Cory Doctorow, the uber-blogger and award-winning science-fiction writer, says that all science fiction is about the present. That truism shows itself repeatedly in "World Made by Hand," a novel by James Howard Kunstler set in a post-oil, post-climate-change, post-pandemic, and post-holy-war future that's not too far off.
Let's start at the top: Don Zimmer doesn't have a plate in his head. It's one of those "facts" that any moderately interested baseball fan knows, but it just was never so.
Al Franken used to be just a pretty funny comedian.
We got to know him as an adjunct cast member on "Saturday Night Live" who combined great wit with good ideas: the Al Franken decade, the reporter who wore a satellite dish on his head, and Stuart Smalley.
Readers who have followed the long path of Elmore Leonard know that when he was starting out in the 1950s, still with his hand in advertising copywriting, he wrote short stories and Westerns.
In "When the Women Come Out to Dance," his 39th publication, he comes back to both, though in the case of Westerns, not exclusively. Strictly, that description applies only to "The Tonto Woman," which tells of a character kidnapped and tattooed by Indians and banished by her husband to an isolated hut when she is returned a dozen years later.
One of the first things the casual reader might know about Walter Mosley is that he is a man of colors. The titles of his Easy Rollins mysteries each contain a color, from "Devil in a Blue Dress" to "A Little Yellow Dog," and one of his four novels outside that series is "Blue Light."
It's been said that firefighters come alive when they're battling a blaze. Earl Emerson's novel, "Vertical Burn," comes alive when he's describing one.
That shouldn't surprise: Emerson's not only a novelist, he's a lieutenant in the Seattle Fire Department. He's at his best when he's depicting the rush of suiting up or how moisture in the grass sizzles when a fireman just out of a blaze puts a helmet down.
Unfortunately, in between the fires that hold up "Vertical Burn," the excitement ebbs, leaving too much time to ponder one unacceptable plot twist after another.
The explorers who spent the 18th and 19th centuries searching for the source of the river Nile battled great obstacles, but they had an advantage: They knew the end justified their search for the beginning.
Explorers of new fiction have no such knowledge, particularly when the author is new as well. So readers of "The True Sources of the Nile," the deep and flowing first novel by Sarah Stone, can be excused if they wonder early on if their effort will be rewarded.