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Sunday: Building alternative worlds, William Gibson and 'The Lady in Gold'

February 10, 2012 | 12:35 pm

Illustration-paul-gonzales
Call them Philip K. Dick’s “Lessons on Building a Believable Universe.” That’s what Times Book Critic David Ulin uses as a reference in creating the framework for his review of Matt Ruff’s “The Mirage,” a novel that turns the tables on 9/11. In Ruff’s alternative universe, 9/11 is actually 11/9 and the war on terror takes place in a fundamentalist America. Planes are still going into buildings, but they are piloted by Christian terrorists and the structures they are headed for are in downtown Baghdad and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  And, of course, there is a fourth plane that crashes after its passengers attempt to retake it from the hijackers. Sound familiar? Ulin writes that this is a “terrific setup, using fiction to take events and tweak them, albeit recognizably.” Read Ulin’s review to see if this works with Dick’s thoughts on building a believable universe. The review of “The Mirage” leads our Sunday Arts & Books coverage.

Margaret Wappler reviews Canadian cyberpunk soothsayer William Gibson’s “Distrust That Particular Flavor,” which brings together some of his writings from Wired, Rolling Stone and Time Asia. Wappler writes that Gibson’s prose “crackles to life when he writes about Singapore and Japan in the '90s and early '00s.” Wappler notes how Gibson, better known for his futuristic novels, explains in his introduction that “nonfiction feels like trying to play the African thumb piano, an instrument he scarcely knows.” But the collection, nonetheless, is engaging and revelatory.

Revelatory, as well, is Claremont-McKenna professor Frederick Lynch’s review of Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart: The State of White America: 1960-2010,” in which Murray, whom Lynch says “made the Politically Incorrect Ten Most Wanted List 18 years ago when he co-wrote 'The Bell Curve,' provides a data-driven argument for inequality’s cultural and sociological roots [and] arrives just in time for the central political and policy debate of the 2012 elections.”

That debate, of course, concerns the widening income gap in America.

More of Sunday's pages after the jump.

The debate over ownership of Gustav Klimt’s painting “The Lady in Gold” is now long over. But for a time, it made headlines here in Los Angeles and around the world as Maria Altmann, whose family owned the painting before Hitler marched into Vienna, tried to regain the work from the Austrian government. Anne Marie-O’Connor, then a reporter for The Times, reported on the case for the paper. Her book “The Lady in Gold: the Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer” is reviewed by Suzanne Muchnic, a former arts writer for the paper.

Richard Mason’s novel “History of a Pleasure Seeker” comes at the right time for those glued to the PBS series “Downton Abbey.” Carolyn Kellogg writes that Mason’s story follows ambitious Piet Barol, who arrives in Amsterdam in 1907 with a university degree and few prospects. His one hope is to be hired as an academic and musical tutor to a wealthy family. He lands a job and that’s where the tale takes off. Kellogg notes that while the premise may “sound like bodice-ripping folderol...in Mason’s hands the material is transformed.”

Susan Carpenter looks at “Beneath a Meth Moon,” the latest teen novel by National Book Award honoree Jacqueline Woodson which fuses “the devastation of Hurricane Katrina with a 15-year-old’s meth addiction.” Carpenter notes that linking such concepts “could easily be dismissed as sensationalism, but Woodson handles each aspect of her story with compassion and lyricism.”

And, of course, we have our weekly best-sellers lists with some new entries including Susan Cain’s interesting “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” which comes in at No. 10 on the nonfiction list; and Robert Crais’ “Taken,” at No. 1 on the fiction list.

Still catching up from the week? If you practice yoga you will be interested in Times staffer Connie Stewart’s review of William Broad’s “The Science of Yoga: The Risk and Rewards.” Her review -- she’s also a practitioner -- and Broad’s book will give you something new to think about when you attempt toDickens do a head stand. Nick Owchar looks at the brain, creativity and one man's quest to rock out in "Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning."

Also this week: Our main Jacket Copy host, staff writer Carolyn Kellogg, talked to antiquarian book dealers about the market for the works of Charles Dickens, whose 200th birthday was Tuesday. And the book market, as you might well imagine, is booming for Dickens' work as it is for the works of other major writers.

If you’re inclined toward book collecting, the 45th Annual California International Antiquarian Book Fair is going on this weekend at the Pasadena Convention Center. To find out more about what they have in store for all the bibliophiles out there, here’s their website: http://www.labookfair.com/  

As always, thanks for reading,

-- Jon Thurber, book editor

Images: Illustration for review of "The Mirage" by Matt Ruff.  (Credit: Paul Gonzales/Los Angeles Times);  Charles Dickens  (Associated Press)

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