No doubt about it – vampires are huge business. A day at the store isn’t complete unless I’ve sold at least one Stephanie Meyer book. Charlaine Harris isn’t far behind, and at this point more people have seen Sookie topless than have read a Michael Chabon book. On top of that, there are plenty of imitators similarly vampire-obsessed books (Vampire Academy, House of Night), parodies (Nightlight, Dick and Jane and Vampires) … hell, there are even vampire-obsessed hit squads. These books might even be changing the way teen brains work. I’m not a huge fan of the books I’ve mentioned so far, but I even got in on the fun with Justin Cronin’s The Passage.
But maybe you’re feeling a little vampired out. You need something new to read, and you’ve proven you don’t mind getting a bit of the supernatural into your fiction. However, jumping into some of the popular genres of genre fiction – horror, fantasy, sci-fi – can be super intimidating. What’s a guy to do, or where’s a girl to start?
Have no fear, gentle reader. There are plenty of awesome genres out there, and even more great jumping-on points. Scroll on down for a look at a couple fantastic species of stores, good books to get your feet wet, and where to go from there.
The Pitch; The dead live! The rules vary from book to book, but generally speaking we’re looking at undead (or, optimistically, re-alive) monsters with poor motor skills and a thirst for brains.
Start with; World War Z by Max Brooks. In his “oral history of the zombie war”, Brooks details the outbreak and spread of a virus (Solanum) that turns the living into flesh-hungry undead. WWZ is a big book with lots of ideas, and by writing it as an oral history Brooks is able to explore the political, environmental, and cultural impacts of an undead plague – along with all the action and tension you’d expect in a zombie movie.
Then read; The Walking Dead and The Reapers Are The Angels. In his ongoing comic series The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman basically looks at what happens in a zombie movie after the credits, exploring how a group of survivors could continue to function over a long period. In The Reapers Are The Angels, Alden Bell does his best Cormac McCarthy impression with a story of a 15-year-old girl struggling to survive in a crumbling US that isn’t dissimilar from the nation in The Road.
The Pitch; Gamma bombs, radioactive spider bites, alien visitors, yada yada yada. Folks with powers beyond those of the average guy take on super-sized problems.
Start With; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. This book isn’t so much about superheroes, but about comics and the ideas behind superheroes. Set in the golden age of comic books (the 1930s and ’40s), Kav and Clay follows two Jewish boys in New York as they create The Escapist, a superhero that reflects all their hopes and fears. Beautiful concept, beautifully executed. Listen to episode 27 of the Murmur podcast for a bit more elaboration about what’s so great about Chabon’s opus.
Then read; Invincible and Nobody Gets the Girl. Invincible is even more of Robert Kirkman doing his thing, this time telling an original – and kick-ass – superhero story with more twists and turns than a Swiss highway. In Nobody Gets the Girl James Maxey cleverly parodies superhero tropes, from the alliteratively-named main character (Richard Rogers) to an absurd villain and superheroine partners. Puns abound.
The Pitch; Take all the swords, sorcery, magic and mayhem of Arthurian legend and put it into modern times. Often, the books concern magic going on in secret, right under the noses of us regular folk.
Start With; The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Basically Harry Potter meets Bret Easton Ellis. Quentin Coldwater goes to a college for magicians, and sex- and booze-fueled magical shenanigans ensue. Grossman does an excellent job looking at how real kids with real problems might deal with magical powers.
Then read; Kraken and American Gods. China Mieville is a master of “weird” fiction, and Kraken is his strange, awesome tale of the dozens upon dozens of magically powered London residents and the weird underground of religions, cults and sects in the city. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods has a similar premise – gods and mythological creatures exist, and because of the US’ many obsessions a number of new gods and creatures have arisen.
Post End of the World
The Pitch; These stories are set after the bomb drops, after the plague hits, or after the good guys lose. Optimistic they ain’t.
Start With; The Road by Cormac McCarthy. In his minimalist masterpiece, McCarthy tells of a man and boy making their way across a completely decimated American landscape. Some unexplained cataclysm has pretty much destroyed the environment, and the few survivors are viscous killers and cannibals. It’s a touching story of love between father and son, and McCarthy imagines a devastating dystopia better than anyone else.
Then read; The Stand and Warday. In these books, we see how the population survives after two different catastrophes – a government plague in King’s The Stand, and a nuclear holocaust in Strieber and Kunetka’s Warday. The style and execution are as different as the premises in each, but both are great pieces of world-building that examine how people react to tragedy.
The Pitch; I can’t explain this one without making my head hurt. Time … isn’t a line? You can go back in time and kill your grandfather but then you wouldn’t ever be born and …. augh. Trust me, if you’re interested in time travel these books cover it way better than I ever could.
Start with; Back to the Future. OK, OK, it isn’t a book. I don’t care. The whole Back to the Future trilogy is my favorite time travel story ever. Marty McFly goes to 1955, 1985, 2015 and 1885 and back again with a crazy doctor in a time-jumping Delorean and tries to not make out with his own mom.
Then read; How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, then all these books. Charles Yu’s brand-new book How to Live Safely In a Science Fictional Universe follows a time travel machine repairman searching for his father, who has disappeared to a different place and time. The main character – who is also named Charles Yu – learns that the key to finding his father might be in a book he received from a future version of himself called How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. Yeah, if you love meta stuff in fiction, this book is for you. All these other books are stories that play with time and time travel, recently recommended by author Frederick Reiken on The Book Lady’s Blog.