Beyond reality

Ed Park's Astral Weeks column appears monthly at

IS it science fiction? Is it even speculative fiction? Andy Duncan’s odd, mesmerizing short story “Unique Chicken Walks in Reverse” belongs on this list of my favorite 2007 books in this genre mainly because it kicks off “Eclipse One,” a new anthology series edited by Jonathan Strahan (Night Shade). Five-year-old Mary O'Connor has a chicken that does just what Duncan’s title says; it’s a “frizzled” fowl (feathers growing on the inside) that she has named Jesus. Sacrilege or homage? Father Leggett comes to investigate. Mary later went by Flannery, and Duncan’s brisk little fiction develops into a sly variant of O'Connor’s intense modern morality tales.

The late Osamu Tezuka, father of “Astro Boy” and the sprawling, semi-fictional biography “Buddha,” gleefully crams SF tropes into his massive “Apollo’s Song” (Vertical). A sadistic man-child named Shogo is being reprogrammed and undergoes a peculiar form of therapy involving vivid hallucinations, implanted by shock treatment and hypnosis. He loves and loses the same wide-eyed sylph over and over. The paradox is that what’s essentially the same story, filtered through various milieus, not only holds our interest but also sparks a satisfaction deeper than the sum of its episodes.

L.A. native Cathy Park Hong’s audacious second book of poetry, “Dance Dance Revolution” (W.W. Norton), takes place in 2016. (It won this year’s Barnard Women Poets Prize.) Much of it is written in a “rapidly evolving lingua franca” (Korean, Spanish and who knows what else) that begs to be read aloud. These are urgent yet playful communiques sent backward from the new desert of the real.


If you’ve burned through the Library of America’s new omnibus edition of four of Philip K. Dick’s best SF tales, you might need a social-realist breather and perspective adjuster. Nothing could ground you better than “Voices From the Street” (Tor), his flawed but fascinating non-SF novel, originally written in 1953 and heretofore unpublished.

In a recent article for the Times of London (“Why Are Science Fiction’s Best Writers So Neglected?”), Brian Aldiss complained that his novel “HARM” (Del Rey) “received only one review -- in the Times of London -- apart from a long notice in, er, an SF magazine. The most hackneyed crime novel receives attention. But SF is not ‘beach reading’ -- not unless you know of a very stony beach.” Aldiss needs to start reading Astral Weeks; in the first installment, I wrote of “HARM”: “The title is an acronym for Hostile Activities Research Ministry, which you could call Orwellian if its operations didn’t seem so close to our paranoid present, drawing dark inspiration from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.”

There were too many deaths in the world of fantastic fiction this year, stirring many memories. For me, Lloyd Alexander’s passing brought to mind the thrill of his marvelous “Chronicles of Prydain” (Henry Holt) -- books I probably read and reread even more than I did those of Tolkien and Lewis.

Liz Williams’ “Precious Dragon” (Night Shade) adds the titular creature to her heady mix of afterlife adventure and supernatural crime, though curious readers are advised to begin with the first volume, 2005’s “Snake Agent,” in which the appealingly world-weary (and world-slipping) Detective Inspector Chen first teams up with the natty demon Zhu Irzh (I like to think it’s pronounced “urge”). Modern sculptors, take note: There are enough twisted, hallucinatory installation art ideas here to fuel a respectable career.

I’ll end with John Crowley’s “Endless Things” (Small Beer), the fourth and final book in his “Aegypt” sequence, which began in 1987. It’s an unpredictable, free-flowing, sui generis novel, and one that may be pretty much indecipherable, alas, to those unfamiliar with the series. But you can begin your journey with “The Solitudes,” which kicks off the Overlook Press’ Aegyptian resurrection project (his “Love and Sleep” and “Daemonomania” will be republished next year.)