For all the beer-drinking die-hards, Laughren serves an enticing, thorough, though not suffocating introduction to hops’ fermented friend, the grape.
Though the shelves creak under the weight of wine books for dummies and gun-shy tipplers terrified by wine-speak, here’s a welcome addition that’s relaxed, inviting and intelligent. Laughren is a bon vivant without being a boob, a sensualist even if he wouldn’t put it that way. He likes his beer—the book is liberally sprinkled with beer wisdom, as if to soothe the wary brewer—but he’s also a big fan of wine, and he wants readers in on the action. He aims to provide an unintimidating yet rich tour through the world of wine, highlighting its conviviality but undergirding it with a candid sense of what’s in the glass. With a healthy dose of detail, Laughren touches on the history of wine, factors in its production and an appreciation of terroir. He sketches various social scenarios and the wines he might choose to complement them: a zinfandel with a basketball game on TV; a big, young Brunello di Montalcino when the brothers of your new squeeze stop by to check you out; a cabernet sauvignon for dinner with the boss; a dry sherry when the squeeze comes over to break up with you. A sweet, bright humor pervades the book, as Laughren makes wine tasting sound like fun rather than an opportunity to embarrass yourself. His descriptions—“like sucking stones and chips of slate dipped in lime and lychee juice”—require attention. He’s chummy, like a knowledgeable friend who doesn’t need to wear it on his sleeve, though the insight seeps through. Most importantly, he’s on your side: “there’s no need to excuse your preferences,” he says, but be open to new experiences. Also included are excellent mapsof wine-producing regions and a brief survey of various oenological tools.
A fresh, well-researchedstudy of artist Norman Rockwell’s treatment of race.
When readers think of Rockwell, they generally don’t picture a radical trailblazer who bucked conservative trends and broke racial stereotypes. Instead, they picture, well, his pictures—works that seem to embrace wholesome ideas: Thanksgiving dinner, grandmothers praying, puppies. Petrick (Beyond Time Management, 1998), in this smart, nuanced book, encourages readers to look again at Rockwell’s varied body of work. She argues that Rockwell was far from a closed-minded portrait artist; he actually went to great lengths to represent African-Americans and other minorities in his works, motivated by an intense desire to represent all of America. She provides many frequently overlooked examples, including “Working on the Statue of Liberty” (1946), which depicts five workers cleaning the famous statue; the model for the figures was white, but Rockwell painted one of the workers as having brown skin. He included minorities in his paintings throughout his career—not something easily done in mid-century America—and made race the topic of several high-profile pieces, including “The Problem We All Live With” (1964), in which a young black girl is shown entering a New Orleans school. Rockwell’s main employer, the Saturday Evening Post, had a policy stating that illustrations could only portray blacks in menial positions—a rule which Rockwell did his best to skirt around. Eventually, however, he tired of this limitation and began working for the more liberal Look, where he pursued projects with a distinct social bent, including “Murder in Mississippi” (1965), inspired by the 1964 killing of three civil rights activists. Petrick relays all this with clarity and insight, drawing on the portraits, Rockwell’s own biography and the ample scholarship that surrounds the artist. She also talks to the African-American models for some of his paintings, and these interviews can feel extraneous at times, as when the author occasionally delves too much into the models’ lives today. However, they highlight Rockwell’s desire to capture all facets of America and all of its stories. The irony, Petrick wisely points out, is that so few people choose to see this side of Rockwell today, preferring instead the “whitewashed” version. In this book, she manages to say something revealing about the artist—and about us.
A brief but enlightening social history of a great American artist.
A debut collection of pen-and-ink drawings of Japan that blend reality and the artist’s imagination.
Muzacz, an Americanartist and a resident of Japan,compiles the results of his effort to complete one ballpoint-pen drawing each day for an entire year, starting in January 2011. The devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011 are the focus of many images, as is the Occupy movement that developed later in the year. The author arranges his drawings by theme—people, architecture, fashion, animals and so on—and provides captions or longer descriptions in both English and Japanese. Drawings of the natural world dominate the book’s early pages, and later illustrations mostly depict people and man-made environments. A section on graffiti reflects the author’s early days as a street artist, but the collection embraces a wide variety of styles, including explicit emulations of noted artists throughout Japanese history. The captions suggest that some drawings are based on photographs, while others are apparently drawn from life. Some images, particularly those depicting mythological creatures or surfing fish, are evidently drawn from the author’s imagination. Many of these pleasing drawings feel timeless; readers will be left wondering if a bucolic temple image was taken from a 19th-century photograph or if there are tourists just outside the frame taking pictures on their iPhones. The book’s final section collects thumbnail versions of all 365 images, presented in the order in which they were originally drawn. Overall, this is a comprehensive view of Japan, past and present, as seen through the eyes of a young artist with an eye for beauty in all its forms.
Startling, cynical, satirical free verse about life among the postmodern ruins.
Keen’s debut poetry collection arrives at the party already a little drunk, a bit raucous and talking a mile a minute, but the longer the night goes on, the more sense it seems to make. After all, he’s not out to hurt anyone; he’s just trying to figure out where it all went wrong for all of us. With considerable energy and tightly coiled wit, Keen ranges across the political, spiritual and pop-culture landscapes only to find them all a little disorienting and largely bereft. “There is no sadness,” he writes, “But the fear of sadness. / There is no despair, / But the distraction from despair. / There is no suffering, / But the avoidance of suffering. / We’re living in bad times, / Biochemically speaking.” Regardless of where he looks, nothing essential remains. Love is sold “in bottles now, / and smells like aftershave,” Christ is “lost in all the traffic” and “so far away from now.” Even your sense of self is suspect: “In this cellular moment, / This eternity / Among strangers, / You see / Yourself / In bits / And / Pieces, / Impossible to describe.” Trapped by the postmodern condition and yearning for the teleologically secure time “before the world was shattered,” Keen’s narrators respond in seemingly the only way available—playing their own language games, answering absurdity with absurdity and papering over fragmentation with pastiche. Meditations on death are peppered with popular advertising slogans, and the apotheosis of Western civilization is reduced to Michelangelo’s David infested with maggots. With no certainty, even of the self, the poems join in the cannibalizing of culture, seeking irony in unexpectedly ironic situations. Amid the brutality arises humor, and Keen ably joins a long tradition in American avant-garde poetry of lampooning demagoguery with poems like “The Demystification of Henry Kissinger” and “Even at Night All Snakes Swallow Their Prey Whole: Looking Back at Arafat & Some of His Peers.” Supporting the politics, satire and social commentary is a more than capable, sometimes beautiful verse that relies heavily on repetition—from anaphora to choral refrains—and startlingly precise imagery (“sway-backed surgeons, / Peeling human skulls like eggs”) for great effect.
Thought-provoking, incisive and entertaining; a remarkably well-rounded debut.
A guide to the evolution of fashion trends of the past two centuries, useful to costume designers as well as amateur and professional genealogists.
Drawing on her decades of experience as a Hollywood costume designer, as well as two years as a columnist for Ancestry Magazine, the author presents a broad overview of 19th- and 20th-century dress. Her book, which targets genealogists, would be especially helpful for nonexperts who may want to learn more about their historic family photographs. Descriptions of each era’s dominant silhouettes, hats, sleeves and fabric details are illustrated by the author’s line drawings, hundreds of which appear throughout the book. These sketches are essential to understanding the difference between a toque and a cloche or the posture produced by the evolving corset in the early 20th century. The author’s deep knowledge of fashion, the book’s greatest strength, is evident in her cataloging of a broad range of men’s, women’s and children’s styles. Tidbits from the history of fashion, such as a re-evaluation of corset measurements that unzips the idea of the 16-inch waist, will also provide the amateur genealogist or costume designer with a window into the past. The book’s forays into social history and analysis, however, are less compelling. Zoot suits are dismissed as a mere outlying trend, and anti-fur activists are criticized for embarrassing fur-wearing women with their attacks. Queen Victoria gets a bit too much credit for changing courtship practices—“Since, as Queen, she had proposed to him, from that time on women in civilized societies decided to choose their own husbands”—and the oft-repeated myth of a “closet tax” driving people to store their clothes in cabinets gets a mention. There’s also, at times, a note of disdain for women who don’t conform to the author’s sense of taste, including derision for sausage curls on older women and frequent references to “fashion die-hards” who embrace trends beyond their prescribed end dates. The descriptions of historic styles and their accompanying illustrations, however, constitute a useful resource that outweighs the book’s shortcomings.
This broad compilation of evolving fashion trends makes for a valuable addition to any reference collection.
Lancaster’s (Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, 2007, etc.) combination reference manual, how-to guide and environmental manifesto offers a wealth of information about “water stewardship” for gardens, landscaping and everyday household use.
Novices need not be intimidated by this revised edition’s abundance of charts and diagrams or its lengthy appendices: The material is simple to understand, and Lancaster’s friendly, conversational tone is accessible for all readers. Using eight common-sense principles as a guide—e.g., “Always plan for an overflow route, and manage that overflow water as a resource”—the author makes a cogent case for water conservation; namely, it’s ethical, and it saves money. He also details integrated permaculture practices, including the importance of understanding the sun’s angles for passive cooling and heating. According to Lancaster, it’s always best to plan drainage at the highest point of a watershed and then work down, allowing the water to spread to optimal locations—a method that can be achieved through thoughtful observation of the land. Careful planting of native vegetation also plays a crucial role, and the author suggests that “water-needy”fruit trees be placed close to the house, as they can easily be nourished by roof runoff or graywater from sinks, showers and washing machines. Readers who live in wet climates may feel underrepresented in this book—Lancaster lives on an eighth of an acre in Tucson, Ariz., and uses an average of less than 12 inches of rainfall annually—but his principles can be adapted to fit any terrain or climate. Though there are many practical ideas contained within these pages, readers shouldn’t expect A to Z gardening instructions laid out in an easy-to-flipformat; instead, Lancaster presents design ideas and plenty of engaging food for thought, including some personal worksheets in Appendix 5, as well as photos and real-life examples of people who have successfully harvested water for sustainable use. For example, Zephaniah Phiri Maseko, an African farmer, feeds his family in a drought-prone area thanks to his handmade reservoirs and “fruition pits.” Likewise, the Howells of New Mexico have lived on rainwater alonefor over 20 years. While not everyone will want to live completely off the grid, readers interested in preserving natural resources can apply Lancaster’s time-tested ideas to any lifestyle.
Debut author Kabakoff chronicles his quest to visit every major league ballpark in this cheerful travelogue.
The author grew up attending games at Yankee Stadium with his father, but in 2001, at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, he met a man intent on visiting every baseball park with a major league team. The idea nested in the back of Kabakoff’s mind, and over the next several years, he took in games at New York’s Shea Stadium, Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium, Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field. On a 2005 vacation in Southern California, he watched the Anaheim Angels battle the Boston Red Sox, and Kabakoff’s game was on—he vowed to visit every major league ballpark himself. From August 2005 to September 2011, Kabakoff traveled to every major league city in the U.S. and Canada, not only to watch the hometown teams, but also to explore the ballparks, sample the concessions, visit the halls of fame and meet local fans. Throughout this chatty book, he recaps memorable games, spars with mascots, collects oddball souvenirs and receives frequent sunburns. He also expertly summarizes several team and ballpark histories along the way. There’s nothing scientific about the way he compares stadiums’ retractable roofs or evaluates fans’ enthusiasm, but his casual metrics will likely make indelible impressions on readers nonetheless. His writing style is boyish and agreeable, informal and full of occasionally silly wit. Serious fans won’t find many historical tidbits that they don’t already know, but there are a few odd gems, such as the reason why Honus Wagner’s baseball card is so valuable and what was unearthed during the construction of Denver’s Coors Field. Kabakoff brings his baseball narrative full circle as he describes how his childhood delight in discovering baseball reappeared in his young cousin Rachel, and he expands upon this legacy of shared experiences in the book’s final pages.
An engaging trip around Major League Baseball’s bases that may inspire readers to go on their own ballpark odysseys.
A history of social anthropology and its pursuit of “reason” through the 20th century.
Neuropsychologist Patterson takes on the daunting task of tracing science’s view of reason as it relates to anthropology, from the time of Darwin to the present day. In doing so, he unveils a number of internecine arguments within the scientific community, as well as the hand-wringing in Western culture that has led to a near abandonment of the study of reason altogether. Patterson’s tale begins with Victorian-era anthropologists in the field who studied “savage” or “primitive” peoples in a race against time—before their cultures would be dramatically changed by encroaching Western ways. Critically influenced by Darwin, Patterson explains that, “At heart, early professional anthropology was a scientific search for human origins and evolutionary history.” In studying indigenous peoples, these scientists took for granted that European-based cultures were superior and that Europeans were more mentally advanced than “primitive” peoples. As the 20th century unfolded, however, various influential scholars and the schools of thought they initiated changed these assumptions. By 1950, some scholars were questioning whether social anthropology could even be considered one of the sciences. Sartre questioned the field’s reliance on reason as a measure of people’s abilities, and by the 1960s and 1970s, the Eurocentric character of traditional anthropology was under severe attack, leaving the whole field with a “crisis of representation” it is still battling to this day. Patterson provides a wealth of information in an approachable but sometimes melodramatic form (“The maw of eternity had simply opened and claimed him within a few blinks of an eye”). Though open to the general reader, Patterson’s work will best lend itself to students of anthropology or sociology, and it will be a worthwhile reference for the often intractable arguments affecting such fields and the sometimes larger-than-life personalities who have shaped them.
In this massive philosophical treatise that crosses disciplines with verve and meticulous logic, politics, cognitive science, software engineering and more become threads in a complex examination of mental modeling.
Sorin argues against what he labels the “mechanistic myth”: the belief that virtually all fields, from psychology to biology, can be addressed by pursuing methodologies and theorizing based on hierarchical modeling—a method of breaking down processes and concepts from high-level ideas into simple, indivisible base units or concepts. Although Sorin’s primary expertise and focus for the book is in programming and computer science, he convincingly argues that the success of hierarchical structures has spread from the hard sciences of physics and engineering—where, in Sorin’s estimation, these models work and should be utilized—to virtually all fields of study, including sociology and psychology, in which the processes and concepts involved appear to be too complex for the relative simplicity of hierarchical modeling. Since these fields study human interactions, which function on multiple levels and can vary depending on numerous factors, Sorin argues that the important concepts and theories in these so-called “soft” sciences cannot be adequately modeled or understood using hierarchical thinking. From this basic concept, Sorin broadly examines what he sees as troubling trends in academia, software development, government and many other endeavors. Early on, Sorin betrays the color of his conclusions through frequent use of emotionally charged words (e.g., absurd, charlatans, totalitarianism) and disdain for the majority of those working in the mechanistic mode, focusing especially on academic bureaucrats and those who, in Sorin’s opinion, work with pseudoscientific theories, such as linguist Noam Chomsky’s theories regarding universal grammar. To be fair, Sorin offers a disclaimer in his critique of the “mechanical myth”: “Myths,” he says, “manifest themselves through the acts of persons, so it is impossible to discuss the mechanistic myth without also referring to the persons affected by it.” His clear disapproval of these groups and theories doesn’t detract from the thorough explanations, well-reasoned arguments and crystalline logic he employs at every step. His explanations of mechanistic vs. nonmechanistic models and of the importance of tacit knowledge (meaning knowledge that is gained by experience, which isn’t always expressible in simple ways) are particularly cogent, and his textbook-length elucidations will enrich understanding for university-level students in various fields of study.
Despite moments of personal distaste, Sorin’s concise arguments stand as a model of reason.
Lenz’s mesmerizing, multifaceted debut novel is both an intriguing time-travel/past-life adventure and a subtle homage to Marilyn Monroe.
Initially set in Southern California in 1996, the storyline follows Jack Cade, a 40-year-old struggling actor who’s inexplicably given a valuable alexandrite ring by an unknown benefactor. But the strange gift doesn’t change Cade’s run of bad luck: He loses a job he desperately needed, and his wife finally leaves him. When a woman named Maggie Partridge, who claims to be a psychophysicist, contacts the down-and-out actor with “extremely important” information, he decides to meet with her and hear her out. Her story is incredible: She believes that Cade used to be a man named Richard Blake, a gemologist who lived in the San Fernando Valley in the 1950s—and she has a way to send him back in time to prove it. Cade agrees and indeed finds himself back in 1956 as the gemologist. Blake’s existence is as bleak as Cade’s. He lives with his wife and her mentally challenged sister, with whom he’s having an affair. Blake, an aspiring actor, has the opportunity to meet Marilyn Monroe, who has just started filming Bus Stop. Meeting Monroe helps Cade/Blake begin to unravel the mystery surrounding the alexandrite ring, and the pieces to an incredibly intricate puzzle start falling into place—until Blake’s wife takes umbrage with his infidelity. Along the way, this fascinating look at the underbelly of Hollywood offers an intriguing glimpse into Monroe’s tragic life and death. “We turned her into an icon,” says Cade, in Richard’s body,“then a vessel of our hopes and dreams, and finally a human sacrifice.” Like Monroe, the novel is impressively complex. Lenz—himself a veteran actor—cunningly blends time travel, LA noir, Hollywood glitz and self-discovery, making for a uniquely appealing read.
A stellar story illuminated by a star’s light and a man’s search for himself.
A desperate villager’s quest to become Zimbabwe’s newest executioner kicks off this intriguing debuthorror novel involving man-eating plants, organ harvesting and other uncanny oddities.
Abel Muranda is a devoted family man determined to do whatever it takes to feed his starving rural family, even if it means journeying far into the big city on foot in the hope of landing a job as the government’s hangman. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s ruling elite is in an uproar because someone has created a batch of carnivorous flame lilies capable of digging up the dead—and the government’s ghastly secrets, as the plants have been unearthing unmarked graves. Nothing is as it seems in Chiveneko’s science-fiction–tinged tale, which introduces readers to a lethal cast of bad guys and bad girls with tangled motivations. One intriguing subplot follows a man charged with creating a special gallows to be used for executions; he uses discarded weapons of war as his raw materials and would rather spend time cuddling up to his cold, metallic creation than to his warm, loving wife. At nearly 500 pages, this intricately woven novel is a disconcerting parable exploded to epic proportions. The author renders its many characters, from the mad genius responsible for the impending botanical apocalypse, to the prostitute/undercover operative who falls in love with Abel, to the seemingly simple Abel himself, with frightening subtlety and detail. One member of the elite, called Doll Eyes, is described as follows: “Planted into the lower part of his skull was a jaw of menacing proportions. If someone ever tried to mug him at gunpoint, all he had to do was clench it. This alone would demoralize the robber.” The boughs of this arboreal shocker threaten to creak under the weight of its ever-mounting plot, but they never quite crack. Instead, readers are left wondering just how deep the roots go.
A thought-provoking, singularly strange and absorbing novel.
A winsome character sketch that celebrates a homeless man’s quirky personality and picaresque life story.
Richard Musto, an 87-year-old homeless man living on Sixth Avenue in midtown Manhattan, is a Runyonesque figure who has a jumble of colorful memories and habits. He’s a fastidious housekeeper, carefully keeping his milk-crate–and-cardboard campsite ship-shape and his patch of sidewalk clean and mopped; a dapper dresser in black beret and American-flag cravat; an amateur expert on military history and cinema, always happy to act out a scene; a cigar-smoking bon vivant and incorrigible ladies’ man, always ready with witticisms for the Hooters gals; and a clear thinker with an acerbic take on the world (sample pensée: “A lot of guys / stop to ask me / what’s the secret of life / and I’ll say to them / how the hell should I know”). Lamport, bemused by Musto, spent many an evening hanging out and recording the man’s back story, which included combat in World War II, many knockabout jobs, an enduring passion for the ponies, a sexless marriage and countless adventures in cross-dressing and BDSM, which, he claims, began with the nuns at his grammar school. (One of Musto’s more improbable sideline career jags was as a ladies’ maid and lingerie model.) The author tells Musto’s tale in limpid, engaging free verse, which suits the narrative’s offbeat content and poetic mood; along the way, he sprinkles in atmospheric odes to the bustling New York streetscape, along with somewhat overdone stanzas invoking the muse. The portrait also has some dark edges, including an ugly family feud that makes Musto “all the more human in his monstrosity.” Musto appears in Michel Delsol’s arresting black-and-white photographs looking like an elfin version of an Easter Island statue. Overall, Musto emerges as a resilient survivor, weathering the obliteration of his camp by city workers with a soft curse and plucky aplomb. The result is a heartening lesson on “How to live life in extremis / Yet to the fullest.”
A romanticized but beguiling saga of one man’s life on the streets.
Moving, psychologically nuanced free verse on death, rebirth and the powerfully generative potential of loss.
Billone’s debut poetry collection opens with the distinctly violent thud of metal on flesh: “I was raped by a speeding train. I asked it to. / I threw myself before it….Oh what enormous /metal thighs. Oh what fast thudding hips. Again /again against my blackening eyes, skull, chest, waist.” The rattle of crushing bones reverberates through this volume as Billone revisits again and again this vivid moment of loss, of clarity and of new beginnings. For all the isolation this act of surrender implies, Billone’s narrator seems as concerned about the repercussions for her father as for herself. Recently emerged from a coma, she peers from the buzzing confines of her damaged skull and notices his small discomforts: “Now almost dead I wake to feel him stroke / my hand with his weary feet in buckets / full of ice.” Though headed by epigraphs drawn from Virginia Woolf and Elizabeth Barrett Browning—their influences here are undeniable—this volume’s insistent attention to self-violence, suffused with a complex longing for, and yet wariness of, paternal blessing begs for comparison to Sylvia Plath, a comparison in which Billone more than holds her own. Poems such as “Invitation from a Carnival after a Storm,” “Paris to London” and “If Nothing Else” demonstrate her ability to convey a rich, fraught sensuality with sharply lucid verse. Like Plath, she evokes a father both omnipotent—one who can tear down her “tiny words” with “bare / gigantic / father arms / overwhelming”—and omnipresent, a hovering, suffocating presence whose “terrified eyes” and “gasping face” may have been prescient or may have pushed the narrator to attemptsuicide. Unlike Plath, however, she learns—from her father’s fears, from that thudding train and from her late mentor, the poet Jack Gilbert—to savor the profound intensity of approaching loss. As her attention moves from her own recovery to the birth of her son, she cherishes each exquisite moment preceding the loss of their shared bodies: “My God, I have never loved / anything as much as these / ripples inside me.” Indeed, in this tightly woven exploration of how to hold onto something important amid constant change and loss, the “gray light changes / will change // is changing now / as it always does.”
Thrilling in its courageousness, breathtaking in its vividness.
Cubist art runs amok and slaughters museum staff in this arty, high-concept supernatural thriller debut.
Georges Bosque, a master of the cubist style of painting, wanted his last works to be destroyed after his death—including a painting depicting two angels of death roaming a World War I battlefield. But Noelle Walker, the acquisitions curator at the Milwaukee Museum of Art, is happy to buy them from his widow, despite their spooky aura. Trouble starts whenmuseum employee Bruce Mallory scans one of the paintings with a new computer-graphics gizmo that projects paintings in three dimensions. It works great with naturalist artworks, but cubist paintings are, well, different, and their projections cause bystanders to mimic their off-kilter geometry—eventually turning them into mangled heaps of flesh. Before you can say “non-Euclidean universe,” the gadgetry has liberated a ghoulish Bosque figure from its canvas to wander the galleries, looking for fresh victims. Noelle, Bruce and Noelle’s elegant boss, Geoffrey, must cope with art that’s gone off the deep end; at the same time, Noelle deals with her romantic feelings for Bruce and for Geoffrey, the father of her child. As the “malicious Cubist thing” passes paintings, they come to life, and threatened humans dive into pictures to escape the lurking danger—causing consternation among the paintings’ inhabitants, whose flatland world has suddenly been invaded. Art teacher Golembiewski creates an intriguing new menace which works its mayhem as artists do, by creatively reimagining space and structure—but with grisly real-world effects. Although the overall conceit is a bit cartoonish, she grounds it in subtle, psychologically realistic prose and a gallery full of sharply etched characters. (The sullen, liberally pierced goth art student who sets off the carnage is a particular hoot.) Although the subject matter may be lurid at times, the author’s fine brushwork keeps the picture sharp.
First-time novelist Yaakunah’s erotic dystopian novel follows a questioning journalist searching for a missing co-worker.
In a future New York, journalist Ishtar Benten of the News Agency is promoted from the Department of Written Chronicles to the Department of Scriptwriting. Concurrently, a man named Utu, whom she’d met in the break room for “erotic coffee,” disappears. As she looks for him, she seeks help from Arianne, a memory thief, and Harlequin, a sad but sympathetic clown. Her investigation ultimately makes her ask herself hard questions: Is truth fundamental or simply a byproduct of the News Agency? This delicately intricate work provides a full dance card of themes: sex, romance, mystery and a grim peek into a devastated future. It’s mainly an erotic novel, but its eroticism is complicated. For example, Ishtar envisions people she first encounters as being physically transformed during sex—strange, violent thoughts that appear to be routine for someone in her line of work. The book’s text is also laced with sexual metaphors—she drives her “motoregg” into her home’s “womb,” and she and Arianne “penetrate” the agency’s security; later, Ishtar describes herself as “pregnant with betrayal.” The ever-present eroticism makes the sex scenes, real and imaginary, seem less explicit; they’re often lyrical and eccentric, as when Ishtar is intimate with a guide during the virtual tour of a villa. The author also touches on detective fiction tropes when Ishtar shadows a man, hoping to find answers; nostalgia, when she laughs and cries while watching Charlie Chaplin movies; and moral doubt, when the fear of a high-paying job blinds her to her employers’ totalitarian control of the news. Touches of wry humor reinforce an already sturdy novel; the fictitious story “Do Aliens Have Claws?” is presented in its entirety.