At a wedding I attended recently, I ended up having a long, open-bar-fueled argument with another guest over our favorite speculative fiction books. She loves Robert Jordan; I love George R.R. Martin. I won’t bore you with the details, but I do want to emphasize how vehemently opposed our tastes were, so that when I tell you that we both adored The Left Hand of Darkness, you’ll know: wow. that must be a seriously awesome book.

And it really, really is. This is about as pure sci-fi as sci-fi can get: a tale of fiction that speculates on the future of science and how it may alter human culture. And, in this book, even human genetics.

The story takes place on the planet Gethen, mostly known as Winter, where Genly Ai has been assigned as a diplomat. His mission is to bring the people of Winter into the broader galactic civilization. His task is complicated by the alien culture and politics of this world, where the human inhabitants are genderless beings whose sexual characteristics and reproductive abilities only surface during mating seasons, when they can become either male or female (depending on their chosen partner). LeGuin is a master: this novel is excellent. It’s not about aliens, or sex, or politics, but it is about the way all of those things affect friendship, culture, and human nature. Like all great science fiction, this isn’t a work with a limited scope or audience – it’s one that uses speculation about the future to make sharp observations and thoughtful arguments about the way we live now.

 

If you have a passing familiarity with Star Trek, you’ve probably heard the term “redshirt” before.  It refers to a random low-ranking crew member (always wearing a red shirt) who gets sent on an away mission with the main characters.  The redshirt inevitably dies early in the episode.  The novel Redshirts, written by prolific sci-fi author John Scalzi, lovingly pokes fun at this phenomena.  Ensign Andrew Dahl is assigned to the Universal Union’s flagship, the Intrepid, and he soon starts to notice the high mortality rate on the ship’s away missions.  His suspicions are raised when he notices that while the captain, the lieutenant, and the chief science officer are always on these missions and always come out alive (though often with dramatic injuries), a lower-ranking officer always seems to die pretty much as soon as the ship lands.  Along with a few of his fellow new crew members, Andrew begins to investigate and is shocked to discover that things are not as they seem on the Intrepid.

Even though I felt like the book started to lose steam around halfway through, it is still funny and entertaining.  If you’ve ever seen classic Star Trek episodes, you’ll enjoy all the inside jokes and the way that Scalzi parodies the series.  But don’t worry, this novel is accessible even if you’ve never seen a single episode.  The humor still manages to come through, and the more poignant moments (particularly in the three codas that follow the story) will still move you.  If you like sci-fi, space travel, Star Trek, or humorous fiction, I’d recommend giving this fun and quick novel a chance.

A list of excellent things about World War Z:

  • Author Max Brooks (progeny of Mel Brooks) uses the word “decimate” appropriately – it means to kill one out of every ten people, usually as a show of force or intimidation and it is NOT a synonym for rampant destruction. The grammar nerd in me squealed with delight when I read that!
  • Interview-style storytelling means a focus on plot that’s both exciting and quick to read (Corollary: if there’s a chapter that you don’t like, it’s over quickly and the next one won’t be about the same person, the same event, or even the same country)
  • Rapid pacing keeps you on the edge of your seat. I couldn’t put this down!
  • Plausible and thoroughly reasoned geopolitical scenarios and global reactions to the zombie apocalypse
  • It’s the zombie apocalypse. So it’s awesome.

There are only two “bad” things about it, really. First, there’s a hefty helping of military action and associated jargon; if that isn’t to your taste, be prepared to skim or skip those paragraphs. Second, the interview-style format means that there is 0 character development, so if you rely on relatable characters to draw you into a narrative, that’s not going to happen here. But these aren’t really weaknesses as much as they are features of the book – for every reader who hates those features, there’s one who finds them fascinating. If that’s you, this book is sure to please.

MAY 1

Haywire – Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender

After freeing a Chinese journalist held hostage, Mallory is double-crossed and left for dead by someone in her own agency. Suddenly the target of assassins who know her every move, Mallory unleashes the fury of her fighting skills to uncover the truth and turn the tables on her ruthless adversary. R
MAY 8
Underworld – Awakening – Kate Beckinsale, Michael Ealy
Vampire warrioress Selene escapes imprisonment to find herself in a world where humans have discovered the existence of both vampire and lycan clans, and are conducting an all-out war to eradicate both immortal species. R
 
The Vow –  Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum
A young couple has a car accident that puts the wife in a coma. After she wakes up with severe memory loss, her husband sets his sights on winning her heart again.PG-13
 
MAY 15
Albert Nobbs – Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska
A woman passes as a man in order to work and survive in 19th century Ireland. Some thirty years after donning men’s clothing, she finds herself trapped in a prison of her own making.R
 
Grey – Lian Neeson, Dermot Mulroney
After their plane crashes into the remote Alaskan wilderness, a roughneck group of oil drillers is forced to find a way back to civilization. As Ottway leads the injured survivors through the brutal snow and ice, they are relentlessly tracked by a vicious pack of rogue wolves that will do anything to defend their territory. Adrenaline-fueled, action-packed and loaded with some of the most intense and brutally realistic attack scenes ever filmed. R
Chronicle – Dane Dehaan, Alex Russell
Seen through the lens of a troubled teen’s video camera, yet filled with eye-popping action and jaw-dropping special effects, Chronicle is as real as it gets. When three ordinary high school friends make an extraordinary discovery, they acquire amazing abilities beyond their understanding. But as their powers develop, so do their darker sides. Fun, harmless pranks soon lead to much riskier activities as the boys’ ‘gifts,’ and their lives, spin dangerously out of control! PG-13
MAY 22
Woman in Black – Daniel Ratcliffe, Janet McTeer
A young lawyer is ordered to travel to a remote village and sort out a recently deceased client’s papers. While he works alone in the client’s isolated house, he discovers the vengeful ghost of a scorned woman who is terrorizing the locals. This leads him on a desperate race against time when he discovers her true intent. PG-13
Red Tails – Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard.
Italy, 1944. As the war takes its toll on Allied forces in Europe, a squadron of black pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen are finally given the chance to prove themselves in the sky, even as they battle discrimination on the ground. Featuring jaw-dropping aerial action and thrilling special effects, Red Tails is a breathtaking tribute to the unsung heroes who rose above extraordinary challenges and ultimately soared into history. PG-13
MAY 29
New Year’s Eve –  Halle Berry, Robert DeNiro
A stellar ensemble cast celebrates love, hope, forgiveness, second chances, and fresh starts in intertwining stories told amidst the pulse and promise of New York City on the most dazzling night of the year.PG-13
 
We Need to Talk About Kevin – Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly
Kevin’s mother struggles to love her strange child, despite the increasingly vicious things he says and does as he grows up. But Kevin is just getting started, and his final act will be beyond anything anyone imagined.
 
 
 
 

Demand for the library’s copies of The Hunger Games has skyrocketed since the movie came out.  Don’t worry, we can put you on the reserve list, but you might have a little bit of a wait ahead of you before your copy comes in.  So while you wait, here are a few similar titles you might want to try:

If you like plenty of action and powerful female characters:

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

If you’re looking for fast-paced stories about survival:

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Gone by Michael Grant

If you’re interested in a dystopian world with a government gone bad:

1984 by George Orwell

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

If you want something with a bit of romance:

Matched by Ally Condie

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

If you’re looking for some cool sci-fi:

Feed by M.T. Anderson

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

submitted by Georgann

Ghost Ship, a novel of the Liaden Universe by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

I was SO GLAD to see this new novel in the series come out! This is the third in the series-within-a-series, this one continuing the tale of Theo Waitley. Theo has grown up a lot from the student she was when we first met her, and she is still just as likeable as she was to begin with. With maturity and her First Class pilot’s jacket comes many more adventures and unexpected twists in her life.

She is learning about her father’s side of the family, and quite a family it is! (You can read all about them in the previous novels of the series. You can find more thoughts about the series in an earlier blog post.) They are thrilled to have her; she’s not quite so sure about them! She is learning about being a solo pilot who really needs backup. She is learning about a sentient ship who is claiming her as Captain. Shea hasn’t yet learned how extraordinary she is!

It is a great story, full of relationships, characters you care about, mystery and intrigue. The only bad thing about it was it was over too soon, and the next one’s not out yet!

The HMS Terror and HMS Erebus left port in England in 1845, crewed by sailors and explorers fully expecting to find the fabled Northwest Passage. They sailed west, making stops in Greenland and Baffin Bay, until they reached northern Canada. Then, somewhere around Devon Island, all trace of them was lost. The ships vanished into the pack ice; no one has ever known the truth of what became of them. In The Terror, Dan Simmons retells the factual voyage and surmises the terrifying last leg of the journey. The explorers had an experienced commander, two strong ships, the hopes of their countrymen on their shoulders, and fabulously promising food stores made possible by the recent invention of canning.

But everything went wrong almost immediately. Captain Franklin meets a grisly end early on. The ships quickly become useless when pack ice surrounds them and threatens to crush them into splinters. The grip of scurvy, starvation, and madness sink into almost all the crew. As if these natural terrors weren’t enough, a faceless, hungry, menacing terror is stalking them as they flee south across the ice.

This is a beefy book but definitely worth the effort. Simmons does a fantastic job of weaving truth with fiction; he makes the historical facts of the trip exciting and the conjecture completely compelling and believable. The science fiction-y elements of this book are subtle and scary, but the real terror comes from the natural world: an Arctic winter so frigid and unforgiving that it makes a Midwestern winter look tropical by comparison! This thrilling book is an excellent choice for anyone who likes adventure or historical fiction.

More best books from our Blogging Librarians! Michelle and Lexie kind of cheated since they each picked two titles; however, they’re both so good at picking books we don’t mind a bit.

Michelle starts with a mystery. “Louise Penny’s quirky, yet endearing characters make A Trick of the Light one of my favorite mysteries of the year. Penny’s clever writing style combined with her main character, the legendary Inspector Armand Gamache, make for a superb mystery book (and the latest release in the series)”. Read more in her blog post from earlier this year.

A fiction book is Michelle’s second pick. “Katie Lee’s debut work of fiction, Groundswell was a favorite beach read in 2011. Groundswell follows a main character who becomes caught up in the glitz and glamour of stardom only then to discover what is important in life after a traumatic event”. Michelle’s blog post about this book is here.

Lexie says go big or go home with George R. R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire. “An epic fantasy series set in a land where seasons can last for decades. The series is filled with political intrigue, plenty of shocking plot twists, romance, and engaging characters who don’t fit into a traditional mold of good or evil. This complex world that Martin created has become an absolute obsession for me; the fifth book was just released in July and I’m already eagerly anticipating the next installment”. Read more from Lexie about it in her earlier blog post.

Her second pick is Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. “31-year-old “carer” Kathy looks back on her youth, which was spent in an isolated English boarding school with her two best friends and plenty of secrets. This book is haunting and incredibly thought-provoking. I couldn’t put it down once I started, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it once I finished”. Lexie blogged about it here.

December 2

Friends with Benefits – Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis

While trying to avoid the cliches of Hollywood romantic comedies, Dylan and Jamie soon discover that adding the act of sex to their friendship does lead to complications.

 

 

The Smurfs – Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris

When the evil wizard Gargamel chases the tiny blue Smurfs out of their village, they’re forced through a portal, out of their world and into ours, landing in the middle of New York’s Central Park.

 

December 6

The Help – Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard

Mississippi during the 1960s: Skeeter, a southern society girl, returns from college determined to become a writer, but turns her friends’ lives, and a small Mississippi town, upside down when she decides to interview the black women who have spent their lives taking care of prominent southern families. Aibileen, Skeeter’s best friend’s housekeeper, is the first to open up, to the dismay of her friends in the tight-knit black community.

 

Cowboys and Aliens – Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford

The Old West.. where a lone cowboy leads an uprising against a terror from beyond our world. 1873. Arizona Territory. A stranger with no memory of his past stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution. The only hint to his history is a mysterious shackle that encircles one wrist. What he discovers is that the people of Absolution don’t welcome strangers, and nobody makes a move on its streets unless ordered to do so by the iron-fisted Colonel Dolarhyde. It’s a town that lives in fear.

 

December 13

Kung Fu Panda 2 – Jack Black, Angelina Jolie

Po is now living his dream as the Dragon Warrior, protecting the Valley of Peace alongside his friends and fellow kung fu masters, the Furious Five. But Po’s new life of awesomeness is threatened by the emergence of a formidable villain, who plans to use a secret, unstoppable weapon to conquer China and destroy kung fu. Po must look to his past and uncover the secrets of his mysterious origins in order to able to unlock the strength he needs to succeed.

 

Rise of the Planet of the Apes – John Lithgow, James Franco, Frieda Pinto

During experiments to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, a genetically enhanced chimpanzee uses its greater intelligence to lead other apes to freedom.

 

 

 

 

As a pretty big fan of sci-fi TV and movies, I am embarrassed that it took me this long to watch Joss Whedon’s critically-acclaimed and short-lived TV series Firefly.  For those who are unfamiliar with it, Firefly is a 14-episode sci-fi series documenting the travels and missions of the spaceship Serenity.  It is set about 500 years in the future when humans have relocated to a new star system controlled by a group of central planets called The Alliance.  Though a band of rebels try to overthrow the corrupt Alliance, they are defeated and The Alliance remains in power.  In the pilot episode we meet Serenity’s captain Mal Reynolds and his second-in-command Zoe, who were on the losing side of the war with The Alliance and now take odd jobs (mostly smuggling) to get by.  The rest of the crew is a compelling cast of characters including adorable mechanic Kaylee, professional companion Inara, and pilot Wash.  To make some extra money the crew picks up some folks willing to pay for transport, including a preacher and a doctor with very mysterious cargo.

Being a unique hybrid of sci-fi and western, Firefly is like nothing else I’ve watched before, and that’s one thing I really love about it.  Despite the futuristic technology, the planets on the outer rim of the new star system (where the outlaw crew of Serenity spend most of their time) aren’t as well-off as the core Alliance planets, so they have a very rustic Old West look and feel.  But my favorite thing about this show is probably the characters.  There are nine very different members of the Serenity crew, and I can’t possibly pick a favorite or a least favorite because they’re all compelling and interesting in their own way.  Firefly was unfortunately cancelled before fans could get answers to a lot of the biggest questions of the series, including the full backstory of the show’s most mysterious character: crazy genius River Tam, who was experimented on at the hands of The Alliance.  But luckily for us, fans of the show rallied and a follow-up movie was made called Serenity, which serves as a very satisfying conclusion to an incredible series.