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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

Can Anyone Be Original?: Searching for the Answer in Jean Genet’s Absurdest Play The Maids

23 May

themaids
Image from Hoopladigital.com

Class, power, and a plot to kill, these seem to be the embodiment of what the play, The Maids by Jean Genet, as theater of the absurd gets across. But it’s not these things that captured me about Genet’s The Maids. It was what lies beneath the surface that drew me in to consider another possible way to read this play.

The Maids (French: Les Bonnes) is a play by the French dramatist Jean Genet. It was first performed at the Théâtre de l’Athénée in Paris on April 17, 1947.  While Genet’s The Maids was loosely based on the real life infamous sisters Christine and Léa Papin, who brutally murdered their employer and her daughter in Le Mans, France, in 1933, Genet’s play takes an absurd and more intriguing turn. The Maids is available in print from BCCLS Libraries and as an ebook from Hoopla.  You can also check out the 1975 movie adaptation from Christopher Miles on DVD or stream it from Kanopy.

Jean Genet’s The Maids explores the plight of working class women in early 20th century France. This is seen as these women, Claire and Solange, are forced into assuming the role of subservient, passive, and obedient maids. Even though Genet’s The Maids is the epitome of Theater of the Absurd, it both highlights and challenges gender oppression. The Maids is recognized as absurd because it calls to attention the struggle between the layering of logical and illogical depictions of women of the working class; thus showing how through their performativity the maids manipulate as their own the identity, that of their oppressors.

Now, once the play opens, it is unclear who is whom because we are not granted the privilege of a script. But if you are reading the play before viewing it, you are made aware immediately the identity of the characters. It is this very juxtaposition between performativity that we see how to receive Genet’s personification of identity. Genet’s play through performativity gives way to this idea of false identity, and through irony, keywords, and personification destabilizes the binary original vs. copy.

Genet’s The Maids opens up as a play within a play, thus alluding to the contrast between reality and performativity, and how Claire and Solange break the barrier separating the two. Also, in contrast, Genet’s The Maids undermines the notion of a true identity thus alluding to an origin of a false identity, which then gives way to what can be interpreted as “original.”

If the maids are imitating an imitation of what may or may not even be original, then this calls attention to the question of what is real identity; thus, neutralizing the very difference between classes.  If the maids are performing as Madame, who is putting on a show herself, then what really is Genet saying about identity? How does the binary deconstruct this very question?   These are the questions that caused me to look at the play in a very different light, thus provoking me to analyze my own common interpretation of the surface of this play, to one that may give way to a more elaborate and colorful yet contradicting sentiment that maybe no one is an original but rather refractions.

What are your thoughts about the important conversations this play opens up?  The Maids, a performativity reliant play, sheds light on how as humans we all are performing in our reality, identity, and gender roles.

Written by
Sherissa Hernandez
Adult Programming Assistant

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