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August 10, 2007 Edition

Jake Fades, by David Guy


The great unanswerable question of this gently humorous novel is: if a zen master develops Alzheimer’s, can his followers separate the dementia from the wisdom? Jake is a reasonably fit and healthy 70-something bicycle repairman and Buddhist who is starting to lose his bearings. Hank, the long-time student who accompanies Jake on a teaching visit to Cambridge, is unnerved by Jake’s swings from lucidity to fog, and even more unnerved by Jake’s announcement that Hank will be taking over as sensei. But Jake has another reason for being in Cambridge, and by the end of the retreat, Hank realizes just how much Jake has taught them all about life, death, love, and family in this funny and meditative story.

Envious Gods, by Geoff Gillan


Magic exists and gods walk the earth in this swashbuckling fantasy featuring Nicholas Rakehell, playwright, actor, and scoundrel. Continually on a quest for glory and riches, Nicholas may have overreached himself this time with a scheme to collect reward money for stolen artifacts. He and his troupe, which includes a manic-depressive puppeteer and a number of self-important wizards, stumble into a war between gods and their only recourse is to impersonate one of them. But they pick the wrong one and are soon fighting the forces of major evil on a divine scale. What wealth is worth this?

The Thief of Time, by John Boyne.


As a teenager, Matthieu Zela flees Paris in 1758 with his little brother Tomas after the murders of their parents. They start a new life in England, but within a few decades Matthieu realizes that each brother has carried a sort of curse: Matthieu’s is to not age, while Tomas’s is to die young, leaving a namesake. By the time he’s 257, Matthieu looks 50 at most, has lived through major historical upheavals, several wives, and has watched several generations of his brother’s line – all named after his brother – die young. Now he’s on a quest to save the latest Tommy in the line.

Blindsight, by Peter Watts


What Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash” did for computer technology, “Blindsight” does for neuroscience and exobiology – that is, hone the focus of the possible into the brilliantly useful. When humanity sets out to contact an alien race that has probed Earth, the crew consists of the best and most versatile humans available. These physically altered specialists include a biologist who has been adapted to be his own laboratory and a linguist with a brain that has been surgically partitioned into a variety of independently sentient parts. But the monsters in the crew don’t begin to compare with the monsters in the alien ship.

A Far Country, by Daniel Mason


This entrancing story stretches three generations (not including the ghost), from 14-year old atheist Itzik Leiber, who saves three young Polish Jews from a beating, to Itzik’s granddaughter, who returns to Poland from America to rediscover her Jewish faith. When Itzik inadvertently causes a Polish villager’s death, his prayers for protection accidentally call the spirit of Freidl Alterman to himself. He flees Poland to make a new life for himself in America, accompanied by Freidl, who eventually returns to her home village when Nathan, Itzik’s son, goes on a business trip. But it isn’t until Ellen, Itzik’s granddaughter, returns to Poland that Freidl can finally rest.

Zig Zag, by Jose Carlos Somoza


Fans of Michael Crichton’s novels will enjoy this sci-fi thriller by Cuban writer Somoza. Years ago, a group of young hot-shot scientists researching String Theory discovered that, while time travel was impossible, the viewing of the past was not. Of course the law of unintended consequences crops up and people start inexplicably dying after witnessing seminal events in history. A decade after the experiments end, Elisa Robledo is one of the few scientists left alive, and she’s desperately investigating ways to stay that way.

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