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THE WATER THIEF

By Nicholas Lamar Soutter

Dystopian novels have depicted future worlds where individual liberty and thought are crushed by fascism (“1984”), science and technology (“Brave New World”) or religious extremism (“A Haidmaid’s Tale”). But in “The Water Thief,” by Nicholas Lamar Soutter, the future is ruled by corporations, and everything has a price — including air.

Charles Thatcher, the first-person narrator of the story, is a bit like Winston Smith of “1984.” Whereas Smith continually rewrote old newspaper stories to put them in sync with The Party’s latest pronouncements, Thatcher works for the Ackerman Brothers Securities Corp. as a “perception manager” whose job is to process and deflect negative news about the corporation.

In this cutthroat world, where companies regularly launch attacks against their competitors to corner the market on resources, Thatcher is just trying to keep his head down and his non-stop bills at bay. But hoping to advance his salary and overall status — societal classes are now contracts that can be purchased — he embellishes a story about a woman accused of stealing rainwater from the company, painting her as a revolutionary who believes in the long-dead institution of “government.”

When the woman vanishes, Thatcher is stricken with guilt and decides to try to find her, even though his “friend” Linus — a character straight out of an Ayn Rand novel — tells him he’s too compassionate and doesn’t realize “there is no such thing as good and bad. ... There is no difference between the saint who gives food to starving children and the worker who operates the gas chamber to kill them, except one is making money and the other is losing it.”

But Thatcher persists in his search, and he eventually discovers an underground movement pledged to combat corporate rule. He’s increasingly drawn to the group, even though, in a world where everything is for sale and lies are more profitable than the truth, even a group of revolutionaries can have something to hide.

“Soutter’s debut novel is a scathing, ceaselessly engaging examination of capitalism and corporatism,” says Kirkus Reviews. “Profound, provocative and sure to spark a reaction.”

Soutter will read from his novel tonight at 7 p.m. at Amherst Books.

AT THE MOUTH OF THE
RIVER OF BEES

By Kij Johnson

Small Beer Press

www.kijjohnson.com

Fantasy writer Kij Johnson has racked up several honors in recent years, including the Nebula Award, which recognizes the best science fiction and fantasy writing in the United States. With “At the Mouth of the River of Bees,” published by Easthampton’s Small Beer Press, Johnson has released her first book of short stories.

The collection is taken from two decades of Johnson’s writing. The tales range from real, contemporary settings to historical ones, as well as imaginary worlds. Animals figure prominently in the stories — wolves, ponies, dogs, cats, monkeys — both as the main characters and sometimes as important objects in other stories built around the most capricious animals, humans.

The book’s title story is an engrossing tale of love, loss and hope as a woman driving across Montana with her aged dog is stopped by a bizarre phenomenon: a thick, pulsating river of migrating bees that stretches endlessly across the highway. For a reason she can’t understand, she follows smaller roads and tracks north across the prairie to find the bees’ destination, one that she comes to believe is connected to hers.

Creatures also take on different forms in Johnson’s work. In “Fox Magic,” a vixen or “fox-maiden” in medieval Japan falls in love with a man. To lure him, she creates an alternate universe in which she appears as a beautiful, rich maiden. And in “Schrödinger’s Cathouse,” a Brooklyn man investigating an unmarked package he’s received finds himself suddenly transported to a mysterious whorehouse, where the “employees” exhibit certain feline characteristics.

“In her first collection of short fiction, Johnson covers strange, beautiful and occasionally disturbing territory without ever missing a beat,” writes Publisher’s Weekly. “These 18 tales ... are sometimes off-putting, sometimes funny, and always thought provoking.”

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