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More Selections from the HPL Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Discussion Part 7: Mary Poppins, Protector, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and Contact

20 Jul

We continued to have some great discussions about a diverse selection of books this year in the Hoboken Public Library Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Discussion Group.  Here is a peek for those who aren’t able to attend our meetings.

Click here for previous Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Discussion roundups!

Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers

My mother is a huge Julie Andrews so the movie adaption of Mary Poppins was something my sister and I watched a lot as children, but it wasn’t until the Book Discussion Group picked it for our April selection that I read the novel that it was based on.  Mary Poppins is a little less sweet and a lot sassier in the book than the movie.  Although one group member preferred the film, most of the group enjoyed the depiction in the original novel since it made her a more complex character.  Mary Poppins came to “life” first in stories P. L. Travers told her younger sibling.  The novel is made up of many short stories and lacks the cohesiveness of the Disney film, however, this makes it good if you are looking for something to read to your children over several nights as a bed time story since each chapter feels self-contained.  The illustrations were drawn by Mary Shepard, whose father E. H. Shepard was the illustrator of Winnie-the-Pooh and The Wind in the Willows.  You can check out the book and movie from the Hoboken Public Library.  You can also borrow Saving Mr. Banks, a movie based on the story of adapting the film that several of the discussion members recommended.

Protector by Larry Niven

We had previously read Niven’s Ringworld in September of 2014 for the group, which was our highest attended meeting in the history of the group.  Niven is known as being a master of hard science fiction and Ringworld is his most famous of his Known Space series, which charts the expansion of people across the Universe.  Protector in the timeline of his books occurs earlier, but was published three years after Ringworld.  Although I found Protector a bit slower to get into then Ringworld, I think Protector was overall an even more intriguing work to me.  It brought up some interesting philosophical discussions about evolution, family loyalty, and what it means to be human in our group discussion.  Protector is the favorite novel of one of our group members.

Because Protector has not been adapted as a film, we instead viewed The Fifth Element before the discussion.  The Fifth Element stars Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich; it was directed by Frenchman Luc Besson.  Another film that Besson also directed, The Professional, used part of the second floor reference department for interior scenes featuring Natalie Portman in her first role.  The group enjoyed The Fifth Element and thought it had an interesting view of the future.  Although film came out in 1997, the group thought its unique stylized look kept it feeling fresh.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Growing up I was a huge fan of the Disney movie and loved the now closed ride at the theme park, but I had never taken time to read the novel it was based on before our July book discussion.  Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea marked the first translated work that the group had read (it was originally published in French).  I was surprised to learn that the leagues in the title referred not to how far down the protagonists went, but how far across since depth under water is measured in fathoms, not leagues.  Although the group as a whole felt that story was a bit bogged down by some of the scientific descriptions that the main character sometimes goes on tangents about, overall the adventurous story was enjoyed.  The group discussed how the work was inspirational for many other science fiction works today especially the steampunk genre.  The group also enjoyed the movie, but felt that it emphasized the characters more than in the book.  The group thought Peter Lorre was an unusual choice for Conseil, but believed Kirk Douglas did an excellent job as Ned Land.  Director Bryan Singer plans to release a new cinematic adaptation.  I am interested to see if the original ending and several other exciting portions of the novel that were left out in the previous version, perhaps due to the special effects limitations at that time, will be included.

Contact by Carl Sagan

In the month of July we discussed Contact by Carl Sagan; although Sagan is a notable scientist and writer of nonfiction works, this is his only work of fiction.  We had several new faces join us for the movie screening, who also stayed for the discussion.  We always enjoy having new perspectives.  Jodi Foster is impressive in her role as the lead character Ellie Arroway, who is desperately trying to find a signal from alien life.  The group was split with some of the members enjoying the story, while others felt the ending was a letdown based on their expectations of Sagan.   Ellie’s strong connection to her father and his inspiration in her career path reminded me of my father, an amateur astronomer, who fostered in me a love of the stars and science fiction.  To me one of the strengths of the book is that it balances hard science with complex emotional characters.  Sagan’s knowledge made the scientific details seem more realistic than most sci-fi novels I have read and I was curious if some of the supporting characters were based on actual people.  The movie plot diverges in a number of ways from the novel of Contact and leaves out some of the group’s favorite minor characters, but was still quite enjoyable.  Both are recommended.

Coming Attractions!
Join us for more great discussions for the rest of the year.  In August you can discuss with us Jim Butcher’s Storm Front, the first in his popular Dresden Files Series, Urban Fantasy series (as mentioned in this Halloween blog post).  In September we will be reading our first play, the much anticipated Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling.  In October we will read a classic horror work, Bram Stoker’s Dracula; we will be showing three different adaptations of the novel before the discussion.  Then in November join us for a novel by one of my favorite authors, Connie Willis.  Hope to see you at one of the discussions!

And if you love Jane Austen be sure not to miss our other Book Discussion Group, The Mile Square City Readers’ discussion of Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld which was inspired by Pride and Prejudice, on July 28.

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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