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Review: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

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Let me just start this right off by saying: gosh diggity dang this book is fantastic.  I’m a big fan of the Locke and Key series by Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, namely because Hill does such a fine job really tapping into the wonder of the fantasy genre.  And like Locke and Key, in Hill’s newest, the hefty NOS4A2, the reader follows along in a multiple decade spanning adventure.  The characters are quirky, unstable even, and a near disproportionate amount of them are big time comic nerds, but they never read as artificial (Plus I am biased, I rooted for Lou, the chunky comic nerd father more than anyone).  Hill works with a largely female cast, deftly tackling the theme of what it means to become an adult and the real life and imaginary horrors that accompany that.  It’s a long, arduous journey through hell spent with Vic McQueen and one that never falters though at times she does. 

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Perhaps it is his years of experience in the comic business, but Hill has a knack for writing extremely clear, no-fuss dialogue. It is what really allows the reader their greatest insights into the characters, as well as making less work for the Narrator, so that he can focus on the all important plethora of gruesome, horrifying and fast-paced action scenes that will assure the next time you hear Jingle Bell Rock playing that you will shudder more than usual.

What really sets NOS4A2 apart from most of the other fantasy/horror out there, in my opinion, is the self-awareness present throughout. Nothing bugs me more in horror movies or novels than when some over-referenced mythological creature goes on a killing spree, and the world acts as if they have never heard of the notions of aliens, werewolves, or vampires.  Unless the time period is antiquated enough where people would not have heard of those types of things, it really just doesn’t make sense.  Half the TV shows and movies that exist right now are about those things.  Hill embraces the worlds created before this one, those of his own previous works and other authors as well (even some of Stephen King’s worlds, he has not forgotten the face of his father apparently).  There were multiple times while reading that I found myself thinking “wow, this is just like this book or that book,” and on cue Hill basically says to the reader’s face: ‘Yes, I know it seems like that world, but it isn’t.  That world is next door.’ 

NOS4A2 marks an exciting new chapter in Joe Hill’s career. I highly recommend this one!

 

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Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

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The stars have gone out, and the world is suddenly stuck inside of a time-morphing membrane, causing time to pass on Earth at a fraction of that of the universe outside.  What are the Hypotheticals–the omnipotent presence causing time to go all wibbly wobbly–and what are its plans for humanity?

A lot of the fun in Spin is not knowing what to expect.  Time has become an almost non-factor, as the characters watch billions of years pass outside of the Earth in a few decades.  Because of it, Time itself becomes a major character in the story.  Planets evolve and develop life, stars live and die, and the sun races towards a fiery death all in the blink of an eye. I won’t spoil any more of the story, but I will say that what stands out in Spin is the cast of characters, who do not seem like cardboard cutouts or the personification of a moral or idea, as is often the case in heady science fiction. You feel for the characters very much, the lifelong secrets between them, and the bitter rivalries and lost chances at love.  It’s like Philip K. Dick had a week long Downtown Abbey marathon.  It’s a wonderfully written book, and highly recommended.

On to discussion ideas, and some thoughts (and mostly unanswered questions) I have.

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Reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey or Childhood’s End by Clarke, Spin left me wondering about the nature of free will versus determinism in a world like this one.  Like the black monolith in 2001, in Spin the Hypotheticals are a greater life force moving human evolution along its path as it sees fit.  And in so doing, humanity realizes that its goals and accomplishments in what may be “the next step” of evolution are only stepping stones towards a greater evolution, mirroring that of the Hypotheticals. The idea of removing the barrier between the notion of “God,” or a god, and evolution makes the question of free will versus determinism a difficult one to answer.  Evolution and God become one single idea, and in so doing God becomes a tangible idea, more than a set of morals to follow, an actual personified being.  A tangible idea that humans can strive to be equals with.  So human scientists and physicists “play god” but without the overarching fears of, say, Victor Frankenstein.  Whatever kind of god the Hypotheticals are, they don’t want to punish us with guilt and hell dreams, they want us to play along.  And while the idea of the Hypotheticals does not necessarily supplant the idea of a single benevolent God, it makes you wonder where the element of free will enters into the equation, if at all.

Does the existence of something like the Hypotheticals mean free will doesn’t exist?  Though in the end we may possibly end up taking the place of these higher forces, are we still just making predetermined choices based on their unseen motives?  And if so, does that lessen the value of our work?  Or are the choices we make between the lines, the little alterations of the greater work, the smaller events that are sometimes forgotten, enough to constitute free will?  These are some things that I am left wondering with, and maybe you have thought about as well.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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