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The Devil's Alphabet Paperback – November 24, 2009

3.9 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Gregory (Pandemonium) produces a quietly brilliant second novel. As a teen, Paxton Martin left the town of Switchcreek, Tenn., to escape a scandal and the retrovirus that afflicted many of the town's inhabitants. Many died hideously, and most survivors turned into strange creatures: towering argos, parthenogenic betas, enormously obese charlies. A decade later, Pax returns home to attend the funeral of a close friend who has committed suicide. Hoping to avoid his estranged father, Pax plans to leave immediately after the funeral, but he soon finds himself caught up in both the complexities of his old life and the deep quantum weirdness that Switchcreek has become. A wide variety of believable characters, a well-developed sense of place and some fascinating scientific speculation will earn this understated novel an appreciative audience among fans of literary SF. (Dec.)
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About the Author

Daryl Gregory's first novel, Pandemonium, was published in 2008 and won the 2009 Crawford Award, given each year by critics and scholars of the fantasy field to "an oustanding new fantasy writer whose first book was published the previous year." The book was also a finalist for The Shirley Jackson Award, the Locus Award, and the Mythopoeic Award for best fantasy adult novel. Gregory's short stories have appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov's, several year's-best anthologies, and other fine venues. In 2005 Gregory recieved the Asimov's Readers' Award for the novelette "Second Person, Present Tense." He lives with his wife and two children in State College, Pennsylvania, where he writes both fiction and web code.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey; Original edition (November 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345501179
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345501172
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #320,126 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Daryl Gregory writes genre-mixing novels, short stories, and comics. His next novel is AFTERPARTY, a near-future story about consciousness, religion, and cutting-edge drugs that will be published by Tor Books in early 2014.

His first novel, PANDEMONIUM, appeared from Del Rey Books in 2008 and won the Crawford Award for 2009. It was also a finalist for several other awards, including the Shirley Jackson Award and the World Fantasy Award. It's a romp that takes in Jungian archetypes, superheroes, and demonic possession.

His second novel, 2009's THE DEVIL'S ALPHABET published by Del Rey Books, was named one of the best books of the year by Publisher's Weekly and was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award. The novel combines murder, quantum evolution, and religion in a small mountain town.

RAISING STONY MAYHALL, his third novel, also from Del Rey Books, appeared in 2011. It was named one of the best SF books of the year by Library Journal. It's a coming of age tale about the most polite living dead boy you'd ever want to meet.

Many of his stories are collected in UNPOSSIBLE AND OTHER STORIES, which was published by Fairwood Press in 2011. The collection named one of the best books of the year from Publisher's Weekly. Most of those stories appeared in Asimov's, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and a variety of "year's best" anthologies and foreign editions. His story "Second Person, Present Tense" won the Asimov's Readers' Choice Award and was a Sturgeon finalist. The stories run the gamut from neuroscience to religion to superheroes.

Daryl lives in State College, Pennsylvania with his wife, a couple of teenagers, and a passive-aggressive dog. He's online at darylgregory.com.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I stumbled onto one of Daryl Gregory's short stories ("Unpossible") in a yearly anthology and instantly became a fan of his work. THE DEVIL'S ALPHABET is entirely different than Unpossible, but because of reading the short story first I expected to be left with a great feeling in the end and I was not disappointed.

I found something from Gregory himself in an interview he gave to Locus Magazine, and not surprisingly it describes the book well:

START QUOTE "I turned in my second novel, and it's totally unrelated to Pandemonium. Instead of a fantasy that feels like science fiction, it's a hard SF book that feels like fantasy. It's got a working title of Oh, You Pretty Things, a riff on the David Bowie song. It's about quantum evolution running wild in a tiny Tennessee mountain town. I'm calling it a Southern Gothic/science fiction/murder mystery." END QUOTE

I would've rather seen Gregory's suggested title and a less creepy-looking cover for the book, because I think that would have portrayed the book more accurately (plus, David Bowie). There is definitely enough suspense in the book (its biggest mystery is a whodunnit), but it isn't a fast-paced thriller, and it comes across much more charming than it does frightening. Yet its premise is a sufficiently weird SF/F one, and I mean that as a compliment. It's not a story with nice shades of grey.

The book reads like a rich literary work, especially, I think, toward the beginning. As the book goes along, I thought the pace picked up some and there is a bit less description.
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Format: Paperback
[close] As a reader, I operate under a strict "you can't judge a book by its cover" policy. The Devil's Alphabet tested that resolve, though. When I picked it up at the library, my 4-year-old daughter cringed. "Ew, that's scary, mom," she said. And she's right - the cover art is a little dark. But like many books, I quickly discovered that the image on the cover is more unsettling than any of the content within.

I was expecting a sci-fi/horror story, but I was surprised to discover that Daryl Gregory's second novel is really neither of these things. Sure, it's sci-fi in that the story takes place in an alternate reality with some pretty fantastic characters unlike anything I've ever encountered. But beneath all that, The Devil's Alphabet reads more like a gothic southern mystery akin to something Charlaine Harris might dream up.

The plot is too complicated and rich to sum up effectively in a short review, but here's it in a nutshell: Paxton Martin is the prodigal son returning to his hometown of Switchcreek, Tenn. to attend his childhood best friend's funeral. But Switchcreek is not your average small town --it's the site of the TDS crisis, an unexplained epidemic that swept through the community 15 years ago and left 30 percent of the town dead, and nearly everyone else changed in some way. His best friend, Deke is an "argo" -- the result of the first wave of the disease, which left people gray-skinned, sterile and more than 8-feet tall. His friend Jo, recently deceased, was turned into a beta -- the spontaneously-breeding, bald, burgundy-skinned victims of the second wave of the disorder. Paxton's father, Harlan -- a former pastor -- is a "charlie" -- the morbidly obese clade that emerged in the final stage of the Changes.
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Format: Paperback
Mr. Gregory should have chosen a different title and cover art because they are a bit misleading. They paint a picture of horror and suspense. This book is not a horror novel or thriller in any sense. This is more a biological mystery slash sci/fi. The book is about a biological disaster that befalls a small Tennessee town that kills many residents and mutates most of the survivors into three classes, the tall gangly lurch-like alphas, the hairless, asexual reproducing and red skinned betas, and the extremely muscle-bound, obese and aphrodisiac producing (the vintage) charlies. The main is character Paxton, who is called a skip, because the disease had no effect on him. Paxton returns to town many years after the disaster to uncover the mysterious death of a close friend who has recently died. This is not a bad book by any means; it is a good whodunnit with sci/fi in the background. To me, it felt a little unfinished. The ending left a little to be desired and the answers it provided were short of my expectations. I do recommend this novel to sci/fi enthusiasts. This is not a book for someone who is looking for a horror novel.
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Format: Paperback
Switchcreek was once a small town like any other, until a mysterious disease swept through, killing many residents and transforming even more into one of three new humanoid species. Pax is an even rarer oddity: a human left untouched by the disease. Now, 13 years after leaving, Pax returns to his childhood home to attend a friend's funeral, and his stay in Switchcreek may reveal much about his own past and the town's strange biology and society. The Devil's Alphabet's intrigue is its premise. Unusual and often mysterious, Switchcreek's strangeness is what grabs the reader's interest and holds it through the length of the novel. Gregory often manages a balance between confusion and explication that avoids frustration while encouraging constant investigation, a recipe for a compelling, addicting novel. But the unusual premise--and the emphasis placed upon it--is also the book's greatest weakness. Many questions offered by the premise go unanswered, which is realistic and understandable but also leaves the book without a strong conclusion: the premise ends at it began, complex and mysterious, begging another look--but offering none.

The emphasis placed upon the premise meanwhile overshadows other aspects like character and plot. These aspects do still exist, of course: Pax rides the edge of antihero, making him at once deeply flawed and sympathetic, and the distinctly human, uniquely alien individuals and societies of Switchcreek offer significant interest and depth; together, this makes for a strong cast of characters. The plot, built on the mystery of Pax's friend's death, is solid but unremarkable. It goes through the motions of beginning, middle, and end; the problem comes when the plot ends and the mystery of the premise, which has capitalized the reader's attention, continues.
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