Bookworm: ‘Dare to Know’ – Sci-fi, snark-horror and futuristic thriller fans will love it

‘Fuzz’ explores the real habits of creatures that seem so familiar

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“Dare to Know: A Novel”

  • By James Kennedy
  • c. 2021, Quirk Books
  • $22.99, $29.99 Canada; 304 pages

Two plus two equals four. It’s one of the things you can’t deny. It’s a fact, no matter what. Another: change will occur. And: people will surprise you sometimes. These are things we hang out hats on, things that are immovable, like taxes and death. As in “Dare to Know” by James Kennedy, they’ll happen, no matter how you add it up.

“Dare to Know: A Novel” by James Kennedy.

As snow swirled around his car, its headlights disappearing beneath the drifts, he tried to focus on anything but the boredom of waiting for a tow-truck. He wasn’t the reminiscing type, but he could remember when his workplace was known as Sapere Aude. A salesman who knew his stuff could make serious coin in those days; knowledge of your death date was something only a millionaire could buy.

He was one of the best then.

Still is. His main competitor actually texts people their results, which is crass. No, you want to do it in-person, face-to-face. Any other way is just wrong.

His last meeting didn’t go well; the client had a public freak-out.

“Dare to Know: A Novel” author James Kennedy.

How did this happen? Always good with numbers, he’d planned on dual physics-philosophy degrees in college but in his junior year, he’d been recruited by Sapere Aude and taught about thanatons. Thanaton code, to the untrained, looked like Cuneiform gibberish but numbers don’t lie: you could actually predict when someone would die, if you knew how.

Those were the days. He was in love with Julia then, though sometimes he didn’t like her. It was complicated, more so that they worked together, more so after they worked out one anothers’ predictions, which was absolutely against corporate rules.

He never finished Julia’s prediction because he didn’t want to know her death-date. They sealed the papers in two blue envelopes.

He remembered that now, after he slid into a snow-covered ditch, as he reached in the back seat and grabbed the books he wasn’t supposed to consult on himself because he was bored and he did anyhow and now that he knows he was supposed to die 23 minutes ago ...

Imagine what would happen if Chuck Palahniuk, Enrico Fermi, and the Brothers Grimm got together to raise a child. There you’d have “Dare to Know.”

Seriously, this novel is weird, in a terrifyingly techy, could-be-so, where’s-this-going? kind of way, as author James Kennedy salts this futuristic tale with grains of history, fairy tale, and philosophical theory while telling the aching story of a has-been who only has his memories left and in fact, he’s losing them, too. It’s weird, but compelling because everything and nothing makes sense, like listening to that guy at the bar who rambles on until he leaves, mid-word. You don’t know how his story ends. You’ll forever wonder what just happened there.

This is the kind of book where you’ll want to read the ending three times, just to be sure you got it. Though “Dare to Know” is absolutely not for everyone, sci-fi, snark-horror, and futuristic thriller fans will love it.

You can count on that.

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“Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law”

  • By Mary Roach
  • c. 2021, W.W. Norton & Company
  • $26.95, $35.95 Canada; 308 pages

The pawprints were enormous. That was your first thought when you saw them on the ground. Someone in the neighborhood just got a new dog the size of a horse. Is it close to Halloween? Or there’s a Sasquatch in the ‘hood. Or maybe, as in the new book “Fuzz” by Mary Roach, you share the block with something that could eat you.

“Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law” by Mary Roach.

Murder, theft, assault, destruction of property. It happens all the time between us and nature. But as Mary Roach discovered, there’s a reason it’s called wildlife: toothed-and-clawed scofflaws don’t always get caught and they rarely see jail time.

So, what kind of criminals are we looking at here, Your Honor?

Take bears, for example. Roach attended WHART classes in British Columbia, where mutilated mannequins help officials learn how to determine bear bites from wolf bites from scavenger nibbles. In Aspen, she learned that bears are really good at gently breaking into houses to find food but they’re not the only guilty parties: we humans are partially culpable in the bears’ snack-pilfering habits.

“Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law” author Mary Roach.

Elephants, as she learned, aren’t the long-lashed, big-eared snugglers from the movies. In India, they can be destructive to crops and vengeful to people, especially if they have grudges or are in musth. In that case, elephants have been seen stepping on villagers and tearing them limb-from-limb – though, because people there consider pachyderms as deities, the killers are rarely, if ever, treated negatively for their actions.

That’s not quite the case with leopards in the Middle Himalaya, where the animals have killed hundreds of people through the years by seizing them from behind. Incredibly, it’s not until the third attack that anything’s done to stop the cat-astrophe.

In India, macaque monkeys live to “harass people.” Cougars can attack you (but they rarely do). Trees can become a “danger.” Deer, dromedaries, all dangerous.

Even mice can kill but yeah, there’s a “trapp” for that.

You can’t pet a bison. No selfies with a bear or moose. Leopard territory is off-limits. Please don’t feed the animals, so what can you do? You can laugh and learn by reading “Fuzz.”

Make no mistake, though: while author Mary Roach has a sneak-up-on-you sense of humor that will make you snort, what she shares with readers is serious stuff. As proof, she offers tales of animals doing things that humans would be arrested for doing and, like humans, this stuff can be bloody. It can be stomach-churning.

It can be fascinating because Roach takes readers around the world with experts who know, sometimes first-hand, about the real habits of these creatures that seem so familiar. Reading that, seeing why elephant handlers are paid more, learning about “ridiculously lovable” attackers and furry light-fingered extortionists, shows that unlawful ursas exist, camels can act like criminals, and sometimes, nothing’s more apt than the word “jailbird.”

If you’re someone who loves to read aloud passages of your current obsession, “Fuzz” is your book. Clear your throat, prepare those around you; you shouldn’t wait to get your paws on it.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.