The Baum Plan for Financial Independence

I was getting a little nervous coming into deadline time as I wasn't sure what I was going to write about. Nothing had really sparked my interest enough to want to share. I read part of a detective series that looked promising but turned out to have a racist, self-absorbed protagonist who tells lies to everyone; friends, family, police and strangers alike. Those traits don't necessarily make a bad book, look at the wildly popular series about Hannibal Lector, he's not exactly someone you want to bring home to mother for tea, but she had the most fatal flaw of all – she was deadly dull. Certainly not the sort of books I would ask you, my dear readers, to suffer through. Ugh. But then on tax day, I got an exciting email telling me about a free version of a new book written by the author of one of my favorite stories, The Baum Plan for Financial Independence.

Small Beer Press, publishers of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet and the wonderful Stranger Things Happen, knows that tax time can be difficult for us, especially those of us who are getting socked with big tax bills for last year while this year is looking a bit grim, so they have very kindly given us a lovely tax day gift; The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories by John Kessel. It's a collection of eleven short works of fiction, or fourteen I suppose, if you count The Lunar Quartet as four pieces instead of one. The book is being released in a cloth edition, paperback and several shades of free, all available here, at the official website. I'm going to quote the licensing agreement so you have an idea what you can do with your free copy, which has no DRM restrictions.

The Baum Plan is licensed under a Creative Commons (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license allowing readers to share the stories with friends and generally have at them in any remixing/interpretation/Web 2.0 huddly-guddly noncommercial manner.

So if you'd like to get all your neighbors together and act out the entire book, from title page to talking points, you are free and welcome to do so. Or if you'd like to get your church choir to sing selected portions of the stories, that's fine also, so long as you as it's not for a commercial endeavor.

The title story takes place in a familiar world you may know from your childhood, but viewed from a different angle. A boy and his date, a girl called Dot, break into a home, find a secret train station and take the train to a fabulous destination where his fortunes will soon change. I fell in love with this story the first time I read it, when it was on the SciFiction website, because it is clever, interesting and got me thinking about the land of Oz in new ways. When I was very young I longed to go to Oz for too many reasons to count, but one of them was to check out the trees with the lunch bucket fruits. It seemed to me that everyone in Oz must be have a full belly and all the adventure they could possibly want but Mr. Kessel got me thinking about the socioeconomics underpinnings of the country in a way I never had before. Don't, however, allow me to mislead you into thinking this story is a dry treatise about finance, because it definitely is not.

I haven't had time to read all the stories (it's been a ridiculously busy week) but so far I've read about murder and mayhem, hope and redemption, vigilantes and revenge, and lunar colonization. The stories range from heartbreaking to hilarious but they all have one thing in common, brilliant writing.

I was particularly impressed by Stories For Men, a desperate, intricate tale of gender inequalities in a culture that is supposed to have put such things behind it. Told from the perspective of Erno, a boy who is struggling to find his place in a gender-differentiated anarcho-social democracy, it's a chilling skirmish in the never ending war between the sexes.

So far my favorite is The Red Phone. I may not even really understand what's going on in it, i.e. who are the principal players, but oh my goodness how it made me laugh. It takes a tired subject and turns it on its ear. Just, maybe don't read it at work. I'm just saying.

One-Paragraph Review
This week's one-paragraph review is from Noremac, who read the graphic novel Road to Perdition, which was made into a terrific movie starring Jude Law with some scary teeth. Cameron says, "A very good comic about gangsters that takes place during the Great Depression. Extremely interesting but violent." Have you got a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me and I'll run the most interesting ones. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.