Saturday, August 6, 2011

Reviews: Zazen and Sensation

Read 7/21/11 - 7/29/11
5 Stars - Highly Recommended / The Next Best Book
Pgs: 257
Publisher: Red Lemonade

The first title published under Richard Nash's newest publishing platform is a poetic, obsessive, unsettling novel that details the chaotic small town life of Della, a twenty seven year old waitress dealing with the fear and anxiety of a country on the edge of war.

Zazen, by Vanessa Veselka, is a powerful look at what society could do to itself in uncertain times. In dystopian America, where its remaining citizens wait for the real bombs to inch closer and closer, Della calls in bomb threats to pass the time. But when the businesses she targets with her pranks suddenly begin exploding, she is sucked into a situation that may be very difficult to escape.

An incredible first time novel that knocks the wind out of you, Zazen is unapologetic and honest. Veselka creates a world where emotions appear more real than the actual situations her characters find themselves in. It's a story that ebbs and flows, that's felt rather than read. It's impossible and totally plausible at the same time.

It is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful novels I've read this year. It was also one of the biggest buzz books within my indie circle (and rightly so). Did you know that I was apparently within shoulder-bumping distance of it's author at one of the BEA after-parties? Neither did I, and I have been smartly kicking myself in my ass since discovering this fact.

Read 7/30/11 - 8/6/11
3.5 Stars - Strongly Recommended to readers familiar with genre
Publisher: PM Press

Sensation by Nick Mamatas is a first for me in many ways. It's my first encounter with this publishing company, who publish political, edgy fiction and non-fiction. It's my first experience reading the author, who has two previous novels under his belt. AND - probably most importantly - it's the first time I've ever willingly read a novel whose story line revolved around spiders and wasps.

If you are familiar with me and my irrational fears, you'll know that spiders top the chart of things I am terrified of. Thank god the book didn't have one sitting menacingly on the cover, because I don't know if I would have had the courage to look at it, let alone pick it up to read it.

Sensation, like Zazen, is set in a parallel America. In this one, humans are not the only intelligent species - although they think they are. There is an age old war brewing between spiders and wasps, and our unsuspecting characters are about to find themselves smack in the middle of it all.

The story is narrated by the collective consciousness of the spiders, who are walking around amongst the public , spying on them from within the brainpans of men of indeterminate ethnicity. They report on the whereabouts of Julia, a woman who was stung by a wasp - get ready to be grossed out - that laid its eggs in the sting wound. These eggs, which send out certain chemicals that change the behavior of their host, compel Julia to kill a man, which inadvertently begin a nationwide sans nom movement. The spiders, in their human transports, whisk Julia away to the Simulacrum in an effort to contain and protect her. But the movement continues, and with it, so does the war between insect and arachnid.

Many, many times as I read, I found my skin crawling. Just the thought of spiders being these hyper-intelligent super-spies turns my stomach. Every time I see one now, I think - What are you looking at, you little fucker? - right before I smear its guts across the wall.

This novel was, by far, one of the stranger ones I have ever read. Readers must be able to suspend their own realities in order to experience its full effect. It certainly poses the question of free will vs. puppetry. Are the decisions we make truly our own, or are they a result of someone or something else's influence over us?

Which also ties Sensation back to Zazen. Both novels deal, in part, with underground, controversial movements that are started unintentionally by our leading ladies, who then find themselves swept up in the chaotic aftermath.

In Zazen, Della finds herself tied to a group of people who plot setting off small bombs and taking out transmission lines in an attempt to cripple what little parts of their America are still functioning. Her bomb threats appear to be the catalyst for this little group of anarchists, and Della goes along with the group until she realizes just what it is they are after.

For Sensation, it's the message Julia leaves on the side of an unwanted stadium that is still under construction. The message filters through the country slowly, and soon becomes a media and internet movement set on bringing the world down to its knees, sucking Julia back into the fray, whether she likes it or not.

Whether it's bombs or warring spiders and wasps, both novels demonstrate the speed at which humans react and society collapses when left to their own devices. They also show the speed at which people can come together and join forces to make positive impacts as well.

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