A slice of English life from Nigel Bird, In Loco Parentis tells the tale of Joe, a primary school teacher who constantly makes poor decisions. During his summer vacation, he and his stepsister finally give in to years of tension. But Joe balks at throwing away their sibling status, then promptly goes home to have an affair with a friend’s wife.
Meanwhile, he continues to make poor decisions, defying the school’s headmaster over handling an abusive teacher. He also lets loser pal Wolfe move in, and Wolfe talks him into dealing with a couple of child abusers by killing them. And Joe’s habits are not exactly what you want in someone assigned to a kindergarten class.
Bird narrates this odd noir story in first person, making Joe the most unreliable of narrators. He does horrible, stupid things, leaving a reader to wonder why he isn’t in Wormwood Scrubs or worse, but at the same time, rooting for him despite his depravity. Joe is out of control, knows it, and can’t do a thing about it. He’s rather like Jack from Fight Club, only without Jack’s split personality starting a terrorist group. Bird keeps Jack firmly in the real world, which makes his dilemma all the more tragic.
Arthur C. Clarke
As man is about to send people to Mars for the first time, aliens arrive, bringing a sort of benign rule to the human race with the aim of uniting them. Humans are apparently on the verge of the next step of evolution, but the Overlords won’t say what that is. Over a period of one hundred years, the human race changes from a contentious, fractured group plagued by pockets of poverty, disease, and war to a utopian society where every whim is catered and people work for fulfillment. And yet humans get bored in utopia, seemingly unaware that, late in the book, they are the last generations of humans, that their progeny are about to take their rightful place in the universe.
Clarke’s tale of humanity in transition is extremely prescient in some respects. He predicts the rise of automated factories, reduced wars, poverty, and famine, and even a crude version of the Internet, though how people interact with this network is a bit primitive compared to how people first saw the World Wide Web in the early 1990’s. His explanation of the paranormal and the origins of superstition (including the Overlords’ demonic appearance) is an unusual one for the 1950’s, but this episodic tale ends not with the destruction of a bleak dystopia but with a surprising leap into the unknown, Clarke’s very own singularity.