Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

Spin(1stEd)You’re twelve years old, sitting in your backyard at night with your two best friends. You are looking up at the sky, and without warning, preamble, or explanation, the stars flare as one and then abruptly disappear. A mere facsimile of the sun – a perfect yellow disk unmarred by solar flares or sunspots – rises in the morning, but the stars are gone for good. This is what Tyler Dupree and his friends, the brilliant twins Diane and Jason, encounter. These three friends grow up under ‘the Spin,’ as it is soon called – a barrier around the earth placed there by some unknowable alien intelligence, for a purpose they can only guess. Even more perplexing: time is passing much, much faster outside the barrier than inside it. A satellite sent up to explore the phenomenon breaks through and then comes crashing down immediately, but instead of the pristine machine launched hours earlier, what crash lands on earth is a banged up satellite with weeks, months, of data recorded. A moment on earth is measured in millennia outside the Spin, which is dire news: at that rate, humanity will live long enough to be destroyed by our own decaying sun, which hasn’t slowed its life cycle down at all. The timeline? About 40 years on earth until the sun expands far enough to fry us where we stand.

How would you choose to spend those 40 years?

Jason dedicates his life to pure science, learning more about the Spin than any other earthling. Diane finds refuge in one of the many new religions that spring up in the wake of the slow disaster. Tyler plows ahead with life as usual, becoming a doctor and as “average” as any citizen can be under the Spin.

Spin falls on the hard side of the science fiction spectrum, which means there is lots of real science in addition to speculation in the plot. It also means that even the invented aspects of Wilson’s universe are imbued with a plausible explanation based on real science; for example, the scary global epidemic he invents, CVWS, is fake, but its symptoms (similar to tuberculosis) are familiar and its behavior – a disease crossing over to humans from cattle – is all too real. Because of this it’s a better pick for established fans of speculative fiction; if you like the genre already, the sophisticated plotting, satisfying conclusion, and smart characters will delight you. If you just have a casual interest, you might have a bad time trying to wade through all the science on display here.

Star Wars: Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn

scoundrelsIf you’ve seen Ocean’s Eleven (or virtually any other high-tech/high-energy heist film), you’re familiar with the plot of Star Wars: Scoundrels. Danny Ocean – I mean, Han Solo – enlists a crack team of a eleven people with specialized skills to steal a ridiculous amount of money. Headed up by Han, Chewbacca, and Lando Calrissian, this handful of ne’er-do-wells makes a bold attempt to steal 163 million credits in a make-or-break heist that could get Han out from under Jabba’s thumb for good. Or, it could get him (and all his accomplices) killed. There are two surprises at the end of this novel – one of them involving a whip and a gigantic boulder – and for those two alone, it’s worth reading. It’s also a lot of fun to re-enter the world of Star Wars and Han Solo: they’re enduring favorites for a reason, and this well-told, twisty tale does justice to that legacy.

Scoundrels takes place in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of the first Death Star (aka, right after A New Hope). The general public has only sketchy information about that debacle: they know that Alderaan is a cloud of space debris, and that the Death Star is now gone, but rumors of Rebel involvement are hardly realistic – surely a scrappy ill-funded few could never stand against the might of the Empire? And that, the central theme the original Star Wars is built upon, is what makes Scoundrels a success too. Surely this band of misfits can’t beat down the impossible odds against them and come away alive, let alone successful? But instead of Palpatine’s evil Empire, it’s a high-security vault owned by a powerful criminal organization. And instead of Danny Ocean, it’s Han Solo (who absolutely, positively, shot first).

There And Back Again

earth from the moon40 years ago today, while millions watched from their living rooms, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon and suddenly we had a whole new perspective on our world. We’ve come a long way since then – space shuttles and space walks and space stations – but that first step and all of the struggle and work that led up to it continues to fascinate us. The library has all kinds of books  about the Apollo missions including:

Rocket Men: the Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon by Craig Nelson

Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh

Moondust: in Search of the Men Who Feel to Earth by Andrew Smith

Apollo: the Epic Journey to the Moon by David West Reynolds

If you’d prefer to watch your history (and watch actual footage taken at the moon) check out these DVDs:

From the Earth to the Moon – the acclaimed HBO series co-produced by Tom Hanks.

In the Shadow of the Moon: Remember When the Whole World Looked Up – original NASA film footage and interviews with surviving astronauts recall this epic chapter in American history.

The Right Stuff – fictionalized account of the early Apollo missions brings a very human face to the science and technology.