Shelf Awareness for Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Image of the Day: Say 'Maaaaaaal'
Earlier this month Stephen McCranie, author of Mal and Chad: the Biggest, Bestest Time Ever! (Philomel), clowned with young fans at the book launch party at Otowi Station Bookstore in Los Alamos, N.M.
BEA Bytes and Bits
BookExpo America 2011 officially opens today--although with related events starting as early as Saturday, for some of us, it feels like it should be ending soon! Events have included the American Booksellers Association's Day of Education, the DIY conference, the Independent Book Publishers Association's Publishing University, the Audio Publishers Association conference and more. And we've already begun to lose track of parties and receptions.
All the while, the trade show floor slowly but steadily came together.
Amid the hustle and bustle on the floor, booksellers were busy writing orders with bargain book companies yesterday in the CIROBE Remainders Pavilion, which opened a day earlier this year. For some reason, for many aficionados remainders are even more alluring if they're bought before a show officially starts.
Among the panels and parties:
"What is your why?" asked Valerie Koehler, Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, Tex.; Kristen McLean, ABA, and Diane Capriola, Little Shop of Stories, Decatur, Ga., on the panel "Turning Mind Share into Market Share in the Children's Market." They urged booksellers to "articulate for your customers the 'why' of what you do."
"Meet teens where they live," said the panelists on "The Digital Marketplace and the YA Audience" (from l.): Meghan Dietsche Goel, BookPeople, Austin, Tex.; Jacob Lewis from Figment.com; David Levithan, executive editorial director, Scholastic; and moderator Kristen McLean, ABA.
"Minimum retail pricing allows indies to compete in the toy market," said Becky Anderson, Anderson's Bookshop, Naperville, Ill.; Beth Puffer, Bank Street Bookstore, New York City; and Andrea Vuleta, Mrs. Nelson's Toy and Book Shop, La Verne, Calif., as they offered tips of what has sold well for them on the panel "Selling Non-book in the Children's Department."
Eileen Meeropol from Odyseey Bookshop in South Hadley, Mass., and author of House Arrest, and Ann Kingman of Random House enjoyed grapefruit mimosas with fresh blackberries at the Random House Readers Circle Tea yesterday afternoon, just before listening to special guest, author Lisa See.
"I'm game for freebies myself, as well as the medical and dental professions, and the lawyers, and everyone else really, joins in," Margaret Atwood joked during her closing plenary remarks at the ABA's Day of Education yesterday. "We can do trades!"
In a wide-ranging string of remarks she dubbed "Three BEA Speeches I Didn't Quite Manage to Pull Off," Atwood had a packed room laughing at her insights into the book and other literary "transmission devices," along with some thoughts about the future--all accompanied by slides of her original cartoons. (One of the biggest crowd pleasers pointed out that when we talk about things going "the way of the dinosaurs," we tend to forget that they evolved into birds.)
During the q&a period, Atwood discussed the ideal reader--who "understands everything at all levels, gets all the jokes, doesn't peek at the ending... and, at the end, they sigh, then go back to the beginning and read it all over again"--and whether she's worried about online piracy: "I try to focus my concern on things I can actually do something about."
She also touched briefly on the themes of her forthcoming collection of essays, In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, Oct.), which draws upon her lifelong interest in fantasy and science fiction. "I'm the only person you've ever met who has read all the Conan the Conqueror books, I bet," she quipped.
Dressed to the nines: author Tayari Jones (Algonquin will release her new novel, Silver Sparrow, tomorrow) and publicist Lauren Cerand at the Authors Guild pre-dinner cocktails at the Edison Ballroom.
Notes: Oprah's Book Club, Chapter 2; B&N's E-Lure
Oprah Winfrey's Book Club will live on in some form on her new cable network, OWN. USA Today reported that "America's most popular reader" said she is "going to try to develop a show for books and authors" even though the book club shows seldom garnered big ratings. "Some things you do because it is necessary. We've done okay with them. We found the more I could connect the author and the book to the audience, the better the numbers would be."
USA Today called the book club's sales numbers "beyond compare," citing Fordham University marketing professor Al Greco's estimate that sales of the 70 Oprah editions since 1996 totaled about 55 million copies.
"She made book discussions interesting, educational and entertaining," Greco said. "Literature professors can be interesting and educational, but are they entertaining?"
Little, Brown publisher Michael Pietsch observed that Winfrey "didn't originate the idea of book clubs, but more than anyone, she has spread the idea of reading a book as a shared community.... She's a woman reader, and it's mostly women readers who responded to her selections. But she's open to all kinds of reading pleasures, from Toni Morrison to Jonathan Franzen."
More on Barnes & Noble, Liberty Media and e-readers.
A major attraction of B&N for Liberty Media chairman John Malone and CEO Greg Maffei, who spoke at a special shareholders meeting yesterday, is "the potential for the Nook platform to become the e-book application of choice for consumers on all tablet devices built on Google Inc.'s Android operating system," the Wall Street Journal said.
B&N should be helped, Malone continued, because of Borders's "financial woes" as well as "the publishing industry's interest in not allowing one retailer [i.e., Amazon] to become too powerful."
Malone expressed support for B&N's stores, at least in some iteration, saying, "I've been a Barnes & Noble customer myself for many, many years. The stores will shift around, but there will be a physical presence for a long, long time to come, and it will be a profitable presence."
Today B&N is expected to launch a new version of the Nook, a day after Kobo, which is sold in the U.S. by Borders, launched its new $129.99 eReader Touch Edition--an e-reader with a touch screen.
Also yesterday dissident shareholder Ron Burkle's Yucaipa Cos. bought another 603,000 shares of B&N, bringing his holdings to 19.7% of the company. B&N closed at $18.59 a share yesterday, a 9.4% premium over Liberty Media's offer last week of $17 a share.
Are women readers writing the Nook Color's success story? The New York Times reported that B&N's device "has surprised publishers of women's magazines like O, The Oprah Magazine, Cosmopolitan and Women's Health by igniting strong sales that rival--and in some cases surpass--sales on the iPad.... On the surface, the reason for the strong performance of female-oriented publications on the Nook is relatively straightforward. Generically speaking, the iPad and other tablets are men's toys, while the Nook Color and other e-readers are more popular with women."
According to Forrester Research, 56% of tablet owners are male, 55% of e-reader owners are female, and "women also buy more books than men do--by a ratio of about 3 to 1, according to a survey last year by Bowker, a research firm for publishers--and are therefore more likely to buy devices that are made primarily for reading books," the Times wrote.
Salon's Drew Grant asked, "Why do women hate technology so much? This is the question never posed by the New York Times article today on the upswing in sales from the new Barnes & Noble Nook Color.... I'd be offended if the subtext wasn't that women actually just want to read, dammit, without checking Twitter or Facebook every five minutes."
Congratulations to Copperfield's Books, which started 30 years ago as 750-sq.-ft. store in Sebastopol and now has eight stores in Napa and Sonoma counties, north of San Francisco. Copperfield's is celebrating with a party on Saturday, June 4, at its Napa store. There will be author events; coffee, cake and snacks; music; and a 30% discount on most items, according to the Napa Valley Register.
In honor of Zombie Appreciation Month, the book trailer of the day: Zombie High Yearbook '64 by Jeff Busch (Sterling).---
In choosing Peter Pan's literary mixtape,
Flavorwire noted that "behind his devil-may-care attitude is a certain
sadness. After all, he must constantly forget what he learns about the
world in order to stay child-like, so he exists in a relatively static
state, neither growing nor changing.... Here’s what we think Peter would
fight pirates, think lovely wonderful thoughts, and never grow up to."
LeeEric Fesko is joining Thomas Nelson as the trade marketing director for Max Lucado titles. He was formerly director of web development at Big Idea Entertainment.
Effective June 20, graphic novel publisher Archaia Entertainment will be distributed in the U.S. and Canada by Publishers Group West. Archaia's backlist includes Mouse Guard, Return of the Dapper Men and The Killer. In the second half of this year, it's publishing 40 titles, including the illustrated prose edition of The Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes in July and an original graphic novel anthology to Relativity Media's Immortals in September.
BEA: What's the Buzz? Editors Tell All
City Lights Books buyer Paul Yamazaki, emcee of yesterday's editors' buzz panel at BEA, credited his longtime goal of understanding editors and what they do with helping to make the San Francisco store the curated literary space it is. At the panel, six editors gave a taste of what they do and why as they discussed one upcoming title each that they are particularly excited about.
"It leapt out of the slush pile and into a bidding war," said Denise Roy, senior editor at Dutton, about The Underside of Joy, a debut by Sere Prince Halverson.
In the book, Ella Beene and her husband, Joe, live in Northern California with their two children--until Joe's drowning death uncovers secrets; most notably, that the children's biological mother did not abandon them as Ella had been told. "It's the parallel journey of a mother and stepmother, who was raised by a stepmother," said Roy. "This is no fairy-tale stepmother."
Roy said she was drawn to the story as well as its "magnificent writing." The manuscript arrived as the first anniversary of the editor's husband's death approached. While unable to read any other books that touch on widowhood, Roy said The Underside of Joy called to her like a "siren song."
"I got goosebumps on my face," said Roy. "It begins as a portrait of loss and builds to a celebration of what it means to be alive." Halverson, she said, shows the conflicting parts grief and anger, shame and forgiveness that make up The Underside of Joy.
In her 15 years as an editor, Kathy Pories, senior editor of Algonquin, said she has never been as moved by a book as she was by Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron. Recipient of the Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether Prize for books that address social justice issues, Running the Rift opens in Rwanda, where a gifted young runner and Olympic hopeful, Jean Patrick, is naïve to the building racial hatred that will lead to genocide.
Benaron, Pories noted, worked with African refugees in Arizona and was inspired to travel to Rwanda many times. One day walking through a country the author had come to love, she stepped on a human bone. "From that moment on, she wanted to convey the beauty of the country and the tragedy that tore it apart."
As Jean Patrick pursues his Olympic dream, the name-calling from his childhood matures into the naming of names on the radio of those Tutsi to be killed, and the young love of his life opens his eyes to the looming genocide.
Michael Pietsch joked that being the lone man on the panel, he had to bring a baseball book. But anyone who knows Pietsch's literary track record knows baseball would not be the only reason he acquired The Art of Fielding, a debut by Chad Harbach.
The Art of Fielding chronicles three years in the lives of five people connected to a baseball team at a small liberal arts college on the shores of Lake Michigan. "This is a novel about perfecting, about striving, about youth," said Pietsch. "There're two love stories, a death and a champion season," said Pietsch. "Who could ask for anything more?"
Alane Salierno, v-p and senior editor at W.W. Norton, said she first came to appreciate the power of indie booksellers when she worked Diana Abu-Jaber's first novel, Arabian Jazz. Salierno said that Abu-Jaber has since won many awards and published to critical acclaim, but she thinks Birds of Paradise offers a "Diana Abu-Jaber like you've never seen before."
Set in Miami, Birds of Paradise opens with an obsessive pastry chef whose daughter ran away five years earlier, at the age of 13. Then it shifts to the point of view of the daughter, living as a squatter caught between wanting her own life and wanting family.
"It grabs the reader by the throat," said Salierno. "We all leave our families when we grow up, and we deeply want to stay connected," the editor pointed out. "It's about the three most important things in life: family, food and real estate," said Salierno.
Jenna Johnson, senior editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, said the debut work We the Animals by Justin Torres "redefined" what in-house enthusiasm meant. Told in "perfect short chapters" that echo back to all the wonder of childhood, she said, We the Animals tells the story of "three brothers tumbling through life in upstate New York."
Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina saved and changed Torres's life, and Johnson thinks people will be saying the same about We the Animals. Torres did not take a direct route to writing, having worked as a farmhand, dog walker, dancer, even in a mental institution.
Dressed all in black with an accent of red--a central element in The Night Circus, a debut by Erin Morgenstern--Alison Callahan, Doubleday executive editor, wrapped up the afternoon's buzz session. The novel is set at the turn of the 19th century in a circus, explained Callahan, "but it is unlike any you've ever been to."
No clowns. No ringmaster. And where you can walk on clouds and bottles uncork to release memories pop up without warning. Underneath it all is the rivalry of two young magicians--Celia and Marco--pitted in a deadly game.
"Reading this novel is like reading 3-D," said Callahan, who likened it to The Time Traveler's Wife and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Morrell.--Bridget Kinsella
BEA: Marketing, Free for the Asking
What a difference a few years makes. ABA's Meg Smith opened up the session on "Marketing with PR & Social Media" by saying the question is not if booksellers are using social media, but what's working.
Rob Dougherty from Clinton Bookshop said he got into Facebook about five years ago when he noticed his town, Clinton, N.J., did not have a page. So he started one. Once people realized the information came from their neighborhood bookseller, "all hell broke loose"--in a good way--for the store and its FB page, he said.
"What social media is for us is like that shampoo commercial: 'They told two friends and they told two friends, and so on,' " Dougherty said. Now he posts at least three times a day--and not just with events--although the store has seen a definite boost in attendance since it began using Facebook. As for Twitter, Dougherty admitted he just doesn't get it, but is open to it.
It took Clinton Bookshop a good six months using the FB diagnostics to get the hang of it, but now the store tailor its content for customers. "It turns out that a lot of moms after getting kids to school come home and check Facebook," said Daugherty. So Clinton Bookstore often posts between 7 and 7:40 a.m.
Jarek Steele from Left Bank Books talked about how what became known as the St. Louis Independent Bookstore Alliance sprung out of a beer-drinking session with local booksellers who wanted to help out financially floundering Subterranean Books. Now 13 stores share a website that includes a Google map and calendar of all their events--and Subterranean is an active alliance member.
"We're like an a capella group," explained Steele. Their efforts brought media attention to the St. Louis independent bookselling community and to the individual stores.
"First and foremost, you have to think like a publicist," said Jack McKeown from Books & Books in Westhampton Beach, N.Y. He said booksellers should engage their local media--find out what they need to bring content to their audience and how the bookstore can become a channel for that.
As publishers have scaled back their publicity departments and refocused attention online, McKeown said, booksellers have the opportunity to fill that void.
Recently Books & Books stepped up to become the book launch event for Savoring the Hamptons, a cookbook by local author Sylvia Lehrer. The store approached Stone Creek Inn--a four-star restaurant featured in the book--and promised to deliver 80 people for a $75 prix fix launch event, where they would also sell books. Books & Books sold tickets through its IndieCommerce website and got mailing lists from Stone Creek and Lehrer. The event sold out. Eight weeks before the party, Books & Books approached the media--which responded with several radio and print stories.
"The primary objective was not selling books," said McKeown, "although it was a secondary benefit. Ultimately it's about mind-share, and we did that in a very significant way." However, he noted, it also cost a considerable amount of time and energy.
So while PR and social media are not exactly free, the panelists agreed that when strategies are organized and are kept up consistently, there is a pay off.--Bridget Kinsella
BEA: 'What's Next for the Book?'
NPR Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep started the "What's Next for the Book?" panel yesterday with a simple question: Are the digital products publishers are offering consumers still books?
"If it's a multimedia interactive experience," Nicholas Callaway responded, "I think it's not a book. I think we are in the early stages of creating a new medium." Nobody was quite sure what to call the "non-book book," however, although Inskeep joked that perhaps it should be named the "callaway." Which would have suited the Callaway Digital Arts chairman just fine: "I have nothing but excitement about the era we're in," he enthused later, albeit with reassurances that "the written word is not going anywhere."
Wiley CEO Steve Smith concurred, with some qualifications. "While the book isn't going to disappear any time soon," he said, "we certainly expect to ship fewer units of the big, 1,000-page introductory textbooks" over the next few years. He emphasized the effectiveness of longform text as a medium for the conveyance of complex sets of ideas, and noticeably bristled when Inskeep read a question from the audience asserting that publishers were about to go the way of the dinosaurs. "No," he answered abruptly, then circled back to the issue a few moments later, describing the questioner as being like a guy who walks into a bar, throws a punch, then walks out while the fight's picking up steam. Callaway, meanwhile, observed that the publishing industry is still in the early stages of "the most wrenching changes it has ever seen," and warned that "many [companies] are not going to thrive or survive."--Ron Hogan
Cool Idea of the Day: Critiques to Help Victims
After her experience rallying followers on Twitter to contribute more than $15,000 in donations for victims of the earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan earlier this year, YA novelist Maureen Johnson didn't waste any time springing into action Monday morning to support the people of Joplin, Missouri. She started by announcing a random drawing for everyone who tweeted about their donations to the Red Cross using the hashtag #starforjoplin, with an ARC of her fall 2011 novel, The Name of the Star, as a prize. Then, she decided to auction a manuscript critique to the highest bidder: "I will read your book. I will send back my notes. If you're not done, you can send it later. If you don't have a book, I'll critique something else, like your life, or I'll make up lies." Other authors and editors offered up their own critiques: the auctions for YA novelists Robin Wasserman and Beth Revis, and Harry Potter continuity editor Cheryl Klein, are running concurrently with Johnson's and will end today at 2 p.m. Eastern. National Book Award novelist Laurie Halse Anderson will participate in a separate auction this weekend. Full details are available on Johnson's blog.
Media and Movies
Media Heat: Henry Kissinger On China
Tomorrow morning on the Today Show: Stacy Kaiser, author of How to Be a Grown Up: The Ten Secret Skills Everyone Needs to Know (HarperOne, $14.99, 9780061941191).
Tomorrow on MSNBC's Morning Joe: Henry Kissinger, author of On China (Penguin Press, $36, 9781594202711).
Tomorrow on Bloomberg Radio's Bloomberg on the Economy: Charles Fishman, author of The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water (Free Press, $26.99, 9781439102077).
Tomorrow on NPR's Diane Rehm Show: readers review Invisible by Paul Auster (Picador, $15, 9780312429829).
Tomorrow on the Tonight Show: Chaz Bono, author of Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man (Dutton, $25.95, 9780525952145).
Tomorrow on Jimmy Kimmel Live: Sarah Vowell, author of Unfamiliar Fishes (Riverhead, $25.95, 9781594487873).
New Harry Potter Trailer
"It all comes down to this," the Huffington Post observed in showcasing a new TV trailer for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 that highlights "the final face off between the absolute good of Harry Potter and the pure evil of Voldemort. Directed by David Yates, the film strikes a tone of bleak darkness, yet contains the thread of hope that The Boy Who Lived can save the world, once and for all, from the Dark Arts uprising."
Casting Book-to-Film Adaptations: It's Personal
Word & Film explored "the (sometimes) heated subject" of casting book-to-film adaptations, noting that books allow readers "the pleasure of generating a narrative's world themselves. Reading thus becomes a very personal experience. If, as our colleague Christine Spines suggests, beloved authors can almost be romantic objects of our affection, they requite our longstanding love with their work. We develop emotional attachment to these books; their characters, stories, and very words are our intimate friends.... Any adaptation fixes a single interpretation into permanence, reducing our perfect image--what was fluid and gorgeously vivid in our own minds--to dust."
Books & Authors
Awards: Commonwealth; Wodehouse; Reading the West
The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna (Sierra Leone) won the £10,000 (US$16,233) Commonwealth Writers' Prize. Judges praised Forna's book "for its risk taking, elegance and breadth. A poignant story about friendship, betrayal, obsession and second chances--the novel is an immensely powerful portrayal of human resilience."
The best first book prize went to A Man Melting by Craig Cliff (New Zealand), whose stories were praised by the judges for "their ambition, creativity and craftsmanship."
Gary Shteyngart has won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction 2011 for Super Sad True Love Story and is the first American to win "this very English prize," as the organizers put it.
Peter Florence, judge and director of the Hay Festival, commented: "Gary Shteyngart's writing is thrilling. He's a staggeringly clever satirist who manages to create worlds and people of perfect coherence and outrageous misfortune. This is great literature and it's wild comedy."
The shortlists for the 2011 Reading the West Book Awards, sponsored
by the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association, are:
Finders Keepers: A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession by Craig Childs (Little, Brown)
The Wake of Forgiveness by Bruce Machart (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Volt: Stories by Alan Heathcock (Graywolf Press)
Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America by Eric Jay Dolin (Norton)
The Ringer by Jenny Shank (Permanent Press)
Phantoms in the Snow by Kathleen Benner Duble (Scholastic)
Starfish by James Crowley (Disney Book Group)
Scumble by Ingrid Law (Penguin Young Readers Group)
IndieBound: Other Indie Favorites
From last week's Indie bestseller lists, available at IndieBound.org, here are the recommended titles, which are also Indie Next Great Reads:
The Coffins of Little Hope by Timothy Schaffert (Unbridled Books, $24.95, 9781609530402). "At the heart of this story is narrator Essie Myles, an 83-year-old great-grandmother who has been writing obituaries for her father's small-town newspaper since she was a teenager. Far from morbid, Essie is a born storyteller, and she takes the reader on a wonderful journey into the nuances of a small town and its reaction when a little girl goes missing. Essie recounts the disappearance of the girl and in the process interweaves the stories of her own family and those of the town. Filled with rich characters and written with both charm and wonder, this should be the next book on your nightstand!"--Julia MacDonald, the Yankee Bookshop, Woodstock, Vt.
A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by Willliam Deresiewicz (Penguin Press, $25.95, 9781594202889). "Austen lovers, rejoice! This intelligent, lively look at the beloved author's novels and what they offered in life lessons to one graduate student will resonate with all Austen fans--and others as well. Like many of us, Deresiewicz, an Austen scholar, found deep lessons on life, love, friendship, and marriage in the pages and parlors of dear Jane's books. A delightful read!"--Christine Grabish, MacDonald Book Shop, Estes Park, Colo.
The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky (Europa Editions, $15, 9781609450069). "Once you find yourself in the grip of Rosa's saga, there is no escaping. Brutal, self-absorbed, perceptive, and hilarious, Rosa is as unreliable as she is unforgettable. Set both behind the Iron Curtain and in the reunified Germany, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is refreshing as well as disturbing. The strengths of the three generations--unsinkable Rosa, her passive but loving daughter Sulfia, and her unpredictable and mysterious granddaughter Aminat--link these women together and simultaneously pull them apart. Their story will fascinate, repel, and bring you to tears."--Leslie Reiner, Inkwood Books, Tampa, Fla.
For Ages 4 to 8
Clink by Kelly DePucchio, illustrated by Matthew Myers (Balzer & Bray, $16.99, 9780061929281). "Poor Clink is an old robot who just can't compete with all the other new-fangled, fancy robots in the shop. But one day a little boy finds a special beauty in Clink and takes him home. A very sweet story complemented by wonderful illustrations!"--Meaghan Beasley, Island Bookstore, Corolla, N.C.
[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]
Shelf Starter: Silver Sparrow
Silver Sparrow: A Novel by Tayari Jones (Algonquin, $19.95 hardcover, 9781565129900, May 24, 2011)
Opening lines of a book we want to read:
My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist. He was already married ten years when he first clamped eyes on my mother. In 1968, she was working at the gift-wrap counter at Davison's downtown when my father asked her to wrap the carving knife he had bought his wife for their wedding anniversary. Mother said she knew that something wasn't right between a man and a woman when the gift was a blade.
I said that maybe it means there was a kind of trust between them. I love my mother, but we tend to see things a little bit differently. The point is that James's marriage was never hidden from us. James is what I call him. His other daughter, Chaurisse, the one who grew up in the house with him, she calls him Daddy, even now.--selected by Marilyn Dahl
Book Review: Robopocalypse
Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson (Doubleday, $25 hardcover, 9780385533850, June 7, 2011)
Daniel H. Wilson has been pondering the subject of his all-too-imaginable debut novel for some time and in great depth. In addition to earning a Ph.D. in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University, Wilson is the author of, among other works, How to Survive a Robot Uprising and How to Build a Robot Army. Now Wilson has transformed these robopocalyptic visions into a swiftly paced and well-crafted thriller that will have readers eyeing their electronics (including their e-readers) with suspicion and no small amount of fear.
The novel is set in the near future (near enough, in fact, to recognize smart cars, chat rooms and the war in Afghanistan) and opens in Alaska, where soldier Cormac Wallace discovers a box containing a digital record of the recently ended robot-human war. This record, essentially an action highlight reel of the war, serves as the novel's narrative and very clever framing device.
The notion that our machines will eventually turn against us is strikingly familiar and is reimagined here as Archos, a supercomputer so intelligent (think HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey or more recently, "Watson," the Jeopardy! champion) that its creator feels compelled to destroy it. Naturally, Archos cannot let that happen. Its super-intelligence has informed it that humans are ridiculous, trashing the planet and each other, and must be eliminated. Soon thereafter, reprogrammed toys start threatening children, cars systematically run over pedestrians, and any device with a wireless port turns into a killing machine. And that's before things get really bad. As Archos gains strength and intelligence, it builds its own superbots and within a couple of years, the human race is decimated. Inevitably, of course, there is resistance. Pockets of humans survive and band together (finally finding a common cause) to defeat "Big Rob."
Though Robopocalypse is almost completely action-driven (the film version, directed by Steven Spielberg, will appear in 2013), Wilson's story raises thoughtful questions about the nature of consciousness, communication, and, of course, the price of technology. These questions become especially pointed toward the end of the story as the humans become more robot-like and new "freeborn" robots start taking on a very human desire to survive.
Above all, however, Wilson's novel crackles with old-fashioned entertainment. The story is smart, scarily plausible and contains bots for every taste. What's more, there is enough intelligent explanation of the ways in which technology actually works to satisfy readers who want a little bit more from their thrillers than, well... deus ex machina.--Debra Ginsberg
Shelf Talker: A very clever and highly entertaining thriller from robotics expert Daniel H. Wilson that asks--and answers--the question of what happens when the machines take over.