This is the year I finally broadened what I read regularly to include classics, poetry, and more nonfiction. This was thanks to going back to school, but also thanks to professors who provided useful tools for appreciating and analyzing these works. In the process I discovered a deep love for classic (English) literature and an angry obsession with poetry. Most of my favorite works this year were not published in 2013; this just happens to be the year I finally got around to them.
“The Shape of the Future: How to Help Tomorrow’s Children Cope With a World of Accelerating Change” by Alex Planes
Planes’ brilliant look ahead at the next thirty years is not a book but a feature article published December 23, 2013 on The Motley Fool, but it is so long it might as well be. What I enjoyed most about the article is the lack of breathlessness, the tight focus of each section, and acknowledgement of the problems of trying to forecast the future. The result is a comprehensive examination of the primary technological trends shaping our world over the next few decades and a thoughtful approach to scenario building and multiple possibilities, framed as advice for parents just now having children. By the end, readers have a few key suggestions for how to deal with rapid technological change, suggestions they can pass along to their children.
Science Fiction Prototyping: Designing the Future with Science Fiction by Brian David Johnson
(Morgan & Claypool, 2011. Kindle.) Although I had some issues with the writing and grammar (most likely a problem with the conversion to an ebook), I am otherwise incredibly excited by this approach to future forecasting and building. Prediction might be impossible, but taking steps to imagine the future and then actively working on creating that future is a potentially powerful tool. I am using the techniques in the book to explore the possibilities of the Metaverse, and also to create a roadmap for its development, an effort that could help minimize negative consequences and emphasize positive ones.
Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
(Small Beer Press, 2005. Kindle.) A collection of short stories and “kitchen sink magical realism” that creeps under your skin and watches you.
Fjords vol. 1. by Zachary Schomburg
(Black Ocean, 2012. Print.) Poems that look like prose, with simple language that takes a sudden turn into the surreal and humorous. Along with other poetry I read, Schomburg’s work taught me to take poems at face value, to linger with the images no matter how strange, and let myself feel whatever the poem is going to make me feel.
Doctor Faustus (1604, 1616) by Christopher Marlowe, Volpone (1616) by Ben Jonson, Paradise Lost (1674) by John Milton
(The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Ninth Edition, Vol. B. Ed. Reidhead, Julia. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. Print.) The antiheroes Doctor Faustus, Volpone, and Satan are not typical villains, despite the often religious backgrounds of the authors of these books and plays and their efforts with these works to comment on moral behavior. For example, Doctor Faustus is a character well aware of prevailing morals but passionately curious and questioning, whatever the cost. Though he faces eternal damnation at the end, I could not help but sense in Doctor Faustus the complexity and questioning of the author Marlowe himself. Marlowe was accused of being a homosexual and atheist at a time when to be known as either could result in a death sentence; he did indeed die young under questionable circumstances after being stabbed in an inn.
What I love the most about these works and these characters is how they demonstrate the complex, curious, probing minds of their authors, in spite of strict religiosity. These authors inspire me to add more psychological complexity to the characters in my own stories, without necessarily finding answers, and no matter what ultimately happens to the characters. Perhaps the journey is worth the tragic end.
Jazz by Toni Morrison
(Vintage Books, 1992, 2004. Kindle.) The structure of the story, the rhythm, the music, the characters, the villains who become heroes and the heroes who walk through the City with new personal power, the sacrifice of Dorcas, the angry history, the passion where passion seems to be slipping away, and when it was over a Narrator, whoever or whatever it was, who had also gone on a personal journey. Jazz will never let me go.
The Transhumanist Wager by Zoltan Istvan
(Futurity Image Media LLC, 2013. Kindle file.) I read a lot of science fiction this year but nothing (other than some Vernor Vinge short stories) really captivated my attention. I’m including The Transhumanist Wager on this list not because I thought it was a great book – it was merely good – but because it is thought-provoking at a time transhumanism needs a jolt of electricity. In the past week the book is getting widespread attention from within the transhumanist movement and also without, and any book that causes this kind of discourse is worthy of praise.
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