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Fyodor Dostoevsky’s magnum opus, “The Brothers Karamazov,” is at once a compelling murder mystery and a philosophical, theological, and social treatise. Dostoevsky follows Fyodor Karamazov’s four sons—by three different mothers—as they struggle with each other, their father, and questions surrounding ethics, free will, and the existence of God. Though the mystery plot meanders, the deep and fair moral drama unfolding through the brothers’ interactions pulls the reader in and refuses to settle for simple solutions to the complex, enduring questions with which they wrestle.
Dan Simmons pays homage to the “Canterbury Tales” with this science fiction epic, the first in the “Hyperion Cantos” series. “Hyperion” follows seven pilgrims, each with a wish to be granted by the monstrous Shrike. Drawing inspiration from sources as varied as the environmentalist John Muir, the cyberpunk progenitor William Gibson, the Romantic poet John Keats, and the Jesuit mystic and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Simmons weaves an intertextual quilt of short stories, creating a novel that is more than the sum of its parts. “Hyperion” and its sequel, “Fall of Hyperion”, represent some of the best that science fiction has to offer.
In his fantastic pseudo-historical style, Guy Gavriel Kay presents a story deeply inspired by Song dynasty China and its conflict with the Jurchen-Jin invaders. His protagonists Ren Daiyan and Lin Shan were inspired by real historical characters—the folk hero Yue Fei and China’s most beloved female poet Li Qingzhao respectively. While many of the details of the novel are fictitious, Kay is a master of capturing the feeling of a historical time and place while respecting the inherent disconnect between his story and history as it actually happened. Recommended for fans of Fantasy as well as Chinese history enthusiasts.
Perhaps one of the most prophetic books of the twentieth century and a cornerstone of academic Communications Theory, The Medium is the Massage (originally a misprinting of “Message,” but MacLuhan liked it so much he decided to keep it) dives deep into the ways that the medium of communication—be it digital, visual, or auditory—“massages” our perception. Serving as an example of its own thesis, this book combines written passages with visual imagery and meta-textual shenanigans to create something that is at once a work of art and a penetrating philosophical analysis.
In this piece of comics journalism, author Joe Sacco relates his own experience traveling in Palestine, as well as the stories of individuals on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The moving, often troubling stories he relates are combined with an art style that is at times stark, and at times almost cartoonish—a variety in style which Sacco uses to great effect.