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Michael L. Berry

Freelance journalist, critic and editor. Writer of copy. Teller of tales.

Location icon Berkeley, CA

Marketing writer. Custom publishing editor.
Science fiction columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Regular contributing reviewer for Common Sense Media.

Portfolio
Datebook | San Francisco Arts & Entertainment Guide
04/18/2019
Futuristic fiction conjures new planets and protagonists in the age of Trump

By Charlie Jane Anders (Tor; 366 pages; $26.99) For the follow-up to "All the Birds in the Sky," her highly acclaimed first novel for adults, Nebula Award-winner Charlie Jane Anders heads in a less whimsical, less overtly fantastical direction.

New and Noteworthy

Sierra Club
03/28/2018
In His New Novel, Richard Powers Writes From a Tree's Point of View

Richard Powers speaks for the trees. Five years after the publication of the highly acclaimed Orfeo, the National Book Award-winning novelist returns with a dense, passionate, and suspenseful tale of the connection between humanity and some of the planet's most ancient, massive, and indispensable living organisms. The Overstory, out today from W.W.

San Francisco Chronicle
'Lincoln in the Bardo,' by George Saunders

story collections such as "Tenth of December," "Pastoralia" and "CivilWarLand in Bad Decline," George Saunders has repeatedly proved himself one of our most versatile, irreverent and sharp-eyed storytellers.

SFGate
12/23/2016
New science fiction and fantasy books

There's something deliciously apropos in the notion of Margaret Atwood using "The Tempest" as a springboard for a novel about imprisonment, sorcery and second chances. Shakespeare's last completed play is a dark, funny, complicated masterpiece, and it requires a first-rate literary magician to unlock its many mysteries and make something new from them.

SFGate
12/09/2016
'Time Travel: A History,' by James Gleick

The Life and Science of Richard Feynman, "Isaac Newton" and "The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood," Gleick is particularly well equipped to explore how the idea of time travel evolved across the past century in science, literature, technology and philosophy.

The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram
11/27/2016
Book review: In "The Kinfolk," characters of The Five Stones Trilogy meet their fates - The...

From sunken Atlantis in the Mediterranean to Hy Brasil off the coast of Ireland, from King Kong's Skull Island to Jules Verne's mysterious Lincoln Island, the notion of an undiscovered land mass lurking just beyond the perception of ordinary humanity has fired the imaginations of storytellers and readers across the centuries.

Hcn
11/14/2016
Science fiction's warnings for the present

Among novelists who engage directly with environmental issues, Kim Stanley Robinson has few equals. The Davis, California, science fiction writer is the author of 17 novels that address issues of ecology and space exploration, climate change and alternatives to capitalism.

The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram
11/06/2016
Was 'The Chemical Wedding' the first science fiction novel? - The Portland Press Herald / Maine...

Asked to identify the first science fiction novel, a reasonable reader might respond by choosing Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein." Or maybe Thomas More's "Utopia." Or perhaps "The War of the Worlds" by H.G. Wells. But what about "The Chemical Wedding by Christian Rosencreutz," written by Johann Valentin Andreae? Never heard of it or him?

Sierra Club
07/28/2016
The Brains of Beasts

In the book Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, Frans de Waal argues that our fellow creatures deserve more credit.In Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, Frans de Waal argues that our fellow creatures deserve more credit.

SFGate
10/20/2016
'The Terranauts,' by T.C. Boyle

Popular culture abounds with tales of individuals - or even entire societies - trapped under glass, physically cut off from the rest of the world but still under the scrutiny of ever-present watchers.

SFGate
09/29/2016
'The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories From My Life,' by John le Carré

The son of a con man, a former low-ranking member of British Intelligence and perhaps the premier novelist of espionage in the past half century, the man born David Cornwell has spent his life trading in obfuscation and make-believe. First comes the imagining, then the search for the reality.

Paloaltoonline
'Best American' editors bring new collection of sci-fi/fantasy to Menlo Park

This second-edition book, which features a collection of 20 short science fiction and fantasy pieces from both veteran storytellers and promising up-and-comers, walks the line between literary and genre fiction. Among this year's contributors are Adam Johnson, Salman Rushdie and Kelly Link.

The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram
09/25/2016
Crime writer Bruce Robert Coffin draws on deep well of professional experience - The Portland...

Sometimes the road not taken intersects with your chosen path decades later. After an uninspiring experience in a college creative writing class, Bruce Robert Coffin put aside his dreams of becoming an author. Instead, he spent more than 27 years in law enforcement, retiring as a detective sergeant with the Portland Police Department.

The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram
09/11/2016
Book review: Portland author Chris Holm strikes thriller paydirt again - The Portland Press...

Last year, Portland writer Chris Holm inaugurated an exciting new thriller series with "The Killing Kind." Now he's back with a second novel featuring Michael Hendricks, the trained assassin who stalks other hit men. The results are similarly explosive. "Red Right Hand" doesn't waste any time getting down to business.

SFGate
09/01/2016
'Mr. Eternity,' by Aaron Thier

The novel opens in 2016 in Key West, where the coral reefs are dying and the sea levels keep rising. Defoe's claims cause one of the filmmakers to muse about the quality of life nearly six centuries hence: No one would remember how to make asphalt or super glue or sunblock or cortisone cream.

The Seattle Times
08/28/2016
'Everfair': A grand, diverse steampunk story

Seattle novelist Nisi Shawl's engrossing "Everfair" uses the genre of steampunk to re-imagine the horrific history of King Leopold II and the Congo Free State, with a more hopeful outcome. Shawl discusses her book Sept. 6, at Seattle's University Book Store.

Paloaltoonline
Are 'We Gon' Be Alright'?

Chang, who now serves as executive director for the Institute for Diversity in the Arts (IDA) at Stanford University, said in a telephone interview this week that it took him about eight years to complete his second book examining American culture, "Who We Be: The Colorization of America," published in 2014.

SFGate
08/18/2016
New science fiction and fantasy books

In his new novel, Blake Crouch, the author of the "Wayward Pines" trilogy, borrows concepts from quantum mechanics to address the universal question of "Who would I be if I had made different choices?"

SFGate
08/11/2016
'Night of the Animals,' by Bill Broun

What would it be like to face doomsday while addicted, homeless, mentally ill and subject to the authority of a totalitarian government? Ninety-year-old Cuthbert believes that they are in imminent danger from a group of cultists who view the comet's arrival as a trigger for a global pandemic of mass suicide and wanton animal slaughter, having found "ways to tip already endangered whole ecosystems toward their bowls of ashes."

Santa Rosa Press Democrat
08/09/2016
Bestselling author's new fantasy focuses on Sonoma Mountain commune

With two successful books to her credit and an audience of loyal readers, Oakland writer Melanie Gideon took a gamble with her third book for adults. Her first two were the satirical novel "Wife 22" and the memoir "The Slippery Year." Rather than continue with the irreverent, contemporary voice she had developed, Gideon committed to a different tack.

The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram
07/24/2016
Book review: 'Monterey Bay' reimagines 'Cannery Row,' with the passion of a teenage girl - The...

Writer Lindsay Hatton takes a big gamble with her debut novel, drawing on both history and invention to explore a setting made famous by a Nobel laureate. John Steinbeck begins his short novel "Cannery Row" with a declarative sentence both down-to-earth and loftily metaphorical: "Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream."

Pleasantonweekly
'Monterey Bay' revisits Steinbeck's Cannery Row during different eras

"Monterey Bay," published earlier this month by Penguin Press, focuses on Margot Fiske at two stages in her eventful life: in 1940 as a 15-year-old employee and lover of marine biologist Ed Ricketts, and in 1998, as a founder of the aquarium, musing on mortality even as she oversees the delicate release of a giant sunfish that has outgrown its quarters.

SFGate
07/15/2016
'Watchlist: 32 Stories, by Persons of Interest,' edited by Bryan Hurt

The contours of our current surveillance society and its possible futures have long been the purview of writers of science fiction and espionage thrillers. With "Watchlist," originally published last year in a limited edition from OR Books and now available in trade paperback from Catapult, Bryan Hurt, author of "Everyone Wants to Be Ambassador to France" and a teacher of creative writing at St.

SFGate
07/07/2016
'Underground Airlines,' by Ben H. Winters

In "Underground Airlines," Ben H. Winters, author of "The Last Policeman," addresses a similar question, but from a unique narrative vantage point. An African American man who has made an uncomfortable bargain with the authorities, he works for the U.S.

Paloaltoonline
More 'Easy' detective work

Life rarely goes smoothly for Ezekial "Easy" Rawlins. Chaos, racism and tragedy are part of the package of being a fictional African-American private detective in post-war Los Angeles. Acclaimed crime novelist Walter Mosley has chronicled Easy's ups and downs in 14 novels, beginning in 1990 with "Devil in a Blue Dress."

Paloaltoonline
'The Skeleth' continues epic tale of battle against otherworldly evil

When it comes to writing epic fantasy fiction, East Palo Alto author Matthew Jobin takes the long view. Not only are his first two novels for young readers set in an alternate, magic-filled version of the Middle Ages, the saga is influenced by Jobin's training in anthropology and his study of the genetics and behaviors of prehistoric peoples.

The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram
05/15/2016
Book review: More than disaster porn, 'The Fireman' burns with its own light - The Portland Press...

Haven't all the good apocalypses been taken by now? Is there any doomsday scenario left that hasn't been exploited for its entertainment value? Those are the questions facing Exeter, New Hampshire, author Joe Hill as he delivers "The Fireman," his massive account of one young woman's experience of the rapid, fiery fall of civilization.

The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram
05/01/2016
Book review: Richard Russo proves you can go home again - The Portland Press Herald / Maine...

Richard Russo's "Nobody's Fool," published in 1993, isn't a novel that clamors for a follow-up. A long book about small-town life in upstate New York, it seemed to have accomplished what its author set out to do, capturing with humor and compassion some pivotal moments in the lives of fictional North Bath's working-class residents, chief among them Donald "Sully" Sullivan, unambitious day laborer and town gadfly.

Paloaltoonline
The new world

beyond the farthest reaches of our solar system and in a near-future American Southwest ravaged by drought and greed. Nevertheless, award-winning science fiction writers Kim Stanley Robinson and Paolo Bacigalupi share a deep commitment to the here-and-now and the environmental concerns facing humanity this Earth Day and for the foreseeable future.

Austinchronicle
05/20/2016
Carolyn Cohagan's Time Zero

While researching her new science-fiction novel, Time Zero, Carolyn Cohagan discovered her passion for empowering middle-grade girls. The Austin writer, actor, and former stand-up comedian, who was imagining a near-future Manhattan ruled by religious extremists, learned that in our world today more than 60 million girls worldwide are not in school and an estimated 15 million girls are made child brides annually.

SFGate
04/22/2016
New novels by Sofia Samatar, Richard Kadrey and Seanan Maguire

Some fantasy novels use maps, glossaries and family trees as filler, extras of no particular import beyond signifying that the author took her or his world building seriously, at least in retrospect. In the case of "The Winged Histories," Sofia Samatar's follow-up to the World Fantasy Award-winning "A Stranger in Olondria," do not make the mistake of ignoring any of the front or back matter.

San Francisco Chronicle
03/31/2016
'All Stories Are Love Stories,' by Elizabeth Percer

Historical precedence, public service announcement campaigns and action movies starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson all provide suggestions of how a natural cataclysm might unfold when the Big One finally arrives. The trick is to find a new way of addressing the urgent inevitability of catastrophe, to move the imagined and dreaded event away from disaster fiction cliches and toward a keener understanding of the human heart in turmoil.

San Francisco Chronicle
03/17/2016
'Patience,' by Daniel Clowes

On the cover of "Patience," an attractive blond woman stares at the reader straight on, employing a familiar, unblinking gaze. Clowes has long been noted for his versatility, his knack for switching styles in the turn of a page, and this cover implies that he's found another mode in which to drive his literary ambitions.

BostonGlobe.com
03/08/2016
Stoughton writer uses daily train rides to his productive advantage - The Boston Globe

The ability to write fiction while commuting could be advantageous for any aspiring writer. But Stoughton novelist, short-story writer, and translator Ken Liu has been particularly prolific on his weekday round-trip MBTA train rides between his home in Stoughton and Boston, where he works as an intellectual property litigation consultant.

Sierra Club
02/10/2016
Dying to Live

By 2003, 26-year-old Roy Scranton had already learned how to die. He attributed his physical and emotional survival while serving a tour of duty with the U.S. Army in Iraq to the teaching of an 18th-century samurai manual: "Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily."

San Francisco Chronicle
02/19/2016
'All the Birds in the Sky,' 'Version Control,' 'Interior Darkness'

With her first novel of speculative fiction, she mixes and matches tropes from both science fiction and fantasy, crafting a singular, two-protagonist coming-of-age story that should appeal to readers of either genre. Laurence Armstead is a mad scientist in training, deeply interested in space travel, the inventor of a powerful artificial intelligence and a two-second time machine.

Berkeleyside
Berkeley author Ayize Jama-Everett: 'It's a great time to be a person of color in comics'

When not teaching humanities at the Bay School in San Francisco, Berkeley author Ayize Jama-Everett is hard at work on the final installment of his superhero prose saga. At a time when masked avengers and super-villains dominate the entertainment industry, Jama-Everett has put his own distinctive stamp on the genre in three well-received novels: The Liminal People, The Liminal War and The Entropy of Bones.

Paloaltoonline
Second thoughts

What do a mismatched pair of soon-to-be-married lovers, an anti-materialistic Stanford economist, and a charismatic squirrel have in common? The answer lies in Elizabeth McKenzie's new comic novel, "The Portable Veblen." Set in present-day Palo Alto and environs, "The Portable Veblen" focuses on a thirty-ish South Bay couple grappling with the implications of their seemingly hasty engagement.

SF Weekly
01/27/2016
Charlie Jane Anders: The State of S.F. in S.F.

If you're searching for a representative of the state of science fiction in America, you don't need to look much further than Charlie Jane Anders. She's the editor-in-chief at io9.com, the Gawker site devoted to all things sci and sci-fi, and the founder and emcee of Writers with Drinks, the monthly literary variety show at the Make Out Room that brings together scribblers of all stripes, from Amy Tan to Bucky Sinister to Jonathan Lethem.

SFGate
12/31/2015
New science fiction and fantasy books

If you plan to weather the zombie apocalypse, San Francisco isn't a bad place to do so, especially if you're handy with power tools. [...] is the predicament of Vasilis "Billy" Kostopolis, would-be writer and experienced drunk, who has come to the West Coast from the Rust Belt to seek his literary fortune without much preparation beyond having sold a single story.

The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram
01/10/2016
Book Review: Truth and consequences in The County - The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday...

increase font size Eastport author Sarah Graves brings back Boston homicide cop-turned-deputy sheriff Lizzie Snow for a twisty, turny thriller set in northern Maine. If you were able to escape the clutches of a serial kidnapper, would you immediately go to the police and tell them about the crime and the remaining captives?

SFGate
10/30/2015
New science fiction and fantasy books

"The Heart Goes Last" opens with married couple Stan and Charmaine living in their car, trying to get through another day without being ripped off, raped or murdered. All they have to do is spend every second month in prison, and on alternating months they can enjoy four weeks of comfort and security, safe from the ravages of unemployment, homelessness and crime.

Modernluxury
Pie Chart Review: All the Birds in the Sky

Michael Berry | Photo: Courtesy of Tor Books (center) | January 25, 2016 Patricia, a witch who can converse with animals, and Laurence, a genius inventor who's working to save humanity at the potential expense of Planet Earth, have a problem: They're in love in San Francisco-a city on the brink of extinction.

Stand-Alone Reviews

Paloaltoonline
Making sense of mental illness

The statistics are sobering: Suicide is now the tenth most common cause of death for men and women. Every thirteen minutes, another American dies from suicide. Yet statistics don't convey the full horror and grief left in the wake of a loved one's self-inflicted death.

Paloaltoonline
Karen Joy Fowler to speak at Kepler's

Karen Joy Fowler credits her childhood move to Palo Alto as the key to her becoming a writer. The New York Times bestselling author of "The Jane Austen Book Club," Fowler is the first American woman ever to be shortlisted for the highly prestigious Man Booker Prize, in recognition of her latest novel, "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves."

Salon
07/06/2014
"Mr. Mercedes": How Stephen King's killers mirror real-life murderers

Set in 2010, after the start of the Great Recession and before the Boston Marathon bombings, Stephen King's latest non-supernatural thriller features a mass murderer whose solipsism and misanthropy inspire him to drive a stolen Mercedes-Benz into a crowd of job seekers at a career fair.

Earthisland
05/29/2015
In Review: The Water Knife

By Paolo Bagicalupi Knopf, 2015, 376 pages Paolo Bagicalupi's new near-future thriller arrives at a depressingly appropriate moment. As the Golden State enters its fourth year of drought, with snowpack at an all-time low and unprecedented mandatory rationing being imposed, headlines in the New York Times blare "The End of California?"

The Los Angeles Review of Books
09/05/2015
Superbeings Who Walk the Boundaries - The Los Angeles Review of Books

IN A GLOBAL MARKET where nearly every popular medium - from comics and prose to television and film - is saturated with superheroes, what can a writer do to keep his or her head above the tidal wave of superpowered narrative? When you create a cadre of superbeings who fight toe-to-toe with...

The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram
11/15/2015
Book Review: New Pendergast crime story thrills but steps too far from reality - The Portland...

increase font size 'Crimson Shore,' the latest by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, sets Special Agent Pendergast and Constance Greene on the hunt to solve a mystery in small-town New England. Over the course of 15 novels, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have created one of the most distinctive - and eccentric - sleuths in the history of crime fiction.

Paloaltoonline
Other people's stories

In 2007, during the seven years of researching and writing his novel, "The Orphan Master's Son," Adam Johnson spent five days in North Korea, taking in sights unavailable to all but a few Westerners.

SFGate
11/19/2014
'The Peripheral,' by William Gibson: review

The sequence brilliantly caught the paranoid tenor of the times, and its mix of drily funny social commentary and spy thriller mechanics allowed its author to stretch his storytelling craft in fascinating and rewarding new directions. Four years after the publication of the final volume, with a collection of nonfiction published in the interim, Gibson wholeheartedly jumps back into science fiction with "The Peripheral."

Paloaltoonline
Letting the reader in

It's been 10 years since Ann Beattie, author of "Chilly Scenes of Winter" and "Mrs. Nixon," last delivered a collection of new stories. The arrival of "The State We're In: Maine Stories" finds her ruminating on loss, longing and loneliness in Vacationland and beyond.

Common Sense Media
Tin Star

Stand-alone review

Paloaltoonline
Cracking the comics code

Twenty years ago, headlines trumpeted the observation, "Comics aren't just for kids anymore!" In today's superhero-saturated media landscape, however, the more pressing concern might be, "Which of all these comics should kids -- and adults -- be reading?"

The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram
11/08/2015
Book Review: Irving proves his prose still packs a punch in 'Avenue of Mysteries' - The Portland...

increase font size The author's latest novel is full of his signature quirks and characters, along with a few new wrinkles. "Avenue of Mysteries" is unquestionably a John Irving novel. Even if its author's name were redacted from the reading copy, anyone familiar with his books, from "Setting Free the Bears" to "In One Person," would be able to guess its provenance.

Paloaltoonline
The writer's voice: A conversation with Elizabeth Strout

Having won the Pulitzer Prize for her 2008 novel-in-stories "Olive Kitteridge," Elizabeth Strout has now delivered another book about motherhood and parenting, secrets kept and revelations deferred. How well can we know our parents? How well can we know ourselves?

Paloaltoonline
Game on for Ernest Cline

Ernest Cline's career as a science fiction novelist is only slightly less unlikely than the tales he spins of alien invasions and virtual reality.

Broadcast/Multimedia

Nhmagazine
New Hampshire's UFO History and the Exeter UFO Festival

By Michael Berry, Photos by Dave Mendelsohn Fifty years ago this September, UFOs came to Exeter. They haven't left. The history of unidentified flying objects in the skies of New Hampshire is long, varied and weird. It includes two hugely celebrated cases that caught the popular imagination and served as harbingers of hundreds of other encounters occurring across the decades and around the globe.

Marketing Writing

Essays & Interviews

Austinchronicle
11/06/2015
Welcome to Night Vale The Novel

You know about Night Vale, right? It's that lonely Southwestern desert town inhabited by ghosts, angels, hooded figures, and sinister government agents. It's where fictional character Cecil Palmer reads the news on the Community Radio station and a glowing cloud hovers in the sky and watches over all.

SFGate
10/22/2015
'Slade House,' by David Mitchell

For longtime readers, the book offered amusing callbacks to Mitchell's earlier novels, including "Black Swan Green," "Cloud Atlas" and "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet." Some critics could not abide the metaphysical superheroics of the penultimate section, in which the near-immortal Horologists faced off against the vampiric Anchorites - but few could deny the audacity of the narrative action or the skill with which it was choreographed.

Book Columns

SFGate
10/01/2015
'Gold Fame Citrus,' by Claire Vaye Watkins

Sometime in the near future, after the aquifers have been pumped dry and the farms of the Central Valley have blown away, Los Angeles holdouts Luz Dunn and Ray spend their hot, sweaty days holed up in the Laurel Canyon residence of an unnamed starlet, drinking cola rations, fending off encroaching rodents and stealing gasoline to run the former owner's Karmann Ghia.

SFGate
09/03/2015
Aurora and others

In his new novel, Kim Stanley Robinson, author of "2312," "Shaman" and "The Mars Trilogy," examines the fallacy in that kind of "trash one planet, move on the next" thinking. Seven generations of its approximately 2,000 human inhabitants have lived in biomes mimicking the various habitats of their home planet.

SFGate
06/25/2015
Where and others

New science fiction and fantasy titles Kit Reed, author of "The Story Until Now," "The Baby Merchant" and a host of other strange, unsettling and singular novels and stories, delivers a new metaphysical thriller set on the Outer Carolina Banks. Despite his better judgment, architect David Ribault agrees to a mysterious early-morning meeting with land developer Rawson Steel.

Custom Publishing Editing

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