An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

Have you heard of Hank Green? Hank is the brother of prolific young adult author John Green. Hank is a genius in his own right though: cocreator of Crash Course, Vlogbrothers, and SciShow. Hank has branched out into fiction now! In his debut novel, An Absolutely Remarkable Thinghe has created an intriguing story about a young woman somewhat content in her own peaceful life who becomes an overnight celebrity. Her sudden celebrity is part of a much bigger, stranger, and weirder situation that anyone in the world could possibly comprehend.

April May is stumbling home from work in the wee hours of the morning when she runs into a giant sculpture that seems to have just popped up in the middle of the sidewalk out of nowhere. Delighted – and confused – by this discovery, April does the most logical thing that she can think of: she calls her friend Andy, a local vlogger, and guards this sculpture until he comes with his video equipment. April and Andy decide to make a video with this expertly crafted artwork that she has aptly named Carl. Carl is a glorious piece of craftmanship – a 10-foot-tall Transformer-looking sculpture covered in a suit of samurai armor. After shooting this video, they stumble to their respective homes where Andy uploads the video they shot to YouTube.

Events quickly spiral out of control. The next day April wakes up to a very popular viral video and a rapidly changed life. Andy is understandable overwhelmed as he calls April to report that their Carl isn’t the only Carl. Carls have been discovered in dozens of cities all over the world. They all seemed to have popped up at once with no organization or government claiming ownership of their construction or arrival. April is now considered to be the first person to have had contact with a Carl and thus becomes the center of an immensely intense and ever-growing international media spotlight.

Luckily April has some pretty strong friends and family in her corner. (Whether or not she acknowledges their usefulness is another matter altogether.) These individuals have to fight against April’s growing ego as she believes that she is the only person who could possible figure out the Carl situation. After all, she found the first Carl. April struggles to balance her new fame, old and new relationships, her identity, and concerns over her safety as people quickly realize that the Carls are even more not what the public thinks. April tries to put herself at the forefront of Carl research and becomes even more of the face of the Carl movement as people learn more and more facts about the Carls. People all over the world question the Carls’ existences: why, what, who, etc. April and friends soon realize that the Carls may want something from the people of Earth, but figuring this out may tear them all apart for good.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green is an impressive and surprisingly relevant read when compared with today’s society. This book takes on issues of social media fame, conversations, and calls to arms. It also talks in great detail about how the world in general, and also people at an individual level, deal with change, fear, and the uncertainty that change can bring. I really enjoyed the way that Green builds April from a nobody to an immensely popular celebrity. That juxtaposition between her former and current selves was fascinating as it really showed the dehumanization and other-worldly qualities the general public thrusts on people in the public eye.

I enjoyed this book! Check it out and let me know what you thought about it in the comments below.


This book is also available in the following format:

Vox by Christina Dalcher

This book was all over reading lists before it even came out. When Vox was released, the hype grew even bigger. What I discovered when reading reviews of this book was that people either really loved or didn’t like it. I firmly fall in the ‘love it’ category and I hope you all like it as well.

Vox by Christina Dalcher runs in a similar vein of The Handmaid’s Tale as another example of a specific segment of the population being silenced/put into service by a different group. While reading this book, I noticed that I was growing increasingly agitated at the restrictions placed on women.

Jean McLellan is a cognitive linguist. Happily married with four children, Jean lives a pleasant life. Her husband Patrick is the science advisor to the President and seems to have an inside track to what’s happening. With the rise of the ‘Pure’ religious movement, Jean quickly realizes her basic freedoms are starting to be taken away. When the ‘Pure’ movement succeeds in infiltrating the government, Jean knows she’s in trouble.  She saw the signs, but failed to respond appropriately. Women representation in government is decreasing, the ‘pure’ religion is gaining traction, and female freedoms are being lost at an increasing rate. Jean did nothing. Her friends and family warned her and pleaded with her to do something, but Jean continuously believed that America would never go very far. She was wrong.

One day, all women were fitted with a bracelet snapped around their wrist that worked as a word counter. This permanent bracelet limited them to 100 words per day. 100! ALL DAY! That’s it. Don’t even try to go over 100 because each over will result in severe consequences. The ‘pure’ movement controls all. Religion has a higher say than science. As a result, Jean, as a linguist specialist, is very worried about what would happen to women the longer they are silenced and limited to 100 words.

Having somewhat adjusted to this horrible new normal, Jean is startled when she is approached by the President’s men saying her professional services are required. Meeting with the powers that be, Jean is told that the President’s brother has suffered a severe brain injury that impacts his ability to use language. Jean, plus some of her previous work colleagues, are needed to research a way to help him. Obviously Jean leverages her unique skill set to negotiate a deal in her favor. Jean is now in a position to help the female population, but has to do so sneakily. Complications ensue (obviously). Once Jean is reunited with her previous colleagues, they must race against time to solve the problem presented. Jean’s past plays a large role in her decision to behave the way she does with the overall message in the book being: use your voice before they take it away.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Artemis by Andy Weir

Artemis is the second Sci-Fi novel written by Andy Weir. I loved Weir’s first book, The Martian, and also the movie based on it, even though I am not typically a Sci-Fi reader. I thought it was smart and funny, with just the right amount of suspense. That is just how I like my books. Therefore, I was eager to read Artemis. I checked out the audiobook version, read by Rosario Dawson (she’s great!).

The main thing Artemis had in common with The Martian is that the characters are living somewhere other than Earth. Beyond that, they are very different. Artemis is still smartly written, but I didn’t find it quite as funny. Artemis is grittier.

In The Martian, an astronaut named Mark struggles to survive alone on the red planet after a mishap leaves him accidentally abandoned by his research team. I know, it doesn’t sound funny at all. But Mark is a character with a very good sense of humor, despite his dire situation. I rooted for him the entire time. By contrast, Artemis is a futuristic moon colony populated by many humans (some live there, others are just visiting). Artemis’ protagonist, Jasmine, is a young, jaded crook. She starts out as a petty smuggler, but things escalate, intensely and quickly.  Maybe other readers would feel differently, but I kept hoping that she would get busted for her antics. Still, every misstep she takes is entertaining.

A self-described “space nerd,” Weir describes the scientific principles of living in outer space in a way that is pretty easy for a novice to grasp. I’m no expert, but it sure seems like he knows what he’s writing about. I recently read the Moon Base Alpha series by Stuart Gibbs with my 10 year old son, and many things are echoed in those books. For example, EVA (Extravehicular Activity) suits are described almost exactly the same in both books, by the two different authors.

I have since started reading Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan. It is rather amusing to see how Sci-Fi writing has changed over the years. Who knows? This may compel me to read more Sci-Fi / Fantasy as time goes on .

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check-in

Hello Online Reading Challengers!

How is your March reading going? Are you still scrunching up your nose at the idea of science fiction? Try a movie! They’re like an adventure story, only with lots more makeup! Here are some ideas to get you started:

Mad Max: Fury Road starring Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy is a non-stop action, can’t-catch-your-breath, edge-of-your-seat survival story. But beyond all that sand and all those crazy people, there’s a lot of humanity.

Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049. Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) is a “blade runner”, stalking genetically replicated criminal replicants in a chaotic society that is nearly impossible to tell what’s real. The new film takes place 30 years further into the future and a new blade runner (Ryan Gosling) and his search for the former blade runner.

Her. Starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson. Is it possible to fall in love with an Artificial Intelligence? What happens when the AI believes it has outgrown you and wants to “break up”? It’s a question that hits closer to home in this age of Alexa. Quirky, touching and cautionary.

Tired of all the scarey, dystopian visions of the future? Then go for Star Trek, which presents a future that, while we’re still not perfect, at least we haven’t blown up the Earth (yet) and have managed to live among the stars. You have lots to choose from – television series, movies, original, spinoffs, alternate universes.

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

guest post by Teague Shosh

There is no shortage of post-apocolyptic books to read these days and looking at the books I’ve read over the past several years it is clear that I have an obsession a healthy interest in all things dealing with our planet earth in the future.  There is something so captivating about a story describing the collapse of earth as we know it and the subsequent reconstruction of a new society rising from the chaos—all from the safety of my twenty-first century life.

My brother recently asked if I had read the book Mortal Engines that Peter Jackson has based his next movie on and suggested I check out the trailer.  I usually try to avoid seeing even a smidgeon of a movie based on a book until I have read it, so I grabbed a copy of Mortal Engines by Phillip Reeve and dug in.

Mortal Engines is the first in a four part series, The Hungry City Chronicles.  It is a post-apocalyptic steam punk novel that takes place hundreds of years after the Sixty Minute War destroyed earth and made the land an unstable place to live.  Cities are now giant machines run by steam, rolling on wheels, and searching for increasingly scarce resources to survive.  These Traction Cities rule most of the earth, except for the Dead Continent (North America) and pockets of resistance can be found in The Anti-Traction League who wish to stop the movement of cities and slow the consumption of earth’s remaining resources.  Technology is almost non-existent and scavengers hunt for relics from the past to build on their knowledge of robotics, mechanization, and computers.

Mortal Engines begins on the city of London as fifteen year-old orphan and aspiring Historian Tom Natsworthy witnesses an attack on a prominent citizen and suddenly finds himself tossed into the Outland.  Tom struggles to make his way back to London with the help of Hester, who is also alone, but angry and seeking revenge.  The two unlikely friends embark on an adventure that uncovers a secret plot by London that changes everything Tom thought he knew about his city and the world.

Although the book was originally published over fifteen years ago, the idea of cities on wheels battling for survival was new to me and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Reeve’s innovative take on this genre.  After reading the descriptions of traction cities, with level after level stretching to the sky reflecting the increasing wealth of its citizens the higher you go, it is easy to see why Peter Jackson decided to turn the book into a movie.   I watched the trailer when I finished the book and it is clear that Mortal Engines is going to provide a beautiful visual experience when it comes to theaters at the end of this year.  Before then, you should read this entertaining book to find out more about Tom, Hester, and a host of other colorful characters surviving on a very different sort of earth than the one we live on today.

 

The Return of the Doctor

Hello Fellow Whovians!

I am happy to report that the long wait is over – Doctor Who returns to BBC America on Saturday April 15! Hooray! This will be Peter Capaldi’s last season as the Doctor and Steven Moffat’s last season as the main writer and showrunner, plus there’s a new companion this season. Lots of changes coming for our favorite Time Lord!

Of course, change is nothing new for Doctor Who – the show is brilliant at reinventing itself season after season, changing to keep up with current tastes yet remaining essentially at its core the story of the Doctor, a survivor and explorer of the Universe, zipping around in his time traveling TARDIS (it’s bigger on the inside!), chased by Daleks and Cybermen. And who is not opposed to stopping and helping various aliens and cultures (and time periods) on his journey, always with a faithful companion or two in tow. There’s a lot of humor in this series, but there’s also a lot of depth and heart.

Doctor Who has been a mainstay of British television since it premiered in 1963. When the original Doctor, William Hartnell became ill and could no longer work, the producers came up with the idea of having the character “regenerate”, allowing a new actor to take over. This turned out to be a brilliant move, keeping the series running almost continuously since then and allowing each actor to bring his own interpretation and personality to the show. The show slipped in popularity, ending in 1989 but was revived 2005. It’s been embraced by old and new fans and is now enjoying some of it’s greatest popularity.

Interested in jumping aboard this crazy train? (It’s tons of fun) The library has DVDs of all of the series including the originals. I recommend that you start with the “modern” series by watching a season when a new Doctor is introduced – the Ninth Doctor (series 1), the Tenth Doctor (series 2), the Eleventh Doctor (series 5) or the Twelfth Doctor (series 8). This way you are introduced to the “rules” of this series at the same time as the new Doctor, who is just as confused and bewildered as you are as he adjusts to his new body and gets back his memories. There are also the Christmas episodes (a British Christmas is listening to the Queen’s Speech in the morning and watching the Doctor Who Christmas Special in the evening!) and the excellent 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor.

The library also has novelizations, graphic novels and fan guides. It’s a fandom that just keeps giving!

So, here’s a question that can set off endless debates: who’s your favorite Doctor? I love Ten (played by David Tennant and most people’s favorite) but Eleven (Matt Smith) is my favorite. (Actually, the TARDIS is my absolute favorite character!) Who is your favorite doctor? Favorite episode? (“Vincent and the Doctor” maybe, or “Blink”?) Favorite villan? (Weeping Angels? The Silence?) Join the conversation!

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Looking for a new book in OverDrive, I offhandedly asked another librarian if she had heard of The Queen of the Tearling. She said she had heard of it, that it had won some awards or been on some lists and that it was supposed to be a good read. Taking that as a good enough endorsement for me to read it, I checked it out and started listening to it after work. Holy smokes! I LOVE THIS BOOK! It’s the first book in a series and I honestly can’t wait to read the rest of the books. I am hardly ever motivated enough to finish the next books in a series unless I am blown away by the first. Johansen blew my mind with the first book, so my hopes are up for the next two.

The Queen of the Tearling is a fantasy novel packed full of adventure, journeys, and self-discovery, while also telling the story of a young girl’s coming of age. Kelsea Raleigh Glynn is a young exiled princess, who, on her nineteenth birthday, is summoned back to the castle where she was born to take her rightful place on the throne. Her mother died when she was young, but before she died, she sent baby Kelsea into exile to be raised and hopefully kept out of harm’s way. Every Raleigh Queen is murdered by assassins and therefore her mother wanted to keep her safe. Rumors swirled around the young princess with some thinking her dead while others believed her to be alive and as frivolous and vain as her mother. Mysteries abound and young Kelsea must work tirelessly to secure the trust of her people.

Kelsea looks nothing like her mother and also acts nothing like her. She knows the throne is her rightful place, whether she wants it to be or not. Trained and schooled in exile, Kelsea was only privy to the information her two guardians would give her, leaving her with wide gaps in her knowledge of Tearling history and her own mother’s life. Once Kelsea finds her way to the castle and proves she is the rightful queen, her troubles begin. Her uncle has been acting as regent since her mother’s death. He wants the kingdom for himself, despite the fact that he is rather unpopular amongst both the commoners and the nobility. He has also made a rather complicated alliance with the sorcerous Red Queen in neighboring Mortmesne, something that doesn’t sit well with Kelsea and a wide variety of the Tearling people.

This apocalyptic universe has a lot going on. Kelsea, having grown up in isolation, finds herself smack dab in all the problems. She is identified as the true queen by the fact that she is marked and is wearing the Tearling sapphire around her neck, a necklace that she has been wearing since birth. The longer she wears this jewel, the more she realizes that it is more than just your traditional necklace. It has magical powers and Kelsea isn’t quite sure how it exactly works… In addition to being protected by her sapphire, Kelsea is accompanied by the Queen’s Guard, a group of knights who have sworn an oath to protect the queen. They are a dedicated selection of men who sometimes are the only thing standing between Kelsea and her enemies. This book is a treasure trove of fantasy, dark magic, journeys, adventure, and self-love. Kelsea loves books and learning, a fact that I related to well. This book was incredibly put together and kept my interest the whole time. This heroine is no damsel in distress. Kelsea may need help at times, but she will ask for it and will strive to make herself better. She may be idealistic, but given her age and sheltered life, that is to be expected. I’m hoping that the next books explain the backstory further, but other than that, The Queen of the Tearling  sets up an intriguing world that will hold your interest all the way through.


The Queen of the Tearling is also available in the following formats:


This book is the first in the trilogy. The second book is The Invasion of the Tearling and The Fate of the Tearling. (Stay tuned for reviews of those once I finish them!)

 

Octavia Butler’s Kindred


I’m blown away by the sheer density and complexity of this novel for a number of reasons, but I’d have to say Butler’s technique of “layering” is so expertly done as to require multiple readings in order to unpack the story.  In other words, reading Kindred is like cutting into an onion and peeling back layer upon layer to reveal the deep meaning within. One of the more surface-level layers is simply that Butler–the first black, female author to write a science-fiction novel–has written a book about a black, female writer who is, in essence, writing, or rather, –re-writing–history and her future.

By definition, “kindred” means to be “connected” or “related to” and maybe most obviously would connote family relationships and ties. Yet, the first mentioning of the word is a departure from that obvious definition and appears early in the book on page 57 when the main protagonist, Dana, describes her white husband, Kevin: “He was like me–a kindred spirit crazy enough to keep on trying.” The statement is both double-entendre and a foreshadowing of things to come: you must be tenacious enough to pursue the life of a writer, bold enough to disrupt the status quo, and crazy enough to keep on trying.

Dana likens the job market in 1976 Los Angeles to a “slave market”, a clear juxtaposition to the literal slave market where Dana and Kevin are mysteriously transported via time-travel. Here, in the 19th century antebellum south, Dana confronts her familial past where American slavery and the promise of freedom are as inextricably linked as black & white identities.  Will Dana’s time-travels allow her to change the course of history and influence Rufus, son of a slave owner & blood-relative of her great great grandmother, whom she is called upon to save time and again? How will Rufus and Dana embody or challenge the systems of institutionalized racism they were born into? It is absolutely remarkable how Butler masterfully stacks layer upon layer to build characters as complex and enmeshed as our troubled and not-so-distant history of slavery and racism in the United States.

Thematically, Kindred is incredibly dense and complex, but I’ll focus on the theme of “performance” or “acting one’s part” that permeates the entire novel.  In several scenes, characters must “perform” their respective “roles” unless they want to suffer the consequences of falling out of line. Time-travel itself is a brilliant way to point out how racism is a construct and not the natural order.  Should we really require the passing of time in order to recognize and challenge systems of power & oppression?

When Dana brings Kevin to the plantation with her on her second journey back through time and space (she merely has to be physically holding onto him in order to transport him with her), she assumes the role of his slave as a matter of survival.  Kevin, of course reluctant to perform his assigned role as her “owner” accepts the painful challenge in order to protect his beloved wife. That Dana even needs protecting in this way brilliantly exposes and lays bare additional gender and sexuality constructs, another way Butler will craft a specific narrative in order to question it with a critical eye. But maybe one of the not-so-obvious questions is: Who, exactly, is assigning these roles, and why, and to whose benefit?  If we ourselves do not choose the role we are expected to play or act out, what are the implications when we are complicit in carrying out the performance? If refusal to play your role could get you killed (although Dana points out that “some fates are worse than death”),what is the best method for positively effecting change? Some characters in Kindred play their parts–worn down over time and physically beaten down–while others refuse to act: one standout character, Alice, asks “Am I a slave?” and ultimately attempts to break free.

Kindred is the kind of book that will stay with you, I am of sure. The complexity and depth of characters will challenge you to step outside of your comfort zone and do something that great books make you do: contemplate, sympathize, connect. I had some powerful emotional responses while reading this book which is exactly why I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in what it means to be human.

Trees Vol. 1 by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard

2014-05-28-treesTen years ago, they arrived. Silently they landed – enormous, tall cylinders settling all over the Earth. No communication, no signs of life. Just standing there, like trees, unaware of humanity, it seemed. Or, perhaps they simply didn’t care.

Their appearance causes global chaos. The Trees landed in oceans, on top of glaciers and the middle of crowded urban centers.  Governments collapsed and then slowly recovered. With no communication or interaction after ten years, the Trees have become almost normal, and humanity has adapted to their existence.

In China, a special cultural zone has been established around a Tree, called Shu, where none of the usual cultural and economic restrictions are enforced. Tian Chenglei, a young artist from the country to study art. He joins an artists commune and shyly makes friends with a transgender woman, eventually falling in love with her. But the freedoms the Tree’s arrival brought cannot last forever.

In the northern-most reaches of Norway’s Spitsbergen island, a scientific team assigned to study the Tree there struggles to maintain order and their sanity. One determined scientist discovers black poppies growing in the shadows around the Tree, areas where nothing should grow. He eventually discovers that the flowers are composed of metal filaments arranged in a mirror image of the Tree’s external symbols, and that they transmit faint RF signals. He reasons that the flowers are a method of communication and once there is enough of them, the Tree will “speak.”

In Somalia, a technocratic dictator deals with the economic and political impact of one of the smallest Trees landing in the autonomous state of Puntland within Somalia. The Tree’s arrivals resulted in a vast influx of wealth and economic growth into Puntland, while the rest of the country only grew poorer. Convinced that the Tree does not care about the land and people around it, Rahim is determined to take control of the Tree and Puntland, by any means necessary.

The Trees changed the world when they arrived. The uncertainly of their intent and the implication of another intelligent species irreparably changed civilization – it was, in fact, the end of the world as we knew it. The story is less about the Trees (although the forthcoming volumes promise more) than how humanity reacts to them.  Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Planetary) has a lot of ground to cover initially, but by end of the first volume, the action and dread intensifies to a cliffhanger of an ending. Trees is a great choice for sci-fi fans and for those who wonder what might happen when we learn we’re not alone in the universe.

Black Science Vol. 1: How to Fall Forever by Rick Remender, Matteo Scalera & Dean White

BlackScience_vol1-1Across an alien landscape, two people in space suits race for safety. At each turn, they are thwarted. The woman is killed, but the man runs on, clutching a container, cursing himself for his mistakes, his obsessions, that have brought him – and his family – here. A race against time, it seems, to reach the Pillar before it is too late.

This breathless scene opens Rick Remender’s Black Science. Grant McKay, our narrator, does make it back to the Pillar, moments before it jumps. Along with Grant are is two children, teenaged Pia and younger Nathan, his five (now four)-person team of scientists and the man who bankrolled the project. We learn that Grant and his team have done the impossible – punched through the barriers between the multiverses’ dimensions, allowing humans to travel to new dimensions not only to explore, but also to exploit, possibly finding the keys to preserving our species. The method is called black science, and the Pillar is the tool. But the tool has been sabotaged, and now it and its passengers have no control over when or to where they will jump.

Grant laments his hubris and his recklessness for taking his children and his team with him on the first manned jump throughout the story. Each new dimension is as strange as the next, dumping the team into war and circumstance that are truly alien. There appears to be no way of repairing the Pillar, and now that the multiverse has been breached, nothing is certain, especially survival.

Remander’s (Uncanny Avengers, Fear Agent) novel moves at a frenetic pace, the art is both stark and riotously vivid. It harkens back to the era of pulp science fiction with non-stop action and lurid details. With three more volumes already published, this is a great choice for anyone looking for a true science fiction adventure. Fans of “The Venture Bros.,” will enjoy this considerable darker series (and the close similarity Grant McKay bears to a certain winged super-villain).