My staff picks are all over the map, but my special love is for science fiction and history.
What you think your job is at Left Bank Books? Saving civilization, one book at a time
If you had a Super Power, what would it be? Slowing time, so I can catch up
What’s your sign? Copyright 1954
What’s your favorite memory? I have to pick?
Using only one word, describe yourself. overextended
If they made a movie about your life, who would play you? Martin Freeman
Stick or Automatic? Both
Author you love to hate: Dan Brown
Theme song to your life: Wondrous Stories
Like the last work of Greenblatt's I read (The Swerve) I was struck by his clear prose and narrative sense as well as his extensive historical knowledge and command of the interconnectedness of a wide range of elements. This work takes a look at one of the central myths of christianity, namely the story of Adam and Eve, and examines its staying power, how and why in spite of centuries of, essentially, debunking the story tenaciously clings to our collective psyche. As allegory, this is no mystery---it's a compelling story---but the fact that so many people still assert its factual reality leads us into the murkiness of our ability to deceive ourselves and ignore evidence. He also does a good job showing how that myth became the source of a millennia-long embrace of studied misogyny, begun primarily by St. Augustine, who somehow could not come to terms with his own erotic obsessions and his desire to become (in my view, not Greenblatt's) Other Than Human for the glory of his newfound faith after his dramatic conversion to Catholicism. The details Greenblatt offers give us ample evidence of someone who was working out personal issues at the expense of half the human population. There are surprising turns of history, of intellectual adventurism, of the human capacity to master the irrational and accept the changes demanded by reason and evidence combined into reconceptualizations of things thought long settled. And then there are the artists and, finally, Milton. Highly recommended. Mark's Staff Pick, November 2017
Annalee Newitz, cofounder and editor-in-chief of io9, has written a novel that has all the signs of being a major touchpoint in science fiction. Autonomous bases its meditations on questions of ownership and resource allocation in a future where both are matters of patent law. If this seems like improbable grounds in which to grow a gripping, nail-biting action plot, reconsider. Captain Jack Chen is a pirate with a personal submarine and a working knowledge of pharmacology. She “liberates” drugs and see them distributed through networks that get them to people who ordinarily can’t afford them. Autonomous is the kind of novel science fiction is most adept at producing—the thoughtful, philosophically-attuned thriller that leaves you with plenty to mull over once your adrenalin stops pumping.
A debut novel that evokes the best of old- fashioned science fiction adventure and adds smart elements of satire, humor, and social commentary. The crew of the Wayfarer, a bore ship that "punches" holes through subspace to connect distant locales in interstellar space via wormhole, is a collection of humans, aliens, alien humans, and an overseeing AI named Lovey. Rosemary, who is fleeing family and hiding a secret, joins them and quickly discovers a new life that is both demanding and accepting in ways she never before imagined. The dialogue alone sets this novel a cut above. The characters are all fully realized, smart, and revealing in ways that bring us into their curious family, matching a wide and crowded universe as distinctly imagined as any in the genre. An unexpected treat, built of equal parts intelligence, sensitivity, and an adult appreciation of the 12-year-old SF fan in all of us.
If H.P. Lovecraft and Saul Bellow had ever collaborated on a ghost story, the result might be very much like John Langan's debut novel House of Windows. Not so much in style, but in the way the two writers would temper each other and blend their signature motifs into something simultaneously more sinister and more sophisticated. Patiently, persistently, and with great skill, Langan has constructed a modern ghost story about nightmares and families and fouled hopes and expectations imposed and denied, with a caution at its heart, that no matter how many windows into the soul one has, if the curtains are drawn or we refuse to honestly look, we cannot truly know each other. Or ourselves.
Murderbot is one of the most unexpectedly fascinating characters in recent SF. A robot, designed for the purpose of providing security for contractors, he (she? it?) is supposed to be a superficial cache of tactical and risk assessment expertise that will put it all on the line to defend its clients. Except this one has hacked its governor module, so it is completely independent. What does a suddenly "free" murderbot do now that it doesn't have to follow orders to the letter? Why, download hundreds of hours of entertainment and tune out at every opportunity. Except again, it turns out that it still has a dedication to protecting its clients, a dedication that gradually becomes a commitment, which grows eventually into something of a cause when it becomes clear that there is something fundamentally broken with the way this universe operates, and...well, it's beginning to like its clients, which shouldn't happen, and Murderbot doesn't know how to deal with that. Fun, fascinating, fast-paced, and, underneath it all a grueling inquiry into casuistry, responsibility, and empowerment.
The Amazing Telemachus Family was once poised to thrill the world with its assortment of psychic skills. Until the day they were shamed and debunked very publicly and everything went to hell for them too quickly. And then the martriarch of the family dies, leaving her husband, Teddy, to care for a collection of frustrated exceptionals. Teddy, the con man. Teddy, the one among them who is really not psychic. Following the family from the early days of Teddy and Maureen meeting at the birth of a government program looking for psychics to combat the threat of Soviet psychics, up to a present which may or may not involve the apocalypse, Daryl Gregory deftly turns everything everyone "knows" about psychics and cons and secret government programs on its multifaceted head(s) and tells the story of a family coping with lost love, fame, innocence, the mob, old age, death, and the true nature of the universe. By turns laugh-out-loud funny, deeply affecting, and nail-bitingly tense, Spoonbenders is exactly not what you expect.