Odysseys

Reading Zachary Mason’s forthcoming The Lost Books of the Odyssey, I’ve been in danger of missing my subway stop.  The book is hard to characterize; it’s a collection of short pieces — some of them really  short — which reimagine and retell parts of the Iliad, or the Odyssey, or imaginary scenes and episodes in between the actions in those two epics.  Funny, spooky, action-packed, philosophical — the mood keeps shifting, and you keep wanting to read just one more.

I wouldn’t want to spoil any of its pleasures — part of the niftiness of the book is figuring out, as you read, what aspect of the original is being turned on its head.  But look out for the story in which one of the characters in the Odyssey is neatly transformed, by the end, into Homer himself.

One final note: back of the book says that the author is “a computer scientist specializing in artificial intelligence.”  At first that background seemed like an unlikely fit with his topic, but in retrospect, it’s not: Odysseus is, after all, the legendary problem-solver and wily thinker, the crafty soul who applies ingenuity where others come after the problem with brute force.  And this is a crafty work indeed.

-BILL TIPPER

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