Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Exciting thriller blends sci-fi, horror themes Maybe that headache isn't just a headache...

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SMALL Miracles (Tor, 369 pages, $10), by Virginia's Edward M. Lerner, is an exciting thriller about a man inadvertently infested -- for want of a better word -- with nanobots.

These infinitesimally small mechanisms begin joining with his conscious mind, creating a new kind of life form. Which wouldn't be too bad, if this new life form didn't think it would be great if every other human being on the planet were just like it.

Lerner definitely knows how to tell a story. His characters are well drawn; and, like the late Michael Crichton, he uses them to sell the more imaginative aspects of the story (although it's worth pointing out that the nanotechnology Lerner describes in the book isn't mere fiction). An intelligent blending of science fiction and horror themes.

-- -- --

Speaking of science fiction, The Sheriff of Yrnameer (Vintage, 269 pages, $18) is a very funny adventure by Brooklyn's Michael Rubens.

The story is wacky. Cole, a disreputable space pilot and con man, is on the run from a determined creditor. He hijacks another fella's ship and heads off to a remote planet where he figures he can hide out until the heat's off -- but it turns out the planet's residents are under siege by bandits, and Cole's the only guy who can save them.

Imagine Blazing Saddles crossed with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and you'll have some idea what to expect here. The comedy is broad -- lots of linguistic tomfoolery and running around -- and the story is loopy in a way that can't possibly be accidental.

Rubens sends up a ton of science-fiction staples, but always good-naturedly: we kid because we love. If you're a fan of the genre, you'll have a great time.

-- -- --

206 Bones (Pocket Books, 423 pages, $13), by American forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs, opens with Temperance Brennan being held captive by an unknown person.

We flash back to Tempe's recent autopsy of a missing woman, and an accusation that Tempe has tried to cover up a murder (which, if you're a regular reader of the Brennan novels, is something you know she'd never do).

This is more episodic than other novels in the series. As she's trapped in this cold, dark place, Tempe sifts through her memory, looking at several earlier cases, trying to glean clues to her captor's identity.

It's a different structure, but it's also undeniably effective: the slow accumulation of clues leads to a shocking revelation.

-- -- --

Ben Elton, the noted British comedian and screenwriter, wrote the book for and directed the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical The Boys in the Photograph, which Manitoba Theatre Centre premiered in 2009. He is also a first-class novelist.

Meltdown (Black Swan, 480 pages, $22) is an entertaining and occasionally bittersweet look at a group of friends who are affected, in differing ways, by the recent global economic crisis.

It sounds like a pretty dull idea for a novel, but don't panic: Elton is a master at taking serious subjects and mining them for humour.

But this is not a satire or a laugh riot. It's a story of greed and ambition, and also a healthy amount of plain ol' stupidity, told from the perspective of six people who met in university and became lifelong friends until their lives were turned upside down.

Elton is a graceful writer. He makes political and social statements without pounding you over the head with them, and his characters -- especially Jimmy, the newly-bankrupt money trader, and Henry, the well-meaning but naive politician -- are real people, not stick figures shoved into the story to make the author's point. It is one of Elton's best books.

Halifax freelancer David Pitt's column appears the first weekend of the month.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 4, 2010 H9

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