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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

Meet the Robots Next Door: Autonomous, The Clockwork Dynasty, Humans, and Doug Unplugged

4 Apr

More and more robots are in the news from DARPA/Boston Dynamic’s Big Dog, a futuristic pack mule, to Hiroshi Ishiguro’s AI robot, Erica, which can converse on 20 different subjects.  It makes me question what the world will be like surrounded by machines that someday may be able to not just think, but also feel.  Check out these visions of what our robotic future could hold.

Autonomous
by Annalee Newitz
Autonomous

Autonomous is the debut novel from the founder of the Science Fiction Website io9, Annalee Newitz.  Autonomous follows Jack, a Robin Hood of pharmaceutical patents who is trying to fix the catastrophic results from her latest reengineering of a productivity drug that has caused its users to stop eating, drinking and sleeping due to an all-consuming desire to work.  International Property Coalition Agent, Eliasz and his indentured robot partner Paladin are hot on Jack’s trail and unexpectedly find love in a future where robots and human uneasily coexist.  Newitz imagines a world where humans can be indentured as well as robots since the theory is if it is ethical to enslave one type of sentient being than it is justified to allow humans who cannot afford to live on their own the same “option.”  Autonomous deals with a variety of social and philosophical issues including rights to health care, gender identity, corporate responsibility, and what being autonomous means for not only robots, but humans as well.

The Clockwork Dynasty
by Daniel H. Wilson
Clockwork Dynasty

Robots are not a new concept with automatons dating back a hundred years.  In Japan’s Edo Era, the  karakuri ningyo, a type of mechanical dolls could pour tea, shoot arrows, and even paint Kanji characters.  While Newitz focuses on the robots of the future, Wilson looks back to these earlier mechanical dolls and imagines a world where robots have been secretly living with us for centuries.  The main action of The Clockwork Dynasty jumps from the current day when a brilliant grad student studies early automatons and 1725 in Russia, when the Czar Peter the Great has secretly had Peter and Elena, two avtomats, carrying out secret missions for him.  The Avtomat, as the robots, are called in The Clockwork Dynasty reminded me of the folk tales of golems since each golem was activated by a word such as truth, and each of the avtomats have a guiding principal they are programed to uphold.  The relationship between the adult bodied Peter and the child bodied Elena reminded me of the relationship of Louise and Claudia in Interview with the Vampire, where the differences in their appearance impact their experience of immortality and relationship with one another.  For those who enjoy The Clockwork Dynasty also check out Wilson’s novels Robopocalipsis and Robogenesis, as well as his humorous non-fiction, How to Survive a Robot Uprising.

Humans
Humans

I recently started catching up on episodes of Humans, which is available to stream from Hoopla.  Humans is set in the UK in the near future when robots called synths have replaced much of the workforce and act as maids, babysitters, and more.  The Hawkins family has just acquired a new synth Rita and each reacts differently to her presence with father Joe feeling it fills the void left by his wife while at work, his youngest daughter views her as a doll come to life, his wife is suspicious of her and sees her as a threat to her family safety, their older daughter is angry that her future is limited by the synths like Rita taking all her job opportunities, and their teenage son views her as an object of adolescent desire.  What none of them realize is that Rita is part of a group of synths that cannot just mimic humans, but has also gained consciousness.  The series is based on the Swedish series Real HumansHumans will appeal to fans of drama as well as science fiction.  Hoboken Resident Library Card Holders, check out the first two seasons on Hoopla before the third season debuts later this year on TV.

Doug Unplugged
by Dan Yaccarino
Doug Unplugged

The previous entries all contain violence and other adult content not appropriate for a younger audience, but of course the concept of robots is one that has long been intriguing to children.  My son is a fan of them so was delighted with another title available from Hoopla, Doug Unplugged.  Dan Yaccarino’s Doug Unplugged is a charming picture book which features bold colors and retro-futuristic illustrations.  Doug’s parents leave him plugged in to learn all about the city where he lives, but he discovers when he unplugs himself and explores on his own that nothing beats experiencing something for oneself; this is an important lesson for our screen addicted times.  You can either check out the print version available at our pop up branch or check out a Hoopla version which animates some of the drawings and features a read along to the narration to assist your emerging reader.  Also available in print and from Hoopla is Doug Unplugs on the Farm.

Want more robots?  Check out my previous posts discussing Isaac Assimov’s I, Robot and Charles Stross’s Neptune’s Brood.
Written By Aimee Harris, Head of Reference

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