Tag Archives: margaret atwood

A Year of Speculative Fiction: The Novels and Movies Our Science Fiction and Fantasy Group Enjoyed in 2019

16 Oct

Once a month the Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Discussion Group meets to discuss speculative fiction that has been suggested by participants.  We also feature beforehand a movie/TV adaptation or a film with a similar setting or theme, which is a way for people who don’t have time to read the book to still participate.

Altered Carbon
by Richard K. Morgan
Altered Carbon
We started the year with Cyber Punk Noir Mystery, Altered Carbon.  In the future the rich can live hundreds of years through the use of cortical stacks and clones; others who cannot afford clones may be transferred into other people’s bodies.  Fans of the Netflix adaptation will still find new things to enjoy in the novel which had changes made in the adaptation such as an AI hotel being based on the personality of Jimmie Hendrix in the book being changed into Edgar Allen Poe in the show. We paired the movie with the live action adaptation of the Anime classic Ghost in the Shell.

A Darker Shade of Magic
by VE Schwab
A Darker Shade of Magic
In February we read A Darker Shade of Magic which takes place in a reality where there are not one, but multiple Londons, one of which is similar to our own in the middle ages, but others contain powerful magic.  Few can cross between these alternate dimensions, but when something dangerous is brought between them it may spell disaster to all of the worlds.  We watched the first of the Fantastic Beasts movies.

The Handmaid’s Tale
by Margaret Atwood
Hadmaid's Tale
Before the sequel came out in honor of Women’s History Month we read Margaret Atwood’s cautionary dystopian novel about the dire consequences when women’s rights are stripped away.  We watched the movie adaptation beforehand.

The Calculating Stars
by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Calculating Stars
In April the group read Mary Robinette Kowal’s first novel in her Lady Astronaut’s series which gives an alternate history where a meteor strike pushes the space exploration forward and women get to take part.  We paired the book with a screening of the thrilling modern space exploration movie Gravity, which features a strong performance by Sandra Bullock.

Mortal Engines
by Philip Reeve
Mortal Engines
For the month of May, the group read the Young Adult Steampunk novel Mortal Engines and also watched the movie adaptation.  The group felt the novel was stronger than the movie adaptation.

King of the Wyld
by Nicholas Eames
kings of the wyld
June’s pick was Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames which uses the analogy of old mercenaries being similar to aging rock stars doing one last tour. They must rescue one of their band’s daughters.  Before the book discussion we enjoyed the campy fun of the Hercules TV show.

A Memory Called Empire
by Arkady Martine
Memory Called Empire
This year’s Summer Reading theme was Space, so for July and August the group read two space operas.  July’s novel was A Memory Called Empire which revolved around a planet sized city where an emissary from a remote post must solve the mystery of what happened to her predecessor.  We paired the novel with the Joss Whedon, space western classic, Serenity, the sequel to the Firefly TV Show.

Luna: New Moon 
by Ian McDonald
Luna New Moon
Ian McDonald took the concept of a multigenerational soap opera like Dallas and placed it on a moon colony with all sorts of political scheming and romantic drama in August’s book, Luna: New Moon.  The group wanted to read the second in the series after the first book ended on a cliff hanger for our November discussion (Nov 18).  We watched Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, a colorful space opera based on a French graphic novel.

Strange Practice
by Vivian Shaw
Strange Practice
I was intrigued when I learned Arkady Martine’s wife was also an author and wanted to see how their writing compared.  Vivian Shaw’s Strange Practice features a doctor who treats supernatural creatures like vampires and mummies.  The group felt that this was a very light, funny novel and was an interesting contrast to the more serious tone of A Memory Called Empire.  We also watched the very funny Hotel Transylvania.

Want to join us for some great discussions?  On Monday, October 21 we will be celebrating Halloween with Deborah Harkness’s Discovery of Witches.  The discussion starts at 6 PM.  Beforehand you can also join us for an enjoyable viewing of a family friendly animated movie treat at 4 PM.  Email hplwriters @ gmail.com to be added to our mailing list.   

Written by:
Aimee Harris
Head of Reference


5 Mar

You might say that no one should ever rewrite a classic book, but then we’d miss some marvelous reworked titles entirely worthy of the reader’s attention.  Among Young Adult and Children’s books, there are endless retellings of fairy and folk tales in contemporary settings or with feminist themes or with wolves being cast as the victims of onerous pigs.  However, the following books, appropriate for adults or mature teen readers, retell their tales with an entirely new approach and some somewhat different outcomes.

When She Woke, by Hillary Jordan.


This was my favorite book of several years ago, and is an excellent selection for book groups to discuss. If anything, this reworking of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, becomes more real and frightening with each passing political season.  It is the near future.  The New Depression has ended and the latest Scourge is controlled, but people have returned to fundamentalist values with a vengeance.  In Plano, Texas, young Hannah Payne’s movements are carefully controlled by her mother and her church, a mega cathedral run by the charismatic Aiden Dale. Aiden has his sights set on a political career.  However, he also has his personal sights set on Hannah.  After he seduces her and she finds herself pregnant, she sees no alternative but an illegal abortion. Her transgression is found out and, as she won’t name the father of her child, she bears the responsibility herself and is dyed red as a visual symbol of her sin.  Cast out by her mother, she is sent to a facility that is a cross between a reprogramming center and a nunnery.  There, she and her sister sinners are abused and punished until Hannah leaves and casts her fate with a feminist group notorious for their civil disobedience and her one way to leave the restraints of the United States for the freedom of Canada. This compelling tale will make you think how stranger than fiction our current truths are, and will bring to mind in its literacy and storytelling Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maguire.


You will be most familiar with the book from its metamorphosis into a long running (although not Tony winning for Best Musical – that went to Avenue Q) Broadway show.  Winnie Holtzman, who wrote the book for the show, used Gregory Maguire’s fantasy merely as a jumping off point for her play.  The book itself is complex, detailed, darkly satirical, and very political.  As the first of a series of books told from the different viewpoints of characters in Wicked, the stories become progressively murkier and much more political, making clear the author’s feelings on everything from the Bush presidency to gay rights and unwanted, overlong wars. However, in the first book, Maguire focuses on the relationship between two young witches-in-training, Elphaba Thropp and Galinda Upland who meet at Shiz University.  Elphaba bears the green coloring of her mother’s adultery.  Her mother, wife of a provincial governor, cheated with a traveling salesman who gave her a draught that did not prevent pregnancy, but instead turned her child green.  Later, a milkweed elixir crippled a future child, Nessarose. Now, both girls are at Shiz where it is revealed that Elphaba, in particular, has great talent for magic. Elphaba also has great talent for trouble as she becomes actively involved in underground activities on behalf of talking Animals whose rights are being taken away. Another student, a handsome Winky prince named Fiyero seems fated for the bubbly Galinda, but is instead attracted to Elphaba and her lost causes. The book ends with an open-ended question of Elphaba’s survival and the possibility that she has left behind a half-Winky offspring who will carry on the family tradition of trouble and magic.  Honestly, you will either love or hate this book and its subsequent episodes. I found it magical in every sense of the word.

Love in the Time of Global Warming, by Francesca Lia Block.


Everything old is new again as acclaimed author, Francesca Lia Block, takes the classic story of Homer’s The Odyssey and presents it as a post-apocalyptic tale that is a brilliant, contemporary dystopian novel.   The heroic story receives a “girlist” twist by making the lead character a teenage girl named Penelope.  When the great Earth Shaker hits her Los Angeles area home, Penelope doesn’t know the scope of the destruction, whether it is limited to the coastline or a worldwide catastrophe. What Penelope does know is that her family has vanished, leaving her surrounded by roiling seas in an island-bound pink house that was once her home. A heretofore unknown home invader, who is revealed to have familial ties to Penelope, gives the girl a battered VW van in which she travels through newly created wastelands and picks up a posse of young men who help her search for her family who, she believes, are still alive in Las Vegas. The group follows butterfly spirit guides that Penelope pursues, and is enticed but reimagined characters from the myth: sirens, a Medusa-like soap opera star, denizens of a lotus den, and a visionary witch. Penelope also confronts and vanquishes a giant Cyclops, one of a race of genetic aberrations created by a mad scientist whose experiments may have ended the world. As with Block’s other books, this one is LGBTQ friendly because Penelope is questioning her sexuality; her new love, Hex, is transgender; and Ez and Ash, the two other young men who complete their band, are gay. Block’s writing is pure poetry in its flow and symbolism. So many dystopian novels seem to be written by the pound, but Block is economical in her language without sacrificing storytelling or the mythological references.  This should be a companion piece for students who are reading the original myth for the first time. Yet it has the potential to be that hard-to-achieve crossover book for adults because the language and imagery is both lyrical and alarming in its descriptions of Armageddon and its sepia recollection of the world before.  This is the first in a series about Penelope’s quests.

Snow in August, by Pete Hamill.


This is a very old book, in 2014, but I count it among my favorite coming-of-age novels.  It is based, very loosely, on an old Jewish folktale about a mud monster created by a Czech rabbi to save his people from pogroms. Built from clay, the monster is brought to life with the secret name of G-d and can only be killed when a prayer scroll is removed from his head.  Pete Hamill, an old JFK colleague and former swain of Jackie Kennedy, brings the story forward to post-war Brooklyn where Rabbi Judah Hirsch has come as a survivor of the Holocaust and settled in a primarily Catholic neighborhood.  The neighborhood is not a safe place because it is ruled by a thuggish gang of teens who have murdered a Jewish shopkeeper, an act that was witnessed by young Michael Devlin.  Michael saves his own neck by promising not to “squeal” despite repeated questioning by local police nicknamed “Abbott and Costello.”  However, Michael’s life becomes more complicated when Rabbi Hirsch asks him to do work that Jews are not permitted to do on the Sabbath, and the two develop a close relationship as Michael teaches the rabbi English and the ins and outs and baseball, and the Rabbi teaches Michael to speak Yiddish and the legend of the golem.  When Michael and the Rabbi run afoul of the gang, again, Michael takes it upon himself to create a golem who bears more than a passing resemblance to a comic book superhero (which was, not incidentally, created by Jewish artists in the World War II period).  With the golem’s arrival, Brooklyn becomes a magical place where the evildoers are brought to justice, the dead of the Holocaust return to life, and it can even snow in the middle of a sultry August night.

All four of these books combine social commentary with excellent storytelling and timeliness with themes that readers will know from the past.

-Written by Lois Rubin Gross, Senior Children’s Librarian

%d bloggers like this: