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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

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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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