Sometimes, you read a book and it leaves you with a giant list of other books you have to tackle.

Recently, for NPR, I’ve reviewed a string of great books. The Story of Hong Gildong (in a welcome translation), The Other Slavery (a grueling account of enslavement beyond Africa, in particular Native Americans – avoid the comments), Possession (half a dissertation on art collection as political identity, half tattling on Popes, all amazing).

The one that gave me the longest reading list was Blockbuster! It’s a literary biography about the mega-bestselling Victorian mystery novel Mystery of a Hansom-Cab by Fergus Hume, a dude who minded his own business so hard that the book mostly ends up being a snapshot of nineteenth-century Australia and related English social circles.

The upside is that whenever she ran out of facts she’d basically throw in the literary-biography equivalent of a shrug emoji, and while it will be frustrating if you came here for Fergus Hume deep cuts, there’s a lot to enjoy. (You know what we need to know about a lot more than the plot of his book? How his dad ran a mental institution in New Zealand, probably, right? Sure. Was he gay? He definitely knew queer people, and he never married, so who knows, but here’s some trivia about 19th-century queerness!)

One of the books that surrounds HANSOM CAB is mentioned so tangentially in passing that I have to assume Sussex just loved it so much she had to include it. It’s A Few Hours in a Far-Off Age, by Henrietta Dugdale, which presents a feminist utopia in which everyone’s as tall and white and slender as a Tolkien elf, there’s no more sexism, flying cars abound, everybody’s vegan, and the author routinely turns from the future to yell desperately at the women of today. (No surprise that the impassioned call to action is more interesting than the family of the future, whom the invisible Henrietta stalks into their very bedrooms, while they all talk smugly about how much better they are than the people of the past.)

It is, honestly, a wild ride, and I regret nothing.

Some clips from this uneven gem:

Judge Higinbotham was, historically, something of a disaster. She dedicates the book to him, which indicates he either did some good work that’s been swept under the rug, or he paid for this book to be published and that is all ol’ Henrietta needs to know.

Ye Olde #NotteAlleMen aside, this setting is anywhere from nine thousand to forty thousand years in the future, and turns out Higanbotham got the world’s last graven image. Whatever he paid for, it was gigantically worth it.


Henrietta has some faults, but she is fairly awake to issues of class. Sure, she shames women for being into clothes because they’re a tool of the Man, but I’m going to be perfectly honest and say that since her major reasoning is how extreme corseting messes with your organs, she has a point.

Here, she tears down rape culture with such a brisk one-two punch that you already know the headlines I was thinking about when I screencapped this.


You can see the future has also, unfortunately, eradicated all the good curse words.

Some of it’s just pointedly depressing about the stereotypes we’re still fighting:

Some of it’s so Victorian you honestly have to stop and regroup.

(What body part is this? THE OPTIONS ARE WEIRDLY VARIED.)

House Hunters: A Far-Off Age. (You’ll still want granite counters.)

But honestly, my favorite beat in the whole book is this one:

Sure, it’s nine/forty thousand years in the future and there’s total gender equality, but a man will still interrupt you. Flying cars can’t solve that.