After writing about films for the Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film, it’s fun to have another outlet to talk about some other things that I have recently enjoyed. Two books that I’ve finished in the last week couldn’t be more different. Nancy Kress is an award-winning science fiction novelist and short story writer. Beggars in Spain was published in 1993, a novel expanded from a previously published novella. It is an insightful near future tale that examines our society through a simple lens: what if people didn’t need to sleep? Genetic modification is all the rage, and in 2008, a new breed of genetically enhanced infants do not sleep. Instead they use all 24 hours in each day to learn, eventually excelling in what they pursue, leaving their sleeping brethren behind. As the Sleepless grow to adulthood and become fortune-making success stories, the dark prejudices of society loom their collective head. Most of the Sleepless resent the animosity directed at them, but one of the first, Leisha Camden, fights against the creation of Sanctuary, a space that is created to be a haven for the Sleepless; where they can live and prosper separate from the rest of humanity. Shunned by both the Sleepless and the Sleepers, Leisha must find her own path while somehow preventing an irreparable rift in humanity.
Kress creates plausible scenarios that are painfully familiar to many present day issues. Beggars in Spain reads very quickly, and while it examines many ideas that are traditionally the realm of the science fiction, its characters remain grounded in reality. It’s a fascinating read.
Men and Cartoons is a collection of short stories by best-selling author Jonathan Lethem. I enjoyed his 1999 novel Motherless Brooklyn a detective story about a man with Tourette’s Syndrome, but stalled out on his 2003 best-seller Fortress of Solitude (I will try again another time). Men and Cartoons is a collection of fantastic and original stories that traverse a wide range of styles. I was hooked with the first tale, “The Vision” about a man who becomse reaccquainted with a former high school classmate who used to pretend he was the Marvel comic character The Vision. Being the fantastic comic book geek that I am, and growing up with The Vision as my favorite male comic book character, this was a surefire way to get my attention. Other stories include the inventive tale of loss, “Vivian Relf,” where a man meets a young woman at a party and is sure they have met before, but they haven’t. As the years pass, Vivan continues to pop up in the most unusual circumstances ultimately coming to define his life. “Access Fantasy” is an intriguing combination of the mystery and science fiction genres. In a world where most of humanity lives caught in a never-moving traffic jam, separated from the privileged residents of apartment building, one man manages to piece the barrier to investigate a possible murder. The stories are continuously surprising and moving.