Great SF eAudiobooks for Your Commute

If I could read in moving vehicles without experiencing that delightful form of nausea known as car sickness, I would be able to read so many comics in the time I spend on the bus commuting to and from work every day.

Thankfully, humans invented the audiobook, and eCLP lets me download these miraculous spoken books directly to the tiny computer I carry around in my pocket (you might know it better as a smartphone).

The Library adds newly released titles all the time, but one of my favorite facets of the collection is the classic science fiction available for the listening. Over the past few years, I’ve been reading some new-to-me Big Names of SF as well as old favorites.

Here are some of the titles I’ve enjoyed the most, alphabetical by author’s last name:

Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot
irobotBefore reading this collection of linked short stories, I’d only read a random sampling of Asimov’s short fiction, including the short story “Nightfall” that inspired the novel of the same name (and a movie adaptation). This book inspired a movie too, but from what I know of the movie, it’s nothing like the book. For one, the book’s main character is a female robot psychologist, and the robots are never allowed on earth. They malfunction, have emotions, read minds, kill people, and serve as metaphors for many things, but it all happens in space or on other planets. Asimov does touch lightly on sexism, as the main character butts heads with some of the male scientists in some of the stories, and she usually comes out on top, while the men look foolish.

Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles
martianchroniclesA haunting collection of loosely connected tales, Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles essentially re-tells the story of Europe invading the New World, but with a twist at the end that I won’t reveal here. The coming of men to Mars spells doom for the Martians, who are wiped out by diseases the humans carry. Men build new cities that look like their cities back on Earth, but things do not go the way they might hope. The spirit and soul of Mars is not so easily corrupted or overcome. The only thing that gave me pause about this book was the fact that all the women are relegated to domestic roles, when they’re included at all. Perhaps I shouldn’t expect much more from a book published in 1950, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Octavia E. Butler’s Fledgling
fledglingThe last novel written before her death in 2006, Fledgling explores themes of memory, race, sexuality, and belonging. It’s a vampire novel, but not a traditional vampire novel. The vampires in this book, known as Ina, bond with humans and only feed from the humans they’ve bonded with. They do not murder people, and live in tightly knit family groups that include their bonded humans. If an Ina dies, his or her bonded humans will die as well because of how strong their bond is. The plot revolves around Shori, who has lost her memory and her family, and wakes up not knowing that she’s a vampire. This is, unfortunately, the only Octavia Butler novel available as an eAudio book. I’ll have to stick to paper for the rest of her award-winning work.

Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
moonThis wasn’t my first audiobook foray into Heinlein, but it’s my favorite of his novels that I’ve read so far (the others being Starship Troopers and Citizen of the Galaxy). This book tested the skills of the narrator, as he had to speak in a Russian accent for much of the time, and he managed to do so without being annoying or sounding fake. The plot follows an intelligent supercomputer and his repairman as the lunar colony attempts to break away from the tyrannical rule of earth. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is more fun than the other two Heinlein novels I’ve read. It features more humor, and the characters are more likeable, so it’s a more enjoyable read.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed
dispossessedLe Guin is my all time absolute favorite author in the universe, and I wish the Library had more of her work in eAudio. The Dispossessed, however, is worth listening to over and over. It follows the story of Shevek, a brilliant physicist who has made an important discovery and is invited to live on a neighboring planet for a time. Shevek’s world and the neighboring world follow different economic and political systems, and through Shevek’s eyes, the novel looks at the differences between the two and asks which is better, or if there’s a better way yet to be explored. Don’t let the high-minded themes of the book deter you, though. Shevek and his family ground the book in characters with real emotions, desires, and needs—the things that make for a good novel.

-Kelly

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Fire and Rice

I don’t know about you, but I love food.  I think it’s one of the best benefits of being human, that we can manipulate things to make fire. Because of our ancestors roasting beasts over open flames we have inherited a rich tradition of transforming ingredients and flavors, and enjoying the result!

Now, I’m not a natural cook.  When I was a kid I wasn’t interested in what my parents were doing in the kitchen, so I’ve been learning as an adult.  I love instructional material on cooking, but am not particularly thrilled with books or TV shows that are jam-packed with recipes.  When I read a book on cooking, I want to learn skills, tricks, techniques, and principles.  Don’t get me wrong, recipes are great, too, but what I look for are tangible skills that I can use.  These are some titles from which I’ve picked up more than just recipes to try:

The 4-hour Chef : the Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life – Timothy Ferris – By the author of The 4-hour Work Week.  This “cookbook” covers topics from learning languages to gutting a deer to making a makeshift survival shelter, oh and cooking too.  Mr. Ferris boils cooking down to the bare essentials:  ingredients, techniques, science, and no-frills cooking.

How to Cook : an Easy and Imaginative Guide for the Beginner – Raymond Sokolov – An excellent primer on the basics of cooking.  The author describes techniques and preparation in detail with plenty of excellent tidbits to give you the skills to thrive in the kitchen.  This book has plenty of recipes, but the focus is on the principles of cooking, and the recipes have very detailed instructions for preparation.

How to Cook Everything : Simple Recipes for Great Food – Mark Bittman – The popular New York Times food journalist explains how to cook everything in this monster tome!  Literally everything, from how to boil water and strain noodles to how to make haute cuisine. Much like the above selection, this book has recipes, but it’s more of a how-to.  This book in ebook format has awesome links to navigate back and forth between recipes and technique descriptions!

The Flavor Bible : the Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs and Culinary Artistry by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg –   This culinary couple has collected and distributed the culinary wisdom of the nation’s best chefs.  These books are filled with tips, principles, and charts to help you learn what works in the kitchen.  Excellent resources!

Jacques Pépin’s Complete Techniques : More Than 1,000 Preparations and Recipes, All Demonstrated in Thousands of Step-by-Step Photographs – Jacques Pepin – If you’re not familiar with Jacques Pepin, then it’s time to meet him!  He is everything a TV chef should be, and while enjoying his TV shows or books you will learn more principles and techniques than recipes.  He also did a great series with the legendary Julia Child, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home!

How to Grill – Steven Raichlen – Definitive primer on grilling.  You learn how to work with different kinds of grills, the difference between “direct” and “indirect” grilling, and Steven Raichlen’s 3 rules for great barbecue!

My next venture is delving deep into the art of cooking rice.  Until recently, cooking rice for me meant just getting out the rice cooker, rinsing the rice one time and proceeding to cook it.  That is not the only way; actually there are MANY different ways to cook rice.  I love the way people in Latin America use an aluminum pot to cook rice.

rice

Obtained via Google Image search.

Often times they fry a little bit of rice in oil before adding the rest of the rice and the liquid.  Also, the hard rice that sticks to the side of the pan is highly prized and referred to as “pegao.”  Rice cooked like this is way better than anything I could make using my rice cooker.

I also heard the story of Korean chefs washing rice up to 10 times before cooking it.  Then there are the different types of rice, different types and varying levels of starches in rice, and infinite ways to prepare rice.  This is why I need more than just a collection of recipes, I need how to books to provide me with knowledge that is transferable from dish to dish.    To assist me in this new culinary journey I’ll be checking out and reading:

The Amazing World of Rice : with 150 recipes for pilafs, paellas, puddings and more – Marie Simmons

The Rice Book – Sri Owen

Rice : from Risotto to Sushi – Clare Ferguson

Again, when I check out these books I’ll be looking for the books that have information on technique, principles, and even the science of achieving the desired flavor, consistency, and presentation.  Do you have any cookbooks that have been instrumental in your development as a cook?  I’d love to hear about them!

–Scott M.

 

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Joe

As a patent librarian, I often hear of interesting or strange new inventions from colleagues. One that I came across recently is this amazing alarm clock that actually makes you coffee! I don’t know of many beverages that are as polarizing as a cup of joe; most of us either love it or hate it, and those who love it usually have strong opinions about how to drink it (black, IMO). In honor of this amazing beverage, here’s a short book (and movie!) list:

God in a Cup: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect CoffeeJournalist Michaele Weissman travels the world trying to find the best cup of coffee. Committed caffeine lovers may relate.

Friends: Does anyone else remember that in the first few episodes Ross, Rachel, Monica, Joey, Chandler, and Phoebe actually hung out in a bar? For the rest of the series they spent so much time in that coffee shop that it’s hard to think of them going anywhere else.

Coffee and Cigarettes: Both coffee and cigarettes figure prominently in other Jim Jarmusch films, but this one is a paean to both. My favorite vignette in this film is the one with Bill Murray and the Wu-Tang Clan.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work: This book describes, you guessed it, the daily rituals that various artists follow. It’s a fun read, and of course coffee figures in prominently in many of the daily routines. Balzac, in particular, has  feelings on coffee that border on fanatical: “Coffee glides into one’s stomach and sets all of one’s mental processes in motion. One’s ideas advance in column of route like battalions of the Grande Armée. Memories come up at the double, bearing the standards which will lead the troops into battle. The light cavalry deploys at the gallop… Were it not for coffee one could not write, which is to say one could not live.”

from The New York Tribune, 1919

from The New York Tribune, 1919

-Irene

 

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Douglas Adams Would Have Loved Guardians of the Galaxy

Is it heretical to suggest a favorite author, now passed on, might have loved something new and hip that’s just hit the scene?  I hope not, because I really believe Douglas Adams would have loved Guardians Of The Galaxy, the white-hot sci-fi movie that has burned up the box office and once again affirmed Marvel’s dominance as the house of ideas when it comes to Hollywood blockbusters.

The protagonists in Guardians and those in the works of Mr. Adams share a certain madcap glee in their roles. They don’t use the same methods. Adams’ work in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy actually lampoons the sort of all-out violence that Star-Lord and his crew of misfits employ to solve the pressing problems in Guardians Of The Galaxy. Despite this, some parallels still remain. Without spoiling things too much, the heroes of Guardians use cinematic violence to achieve their goals, for sure, but ultimately carry the day on the strength of their growing friendship and trust in each other’s abilities. While the Hitchhiker movie adaptation did not enjoy the runaway success Guardians currently basks in, I feel like Mr. Adams would have smiled at the amazingly well-realized CGI characters of Rocket Raccoon and Groot. While both characters generate plenty of laughs in Guardians, they also deliver some emotional moments. Their inhuman appearances juxtaposed with their all-too-human foibles helps communicate the notion of a galaxy brimming with possibility. Intelligent life exists in multifarious shapes and sizes.

Indeed, in many ways, Guardians marks the next step in post-racial sci-fi. We see this in the “good-guy” world of Xandar, an enlightened society teeming with sentient beings of all shapes and colors, living and loving together beyond the boundaries of racial identity. Writer/director James Gunn surely calculated all of this when putting this tour-de-force sci-fi epic together, but the movie’s first aim, like the works of Mr. Adams, is entertainment, and it scores big on that account!

If you have seen Guardians and you find yourself wanting more, or if you have not seen it yet and want a primer on Marvel’s spacefaring characters, now might be a good time for a short list of recommended titles.

Guardians1-cov Guardians Of The Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers vol. 1. Anyone who wants to start at the very beginning need look further than this volume for the origins of Marvel’s first Guardians Of The Galaxy. This distinctively 1970’s take on the 30th century features plenty of classic comic book action, and wonder of wonders, thought bubbles! Yes, before it came uncool to reveal a character’s thoughts in today’s post-modern superhero comics (thanks, Brian Michael Bendis), writers could freely provide handy exposition and story elements by showing you what a character was thinking. If you like this one, be sure to check out Vol. 2 as well!

Guardians-Leg-cov Guardians Of The Galaxy: Legacy Vol. 1. In 2008 incomparable duo Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning revived Guardians Of The Galaxy. The movie that’s tearing up the box office like Michael Rooker chewing scenery would not exist without the stories in this collection. Along with artist Paul Pelletier, Abnett and Lanning redefined Guardians for a new era of Marvel readers. If you like this, be sure to grab Vol. 2 as well!

thanos imperative-cover The Thanos Imperative. It doesn’t get much more cosmic than this one! Abnett and Lanning once again deliver the goods as the Guardians, Nova, and a bevy of other characters first aid, then foil the plans of the Mad Titan, Thanos.

 

 

Battlebeyondthestars Battle Beyond The Stars. This campy Roger Corman sci-fi romp is not a Marvel movie, but its characters share the same misfit status and esprit de corps as the Guardians. It’s Seven Samurai in space, what more can a sci-fi fan ask for?

 

–Scott

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Last Call: Adult Summer Reading

ASR

 Saturday, August 9th is the last day to record your summer reading picks!  It only takes two to be eligible to win the grand prize, and you can choose from any genre or format your readerly heart desires.

Click here to sign in to your summer reading account and tally up those last few books of the sunny season!

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The YA Controversy

Occasionally when I know that I should write a blog, I struggle to come up with something to write about. When that happens, I go to GoodReads and look at my list of books that I’ve read to try and scrounge up some ideas or themes. Occasionally even when I go to the site, I still struggle to come up with an idea.

That’s what happened this time around, so I decided to just Google some favorite categories. For example, the always changing border of adult and young adult fiction. The idea that sometimes “kids books” are really excellent books for adults and sometimes “adult” books are really good books for young adults. The problem with this border is that the age range for young adult books is in flux. Depending on who you talk to, the age range can be from 13-25, 13-40, or 13-17. It just depends. I was looking for more books that I could recommend that was on the border when I happened upon this article.

I have heard that this article is “old news” now, but it still made me think about a couple of things and made me frustrated with the notion that ANYONE should be embarrassed about what they read, and that anyone should be able to tell someone that what they are reading is wrong/inappropriate/not literary enough. The article also made me think about the labels of books in general. I feel as though I have read books that should belong in young adult fiction but have been labeled as adult fiction instead and vice versa.

Here are two books, that I believe truly blur the lines of young adult and adult fiction. One has been categorized as adult fiction and one is young adult. Can you tell the difference? Is it obvious which is which? Oh! And no cheating!

queen of tearlingThe Queen of Tearling is about a girl who must learn how to become a queen. When her mother dies, Kelsea must learn about her past and the past of the country she will eventually come to rule. Facing sorcery and other dangers, she must battle for the light in a land full of dark.

divinersThe Diviners tells the story of a couple of characters who live in New York. There seems to be something in the air, because several begin to discover and become more accustomed to their secret powers.

I hope you enjoy the books, or don’t but either way it’s your choice.

Abbey

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Tune in Tomorrow

Everybody in Pittsburgh is connected to everybody else; they just don’t always realize it.

Test it yourself: pick a random person at your bus stop, smile, and say good morning. Unless they’re having a super-cranky day, this is most likely going to lead to a conversation. Approximately three minutes into your chat, you will discover that your new friend knows a) somebody you work with, b) somebody you used to work with, c) somebody you went to school with, d) one of your friends/relatives/neighbors, or e) some combination thereof. Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, meet Three Degrees of Yinzer. It’s 99% foolproof.

If you and I were to get into that bus stop conversation, and you were to ask me about local author Thomas Sweterlitsch, I’d have to pick option b: somebody I used to work with. Sort of. Vaguely. I spent one very pleasant day hanging out with him at the  Carnegie Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped when they needed an extra pair of hands, but we’ve otherwise had minimal professional contact: casual hellos at meetings and such. He’s a nice guy. So you can imagine how tickled I was to get my hands on his debut novel, Tomorrow and Tomorrow, and discover that all the glowing professional reviews of a nice’s guy’s first book were more than justified.*

Free event, but reservations required - click through!

Don’t just take my word for it. Join us tomorrow at 6 p.m. , CLP – Main Quiet Reading Room. This event is FREE, but space is limited, so click here to make a reservation.

If you somehow managed to avoid hearing about the book and its fascinating backstory, here’s a quick summary: In the not-so-distant future, John Dominic Blaxton lost his wife and unborn daughter to a terrorist attack that destroyed Pittsburgh completely. Paralyzed with grief, Blaxton spends most of his time in the Archive, a digital repository that contains a Pittsburgh lovingly preserved down to the last pierogi. Occasionally working, but mostly revisiting scenes from his past, Blaxton haunts the various places where his favorite memories took place. When he stumbles across the digital corpse of a missing girl, however, he finds himself caught up in a high-stakes whodunit that could wipe out every last pixel of the past he holds dear.

"How can I wreck thee? Let me count the ways..." Author photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures.

“How can I wreck thee? Let me count the ways…” Author photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures.

Readers burned out on dystopia, have no fear: Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a literary sci-fi lover’s dream. The writing style has been compared frequently to that of Philip K. Dick and William S. Gibson, and, while the influences are definitely there, I’ll up the ante and argue that there are also shades of Oryx and Crake here: Sweterlitsch achieves the same haunted, poignant tone that Atwood does, with similar poetic grit. Tomorrow is also noteworthy for its concrete scene-setting: Not only does the book capture Pittsburgh perfectly, but there are also passages late in the book about other parts of our region—Youngstown and New Castle, specifically—with potential emotional impact on people who know them firsthand. That same careful attention to detail is applied equally well to other cities that appear in the book, such as San Francisco and Washington D.C., proving that Sweterlitsch has both research chops and a flair for description.

Even if sci-fi, tech-noir, or urban dystopia aren’t in your normal wheelhouse, you’re going to want to pick this one up at some point, because Tomorrow and Tomorrow is, at its core, a story about grief and loss, two burdens that visit everyone sooner or later. It functions as a grim in-joke, too, if you’re local: blowing Pittsburgh to smithereens and reconstructing it as a digital archive transforms the city into the ultimate Thing That Isn’t There Anymore (well-played, sir, well-played). There’s a lot to unpack here, and you don’t want to be the only person in town who hasn’t read it, especially since it’s been optioned for film, too.

If all of that sounds like cake and Christmas to you, you’ll want to click over here ASAP and reserve your free tickets for tomorrow night’s Writers Live event at CLP Main, presented in partnership with Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures, which will start at 6 p.m. in the Quiet Reading Room. Tickets are free, but space is limited, so don’t be left out, especially since Mystery Lovers Bookshop will be there too, with copies for sale.

Once you’ve read the book and attended the program, your next mission is to take Tomorrow and Tomorrow to the bus stop, T, 61C, or other public gathering place of choice and make a new friend. Because until the machines take over, we are the Archive. There’s no permanent inoculation against heartbreak, but a good conversation about a good book in a great city makes for a terrific booster shot.

—Leigh Anne

*If you’re still concerned about reviewer bias, please: read the book, and then let’s go have coffee. If you think I missed the mark, the drinks are on me.

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