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"Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his." So begins Italo Calvino's compilation of fragmentary urban images. As Marco tells the khan about Armilla, which "has nothing that makes it seem a city, except the water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be," the spider-web city of Octavia, and other marvelous burgs, it may be that he is creating them all out of his imagination, or perhaps he is recreating fine details of his native Venice over and over again, or perhaps he is simply recounting some of the myriad possible forms a city might take. (less)
This legendary but previously hard-to-get novel is a hilarious dystopian satire about the choice between ecological catastrophe and making your quarterly financial goals. As both a commentary on capitalism and the rise of fascism, as well as an early work of science fiction, it is one of the most important books of the twentieth century. When the curmudgeonly sailor Captain von Toch discovers a breed of large, intelligent newts in far-off Polynesia, he realizes that, with a little training, they could be used as a virtual army of complacent pearl-divers in shark-infested waters. Then von Toch’s financial backers realize that the newts can be trained for all kinds of underwater civil engineering projects, or to build new islands, even to defend shorelines—wielding weapons, no less! There’s only one problem: released from their previous environment, the newts replicate like, well, aqua-bunnies. And soon they aren’t so complacent anymore. Acclaimed by many as the first dystopian novel, and others as the best book of science fiction ever written, Karel Capek’s masterpiece remains all that and more: smart, funny, and relevant.