In A Vision of Light, by Judith Merkle Riley, Margaret of Ashbury is a rather ordinary albeit quite pretty woman—ordinary that is, except for the Voice she sometimes hears and the visions she sometimes sees. One day, the Voice tells Margaret that she should write a book about the extraordinary things that have happened to her. She argues with the Voice… she is a woman so who would listen to her, and what is more, like nearly everybody, she does not know how to write. And further, she has not done any great deeds worth writing about.
The Voice answered:
“Put in it what you have seen. There is nothing wrong with being a woman, and doing ordinary things. Sometimes small deeds can show big ideas. As for writing, do as others do: get someone to write it for you.”
“Voice,” I said, “how do I know you are from God, and not the Devil, tempting me into something foolish?”
“Margaret,” answered the Voice, “isn’t it a good idea? God never gives bad ones.”
Many people wonder about the possible legal implications of their actions, given that legal cases can be financially and emotionally stressful. Although it’s impossible to predict the legal consequences of every single action in your life, How to Get Sued, by J. Craig Williams, provides a good summary of some of the main issues that can land people in legal trouble. With such chapters as “Go to Work” and “Get Married,” Williams provides humorous examples of how seemingly small issues can be inflamed by bizarre and contradictory state and local laws. Although written primarily as a humor book and lacking in deep legal analysis, How to Get Sued provides plenty of amusingly bizarre examples of how twisted the legal system—and human behavior—can potentially become.
Mr. Ali is a bored gentleman, a bit of a perfectionist, and—much to his wife’s chagrin—recently retired and constantly underfoot. Mr. Ali clearly needs something to do with his cleverness. His rather small house with carefully tended garden and comfortable veranda is a beautiful, small haven in the heart of a busy Indian city, but it is not enough to hold the interest of a man so distinguished and wise. And so, The Marriage Bureau for Rich People began in the Alis’ front room.
During the early 90s, it became fashionable in some contexts to try to rewrite or downplay aspects of older stories that would be considered sexist, racist, or bigoted in a modern context. Although well-meaning in its intent, this concept ended up creating a great many revisionist versions of old stories that had a tendency to lose the original context of the tales with a newfound preoccupation on social issues. James Finn Garner parodied this trend in two mid-90s collections of short stories, Politically Correct Bedtime Stories and Once Upon a More Enlightened Time. These two novella-length collections are composed of parodies of classic fairy tales with plots and characters reinterpreted in a “politically correct” style. Although the amount of laughs each “bedtime story” generates are uneven, the best of the stories make for entertaining, quick reads that will amuse readers looking for subversive wit.
Military science fiction has been a major part of the science fiction genre since the publication of Robert A. Heinlein’s classic Starship Troopers in 1959. For the most part, military science fiction is not thought of as humorous, but one exception to this rule is Harry Harrison’s hilarious satirical novel Bill the Galactic Hero. The story of a cowardly, naïve, and none-too-bright young man who becomes an unwitting enlistee in a deadly, galaxy-spanning war, Harrison’s novel is filled with deadpan humor, bizarre situations, and satire of the conventions of military science fiction.
Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” is a short story about Gregor Samsa, a salesman who wakes up one day to find himself turned into a large insect. It is a grim tale of social alienation that is frequently considered one of the most depressing short stories ever written. How could any writer possibly expand such a profoundly melancholy text into a novel-length adaptation? Quirk Classics, the specialty publisher behind such “revised” versions of classic texts as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Android Karenina, has attempted this with The Meowmorphosis, an adaptation of “The Metamorphosis” that has Gregor turning into a human-sized kitten rather than a bug. Although perhaps still too grim for some tastes, The Meowmorphosis does provide an interesting take on social alienation and a clever satire on Kafka’s writing technique.
What if you had never noticed the small things in life? Having lived a privileged life defined by ceremonies and duties, would you have had the time to notice the subtle changes in behavior of the people around you when upset, worried, or flustered? And what would make you start noticing? This is the premise for the brilliantly witty audiobook The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett.
In this audiobook, richly-narrated by the author, the Queen, having never read for pleasure, stumbles upon a bookmobile outside the gates of Buckingham Palace and feels duty bound to check out a book. While she dutifully finishes the first book she checks out, she feels duty bound once again to check out a second book, which is the one that captures her attention and leads to her rabid consumption of books. Helping the Queen on this journey is Norman, a kitchen boy in the palace, who is promoted to page after his encounter with the Queen in the bookmobile. With Norman as her accomplice, the Queen is introduced to an array of authors and begins to see the world through other people’s eyes.
The year is 1912, and the Torrington family is caught on the cusp between a graceful if dying and class-conscious era and the fast-paced, more egalitarian and sometimes brutishness of the coming modern world. And for all that it is Emerald Torrington’s birthday on her family’s grand English estate, she was finding it terribly soothing that morning to pull uselessly at weeds and try to not cry, grown-up and beautiful young woman as she was. There would be a party in the evening—chocolate cake with green spun-sugar roses in her honor—and it would be the carefully-planned, best effort her lovely mother and their devoted housekeeper could put together, for all that her world—and everyone’s—seems to be ending. And then The Uninvited Guests show up.
The Sirens of Titan might be one of Kurt Vonnegut’s lesser-known novels, but it deserves just as much praise and attention as Slaughterhouse-Five or Cat’s Cradle. Vonnegut’s tendency to combine satire and existential inquiry gives Sirens an invigorating edge. It is an inventive drama, one that successfully incorporates space travel, dark humor, apathetic deities, and bleak ruminations on the futility of human progress.
Oh, John Scalzi, how I love you (~swoons~). Your likeable characters, intricate but uncomplicated plots, your passion for science fiction. . . you COMPLETE me. And your latest offering, Redshirts, does not disappoint. I knew the moment I read the title oh, so many months ago, that the Trekkie in me would melt at the book's first words. I was not mistaken.
Growing up in a military family, Star Trek's flaws were constantly pointed out to me. That preposterous notion that the entire senior staff would be sent time and again on dangerous missions with no one with any real command experience left in charge. I didn't care. Star Trek was cool, like bow ties, fezes, and Stetsons. But I'm ashamed to say I never did notice the disturbingly high mortality rate of the red-shirted junior officer on away missions. It wasn't until years later that I heard the term "redshirt" that it occurred to me, oh yeah, those guys were always toast, weren't they? Still, I never really gave them much thought, save for when I heard someone use the term I could go "Hey, I understood that reference! Yeah, those guys died, like, A LOT, didn't they?"