“….and there was something awful about Christmas music when it was almost summer.” This sense of unease permeates Joe Hill’s new novel, NOS4A2 (Wm. Morrow, $28.99). Charles Manx likes to take children for rides in his 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith (with the vanity plate NOS4A2; read it out loud). He drives them to a place he calls Christmasland, and only one person, Victoria McQueen, manages to elude him. But then Charlie abducts her son. Vic has a Triumph motorcycle and a secret, and she is just the person who can put a stop to Manx’s kidnappings. Hill has written a truly terrifying yet exhilarating book, with a villain to keep you up at night and vehicles that play roles as pivotal as those of the human characters. NOS4A2 is, without a doubt, Joe Hill’s best book to date. Yes, it feels wrong to read about Christmas in July—but that is exactly the point.
Neil Gaiman’s knack for making the impossible seem all too probable makes The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Wm. Morrow, $25.99), his first adult novel since 2005’s Anansi Boys, worth waiting for. Set in a British village, it features a children’s game that opens a Pandora’s Box of primal horrors in the town. Gaiman tends to focus on the dangerous, often gross, world of grown-ups that children sense they’re approaching, and his vivid narrative makes you remember every time you’ve experienced a prickle of the skin and wondered what wicked thing was hovering near.
The plot of 2312 (Orbit, $10), by Kim Stanley Robinson, is simple: Swan Er Hong, a former biosphere designer, investigates the death of Alex, her step-grandmother, which may not have been accidental. She meets Alex’s colleagues, and one, Wahram, becomes Swan’s awkward companion. Gradually, mutual affection and trust build between these two seemingly incompatible people. Robinson sets this love story against a dizzying vision of the future, where humankind colonizes planets and terraforms asteroids. There’s much to ponder here, from human gene augmentation to personal AIs to gender fluidity; like all good sci-fi novels, this is a meditation on humanity. The novel is also brimming with emotion and awestruck at the beauty of planetary landscapes. 2312 once again proves that Robinson is a master of world-building as well as one of today’s most radical and talented sci-fi writers.