You’ve got tales: Titles to bookmark this year - Hindustan Times
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You’ve got tales: Titles to bookmark this year

Apr 12, 2024 05:43 PM IST

Ai Weiwei writes a graphic novel on his life; AI retells Animal Farm; Questlove on hip-hop; a robot on the run... check out books with a twist to watch out for.

There’s a reason stories survive. They remain the only way to honestly look at ourselves, and each other, and preserve — or alter — what we see. Every conversation is a story we tell each other. Every debate. Every memory.

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(Adobe Stock)

What is a revolution but one version of a story replacing another?

Is there a story you are hoping will be told this year? A story you hope to see unfold in the world? We would love to hear from you.

Meanwhile, here is our list of stories that are out there, or soon will be, that surprise, that matter, that experiment with medium or intent in new ways.

In a graphic novel on his life, Ai Weiwei chooses to tune out the world, in a sense, as he explains what drove his choices, to his son.

In a new version of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, AI is handed the reigns, and allowed to create two new characters, in a format that allows the reader to engage directly with them. There is also sci-fi, music history, LSD (well, not a how-to but a how-did-they).

Take a look.

A life in art

Ai Weiwei has been arrested, investigated, exiled. An architect of Chinese modernism, his art is challenging and provocative. He has lived in Beijing, Berlin, Cambridge and Lisbon. Spent time with Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in New York.

In Zodiac (Penguin Random House; January), a graphic novel on his life, created in collaboration with Italian political cartoonist Gianluca Costantini, Ai blends these real-life experiences with imagined confrontations (including a debate with Chinese President Xi Jinping) and fairy-tale fantasy, to craft a mystical manifesto for freedom and kindness.

Written largely as Ai telling stories to his son, anchored in legends about the animals in the Chinese Zodiac, this is a compelling introduction to the life and work of an exceptional rebel and artist.

Are you being served?

Adrian Tchaikovsky, the British author best known for his Hugo Award-winning Children of Time series, about humanity’s struggle to avoid extinction in an uncaring galaxy, returns with a standalone novel about murder, mayhem and robots gone rogue.

Humanity is slowly dying out, in Service Model (Tordotcom; June). People have become entirely dependent on the labour of bots. In this world, a domesticated robot suddenly discovers, during its routine of chores, that it has murdered its owner. It flees the home, into a world entirely unknown, and encounters other robots searching for new purpose.

Expect dark humour and sharp insight. Whose feelings count as feelings, why, and who gets to decide?

Time and time again

For her debut novel, Kaliane Bradley couldn’t decide between writing a spy thriller, a time-travel romance and a historical fantasy, so she decided to fuse the three genres.

Set in the near future, The Ministry of Time (Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster; May) follows a civil servant working on a secret government project that has gathered “expats” from across history into 21st century London, to observe what time travel does to the human body, and the fabric of space-time.

Tasked with assisting and monitoring Victorian naval officer and polar explorer Lieutenant Graham Gore (based on a real-life figure), the civil servant falls in love with her charge.

With its nuanced views on colonialism, power and bureaucracy, The Ministry of Time is both thought-provoking and darkly hilarious.

New highs

Why was LSD created? American historian Benjamin Breen takes the reader right back to the start of our most common manufactured psychedelics, with a special focus on this drug.

In Tripping on Utopia: Margaret Mead, the Cold War, and the Troubled Birth of Psychedelic Science (Hachette; January), he explores the academic partnership and fractured romance of pioneering anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, and the utopian ambitions of researchers like them, who were studying the potential uses of psychedelic drugs in the post-World War 2 years, exploring applications in areas such as psychiatry and therapy.

Then, in the early throes of the Cold War, their ideas are put in use in missions with dystopian ends, such as the US Central Intelligence Agency’s experiments with mind control. Moving from the malarial jungles of New Guinea to the temples of Bali, Tripping on Utopia crafts a riveting origin story.

Off the hook

A year after hip-hop nominally turned 50, comes a kaleidoscopic chronicle of the cultural movement’s history, told through the eyes of one of its icons. In Hip-hop is History (Auwa Books; June), Questlove, drummer and joint frontman of The Roots, offers a front-and-centre view of things he read, heard and witnessed in the early years of this subculture. This is his eighth book, incidentally; he has also written a memoir, books on music history, and a time-travel adventure. Here, he weaves anecdote, history and lyrical analysis into a provocative account of one of modern pop culture’s most important revolutions.

New to the farm

Publishing company Legible is in the midst of re-releasing classics as AI-powered “living ebook” versions. First up is Animal Farm by George Orwell. The Legible Living Book version, released in January, introduces two new characters, “insightful” hens named Sonia and Daisy. Readers can interact with them in real-time to dig deeper into the narrative, and the book’s dystopian themes, through interactive dialogue.

The hens have been programmed to offer fresh perspectives on events at the farm, evolving power structures, the pull of revolution, and the dialectic tension between freedom and control. A computer program revising his tale… we at Wknd have been wondering what Orwell would have made of that. (Fascinated by him and his work? Click here to read our tribute to Orwell, as 1984 turns 75 this year.)

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