Tag Archives: sci-fi

The Lunar Chronicles: A YA Fantasy Series Worth Reading

bookcoverI had first heard about Marissa Meyer’s series through a former colleague. My colleague said to me (and this is actually true) that Meyer got her start through a writing contest. I think that it’s great that Meyer went from winning a writing contest to being a best-selling author.

This series is what I’d call fairy tales with a science fiction twist. The first book, Cinder, is about a girl named Cinder who is what I’d technically call a mechanic even though she doesn’t fix cars—she’s a cyborg. She ends up doing work for Kai, the prince of New Beijing. She tries to warn him about the evil plan from the series’ main villain Lunar Queen Levana’s to start a war with Earth. Cinder, whether she wants to admit it or not, ends up developing feelings for Prince Kai in the process, despite her not telling Kai that she’s a cyborg.

bookcover (1)In the second book, Scarlet, the title character is on a journey to find her grandmother when she crosses paths with Cinder, who’s trying to escape from prison.

bookcover (2)In the third novel, Cress, Cinder and her crew need help from Cress, an expert hacker working for the bad guys against her own will. Cinder wants Cress to help her try to stop something catastrophic from occurring. I won’t give you any spoilers—just know that it’s not good.

What I like about this series is that even though each book centers around a different character, they’re all connected. The next book in the series, Winter, comes out on bookcover (3)November 10th. In the meantime all of the previous novels are available in our catalog as well as Fairest, which is Meyer’s prequel novel about Queen Levana.

Happy reading!

~Kayla

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New in SF/F: Sisters, Storms, and Song

Everything’s coming up sci-fi and fantasy on my reading list these days. Whenever I get frustrated with the world as it is, it cheers me up to spend time in the company of authors dedicated to imagining the world as it could be…or, arguably, should be.

Here are a few of the many fantastic–in multiple senses of the word–reads I’ve picked up from the Library this week.

Sisters of the RevolutionAnn and Jeff VanderMeer, eds.

The VanderMeers have a long track record of publishing excellent SF/F anthologies, and Sisters is no exception. This crowdfunded collection describes itself as Sisters of the Revolution. Click on image to reserve a library copy.“feminist speculative fiction,” and as such will appeal to anyone who enjoyed Octavia’s Brood or The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women. You might also want to try these stories on for size if you’re not sure about sci-fi, but are definitely interested in race, class, gender, motherhood, or any of feminism’s other concerns, and want to see how the genre handles them.

The collection is a healthy mix of material from the 1970s/80s and today, and includes work by Nnedi Okorafor, Angela Carter, Hiromi Goto, and James Tiptree Jr. (a/k/a Alice B. Sheldon). At least one reviewer has described the collection’s older stories as “cringe-worthy” in terms of expressing outdated attitudes. While keeping that in mind, it’s also possible to read the stories critically, with an eye to where women’s SF/F has been, and where it’s going. Available in print only (which is kind of ironic, but that’s the future for you).

Loosed Upon the World, John Joseph Adams, ed.

With a title drawn from W.B. Yeats’s famous poem “The Second Coming,” you know this anthology is going to be literally earthshaking. Adams delivers a a solid collection in the Loosed Upon the Worldrelatively new subgenre of climate fiction (Cli-fi, for short) featuring tales of environmental woe from Margaret Atwood, Paolo Bacigalupi, Seanan McGuire, and other contemporary luminaries. Though the premise behind the stories is pretty clear-cut–we broke the planet and now we must pay–the variety in the execution makes this collection seem like a bouquet of poisoned flowers: gorgeous, but deadly.

Cli-fi makes no bones about having an agenda, and the stories in this volume–published by Simon & Schuster’s SAGA imprint–point the finger at excessive consumerism, ignorance, and flawed public policy (among other things) as the reason for environmental catastrophe. Long on cautionary tale and short on solutions, this is a great read for passionate environmentalists, their skeptical opponents, and anyone who enjoys a good disaster flick.  I’d suggest pacing yourself, though: you’re reading fiction here, not watching the news. At least, not yet.

Last Song Before Night, Ilana C. Myer

Lin is an incredibly gifted musician in a world where women are forbidden to sing or play. Once upon a time she had another name, but she fled her family and her fate to follow her musical destiny. Once upon a far more distant time, Lin’s world was filled with magic, and musicians and poets could work wonders far beyond simply entertaining the masses. A terrible plague, unleashed by the quest for dark magic, put an end to all that. But now somebody’s trying to work dark magic again, which means Lin must venture to the Last Song Before Night - click URL to order from libraryOtherworld to bring back their ancient musical powers and save their culture…if she can.

Myer delivers high fantasy at its best, creating a world in which artistic skill and political savvy are equally valued (and having both certainly doesn’t hurt). Lin is a dauntless heroine who is willing to suffer an awful lot for a world that doesn’t appreciate her properly in the first place, if only because dark magic loosed upon the world would be an even more unpleasant alternative. Lin isn’t even sure the object of her quest, a legendary silver branch, actually exists; all she has is her teacher’s word. That’s still enough to send her and some of her fellow poets (think “frenemies”)off to seek it. It’s sort of like the Orpheus myth in reverse, except Eurydice might be a myth. While we’re gender-swapping things, don’t think the menfolk won’t learn a lesson or two about denying women their musical, magical birthright. Good stuff for folks who like their fantasy fiction with both melody and conscience.

It’s hard to keep up with the really avid SF/F fans and their serious reading addictions, but I’ll never stop trying. Where are my genre warriors and social justice mages? Sound off in the comments section if you’ve read any of these books, plan to read them, or have other suggestions you think the rest of the blog audience would enjoy.

–Leigh Anne

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We Don’t Need Roads

The future is today.

Or, at least it was in a fictional 1985, when Marty McFly traveled forward in time to October 21, 2015.

It also happens to be the real-world 30th anniversary of the original Back to the Future film.

Grab your hover board, light-up auto-lacing Nikes, Pepsi Perfect and—of course—your flux capacitors, and help us celebrate this momentous occasion by sharing your favorite BTTF memories, moments and ephemera!



I recently exposed myself to the hilarious madness that is Rick and Morty and noticed that the title characters bare more than a passing resemblance to Doc Brown and Marty McFly.

doc-and-marty

© Universal Studios

Rick&Morty

© Time Warner

My suspicions were confirmed after I found an extremely not safe for work Back to the Future parody from Justin Roiland, co-creator of Rick and Morty. It even featured samples of Alan Silvestri‘s iconic score. Hearing that triumphant theme (that’s been comfortably stuck in my head for weeks now) was enough to make me want to rewatch the entire trilogy, which I consider to be one ginormous near-six hour movie. Obviously, they’re still great, but there were a lot of questions I had now that the wide-eyed younger version of me didn’t/couldn’t even think about before. For instance, if I were George McFly, there’s no way I’d employ the high school bully to wash and wax my vehicles. Especially when that bully was moments away from sexually assaulting my future wife in the high school parking lot the night of the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance. Space-time continuum be damned, that’s just messed up.

biff

The classic “I-used-to-be-a-high-school-bully-but-now-I-act-like-neutered-ne’er-do-well” pose. Also, tracksuit.
© Universal Studios

-Ross



The Back to the Future movies hinge on the idea that what you change in the past can have big, sometimes unexpected, consequences in your own present and future. So when I started thinking about what I would do if I could travel back in time, I quickly decided I wouldn’t do anything. As we also see in Ray Bradbury’s famous story, “A Sound of Thunder,” the tiniest change can have far-reaching effects. I don’t want to knock over a lamp in 1899 and come back to find out Andrew Carnegie never established any public libraries. There’s a scary thought.

I wouldn’t change anything in my own past either. Sure, I wish I hadn’t been caught skipping gym that time in high school, but our pasts makes us who we are.

Maybe I would travel to the future, though. It would be pretty cool if my Honda could fly. Of course, according to Back to the Future II, that technology should be available now. I like the idea that in some alternate version of 2015, people are powering their (flying) cars with mini fusion reactors using only household trash. That other 2015 has a lot more Jaws sequels than we do, too, but I don’t feel like I missed out on that one. Still, it’s cool to imagine that in that alternate timeline, right now, Marty is out there experiencing a future we only dreamed of.

-Megan



If Marty goes back in time and changes the future, shouldn’t he by the nature of time travel change his own memories? Why does he retain the memory of what happened, but for everyone else, the new reality is the only reality they’ve ever been aware of?

If I think about this too long, my head spins. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter, because Back to the Future is so much fun. Doc is lovable because he’s the archetypal mad scientist. Marty is lovable because he’s the semi-clueless teenager we can all relate to (unless you haven’t hit the magical year of 13 yet, in which case, get ready for some crazy stuff). Together, they are an adorable, delightful—and most importantly—flawed team.

Even though Marty sort of bumbles his way through the trilogy, engaging in plenty of whacky antics and skateboard/hover board stunts, these are movies about second chances. About new beginnings and better futures.

And no matter how much time travel can make my head spin, I will always love Back to the Future for reminding me about the power of the choices we make and the second chances life gives us.

-Kelly


In case this post didn’t have enough BTTF goodness for you, check out the marathons happening at the Rowhouse Cinema in Lawrenceville, or snap up this box set that contains remastered music from all three movies on vinyl.

And, of course, you can always check out these BTTF-related goodies from your favorite library:

If you could travel to the future or the past, where would you go, and what would you change (if anything)?

-Team Eleventh Stack

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Four Times OverDrive Saved the Day

One

Star Wars Heir to the JediI was waiting in line to see Carrie Fisher’s panel at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim 2015 (remember how I’m a big Star Wars geek?). I did not have a book with me, because I didn’t want the extra weight in my backpack, which I knew I would slowly fill with merchandise over the course of the day. Longingly I thought of the book sitting in my hotel room.

Then I remembered I had also put an eBook copy of that book–Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi–on hold through OverDrive. And it had come in, and been automatically checked out.

I whipped out my phone, opened the OverDrive app, and downloaded the book. In about ten seconds, it loaded, and all I had to do was find my place and start reading.

(Unfortunately, Heir to the Jedi was a disappointment. It’s written in first person from Luke Skywalker’s perspective, and mostly he runs from planet to planet and almost gets eaten by monsters. It was also horribly predictable. I don’t mind a bit of predictability in books like this, but I’d like to at least pretend I don’t know what’s going to happen. With Heir to the Jedi, that was impossible.)

Two

Fifty Shades of GreyDuring the height of the Fifty Shades of Grey mania, my husband and I were eating breakfast for dinner at a diner. He told me about his coworker’s obsession with the book, and how she said it had changed her life and opened her eyes.

Giggling, I pulled out my phone and found an eBook copy on OverDrive. When it finished downloading (again, in about ten seconds), I read out loud in my best fake serious narrator voice.

For the next few days we read segments out loud to each other, making toilet sounds every time the main character “flushes” (which is about every other sentence).

All right, all right, that last example wasn’t exactly a “pinch.” But thanks for the fun, OverDrive!

(It’s not the kink that I find funny, but the repetitive writing style. I recommend Leigh Anne’s post “Fifty Shades Better” for well-written kinky romance recommendations.)

Three

The Non NonprofitAn actual pinch came after the time I found this awesome book in the Nonprofit Resource Center called The Non Nonprofit. It is full of fantastically challenging exercises that get you to think about your nonprofit’s mission, goals, and strategies. I was working through them when the book’s due date reared up, and of course someone had a hold on it.

But not to worry! The ebook copy was available, and before I even returned the print book I had the ebook on my tablet, ready to guide me through the world of effective nonprofit leadership.

Four

On Becoming an ArtistThat same thing happened to me with On Becoming an Artist, which I didn’t start reading until it was overdue, because I forgot to return it and wasn’t about to make an extra trip to the Library just to avoid a thirty-cent fine.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you view it), I fell in love with the book and the author before I had finished the first chapter. Once again, OverDrive came to the rescue–there was a long line of holds on the print copy, but the ebook copy was there, waiting for me to download it.

I’m not a die-hard ebook fan, but I do love having another option for finding a book, especially when it means I don’t have to wait. The next time the book you want RIGHT NOW isn’t available, check OverDrive (and/or our eBook collection through Ebsco), because it just might be sitting there, waiting for you to love it.

–Kelly

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Exploring the New Star Wars Canon

A New DawnAs a person who has spent a disproportionately large chunk of her childhood (and adulthood) reading Star Wars novels, guidebooks and comics, I was, let’s say, apprehensive when Disney announced they would reset the canon and relabel the “old” novels, comics, video games and other non-movie ephemera as “Legends.”

The purpose of doing this, Disney says, is to ensure that all Star Wars content from here on out will be consistent.

The first novel in this new canon, Star Wars: A New Dawn, came out in the beginning of September. I bought it, like I’ve bought every other Star Wars novel that’s come out since forever, with few exceptions (example: I wasn’t alive in the 1970s when the first Expanded Universe novel, Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, came out, and I was only six in the early 1990s when the Expanded Universe began in earnest with the release of Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire).

A New Dawn sat on my nightstand for weeks while I looked at it, picked it up, flipped through it and read the jacket copy. I could not bring myself to read it for fear of being horribly disappointed.

When I finally did force myself to begin, I didn’t find some strange and unfamiliar new world, but the same worn-in universe in which I’ve been letting my imagination roam free for, well, most of my life.

Spark of RebellionAs a tie-in to the new animated show Star Wars Rebels, A New Dawn tells the story of how TV show characters Kanan Jarrus, a former Jedi apprentice now wandering from one dangerous job to another, and Hera, an agitator for rebellion, meet and deal a significant blow against the Empire.

Written by frequent Star Wars novel and comic author John Jackson Miller, a majority of the tale takes place on a newly-introduced planet named Gorse, which has a moon rich in a substance essential to star ship manufacturing. The Emperor’s efficiency expert Count Vidian is sent to increase production of the substance.

Hera has come to Gorse to learn more about how the Empire is spying on its citizens and to get a closer look at Count Vidian. Kanan is flying mining explosives from Gorse to the moon every day. They meet when a disaffected Clone Wars veteran, Skelly, tries to demonstrate that the moon will be destroyed utterly if mining continues, to disastrous results.

While I wouldn’t call this, or any Star Wars novel, high literature, it is an excellent Star Wars novel and an excellent adventure novel. Its short chapters always end in cliffhangers, pulling you along. The characters feel like real people instead of the caricatures (the hero, the sidekick, the romantic interest, etc.) that sometimes appear in franchise writing.

We learn more of Kanan’s background than Hera’s, but I imagine this will be addressed in either future Rebels tie-in novels or, more likely, the show itself. The novel’s cast is also evenly divided between women and men, with one of the prominent characters even being a woman of color (this kind of equality has been more present in Star Wars novels and comics than Star Wars movies, but I’m still glad to see it continued here).

Star Wars: TarkinThe era between episodes three and four has rarely been touched upon by the Expanded Universe, so Miller’s job in writing this book must have been relatively easy canon-wise. While my opinion of the new canon is rosy so far, none of my favorite “Legends” characters have been written over yet. The next test will be Star Wars: Tarkin, which came out last week. The biggest test, of course, will be Episode VII, the title of which was recently revealed to be Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

So with cautious optimism, I await the next chapter in this new, but strangely familiar, Star Wars universe.

-Kelly

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Tea Cups, Tempests and Sci-Fi

Over the last few months I’ve been reading a bit of science fiction. With the notable exception of the Glory Lane by Alan Dean Foster, I didn’t read much sci-fi growing up (As an aside, having re-read this book recently, I think it holds up remarkably well. If you enjoy lighter sci-fi with a nod to pop-culture, American subcultures, and general weirdness, give it a go!). I suppose I’m making up for lost time getting into a lot of stuff that is considered either New Weird or Sci-Fi. I’m quite taken with much of it. Earlier this summer, however, I found myself revisiting the (possible) origins of the genre.

When I was an English major back in college I remember a very excited Shakespeare professor saying that The Tempest was the first sci-fi work of Western Literature. At the time I seem to remember being entertained by the idea but not giving it much thought. I’m also not sure how true it is! I suppose a lot depends on this particular professor’s definition of science fiction! (Also, as an aside, if you want a great book on Shakespeare, check out Bill Bryson’s book on the bard. It’s well worth reading!) Years later, when post-colonial readings of the classics occurred more widely, I noted that The Tempest was getting more and more life breathed into it and was being staged everywhere from London to Pittsburgh.

So, earlier this summer when I was reading more sci-fi, I thought back to that Shakespeare professor and the idea that The Tempest was the first (or, maybe more accurately, ONE of the first) sci-fi work(s) in Western Literature. I decided to watch the 2010 film adaptation of The Tempest starring Helen Mirren as Prospera, Felicity Jones as Miranda, Reeve Carney as Price Ferdinand, Djimon Hounsou as Caliban and Russell Brand as Trinculo.

tempestphoto

 

 

 

 

 

This more recent film adaptation by Julie Taymor is worth watching, if for nothing else the amazing performances of Housou, Mirren and Brand (yes, Russell Brand is excellent). The story, in case you aren’t familiar, consists of a user of the magical arts being cast away from civilization (usurped by a brother) supposedly for practicing said arts, with their child. Living on an island inhabited only by Caliban, the magician and daughter live for years, until the magician’s arts finally shipwreck the usurping brother and his companions. A story of revenge, difference, the “other”, and love comes to the surface.

This particular adaptation isn’t without difficulties. The character of Ariel (who is an other-worldly spirit daemon called into service, and forced to work for Prospera) is a fascinating character that opens the reader (or viewer in this case!) to a whole world of possible interactions and interplay between characters. Especially when one banks this relationship off of the relationship that Prospera has with Caliban, the whole production is ripe for some serious analysis and question asking! What I found a bit underwhelming were some of the special effects that the film-makers used with the Ariel character. Sure, Ariel is a sprite or spirit or demon or whatever, but at times the scenes featuring this other-worldly creation seemed more like a cruddy new-metal music video than a production by the Immortal Bard.

Aside from those scenes, the film is really worth seeing. Maybe it’s just my tastes in visual effects! You might think it looks pretty cool. Either way, I recommend the film highly. Get into some really classic sci-fi.

– Eric (who is reading and watching the New Weird, Old Weird and All Around Weird as fall descends on us here in Pittsburgh, AND who carefully LEFT OUT the part about how seeing this film had a lot to do with his wife demanding to see it because Russell Brand is in it and she has a major thing for Russell Brand)

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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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