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.

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

 

For Scifi lovers

 Cat's cradleRed planet blues by Sawyer, Robert  – Alex Lomax is the one and only private eye working the mean streets of New Klondike, the Martian frontier town that sprang up 40 years ago after Simon Weingarten and Denny O’Reilly discovered fossils on the Red Planet. Back on Earth, where anything can be synthesized, the remains of alien life are the most valuable of all collectibles, so shiploads of desperate treasure hunters stampeded to Mars in the Great Martian Fossil Rush. Trying to make an honest buck in a dishonest world, Lomax tracks down killers and kidnappers among the failed prospectors, corrupt cops, and a growing population of transfers – lucky stiffs who, after striking paleontological gold, upload their minds into immortal android bodies

 The empire of time by Wingrove, DavidChristburg, 1236AD. Otto Behr, supplicant of the Teutonic Order of St. Mary’s Hospital in Jerusalem, is more than just a medieval Knight, he’s a German agent, a time-travelling operative tasked with fighting the Russians across three millennia of history. When his fellow Knight falls in battle, he returns to 2999AD and the German base, a bunker in ‘no-space’ and the last refuge in the fight against the Russians. Harsh realities of time travel leave their mark, as evidenced by Otto’s best friend who, supervising operation ‘Barbarossa’, attempts to change the course of World War Two and prevent the long war.

Cat’s cradle by Vonnegut, Kurt Told with deadpan humour and bitter irony, Kurt Vonnegut’s cult tale of global destruction preys on our deepest fears of witnessing Armageddon and, worse still, surviving it

Robot uprisings – compilation. Humans beware. As the robotic revolution continues to creep into our lives, it brings with it an impending sense of doom. What horrifying scenarios might unfold if our technology were to go awry?

Jupiter war by Asher, Neal – lan Saul is now part-human and part-machine, and our solar system isn’t big enough to hold him. He craves the stars, but can’t leave yet. His sister Var is trapped on Mars, on the wrong side of a rebellion, and Saul’s human side won’t let her die. He must leave Argus Station to stage a dangerous rescue, but mutiny is brewing on board. Meanwhile, The Scourge limps back to Earth, its crew slaughtered, its mission to annihilate Saul a disaster. There are survivors, but while one seeks Galahad’s death, Clay Ruger will negotiate for his life. Events build to a climax as Ruger holds humanity’s greatest prize – seeds to rebuild a dying Earth. This stolen gene-bank data will come at a price, but what will Galahad pay for humanity’s future?

Heaven’s queen by Bach, Rachel From the moment she took a job on Captain Caldswell’s doomed ship, Devi Morris’s life has been one disaster after another: government conspiracies, two alien races out for her blood and an incurable virus that’s eating her alive. Now, with the captain missing and everyone – even her own government – determined to hunt her down, things are going from bad to impossible. The sensible plan would be to hide and wait for things to blow over, but she’s never been one to shy from a fight, and she’s getting mighty sick of running. But with all human life hanging on her actions, the price of taking a stand might be more than she can pay

Age of Shiva by Lovegrove, James -Zachary Bramwell, better known as the comics artist Zak Zap, is pushing forty and wondering why his life isn’t as exciting as the lives of the superheroes he draws. Then he’s shanghaied by black-suited goons and flown to Mount Menu, a vast complex built atop an island in the Maldives. There, Zak meets a trio of billionaire businessmen who put him to work designing costimes for a team of godlike super-powered beings based on the ten avatars of Vishnu from Hindu mythology

Evening’s empires by McAuley, Paul -In the far future, a young man stands on a barren asteroid. His ship has been stolen, his family kidnapped or worse, and all he has on his side is a semi-intelligent spacesuit. The only member of the crew to escape, Hari has barely been off his ship before. It was his birthplace, his home and his future. He’s going to get it back