Zachary Mason

It shouldn’t be so surprising that Zachary Mason is a computer scientist, since his literary debut messes with the code of an old stalwart. His ingenious The Lost Books of the Odyssey (Farrar Straus Giroux, $24) offers 44 short alternative chapters to the saga of how Odysseus returned home to Ithaca from the Trojan War. Some are like commentaries on the Odyssey; others twist and reimagine the bickering gods, neglected wives, and quarrelsome warriors of Homer’s epic poem. Odysseus suffers identity theft and builds a robot Achilles out of clay. Penelope happily remarries and forgets about her husband. The Trojan War never ends, and the Odyssey itself is discovered to be the corrupt transcription of a long-lost chess match. Some of these episodes are bizarre, but Mason isn’t attempting a post-mod deconstruction of the source text. Apart from some cheeky footnotes, he shows a deep appreciation for the stately language being appropriated. (“Time hissed by like the black arrows whose shadows darkened the plain before Troy.”) And perhaps the book’s greatest accomplishment is to make you want to go back and read Homer again. BRIAN MILLER

Thu., March 11, 7 p.m., 2010

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