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A few more good books

I read this book last summer, sitting outside of the Istria Cafe under the Metra tracks and trying to chase the occasional hornet away from my cranberry scone. Mark Helprin is a brilliant fantasy writer whom the publishing industry hasn't consigned to the fantasy/sci-fi ghetto. Go through the reasons why this might be the case, and you'll convince yourself that the difference between the "fantasy" and "literature" sections in the bookstore is a marketing distinction that has almost nothing to do with the content of the stories. Helprin comments on modern politics? Well, so does China Miéville (though usually from the other side of the political spectrum). Helprin sets his fantasies in real-world locales? So do Guy Gavriel Kay and Charles deLint.

I'd read Helprin's Winter's Tale several years ago and loved it -- I still can't forget the white horse walking through the snow in Manhattan. After Freddy and Fredericka, I find it hard to think about dentists without thinking about Prince Charles. Yep, it's a strange, funny, and touching book that made me laugh and cry both.

King Rat is the first novel that Miéville published and the fourth one that I've read. Compared with Perdido Street Station or the other novels set in Bas-Lag, the characters and settings in King Rat are commonplace. The city is regular old London, and the characters are mostly run-of-the-mill human. Sure, there are a few human/animal demigods running around, but not really any more so than in a typical Neil Gaiman novel. The background music that most of the characters either play or at least appreciate is drum and bass, which I didn't know existed until I read this book. Now I'm damned curious what it sounds like. Thanks, China Miéville!

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