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June 22, 2007 Edition
There’s nothing wrong with Chick Lit – you know, the fluffy-looking book you slip under a magazine when your SO enters the room – but this is not it. Instead of shopping as therapy, there are stories of charity and hard work. Instead of calorie counting and plastic surgery, you’ll find steak-eating contests and Joan of Arc. Authors such as Jennifer Egan, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Holiday Reinhorn, and Mary Gordon make this a rich, thoughtful, and varied read.
Sisters Emma and Katy are on their way to take over Bitsy’s B & B in the Ozarks, part of the new life that Emma hopes will rejuvenate her little sister after a long and bitter divorce. But B & B in this part of the country turns out to mean something completely other than the cozy inn the sisters envisioned. Emma’s six-year old nephew is delighted by the reality of nightcrawlers, but his mother and aunt find small town life and their new run-down business daunting. To everyone’s surprise (and Emma’s relief) though, it seems like Katy’s finally found her calling.
Parodying self-help books and skewering superheroes, this is a sly dig into popular culture from several directions. In a world that has lost its super-villains, do super-heroes have any reason to live? Dr. Eva Brain-Silverman is doing her best to make sure they do, before the Fantastic Order of Justice (FOOJ) members start taking their neuroses out on each other and innocent bystanders. From Power Grrl, whose crime-fighting abilities are second only to her music career, clothing line, and sex scandals, to The Flying Squirrel, who is still stewing over the defection of his side kick Chip Monk years before, this is a convoluted mass of ability and dysfunction that is a lot of fun to read.
Once a month, in an ancient city suspended by chains over the abyss of the god Ulcis, the last female angel comes out of hiding to kill a human and drain the body of blood to sustain herself. Once a month, assassin Rachel Hael tries to stop her – but Deepgate is filled with people and hiding places, and is home to another killer who mimics Carnival’s methods. The last male angel, 16-year old Dill, is kept protected and untrained in flying and fighting, though he is a descendant of the city’s original protectors. And the city is going to need him very soon, as a traitor has already planted the seeds of its destruction. Together, Rachel, Carnival, and Dill begin the battle to save Deepgate and its residents.
Each of these six short stories has been published elsewhere, but their impact is magnified by their close contact. Doctorow is known for his excellent speculative fiction, and this collection does not disappoint. From the very short opening story, “Printcrime,” in which 3-D printers can be used to manufacture anything, to “After the Siege,” the long, closing story of the destruction of a city in the service of reality TV, Doctorow plays with the uses and rules of new technologies. His moods range from the chilling “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth,” featuring bioterrorism and valiant techies, to the amusing homage to Asimov’s robots, “I, Row-Boat.”
In 1715, James Stuart the Pretender is hiding in France, keeping busy inciting his followers in England to rise up against King George I. Fearing that all Roman Catholics support James, King George exiles them from London proper and further outrages the public by curtailing free speech and the press. Hester Kean hears that her naïve brother Jeremy has been imprisoned for writing traitorous pamphlets, for which the punishment is death. Convinced of his innocence, she prevails upon her friend, the outlawed earl who has renamed himself Blue Satan, to help untangle the charges against her brother. Based on historical events, this is an exuberant and gripping mystery.