Finnish Books

The Finnish Institute in London is celebrating the centenary of Finland’s independence by highlighting the importance of literacy, literature and libraries. ‘10×10 Stories from Finland’ campaign has collected 100 books written by Finnish authors, translated into English, in cooperation with British publishing houses. The books are being donated to 10 different libraries around the UK during 2017.
Leeds Central Library was delighted to be part of this campaign and to be selected to receive 10 books. These books are now available for loan in our Lending Library.

 

A HAPPY LITTLE ISLAND cover final.inddA Happy Little Island by Lars Sund

Lars Sund is a Finnish writer from the Swedish speaking town of Jakobstad. He has written 8 novels and ‘A Happy Little Island’ is the first book translated into English. A scribe shapes the world into an island which he names Fagero, and populated it with an assortment of characters. The people of Fagero were often divided against each other but united in their appreciation of their happy little island. Then the dead bodies began to arrive, washing ashore with no identification and no one to claim them. Fagero’s inhabitants are forced to confront the truth that, even on their remote island, the world’s horrors and injustices could not be ignored.

Finnish Summer BookThe Summer Book by Tove Jansson

Tove Jansson is best known for her Moomin stories which were first published in English over 60 years ago. Jansson then produced a dozen novels for adults including the Summer Book which was a best seller in Finland. An elderly artist and her six year old granddaughter spend the summer together, on a tiny island in the Gulf of Finland, their solitude disturbed only by migrating birds, sudden storms and an occasional passing boat. Gradually, the two learn to adjust to each other’s fears, foibles and yearnings for independence, and a fierce yet understated love emerges – one that engulfs not only the summer inhabitants, but the very island itself. Tove Jansson writes with a special toughness, and with a quiet, dry sense of humour, about a small girl and her grandmother, who as kindred spirits share the long days together.

Finnish Daisy DarlingDaisy Darling, Lets read a Story by Markus Majaluoma

The collection of 10 stories also includes this children’s book by award winning children’s author Markus Majaluoma.
At the end of the day, a story is calming for children and adults alike. Daisy and Daddy start by choosing a book. What should they read? Where does the tale lead them? Daisy has her own favorite, and a wonderful journey begins.

Finnish One EveningOne evening in October I rowed out on the lake by Tua Forsström

Tua Forsström is a visionary Finland-Swedish poet who has become Finland’s most celebrated contemporary poet. Her poetry draws its sonorous and plangent music from the landscapes of Finland, seeking harmony between the troubled human heart and the threatened natural world.

 

Finnish CompartmentThe Compartment No. 6 by Rosa Liksom

A sad young woman boards a train in Moscow. Bound for Mongolia, she’s trying to leave a broken relationship as far behind her as she can. Wanting to be alone, she chooses an empty compartment – no. 6. Her solitude is soon shattered by the arrival of a fellow passenger: Vadim Nikolayevich Ivanov, a grizzled, opinionated and foul-mouthed ex-soldier. Vadim fills the compartment with his long and colourful stories, recounting his sexual conquests and violent fights in lurid detail.

Finnish IceIce by Ulla-Lena Lundberg

In the summer of 1947, a young priest, Petter, his wife and baby daughter, arrive by mail boat on a tiny island. They are to take over a drafty homestead from where Petter is to minister to the scattered community. In this evocative tale, we are drawn into the minutiae of an austere yet purposeful life where the demands of self-sufficiency – cows to milk and sheep to graze – are tempered by the kindness of neighbours. With each season, the family’s love of the island grows and when the winter brings ice, a new and tentative link is created.

Finnish BicyclingBicycling to the moon by Timo Parvela

Purdy the cat and Barker the dog live together in a sky-blue house on top of a hill. Barker likes to potter in the garden. But Purdy has big dreams. One day Purdy decides that if he could just get a bicycle and ride it to the moon, he will come back the happiest cat in the world, and never want anything else again.

Finnish Winter WarThe Winter War by Philip Teir

On the surface, the Paul family are living the liberal, middle-class Scandinavian dream. Max Paul is a renowned sociologist and his wife Katriina has a well-paid job in the public sector. They live in an airy apartment in the centre of Helsinki. But look closer and the cracks start to show. As he approaches his 60th birthday, the certainties of Max’s life begin to dissolve. He hasn’t produced any work of note for decades. His wife no longer loves him. His grown-up daughters – one in London, one in Helsinki – have problems of their own. So when a former student turned journalist shows up and offers him a seductive lifeline, Max starts down a dangerous path from which he may never find a way back.

Finnish The MineThe Mine by Antti Tuomainen

In the dead of winter investigative reporter Janne Vuori sets out to uncover the truth about a mining company whose illegal activities have created an environmental disaster in a small town in rural Finland. When the company’s executives begin to die in a string of mysterious accidents and Janne’s personal life starts to unravel, past meets present in a catastrophic series of events that could cost him his life.

Kalevala

Among the collection is a copy of the country’s beloved book Kalevala, a collection of epic poetry and one of Finland’s most culturally significant texts.
Compiled in the 19th Century, Kalevala explores the traditional Finnish creation myth, including the fantastic story of the Earth being created from the shards of a duck egg and a string of fantastical quests and adventures. It grew out of a rich oral tradition with prehistoric roots. The poetry was brought together in the 1840s by the Finnish scholar Elias Lönnrot. Published in 1849, it played a central role in the march towards Finnish independence and inspired some of Sibelius’s greatest works.

 

 

Librarian’s Choice: Printmaking

This blog is from Chloe, an Assistant Community Librarian based in the West of the city.

Here are my top five recently discovered printmaking books! I found them inspirational in making me want to learn new techniques or explore them playfully in different ways. I’m always looking out for accessible art projects that you can try at home, and the majority of these books have templates to get you started learning techniques before progressing to creating your own designs. I have ranked the following titles in order of my favourites…

Chloe Printmaking UnleashedPrintmaking Unleashed: More Than 50 Techniques for Expressive Mark Making by Tracy Bautista

DIY printmaking at its best, this book is a feast for the eyes with gorgeous combinations of pattern, colour and composition explored through a vast variety of playful mark making techniques! The book covers DIY techniques for all abilities in an accessible and affordable way using common materials to get amazing printmaking results. From creating your own stencils using hot glue, carved wooden blocks or materials such as rubber bands and toothpicks, to printing vintage lace textures or creating Sgraffito Doodles (scratching into acrylic paint on top of Perspex) there is a technique everyone will enjoy and want to pursue!
Examples of other expressive mark making techniques include gesso fabric prints (using resits to incorporate texture onto canvas), digital photography stencils (using Photoshop), silkscreen painting (using an embroidery hoop and acrylic), recycled plastic prints (using interesting patterns on plastic to print), masking tape and crochet string resists, and hand cut stencils.

Chloe Making an ImpressionMaking an Impression: Designing & Creating Artful Stamps by Geninne Zlatikis

This book makes you want you to design and make your own collection of stamps for printmaking. It begins with the basic principles of materials required and a selection of templates in the back in order to get you started, then delves into inspiring and exciting techniques.

Aside from creating your own stamps, techniques to try using them to create art work include: stamps with positive and negative space, experimenting with textures of surfaces you’re printing on, and how to create repetition through different angles and colours. There are inspiration ideas for how to use your stamps to create your own personal artwork, as well as a variety of projects to choose from: journals, pillows, t-shirts, and wall art to name a few. My favourite projects I look forward to creating are the bookplate and accordion journal. I’m also particularly excited about the cyanotype (sun printing) technique which I’ve never tried, and exploring positive and negative patterns.

Chloe The Printmaking BookThe Printmaking Book: Projects & Techniques in the Art of Hand-Printing by Vanessa Mooncie

This book also covers the techniques relief, screen, sun and mono printing in addition to image transfers and stencils; however it is aimed at transforming ordinary items with hand printed designs. Again techniques are accessible in that they are fun and easy to try at home, and templates are available to help get you started. From ceramic, lino, woodcut, silk and stencil screen printing, there are plenty of projects to try the techniques in: printed plastic jewellery, photographic transfers onto mirror, wallpaper, and solar plates (metal sheets coated in photosensitive polymer which are used as a printmaking surface).

Marbles, bottle and jar lids, string – you name it and I’ve been collecting it to try in printmaking since reading this book! I look forward to trying the book cover project and would be excited to use the silk printing technique. I’d also like to try the negative photograph cyanotype technique as I’d never heard of it before!

Chloe How to Print FabricHow to Print Fabric by Zeena Shah

This book explains everything you’ve ever wanted to know about creating beautiful hand-printed fabrics easily at home, and again this one has templates to get you started. It begins with the importance of mark making (one of the most exciting and experimental aspects in printmaking) and covers techniques including relief and stencilling. It progresses to screen printing for beginners (using an embroider hoop), and advanced stencil screen printing (using Photo Emulsion). It covers useful information about inks, dyes and fabrics and also has a section on the key concepts in print design, including positive and negative space, motifs and various repeat techniques. The rest of the book is brimming with twenty different techniques for printing on fabric, each followed by a simple sewing project. You can also mix and match printmaking techniques throughout the book for any of the sewing projects. Some examples of the techniques include: bleach mark printing, screen printing with freezer paper stencils, lint roller printing, and watercolour mark printing. A selection of projects include tablet sleeves, bean bags and Furoshiki cloths (ancient Japanese cloths used to wrap objects).

I’ve had some bad experiences sewing (perhaps it’s to do with the fact I can’t sew a straight line), but this doesn’t put me off any of the projects! I’d particularly like to use the lino block technique for the tablet cover project, and lino roller printing to make a Furoshiki wrapping cloth.

Chloe Art LabArt Lab for Kids: 52 Creative Adventures in Drawing, Painting, Printmaking, Paper and Mixed Media by Susan Schwake

This book is a fantastic reminder of how being playful in your approach to making art can produce fantastic results, (you’re never too old to experiment)! With around twenty pages dedicated to printmaking, instructions are easy to understand and ‘quick guides’ to the basic principles of the following techniques: found object, stencil silk screen, string, polystyrene, mono, stencil and relief printing. Each technique includes an example of an artist working with the medium which is inspiring and makes you pause to consider how you could push the boundaries of the technique further. This is the only book I’ve chosen that doesn’t contain templates or projects but this is fine – the results of experimenting with techniques are works of art in their own right.

I got excited about the gelatin technique as the author described it as their most favourite and addictive process! It’s a way of producing textural-looking, layered monoprints without a press… Ink floats on the surface of the gelatin so you can work on your print over a long period of time. However I want to do more research to check the process is animal friendly before trying it out!

CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal shadowing

This blog is from Kat, an Assistant Community Librarian based in the East of the city.

Chatterbooks is a readers group for children aged 7-11, who meet on the first Thursday of the month at Chapel Allerton Library 3:30-4:30pm. The next session will be Thursday 4th July, and we will be discussing The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb – new members are always welcome!

This week we looked at some of the books shortlisted for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal – a prize which recognises an outstanding book in terms of illustration for children and young people. Here are the group’s thoughts on illustrations and some of their favourites from this year’s shortlist;

  • Illustrations can help younger readers understand the story.
  • Black and white illustrations give you some idea but still lets you use your imagination.
  • Sometimes, illustrations can distract you from the story, but can also support the story.

Kat A great big cuddleA Great Big Cuddle illustrated by Chris Riddell

  • AMAZING!
  • Chris Riddle’s books are always very detailed and makes us want to read another.
  • We always love Chris’s style of illustration, which is unique and peculiar.
  • One of our favourite pages was ‘Lost’ – the illustration mirrored the sadness of the poem exactly.

Kat Wild AnimalsWild Animals of the North by Dieter Braun

  • The style is unusual – simplistic but detailed and abstract.
  • This book is less cartoony and very beautiful – it reminds us more of pictures you would see in a gallery exhibition rather than a book.
  • Looks printed, or shapes stuck together at first, but on looking closer could possibly be done on a computer.

Kat The MarvelsThe Marvels by Brian Selznick

  • There is not as much text as you would expect in this book, the first half is completely illustrated – we wouldn’t imagine a book like this to have so many illutrations.
  • The illustrations give an impression of the story and are then followed by the text which gives more meaning to it.
  • Very traditional and realistic, the shading is very impressive!
  • The cover image makes some of us want to read the book – although it seems a bit dark and scary to others.

Kat TidyTidy by Emily Gravett

  • The illustrator has used a wide range of colours which gives the landscapes depth.
  • The trees are so beautiful – they make you think you are there.

Kat There is a tribeThere is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith

  • Although not realistic, the illustrations are very detailed.
  • Can tell that a variety of media has been used.
  • Not sure that they go with the story – there are hardly any words so without the illustrations there wouldn’t be much of a book.

Kat Harry potterHarry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone illustrated by Jim Kay

  • Would prefer to read this rather than a normal Harry Potter book
  • The illustrations tell the story very well, and they fit in perfectly with the words – can tell it has been planned very well.
  • Favourite pages shows Diagon Alley – very intricately detailed; looks like the films have come to life.
  • Can imagine this actually being real.

Our joint favourite books of the shortlist were A Great Big Cuddle, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Wild Animals of the North. You can see the full shortlist and details of authors and illustrators here and the winner will be announced on 19th June.

Librarian’s Choice: Gripped from the start

This blog is from Louise a library assistant working in Morley Library.

Something that often comes up between us readers are our reading style or habits. On the counter I love to hear about when and where people read. Right before bed, only on the bus, over a lazy breakfast or in the evenings instead of the television. For others it is only ever on holiday or any moment snatched to oneself, in the middle of a crowded break room, or the middle of the night while the rest of the house breathes gently.

It would also seem that there are two distinct camps of readers, those who will diligently finish anything they begin, no matter how terrible and arduous, the sense of completion perhaps being the biggest reward and those who try on novels like dresses, knowing before the left arm is fully in whether or not this will be a keeper.
I am definitely in the latter. Two pages in and I want to be swept away, I have to have that complete immersion to invest my time in the world in between those pages.

In this way you kiss a lot of frogs, start out on a lot of journeys, sometimes go a little while without really getting anywhere but I feel strongly that reading is a passionate pursuit that requires total belief in the voice of the author.

Three such stories that I stumbled upon recently are:

Louise EncirclingEncircling by Carl Frode Tiller

David has lost his memory, a newspaper advert invites his friends and families to write in with stories, memories of their own to help him remember who he is. Those who respond begin to talk about David, about his family but most urgently themselves, very subtly the whole community is painted into the narrative. Set in rural Norway, with an absolute dynasty of characters, this is the beginning of a trilogy that spans generations and has enough room and depth to show the complexity of our relationships with others and with ourselves. With such a range of voices, Tiller has given us the chance to really explore what makes a story from every perspective.
Despite its scale this reads like a dream, these characters became my family for a time. Book Two is also available to borrow and Book Three is in the pipeline for translation in the near future.

Louise Post Office GirlThe Post Office Girl by Stefan Zweig

Set in Austria at the end of World War 1, a country utterly wracked with financial ruin, Christine works without cease in her lonely role in a post office. Just about getting by, every day the same, following mechanical routines, she is unaware of the scale of her unhappiness until one day she receives a surprise invitation from her wealthy American Aunt to join them in a Swiss resort.

Arriving at the fashionable Hotel with her simple garments mended, and luggage borrowed she is struck with awe and a burning sense of shame at her poverty. As in the fairytale Cinderella she is transformed becoming for the first time truly aware of a sense of herself, surrounded by wealth, beauty, freedom, frivolity, she blossoms into the society around her. Then without warning she is sent away, back to her old life. Left with only dreams of the life she has been allowed to glimpse.

This novel is completely astonishing, so very moving, and timeless in it’s messages of futility and hope.

louise Plot 29PLOT 29 by Allan Jenkins

Part garden diary, part memoir, Allan Jenkins (Journalist and Editor of Observer Food Monthly) shares with us a year in the life of his allotment, the beautiful details of sowing seeds, tending young plants, making good the soil and at times hacking it all back and starting again. He starts to unfold the story of his beginnings, rescued from his mother and placed in a Banardos children home, his brother Christopher who has always needed protection, and their new life with a brand new mum and dad. Plot 29 begins as a place to expand, to grow more and becomes a place of stability and healing.

‘When I am disturbed, even angry, gardening has been a therapy. When I don’t want to talk I turn to Plot 29, or to a wilder piece of land by a northern sea. There, among seeds and trees, my breathing slows; my heart rate too. My anxieties slip away.’

As Allan digs deeper into his past, sends away for care records, gets nearer to the haunting truth of the the violence lurking in his past, his commitment to his Plot becomes what keeps him upright and able to move forward.

If you are a gardener or grower you will love the simple, enriching day to day description of life on Plot 29, the power of earth and seeds and of hard work to heal. Theres a real, brave, unflinching story here too, of identity, of family, of what makes us who we are, and what we become.

Billy Shakes: Wonder Boy!

Billy Shakes Boy WonderMost of us have heard of Shakespeare the Elizabethan play write who penned Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet to name a few. Today his plays pop up all around us in many disguises, for example The Lion King which is a Disney retelling of Hamlet. Shakespeare is readily taught in schools and his stories are still a very strong part of modern theatre. The libraries have a close connection with Shakepeare and particularly in Leeds Central Library; there are many carvings of his head found around the ornate building referencing this literary connection. But what was he like as a child growing up? Where did he get his inspiration to write stories that are more well know today than they were over 400 years ago?

The imagined childhood of the Big Bad Bard himself…Billy dreamt of nothing; not of monsters, soldiers, war. Not of great shipwrecks, or princesses washed up on foreign shores! When Billy slept, he closed his eyes, and did no more than SNORE!

Wrongsemble Billy Shakes 1Throughout June and July Wrongsemble, a fantastic Leeds based children’s theatre company are bringing their latest show Billy Shakes: Wonder boy! to some of our libraries on a whirlwind tour. This fun and lively family friendly performance will tell the imagined childhood of William Shakepeare. It promises to be bursting with live music, shadow play, and a wealth of brilliantly barmy historical inaccuracies that embrace the joy of storytelling, and the untold stories within us all!

Shakespearian facts about the cast

  • James who plays Billy, once played Romeo in a real time social media performance of Romeo & Juliet
  • Rosie’s favourite Shakespeare play is ‘Macbeth’ – Edith’s favourite is ‘Midsummer’s Night Dream’ – James’ favourite is ‘Titus Andronicus’…all of which feature in our show…
  • Elvi the director – worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company in the Education department for 2 years – she also directs the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s primary Shakespeare performance project ‘Primary Player’s’ each year – https://www.wyp.org.uk/about/creative-engagement/schools/primary-schools/
  • All of the songs have been written and composed by the company in the last 3 weeks…
  • We hadn’t decided on the ending of the show until last week, as we wanted to decide on Billy’s adventure together, and how the story should end!

To book tickets to see Billy Shakes: Wonder Boy in Room700 in Leeds Central Library please visit: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/event/ELGGLJ

For tour dates please visit: http://www.wrongsemble.com/tour-dates-billy-shakes

Wrongsemble Billy Shakes 2

Celebrating Helen Dunmore

We are so sad to hear that poet, novelist and children’s author Helen Dunmore, died of cancer yesterday (5th June), aged 64.

Helen’s fiction in particular was a firm favourite with our readers which her publisher, Penguin Random House characterised as “rich and intricate, yet narrated with a deceptive simplicity that made all her writing accessible and heartfelt”. Dunmore’s writing stood out for the “fluidity and lyricism of her prose, and how well constructed all her narratives were”.

Penguin Random House, which published Dunmore for over two decades, said it was “devastated by the loss of one of our best-loved authors”. A spokesperson said she had been “an inspirational and generous author, championing emerging voices and other established authors” as well as “a very dear friend” to many at the company and the wider literary community.

Here are a few of our favourite books from our catalogue.

Dunmore The LieThe Lie

Cornwall, 1920, early spring. A young man stands on a headland, looking out to sea. He is back from the war, homeless and without family. Behind him lie the mud, barbed-wire entanglements and terror of the trenches. Behind him is also the most intense relationship of his life. Daniel has survived, but the horror and passion of the past seem more real than the quiet fields around him. He is about to step into the unknown. But will he ever be able to escape the terrible, unforeseen consequences of a lie?

Dunmore Birdcage WalkBirdcage Walk

It is 1792 and Europe is seized by political turmoil and violence. Lizzy Fawkes has grown up in Radical circles where each step of the French Revolution is followed with eager idealism. But she has recently married John Diner Tredevant, a property developer who is heavily invested in Bristol’s housing boom, and he has everything to lose from social upheaval and the prospect of war. Soon his plans for a magnificent terrace built above the 200ft drop of the Gorge come under threat.

Dunmore The GreatcoatThe Greatcoat

In the winter of 1952, newly wed Isabel Carey arrives in a Yorkshire town with her husband Philip. As a GP he spends much of his time working, while Isabel tries hard to adjust to the realities of married life. One cold night, Isabel finds an old RAF greatcoat in the back of a cupboard. She puts it on her bed for warmth – and is startled by a knock at her window. Outside is a young man. A pilot. And he wants to come in.

Dunmore ExposureExposure

London, November, 1960: the Cold War is at its height. Spy fever fills the newspapers, and the political establishment knows how and where to bury its secrets. When a highly sensitive file goes missing, Simon Callington is accused of passing information to the Soviets, and arrested. His wife, Lily, suspects that his imprisonment is part of a cover-up, and that more powerful men than Simon will do anything to prevent their own downfall. She knows that she too is in danger, and must fight to protect her children. But what she does not realise is that Simon has hidden vital truths about his past, and may be found guilty of another crime that carries with it an even greater penalty.

Dunmore The BetrayalThe Betrayal

Leningrad in 1952: a city recovering from war, where Andrei, a young hospital doctor and Anna, a nursery school teacher, are forging a life together. Summers at the dacha, preparations for the hospital ball, work and the care of sixteen year old Kolya fill their minds. They try hard to avoid coming to the attention of the authorities, but even so their private happiness is precarious. Stalin is still in power, and the Ministry for State Security has new targets in its sights. When Andrei has to treat the seriously ill child of a senior secret police officer, Volkov, he finds himself and his family caught in an impossible game of life and death – for in a land ruled by whispers and watchfulness, betrayal can come from those closest to you.

Dunmore IngoIngo

In this magical adventure, storyteller Helen Dunmore writes the story of Sapphire and her brother Conor, and their discovery of Ingo, a powerful and exciting world under the sea.

Dunmore StormsweptStormswept

Morveren lives with her parents and twin sister Jenna on an island off the coast of Cornwall – an island that in the long distant past was devastated by a tidal wave. Only some of those taken by the sea may not have been lost at all. Morveren’s life changes when she finds a beautiful teenage boy in a rock pool after a storm.

 

 

 

Books That Predicted the Future

This blog is from Rhian, the Collections Manager at Central Library.

On the 6 June we will be taking part in the UK’s first ever start-to-finish reading of George Orwell’s 1984 by screening it live from Senate House, London (the inspiration behind Orwell’s Ministry of Truth) into Central Library. And if that wasn’t quite enough dystopia for one week, we will also be showing the film adaptation starring Richard Burton and John Hurt on the 7 June, alongside our own ‘Room 101 experience’.

Orwell’s nightmarish totalitarian future seems in many ways completely different from the society we live in now but in other ways the novel, with its telescreens and doublespeak seems scarily prescient.

Writers of futuristic fiction are not really aiming to try and prophesise what might happen in the future but are always trying to comment on their own society, like Orwell’s critique of Stalinist communism in 1984, but this doesn’t stop us looking out for what things may actually have come true.

19841984 by George Orwell

1984 hit the bestseller list again in January 2017 a week after Trump was elected American president when his advisor Kellyanne Conway used the phrase ‘alternative facts’ in a CNN interview.  Many people commented that this phrase reminded them of Orwell’s 1984 world where history is continuously being rewritten and language and thoughts are controlled through ‘Newspeak’ and ‘Doublethink’. In a world of fast moving social media and information online that can be deleted or edited as quickly as it is published, alternative facts can be spread quicker via the internet than Orwell could have ever imagined.

Facts MatterThis is where libraries can really shout about their amazing role as champions of facts and accurate, verified information. The Library and Information Association CILIP is running a Facts Matter campaign for the General Election, have a look at their webpage for more info and to see how you can support.

Orwell imagined a world full of telescreens, that could watch your every move but could he have imagined that we would carry our very own telescreens in our pockets? Although we can’t be watched through our smartphones yet our every moves are being tracked by various apps, designed to make our lives easier but it is not too far-fetched to see how this could be used for more sinister purposes. And of course, our computers can easily be hacked and our actions traced online, it might not be Big Brother yet but we can certainly feel like we are being watched!

NeuromancerNeuromancer by William Gibson

William Gibson is regularly called a prophetic writer, he coined the term ‘cyberspace’ when the concept of the internet barely existed and he didn’t even own a computer himself. His novel Neuromancer, written in 1984, defined the cyperpunk genre and has had such a massive influence on popular culture, inspiring film such as The Matrix. Even Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo can be seen as a doppelganger of Molly Millions the female techno-assassin in Gibson’s novel. I loved this book when I first read it, over 20 years after it was published, and I would recommend all his other works, especially his most recent book The Peripheral that again takes the reader into a dystopic future.

Although always asked how he makes his predictions he says,

‘What I think I do is not predict what’s going to happen, but allow people momentarily to see how totally weird the present is. And I think that’s what people actually get from my work. To look up and see how the world really is and go, agh! But then they’ll duck back into where they live, which is where I live, too. It’s like I’m trying to expose our unthinkable present.

But the cultural assumption about what I do is that I’m predicting things. So I go through the motions. And sometimes I get it right. But really, often I don’t get it right.’

So although it is amazing how much of the tech stuff has come true, there are a few things that are missing. For example, you won’t find a mention of mobile phones and even though virtual reality is often hailed as the next big thing (facebook recently paid $2.3 billion for the Oculus Rift headset system) it has yet to reach the immersive, sensory experience envisioned in Gibson’s novels. However, with every new hacking scam, global corporate takeover, new social media network or online game we are coming one step closer to the exhilarating yet terrifying world described in Neuromancer.

oryx and crakeOryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

One of Margaret Atwood’s other dystopian novels The Handmaid’s Tale has finally arrived on our TV screens, hooray! Lots of people have drawn comparisons between the book and modern events. The Guardian wrote an interesting article about how feminist science fiction has predicted the future which talks about Handmaid’s Tale amongst other important books.

signed oryx and crakeHowever, I am going to talk about my favourite Margaret Atwood book, Oryx and Crake. I am always re-reading this novel and I was lucky to get my copy signed when she visited the Ilkley Literature Festival a few years ago.

It describes a world, where humanity has become nearly extinct due to a mysterious plague, before which powerful corporations have performed increasingly extreme genetic experiments, the rich barricade themselves within gated communities, business is conducted through hacking and espionage and the environment remains an afterthought which has disastrous consequences.

Atwood has said that ‘For MaddAddam, [the series which Oryx and Crake is part of] I relied on initiatives that were already under way or contemplated, or that–given the other breakthroughs being made–could actually be done. Biotech is not only a game changer, but potentially a planet changer as well.’

And since the publication of the trilogy some of the stranger ideas have become a reality. The highly intelligent genetically engineered pigs called ‘pigoons’ who roam the post-apocalyptic earth were originally designed to grow bespoke organs for humans. Although this sounds far-fetched scientists in the US announced in June last year that they were attempting to grow human organs in pigs with the intention to transplant them into people (initial trials looking to do this were halted in the 1990s amidst fears of pig viruses infecting humans but modern science has eliminated this possibility).

Of course other topics covered in the book like species extinction and fears around the environment are increasingly relevant today and Atwood’s book serves as a warning about possible threats to the planet.

As a final note, I thought it was more than a coincidence that this article about Margaret Atwood’s call to defend libraries, popped up on my twitter feed, whilst I was writing this post. In it Atwood says

‘There are an infinite variety of tyrannies and dystopias, but they all share one trait: the ferocious opposition to free thought, open minds and access to information…This is why the library matters so much. It is a democratizing and liberating force like none other…It is a place for minds to meet minds and hearts to move hearts’.

I thought this was a fantastic statement and amazing to think that every time we go to a library, learn something new or do something creative and individual we are doing our bit to ensure the horrible futures depicted in some futuristic fiction don’t ever come true.