Dogears: In the Beginning (there were short book reviews)

Feature image, Dogears, Archie, Jughead, dogs, Pep Comics #37, public domain

Our first short book reviews collection! Every month Dogears will bring you bite-sized, bookish satisfaction. This month, we’re talking SF, fantasy, and YA.

Southern Reach: Authority, by Jeff Vandermeer. FSG Originals.Southern Reach: Authority
Jeff Vandermeer
FSG Originals

This trilogy, all completed and being released over the course of the year, has become my must-read books list of 2014. The story revolves around a mysterious Area X, a part of the coastline that has been cut off from the rest of the world by an invisible barrier. Little is known about the mysteries behind Area X, except that when expeditions get sent into Area X things get weird. The whole series is suffused with a sense of creeping dread as though the world and characters are slightly off without quite knowing why. It’s a blend of sci-fi, horror, and mystery that makes me want to know more while enjoying the unsettling feeling all the series’ questions give me.

Authority, the second book in the trilogy, examines the Southern Reach, the mysterious government agency that researches Area X and sends the expeditions through to investigate. It can be read on its own, though having read the previous Annihilation enhances the novel as we learn more about the characters and world that were introduced there. This book is very character-focused as we follow the new director, John Rodriguez, as he starts at Southern Reach, which, over the years, has become a very weird environment in its own right. John Rodriguez, better known by his nickname “Control,” is a beautifully realized character. We also get to know the other employees of the agency, each with their own foibles and histories that make them so much more than stock shadowy government operatives.

If there’s one thing the author excels at, it’s presenting a beautiful sense of setting in all his books. In Annihilation, he described the eerie environment of Area X itself in evocative detail that was creepy and beautiful all at once. Now in Authority he takes what could be a drab government building and turns it into something by turns strange and gorgeous. Vandermeer’s writing creates vivid images that raise as many questions as they answer. The end of this book upends the status quo and sets the stage for a fascinating finale for the trilogy. I’ve already got the final book on pre-order, and knowing I’ll be getting it in a few months instead of some undetermined future date is the only thing that makes the waiting bearable.

— Catie

Cover: Noggin. John Corey Whaley Simon & SchusterNoggin
John Corey Whaley
Simon & Schuster (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)

I expected this book to be a whole lot funnier for some reason, but that could be due to the really out there premise and what I’ve been hearing from people who’ve read it before me. I can definitely say that my expectations of what this book was going to be like hurt my overall experience of it. It’s mostly focused on Travis trying to deal with the fact that he’s missed five years worth of life that those around him have lived while he hasn’t felt time pass at all. He’s reconciling his friends and families’ pasts with their present selves, which is difficult enough without having to be a teenager in the midst of it all.

I would classify this as contemporary, realistic fiction with some hint of sci-fi elements that can be lumped in with books like The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and Every Day by David Levithan that share a similar approach. The sci-fi elements aren’t the focus or even explained in detail but how they affect the characters are what’s central to the story. I wasn’t particularly moved emotionally, although the book did have some really great moments. I did feel like the relationship between Travis and Cate came across as redundant or circular. I understood what Whaley was trying to dowhich was show readers how hard it was for Travis to deal with the huge change that coming back has causedbut the execution, at least in terms of placing and how often these conversations happened, had me tired out and rolling my eyes by the end of the book. Travis’ interactions with his best friend, Kyle, felt preachy or too on the nose.

I can understand why others would enjoy this book and if I went in without a particular expectation, I would have enjoyed it a bit more. It’s an interesting concept, but it wasn’t a book that would stand out on my bookshelf.

— Ardo

Cover: Lightspeed Magazine, September 2013Lightspeed Magazine, September 2013
Edited by John Joseph Adams
Orbit Books

This collection of fantasy and science fiction short stories has a mix of both original and reprints that vary in quality. “Dry Bite,” by Will McIntosh, is an interesting take on zombie stories that focuses on the survivor’s interactions with their deceased loved ones, and was such a good read. D. Thomas Minton’s “The Schrödinger War” hides the main character’s pain inside an endless loop of war, and really underlines the horror of both.

“Ragged Claws,” by Lisa Tuttle, was just okay, with the full impact of the story hinging on the reveal at the end. The protagonist goes to a club, targets a group of young people, and focuses on their conversation about the mythical Colony some have migrated to. “Angelus,” by Nina Allan, was a much more solid story, although I found some of the details of the world confusing. Two men, once friends, meet in very different circumstances and discuss the woman that changed both their lives. Gene Wolfe’s “Suzanne Delage” totally confused me. The narrator recounts a woman he knew all his life but didn’t know until he saw her daughter, all the while meditating on the meaning of life.

“Homecoming,” by Seanan Mcguire, was the real standout of the bunch. I don’t want to ruin it for you, but I don’t like sports, and I LOVED this story. It’s the most original reworking of a popular myth I’ve read in a while.

All of these stories are free to read on the Lightspeed Magazine website, or you can buy the full issue there as well.

— Sarah

Sarah Richardson

Sarah Richardson

Sarah Richardson is a graphic artist living in Chicago. In addition to illustrating and laying out tabletop RPGs and zines, she burns through comics and books as fast as her eyes can move. Sarah swears a lot on twitter as @scorcha79.