Recent Reading: August 2017
Here’s what I’ve been reading lately: novellas, nonfiction, and manga.
The Invisible Hand: A Play by Ayad Akhtar
Back Bay Books, 2015.
In this play, a middle-manager at a hedge-fund is kidnapped by extremists in Pakistan. Nobody will pay ransom for him, so instead he needs to play the stock market to make his ransom. It’s a brilliant pitch and the way it’s executed makes for my favorite type of theatre.
The Things We Do For Love by K.J. Parker
Reprinted in The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Novellas: 2015 Edition, edited by Paula Guran, Prime Books, 2015.
One of my favorite things about the TV show Futurama is the character of Bender. He’s a character with great enthusiasm for the baser things in life—money, drugs, stealing, cheating, and the like. He’s upfront and honest about his base values, and somehow that makes him a tremendously fun character.
K.J. Parker has a great skill for writing characters like Bender. The narrator in The Things We Do For Love is a lot like Bender; he’s an unapologetic thief, who actually undergoes a personal crisis when he discovers he has been doing good for much of his life. Parker also adds enough philosophical depth to his stories to make it interesting, but never compromises his story for the ideas. This makes for really fun reads. This is one of my favorite novellas by him, and I’ve read a few others.
Also, The Things We Do For Love has one of the funniest opening scenes I’ve come across:
"It's perfectly true, gentlemen of the jury," I said. "I murdered my wife. I put hemlock in her milk, she drank it, she died. It was no accident. I did it on purpose."
I glanced nervously over their heads at the sundial on the far wall. Time was getting on. How long does it take to find a self-confessed murderer guilty and string him up, for crying out loud? But the jurors were gazing at me solemnly, still and quiet as little mice, expecting more. What? Did they think the confession, the cut-and-dried, open-and-shut admission of guilt I'd just so thoughtfully given them was some sort of rhetorical trick? Yes, probably. In any event, they weren't convinced. I blame the lawyers.
"Just to clarify," I said. "I did it. The mandatory sentence for murder is, I believe, death." I lowered my head. "I rest my case."
Killing Gravity by Corey J. White
Tor.com, 2017. View book details on Tor.com.
Are you still in withdrawal from Firefly getting canceled? This novella might hold you over for a couple days.
In Killing Gravity, a mean, shadowy group cruelly experiments on young women and girls, somehow giving them physic powers. One of those women, Mariam Xi, escapes, meets up with a crew of quasi-outlaws, and seeks revenge.
It was a fun read, but I’m not sure I’m coming back for the sequel.
Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw
Tor.com, 2016. View book details on Tor.com.
In this novella, a young kid asks a monster to kill another monster. Fast moving, with a couple good twists. I loved the narrator voice—a hard-edged, 1950s private investigator type voice—but it did start to wear on me by the end.
On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt
Princeton University Press, 2005.
It would probably be a good idea for every US American citizen to read this essay by Quinta Jurecic: “On Bullshit and the Oath of Office: The ‘LOL Nothing Matters’ Presidency,” and then this short book by Harry Frankfurt. This is also a great, related essay: “What Happens When We Don’t Believe the President’s Oath?” by Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes.
Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya
This manga series tells the story of Tohru Honda and the Sohma family, a family cursed to be possessed by the spirits of the zodiac animals.
What’s really impressive about this manga series is how well it handles its large cast of characters. The core ensemble consists of over fifteen characters. Most of the characters start off in a place of darkness, but over the course of the series, they grow and mature into really beautiful people tied together in a very human web of mutual relationships. Natsuki Takaya does a phenomenal job managing this large cast of characters: developing their personalities, giving each character a complete arc, and just letting the characters hang out and have fun together.