The HPL’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club meets monthly. Each meeting a different science fiction or fantasy book is picked by the group. Along with the selected works group members discuss other favorite science fiction/fantasy books, TV shows, and movies. If you would like to be added to the mailing list to keep up to date about what is being read, email email@example.com The next book we will be reading is Larry Niven’s Ringworld, for the meeting on September 22 at 6 pm. We have the rest of the year planned out as well; we will be reading Peter Straub’s suspenseful Ghost Story in October, Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein in November, and Terry Pratchett’s humorous Hogfather in December. We would love to hear your ideas for books for the group to read in the upcoming year.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
I had first read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy back when I was in middle school and rereading it turned out to be as funny and engaging as in my memory. The book centers around Arthur Dent, who after watching his home be destroyed to build a highway, then finds earth also has been destroyed by aliens planning a similar interstellar project. Throughout are entries from the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” which tell its readers why it is always important to carry a towel and how the Babel Fish inserted in one’s ear allows you to understand any language. The absurd humor is of the type that I find uniquely British so if you are fan of Monty Python or Dr. Who, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy should tickle your funny bone. Adams satirizes everything from government, politics, business, religion, poetry, and philosophy. A few of the members of the group felt it lacked any real “science” for science fiction, but we agreed that if you are looking for something humorous Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a good choice. It is a very quick read so if you haven’t checked it out yet, I highly recommended it. The library also held a screening of the 2005 movie adaptation and we hope to have screenings of adaptations of Frankenstein and Ghost Story as well in the upcoming months.
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
You may remember I had previously done a post on Neil Gaiman, who is one of my favorite authors. I was therefore excited when the group chose American Gods for our June book club choice. We read the author’s preferred text, which was released for the 10th anniversary of the novel. American Gods mixes old gods from myths and legends that came over to America with immigrants, such as Anansi from Africa and Odin from Scandinavia, with the new “gods” from our modern society, such as Television, Media, and the Internet. American Gods revolves around antihero Shadow, who has only recently been released from jail and becomes a pawn in the coming war between the new and old gods. Although I have found sometimes the author’s preferred text are bogged down in unnecessary exposition that a skilled editor would leave out, in this case American Gods held my interest even with the additional text, though those with less time may prefer the shorter original edition (both are available from BCCLS libraries). This rich novel gave the group a lot of great topics to discuss. If you enjoy this work also check out Gaiman’s Anansi Boys which further develops the world that Gaiman created in American Gods, this time focusing on the sons of Mr. Nancy (aka Anansi).
Hyperion, by Dan Simmons
Dan Simmons has a bit of something for everyone in Hyperion. Those who enjoy literature will enjoy the conceit of this Science Fiction novel having seven pilgrims on their way to a planet called Hyperion sharing their stories reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales (these include a scholar, poet, priest, detective, soldier, and consul) as well as the reference to poet John Keats and his works. Hyperion also contains elements of horror in their dealing with the mysterious Shrike. There is even some romance in three of the stories as well in the mix. My favorite was the Scholar’s Story, but each had interesting characters and a thought-provoking tale. It was fun to hear the different group member’s perspectives on Hyperion. One member of the group found the first story from the priest boring and slow moving, while another thought it was the best story in the book. The character of the poet, Martin Silenus, was also polarizing with some of the group enjoying his antics and others finding him irritating. This novel brought up some great debates about various elements and characters. Check it out and see what you think!
Orlando, by Virginia Woolf
For the book club’s first female author we decided to go with not just a fantasy classic, but a classic work of literature, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. Many of the group had seen the movie adaptation, but were curious to read the novel that inspired it. The group was mixed in their reaction to Orlando with some praising it highly and others finding it difficult stylistically to get through. However, everyone found a lot to talk about and discuss in this thought provoking novel. What gives this classic its fantasy twist is that Orlando not only has an extraordinarily long life (living from the time of Queen Elizabeth into the twentieth century), but that half way through the novel he magically changes gender and becomes female. Orlando explores the notions of both gender and sex and the expectations society places on men and women. It therefore leads us to question the ideas that come with an insistence on a gender binary. We can see the seeds of what many contemporary women authors write about when dealing with gender planted in Orlando and it resonated with me as a precursor to Jeannette Winterson and Sarah Waters works, both of whom I wrote about in June for our Pride month blog.
Jeanette Winterson wrote an informative and thought provoking intro to one edition of Orlando, an excerpt of which you can read here. Winterson states, “Orlando refuses all constraints: historical, fantastical, metaphysical, and sociological. Ageing is irrelevant. Gender is irrelevant. Time is irrelevant. It is as though we could live as we always wanted to; disappointments, difficulties, sorrow, love, children, lovers, nothing to be avoided, everything to be claimed.” This to me is what the best science fiction and fantasy allow, us to move beyond and question the world as it is and look at it for better or worse the way it could or can be.
Hope to see you for our discussion of Larry Niven’s Ringworld in September!
-Written by Aimee Harris, Head of Reference