By Zachary Mason
Among the small and select group of novels that we have recommended over the years, most are award-winners which take an unusual look into the future; books such as The Road, Cloud Atlas, Pattern Recognition, Halting State, Ender’s Game, and Wasp have delighted our readers. This year we feature four novels, but one of them, The Lost Books of the Odyssey, takes a decidedly unique look at the past. First time author Zachary Mason, a computer scientist and artificial intelligence expert by day, has gone back in time to reimagine the story of Odysseus and his journey home from Troy. The conceit of this engaging and thoughtful page-turner is that Homer’s Odyssey was a collection of many stories previously told that became the canon—so here is a new group of the stories—the “lost books” of the Odyssey—that are being retold, sometimes with a twist. These stories, or chapters (or single pages) bring the exploits of Odysseus and the gods to life for the modern reader in most lively language. One of our favorite “lost books” is the chapter of “Agamemnon and the Word”, a surreal experience in which “Agamemnon wanted a fortress on the wide plain before the walls of Troy but there was nothing to build with but a few trees and an unlimited quantity of sand. Therefore (at Odysseus’s suggestion) the Greeks dug the negative image of a palace in the white plain, a convoluted warren where cascades of fine grains trickled endlessly down the walls and into the tenuous corridors irregularly shored up with masonry”.