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Great Science Fiction and Fantasy Reads: The First Half of 2018 with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Discussion Group

11 Jul

The first half of 2018 has been filled with a lot of enjoyable books for our Science Fiction and Fantasy Group. We hope you can join us for future discussions.  On Monday, July 23 we will be discussing Spellsinger by Alan Dean Foster in honor of the summer reading theme of “Reading Rocks.”  We always welcome input into what books the group reads, so we would love to hear your suggestions!  Email hplwriters @ gmail.com to be added to our mailing list.  If you are a Hoboken Resident be sure to sign up for our summer reading program.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
by Catherynne M. Valente
Girlwhocircumnavigatedfairyland
You may remember I wrote about The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making in a previous post about books that were originally published online.  I had loved the novel, so I was excited when one of the group members had suggested it.  There was some discussion of it in comparison to other children’s books we had read – such as the first three Oz books.  The story has a very retro fairytale feel to it which some of the group enjoyed.  Before the book discussion we watched Labyrinth which Valente has said was very influential to her in the author interview that was included at the end of the book.  You can read more about Labyrinth in a previous post I had written in honor of its 30th anniversary.

Mote in God’s Eye
by Larry Niven‎ & ‎Jerry Pournelle
Mote in God's Eye
image from Amazon.com
We had previously read two of Niven’s books as well as the Niven/Pournelle collaboration Inferno.  While the group thought that Pournelle’s influence was felt more heavily in Inferno, overall Mote In God’s Eye seemed more reminiscent of the Ringworld books by Niven we had read previously.  I found the book a little slow moving at first, but found it picked up and had me enthralled by the end with its story of first contact between humans and an alien race.  We paired the book with a screening of the Start Trek movie, Wrath of Khan which the group enjoyed.

The Magicians
by Lev Grossman
magicians
My first experience with The Magicians was its adaptation on the SyFy channel so I was curious to compare it to the book series.  Both feel like a modern and more adult take on Children’s Classics, most notably Harry Potter, Narnia, and The Once and Future King all of which we had read in previous book discussions so we had a lot of talk about them in comparison.  The group felt that although this was an interesting setup with all the borrowing from other works it felt more referential than innovative.  We also watched the first three episodes of the TV show.  I enjoyed both and this may be a rare exception where I did not necessarily like the book more than its adaptation.

Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline
ReadyPlayerOne
The group was curious to read and discuss Ready Player One since its movie adaptation was making its big screen debut.  I think this is another example of where the movie and book are very different in some ways, but both enjoyable and the changes for the movie felt on the whole necessary due to the more visual medium.  I’d definitely recommend the book, if you only saw the film. Ready Player One relies heavily on 80’s nostalgia, but we found interestingly the references did not resonate for some of the older members of the group who experienced the 80’s as adults rather than children, since many of the references are about video games, toys, and cartoons.  I had been curious to see if it was necessary to get all the references to still enjoy the book and film, but the group members who weren’t as knowledgeable still seemed to like the work.  We also watched Existenz beforehand, which the group felt had some interesting concepts about reality, but did not enjoy some of the intense visuals that are a hallmark of many Cronenberg films.

Scythe
by Neal Shusterman
scythe
One of the group members mentioned that she had been hearing a lot of buzz about the award winning Young Adult novel Scythe by Neal Shusterman so I was curious to check it out. The novel is interesting since in some ways it depicts a world which many people would see as a Utopia where disease and injury can almost always be cured and nanites in people’s blood prevent pain and depression.  Yet there is something that seems dulled in the society where death only comes by the hands of designated Scythes who “glean” in order to keep the population numbers down.  I found the book a bit slow in the early chapters where it focused on world building and typical teen concerns, but found it picked up with action and intrigue in the second half.  Beforehand we watched Ghost Rider which on the whole the group found over the top but enjoyable.

Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury
fahrenheit 451
HBO recently debuted an adaptation of the Science Fiction classic, Fahrenheit 451, which had been on our “to be read” list for a while.  We viewed the 1966 movie adaptation before the discussion.  It was interesting to see how relevant the book was to our current world situation where censorship and mass media are both hot topics.  The group had a great discussion about how Bradbury’s four walls of viewing screens seemed very relevant with VR, Augmented Reality, and people constantly being glued to their cell phones.  We had a large turnout for the 1966 movie adaptation which had an interesting stylized look that to me kept it from feeling dated.  I especially liked that in the movie the protagonist’s wife and a young woman he meets, who seem to be positioned as mirror opposites of one another, was played by the same actress.  The novel is definitely a work you should check out!

Written by:
Aimee Harris
Head of Reference

Believe It?: Bluff, The Great Swindle, and The Confidence Game

3 Jul

If you love to be fooled, or just admire a good scam, I have a handful of books that might appeal to you.

Bluff
By Michael Kardos
Bluff
Bluff by Michael Kardos is set in various locales in New Jersey (Rahway, Highlands, Atlantic City, and more), but that’s just incidental to the story. The plot involves Natalie Webb, a prestidigitator magician (as opposed to the big trick guys like David Blaine, Penn and Teller, etc.) who is not quite making ends meet. After a disastrous performance, she finds herself in need of some cash, and decides to write an article about the art of cheating at cards. In looking for a good subject for her story, she finds herself using her magic skills to assist in a major poker scam.

You don’t have to know about poker to follow the action. Turns out the art of cheating at cards is more than a mere mechanical skill set. It involves a lot of psychology as well. Things don’t go as planned. Trouble ensues.

The suspense and fast pace make this a good summer read.  You can borrow it in print from the Hoboken Public Library or our resident patrons can check it out from Hoopla.

Great Swindle
by Pierre Lemaitre
Great Swindle
If you are in the mood for bigger scams with a historical background, you may enjoy The Great Swindle, by Pierre Lemaitre.

The story involves Albert and Edouard, damaged veterans of World War I who find their country’s gratitude for their service to be wanting. They devise a scheme to take money for war memorials that will never be constructed.

Meanwhile, their former Lieutenant who was responsible for their terrible injuries is running a scam of his own.

It is fascinating to see how these three lives intersect and you’ll be racing to the finish to learn what happens. It was also fascinating to learn about the historical precedent for one of these scams. My only quibble with this excellent book was a little too convenient coincidence that is involved toward the end of the novel.

The Confidence Game
by Maria Konnikova
The Confidence Game
Finally, if you prefer non-fiction, Maria Konnikova’s The Confidence Game: Why We Fall For It…Every Time is an insightful look at the psychology of the confidence game. Spoiler alert: we like to believe great stories. Konnikova dissects the art and psychology of the con game, and claims that we all can be fooled. In this age of alternative facts, this book gives some great context for understanding how a con works.  The Confidence Game is available as an ebook and digital audiobook from eBCCLS.

Written by
Victoria Turk
Reference Librarian

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