Tag Archives: science fiction

Lists, Lists, and More Lists!

Did you know that librarians like to make lists?  I’m not talking about grocery lists or to-do lists. (Although I am fond of both of those.) I’m referring to booklists.

Part of our job, and one we find quite enjoyable, is developing lists of books our readers might find interesting. We make lists of new books. We make lists of fiction and non-fiction titles. We compile lists of mystery, science fiction, and romance books. There are lists of cookbooks, no matter what your eating or drinking preferences. We make lists of books we liked and some we may not have, but that other people might. There are lists of books for people who want to travel far away and for those who stay closer to home. We make lists that recommend other authors based on who you already like. And there are lists to tide you over until that book you’ve been waiting for actually arrives.

Given all of these lists and the fact that we add new lists every month, we have great book recommendations available 24/7, only a few mouse clicks away.

Do you have any ideas for booklists you would like to see ?  We do take suggestions . . .

-Melissa M.

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10 More Top 10 Time Travel Books

from the MGM Motion Picture "The Time Machine"

Recently, I posted a positive review of the new novel by Charles Yu, entitled How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. So I was delighted to come across an article by Yu written for The Guardian of Great Britain in which he names his top ten time travel books.

In case you’re interested, here’s the list of what he recommended:

  1. Slaughter-House Five, or the Children’s Crusade by Kurt Vonnegut
  2. Garden of Forking Paths”  (short story) by Jorge Luis Borges
  3. Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman
  4. The Fermata by Nicolson Baker
  5. The Fabric of Reality by David Deutsch
  6. A Wrinkle in Time by Madelaine L’Engle
  7. All You Zombies” (short story) by Robert Heinlein
  8. Six Walks in the Fictional Woods by Umberto Eco
  9. An example of a new type of cosmological solution of Einstein’s field equations of gravitation” by Kurt Gödel (Rev. Mod. Phys. 21: 447–450.)
  10. Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams

As you can see, Mr. Yu has played it a little loose with his list, which he readily admits. Besides fiction, there is non-fiction, including an article on time travel by Kurt Godel, of Gödel, Escher, Bach fame. I don’t have a problem with that per se, but I do take issue with calling the list ten time travel books, when two are short stories in larger collections (not devoted to time travel stories) and one is a journal article. Still, it is a pleasure to see what he likes and, since they are his rules, he’s allowed to break them.

Here’s an additional list of ten more time travel books, all novels this time, to supplement the list above. A couple of my favorite time travel books did not make Yu’s list, though his own book certainly makes mine. I am going to carry over one; though not on my list, Slaughter-House Five, which is one of my favorite books, period, it certainly deserves to be.

  1. Time and Again by Jack Finney
  2. Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut
  3. Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
  4. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
  5. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
  6. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  7. Kindred by Octavia Butler
  8. The Female Man by Joanna Russ
  9. Martin Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick
  10. The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

And two Bonus novels:

These 12 additional time travel novels hardly address how many are missing from the original list; in fact, this list is lopsided in its own way: a bit too literary from some folks, I’m thinking.

So, what do you think? Anything missing?

– Don

PS  The only edition of Behold the Man any of the libraries has is the original abbreviated novella, which Michael Moorcock expanded into a full novel — we intend to correct that situation by ordering a copy ASAP.

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“How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe:” Meta-Fiction with Heart

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In the book business, it’s called hand-selling.  In the library biz, it’s reader’s advisory.  Here’s one of the shortest, sure sell pitches ever, for the book entitled How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu:

It’s about a time machine repairman. 

Long pause.

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Ok, if this is your kind of book, chances are you’ve already put a reserve on it or jotted it down to do so later.  If it isn’t your kind of book (and you’re still with me), I’m going to “go deep.”

How to Live is about a time machine repairman who spends most of his life in a cubicle-like time machine.  In the “science fictional universe” in which he lives, it seems time travel is real and his father one of its inventors.  The science, or pseudo-science, in the novel is fine stuff.  When describing the machine and time travel, words like “chronogrammatical,” “tense operator,” and “grammar drive” evince themselves convincingly. 

Oh, the time machine repairman is named Charles Yu. 

Before you flee in your own time machine, operated with a simple click of the machine beneath your hand, know that this isn’t your granddad’s post-modern novel; I like to think that this is meta-fiction at its best.  There is nothing cold or dispassionate about this book.

Here’s why.

What you’d never expect is this is a highly emotive, lyrical story, deeply whimsical, sometimes humorous, and a melancholic examination of fictional time theory, with the kicker that it probes the first thing we’d all do if we actually could travel in time: attempt to change the past.  And we all know how that always turns out. 

There is an ennui here, a pervading sadness about the human condition, something that might best be described by that most elusive of Japanese terms, wabi-sabi.  There is regret, there is angst, there is nostalgia, there is longing, there is guilt.

And there is a time machine.

If I had to describe this book in its own vocabulary, I’d say that it conjures narrative truths in a unified, emotionally resonant field.  Outside of the science fictional universe, you can think of it as a winning mix, replete with a touch of Adams, a dollop of Vonnegut, a measure of Proust, and pinches of Wells and Bradbury.

Yup, this is definitely not the old man’s post-modern, or even science fiction, novel.

– Don

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20 Most Recommended Steampunk Novels

I hate alternate history novels.  I’ve tried.  I just can’t get with the program.  It’s similar to movies about real people whom I’ve seen during my lifetime:  JFK, Martin Luther King, Jim Morrison.  I see them portrayed on the big screen and I think, no, that’s her/him. 

I’ve got nothing against Harry Turtledove, who is one of the finest purveyors of alternate history novels writing today.  It’s just not up my alley.

So, it would seem, there is no logical reason that Steampunk novels would appeal to me.  Fortunately, this isn’t necessarily about logic.

You might ask, what is steampunk?  The best definition I’ve run across to date comes from PC Magazine.   They describe steampunk as “a retro version of cyberpunk,”  noting that it is a term that was coined by K. W. Jeter to describe novels that “combine high-tech fantasy with Victorian-era surroundings.”  That era was when steam ruled as the most important energy source.  Still wondering?

Think Jules Verne and his fabulous flying machines and fantastic submarines and futuristic rockets.  Think H. G. Wells and his equally incredible time machine.  Think gaslit streetlamps, heavy fog, filagreed frocks, and ominous doings in the highways and byways of the late 19th century.

There you go.

Both Wells and Verne are thought as forbearers of the genre that would become steampunk.   Dickens and Stoker and Chesteron and Mary Shelley all fit nicely into the category of classic writers that influenced a genre which sprouted in all its magnificence in the 80s and is bigger today than ever before.   

What follows is a list of most recommended titles from any number of sites, including Library Journal, The Guardian, Solar Flare, Flashlight Worthy, and Fantasy Magazine and any other number of library and book-related blogs.  I compiled this list for myself and thought it might serve others interested in dipping their big toes into a history of Future Past.

The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
Infernal Devices by K. W. Jeter
The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
The Warlord of the Air by Michael Moorcock
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore
Steampunk: anthology, ed. by A. VanderMeer & J. VanderMeer
The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
Perdido Street Station b y China Mieville
Extraordinary Engines: the Definitive Steampunk Anthology
Souless  by Gail Carriger
Leviathan by Scott Westerfields
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
Steampunk Trilogy by Paul Di Filippo
Homunculus by James Blaylock
Morlock Night by K. W. Jeter
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
The Time Machine by H. G. Wells
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll & Mister Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Julian Comstock: a Story of 22nd Century America by Robert Charles Wilson

You may notice that three of the novels in this list are currently unavailable in any library in the county: Homunculus, Morlock Night, and Warlock of the Air.  Both are older and, to remedy that situation, we will be ordering new copies ASAP.    Meanwhile, if you are so inclined, dig into the others.  

They’ll give you plenty to think about concerning the past, the future, and, most of all, the right now.

– Don

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Historic, Mystery, Science Fiction

If you enjoy a good audio book now and then but just don’t feel like sorting through the 1,600 (really!) or so titles that we have in stock at any given time, check out our display of historic, mystery, and science fiction titles. Each of the books on these shelves is lovingly hand chosen by yours truly, using an exactingly scientific process and a roll of cheerfully colored stickers. And here’s how I do it.

            

Historic – To me, historic fiction is written in the present but set in the past, where the book’s time period is almost as important to the story as the plot and the characters. For example, although Suite Francaise is set during WWII it’s not historic, because that’s when it was written (it’s just a book that no one bothered to translate right away). But these books have made it into my historic fiction section.

  • Heyday by Kurt Andersen – America, gold rush, blah blah blah. It’s really really long and I couldn’t finish it. Definitely historic, though.
  • The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery – You get two fires in this book, which is about an American orphan in Kyoto in the mid 1800s.
  • The Good German by Joseph Kanon – Don’t misplace your mistress, especially in Berlin, especially in 1945.

Mystery – The easiest way to find a mystery is to look for dead people, or if you’re me, look for the word “mystery” on the CD case. Those who write mysteries tend to keep writing mysteries, so if you find yourself fancying a particular detective you’ll often have many titles to choose from.

  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – Highlight the text between the brackets for a spoiler. (Everyone did it.)
  • Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith – You could argue that this one’s a western (due to the blatant use of cowboys) but it does say mystery right on the cover. So there you go (plus, I don’t have western stickers).
  • Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear – Okay, this one does border on historic since it’s set in the years after WWI. The main character is a charming female private investigator and former army nurse with a tragic love life, intriguing scar, and a sporty little car. What else could you want?

Science Fiction – If there are robots, spaceships, strange planets, hot green alien babes, stuff like that – you’ve got science fiction. Stay away from dragons, though, as that puts you into fantasy territory and I don’t have any fantasy stickers either.

  • I, Robot by Isaac Asimov – I will lose a little librarian street cred here by freely admitting that I’ve never read the book, but I’ve seen the movie.
  • Dune by Frank Herbert – Okay, I’m really bad at science fiction. You’ve got me. But Scott likes Dune. So you can go talk to him about it, right?
  • Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan – This one sort of veers into mystery territory, since the main character’s a UN investigator. But he’s also doing his detecting in a) the 25th century, and b) a replacement body. That covers the sci-fi requirements nicely.

And there you have it, the three genres that I’ve managed to label. I’m still campaigning for more stickers (Vampire Porn and Manly Adventure come to mind), but that may take a while. Until that glorious stickery day, you can always ask a librarian.

– Amy

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The Sandman’s 20th birthday

A friendly sci-fi blog pointed out that November marks the 20th anniversary of Neil Gaiman‘s oneironautic graphic novel epic The Sandman.  If you need further motivation to check out the series, the blog goes on to list the five ways The Sandman changed the world, and the author isn’t just talking about the numerous spin-offs the series inspired (which include popular series like Death, Lucifer, and Sandman Mystery Theatre).

If you’ve already read The Sandman, and fallen in love with its characters and mythology, you can become an expert by reading the many books that analyze the comic strip, like The Sandman Companion or The Sandman Papers.

And, just because the series is long over, doesn’t mean that the mythology has ended.  In this article, Gaiman discusses the new Sandman projects happening to commemorate the anniversary–which means that we can all keep dreaming.

–Renée

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My Vacation Day Reading

thanksgivingThanksgiving is upon us, and while I am looking forward to the usual holiday highlights of a day off from work, inappropriate amounts of eating, hanging out with family, and passing out somewhere, I’m also looking forward to catching up on some of the reading I’ve been neglecting.  So, for your pleasure, here are some of the books I’ll be spending time with this upcoming Thanksgiving day:

The Great Weaver From Kashmir by Halldor Laxness – Laxness, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955, is generally considered Iceland’s greatest novelist and a contemporary master of epic storytelling.  I became enamored withweaver his work after reading his fantastic novel World Light several years ago (you can read my staff pick review of World Light here).  Very recently, his first novel, The Great Weaver From Kashmir, was published for the first time in English, and of course I got a copy right away.  Great Weaver is a semiautobiographical story about an idealistic young man who sets off on a journey to achieve perfection, and in doing so encounters various new ideas that alter his worldview, including socialism and Catholicism.   Please note that our library has two copies of this book on order, but you can place a hold so you can be sure to get a copy once they’re in.  In the meantime, along with World Light, I highly recommend Laxness’s other great novel, Independent People, and his slightly shorter works, The Fish Can Sing and Under the Glacier.    

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge – This book is BIG science fiction, in the sense that it deals with very complex speculative, yet scientifically grounded, ideas.  For instance, the book introduces one to an alien species of doglike firedeep2creatures who live in packs that share a group mind, and individuals only exist as the whole of a pack of creatures.  And in another great leap of imagination, Vinge describes our galaxy as one with various “zones of thought” that influence the level of intellectual and civilizational advancement obtainable by anything living within a zone.  Earth and its inhabitants, for instance, reside in the “slow zone,” while godlike, uber-technologically advanced beings exist within the “transcend.”  Sound mindblowing?  It is, and so much so that it won the Hugo Award, science fiction’s greatest prize, in 1993.  Incidentally, its follow-up prequel, A Deepness In the Sky, won the Hugo in 2000.

So, when the Thanksgiving cleanup is done, the family has gone home, and the tryptophan is taking over, I’ll be found relaxing somewhere with these great books.  What books will you be reading?

–Wes

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Shelf Examination: Short Stories

Once upon a time, on a hectic blue planet, everybody was so busy earning a living, doing housework, feeding the dog, feeding the cat, feeding the marmoset, running errands, and surfing the internet, that nobody had time to read anymore.  So everybody in the book industry moved to upstate New York and raised goats instead of writing and publishing, and all the unemployed librarians joined the Venusian zombie ninja resistance movement.  This primarily involved scanning the night sky for warships and composing protest songs, just in case Venusian zombie ninjas actually existed, and had designs on taking over the hectic blue planet.

Okay, maybe the goat-raising part was a bit of a stretch, but it never hurts to imagine what a world without reading might look like.  Consider my scenario a foretaste of the dystopian future that awaits you if you don’t come check out the Main Library’s short story collection.  Still not convinced you have time to read?  Try one of these books on for size, and see if the power of quick, quality fiction can’t change your mind.

The Collection:  Flash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short Stories, James Thomas & Robert Shapard, eds.

Authors Include:  Dave Eggers, Grace Paley, John Updike, Amy Hempel

Random Sample:  David Galef’s “My Date With Neanderthal Woman,” in which a young man, bored with contemporary women, tries dating somebody from a different era…literally.

 

The Collection: Many Bloody Returns, Charlaine Harris & Toni L. P. Kelner, eds.

Authors include:  Tanya Huff, Jim Butcher, Christopher Golden, Carolyn Haines.

Random Sample:  Bill Crider’s “I Was a Teenage Vampire” drolly riffs on J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye

book jacket      book jacket      book jacket      book jacket

 

The Collection:  Paris Noir, Maxim Jakubowski, ed.

Authors Include:  Cara Black, Michael Moorcock, Dominique Mantoli, Stella Duffy.

Random Sample:  A jaded man looks back on his carefree past as a busker and rues his loss of innocence in John Williams’s “New Shoes.”

 

The Collection: This is Not Chick Lit, Elizabeth Merrick, ed.

Authors include:  Aimee Bender, Francine Prose, Curtis Sittenfeld, Mary Gordon.

Random Sample:  Who was Dolly Mae Devine, and what was her story?  Scholarly documents, archival photographs and personal statements tell the tale in Carolyn Ferrell’s “Documents of Passion Love.”

 

The Collection: This is My Funniest, Mike Resnick, ed.

Authors Include:  Spider Robinson, Connie Willis, Harry Turtledove, Jane Yolen.

Random Sample:  A heated exchange of letters about the ownership of a certain set of genes makes Nancy Kress’s “Patent Infringement” a painfully good read.

Please don’t doom your favorite authors to a lifetime of herding goats!  Try a short story collection on for size today, and remember:  only YOU can prevent the Venusian zombie ninja apocalypse!

How many more genres and formats can there be, you ask?  Tune in to the next installment of Shelf Examination and find out…

–Leigh Anne

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Ray Bradbury explains it all for you

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, the following video clip, featuring Ray Bradbury, is worth one or two sets of the Oxford English Dictionary:

A man after my own heart, even if I didn’t already love all the things he wrote.

Have a favorite library or bookstore moment that fires you up, or warms your heart? We’d love to hear it…

–Leigh Anne

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Did You Hear the Dice?

You may or may not be familiar with the term “gamer fiction”. For those who don’t know, gamer fiction is a sub-genre of fiction usually associated with science-fiction, horror, or fantasy. Gamer fiction comes in many forms, but is most often found in the paperback or trade paperback  format. Even before online and console video games hit popular culture with the force of an atom bomb, there were table-top games. Role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons came first, and in them players took on the roles of noble elves, greedy dwarves, bronzed barbarians, or other fantastic archetypes, all seeking glory and treasure under the guise of upholding the greater good. But D&D originally grew out of  skirmish miniature game called Chainmail, wherein players  pushed tiny pieces of metal around a small, fully realized miniature environment (think model railroading, but with a lot more violence) and matched their forces against each other in mortal combat. Whether role-play or miniature game, most of these conflicts are governed by detailed rules of play, with sometimes random outcomes determined by a character or piece’s statistics and the throw of a handful dice.

 

These early games spawned innumerable imitators, and over the course of time, some of their progeny eclipsed them both in depth and fandom. British company Games Workshop developed Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer 40,000 in the mid-1980’s, raising the bar of quality for 25mm miniatures (also called figures, or figurines by Hummel-obsessed gamer moms who knew no better). Cast in lead or pewter, these tiny toy-soldiers could be used in their own games, or coupled with games like D&D to better illustrate the scene of the action. Many game designers developed elaborate worlds and universes for their creations to dwell in, providing additional context and verisimilitude for gamers longing to immerse themselves that much more deeply in their hobby. From these backgrounds a natural inclination to write stories soon grew.

 

In 1985 Gary Gygax, creator of D&D, wrote Saga of Old City, a 352 page paperback telling the tale of Gord the Rogue, a thief and adventurer in the lands of Greyhawk. This humble paperback was among the first of what would become a multi-million dollar niche of the publishing industry: gamer fiction. A few years later (1988 to be exact) a small company called FASA published a sci-fi novel called Decision at Thunder Rift. Set in the BattleTech universe, Decision at Thunder Rift told the origin of a ragtag band of mercenaries and their amazing, humanoid walking tanks, the BattleMechs. This story followed perfectly with FASA’s popular board/miniature game, BattleTech. Since then dozens of other BattleTech novels have followed. It wasn’t long before the Brits had gotten into the act with a line of their own Warhammer and Warhammer 40K novels.

 

By their very nature gamers are obsessive folk. When they latch on to a miniature or role-play game, they often absorb themselves in all of its trappings. It was a logical next step that they might want to read fiction set in their favorite gaming universe. Today gamer fiction commands significant rack space in most popular book stores. The sheer number of titles staggers the consumer. Most major game lines will offer dozens of titles, some written by well-known authors in their related genres, others by relative newcomers who often cite the games themselves as the reason they became writers. New York Times best-selling authors like R.A. Salvatore and Margaret Weiss made their fame and earned their stripes writing gamer fiction. Still, a lot of gamer fiction just isn’t very good. A common question among gamers when they’re sharing reviews of gamer fiction is “did you hear the dice?” If you can hear the dice rolling metaphorically behind the curtain of an action scene, the author has failed to seamlessly transport the essence of the game world  from the table-top to the printed page. It is prose perhaps one level above fan-fiction (or fanfic, the likely topic of future blog entries), and ultimately disappointing in its inability to match the quality of the best writing in the genre it seeks to emulate.

 

Even bad gamer fiction can serve a purpose, further engaging the fan of the associated game line in his hobby and helping to kill tedious moments like riding public transportation or waiting for root canal in a dentist’s office. However, when gamer fiction is good it reverberates from the page like music for the gamer’s soul. It’s his world, his escape, on paper, eminently portable, and more than that, evidence that his hobby is alive and viable amidst a sea of other distractions. Recent years have seen libraries begin to fill out their genre and teen collections with gamer fiction. With the cost of paperbacks approaching $10 and the abundance of gamer fiction, making a bad selection can be painful. Now lovers of gamer fiction can sample a title from the library and if they find it lacking, all they’ve lost is time. But there’s plenty of solid gamer fiction to be had at the library, and even if you’ve never thrown dice in anger, you might find some of it surprisingly accessible. Below you can find a short list to get you started.

 

 

–Scott

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