BOOKS: Friday Roundup - Metamorphosis, A Narwhal and 'Bare, Forked Animals'

Once again, I'm off to Philadelphia this weekend.
Which means I won't be posting much, if at all. You'll cope, I hope.
Before we get into this week's Friday roundup, I'd be remiss (and uncharacteristically modest) if I didn't report this was a banner week for Morning.
The number of unique hits per day peaked at 2,200+ on Thursday and the stream of visitors has steadily totaled in the 1,000-2,000 range for several days now.
Wow. I'm totally shocked and pretty damned happy with that. Nearly all of the hits were for this post, but hey, eyeballs are eyeballs. I'm not complaining.
So welcome all ya newbies! Glad to have ya!

Okay, enough about the site. Let's get to the good reads ...

The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka. Kafka tales are tricky. Really tricky. But that doesn't make them any less enjoyable. Sure, Metamorphosis gives no explanation as to why the main character, Gregor, is turned into a beetle, but Kafka tales aren't about exploring fantastical explanations, they're about symbolism. They're about human nature. They're about the soul. And yeah, they're also pretty sci-fi. Reading The Metamorphosis it's clear to see how Kafka laid the foundation for much of the 20th century's speculative fiction. This short novelette works around the central question "What If?" and from there, explores a legion of possibilities. Essential reading for any fan of the genre.

"Cold Testing," Eric Brown. "Cold Testing" was a story I didn't appreciate much the first time around. I gave it another go this week, however, and it's not entirely bad. Yeah, Brown's writing another story about a robot having an existential crisis. And, yes, there's a corny romantic tension between the human protagonist and his AI. But I'll give credit to Brown, he takes some pretty big-time sci-fi cliches and make them feel sorta fresh. The story picks up as it progresses and by the end of the second read I decided I didn't entirely dislike the story. I still don't love it, but it's definitely worth the read.

"Bare, Forked Animal," John Alfred Taylor. A creative play on the "Matrix," Taylor's story focuses on the struggles of an unplugged man working to survive in a world where his only salvation lies within the technology that betrayed him. You'll find it in Asimov's June 2009 issue. Not only is the story very short, it's really, really good. Probably my favorite short story of the issue. Taylor used to teach English literature at Jefferson College, so there's Shakespeare references aplenty for all you English-major types.

"The Monsters of Morgan Island," Sandra McDonald. Fun read about a remote island plagued by ... ah ... monsters. Are you a monster? If so, don't go to Morgan Island, because the mean natives are going to parade you through town and toss you in a pit. That is, of course, unless the sympathetic Mary Voltz can find you first. But will the love of one human satiate the monsters's communal desire for revenge? Check it out in the June 2009 issue of Asimov's.

"In Search of the Mysterious Narwhal," Abigail Tucker. I don't give nearly enough love to Smithsonian on here, which is a shame because it's definitely one of my favorite magazines. Anyway, Tucker's piece on narwhal whales -- they've got that gigantic tooth (yes, it is a tooth, not a horn) on their head -- explains a lot about the habits and history of the mysterious beast. Fun facts include a tidbit about how narwhal tusks were sold as unicorn horns during the Middles Ages. Physicians believed the powdered tusk cured a variety of aliments and ground narwhal teeth were used for all sorts of homemade cures, including poison detection. Records also indicate the tooth may have even been an early precursor to Viagra! You'll find all the exciting details in the May 2009 Smithsonian.

And on that Narwhalian note, we'll end this week's Friday roundup. As always, if you have any suggestions for the column or just want to leave a general comment, drop a line below or hit me up via e-mail and/or Twitter @pat3001.

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