Recommended Reading: Emmi Itäranta’s Memory of Water

photo (107)If you’re looking for a thoughtful, surprising dystopian novel that will make you see your preferred summer body of water — ocean, lake, swimming pool — in a whole new light, look no further than Emmi Itäranta’s Memory of Water*.

Ms. Itäranta, who is Finnish and lives in England, wrote the novel in both Finnish and English (the translation of the novel’s Finnish title is The Tea Master’s Book), and readers will find both a Scandinavian setting (albeit much different from today’s region) and lyrical prose, setting Memory of Water apart from what has now become rather standard dystopian fare.

What also sets the novel apart is Ms. Itäranta’s use of conventional dystopian tropes — a world changed after environmental disaster, an authoritarian government wielding violent power, scarcity of basic resources — without following standard plot-lines. Noria Kaito lives in a far-flung village of the Scandinavian Union, which is ruled by New Qian. Her mother is a scientist, and her father is a tea master, performing the traditional tea ceremony that has been handed down for generations; Noria is his apprentice. One day, her father shows her a dangerous secret: a hidden spring that only the tea master’s family knows about. With fresh water scarce — the rest of the village drinks desalinated seawater — this knowledge is illegal, and before long, a commander from New Qian arrives in town, suspecting the tea master’s secret.

When her father dies, Noria becomes the tea master — unprecedented, since she is a woman — and must decide what to do with her knowledge. At the same time, she’s navigating her friendship with Sanja and exploring old technology that they found together in the “plastic grave” near the town, technology that leads the pair to yet another dangerous secret. The military’s hold on the town becomes more brutal, and Noria is faced with extremely difficult choices about what’s best for her, for Sanja, for their village, for the world.

I loved Memory of Water for its musicality, its lyric attention to water, its innate feminism, its conjuring of a world very different from our own, but shaped with its ghostly imprint. I loved Ms. Itäranta’s refusal to grant the reader a happy ending (reaching instead for realism) without diminishing the power of hope. Highly recommended reading.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes, which does not affect the content of my review.

Recommended Reading: The Flight of the Silvers, by Daniel Price

photo (55)“Time rolled to a stop on the Massachusetts Turnpike.”

That’s the first line of Daniel Price’s refreshing novel The Flight of the Silvers*, one of the most entertaining time-travel stories I’ve read in years. This first line signals not only that we’re in for some weird time-bending stuff but also that the author is interested in realism, not just the fireworks of mind-bending world-building. (Don’t worry, there’s that, too.)

As children, two sisters, Amanda and Hannah, witness time stand still when three mysterious and quite possibly malevolent strangers inexplicably rescue them from a — relatively speaking of course — mundane accident (near Chicopee, for my fellow Mass Pike-goers).

Seventeen years later, Amanda and Hannah are as different as two sisters can be, and yet, they, along with four strangers, are rescued from the end of the world by the silver bracelets snapped over their wrists by the same shadowy figures from the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Then the really weird stuff begins.

In their new world, which, refreshingly, is neither utopia nor dystopia, just a topia (ok, alt-topia), the six strangers navigate an America they don’t understand (that’s where the very cool world-building comes in) and personal powers that surprise and shock them. (I don’t want to give too much away, but think X-Men meets time travel meets Terminator 2. Kinda.) The forces tracking them are powerful in different ways, and are largely unfriendly, to say the least: the menacing, powerful strangers who saved them from apocalypse; an FBI-type agent hoping not to get an NSA-like agency involved; a group of strangers with their own superpowers and everything to lose; and a psychopath from their own America with a nasty grudge.

Two squabbling, sisters, one recovering alcoholic, one boy genius with possible sociopathic tendencies, one teenage girl, and one cynical comic-book artist attempt to evade them all without losing themselves in the process. While The Flight of the Silvers is a rollicking and often funny piece of speculative fiction, Mr. Price also asks questions about community, isolation, family, and immigration that figure prominently in our own place and time.

And a final word to the wise, dear readers: The Flight of the Silvers is the first in a multi-part series, and from where I sit, there’s no way it won’t become a film franchise.

*My thanks to Blue Rider Press for sending a review copy of The Flight of the Silvers.

Tomorrow: An interview with Daniel Price, author of The Flight of the Silvers