Librarian’s Choice – Rediscovering Science Fiction

This blog post comes from Ben, who manages our Business and Information library at Central library.

Ben Time shipsMy rediscovery of a love of Science Fiction came about last August on holiday in Majorca. The jury’s out as to whether I had heat stroke or a virus but either way I spent 48 hours dividing my time between visits to the bathroom and lying in bed. There wasn’t much else to do except read, so I finished the 2 books I’d taken with me (Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall and Alan McGee’s story of Creation Records) pretty quickly. I managed to make it to the hotel foyer where there was a shelf full of random sun-bleached paperbacks that holiday makers had abandoned. In-amongst the chick-lit and James Patterson novels there was a book that intrigued me, it was “The Time Ships” by Stephen Baxter, which the cover told me was the authorized sequel to The Time Machine by H G Wells. I hadn’t read any Science Fiction since I was a teenager, I wasn’t really expecting much but took it back to my sick bed and soon got hooked. The story takes up where The Time Machine left off. This won’t mean much if you haven’t read the original but the Time Traveller, wracked by guilt, decides to return to the year 802,701 to save Weena (a devolved human from the future that he failed to save in the first book). However when he travels into the future he discovers that this timeline is no longer accessible because he has changed history through his previous journeys through time. He then embarks on adventures in time into distant pasts and futures (and even a strange alternate World War 2 at one point), but each journey alters reality. It tied my head in knots but in a really good way.

Ben children of timeTime Ships had whetted my appetite, and the next novel I read was “Children of Time” by Adrian Tchaikovsky. The last survivors of the human race leave the dying Earth, desperate to find a new home. Thousands are in suspended animation aboard a colossal ship, in hibernation until they find a habitable planet, heading for a world that was terraformed by humans long ago. The story alternates between the humans on the space ship, who are travelling for hundreds of thousands of years, and the evolution of intelligent life on the terraformed planet. While life advances on the terraformed planet it regresses on the space ship. You sense events are building to an inevitable collision between the two civilizations and the tension is unbearable by the end of the novel. This book makes you ponder really big themes – time, evolution, religion, God – but ultimately it’s also an excellent story.

Ben HyperionA couple of weeks ago I read “Hyperion” by Dan Simmons, a book that always features in top 10 Sci-fi lists. This book is really intense, in parts it’s as much horror as Science fiction. I read it in one week, and I absolutely couldn’t put it down even though it literally gave me nightmares! The galaxy is on the brink of a massive war, and the mysterious planet of Hyperion holds secrets that both sides want to exploit. Seven pilgrims set out on an epic journey to confront the Shrike – a monstrous creature “part god part killing machine” that inhabits Hyperion. The book consists of each of the pilgrims telling their tale to the others, to explain their reason for confronting the Shrike. It’s a strange, incredibly imaginative – and at times very dark – story, but the worlds and universe that Simmons has created are rich, detailed and colourful.

All three of these massively inventive books combine gripping story-telling with an ability to instill a sense of wonder in the reader and actually make you think more about the nature of the universe.

Top 10 Science Fiction

Science Fiction is a genre that people either say they love or hate. It is a shame that many write it off as ‘not for them’ while often enjoying the films at the cinema that have been adapted from a book.

So if you fancy giving giving a new genre a chance these are the top 10 science fiction novels that were borrowed from us last month.

scifi-woolWool by Hugh Howey

In a ruined and hostile landscape, a community exists in a giant underground silo. Inside, men and women live an enclosed life full of rules and regulations, of secrets and lies. The people who don’t follow the rules are the dangerous ones; they dare to hope and dream, and infect others with their optimism. Their punishment is simple and deadly. They are allowed outside. Jules is one of these people. She may well be the last.

scifi-the-long-cosmosThe Long Cosmos by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

2070-71. Nearly six decades after Step Day and in the Long Earth, the new Next post-human society continues to evolve. For Joshua Valiente, now in his late sixties, it is time to take one last solo journey into the High Meggers: an adventure that turns into a disaster. Alone and facing death, his only hope of salvation lies with a group of trolls. But as Joshua confronts his mortality, the Long Earth receives a signal from the stars. A signal that is picked up by radio astronomers but also in more abstract ways – by the trolls and by the Great Traversers. Its message is simple but ts implications are enormous: JOIN US. The super-smart Next realise that the Message contains instructions on how to develop an immense artificial intelligence but to build it they have to seek help from throughout the industrious worlds of mankind.

scifi-the-thing-itselfThe Thing Itself by Adam Roberts

Two men while away the days in an Antarctic research station. Tensions between them build as they argue over a love letter one of them has received. One is practical and open. The other surly, superior and obsessed with reading one book – by the philosopher Kant. As a storm brews and they lose contact with the outside world they debate Kant, reality and the emptiness of the universe. The come to hate each other – and they learn that they are not alone.

scifi-the-long-utopiaThe Long Utopia by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

2045-2059. After the cataclysmic upheavals of Step Day and the Yellowstone eruption humanity is spreading further into the Long Earth, and society, on a battered Datum Earth and beyond, continues to evolve. Now an elderly and cantankerous AI, Lobsang lives in disguise with Agnes in an exotic, far-distant world. He’s convinced they’re leading a normal life in New Springfield – they even adopt a child – but it seems they have been guided there for a reason. As rumours of strange sightings and hauntings proliferate, it becomes clear that something is very awry with this particular world. Millions of steps away, Joshua is on a personal journey of discovery: learning about the father he never knew and a secret family history. But then he receives a summons from New Springfield. Lobsang understands the enormity of what’s taking place beneath the surface of his earth – a threat to all the worlds of the Long Earth.

scifi-auroraAurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Our voyage from Earth began generations ago. Now, we approach our destination. A new home. Aurora.

scifi-fellowship-of-the-ringThe Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

The ‘Fellowship of the Ring’ is the first part of Tolkien’s epic adventure ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as his elderly cousin Bilbo entrusts the Ring to his care.

scifi-the-martianThe Martian by Andy Weir

I’m stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Earth. I’m in a habitat designed to last 31 days. If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death. I’m screwed.

scifi-xeelee-enduranceXeelee Endurance by Stephen Baxter

Return to the eon-spanning and universe-crossing conflict between humanity and the unknowable alien Xeelee in this selection of uncollected and unpublished stories. From tales charting the earliest days of man’s adventure to the stars to stories of Old Earth, four billion years in the future, the range and startling imagination of Baxter is always on display. As humanity rises and falls, ebbs and flows, one thing is always needed – the ability to endure.

scifi-the-oceanThe Ocean at the end of the lane by Neil Gaiman

It began for our narrator 40 years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive.

scifi-the-explorerThe Explorer by James Smythe

When journalist Cormac Easton is selected to document the first manned mission into deep space, he dreams of securing his place in history as one of humanity’s great explorers. But in space, nothing goes according to plan. The crew wake from hypersleep to discover their captain dead in his allegedly fail-proof safety pod.

 

 

 

‘Dune’ celebrates its 50th birthday

DuneThe science fiction classic Dune is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year.

On release it was the winner of both the prestigious Hugo Award and the inaugural Nebular Award.  It has gone on to sell over 12 million copies since then and frequently appears on sci-fi must read lists. Dune has been favourably compared to Lord of the Rings trilogy for its grand scope and sighted as an influence on numerous creative projects from Star Wars to Game of Thrones, it even inspired an Iron Maiden The great Dune trilogysong “To Tame the Land”.

Set in a heavily feudal society of the future where “spice “mined from treacherous sand dunes is the most valuable commodity in the galaxy Dune is the first book in an epic saga charting the life of Duke Paul of the House Atraides. When his family is betrayed by another Noble House, Paul is forced to flee with his mother Jessica into the unforgiving terrain of the desert planet Arrakis. Far from perishing in this punishing environment as their enemies anticipate, the pair survive and Paul discovers that the dunes and their inhabitants are key to fulfilling a destiny far greater than any he could ever have imagined.

Author Frank Herbert masterfully pulls together multiple layers of political intrigue, adds complex themes of religion and culture, mixes in a healthy dose of adventure and frames the story within a meticulously constructed fictional universe. The resulting novel is considered ahead of its time in exploring issues of ecology and environmentalism but has faced criticism for what some see as its poor development of female characters.

Herbert went on to wright five sequels before his death in 1986. His Dune legacy lives on thanks to his son Brian HerbertDune who along with established science fiction author Kevin J. Anderson has written a number of prequel novels beginning with the Prelude to Dune Trilogy published from 1999 as well as two sequels Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune based on Frank’s own 30 page outline for the continuation of the series.

If you have already read Dune or would like to try some other great science fiction titles which also explore themes of politics, culture and religion try these compelling reads:

The sparrowSand by Hugh Howey. Staying with the desert theme Sand is the new novel from the acclaimed author of the bestselling Wool trilogy. An old civilization is literally buried under massive sand dunes. It’s up to four siblings born into this barren new to world dig deep and uncover the secrets of the lost one.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. Jesuit priest Father Emilio Santoz leads an expedition to meet a sentient alien race after he is moved by their use of music but the consequences are devastating.  Russell makes excellent use of her own experience as a paleoanthropologist to injects a sense of real life into her alien world and its strange new species. Exploring human concepts of morality and faith this and sequel Children of God are as intelligent, compelling and challenging as science fiction gets.

 Perdido Street Station (New Crobuzon 1) by China  Mievelle . Welcome to the sprawling city of New Crobuzon where humans live side by side with all manner of strange creatures from khephris (insect headed women) to winged garuda. When one such garuda who has been stripped of flight approaches an amateur scientist to help him regain it they unwittingly set in motion events which will leave the whole of the city gripped with terror. This is a massively ambitious story which mixes politics, ethics, science and fantasy to astonishing effect.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie.  Introducing The Justice, the AI mind of a destroyed warship trapped in the Sandreanimated body of a single dead human or “corpse soldier”. Used to controlling thousands of “corpse soldiers” simultaneously The Justice must adjust to this reduced state if she is to complete one last mission and exact revenge on those who destroyed her. Author Leckie became the first person to collect the Hugo, Nebular and Arthur C Clark awards for Best Novel in the same year with this her 2014 debut novel. Its sequel Ancillary Sword is also available now.

The Player of Games by Iain M Banks. Between 1987 and his death in 2013 Banks wrote a series of highly acclaimed novels and short stories set in and around the supposedly utopian interstellar society of The Culture.  Essentially space operas the novels are less concerned with scientific fact than exploring complex themes such as identity and politics. The Player of Games is an accessible entry point into this Universe. It tells the story of Gurgeh a man famous throughout The Culture for his mastery of board games.  Coerced into participating in a game called Azad in an Empire far from home Gurgeh soon realizes that he will not only be player but also pawn and that the stakes are literally to die for.

Post by Gemma Alexander, Information and Research Library

Looking for some Scifi? 5 recommended reads

The word exchange

5 Scifi books recommended by Kirkus magazine

The word exchange by Alena Graedon

In the not-so-distant future, the forecasted ‘death of print’ has become a reality. Bookstores, libraries, newspapers and magazines are a thing of the past, as we spend our time glued to handheld devices called Memes that not only keep us in constant communication, but have become so intuitive as to hail us taxis before we leave our offices and order takeout at the first growl of a hungry stomach. Anana Johnson works with her father, Doug, at the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL), where Doug is hard at work on the final edition that will ever be printed.

Afterparty by Daryl Gregory

In a world where God is a drug, one woman has to get sober. Lyda Rose was one of the neuroscientists who helped create Numinous, which produces the illusion of a personal deity, but since unwittingly overdosing, she has been haunted by her own visions of an angel she calls Dr. Gloria. After a stay in an asylum, she thinks she’s put it behind her. The others start overdosing. Who is still producing the drug, and why?

Defenders by Will McIntosh

When Earth is invaded by telepathic aliens, humanity responds by creating the defenders. They are the perfect warriors – 17 feet tall, knowing and loving nothing but war, their minds closed to the aliens. The question is, what do you do with millions of genetically engineered warriors once the war is won? ‘Defenders’ is a novel of power, alliances, violence, redemption and yearning for connection – from one of the brightest new stars in science fiction.

AnnihilationThe Rhesus chart by Charles Stross

Bob Howard is an intelligence agent working his way through the ranks of the top secret government agency known as ‘the Laundry’. When occult powers threaten the realm, they’ll be there to clean up the mess – and deal with the witnesses. There’s one kind of threat that the Laundry has never come across in its many decades, and that’s vampires. Mention them to a seasoned agent and you’ll be laughed out of the room. But when a small team of investment bankers at one of Canary Wharf’s most distinguished financial institutions discovers an arcane algorithm that leaves them fearing daylight and craving O positive, someone doesn’t want the Laundry to know. And Bob gets caught right in the middle. Final part of The Laundry Files

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

For 30 years, Area X has remained mysterious, remote, and concealed by the government as an environmental disaster zone even though it is to all appearances pristine wilderness. For 30 years, too, the secret agency known as the Southern Reach has monitored Area X and sent in expeditions to try to discover the truth. Some expeditions have suffered terrible consequences. Others have reported nothing out of the ordinary. Now, as Area X seems to be changing and perhaps expanding, the next expedition will attempt to succeed where all others have failed. What is happening in Area X? What is the true nature of the invisible border that surrounds it? Other volumes in the Southern Trilogy are Authority and Acceptance

Happy Birthday Nevil Shute – 18 post apocalyptic novels to celebrate

On the beachIt’s Nevil Shute’s birthday this week, born 17th January 1899 so paying homage to ‘On the Beach’ here’s a selection of post apocalyptic fiction from the 40’s to 2014 – all in stock so you can read anything that takes your fancy.

Books from the 1950s tended to reflect worries about communism and nuclear war. In the 1980s, plague and danger from space were concerns. Now, we’re worried about everything: war, viruses, genetically modified humans, natural global disasters, computers running the world. Of course there are lots of Young Adult books in this genre but we’ve just included one in the list.

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart 1949 The story of the fall of civilization from deadly disease and its rebirth. Written in at the beginning of the Cold War, ‘it lacks some common post-apocalyptic conventions found in later novels: no warlords or biker gangs (as in Mad Max); there is no fear of atomic weapons or radiation; no mutants and no warring tribes’. Stephen King says Earth Abides was an inspiration for his post-apocalyptic novel, The Stand, see below.

The Day Of The Triffids by John Wyndham 1951 A classic of the genre. It traces the fate of the world after most of the world’s population are blinded by a comet shower. The Cat's cradlefew left with sight must struggle to reconstruct society while fighting mobile, flesh-eating plants called Triffids.

Arthur C. Clarke called it an “immortal story.” Director Danny Boyle says the opening hospital sequence inspired Alex Garland to write the screenplay for 28 Days Later.

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke 1953 Without warning, giant silver ships from deep space appear in the skies above every major city on Earth. Manned by the Overlords, in fifty years, they eliminate ignorance, disease, and poverty. Then this golden age ends–and then the age of Mankind begins…Childhood’s End is often regarded by both readers and critics as Clarke’s best novel and has been The day of the triffidsdescribed as “a classic of alien literature.”

I am Legend by Richard Matheson 1954 By day, Robert Neville, the last living human being, hunts the sleeping undead vampires. By night he barricades himself in and prays he’ll survive. How long can it be before he joins the undead too.

On the beach by Nevil Shute 1957 Like all the best post-apocalypse stories, the famous and well-respected On the Beach examines ordinary people facing nightmare scenarios. In this case, a mixed group of people in Melbourne await the arrival of deadly radiation spreading towards them from the northern hemisphere following a nuclear war. Sad at the end

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. 1959 This is Miller’s first and only novel, but he didn’t hold back: it spans thousands of years, chronicling the rebuilding of civilization after an apocalyptic event. Despite early reviewers that called Miller a “dull, ashy writer guilty of heavy-weightWool irony,” it’s never been in  print for over 50 years and made the Best 23 Science Fiction Books of All Time list.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut  1963 A satiric look at the arms race, religion, technology, and just being human, it features  Vonnegut’s famous creation, ice-nine, a special kind of solid ice that turns all liquid water it touches into more ice-nine.

Writer and critic Theodore Sturgeon gave it one of the best reviews of any book, ever: “[A]ppalling, hilarious, shocking, and infuriating…this is an annoying book and you must read it. And you better take it lightly, because if you don’t you’ll go off weeping and shoot yourself.”

 The Stand by Stephen King 1978 First came the days of the plague, then came the dreams. Dark dreams that warned of the coming of the dark man. The apostate of death, his worn-down boot heels tramping the night roads. The warlord of the charnel house and Prince of Evil. His time is at hand. His empire grows in the west and the Apocalypse looms

 The girl with all the giftsOryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood 2004 Atwood doesn’t consider Oryx and Crake to be Scifi because it does not deal with “things that have not been invented yet.” Instead, she categorizes it as “adventure romance.” !! It features the effects of genetic engineering, climate change run wild, and primitive semi-humans. Oryx and Crake’s sequel is The Year of the Flood

World War Z: an oral history of the zombie war by Max Brooks 2006 It began with rumours from China about another pandemic. A world still reeling from bird flu and limited nuclear exchanges had had enough of apocalypse. Based on interviews with survivors and key players in the fightback against the horde, this title brings various traditions of American journalism to bear on an incredible story

 The Road by Cormac McCarthy  2006 A nameless son and father wander a landscape blasted by an unspecified cataclysm that has destroyed most of civilization and, in the intervening years, almost all life on Earth. The novel won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and critics have called it “heartbreaking,” “haunting,” and “emotionally Childhood's endshattering.”

 The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins 2009 It’s YoungAdult but rated 5* by over 100 Leeds readers. 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. But Katniss has been close to death before and survival, for her, is second nature

Sleepless by Charlie Huston 2010 Parker T. Haas is a straight-arrow LAPD cop whose cast iron sense of right and wrong has made him a lone wolf on the force. But when a plague of sleeplessness attacks Los Angeles and the world beyond, his philosophical certainties are tested to destruction

Wool by Hugh Howey  2011 In a ruined and toxic future, a community exists in a giant silo underground, hundreds of stories deep. There, men and women live in a society full of regulations they believe are meant to protect them. Sheriff Holston, who has unwaveringly upheld the silo’s rules for years, unexpectedly breaks the greatest taboo of all: He asks to go outside.

“The biggest influence on me was probably Fraggle Rock. As a kid, I couldn’t get enough of the intro to that show, which revealed an entire world underground.” – Hugh Howey

The roadThe Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey 2014 Review by filmmaker Joss Whedon: “The story spirals towards a conclusion so surprising, so warm and yet so chilling, that it takes a moment to realize it’s been earned since the first page, and even before. It left me sighing with envious joy, like I’d been simultaneously offered flowers and beaten at chess. A jewel.”

The Remaining by D J Molles 2014 In a steel-and-lead-encased bunker 20 feet below the basement level of his house, a soldier waits for his final orders. On the surface, a plague ravages the planet, infecting over 90% of the population. The bacterium burrows through the brain, destroying all signs of humanity and leaving behind little more than base, prehistoric instincts. The infected turn into hyper-aggressive predators, with an insatiable desire to kill and feed.  Soon the soldier will have to open the hatch to his bunker, and step out into this new wasteland, to complete his mission: rescue and rebuild

  The current Golden Age started in 2004 – The “Pop score” is the number of Amazon stars multiplied by number of reviews

 

A round up of six Scifi titles for a Monday

The forever watch

 Here’s some recently added SciFi titles which have been recommended by readers.

The forever watch by David Ramirez — The Noah, a city-sized ship, half-way through an 800-year voyage to another planet. In a world where deeds, and even thoughts, cannot be kept secret, a man is murdered: his body so ruined that his identity must be established from DNA evidence. Within hours, all trace of the crime is swept away, hidden as though it never happened. Hana Dempsey, a mid-level bureaucrat genetically modified to use the Noah’s telepathic internet, begins to investigate

Hannu Rajaniemi’s  The Causal Angel – With his infectious love of storytelling in all its forms, his rich characterisation and his unrivalled grasp of thrillingly bizarre cutting-edge science, Hannu Rajaniemi has swiftly set a new benchmark for SF in the 21st century. And now with his third novel he completes the tale of his gentleman rogue, the many lives and minds of Jean de Flambeur. Influenced as much by the fin de siecle novels of Maurice leBlanc as he is by the greats of SF, Rajaniemi weaves intricate, warm capers through dazzling science, extraordinary visions of wild future and deep conjecture on the nature of reality and story. And now we find out what will happen to Jean, his employer Miele, the independently minded ship Perhonnen and the rest of a fractured and diverse humanity flung through the solar system

Carrie Patel’s first novel, The Buried Life  is set many years after a catastrophe has engulfed the planet, and humanity dwells underground in the vast city of Recoletta, a gas-lit realm evoking a steampunk Victorian London. The city’s rulers are draconian in their control of the knowledge of history, and the possession of unapproved texts is a crime. When eminent historian Dr Cahill is murdered, it falls to municipal inspector Liesl Malone to investigate, only to find her work on this case and subsequent murders hampered by the secretive Directorate of Preservation. The Buried Life excels on many levels, quite apart from its presentation of strong female characters: it’s a cracking whodunnit with sufficient twists and turns to make Agatha Christie proud, a vivid portrayal of a vibrant multicultural society, and an intriguing love story. (Guardian)

Gideon Smith and the brass dragonDavid Barnett – Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon  the second volume of his Gideon Smith trilogy, he puts steampunk through the mangle and mashes it into something magical. Likable hero Gideon is on a mission to America on the trail of the evil villain Louis Cockayne, who has kidnapped Gideon’s true love, Maria the Mechanical Girl, and a brass dragon known as Apep. What follows is a breathless tale of thud and blunder, villains and monsters galore, a crazed and convoluted plot and a clever denouement that nicely sets up the third and final volume. (Guardian)

The Martian by Andy Weir  -So that’s the situation. I’m stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Earth. Everyone thinks I’m dead. I’m in a Habitat designed to last 31 days. If the Oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the Water Reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So yeah. I’m screwed

Abaddon’s gate bu James S A CoreyFor generations, the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt – was humanity’s great frontier. Until now. The alien artefact working through its program under the clouds of Venus has emerged to build a massive structure outside the orbit of Uranus: a gate that leads into a starless dark. Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are part of a vast flotilla of scientific and military ships going out to examine the artefact. But behind the scenes, a complex plot is unfolding, with the destruction of Holden at its core

Is Science Fiction good at telling the future?

image-medium (4)
Love this piece by Damien Walter in the Guardian on Science Fiction’s five best guides to the present:

SF is not great at foretelling tomorrow’s world, but it brings today’s into clearer focus than anything else‘ More 

Links to these fantastic authors and their books if you’d like to borrow them from Leeds Libraries
George Orwell  1984  
Aldous Huxley – Brave New World 
Margaret Attwood – The Handmaid’s Tale
Frederik Pohl and Cyril M Kornbluth – The Space Merchants 
Octavia E Butler  Patternist novels
Alfred BesteThe demolished man
Audrey NiffenegerTime traveller’s wife
M John Harrison Kefahuchi Tracttrilogy