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Likely Stories

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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006 12:15 pm
Fast-Replicating Nanomachines
Posted by: Keir Graff

Over the weekend I finished reading Duane Swierczynski’s new crime novel, The Blonde. I enjoyed his last one (The Wheel Man, 2005) quite a bit, and I enjoyed this one, too. Both of them are set in Philadelphia, both are fast-moving and funny. But where The Wheel Man explores a heist gone wrong with unpredictable results, The Blonde has a more high-concept scenario. The titular blonde is infected with fast-replicating nanomachines that will kill her if she strays more than ten feet from another living person. And she’s highly contagious. It’s a great challenge for both the author and his characters and requires some inventive–and exciting–problem-solving.

(“Titular blonde” sounds off-color, but I really didn’t mean it that way.)

The premise may sound hard to swallow, but it’s worth taking the bait. Swiercynzki reels you in so fast the fishing line starts smoking.

(This blog is a fun place to play with cheesy blurbs that I’d never actually use in reviews.)

Swierczynski peppers both The Wheel Man and The Blonde with interesting local detail, which makes sense, given his day job as editor of the Philadelphia City Paper. He makes several allusions to this, from giving a character a job as a reporter for a Chicago-based weekly to a inserting a passing detail of newspaper boxes on a sidewalk. As someone who’s done some writing for Chicago’s free weeklies, I enjoyed the references. And I couldn’t help but wonder which details in the novel had come from stories he’d reported. Also, it’s always great when a writer really explores a particular city. New York and L.A. we know ad nauseam, but Philadelphia has been a bit underserved until now.

Yesterday I changed gears, reading half of Claire Davis’ Labors of the Heart, the book I started reading in Montana. It’s been awfully hard to find reading time of late, but I was helped out by a three-and-a-half-hour wait to see my doctor yesterday. I probably would have read the whole thing, but after a while I got distracted by the cheery news team of ABC-7 News Chicago and then an anniversary repeat of Wheel of Fortune’s trip to New Orleans. If only I’d had had my TV-B-Gone with me!

(Why do I endure a three-and-a-half hour wait to see my doctor? I have an exotic eye condition–most commonly occurring in people of Caribbean, Mexican, and Australian descent–and he’s a globe-trotting specialist. Plus I like the fact that he’s a no-B.S. kind of guy. When he first looked at my eyes he said, “Jesus Christ! Those are some corneas you got there, guy!” Now that my corneas are better, he tells me that his one regret is not photographing them beforehand–a visual aid for his incredulous students.)

Davis lives in Lewiston, Idaho, and her stories are set in small towns of Idaho, Washington, and Montana. Her prose is insightful and sometimes hauntingly poetic, although there’s a decided lack of fast-replicating nanomachines. But you can’t have everything. 

I’ve tested my four-month-old’s patience by writing even this long, so I’ll write more about Labors of the Heart later.

2 Responses to “Fast-Replicating Nanomachines”
  1. Duane Swierczynski Says:

    I think every novel could use some fast-replicating nanomachines.

    Seriously, I’m thrilled you enjoyed the book, Keir. And you’re right–I do try to pepper my books with stuff I’ve either written or edited here at the City Paper. Though I hasten to add: the sex club described in the book is completely made-up. Especially if my wife is reading this.

  2. Keir Says:

    I did wonder about the sex club in particular….

    Thanks for clearing up the how-many-books-you’ve-written conundrum on your blog. I’m putting my money on the accidentally-on-purpose scenario. When it comes to authors’ careers, it seems like there’s a lot more emphasis on the big debut than the slow build these days.


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