Sometimes you just want something that’s a little out there, a little off the beaten track, a little quirky. Perhaps it’s not every time, perhaps, but every now and then it’s fun to shake up your expectations and read something (as Monty Python would say) completely different. Here are a few “completely different” and rather quirky new books on the shelves here at the Field Library for your enjoyment.
Who hasn’t wanted to be a supervillain once in a while? If you’re the kind of person who’s always wondering how and why someone becomes a supervillain (the superheroes’ origin stories are usually pretty well known), then take a look at Almost Infamous, by Matt Carter. The protagonist, 18 year old Aidan Salt, has the kind of abilities that could possibly make him a superhero, but he lacks the ambition and the drive, and has no desire to get involved with all the paperwork necessary for becoming a recognized superhero. On the other hand, the lure of fame and fortune and women throwing themselves at him is tempting, so Aidan does the next best thing: he becomes a supervillain, Apex Strike, the first new supervillain in decades. All the world’s superheroes, semi-retired for lack of someone to fight, take notice. Some of them, of course, want to destroy him (that’s what superheroes are supposed to do, after all), but others, more canny or more cynical, want to hire him to be their own personal supervillain, so they’ll always have someone menacing to fight, keeping them relevant and in the public eye. Naturally, Aidan is more than willing to enter into those kinds of arrangements, though it turns out there’s more going on in the world of capes and superpowers than he ever could have imagined.
Or if you’re interested in stranger future worlds, there’s always The Big Sheep, by Robert Kroese. In 2039, when the book is set, Los Angeles is not what it is now. A large section, the Disincorporated Zone (DZ) has been disowned by the authorities of the city, and is walled off as a separate, almost third world, country. In this strange zone, quirky private investigator Erasmus Keane and his more normal partner, Blake Fowler, are hired to find a very valuable genetically altered sheep which was stolen (apparently) from the Esper Corporation. As they’re tracking down this sheep, they get an even more interesting job: Priya Mistry, a beautiful television star, believes someone is trying to kill her, and she needs them to find out who’s doing it. She disappears and reappears with no memory of having hired them at all, and the two investigators begin to realize that these two seemingly disparate inquiries are related after all (of course — that’s almost always the case), and something is indeed rotten in Los Angeles and the DZ, the trail leading to the most powerful people in the city. This book has been compared to Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (the basis for the movie Blade Runner) and Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! (which, by the way, if you haven’t read, you absolutely should because it’s brilliant), and that’s an excellent reason to immerse yourself in the weird world of The Big Sheep.
Now, a book about bankers turned into vampires might sound too obvious, but nonetheless, the premise of The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross might make you curious enough to dive in. Mild-mannered protagonist Alex Schwartz accidentally stumbled on an algorithm that turned him and his fellow bankers into vampires (oops), and then in short order was recruited into the Laundry, a secret British agency that stands as humanity’s defense against the forces of darkness. He needs the Laundry for his existence, since he’s absolutely no good at predatory bloodsucking on his own, so when they tap him to investigate the possibility of turning a 1950’s bunker in his old home town of Leeds into the Laundry’s new headquarters, he has no choice about it, though he would rather be almost anywhere else. In addition to the work he’s doing for the Laundry, Alex is trying to hide his undead condition from his family still living in Leeds, not to mention having to let them know he’s left the lucrative world of banking for the less-lucrative world of the civil service (without telling them exactly what kind of civil service he’s involved with). To his own surprise, a local Goth girl who’s a drama student seems to be attracted to him despite his lack of social skills and the difficulties presented by his vampiric state. Of course, there’s a reason she’s interested in him, and Alex is about to find out that there are worse things than turning into a Civil Service vampire whose job it is to prevent multiple apocalypses.