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.