Librarian’s Choice: Sci Fi

This blog comes from Liam, an assistant community librarian based in the east of Leeds.

Sci-fi has been unfairly maligned within the literary community for many decades, mainly by folk who believe literature equals being beaten around the head with a 19th Century thesaurus. Those of us who actually read it know that it is in fact an endless source of creativity and imagination, a way of reflecting today’s society through futuristic funhouse mirrors, and an important and compelling method of examining what’s ahead. It isn’t just aliens and spaceships and planets with names like Zygolythkah-7. Not only that, anyway. So I have compiled a list of sci-fi novels, some more well-known than others, but all of which I believe would stand up against any classic 20th Century novels. I could have talked about so many more, but hopefully this will whet your appetite!

Liam Left HandThe Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

No list of classic sci-fi would be complete without Ursula K. Le Guin, a true heavyweight of the genre. The Left Hand of Darkness won the Hugo and the Nebula Award, and remains as popular today as it was in 1969, when it was published.
Genly Ai, an envoy for Ekumen – a coalition of humanoid species – is sent to Gethen to encourage its leaders to join the union. He spends two years trying to persuade Karhide and Orgoreyn, the two dominant nations, to join, but encounters scepticism from both. Though capable of a type of telepathic communication, he struggles to understand the Gethen concept of ‘shifgrethor’, a system of social rules and status, and the effeminate mannerisms of many of the ‘male’ folk he meets. His task becomes all the more difficult as both nations distrust one another, and he gets caught in the middle.

The Left Hand of Darkness is an early example of feminist sci-fi, and explores themes of androgyny, sexuality and gender and their effects on society, particularly when you take gender away. Genly, for example, is unable to understand how his sexuality affects his way of thinking, and thus finds it incredibly difficult to communicate with the ambisexual Gethenians, who in turn find his motivations hard to understand. Another fascinating aspect of the story is the idea of ‘shifgrethor’, a complex system used by Gethenians extensively with regards to their society. So much of this story is as relevant today as it was when it was written. A particular passage about the dangers of patriotism rings true, especially with what’s happening in the world at the moment: “No, I don’t mean love, when I say patriotism. I mean fear. The fear of the other. And its expressions are political, not poetical: hate, rivalry, aggression.” Another longer part about nations and borders should be mandatory reading. In fact, the entire book should be!

Liam CandidateA Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller

I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for anything post-apocalyptic. Oryx and Crake, The Road, Earth Abides, Station Eleven, I Am Legend, Greybeard, The Gone-Away World… the list goes on. Show me society collapsing and I’m all over it. I chose ‘A Canticle for Leibowitz’ for this blog as it is widely regarded as one of the finest examples, and hasn’t been out of print since it was first published in 1960. It’s the only novel Walter M. Miller ever wrote, which I guess proves the old adage of quitting while you’re ahead.

At the beginning we follow a religious sect that seems to live in the Middle Ages, but as we progress, we learn that this desolate landscape is actually 600 years after a terrible nuclear war. One of the few survivors, Isaac Edward Leibowitz, collected and stored any books he could find. Centuries later, they have become the basis for a new religion called the ‘Albertian Order of Leibowitz’. The story follows humanity as it tries to rebuild civilisation and is split into three parts, with a six-century time-jump in between. Much of the novel focuses on the aspects of religion versus state, and cyclical history – how we’re doomed to repeat it if we fail to learn from our mistakes. A true masterpiece which is well worth a read.

Lilith’s Brood (The Xenogenesis Trilogy) by Octavia E. Butler

Though less so today, sci-fi in the past was often a reserve for straight white male authors. Octavia E. Butler, an African-American lesbian, broke that mould and helped pave the way for a more diverse representation of voices in this genre. Her Xenogenesis trilogy – Dawn, Adulthood Rights, and Iago, recently released as an omnibus titled Lilith’s Brood – was written between 1987-89. Nuclear war has left the earth uninhabitable and humanity on the brink of extinction. The Oankili, an alien race, takes the handful of survivors left and holds them in suspended animation while they make the earth safe for life once more. Lilith Iyapo, our hero, is one of the first to be awoken aboard her new home, and is trained to help the other survivors come to terms with this new earth. The Oankili, however, know what the humans cannot accept – that humanity holds an innate self-destructive gene manifested in a need for hierarchical systems that will once again lead to their downfall – and wish to interbreed, removing this gene and thus allowing humanity the chance to flourish. But some of the survivors believe these hybrid offspring won’t truly be human, and will only cause the extinction of humankind. Some rebel…

Lilith’s Brood is a fantastic story about human nature, biological determinism, gender, sexuality and race. It could be seen as an allegory of immigration and integration that we see in society today. Though it could be argued that Butler doesn’t hold humanity in much regard, her characters are nevertheless brilliantly written and believable, the prose is tight and efficient, and the ideas are out of this world. Lilith herself is a true feminine hero, an archetype we need to see more of in sci-fi, and all genres.

Liam SiriusSirius by Olaf Stapledon

One of our librarians, Chris, recommended Sirius to me. Though the plot – a scientist breeds a super-intelligent dog with the ability to speak – sounds like it could’ve been lifted from a straight-to-DVD flop voiced by Rob Schneider, the result is actually a poignant study on consciousness, innate nature, the relationships between human and animal, and the fear of the ‘other’.

In rural Wales, a scientist begins using steroids to increase the cognisance of farm dogs. Though most fail, one little pup, Sirius, grows and develops until he holds the intelligence of a human. Born at the same time as the scientist’s daughter Plaxy, the pair forms a tight bond despite their sibling rivalry. While the family tries to keep Sirius’ intelligence a secret, locals soon begin to wonder about the dog’s smart behaviour, and react with fear and hatred. Sirius, neither man nor beast, struggles with his own identity and battles his innate wild nature against his carefully nurtured character.

‘Sirius’ is a remarkable novel by a true sci-fi legend, Olaf Stapledon, who influenced a whole generation of authors such as Arthur C. Clarke, Stanislaw Lem, Brian Aldiss, C.S. Lewis and many more. First published in 1944, its main themes are still just as relevant, and have been explored in other novels such as Flowers for Algernon.

Liam AndroidsDo Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

With the recent release of ‘Blade Runner 2049’, and the current TV anthology series ‘Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams’, now would be the perfect time to revisit Philip K. Dick’s seminal novel. Set in a future San Francisco, a devastating nuclear war has seen the majority of the surviving population leave Earth to live in off-world colonies. A group of androids, used as labourers throughout the solar system, go rogue, murder their owners, and flee Mars for Earth. It’s down to Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter, to track them down and ‘retire’ them, while the androids hide out with John Isidore, a simpleton who lives in an abandoned apartment building. These androids, though superficially identical to humans, are incapable of empathy. Though they’re trying to learn…

The novel explores what it means to be human; whether it’s our emotions, experiences, souls, or simply biology. It’s darkly funny in places too. Early on, Deckard and his wife use a ‘Penfield Mood Organ’ which feeds them the emotions that their lifeless world has taken away. Deckard’s wife Iran uses this organ for a “six-hour self-accusatory depression.” With the nuclear war devastating animal life most people can only afford mechanical replicas, such as the title’s electric sheep. Yes, the film’s popularity has overshadowed its source, but this remains a noteworthy book and is a must-read for anyone with an inclination to enjoy one of cyberpunk’s original sources.

Liam More thanMore Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon

I put up a Gollancz sci-fi masterworks display at Headingley Library, with their gorgeously cheesy 30s pulp style paperback covers or the yellow with pink lettering hardbacks. This was one I found that I’d never heard of before, and quickly became one of my favourites. Theodore Sturgeon, a New Wave sci-fi author, and one of the few to escape a middle initial, was prolific in his writing – before his death in 1985 he had written over 200 stories. ‘More Than Human’ was one of his most famous and won 1954’s International Fantasy Award for best novel.

The story follows six individuals who, when apart, are societal misfits with weird powers – a 25 year old with a very low IQ who can control minds; two teleporting twin toddlers who can only say “he-he” and “ho-ho”; a severely disabled baby (described in the books as “mongoloid”… different times) who can think like a computer and answer any question; and an 8 year old telekinetic girl. But when these characters come together they form a symbiotic being capable of almost anything – they are“homo gestalt” humanity’s next evolutionary step.

I loved this book so much. From the first chapter where two girls, hidden away from society by their over-protective father, come face to face with the feeble-minded Lone, ending in tragedy, to the accidental creation of an anti-gravity machine while trying to build a tractor that works in both wet and dry conditions. It is truly a story that stays with you long after you’ve finished.

Coffee Table Reads: Bang on Trend

This blog post comes from Rachel Benn, a Communities Librarian in the South of the City. A lover of coffee and books.

Forget not judging a book by its cover, with coffee table reads it’s all about that!
Coffee Table books provide perfect décor and in the era of Pinterest, Instagram and multiple magazines and blogs it’s time to jump on the trend. Coffee Tables have recently become built-in bookcases, choosing the right books can transform any surface and add a little extra chic to your home.
Here are my top ten Coffee Table reads that are bang on trend and good to read too! Monday – Saturday a decorating staple, Sunday morning perfect for reading over a cuppa. All are available on the Leeds Libraries catalogue to borrow for free.

Rachel How not toHow not to kill your Plants by Nik Southern

So I recently chose this book as a survival guide, another trend which I’ve joined the hype on is house plants! I can’t get enough of them, but my major concern was how do I look after them?! I chose them based on Instagramable quality not practicability! So this book was a necessity. Not only is it’s cover chic with its gold and navy simplistic tones, it has great tips, solutions and advice for taking care of those sassy plants. There’s even a guide for giving your plants a funeral – but I’m hoping I don’t get to that stage, I’m taking the tips seriously and monitoring the watering, humidity and room positioning carefully! The quirky illustrations are amazing and there’s plenty of photos to give you #PlantEnvy, the book is a work of art. “Don’t let the pricks get you down” – the Cactus chapter is a go to – treat them like a best friend and they will remain a feature in your room for a very long time.

Rachel hyggeThe Little book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking

It’s that time of year again…we’re entering the cosy season, so this book not only looks great on your Coffee Table but makes you feel warm and fuzzy just by reading it. I joined the Hygge hype last winter and absolutely loved reading this book, packed with tips for creating Hygge in the home and yummy recipes. Hygge pronounced (Hoo-gah) is the Danish art of living well, enjoying life’s simple pleasures and embracing the warm and gentle things in life. This book is cute in design, small and compact but has perfect chapters for picking up and reading on a cold winter night by the fire with a hot chocolate, it’s such a feel good book! There are lots more Hygge books on the Library catalogue to choose from too.

Rachel TidyingThe Life Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever by Marie Kondo

I was recommended this read by a friend who is obsessed with tidying, and instantly questioned whether she was trying to tell me something! This choice is a Coffee Table read that also adds a bit of sass to the room – yes the room is tidy and yes I’ve got a book on it! I’d go as far as saying this book is life changing, it gives ideas and solutions for de-cluttering that you wouldn’t even think of. It’s changed me for the better! You begin to look forward to ironing your jumpers to get them back in their assigned place in the draw. One tip that has transformed my wardrobes and drawers is positioning your clothes so you can see every item. It’s elegant and simplistic. Also try Marie Kondo’s second book ‘Spark Joy’ which gives you even more life hacks.

Rachel Creative HomeThe Creative Home: Inspiring Ideas for Beautiful Living by Geraldine James

As a decorative staple, it seemed right to have a home interior book on the list. I chose this one as it went with my room colour scheme (which is absolutely fine to do!) but it’s also a fantastic book to read and use for inspiration and ideas for the home. Every page will give you #HomeEnvy as you read about creative dining, upcycling furniture, and my favourite section – creating your own home library! Packed with styling tips, decorative displays, creating artistic flair and making the right choices. With meticulous attention to detail it inspires you to come out of your comfort zone and dare to try a new style to reinvent your home to make it uniquely yours.

Rachel HappyHappy: Finding joy in every day and letting go of perfect by Fearne Cotton

As a style icon Fearne Cotton didn’t disappoint in the look of this great read, its bright quirky cover lights up the room. Fearne draws on her own experiences and shares ways to bring happiness back into your life, embracing the times when you’re happy and it gives practical ways to release your inner joy. The hand drawn illustrations give it a real personal feel, it’s an easy read and is brilliant to pick up at times when you need to relax, I found it a perfect weekend read to reboost your inner happiness ready to start the following week. You may find you don’t want it to ever leave your Coffee Table! I’ve just borrowed Fearne’s new cookbook ‘Cook, Eat, Love’ which has great recipes in it to try too.

Rachel LagomLagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living by Linnea Dunne

So instantly when I saw this on the Library catalogue I thought ‘I need this now!’ After thoroughly enjoying The Little Book of Hygge I wanted to try this, I’d seen the word ‘Lagom’ appear on several blogs and in magazine articles over the last few months so naturally I wanted to be in on the hype! It looks great on the Coffee Table, it’s pretty detailed cover with images of coffee, house plants and biscuits naturally drew me in. So I firstly thought what is Lagom? Well Linnea Dunne describes the concept as “Not too little, not too much, but just enough”. The lovely photographs and short chapters provide a great introduction to Lagom and it’s perfect to read when you have the holiday blues, it gives you a health and wellbeing boost. As a fellow foodie I also tried some of the great recipes inside!

Rachel FaceFace: makeup, skin care, beauty by Pixiwoo (Sam and Nic Chapman)

After vaguely hearing of Pixiwoo (I’m showing my age now) I thought I’ll give this book a try, it’s a beautiful book and oozes style. I jumped to chapters of interest around skincare and top tips for creating the perfect brows. It’s perfect for beginners, aspiring make-up artists and anyone that wants to try something new. After reading some reviews I was keen to have a read, the book is full of needed information for any make up lover! You can also download the app and use it as you go along which brings interactive aspects out of the book and links to Pixiwoo’s online tutorials on You Tube.

Rachel HemsleyHemsley Hemsley – good + simple by Jasmine Hemsley & Melissa Hemsley

At least one cookbook has to make its way to the Coffee Table, and there are so many to choose that look both stylish and chic but also have fantastic recipes in too. I felt the need to go out and buy a spiralizer immediately after reading the first few recipes and I have never looked back! Great clean eating meals and some unusual ingredients to take you out of your comfort zones using the kitchen staples. I am guilty of cooking the same meals on a regular basis so trying a new cookery book is a must, this book will ensure your Instagram feed has enough content for a month of foodie posts, give your friends and families #FoodEnvy and try some!

Rachel MacAnna Mae’s mac n cheese: recipes from London’s legendary street food truck by Anna Clark

Anyone I know will tell you my favourite food is Mac n Cheese, if it’s on the menu I’m choosing it! I’ve tried it with different toppings, different cheeses and every time it doesn’t disappoint. So I came across this book and I was buzzing to read it, show it off on my Coffee Table and try some new ways of experimenting with the classic recipe. The writing is very witty, the photos make you very hungry and you’re going to want to recommend it to everyone you know. Not for the calorie counters but a favourite has to be the Mac n Cheese fries recipe. It’s cheesy good.

Rachel bloomBloom: Navigating Life and Style by Estee Lalonde

I came across Estee Lalonde’s Instagram account and realised I’d been following her lifestyle/travel blog for a few months, this is her first book and is full of life hacks, travel tips and lifestyle inspiration. Its cover is a gorgeous pale blue which is perfect for the Coffee Table, it’s stylish in look and content. Imagine having dinner with a really cool friend, that’s how you feel when reading the home interior tips, recipes and life hacks. An empowering woman read and a real feel good book.

So that’s my top 10 Coffee Table reads: You can use these for styling a room, adding chic to a Coffee Table but most importantly you can have fun reading them too! #CoffeeTableReads #BookEnvy

Librarian’s Choice: Fiction for foodies

This blog post comes from Maddie, a Community Librarian based in the east of Leeds.

I enjoy baking and love books which have food at the heart of them. I particularly like the idea of books which recipes in them.

Maddie Cupcake CafeMeet Me at the Cupcake Café by Jenny Colgan

When Issy Randall loses her boss/boyfriend and her job she decides to make a new start and open a cafe. With recipes handed down to her by her Grandpa Joe she turns her life around. This is an easy reading chick-lit romance and in true chick lit style Issy eventually manages to find Mr. Right. If you’re a fan of Sophie Kinsella then this is one you might like to try.

Maddie Shape of waterThe Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri

My next choice is completely different, as this is a crime book. This is the first in a series of books about the Sicilian inspector Montalbano. The books are set in Vigata, a quiet little town where not very much happens apart from bizarre murders and lots of them. Inspector Montalbano is passionate about food and always eats his meals in silence appreciating what he is eating. There are lots of descriptions in the book about food that he is ordering in restaurants and has inspired me to look up recipes of the food described.

Maddie chocolatChocolat by Joanne Harris

This seems an obvious choice to include in this selection. I read this book many years ago before the film was made of it. The book is about a young single mum – Vianne Rocher who arrives in a quiet French village with her young daughter and opens up a chocolate shop much to the discontent to the parish priest and divides the whole community. It is probably the only book where the description of the cooking has been so vivid that you can almost smell the chocolate being made.

Maddie Like water for chocolateLike Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

The protagonist of this story is 15 year old Tita who falls in love with her neighbor Pedro. They want to marry, but her mother forbids it because of a family tradition where the youngest daughter is not allowed to marry as she is expected to look after her parents as they age. The book is set out in monthly chapters and at the beginning of each one there is a Mexican recipe.

 

Maddie Baking Cakes in the KigaliBaking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin

Meet Angel Tangaranza a professional cake maker, matchmaker and a shoulder to cry on. This book reminded me very much of Alexander McCall Smith’s book The Lady’s no. 1 Detective Agency. The book is set in Rwanda. The people who order cakes from Angel for special occasions relate their problems to her and she does her best to help. I liked the way that the food is the connecting factor. I’m not in Angel’s league when it comes to baking cakes, but I am tempted to try one although it might have to be a simplified version.