The Actual Star is about many things: climate change, the tourist gaze, love, sex, entropy, utopias, the fall of the Maya, whether the Maya ever actually "fell," religious ritual, reincarnation, and caves. It's a big book, demanding and sometimes fussy in its careful construction. But it'll make you think, and the ending feels like putting your hand on a cave wall and feeling the heartbeat of the world through the rock. "Actual star"--indeed.
A Taiwanese science fiction novel published in 1995, The Membranes is both a novel of and outside of its time. It extrapolates a future where humanity retreats underwater not due to the effects of global warning, but to escape deadly holes in the ozone layer. It's a future where the world's most powerful company sells its wares on computer discs. Yet in other respects-- its matter-of-fact approach towards sexuality, its narrative of young adulthood rebelling against parental and corporate control, and its last-minute twist that turns the whole book on its head--this is as modern a novel as you'll find published today. Whether as time capsule or prophecy, this novel holds up.
Another story might end with a genetically engineered man-monster fighting an army led by an evil Nazi scientist, but that's merely where Monsters begins. Windsor-Smith, who cut his teeth drawing fantastically detailed pulp comics decades ago, has bigger fish to fry: what is the nature of human evil? When does trauma take root? Are our lives determined by fate or chance? Windsor-Smith tackles these themes on a grand scale--over three-hundred enormous pages packed with hand-drawn art that took years to produce. The result isn't a masterpiece, but something else--the stone-hewn, uncompromising testament of a statesman artist.