The Tuesday List: Bodies of Law

Woo! With new year’s came a new job for me, so in honor of yesterday being my first day as a research librarian at a major law firm in my area, here’s a list of books/series in which law/lawyers play a strong role.

  1. The Engineer Trilogy, by K.J. Parker

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I admit, I found Parker (and his books) a lot more interesting before I found out it was in fact just some dude who already was relatively successful in publishing.  Nevertheless, this is one of the few series that has merited multiple reads, and even knowing the twist at the end it’s fascinating to watch the ways that anarchy and order war with each other, and within the characters, to create this perfect storm of a war between two otherwise indifferent opponents.

2. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick

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Before it was a strangely cult classic film, this novel was a somewhat understated meditation on what it meant to be alive, and how civilization would go about legally defining life when artificially created humanoid beings not only existed, but were created as slaves to humans.

3. Reamde, by Neal Stephenson

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This tome of a speculative fiction novel deals with the ramifications of legal borders and boundaries in the digital age.  Two story worlds exist side by side: the video game world in which mules play according to a set of rules in order to earn and smuggle money out of a pay to play MMORPG along the lines of World of Warcraft, and the world of kidnapped young woman, ostensibly at the wrong place at the wrong time, who ends up flown around the world and back again, never knowing if she’ll get out alive, or even find out why it all happened to begin with.

4. The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker

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This is another story which happens because one man transgresses the religious laws of his people for his own gain, and creates a being who should never have become real.  It’s a story of emigration and coming of age, as well as one of found friendship despite cultural borders.

5. The Just City (Thessaly #1), by Jo Walton

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Plato’s Republic was a legal treatise modeled on the constitution of a human body, with the well-being of the well-run city-state being its allegorical goal.  So what happens when the actual Greek gods go back in time, pulling philosophers and cultural influencers out of their worlds just before their times of death, and try to actual create Plato’s imagined city?  Part time travel novel, part philosophical exercise, part celebrity fiction, The Just City plots a rough course through history and the motivations of humanity from all points.

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The Just City, by Jo Walton

First book in the Thessaly trilogy, The Just City is a startling look at
human nature and the idea of justice. 
It starts with an idea, just as Plato began the Republic with an idea, and runs like a boulder rolling down a
mountain.  The Just City has an eerie feeling, as well it should for a city
built next to a volcano by Platonists plucked from history in order to fulfill
the thought experiment of a Greek god, that nevertheless is compelling and will
keep readers turning pages until the end. 

Much of the novel’s appeal comes from the way Walton writes
dialog and characters.  She writes
with practiced ease and confidence, pulling readers into the story by the
strength of her characters’ wit and will. 
Her ability to create and inhabit a space in which rhetoric is the coin
of the realm, and in which justice and excellence are called upon unironically,
rivals any diatribe on utopia that More could write any.  The premise, that Athene wants to see
if she can create the just city described by Plato in the Republic, but can only build it with people who pray to her for
direct intervention, leads to a cast of characters spanning much of our known
history.  Add to this stew another
god who wishes to incarnate in order to learn about the human experience, and
you have a recipe for endless uncomfortable revelations about humanity.

Uncomfortable
as situations may become, however, Walton’s characters are so infused with
life, reason, motivation, that instead of being pushed away, the reader feels
drawn in—and drawn to the characters. 
And then the final straw is placed on the pile.  Sokrates, and all his jubilant,
questioning energy, is brought to the Just City.  By asking questions and engaging in conversations, Sokrates
attempts to find the truth, even if it means invoking the wrath of a god to do
it.

Readers
interested in Greek history and philosophy will find The Just City to be a compelling read, as will those looking for a
well-written character drama.  The
novel is written from the viewpoints of its main characters, providing both
wide perspectives and unreliable narrators.  This is a novel that is not afraid to ask questions,
especially where they concern human knowledge and intentions.  Anyone looking for a cerebral summer
read to keep the mind active need look no further.

The Philosopher Kings, by Jo Walton

Though The Philosopher Kings is the second in Jo Walton’s Thessaly series,
the novel reads great as a standalone. 
It features strongly realized characters, however it is driven by
ideas—specifically human nature and what it means to strive for excellence, and
how the State comes into play. 
Individually, the tensions in the plot are small but considered together
they add up to a much larger conflict that is driven by time itself.  All characters grow up knowing that
they are participating in an experiment created by Athene herself, and that
everything they are working towards is destined to be destroyed by a volcano.

But
before all of that can happen, Apollo—incarnated as Pytheas—must find out who
killed his wife Simmea in a raid, and his daughter Arete—Greek for
excellence—must pass her tests to become an adult and find her place in the
Just City.  The Just City, though,
is just a remnant now, as many of the founding Masters have left to form new
versions of Plato’s Just City. 
Never before has Plato’s Republic
been so compelling.  A
2000-year-old thought experiement has come alive, grown, and evolved to fit the
people trying to live it.  Of course,
you don’t need to have read the Republic
in order to enjoy the novel, but it certainly does help.

The
premise that only Plato scholars—those who pray to Athene to take them to the
Just City—can create the Just City, even if it means transporting them out of
time, lends further depth and tension to the narrative, as former cultures and
lives affect the ways in which characters interact with each other and their
individual interpretations of Plato, justice, religion, freedom, and a host of
other concepts.  Issues which we
struggle with today are dissected and debated in The Philosopher Kings, in a way that allows the reader to really
think about concepts, all while enjoying a story of adventure and
self-discovery.

Readers
who are interested in Greek history and philosophy will enjoy how Walton brings
characters, places, and ideas to life in The
Philosopher Kings,
as will readers
who enjoy time travel stories and plots that feature characters our of place in
history.  Walton has written a
novel that tells the story from many points of view, including those often
overlooked in modern stories of ancient Greece and Rome.