This year marks the 50th anniversary of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s classic, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Puffin Books is honoring the special occasion in a multitude of ways, including a new edition of Dahl’s delicious children’s novel, a Golden Ticket sweepstakes, and the release of a new title, Inside Charlie’s Chocolate Factory: The Complete Story of Willy Wonka, the Golden Ticket, and Roald Dahl’s Greatest Creation. What lies between the pages of Inside Charlie’s Chocolate Factory is a wonderful look back on the creation, adaptation, and cultural impact of Dahl’s Willy Wonka and his magical and mysterious chocolate factory that is sure to be devoured by both Wonka fanatics and those who only occasionally encounter an everlasting gobstobber.
Okay, here’s the set up: It’s present-day America, but not the America that you know (though there are some very potent parallels). See, it’s an alternate reality, it’s the present, IF back in the 1980s children started being born brilliant, idiot savants but without the idiot part. 1% of the population has been born with these gifts, gifts that let them read vectors so well they can avoid sight lines of those around them and become nearly invisible or see patterns enabling them to gobble up wealth through investments so efficiently that the stock market is forced to close. There are many different kinds of gifts, and many different levels, or tiers, of ability, and while only one in every hundred people is actually born “Brilliant,” it has changed everything. Despite relentless research, no one yet knows exactly why Brilliants are being born, but the tension that exists between the exceptional minority and the insecure majority is threatening to tear the country apart. There are radicals on both sides, extremist Brilliants who are convinced that they represent a new and superior form of humanity, as well as a new, covert government agency with a limitless budget called the Department of Analysis and Response (DAR) tasked with investigating and eliminating hostile Brilliants on American soil. The story follows a conflicted DAR agent and Brilliant, Nick Cooper, as he tries to prevent another American Civil War.
“No one, no matter how bad, considers themselves the villain of their own story.” This was one of the conclusions I reached in my review of Samit Basu’s Turbulence last year: a superhero novel set in India, which explored the rather complex aspects of good vs. evil, heroes vs. villains, etc. Now, after reading the sequel, Resistance, I’m not sure that that statement still holds. It’s true to some degree. But, like with the first book, nothing is ever as simple as it seems.
Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth is rather different in style and tone from much of Andrez Bergen’s previous body of work. Even so, though, there’s a distinct flavor to it that, if you’re familiar with Bergen’s writing, is unmistakable. His influences and his passions always stand out, from elements of noir to classic films and comic books to music, and more. As I’ve remarked before, this tendency to wear his passions on his sleeve is part of what makes Bergen’s work so much fun to read.
“I might as well be lying in a coffin. I’ve seen them on TV before. The dead always looked so comfortable with their arms folded across their chest in those silky interiors. Peaceful, even though they’re alone.”
“Unless it was a show where the dead happened to be vampires. They’d probably be smothered in women. Hot, vampire chicks and metrosexual Nosferatus, getting busy while luring mere mortals into their blood-sucking orgies of doom.”
“I don’t need more of that kind of frustration . . .”
Spencer Harrington has all of the problems most guys his age have: too smart for his own good, wanting a girlfriend, fighting with his dad, straining against the rules, and trying to figure out what he wants in life. Unfortunately, Spencer is doing that from a hidden Arctic base he calls the Icehole, thousands of miles from the nearest living being. And, that’s because Spencer has one thing no other typical, 19-year-old boy has . . . his father is a super-being named the Crimson Mask. And, Spencer has no powers.
None. Nada. Zip . . .
All young Falcio val Mond ever wanted was to become a fabled Greatcoat, an ambassador of justice who enforced the King’s Law throughout the land; however, he was born at a time when the Greatcoats had been disbanded, the Dukes held most of the power in the kingdom, and a young peasant could only dream about being anything other than a pawn in noblemen’s political games and lives in a tiny duchy named for a foul-smelling, oily blue flower. Destiny has a way of finding its targets, though, and through luck, tragedy, madness, and perseverance, Falcio helps enthrone a king who believes in the King’s Laws wholeheartedly. No one likes regime changes, though, and while Paelis rebuilds the Greatcoats and names Falcio First Cantor, he is, ultimately, deposed by those who dislike monarchical power in their duchies. Paelis leaves his former judges a final task: find the King’s Charoites, a difficult task when everyone from noble to peasant calls you “traitor,” and a nearly impossible one when no one knows what they are!
Orphans, by Ben Tanzer, is a slick and haunting sci-fi meditation on the full-steam corruption of the American dream and, indeed, America itself. We are shown a bleak future, where more money is devoted to the manufacture and maintenance of drones and droids than to the human poor who are forced to live desperate lives on the fringes of cities. We are shown a world where China has emerged as the dominant nation, the Chinese language is taught in schools, and Chicago has been renamed Baidu. We are shown a city, Baidu, where a complete income gap exists between the jobless masses wandering the streets in vain protest and the powerful elite, ubiquitous, yet invisible, hiding behind a wall of drones and wealth. We are shown a family through the eyes of our conflicted protagonist Norrin Radd.
The man currently known as Robert Blank thinks he retired from being a multiple agent of the Information Underground when he fled Los Angeles after accidentally engineering his own assassination in Justin Robinson’s first novel, Mr. Blank. He has a beautiful girlfriend, a respectable career as the owner of an occult bookstore, and just wants his previous personalities to fade away; however, if you’re the star of a tongue-in-cheek comedy noir, life is never that easy, and when Mina is framed for the murder of one of Blank’s former contacts, he reaches deep into his bag of tricks to prove her innocence, even when it might put him back in the path of the people he betrayed in his former life.
“Did you like it?” He asked her.
“Am I supposed to?”
“I don’t know.” Mike said.
“Well, I did like it. I like it fine.”
This bit of dialogue comes from writer Ivan Infante’s new e-book, False Ransom: The First Mike Chance Novel, and takes place between the lead character, conman and bruiser Mike Chance, and the fugitive daughter of a local mob boss immediately after she has shot a man to death . . . an experience that is a first for her. While this smidge of Infante’s story may not seem like much on its own, it perfectly captures the dark tone, moral ambiguity and subtle sexiness of False Ransom, while also conveying the emotional turmoil readers will experience in this tight and suspenseful page turner. At first, it’s an acquired taste, perhaps a little more harsh and cynical than most are used to, but once you get accustomed to the flavor, trust me, you’ll like it. You’ll like it fine.
MINOR SPOILERS BELOW
I've read a lot of of fantasy books based off of roleplaying games. The quality of their plots often leaves much to be desired, and they're all over the place as far as deciding what rules and complexities from the game to follow and which to blatantly ignore. This is all to say that those aren't really concerns here. James L. Sutter knows his stuff.