Following on from his brilliant literary thriller, Untraceable, which was also a haunting reflection on Soviet/Russian morality (see my review), “A Present Past: Titan and Other Chronicles” gathers up eleven of Sergei Lebedev’s short stories, each the same wonderful mix of realism and poetic dreaminess that I so enjoyed in the novel. Among my favorite stories is “Judge Stomakov,” which begins with a dissection of a judge’s cold-hearted manipulation of a court hearing for personal advancement, and ends with tormented memories. In a tour de force of imaginative writing, “The Night Is Bright Tonight,” characters in the Kremlin, Lubyanka, and Stalin’s Dacha, face the rise of the ghosts of the Gulag. And the standout story is the title one, “Titan,” about a feared writer who returns from the camps and, under intense scrutiny, writes a second novel the only way he can. All the stories burst into life in the author’s stylish hands, as he wrestles with ghosts of the Soviet past slamming into the Russia of the Putin age. A Present Past is a sterling short story collection.
Famed novelist Annie Proulx passionately explores her latest pet subject in ”Fen, Bog and Swamp: A Short History of Peatland Destruction and Its Role in the Climate Crisis.” A rambling plotline explores each of the fen, the bog, and the swamp, that is, moving towards a wetlands environment where trees can grow. This is a complex, nomenclature-driven area of conservation and the author does her best to navigate it, telling tales of different wetlands globally, the people involved in destruction or resurrection. Her passion shines through. I was especially taken with her musings about mangrove swamps, the only type of wetland I really have any familiarity with. She describes these as “a bristling wall that stabilizes land’s edge and protects shorelines from hurricanes and erosion … breeding grounds and protective nurseries for thousands of species…” Like most onlookers or scientists working on wetlands, Proulx offers no solutions, only a howl of anger. Fen, Bog and Swamp is well worth the read.
The ninth of nine complex, swashbuckling, hard-sci-fi space opera books in the Beyond the Impossible series, at last we can wrap up all the skeins of universe-straddling plotlines. “The Final Verdict” is a fitting finale, commencing just as the heroes in one universe stand ready to repel the Swarm from another universe. And naturally enough, it’s at this point that the most intriguing plot thread from the previous few books, that of Royal the newly created god, comes to life with a thump that reshapes all battles. Familiar characters strive against impossible odds, old characters complete life’s cycles, and universes are reshaped. As ever, author Frank Kennedy is superb in the many action scenes, his dialogue crackles, and the pace never lets up. A triumph of storytelling in a vast setting, The Final Verdict is a roaring climax that must be read in a single sitting.
As an ex-actuary, reading a crime series starring an ex-actuary is deliciously entertaining, and Antti Tuomainen’s hero is swollen with actuarial tropes. Henri is serious, droll, and extremely smart, and in the second book so far, “The Moose Paradox,” Henri faces escalating problems, seemingly too extreme to solve, when his no-good brother returns from the dead. But seemingly impossible does not mean impossible, and Henri is good at figuring out solutions… Peopled with outlandish characters and enriched by chuckles. The Moose Paradox easily whiles away an evening.