Legends Remade: New Sci-Fi & Fantasy

At Marissa Levien THE WORLD LEADS THE WAY (Redhook, 402 p., $ 28) is a stunning wonder, an action-packed cat-and-mouse hunt on a doomed...


At Marissa Levien THE WORLD LEADS THE WAY (Redhook, 402 p., $ 28) is a stunning wonder, an action-packed cat-and-mouse hunt on a doomed generation ship the size of Switzerland. Myrra Dal is a contract worker, one of the thousands of people who fulfill contracts signed by their great-grandparents in exchange for passing through a dying Earth. For her, and for most of the other citizens who are descendants of these first passengers, the ship is the world: it has a sky, cities, weather, climates, a desert and a sea. It also has a crack in its hull. – expanding, irreparable and kept a secret by its richest families – and 50 years left in its 200-year journey.

A different novel would have focused on a tense race to mend the ship and save humanity, or would have framed a series of impossible choices about who should live or die. But “The World Gives Way” is neither Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations” nor a “Doctor Who” episode, and Levien’s mind-blowing story is more about grace, love, and what matters. at the end of all things. The book has three points of view: Myrra, on the run after the suicide of her employers, but still caring for their little girl; Tobias, the rookie detective chasing her; and an omniscient voice calmly explaining how the various ship biomes will be erased as the world gives way. The result is overwhelming, as if the book itself disintegrates as you read it; pounding like a heartbeat is the question of whether someone will escape before the end.

Nghi Vo THE CHOSEN AND THE BEAUTIFUL (Tor.com, 262 pp., $ 26.99) is a tale of “The Great Gatsby” from Jordan Baker’s perspective, in a jazz age subtly interwoven with magic and demons. While the plot follows Fitzgerald’s original, there are a few key transformations. Baker is Vietnamese, adopted (or kidnapped) by a wealthy white missionary who died shortly after bringing her to Louisville, and possesses a kind of illusory magic: she can create mock living beings by cutting their outlines out of paper. . Living in precarious ease, surrounded by money to which she has no right, Baker harbors a pragmatic cynicism that comes across as a fascinating reversal of Nick Carraway’s storytelling. Where Nick observed Jay Gatsby, Jordan observes Daisy Buchanan, illuminating her personality in a way that intersects and expands Fitzgerald’s portrayal.

“The Chosen and the Beautiful” deserves to be read as closely as the book that inspired it. Vo’s prose is beautifully supple, and the novel shines when she reads “Gatsby” against the grain: the front page transforms one of Fitzgerald’s metaphors of women in summer into a captivating intimacy between Jordan and Daisy, and l The whole of Chapter 4 is a play on Fitzgerald’s use of the word “reckless.” The novel falters, however, upon the more general integration of fantasy: it’s such a tight reversal of the basic dynamics of its original that there’s no room for the fantasy elements to do more than gild the lily of history. They only resonate, attenuated and indistinct, the tensions with which Vo is already playing wisely, clogging up where they should blend, like a cocktail made from fine alcohols but mixed in awkward proportions. Despite this, the book remains a lavish and decadent read.

SWORD STONE TABLE: Old Legends, New Voices (Vintage, 465 pp., Paper, $ 17) is also a book of stories and transformations. Beautifully edited by Swapna Krishna and Jenn Northington, the anthology constructs a kaleidoscope of Arthurian mythography organized into time sections – “Once” for stories set in the mythical past, “Present” for more recent historical and contemporary stories, and “Future” for, well, futuristic science fiction. The pieces are surprisingly different while overlapping and intertwining like chain mail.

The Arthurian tradition consists of nearly 10 centuries of reinvention and re-imagining through various policies. Sexual and ethnic diversities are already entrenched in the canon, as are extremely disparate interpretations of a given character; Whether King Arthur was the best king ever or a Herod who murdered children depends on which parts of Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur” you read. You don’t need to know the expanse of Arthuriana to enjoy “Sword Stone Table”, but it is a real pleasure, if you are an Arthur nerd, to choose which facets of the prism the writers shine their own lights on. by.

No story here is less than solid, but the highlights for me included “The Once and Future Qadi” by Ausma Zehanat Khan, in which King Arthur summons a judge from Cordoba to Camelot to determine whether Guinevere is guilty of adultery; the extraordinary “Mayday” by Maria Dahvana Headley, which brings together 19th century artifacts surrounding the “presidential race of a certain Mr. Arthur Pendragon, the millionaire based in Cleveland” with a dark and secret past; Waubgeshig Rice’s deeply moving “Heartbeat”, in which the ancient and future kinship of an indigenous community is not so much drawn from a stone as it is unearthed from below; and “A Shadow in Amber” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, which places “The Lady of Shalott” in the near future of Mexico City where young people and the poor can sell part of their experiences to the rich. If you’re excited about Dev Patel’s role in “The Green Knight,” you’ll definitely want to reprise it.

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