Monday, October 1, 2012

Monday's Best Book Jackets

There is science in some detective novels, and detective work in the science.
Within his interview with Philip Kerr, J. Kingston Pierce posted a link to a list of the ten greatest SF detective novels.  I've only read four of the novels on this particular list, but I'd have to nominate some others too, all of which, by the way, turn out to have equally splendid cover art.

For instance, I discussed Ray Bradbury's Death Is A Lonely Business at this link.

Some of the covers are deceptive.  The first edition cover art of Jonathan Lethem's Gun With Occasional Music was made to look tattered.  In explanation, Lethem said of this:

"I insisted the jacket be made to look like it was old. The gimmick was that it was going to look like a pulp paperback, even though it was a brand new hardcover. I wanted to be a writer like Philip K. Dick or Charles Willeford, or some others I revered who’d been published only in these disreputable, ephemeral ways, and who you could find only in used-book stores. I wanted to be out of print even before I was in print.”

I like the first trade paperback edition of Gun, With Occasional Music, with the sharp art and the musical notes on the both the cover and spine.
Some covers need explanations, and some covers just grow on you.  For instance, take a look at the cover on Jim Holt's Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story.  At first the cover struck me as bland, but the dustjacket flap identifies it as Albert Tang's photograph of the Cafe de Flore in Paris.  This is the cafe where Sartre did his musings on being and nothingness and it is visited by Holt repeatedly in the book.

What's more, it reminds me of one of Hemingway's best stories, "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place."  Which goes well with Holt's own musings in here.
 Holt's book, by the way, is excellent, probably my best non-fiction book of the year--but we'll see what else comes up.  There is a good review of it at this link.  Holt is a persistent detective. 

Holt says that Lawrence M. Krauss’s A UNIVERSE FROM NOTHING: Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing? did nothing to advance the question, as Krauss seemed to be writing with blinders on.

Another genre novel that dwells on scientific theory, is Leonard Rosen's All Cry Chaos, which is nominated the for Best First Novel Award at the current Bouchercon.
I love the dustjacket art, the detective grandson of the historical mathematician Henri Poincare, and the premise of the novel.  The ending seemed a bit convoluted, but it was a good read.  I'm certainly looking forward to the next novel in what will be a series.

Of course the first detective novel to delve into Chaos Theory, at least formally, was Kate Wilhelm's Death Qualified over twenty years ago, way back in 1991.  It too had a beautiful dust jacket.  In my opinion, the above two books both venture too far in their implications of Chaos Theory.  Probably it seems that way because these works are serious dramas.

Granted, quantum science is spooky.  We may indeed live in a science-fiction universe, but while I can quietly accept my own surreal experiences, I have a hard time taking those of fictional characters in fictional worlds seriously.  I'd much rather see them played for laughs, as in Gun, With Occasional Music.

1 comment:

  1. Wilhelm's displays her usual dry wit, as well, but it isn't solely a crime-fiction novel, fact, the introduction of the fantastic into DQ (not so soft-serve!) pushes it in at least as much a horror as sf direction...haven't read the newest one...shall have to go look...