Archives for posts with tag: science fiction

joanWhen I read the description for THE BOOK OF JOAN, I thought, “oh, interesting, a science fiction retelling of Joan of Arc.” But that’s maybe the most basic a description that could possibly be attributed to Yuknavitch’s book. Not to be trite, but this story is about the nature of humanity and love, and whether those two concepts can ever really coexist.

Humanity has nearly come to an end. Aboard the space station CIEL, the remainders of Earth’s population work to find a way to survive. As they’ve been exposed to radiation from the atmosphere, humans are pale and hairless. Standard interpretations of sex and gender have become irrelevant. They can no longer reproduce. For means of entertainment, they turn to extreme body modification, aka “grafts”.

Grafts come in different types, including elaborate skin grafts that replicate 17th century French powdered wigs. The higher one’s status, the more extreme the graft. Different artists on CIEL create these grafts. Christine is one of these artists and specializes in branding stories into skin. On her body, she has branded the story of Joan.

Joan is a rebel who fights against the leader of CIEL, Jean de Men. Joan’s story, as you can imagine, mirrors the life of Joan of Arc. As a little girl, Joan has a strange encounter where she more or less connects spiritually to a tree. From this encounter, she receives a glowing light on her right temple. This light defies all explanation; no doctor can discover where it originates. But it connects Joan to the Earth and grants her power over nature.

On CIEL, the official story is that Joan was burned at the stake for being an eco-terrorist. (In this future world, even executions are theatrical events.) But Christine discovers that Joan escaped and lives on the wasteland of Earth below. Both Joan and Christine fight against the sadistic Jean de Men, but in different ways. As the stories of Christine and Joan spiral together, the book comes to a dramatic, though not uplifting end.

More than anything, THE BOOK OF JOAN is a piece of feminist science fiction. Yuknavitch deals with bodily autonomy, reproductive rights, and gender expression in what I would describe as lurid detail. I have to admit, this is not a book I’d recommend to everyone. It’s definitely a book for readers who don’t mind a bit of the grotesque. There are scenes that vividly describe torture of various kinds, including human experimentation. Yuknavitch pulls no punches. But if you’re brave enough to give it a chance, THE BOOK OF JOAN will provide you with a lot to think about.

I can’t lie, friends, I’ve been in a reading slump. Yes, that’s right, it even happens to librarians. Sometimes there’s just a lot of pressure to pick the “right” book for a review. Sometimes life just gets in the way. Sometimes there’s a lot of knitting to be done and shows in the Netflix queue. So, to make up for my recent lack of reading, I decided to bring you some of my favorite reads from 2016 that didn’t get a review here for whatever reason.

hikeThe Hike by Drew Magary — In the words of a literature professor I know, this book is “weird, wacky stuff.” To make it very simple, a man takes a hike, gets lost, and ends up taking a journey full of mythological references, puzzles, and talking crabs. Well, just one talking crab. The Hike is definitely a weird book, but I also found it laugh-out-loud funny and incredibly compelling. Magary explores not just the wacky, but what it means for a person to choose their destiny.

Y the Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan — A graphic novel series that is (supposedly) going to make a debut as a TV series on FX sometime in the future. Vaughan deals with an interesting scenario: what if every man on Earth died suddenly and all at once? Why did it happen? What will happen to the planet now? And how will the last surviving man, Yorick, manage to survive? Lots of different issues are covered in this series and I would definitely say it’s best suited for adult readers with open minds.

todaysempleToday Will Be Different by Maria Semple — I admit, this wasn’t one of my favorite reads of the year. But as I think back on it, I find I’m more fond of the plot. Eleanor Flood is a woman who is going to change her life. She decides to make everything different, to be the woman she really wants to be. A better mother, a better wife. But then, things start to fall apart. She winds up following her husband in an attempt to discover a secret he’s been keeping from her. But I promise it’s not the secret you think it is.

Lady Killer by Joëlle Jones — A new graphic novel series that I look forward to following. Set in the 1960s, Lady Killer follows the story of Josie Schuller, perfect housewife and deadly assassin. Can she escape her past and have the ideal life? Well, no. This is definitely a graphic novel; the illustrations and plot leave little to the imagination when it comes to violence. But, it’s a different take on the whole assassin character, which makes it a fun read for me.

bestfriendhendrixMy Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix — My very first book review was of Hendrix’s book Horrorstör. If you’re a fan of comedy and horror, I have to recommend his latest endeavor. Teenage girls, cliques, the 80s, and demonic possession all come together to tell a story of the healing power of friendship. The characters are funny and real while dealing with both the everyday concerns of teenagers and the possibility that their best friend may well be possessed by a demon.

So, there we have it. Five reads from 2016 that I think are worth your while. I can assure you that, even though I’ve had a tough start with reading this year, my to-read list has continued to grow. There are definitely other great reads out there; we add them to our shelves every week at the library.

girlMelanie is a very special little girl. She’s at the top of her class. She loves her teacher, Miss Justineau. But she can’t understand why Sergeant Parks and his soldiers insist on strapping her to a wheelchair just to take her to class. Why she can’t go outside and play. Why she and her classmates are locked in cells every night.

The Girl With All the Gifts is a spin on the zombie apocalypse story. Told through several viewpoints, the most compelling is that of Melanie. She’s 10 years old and goes to class with other children around her age. But sometimes, those children leave to visit Dr. Caldwell and never return. Melanie’s also not sure why she and her classmates are strapped down, why her teachers and the soldiers keep their distance from the children.

One day, when Melanie is called to Dr. Caldwell’s laboratory, the base is attacked by outsiders known as Junkers. They’re a loosely organized group of uninfected humans who live outside the protection of the military base. The Junkers have rounded up a group of Hungries, zombies who only want to eat. When Miss Justineau is under threat during the attack, Melanie realizes what she truly is: a Hungry. She saves Justineau’s life by killing others, Junkers and Hungries alike.

The group that escapes is made up of Miss Justineau, Dr. Caldwell, Sergeant Parks, Private Gallagher, and Melanie. They decide to make their way to a nearby settlement called Beacon, figuring this is their best chance for survival. Sergeant Parks doesn’t trust Melanie, but she’s a smart girl who doesn’t trust herself either. She doesn’t want to hurt Miss Justineau, so she agrees to wear a muzzle.

As the survivors navigate toward Beacon, they discover the fungus that created the zombie plague has begun taking over the world. The Hungries that roam are in various states of decay. Some still hold on to habits from their old lives, pushing baby carriages or singing songs. But others have fallen victim to the fungus. Giant fungoid trees sprout from Hungries that have been overtaken. But other Hungries survive.

The group discovers a mobile laboratory that Dr. Caldwell recognizes. Her colleagues had used the laboratory to work toward a cure for the fungus that threatens mankind. They begin using the laboratory as a base, hoping to restore the vehicle and use it to reach Beacon safely. But the group is not alone. And now that they’ve run out of e-blocker, Melanie is getting very hungry.

It’s difficult to discuss much more of the plot without giving too much away. I found myself caught up in the urgency of the story. Many times, I had to remind myself to slow down because I was skimming in order to find out what happened next. There are a few leaps of faith you have to take in order for the world to make sense. If Melanie weren’t a genius 10 year-old, the story would fall apart pretty quickly. But isn’t that the case with lots of books?

Made into a movie starring Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, and Sennia Nanua (not yet available on DVD), this is a an interesting take on zombies. There are few changes between the book and movie, from what I can tell from clips and trailers. I’m definitely putting this on my to-watch list once it’s available on DVD.

I didn’t set out to be a “weird book” reviewer, but I guess that’s what I’ve been drawn to lately. It’s been fun reading books that take typical plots and turn them sideways. I’ve always been a SciFi fan, so getting to read weird, award-winning SciFi made me a happy reviewer.

In 2014, author Jeff VanderMeer released three books, all part of the Southern Reach Trilogy. These books quickly gained some notoriety in the SciFi world and Mr. VanderMeer won both the Nebula Award and the Shirley Jackson award that year. I heard that a movie was going to be made based on the books and sat down to find out what all the fuss was about.

Thankfully, the trilogy is pretty short–about 900 pages. I found them both entertaining and compelling and couldn’t put them down. A quick word of warning: this trilogy is not for people who need every loose end tied up by the last page of the book. You will have lots of questions and pretty much none of them will be answered.

What I can tell you is that there is a place known as the Southern Reach, which is somewhere in Florida. The area is infected with some kind of alien life form and can keep things out if it chooses, but humankind has found a way in and has sent in expeditions to explore the growing infection. These expeditions never end well, but the government keeps sending them anyway.

Annihilation is the first of the trilogy. A team of four women – an anthropologist, surveyor, biologist, and psychologist – are exploring the Southern Reach. The Biologist and her team discover an underground silo filled with ominous writing. They also explore a lighthouse, which holds secrets about the previous missions and their outcomes.

The Biologist’s fears about the expedition are brought to light when she realizes that the Psychologist is using hypnotism to control the group. After the Anthropologist goes missing, the mission falls apart completely. Fighting the very team she was supposed to trust, the Biologist must find a way to survive the swamps of the Southern Reach and the horrific creatures she discovers there.

Very little about the history of the Southern Reach and the previous expeditions is revealed in Annihilation. We only know what the Biologist knows, but she barely trusts herself. I think it was the list of questions I had about just what was really going on that propelled me through the next two books in the series.

Authority takes place after the events of Annihilation. A new Director for the Southern Reach facility arrives. This man, who prefers to be called Control, is a hugely conflicted character. As he interacts with the Biologist, Control begins to discover that he has been misled about the purpose of the Southern Reach and the experiments that have gone on there. He begins to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the previous Director and finds that she may have had a deeper connection to the Southern Reach than anyone realized.

Acceptance, the final book, takes place as a prequel. The point of view jumps back and forth between several characters and pieces together what the Southern Reach was like before explorations, clone-monsters, and glow-in-the-dark lighthouse keepers. There are several plots that are explored in Acceptance and they each serve to give us more information about the characters and stories that hold the previous two books together.

While Mr. VanderMeer had a great opportunity to answer all our questions in Acceptance, he chose not to. Instead, he uses the trilogy to explore human nature and what we might do when we’re faced with an unknowable entity. If you like wacky, weird fiction without answers, this should be right up your alley.

Red Rising by Pierce BrownAdult Fiction

Darrow is a miner beneath the surface of Mars. He and his fellow Reds spend their lives underground in a dangerous, unforgiving world so future generations will be able to successfully and safely inhabit the surface of the planet. The Reds are the lowest in the castes of colors. From Red to Gold, slave to ruler, each color serves its purpose.

Darrow is content with his role. He understands that his sweat and blood, his obedience and incredible skill as a Helldiver are necessary to supply the surface with the miraculous terraforming helium-3. He must suffer so others will thrive.

This contentment begins to unravel when Darrow’s mining crew—his family—fairly and rightfully mines more helium-3 than any other. As a reward, the Lambda clan should receive the Laurel—the increased rations and luxuries usually won by the Gamma clan. When the Gammas receive the Laurel despite having been beaten, Darrow’s faith and his obedience are shaken.

Then a tumbling of heartbreaking events lands Darrow on the surface of Mars as part of the Sons of Ares, a terrorist organization that reveals the truth: Mars has been habitable for generations. Huge cities thrive on its surface. Luxuries and amenities abound for people of every color caste except the Reds who are kept both literally and figuratively in the dark.

Now Darrow must decide how far he’s willing to go to bring justice to his people. The first step is to infiltrate the Golds—the ruling caste—by becoming one of their most elite. No matter how brutal that process may be.

“Red Rising” is incredibly good. From the first lines: “I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war” I knew I was hooked. By page 50, tears streaming down my face, I knew this was one of Those Books. The kind of book that, when read at the right time, has the power to impact readers like no other book can.

Darrow starts out as a wide-eyed teenaged boy who is smart enough to know that his society’s caste system is rigged against him, but is naïve enough to believe that it’s serving a greater good. As events unfold, Darrow transforms into an angry and determined man who has but a single focus—vengeance.

Darrow narrates his story, so not surprisingly, he is the most developed character, but his narration gives life to the characters around him and makes his world feel real. The pacing is just about perfect. Slow where it needs to be and break-neck to keep the pages flying. The connections between the characters aren’t as palpable as I would have liked, but they’re still fairly solid. With just a touch of romance, Brown keeps things spicy without making it trite or gratuitous.

When you read the cover of “Red Rising,” you’ll see all the comparisons to other, super popular books that “Red Rising” is garnering. They’re accurate comparisons, but “Red Rising” doesn’t really need them beyond the first few chapters. It competently stands on its own in the Science Fiction and Dystopian genres and should, by all means, be read by fans of “Hunger Games,” “Ender’s Game” and the like. Just know that you’re getting something different and new with this one too.

Note of warning: this is the first book in a series. Book 2 is not out yet and “Red Rising” ends with quite the cliffhanger.

The Gardener by SA Bodeen

The Gardener by SA Bodeen

Teen Fiction

Everyone in the small town of Melby Falls is enamored of TroDyn Industries–the huge company trying to solve the world’s environmental problems in its complex of labs. Everyone is enamored, that is, except for Mason’s mother who works at the nursing home in town. When Mason snoops into his mother’s locked filing cabinet and discovers her hidden TroDyn Industries ID badge, he storms into the nursing home and demands answers.

Instead of answers about his mother’s past, Mason discovers that his mother doesn’t take care of the elderly as he assumed. She takes care of comatose teenagers. When one of these teenagers, the most beautiful person Mason has ever seen, mysteriously wakes up and demands to be taken away from the nursing home, Mason (who has a bit of a hero complex) is all too willing to oblige.

Thus begins an escape/adventure/quest for answers that unfolds at breakneck speed and takes place over a very short period of time.

Bodeen does a good job of laying out an intriguing and could-almost-be-true premise. There are some interesting concepts that informs the premise as well as issues of climate change and overpopulation. Sometimes these issues are addressed heavy-handedly, but for the characters who are obsessed with them, it’s a believable heavy-handedness.

Bodeen’s focus with “The Gardener” is more on Mason’s journey and the ethical questions raised in the book, so characterizations are naturally light. Mason is believable with believable motivations–we’ve all met the Knight in Shining Armor types—but secondary characters exist mainly to move the story along. These characters provide transportation, shelter, and answers when the plot needs them to. Even Laila, our damsel in distress, is a flat character.

The lack of character development will probably not matter to readers who are more interested in a lightning fast plot with some thought-provoking scientific and ethical issues thrown in for thought and discussion.

The Gardner is a solid choice for reluctant readers who are looking for a quick adventure. It might also interest teens who like biology, ethical dilemmas, or are interested in environmental issues. Avid readers will figure out where the story is going long before Mason does and might be a little frustrated that he isn’t a little quicker.

The audiobook version of “The Gardener” is worth a listen—especially for reluctant readers. It’s narrator, Luke Daniels, captures Mason’s voice very well and does a good job of distinctly voicing each character.