After twenty years, Salman Rushdie invites readers back to Haroun’s Sea of Stories. LUKA AND THE FIRE OF LIFE (Random House, $25) follows Haroun’s twelve-year-old little brother Luka on a quest to rescue his father from a vengeful curse. Luka must use his wits—and the help of a whimsical crew consisting of a holograph, a princess, a bear named Dog, and a dog named Bear—to find the Fire of Life and break the curse. The novel deftly combines elements from myths, fairy tales, and video games as Luka faces increasingly perilous challenges to reach the different “levels” of his quest. The wordplay and allegory are in classic Rushdie style, while still keeping a matter-of-fact, real-world tone. Luka and the Fire of Life is a fast-paced tale of filial love, mortality, and the power of stories.
Mouse dotes on her adorable baby corn snake—until, that is, her baby corn snake grows up and craves the taste of mouse flesh. She is but one of the ill-fated characters in SQUIRREL SEEKS CHIPMUNK (Little, Brown, $21.99) by David Sedaris. In this collection of tales, Sedaris maintains his wit and insight, though his tone is darker and more poignant than the light-hearted personal essays that Sedaris fans are used to. The stories are delightfully absurd: the incarcerated cat attending AA meetings, the baboon barber trying to make small talk with his cat client. Sedaris’s furry and feathered characters are a fascinating blend of the ultra-human and the utterly animal. Sedaris uses them to satirize the all-too-human subjects of adultery, hypocrisy, parochialism, and self-absorption. The quirky, yet sinister, drawings by Ian Falconer (children’s series, Olivia) are the perfect complement to the text.
In A Brief History of Time Stephen Hawking investigated the mysteries of where the universe came from and where it is going. In THE GRAND DESIGN (Bantam, $28) he and co-author Leonard Mlodinow go farther and enter territory where science usually fears to tread. Why does the universe work the way it does? Why does it exist at all? Why do we exist? Despite the book’s initial claim that philosophy is dead, the questions it seeks to answer are philosophical ones; they are simply approached from a scientific perspective. The book begins with a whirlwind tour of the history of science; then discusses quantum physics, the multiverse, and M-theory; and along the way questions free will, a creator, and the very concept of reality. Hawking’s well-chosen examples and endearing humor make even the most difficult concepts engaging and clear. He is the consummate physics teacher you never had.