Chris Jaynes has just been fired from his position as the token black professor at a prestigious liberal arts college, and retaliates by visiting the president and snatching off his red bow tie. This none-too-subtle reference to the preferred attire of Leon Botstein, president of Bard College where author Mat Johnson also taught, launches the book as a satire, but gives little hint of the likability of its hero or the fascination of the study of race that will follow. Johnson turns the subject inside out, standing it on its head, looking at race with an outrageous accuracy whose aim falls on black and white alike. Forgive me, therefore, if I set the comedy aside for the moment and concentrate on the book’s intellectual underpinnings.
Much of the debate concerns the nature of blackness itself, beginning with the protagonist’s own racial identity.
THE SHERLOCKIAN, by Graham Moore, is required reading for fans of Doyle’s master of ratiocination, Sherlock Holmes. Moore has a fine time going back and forth between his two protagonists. One is Doyle himself who, in 1893, was growing heartily sick of Holmes. The sleuth in the deerstalker hat had become a celebrity in his own right and had overshadowed his thirty-three year old creator. Why should Doyle despise a fictional character that brought him so much fame and fortune? One problem was that many of Holmes’s admirers believed that Holmes was real, and they were driving Doyle crazy with their letters and requests for help in solving petty crimes. Most outrageous of all, says Doyle, “My greater work is ignored.”
ANDROID KARENINA is one of those everything but the kitchen sink science fiction tales (robots, telepathy, strange creatures, threats from outer space and time travel) with the added benefit of being a literary mash-up. Ben H. Winters has transplanted the characters from Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel ANNA KARENINA into a culture dependent upon technology to serve their every need.
In DAWN OF THE DREADFULS, Steve Hockensmith takes Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and adds a generous helping of dry humor and zombies. What’s not to love? Here are the first two lines, which promise much more fun to come: