Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

We all remember the “March of Progress” poster from grade school science class, used to illustrate the  straight-line evolution of Homo sapiens from our ancient ancestors. From Australopithecus  to Homo habilius and then to the assumed apex of human evolution – us. But what if evolution wasn’t a straight line? What if suddenly, somehow, it doubled-back on itself, returning our species to our most ancient origins?

It is in this speculative world that Louise Erdrich’s latest novel Future Home of the Living God is set. Taking place in an unspecified time in the near future, the novel is presented as the journal of 26 year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, written to her unborn child. Cedar, the adopted daughter of liberal Minnesota parents, finding herself pregnant, is compelled to seek out her Ojibwe birth parents, ostensibly to discover any genetic problems that might affect her baby, and in a larger sense, to find her own identity. This familiar journey of personal discovery is set against a tumultuous time in which the future of the earth is gravely in doubt as evolution appears to be running backward. Plants and animals are born “wrong,” throwbacks to their genetic ancestors. Human babies and their mothers are dying at an alarming rate, and those infants that do survive are abnormal, with characteristics more similar to our genetic ancestors. The planet is heating up, with harsh Minnesota winters a fond, distant memory, and political chaos is rampant. Soon, pregnant women are encouraged, then forced, into “unborn protective centers” – prisons, really – and a “womb draft” is instated. As Cedar’s pregnancy progresses, she confesses to her baby that she isn’t sure if he (and she is sure it is a he) will have the ability to read the journal that she is writing, if he survives at all. Cedar soon becomes a fugitive, then a prisoner, then fugitive again, seeking sanctuary with her birth family with the help of her adoptive parents.

If this all sounds strikingly familiar to The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, you would be correct. In her author’s notes, Erdrich writes that she began the novel in 2002, then set it aside,  picking it up again after the most recent election. Future Home of the Living God is Erdrich’s first speculative fiction book, but still closely shares the Native American culture she has explored in her past works. The premise of backwards evolution and how it might bring the end of civilization is compelling – it’s what interested me in the book in the first place – and it reads like a thriller (I read it all in one sitting). But at a slim 267 pages, it reads almost too fast, with not nearly enough time spent exploring the circumstances of the world it is set in, the stories of Cedar’s families, or her baby’s father. Since the story is told in the form of a journal, which does lend an intimacy to the narrative, many things go unsaid, or dropped entirely. Even the mystery of Cedar’s birth and adoption – the revelation of which is emotionally catastrophic for her – is quickly dropped to move onto the next crisis. At a few points, I thought that the plot was going in one direction, and then, disappointingly, found it dropped. Perhaps my expectations were overly influenced by my usual science fiction preferences. Some the misdirections reminded me of the short story “Before” by Carolyn Dunn (contained in the excellent collection After edited by Ellen Datlow) an end-of-the-world tale of a plague that leaves only those with Native American ancestors alive. But, that is not the case here.

Which isn’t to say the novel isn’t an exciting and interesting read. There are thoughtful explorations of faith (Cedar is a recent convert to Catholicism), the origin and evolution of our species, how and why we became human, and the consequences of ignoring and abusing our environment and each other, all alongside Cedar’s journey into motherhood and her birth family. The ending might come abruptly, but it is well worth the journey.

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong

futuristic violence and fancy suitsScience fiction and fantasy are not genres that I normally read, but I decided that I needed to expand outside of my comfort zone and started to look for a book that I would enjoy. On a list of best adult books for young adult readers, I discovered Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong. This book immediately intrigued me based on two parts: the machine gun/cat cover and the fact that the cat is named Stench Machine. (It’s a bit scary just how little it takes to get me interested in a book, isn’t it?) Cracking this book open, I was hooked.

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits tells the story of Zoey Ashe, a young girl from a trailer park who lives with her very smelly cat, Stench Machine, and her mother, a waitress at a topless bar. Zoey is living her normal day-to-day life, unaware that a pack of villains from her nightmares that are armed with superhuman enhancements are gunning for her death. Finding herself in a life-and-death situation, Zoey has to decide quickly who she can trust and whether the stories being told to her by “the Suits” are actually the truth.

Traveling to a futuristic city where an all-seeing social network can track your every move, one where there are powerful players controlling everything behind the scenes, Zoey soon realizes that everything outside of her Midwestern trailer park may be more than she can handle. Forced to reconcile her low upbringing with her sudden encampment in her dead father’s mansion, Zoey realizes that she is one of the key players who will decide the future of mankind. Anyone in the world has the ability to get the powers of a god or become as famous as a pop star, thanks to the all-seeing social network and various fantastic and violent elements are popping up all over. Zoey’s fate is entangled in this futuristic city and it’s up to her to figure everything out.

New Science Fiction & Fantasy in June

Featured new additions to DPL’s Science Fiction and Fantasy collections! Click on the title to place a hold. For more new books, visit our Upcoming Releases page. As always, if there’s a title you would like to read, please send us a purchase suggestion.

914S4pdzRHLThe Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence –  The epic fantasy Red Queen’s War series continues as a reluctant prince returns from the bowels of Hell to engage in his greatest battle yet–among the living and the dead. All the horrors of Hell stand between Snorri Ver Snagason and the rescue of his family, if indeed the dead can be rescued. For Jalan Kendeth, getting back out alive and with Loki’s key is all that matters. Loki’s creation can open any lock, any door, and it may also be the key to Jalan’s fortune back in the living world. The Wheel of Osheim is turning ever faster, and it will crack the world unless it’s stopped. When the end of all things looms, and there’s nowhere to run, even the worst coward must find new answers.

tumblr_nlsh93CT2s1snjweoo1_1280Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley – In this spirited sequel to the acclaimed The Rook, Myfanwy Thomas returns to clinch an alliance between deadly rivals and avert epic – and slimy – supernatural war. When secret organizations are forced to merge after years of enmity and bloodshed, only one person has the fearsome powers – and the bureaucratic finesse – to get the job done. Facing her greatest challenge yet, Rook Myfanwy Thomas must broker a deal between two bitter adversaries. But as bizarre attacks sweep London, threatening to sabotage negotiations, old hatreds flare. Surrounded by spies, only the Rook can seek out the culprits before they trigger a devastating otherworldly war.

A1X-Y8aFOILLeague of Dragons by Naomi Novik – In the final volume of the Temeraire series, Napoleon’s invasion of Russia has been roundly thwarted. But even as Capt. William Laurence and the dragon Temeraire pursue the retreating enemy through an unforgiving winter, Napoleon is raising a new force, and he’ll soon have enough men and dragons to resume the offensive. Aware of his weakened position, Napoleon has promised the dragons of every country – and the ferals, loyal only to themselves – vast new rights and powers if they fight under his banner. It is an offer eagerly embraced from Asia to Africa – and even by England, whose dragons have long rankled at their disrespectful treatment. But Laurence and his faithful dragon soon discover that the wily Napoleon has one more gambit at the ready – one that may win him the war, and the world.

genevievecogman-theinvisiblelibraryThe Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman – One thing any Librarian will tell you: the truth is much stranger than fiction. Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, a shadowy organization that collects important works of fiction from all of the different realities. Most recently, she and her enigmatic assistant Kai have been sent to an alternative London. Their mission: Retrieve a particularly dangerous book. The problem: By the time they arrive, it’s already been stolen.  Now Irene is caught in a puzzling web of deadly danger, conflicting clues, and sinister secret societies. And failure is not an option–because it isn’t just Irene’s reputation at stake, it’s the nature of reality itself.

FalseHearts-USFalse Hearts by Laura Lam – Raised in the closed cult of Mana’s Hearth and denied access to modern technology, conjoined sisters Taema and Tila dream of a life beyond the walls of the compound. When the heart they share begins to fail, the twins escape to San Francisco, where they are surgically separated and given new artificial hearts. Ten years later, Tila returns one night to the twins’ home in the city, terrified and covered in blood, just before the police arrive and arrest her for murder–the first homicide by a civilian in decades. Taema is given a proposition: go undercover as her sister and perhaps save her twin’s life. But during her investigation Taema discovers disturbing links between the twins’ past and their present. Once unable to keep anything from each other, the sisters now discover the true cost of secrets.

51IyS2UrRsL__SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey – Some families, whether they want to or not, hand down the secret burdens they carry and the dangerous debts they owe. Lissa Nevsky’s grandmother leaves her a big, empty house, and a legacy of magic: folk magic, old magic, brought with Baba when she fled the Gulag. In the wake of her passing, the Russian community of Toronto will depend on Lissa now, to give them their remedies and be their koldun’ia. But Lissa hasn’t had time to learn everything Baba wanted to teach her–let alone the things Baba kept hidden. Maksim Volkov’s birth family is long dead, anything they bestowed on him long turned to dust. What Maksim carries now is a legacy of violence, and he does not have to die to pass it on. When Maksim feels his protective spell fail, he returns to the witch he rescued from the Gulag, only to find his spell has died along with the one who cast it. Lissa’s legacy of magic might hold the key to Maksim’s salvation, if she can unravel it in time. But it’s a legacy that comes at a price. And Maksim might not want to be saved.

51VfTha7AvL__SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Mechanical Failure by Joseph Zieja – The two hundred years’ (and counting) peace is a time of tranquility that hasn’t been seen since … well, never. Mankind in the Galactic Age had finally conquered war, so what was left for the military to do but drink and barbecue? That’s the kind of military that Sergeant R. Wilson Rogers lived in before he left the fleet to become a smuggler. But it turns out that smuggling is hard. Like getting-arrested-for-dealing-with-pirates-and-forced-back-into-service kind of hard. It doesn’t seem so bad, but when Rogers returns after only a year away, something has changed. These are soldiers – actual soldiers doing actual soldier things like preparing for a war that Rogers is sure doesn’t exist. Rogers vows to put a stop to all this nonsense – even if it means doing actual work.