Selections from the Hoboken Public Library’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club Part 6: 1984, The Golden Compass, and The Left Hand of Darkness

25 Mar

This is the third year of the library’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club and we’ve read some great books so far including 1984, The Golden Compass and The Left Hand of Darkness.  In April we will be discussing Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers, in May we will discuss Larry Niven’s Protector, and in June we will discuss Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  I hope you will join us and help plan the books we will be reading for the rest of the year.  Email hplwriters AT gmail DOT com to be added to our mailing list for the group.  You can see previous book club posts here.

George Orwell’s 1984

In January, we rang in the New Year with the dystopian classic 1984 by George Orwell.  We watched the more recent of the two film adaptations that was released in 1984 and starred John Hurt.  Several members of the group had read the book multiple times and it was agreed that repeated readings are beneficial to pick up the many layers of the novel.  Even if you have not read the novel or seen the film you are probably familiar with the character of Big Brother, an omniscient entity watching out for the smallest infraction even if it is something merely thought and not said aloud.  1984 looks at a society where the basic human bonds of familial love, friendship, and romance begin to breakdown.  Some of the group felt the first section of the book moved a little slowly, but it picked up as the main character gradually rebels against the society he is forced to be a part.  Also for those fascinated by linguistics the idea of “Newspeak,” where language is increasingly reduced to the point of absurdity in order to prevent inappropriate thoughts from being even possible, was fascinating and led to a discussion about the way different languages and cultures express concepts uniquely.  The group felt that 1984’s warning about the possibilities for the future are still important today.

Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass

In February we read one of my favorite fantasies, Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass.  The group also viewed the recent film adaptation starring Nicole Kidman.  I brought in my replica alethiometer and models of some of the vehicles from the film.  In The Golden Compass, the characters’ souls take the form of daemons which they are able to have as a constant companion for comfort and advice.  I would love to have one and it is fun to imagine if you lived in that universe to think of what form your daemon would take (typically the animal reflects the person’s attitude and personality).  The group enjoyed the book and some of the other members planned to or had read the other books in the trilogy.  Although the group felt the movie lacked some of the complexity of the book, because of time constraints and the desire to make it more child friendly, they still enjoyed both works.  The group members especially liked how the characters in The Golden Compass were multifaceted and were not simply divided into good and evil as in some fantasy works.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness

In honor of Women’s History Month, we read Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, a classic science fiction work with a thought-provoking look at gender.  On the planet Gethen the inhabitants can, during a short period time, be either male or female, but typically exist in an androgynous state.  They are visited by an envoy from the Ekumen, a sort of league of planets all of which of whose inhabitants are divided up into male and female genders.  The Left Hand of Darkness looks at how people would have evolved and interacted in such an environment.  Many of the group felt that the book was more concept than plot driven.   Besides the gender issues that the book brought up, some of the discussion also revolved around Le Guin’s depiction of the cold winter climate on the planet.

Although the group felt The Left Hand of Darkness would make an interesting movie, since it had not yet been adapted as a major motion picture they had picked out the film Tank Girl to view, which stars a strong female protagonist adapted from a comic book series.  The group liked the unique visual aspects of the film which included animation and comic book stills along with the live action.  It was agreed female action heroes and super heroes are only now becoming more celebrated and may have been partially why the movie was not more successful in 1995, when it first came out.

I hope you’ll check out these great science fiction and fantasy works which are all are available in print from the Hoboken Public Library or as an eBook on one our eReaders for loan at the reference desk.  The movies are all available from BCCLS libraries on DVD.

Hope to see you for our discussion of Mary Poppins on Monday April 25 at 6 PM!  There will be a special movie screening beforehand starting at 4 PM (email hplwriters AT gmail DOT com for more details).  The Mile Square City Readers Book Club will meet on Thursday March 31 at 7:30 PM to discuss Opening Belle by Maureen Sherry.  You can get a copy of Mary Poppins or Opening Belle from the Reference Desk.

-Written by Aimee Harris, Head of Reference

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