Reading with the Hoboken Public Library Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club: Revelation Space, Kindred, The Martian Chronicles, When Gravity Fails, and Inferno

7 Jun

The first five months of 2017 have seemed to fly by at rocket speed.  I wanted to take a moment to take a quick look back at the books we have read so far as part of the Hoboken Public Library’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Discussion Group. (Click here to read more about this book club.)  The group meets one Monday each month to discuss a Science Fiction or Fantasy book picked by group members.  Before the book discussion we also typically watch either a film adaptation or a movie in a similar genre to the work being read.  On June 19 at 6 PM we will be discussing the Space Epic Leviathan Awakes by James S. A. Corey.  To join our mailing list email hplwriters AT gmail DOT com.

Revelation Space, by Alastair Reynolds

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The group started 2017 reading, Welsh author, Alastair Reynold’s Space Opera Revelation Space. Some of the group found it a bit confusing at first how there were several different plots with different characters set during different time periods, in different places. However, all these diverse plots come together in the end for a satisfying read.  Reynolds has a background in astronomy which he used to infuse the novel with realism. I was particularly drawn to his depiction of the one character who was an xenoarchaeologist who was studying an extinct species who had evolved from bird like creatures. Revelation Space answers the question of why humans seem to be alone in the universe. The novel became the first in the Revelation Space series.

Kindred, by Octavia Butler

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For African American History Month, we read Octavia E. Butler’s time travel classic Kindred. In Kindred, Dana, a modern black women in the 1970s who dreams of becoming a writer, is suddenly pulled back in time where she must save from drowning the white child of a plantation owner. She is returned to her own time, but several times is pulled back again each time to save Rufus who she learns is one of her ancestors. Kindred looks at the complex legacy of slavery that continues to be felt in our contemporary world. Many of Butler’s other novels also deal with issues of race and gender in unique and illuminating ways which will appeal to even those who are not traditionally fans of the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre.

The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

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The Martian Chronicles is one of Ray Bradbury’s most well-known works. Bradbury combined several short stories along with new materials to chronicle the history of Mars from the first exploration by humans. Some of the group would have preferred to see more of the story centered on the original Martian inhabitants of the novel which are inventively described by Bradbury, however, Bradbury’s beautiful writing style was praised. The group felt the book was fast paced though did feel more like a series of short stories that it started as rather than a cohesive novel.

When Gravity Fails, by George Alec Effinger

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Very often cyberpunk novels feel very dated and more reflective of the 1980s than a vision of a future when read today. Effinger’s When Gravity Fails, though published in 1987, the group felt was much more contemporary than other’s in the genre. The novel will appeal to fans of noir mysteries as well as science fiction. When Gravity Fails is set in the Budayeen, a technologically advanced urban ghetto in the Middle East. People can plug in “daddies” to gain new skills like speaking a foreign language and “moddies” to turn themselves into someone else entirely. Many of the characters including the main character’s girlfriend are transgendered. One character has even had surgery to appear as a different race from the one she was born as. This provided interesting topics about identity and responsibility in an increasing technological age. Effinger wrote two other books in the series and started work on his fourth before his death, which a portion of can be read in the short story collection Budayeen Nights.

Inferno, by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven

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For May’s discussion, the group read Inferno, a 1976 retelling of Dante’s version from Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven.  In this version a science fiction writer, Allen Carpenter, must make his way through the many circles of Hell as he tries to escape.  Carpenter explores his own beliefs and examines his behavior during his life during his journey.  Along the way he encounters some famous figures from history such as Jesse James, Vlad Tepes, and with some dark humor Kurt Vonnegut’s tomb.  Most of the group found the book to be a quick enjoyable read.  The group had read two of Niven’s science fiction works, Ringworld and Protector previously so it was interesting to see a work of fantasy by him and Pournelle.  A sequel to Inferno, Escape from Hell, was published several decades later in 2009.

-Written by Aimee Harris, Head of Reference

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