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Sci-fi and fantasy authors reveal truths in the strangest fiction

Writers of realistic fiction are often are asked to wrestle with the question of autobiographical influence in interviews and essays. Some critics have made a cottage industry out of guessing even in the absence of hard data: Is the character a stand-in for the novelist? Is the plot based on...

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  • 'How the World Was' a vivid tale of a 20th century California boyhood
    'How the World Was' a vivid tale of a 20th century California boyhood

    The Parisian artist Emmanuel Guibert creates nonfiction graphic novels that have the emotional weight and patient observation of great prose fiction. Many of his books are based on long interviews with real subjects. "The Photographer" told the story of a French medical mission into...

  • Rene Steinke's 'Friendswood' visits a town toxic in many ways
    Rene Steinke's 'Friendswood' visits a town toxic in many ways

    René Steinke doesn't like to repeat herself. Her debut novel, "The Fires," drew readers into the mind of a pyromaniac through a haunting first-person narration. Her second, "Holy Skirts," sympathetically reimagined a marginal figure in the early 20th century...

  • 'The Invisible Soldiers' warns of private security forces' rise
    'The Invisible Soldiers' warns of private security forces' rise

    Near the end of "The Invisible Soldiers: How America Outsourced Our Security," author Ann Hagedorn recommends that President Dwight D. Eisenhower's famous warning in 1961 about the rise of the "military-industrial complex" should be updated.

  • Richard House's 'The Kills' challenges what a thriller can be
    Richard House's 'The Kills' challenges what a thriller can be

    Released last year in England and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Richard House's "The Kills" is a sprawling, 1,000-page epic that forgoes the formulaic machinations of the lowbrow thriller and aspires to high art.

  • Matthea Harvey's 'Tabloids' mashes word pictures with imaginative art
    Matthea Harvey's 'Tabloids' mashes word pictures with imaginative art

    True story: A teenager saw me with Matthea Harvey's new book of poems as I sat with it in a café and asked if she could look at it. She was the scowly sort, angry tattoo on her shoulder, who I thought was going to ask me if I had a cigarette; not, offhand, the type who maybe cares...

  • Haruki Murakami's 'Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki' paints haunting picture
    Haruki Murakami's 'Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki' paints haunting picture

    Haruki Murakami's "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage" begins with a simple premise: A Tokyo railroad engineer, the Tsukuru Tazaki of the novel's title, unable to get over the summer of his sophomore year in college, when for no reason he can determine he...

  • 'Panic in a Suitcase' a vivid immigrant tale of two cities
    'Panic in a Suitcase' a vivid immigrant tale of two cities

    Jewish immigrants have provided a rich source of comedy — some of it dark — in American literature. Think Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, Gary Shteyngart and, more recently, Anya Ulinich. Make way for a fresh female voice. Yelena Akhtiorskaya, born in Odessa, Ukraine, in 1985,...

  • Rick Perlstein's 'The Invisible Bridge' spans Nixon-Reagan transition
    Rick Perlstein's 'The Invisible Bridge' spans Nixon-Reagan transition

    I watched Watergate unfold as if it were a spectator sport. Not just the Irvin committee hearings, at which John W. Dean intoned that "there was a cancer growing on the presidency," but also the House Judiciary Committee hearings, the press conferences, all of it.

  • In Amy Bloom's 'Lucky Us,' sisters remain plucky in face of tragedy
    In Amy Bloom's 'Lucky Us,' sisters remain plucky in face of tragedy

    "There is no such thing as a good writer and a bad liar," Amy Bloom wrote in her 1999 short story "The Story," which remains my favorite of all her work. It's a vivid bit of double vision, Bloom commenting on the process of storytelling even as she engages in it, and it...

  • 'Close Your Eyes' looks at normal moments amid nuclear horrors
    'Close Your Eyes' looks at normal moments amid nuclear horrors

    Chris Bohjalian is a master of depicting the small moments — the inevitable routines — that follow in the wake of a trauma. In "The Light in the Ruins," an 18-year-old girl crafts clothes for two dolls as she watches Axis warplanes fly over Tuscany. In "The Double...

  • 'Unruly Places' is a guide to weird, ruined and wonderful spots
    'Unruly Places' is a guide to weird, ruined and wonderful spots

    I've been to only three of the "unruly places" featured in Alastair Bonnett's terrific new book (the City of the Dead in Cairo, the "Time Landscape" in Manhattan, and International Airspace). If that seems a low number, bear in mind that other locations include...

  • Jim Ruland's 'Forest of Fortune' brilliantly taps casinos' irony
    Jim Ruland's 'Forest of Fortune' brilliantly taps casinos' irony

    Things are rotten in the state of Thunderclap. Or at least they are rotten for the people who wash up at the remote, desert Indian casino somewhere in the mountains inland of San Diego in Jim Ruland's masterpiece of desperation, delusion and misdeeds, "Forest of Fortune."

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