Short stories 

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The Devil's Alphabet

Daryl Gregory

Del Rey, $15/paperback

Daryl Gregory's second book is every bit as intense, well-written and thought-provoking as his first, Pandemonium, which means we'll be waiting patiently for more. It's a rare thing to find a writer of "speculative fiction" who combines this level of intelligence with a matching measure of empathy. The Devil's Alphabet involves a small Appalachian town visited with a strange plague. It altered the genetic make-up of most residents — but not in the same ways. In fact, "argos," "betas" and "charlies" are as different from each other as they are from unchanged humans. And now it's happening again, in a country half a world away. The story unfolds through the eyes of Pax Martin, who remains untouched (physically, at least) by the disease. But he's trying to solve another mystery: Who killed his first love, a beta woman? This is a novel worth staying up late to finish. — Kel Munger

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I See Rude People

Amy Alkon

McGraw-Hill, $16.95/paperback

In I See Rude People, Amy Alkon offers lots of practical advice, something she's perfected through her Advice Goddess column, which appears weekly in the Indy. Example: Want to bill telemarketers who "steal" your time? Register for the "Do Not Call" list, find the CEO's contact info through zabasearch.com, annoyingly bother him or her, and send along an invoice. It's tips like this, sprinkled throughout the chapters, that make Rude People a useful guide. Unfortunately, as a whole the book lacks cohesiveness: each anecdote seems as if it would work better as an individual column or blog posting — not surprising, given Alkon's day job — and tends to bog down in the telling, especially a bit about her stolen car. But for those who want more than the weekly serving Alkon's been dishing out, I See Rude People offers a quick, entertaining read. — Bryce Crawford

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Shades of Grey

Jasper Fforde

Viking, $25.95/hardcover

Welsh author Jasper Fforde's Shades of Grey is set in a future world with a dystopian social hierarchy that's based on the particular colors each individual can see. Woven into this world is a tale of romance (wrapped in a bit of adventure, mystery and politics), all told by 20-year-old Eddie Russett. He's an endearing Red with lots of questions on his mind that get him into trouble, like why can't he love a Grey and where have all the spoons gone? Fans of Fforde's bestselling Thursday Next books will enjoy this first installment of his new series; the voice is similar, as are the quirky sci-fi elements, but the concept is completely new. I don't know where Fforde gets his material, but I'd love to pick his brain for a day, or just an hour. Shades of Grey is smart. It's silly. And it'll leave you craving more. — Kirsten Akens


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