus” by Sean Gordon Murphy

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Awards

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About

From the pubisher, “A reality TV show starring a clone of Jesus Christ causes chaos across the U.S. of the near future in PUNK ROCK JESUS, a new graphic novel written and drawn by Sean Murphy, the acclaimed illustrator of JOE THE BARBARIAN and AMERICAN VAMPIRE.

J2 causes both outrage and adulation. Religious zealots either love or hate the show, angry politicians worry about its influence on the nation, and members of the scientific community fear the implications of cloning a human being at all, let alone the Son of God.

Thomas McKael is the clones’s bodyguard and former IRA operative, who despite his turbulent past is hired to protect the new Jesus—a baby who captivates the world, but grows up to become an angry teenager.

When falling ratings force the network to cut Jesus’s mother from the series the young star runs away, renounces his religious heritage and forms a punk rock band. And what starts off as babysitting for Thomas becomes an epic battle, as Jesus goes to war against the corporate media complex that created him.”

My Thoughts

I seriously can’t decide how I feel about this series. It is angry, defiant, thoughtful, and current. It reminds me of a manifesto written by a Catholic school teenager who wants to rise against his upbringing, It is really, really strange. Strange and a solid read.

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Chris is a typical 15-year-old Jesus clone. Angry at the establishment. The establishment being all of Christianity who have deified him as some supposed clone and destroyed and the chance he will ever have at a normal existence. Turned his life into the Truman Show, and killed his mother because she is weak for ratings. SO F#$% YOU, F#$% RELIGION, F#$% EVERYONE (cue guitar riff.) Somehow there is a scientist who has a pet Polar bear, a daughter who is really not her daughter, and the cure to save global warming.

As you can see, this is a book about extremes. Extremes in Christianity, extremes in religious fanaticism, all of America is brimming with fat, lazy and stupid people who don’t know their ass from their elbow. Everything is black and white. Life is not black and white at all, which is why this book reminds me of an angry teenager. The dialog, the plot, even the graphics and pen work are all done in this stark and contrasting style. Whether the illustrator/writer did that on purpose or that was just a stylistic choice remains to be seen, but it lends itself to the dialog. In a lot of ways, the pacing of this novel is a mess. It speeds and jumps around in gigantic leaps of time. The clone of Jesus is 1 years old, then 3, then 10, and then 15. Again, this might be a stylistic choice emulating the time jumps in the bible. If it is, that is a pretty nuanced plot addition.

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Hello, tame polar bear.

I feel like all these decisions the author made regarding the extremes in his storytelling where very specific and deliberate. He could have written a much better and more exciting book with the same plot and given it more heart and reality and less punk rockness.  But that’s just me. It is an entirely plausible thing for a Hollywood studio to do. Clone a famous person who is a deity to a billion people and watch the ratings soar.

My recommendation is, as usual, to read it. It isn’t great, it isn’t horrible. Just angsty enough for me to feel old and annoyed at the very same time. But kinda fun, and crazy. Again, what the hell is up with a polar bear. Make up your own mind, and drop me a note about it. I am curious about other takes.

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Review of Scalped Vol. 1 by Jason Aaron

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#934 in 1001 Comics To Read Before You Die

#192 in CBH Best Comics of all Time

I am absolutely shocked that this is it as far as I can find rewards wise.

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Summary

From the publisher, “It is gravel Jason Aaron, the up-and-coming writer of the critically acclaimed series THE OTHER SIDE teams with gritty artist R.M. Guera for an intense crime drama that mixes organized crime with current Native American culture.

Fifteen years ago, Dashiell “Dash” Bad Horse ran away from a life of abject poverty and utter hopelessness on the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation in hopes of finding something better. Now he’s come back home armed with nothing but a set of nunchucks, a hell-bent-for-leather attitude and one dark secret, to find nothing much has changed on “The Rez” — short of a glimmering new casino, and a once-proud people overcome by drugs and organized crime. Is he here to set things right or just get a piece of the action?”

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My Thoughts

Holy shit.

Imagine if The Wire and the third season of Breaking Bad had a love child then throw in Native American culture and you have the first volume of the Scalped series. Geez, I feel like the inside of my skull needs a handful of rock candy, and maybe some Teletubbies after reading this. Jason Aaron explores desire, power, intrigue, and mystery all within the guise of a modern-day crime story.

What sets this series apart, is how well it is written and the totality that each character is messed up. So much so, that is it easily believable. Which is a sad commentary… Dashiel is not a “bad guy with a heart of gold” trope. He is just not a nice guy, who has a hard past that he has overcome. And is now thrown back into a blender of crap that is his hometown by the higher-ups in the federal agency. He hates it and pretty much hates everyone he encounters, including his mom, his boss, and ex-girlfriend. Expertly written, it conveys the ennui of the main character Dashel Bad Horse as he is forced to reconcile with parts of his past that he never planned to deal with again. I hope in future books that we may see some glimmer of hope somewhere. I am not sure I can take ten volumes of angst, and hatred.

I’ll give it to you straight, this series is not for the easily offended. There is graphic sex, murder, drugs, alcoholism, and mayhem.

All of the imaging is gritty and shown baking in the sun by the superb artwork of R.M Guera. This series is unforgiving like black asphalt when it is 110 outside. It hurts, it smells, and it is necessary for the story. There is a rawness, and ruthlessness to these characters that reminds me very much of the Preacher series and I look forward to seeing what it brings.

Thrillist’s 33 Graphic Novels of All Time

There is an absolute abundance of graphic novel and book lists out on the internet. 100 best this and 100 best that. All have some value, and all pretty much say the same things. Which is why the 1001 list I have been working on this year has been so important and valuable for me. It has introduced me to a variety of different authors and styles of graphic novels. Most have been amazing.

However, I came across this list on Thrillist that had some really cool additions to the normal list fodder you see and I hadn’t heard of some of them. I don’t normally reblog content, but this list is definitely worth checking out. I have added some of the notable standouts here but review the whole list.

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28. The Book of Genesis Illustrated by Robert Crumb

Like Hagio, Crumb is one of sequential art’s all-time greatest craftspeople and artistic innovators, shepherding the underground comics movement of the ’60s into existence through the sheer force of his peerless hatching, unbound id, and (just as important and way too frequently overlooked) drive to self-criticize. While collections featuring his great creations Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural, Flakey Foont, and Devil Girl, not to mention his collaborations with comics’ great everyman writer Harvey Pekar, abound, this lion-in-winter adaptation of no less a work than the first book of the goddamn Bible is the best place to witness Crumb’s genius. Largely stripped of the sociopolitical context that has made his comics so controversial over the years, Genesis’ portraits of ancient men and women struggling to survive shows that his primary interest lies in chronicling the physical and mental experience of being human.

I love these illustrated novels. While they do not replace reading a novel in its entirety, they do give an interesting take on notable source material.

 

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Bechdel is mostly noted for Fun Home: A Tragicomic, but she has many other standout works. Including, “Dykes to watch out for” series. She combines humor with scathing commentary.

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5. Maus by Art Spiegelman

It’s no exaggeration to say that without this book, you wouldn’t be reading this list. Yes, comics had shown signs of intelligent life as an art form prior to the 1986 publication of underground cartoonist-turned-Reagan-era anthologist Art Spiegelman’s memoir of life with his Holocaust-survivor parents cum biography of his father’s experience under the Nazis’ exterminationist regime. But it took Spiegelman’s drive to take on the defining event of the 20th century — and arguably all of human history — to coalesce those early markers into a bona fide movement.

This has led to the misguided perception that Maus won simply by showing up. Don’t buy it. Spiegelman’s scratchy, overloaded artwork all but fumes with fury at the dehumanizing injustice done to his family and their fellow Jews, ladening page after page with an overwhelming amount of black-and-white brutality. The central conceit — the Jews are drawn to look like mice, the Germans like cats — may have grabbed attention by tying the subject matter to cartooning’s long history of anthropomorphized animals, from Mickey Mouse and Felix the Cat on down. But in the end that’s just a fig leaf that enables Spiegelman to go farther and hit harder than a more straightforward depiction of events could dare to pull off — like moving the camera away from the slaughter but still broadcasting the screams of both the living and the dying.

You could probably write a dissertation on Maus. It is deep and transcended the genre. Especially for 1986.

Check out this list on Thrillist, I don’t agree with all of them. I personally couldn’t stand “Black Hole”, but it is good fodder for reading in the future. If you like these selections let me know. I know of plenty of other novels that are along this same vein.