The X-Men are often cited as a pop culture metaphor for the struggles of persecuted peoples in the face of bigotry. But the allegory is far from perfect. It's barely even present in the foundational DNA of the earliest comics. The idea of "mutants" was initially just an excuse to skip over the origin stories and get straight to the super-powered superhero antics. These days, we commonly hear comparisons between Magneto and Professor X to Malcolm X and MLK. Even though it's, erm, not quite accurate. And even though Magneto started out by literally calling his team "The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants."
But Bob Proehl's new novel, The Nobody People, takes the opposite approach. Proehl is a friend of mine — I even wrote a song to help him promote the book, before I actually I read it — and he'll pretty openly admit that he envisioned it as a sort-of love letter to the X-Men. Whereas the X-Men began as pulpy superhero comics that eventually mutated into a political metaphor, The Nobody People starts with the metaphor, and mutates into a powerful personal drama. Here, the super-powered individuals are known as Resonants, and at the start of the novel, their presence is largely hidden from the modern world. The first part of the book mostly follows war correspondent Avi Hirsch, an amputee who learns that his biracial daughter is one of those powered Resonants; once they're outed, the book shifts into a sort of Bildungsroman, with a series of episodes that follow the logical progression of what always happens when a marginalized group tries to claim their own tiny corner in a world full of ignorance of hate. Read the rest
William Gibson's 2014 novel, The Peripheral, is on sale today as a Kindle edition for just .
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Flynne Fisher lives down a country road, in a rural America where jobs are scarce, unless you count illegal drug manufacture, which she’s trying to avoid. Her brother Burton lives on money from the Veterans Administration, for neurological damage suffered in the Marines’ elite Haptic Recon unit. Flynne earns what she can by assembling product at the local 3D printshop. She made more as a combat scout in an online game, playing for a rich man, but she’s had to let the shooter games go.
Wilf Netherton lives in London, seventy-some years later, on the far side of decades of slow-motion apocalypse. Things are pretty good now, for the haves, and there aren’t many have-nots left. Wilf, a high-powered publicist and celebrity-minder, fancies himself a romantic misfit, in a society where reaching into the past is just another hobby.
Burton’s been moonlighting online, secretly working security in some game prototype, a virtual world that looks vaguely like London, but a lot weirder. He’s got Flynne taking over shifts, promised her the game’s not a shooter. Still, the crime she witnesses there is plenty bad.
Flynne and Wilf are about to meet one another. Her world will be altered utterly, irrevocably, and Wilf’s, for all its decadence and power, will learn that some of these third-world types from the past can be badass.
George Stephanopoulos asked Stephen King to describe his new (and 61st!) book, The Institute. His answer, "Tom Brown's Schooldays go to Hell." Sounds like my kind of book, considering Tom Brown's schooldays were already pretty awful.
Image: Good Morning America/YouTube Read the rest
Flatland is a novel by Edwin Abbott Abbott, published in 1884. It's written as a biography by "A. Square," a two-dimensional creature who is literally a living square, thinner than a sheet of paper. He lives with other two-dimensional creatures on a surface called Flatland. In the book, Mr. Square tells of his adventures in worlds of different dimensions: Pointland (zero dimensions), Lineland (one dimension), and Spaceland (three dimensions) all inhabited with creatures suited for their respective worlds. Abbott does a wonderful job of world building, explain how the society (a satire of the Victorian society) and infrastructure of Flatland works. Even though the book was written 135 years ago, I found it very easy to read. Amazon is selling the Dover edition of Flatland for less than the price of a cup of coffee. I just bought it for my daughter. Read the rest
Just because books are lauded today, doesn't mean they weren't, in their own time, received with anger, fear, and disdain. Some of the most valuable works of literature we have got their start amidst disgrace and outrage, though in the long run at least, they didn't seem to suffer too much for it.
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
The New York Times did not like Lolita. The full quote goes a little something like this: “There are two equally serious reasons why it isn't worth any adult reader's attention. The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive.” Way harsh, Times.
Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
The Brontës were probably quite used to ruffling feathers, and the reaction Wuthering Heights got says a lot about how revolutionary they were. This isn't your average, delicate story for ladies, and it left the Graham's Lady's Magazine wondering “how a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters.”
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
Steinbeck's tragic depiction of dustbowl living rocked the world when it came out, and The Grapes of Wrath has been steadily banned ever since. Funnily enough, though it was labeled communist propaganda stateside, the book was also banned in the USSR by Stalin, who thought it dangerous to show that even the poorest American could own a car.
The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Read the rest
Halimah Marcus and Benjamin Samuel's "Handy Chart Automatically Generates a Pitch for Your New Novel"
The Electric Literature auto-publicist pitch generator does all that work for you—and it’s easy to use! If you’re Beyoncé, for instance: first of all, welcome, we’re glad you read the site. Second of all, you would look up “b” in column A, “e” in column B, “y” in column C, “o” in column D, and so forth, and then plug them into the sentence below. The result: “A keenly observed war epic about an overbearing mistress’s quest to grapple with her sexless marriage.”
It instructed me to write "a riveting autobiographical novel about a wealthy orphan's dream to confront their traumatic childhood." Read the rest
At the end of S. E. Hinton's classic 1967 novel The Outsiders, both Johnny and Dally die tragically. But what do their deaths mean? Is it a narrative device that pushes on the novel's themes of class conflict, the meaning of family, and the transition to adulthood? Nope, tweets S.E. Hinton in response to a reader's query. The reason for their deaths is much simpler than all that:
(A/V Club) Read the rest
I can't quite believe this is real: a novel by former movie star and Putin pal Steven Seagal, with a foreword by racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio, titled "The Way of the Shadow Wolves", with a cover that looks like a photoshopped parody of itself.
This is the story of an Arizona Tribal police officer who stumbles onto one of the of the biggest cases in the history of the Southwest. He is a member of an elite group within the Native American communities known as The Shadow Wolves. What comes with his discovery is the uncovering of massive corruption in places where he once had placed his total trust.
It's $0 on Amazon Prime and 236 pages long. It's 11 p.m. and I have a freakish suspicion that if I start, I won't stop. So I won't.
Here's the first paragraph, which is also, of course, the first page:
Behold the reviews:
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Of all the outlandish technologies I propose in The Punch Escrow, the one nobody seems to ever take umbrage with is “printing.” For those who haven’t read my book, a base assumption I make about 22nd century Earth is that we will be able to 3D print pretty much anything: the food we eat, the silverware we eat it with, heck, maybe even some people to join us for dinner.
Tal M. Klein's The Punch Escrow is available from Amazon.
How? E=mc2. Really, it all comes down to E=mc2; Einstein’s energy-matter equivalence principle. This equation tells us that mass is just another form of energy. That means we should be able to take some mass and directly convert it into pure energy, a thesis supported by real evidence. For example, it’s how we explain the energy that keeps atomic nuclei together. If we were to weigh the nucleus of any atom, we’d find it weighed slightly less than the sum of its parts. Where’d the extra heft go? It was converted into energy -- the “glue” holding everything together (in other words, dude, energy is the carpet of our universe). Since E=mc2 is a balanced formula, we should be able to -- at least in theory --convert energy to mass.
In quantum mechanics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle allows energy to briefly decay into particles and antiparticles which then transmogrify back to pure energy. At small enough scales, the energy of these fluctuations would be large enough to cause significant departures from the smooth spacetime seen at macroscopic scales, giving spacetime a "foamy" character. Read the rest
The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End by Ken Follet's are two lenghthy novels about a fictional medieval English town called Kingsbridge. When I read them years ago I became immersed in a world of conflict, betrayal, and scheming. In a way, the novels are like Game of Thrones (at least the TV series; I have not read the books) without magic. I did expect Follet to write a third book about Kingsbridge, but he did. and it's coming on September 12. It's called A Column of Fire. They sent me an advance copy, so as soon as I finish the book I'm currently reading (Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters)
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This third book in the bestselling Kingsbridge series introduces readers to a world of spies and secret agents in the sixteenth century, the time of Queen Elizabeth I. Set during one of the most turbulent and revolutionary times in history, this novel is one of Follett’s most exciting and ambitious works yet, appealing to both long-time fans of the Kingsbridge series as well as readers new to Follett.
A Column of Fire begins in 1558 where the ancient stones of Kingsbridge Cathedral look down on a city torn apart by religious conflict. As power in England shifts precariously between Catholics and Protestants, high principles clash bloodily with friendship, loyalty, and love. It’s the perfect epic, escapist read for the fall, after Game of Thrones leaves airwaves, transporting the reader to another century with its own heroes and villains.
I enjoyed Rob Reid's 2013 science fiction humor novel, Year Zero, about a pan-galactic conspiracy by aliens who would rather destroy Earth than pay music royalties. Next month, Rob has a new novel coming out called After On, and I'm excited to read it. Here's what my friend Hugh Howey (author of the Wool series) has to say about After On: "Rob Reid doesn’t write science fiction; he writes future history. After On is the best account I’ve read of how superintelligence will arrive and what it will mean for all of us. Hilarious, frightening, believable, and marvelously constructed — After On has it all.”
If you want a sneak preview, you can read it on Medium, which is publishing twelve episodic excerpts from After On, starting today. Medium will also publish Rob's After On podcast that explores themes from the novel and interviews folks like Sam Harris, Steve Jurvetson, and Adam Gazzaley -- "on the future of tech, AI, and consciousness."
Here's what Rob wrote in a Medium post about his novel:
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Set in present-day San Francisco, After On is the tale of an imaginary social media startup. A rather diabolical one, which attains consciousness. Its personality then emerges from its roots as a social network. So rather than going all Terminator and killing everyone, it basically becomes a hyper-empowered, superintelligent, 14-year-old brat. Yes, it has playful aspects. But After On is also a serious rumination on super AI risk — as well as on the promises and perils of synthetic biology.
Trish Vickers of Dorset, England, decided to write a novel. Though blind, she preferred to work the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper, with her son dropping in weekly to type up the results. On one visit, though, she learned to her horror that her pen had ran out of ink fully 26 pages ago. But all was not lost!
Not knowing what else to do, she and Simon called the police. To the Vickers’s surprise, officers at Dorset HQ volunteered to work during their breaks and free time, hoping to use their forensic tools to help. And, five months later, the police reported back with success: they recovered the never-written words. Vickers told a local newspaper that the pen she used to write the pages — even though there was no ink left in it — left behind a series of indentations: “I think they used a combination of various lights at different angles to see if they could get the impression made by my pen.”
Vickers finished the book, Grannifer's Legacy, and died the day it was published. [via MeFi] Read the rest
"Your first doomsday machine is a malevolent, inscrutable wristwatch.”
The Please Don't Tell My Parents series, by Richard Roberts, is a wonderful young adult series of novels about Penelope Akk and her two friends Claire and Ray. They are normal middle school kids just hoping their superpowers will kick in soon. Read the rest
I have a Kindle Paperwhite and use it almost every day. About a year ago I was on a plane and when I took my seat belt off the buckle hit the screen damaged it. It still works but it has a distracting white spot where the buckle landed. I've been looking for a reason to buy the superior Kindle Voyage, but at $(removed), I couldn't justify it to myself. But Amazon started selling refurbished Voyages for $(removed), which is low enough for me to hit Amazon's patented 1-Click Buy Now button. Hopefully I'll get it in time to finish reading A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin. If you like Patricia Highsmith, you will like this novel about a charming young psychopath. Levin also wrote Rosemary's Baby and The Stepford Wives, two of my favorite movies. Read the rest
Currently a columnist for Deadspin, GQ, and other outlets, Drew Magary crafted his voice writing blisteringly satires of NFL players, coaches, and fans like Rex Ryan, Michael Vick, Rex Grossman, and “Tommy from Quinzee” at the NFL-related humor blog KissingSuzyKolber. He gained his greatest renown in a 2013 profile of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson for GQ that brightly illuminated Robertson’s homophobia and lead to Robertson’s brief suspension from the show.
But to get a grasp of this captivating writer’s career to date and put his new novel, The Hike, in its proper context, it helps to go back to the start of his online career. Magary began to draw attention in the blogosphere as “Big Daddy Drew” on a blog called “Father Knows Shit” and as an early, popular commenter on Deadspin, and the blogging medium and FKS’ uproarious view of fatherhood remains a touchstone for his work. As he recently told me, “You know me, I never shut … up about dad crap. I try to use any available material I have in hand because it helps make the characters feel grounded and because I always try to get deep inside myself and try to get that on the page.”
Magary’s first novel, The Postmortal (2011), is a fascinating update to the epistolary form as he used a series of blog entries to craft his novel’s premise of a world without aging and the myriad complications to society that result. It was a deft move that combined the strengths of his non-fiction and online satire into the novel’s form and content. Read the rest
Great opening lines from literature, in one large image.
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Described as a "mix between Game of Thrones and House of Cards," a novella written by late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has finally been translated to English. Written in the last days of his rule, the plot reportedly "revolves around a Zionist-Christian conspiracy against Arabs," a presumably unsurprising topic to fans. Read the rest