Some books are just good stories written by an author and thoroughly enjoyed by the reader. And a select few are works of art created by multiple authors and an incredible development team behind a daring publisher; S. is one of those books, perhaps the only one of its kind. A project that has been years in the making, beginning as an idea between two creative guys that became something much bigger when Mulholland Books agreed to publish it and employed the abilities of a team of editors, copyeditors and book development people to create a book that is much more than just any old book.
S. works on many levels. If Inception could be a book, this would be it.
At the deepest level is an old forgotten book by a once well-known author whose life has been shrouded in mystery and whose identity still remains in question. It is called Ship of Theseus about a person known as “S” who awakes not knowing who he is and anything about his life, as he begins a very strange journey into finding answers to his many questions.
At the next level is the translator of the Ship of Theseus who was a huge fan of V. M. Straka’s work, so much so that they were in a relationship, though it is unknown whether the author and translator were ever able to confess their love for each other. However, the translator and author have left secreted messages and ciphers in the text as well as within the footnotes. So while the translator is educating the reader on the story and facts about the book and what she knew about the author, she is also secretly communicating with Straka.
Up one level we have the completed old book which is what the reader holds in their hands when they take it out of the slipcase. The level of detail that the publisher went to recreating this old book is nothing short of astounding, with stamped check out dates, stains and marks on some of the pages, and an aged feel and color to the pages; their even seems to be a musty smell about the volume. And within the margins and spaces around the text we have a former teacher and an undergrad student conversing back and forth about the text, the author, life, and eventually their own lives and feelings towards each other, even though they don’t physically meet for a long time.
There are a couple sub-levels within this particular level as the two “main” characters are not simply conversing back and forth but are doing so at different points in their lives. Eric has read the book a number of times, and has notations from the first time he read it when he was a teenager in pencil, and then further comments between Jennifer and he at different points in time, when they know different things about each other.
Then there are the number of pieces of media secreted within the pages: photos, letters between Eric and Jennifer, but also relating to Ship of Theseus; postcards and notes and an incredibly detailed map drawn upon a napkin. Again, the detail that went into creating these items is nothing short of astonishing, with the old photos with logo prints on the back, aged postcards, letters with ink smudges and coffee stains. As for the map, it is drawn in pen on a college napkin that still perfectly, delicately folds to show the school logo.
At the final level is the reader opening the pages of S. for the first time, taking in all these levels and each of the stories going on at each level. It can be read in certain ways and is the sort of book that can benefit from being read multiple times. Ultimately, it is a book unlike any other, likely unlike anything you have read before. But it will be a journey you won’t soon forget, and one you can return to whenever you want.
Originally written on August 14, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.
To purchase a copy of S. from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.
Sputnik Sweetheart is another great example of the brilliance of Haruki Murakami: a short novel that sucks you in from the very beginning and doesn’t let you go until the last page. It is one of those books where little seems to actually happen, but in the minds of the characters, lives are lived and worlds are changed.
K, a college student, has fallen in love with Sumire. She is everything to him, and he cherishes every moment they share together. They are both writers; she a complex messy one that engulfs her entire life. In his heart, he knows they will never be together, but still he continues to hope, and any time spent together he enjoys to its fullest. Then she tells him of someone she has met, Miu, a middle-aged woman who has captured her heart, much in the same way Sumire has captured K’s. The she goes on a business trip with Miu that turns into a vacation in Greece on a small island. K goes about his life until he receives the disturbing call from Miu still in Greece. He flies to the island eventually finds Miu only to discover that Sumire has vanished into thin air. All she has left behind are some very personal writing pieces.
Sputnik Sweetheart is the sort of book that continues to pull you down into deeper levels, as you contemplate what is happening and what it means; there is little use in searching for a “why” as Murakami’s journeys are not about that. The human psyche is not logical and straightforward, but it is a voyage you will not soon forget.
Originally written on February 20, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.
To purchase a copy of Sputnik Sweetheart from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.
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From the so-called “grand master of German science fiction” comes The Cusanus Game, a work of hard science fiction and philosophy that forces the reader to think far beyond the story.
It is the year 2052 and the world is in a sorry state, especially Northern Europe after an atomic disaster along the French-German border, contaminating the continent with radioactivity. As the threat and fear begins to spread, paranoia and terror break out, affecting the entire planet. The radiation is also messing with human DNA causing mutations and creating monstrosities that shouldn’t be.
A secret research facility located within the Vatican is searching for and employing covert scientists with a plan to reintroduce fresh, healthy fauna to the ravaged world. Biologist Domenica Ligrina may be their saving grace, as she dedicates her studies to the mysteries and puzzles of the Middle Ages and learns of a possible solution that may change the world back to the resplendent place it once was.
While an interesting work of science fiction, the writing is clunky and overly complex and labyrinthine that may be due to the translation, or the style of writing, causing the reader to lose their way at times.
Originally written on January 2, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.
To purchase a copy of The Cusanus Game from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.
The Ultra Thin Man’s road to publication survived a long and strange journey to say the least, even though I wrote the first draft in four months. Well . . . actually, I wrote the first draft in four months and twenty years.
The first words hit paper in the early 1990s. My brother Paul left Washington State for California, and we thought it might be fun to collaborate on a novel. My brother led off, sending me the title, a prologue, and a first chapter. “Here you go, bro,” he wrote. “I look forward to your chapter.”
We had no outline, and no idea what the other was thinking. We wanted it that way. I sent him chapter two. He sent chapter three, with tweaks of his previous prologue and chapter based on what I’d written, and I did the same for chapter four. All the while, we were both trying to figure out the mystery and think ahead. I’d throw a twist in there and shout, “Ah ha!” He’d write the next and answer, “Oh yeah?” – and my earlier thoughts and theories would crumble.
Mind you, it took years to do all this. Sometimes, several years would pass before the next chapter showed up. We’d dive into our lives and forget about the book. But always, I went back to it, thinking: This isn’t bad. I really would like to find out what happens. At some point, about five years had gone by without a new chapter. We had written about 12,000 words each, roughly. I searched my computer recently and the oldest file of the novel was dated 2002. This file had the last chapter I’d written, chapter 12 (now chapter 13 in the final novel), and that was as far as the story had progressed. I read it again, thinking: there’s something here.
I don’t remember when I asked Paul if I could write the book on my own. He gave me his blessing and said I should definitely go ahead. Burdened with his own photography business, he couldn’t see himself putting in any more time on it. Even then, I dabbled. In the intervening years, I’d made my life even busier.
I started Talebones magazine in 1995, and the book line, Fairwood Press, rolled out in 2000. Whenever I returned to the The Ultra Thin Man, I had to make sense of everything the two of us had contributed, and a lot of tweaking and reimagining ensued. Cut here. Add there. Drop the prologue. Switch this, switch that. I updated the science and tech. (So much time had passed that I had to reconsider what life would be like a hundred plus years out for the inhabitants of the Union of Worlds.) When I sat down to work on it, the words never seemed quite right, and I’d end up just rewriting the opening over and over. I wasn’t getting very far putting down new words.
In the middle of 2009, I closed down Talebones to spend more time writing. I teach high school English, and that September, as the new school year got under way, I decided I would plan my classes before school, after school, evenings, weekends. I reserved my scheduled planning period to write. From September until January 1st, I wrote every day at school for at least 45 minutes. I still didn’t have an outline, but the book had bounced around for so long in my head that the rest of it came easily. Before heading back to school in January, I’d completed a 96,000 word first draft of The Ultra Thin Man. More drafts came after that. First readers looked at it and I edited some more. Then I sent it to Tor.
The rest of the novel’s journey is pretty standard for debut authors, and I was lucky enough to have a major publisher take it on after the first try. Still, a lot of waiting went on. My editor made his offer for it June 2012. A lot of work went into the book between then and now.
The journey is almost complete. In a handful of days, The Ultra Thin Man reaches its destination. After that, it’s in the hands of its readers.
In early 2012, I started a new journey for a proposed sequel, and I’m closing in on the ending. I couldn’t afford the longer, arduous journey of the first novel, so this one kicked along at a faster pace. Call it a week-long vacation rather than an all-inclusive world tour. If I get a chance to write a 3rd novel in the series, the journey will be more like a day trip.
It will, however, be just as satisfying.