If you need an example of something positive in this world, look no further than the recently announced Nebula Awards. If you aren’t aware, the Nebula Awards are the premier awards for science fiction and fantasy and this year Martha Wells has won for her novel, Network Effect.
I’ve reviewed Network Effect before, but it bears repeating how smart, creative, snarky and downright fun her whole Murderbot diaries series can be. Yes, I did just write Murderbot diaries. A tad dubious about taking up a series with a title like that? Here is a little intro to the character to ease your mind… somewhat.
Murderbot, the name it uses for itself but never shares, is a semi-organic sentient android known as a SecUnit. SecUnits are created and controlled by big corporations to do their bidding. This usually entails long hours of guarding corporate assets, with a little lethal force thrown in. Murderbot has hacked its Governor Module, however, and is now completely independent from its corporate overlords.
So, what does it do with this newfound freedom? Go on a murderous rampage perhaps or take over the world? No, Murderbot just wants to watch as many video serials as possible, especially its favorite space soap opera, Sanctuary Moon. Sadly, events force Murderbot to not only interact with humans, who it doesn’t understand and wants to avoid at all costs, but also engage with a world far different from its beloved fictional programs.
Network Effect is the first novel length book in the series and can definitely be read on its own. I would highly recommend starting from the beginning, however. All of the other entries, including the most recent (Fugitive Telemetry) are novellas so no need to worry about getting bogged down in lengthy tomes.
Be warned though, once you get hooked, you will probably be wishing for more. With a brand-new Nebula award in her pocket, fingers crossed that Martha Wells will be encouraged to add even more entries to this outstanding series.
While I’ve always loved short stories, I know there are some people who are hesitant to try them out. One of the major complaints I’ve heard over the years is that short stories are, well, just too short. You start getting interested in a set of characters and plotlines, the argument goes, and then everything seems to end abruptly and doesn’t resolve.
While it is true that short story writers have less time to get their characters and ideas across, I’ve always found that good story collections have a consistent mood and style that makes up for the choppiness the reader might feel.
I was reminded of this while reading three recent collections. While the tones are very different, each collection has a distinct feel. This unifies all the different characters and situations making the book seem like one long work where the characters and situations just happen to change. Read on to find out more.
In addition to an outstanding cover, this collection is chock full of quirky characters, biting satire and absurd situations. While the stories are taken from the author’s 20+ year career, they are all grounded in the same tragicomic milieu. Set almost exclusively in rural South Carolina, the characters, and their dogs, are definitely unique. While hard to choose, I would have to say my favorite is “This Itches, Y’All” the story of a man haunted by his childhood staring role in an educational film about head lice, and the catchphrase that follows him to the grave.
A sense of fear, mystery and unease permeates all of the stories in this excellent collection. While the characters are diverse (a young mother coping with the loss of her child, a policeman assigned to a rural posting, a couple distressed by noisy downstairs neighbors) there is always a sense of something disturbing and possibly violent, just beneath the surface. Ha’s use of simple and elegant language adds to this sense of a normalcy that isn’t quite right. “The Dress Shirt”, the story of a woman whose husband goes inexplicably missing, is a particular standout.
All of the characters in this gritty and darkly funny collection have hit rock bottom or are headed that way. Set in the desert lands of California, mostly in and around Palm Springs, each seems trapped in a noir film, sans the traditional ‘big city.’ A grifter with a fondness for karaoke and a bullet hole in his foot tries to dispose of a body; a professor of hydrology develops a super efficient sprinkler system and promptly takes to marijuana cultivation; a waitress hops from town to town trying to escape the inexplicable loss of her daughter. All told in a snarky and biting tone.
So even if you are short story averse, why not give one of these collections a try? You will find them well worth your limited reading time.
Have you checked out the libraries eBook and eAudio collections lately? If not, you are in for a treat. One of the few silver linings of the current times in the library world, is the growing collections of electronic materials due to the emphasis on eFormats. The Everett Public Library is no exception and has added a lot of excellent new content.
There are lots of great curated lists of titles on our Overdrive site, but I was particularly excited to find the collection, Seek the Unkown: Sci-Fi & Fantasy Reads. Like many lately, I’ve been in need of reading distractions and Science Fiction is my go to genre when I want to avoid the current situation at maximum warp. Here are a few of the titles that I’m particularly looking forward to downloading, complete with descriptions from the catalog.
Decimated by plague, the human population is now a minority. Robots—complex AIs almost indistinguishable from humans—are the ruling majority. Nine months ago, in a controversial move, the robot government opened a series of preserves, designated areas where humans can choose to live without robot interference. Now the preserves face their first challenge: someone has been murdered.
Commercial deep-sea diver Solvig has a secret. She wants to be one of the first human beings to colonize Mars, and she’s one of a hundred people shortlisted by the Mars Project to do just that. But to fulfil her ambition, she’ll have to leave behind everything she’s ever known—for the rest of her life.
Hisako Saski was born with her life already mapped out. In exchange for an education, better housing for her family, and a boost out of poverty, she’s been contracted into an arranged marriage to Adem Sadiq, a maintenance engineer and amateur musician who works and lives aboard his family’s sub-light freighter, the Hajj.
Wealthy participants in the ‘companionship’ program choose to upload their consciousness before dying, so they can stay in the custody of their families. The less fortunate are rented out to strangers upon their death, but all companions become the intellectual property of Metis Corporation, creating a new class of people–a command-driven product-class without legal rights or true free will.
Kathryn Janeway reveals her career in Starfleet, from her first command to her epic journey through the Delta Quadrant leading to her rise to the top as vice-admiral in Starfleet Command. Discover the story of the woman who travelled further than any human ever had before, stranded decades from home, encountering new worlds and species.
These are just a few of the titles that caught my eye. Be sure to check out the full list for even more intriguing titles. Happy reading!
Do you enjoy that sense of accomplishment you get from finishing a book, but don’t have the time to dig into a 500 page saga? Also, do you like reading books in translation and exploring a different culture and country? If, like me, you seek out these types of books, I’ve got two great works of fiction to recommend that satisfy both criteria at once. They are novellas, coming in at the 100 page mark, and are written by authors that hail from Japan and South Korea respectively. Most importantly, they are excellent and intriguing books well worth your, perhaps limited, reading time. Read on to learn more.
The plot seems innocuous enough. Asa’s husband has received a promotion and is transferred to a small country town, that happens to be where he grew up. She has only been doing unsatisfying temporary work in the city, so doesn’t mind going with him and starting a new life in the country. But soon her lack of employment and growing isolation, coupled with an unbearable summer heat wave, combine to make things, well… a little weird. Not only in her day to day life, but in the natural world around her.
Oyamada has a unique writing style that is elegant, yet deceptively simple and straightforward. Reason is never abandoned, even when events become a bit surreal. I appreciate this. It allows for multiple interpretations and trusts the reader to decide whether events are actually happening, or are in the protagonist’s head. The author, as in her previous work The Factory, also effectively shows the bizarre and often isolating effects of corporate culture on the individual. Especially for those having to deal with the current economic reality.
Told in a series of reflections, the unnamed narrator of this work goes back and forth through time, but mostly tells the tale of her life in 1988 when she was in her early twenties. She is supporting her family by working two temporary dead end jobs and dealing with an alcoholic mother, a distant brother and an absentee father. She is also expected to eventually marry her high school boyfriend, who seems to need as much support as everyone else in her life. The narrator is not a conformist, however. Much of the novel deals with her inability to understand others’ acquiescence; eventually leading to her deviation from and rejection of the role set aside for her.
Suah’s writing style is sparse and at times matter of fact, but still comes of as a stream of consciousness narrative. The characters innermost thoughts pile one on top of the other, reflecting her ambivalence: not only about the world she finds herself in, but also her own mental state. Her descriptions of the surroundings she inhabits reflect this as well. Whether in a crowded urban street or a desolate country field all is cold, stark and easy to get lost in.
With the current restrictions on social gatherings, as well as the return of the November rainy season, you might find yourself spending a lot of time indoors and at home. If, like me, you have caught yourself analyzing the animal residents of your backyard or scrutinizing the behavior of your beloved pet, it may be time to just lean into the situation. Why not declare your immediate home environment a new obsession and give your curiosity free reign?
Luckily, the library has a lot of great new books to help you investigate your local surroundings and find out what makes its inhabitants tick. Here are a few excellent examples.
Whether you dog follows you around all day, barks at a leaf falling on the roof, or likes to take 8 hour power naps, spending so much time with them begs the question: Are they happy? Zazie Todd sets out to not only answer that question, but to also find out ways to make their lives markedly better. She interviews a broad range of experts, including veterinarians, behaviorists, shelter managers and trainers to gain insight into the dog mindset. Equally important, she asks the reader to examine their own expectations when it comes to living with, or even getting, a canine companion.
Ah the inscrutable feline. Even with extra hours of observation at home, is it possible to understand what makes yours tick? This book, from the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists no less, believes you can understand your feline companion and learn to cohabitate better. They even provide a handy chart of common behavioral cues, like the set of their ears, to help you interpret your cat’s changing temperament. This book is also full of practical advice (cats like to observe from above so providing a perch to view all the human action below is ideal) and DIY cat toy ideas.
Birds, aka avian dinosaurs, are another set of creatures you have probably had more time to observe lately. While your backyard feathered friends might not belong to any unusual species, their behaviors are definitely exotic and fascinating. This Peterson guide is not about bird identification but instead delves into the many aspects of bird behaviors: social interaction, nesting, migration, feeding and many more that you can observe. Best of all, this guide is written in an easy to understand style, which ditches obscure and technical jargon in favor of ease of understanding.
Even if you don’t have a pet or local fauna to observe, there is one sure fire way to connect with your local surroundings: simply look up. Clouds are easily taken for granted, but are actually pretty amazing, and come in a dazzling array of shapes and sizes. Put together by the Cloud Appreciation Society (yes, it is a real organization) this book provides you with 365 cloud formations to contemplate and appreciate. Each entry is gorgeous in its own way, with photographs and famous illustrations of each formation. A detailed, but easy to understand, scientific explanation of each cloud is provided as well.
So get out of your headspace and observe some of the fascinating, complex and beautiful creatures and phenomena that surround you. Library books included.
I think most of us can currently be described as ‘forward thinking.’ The desire to see 2020 in the rearview mirror is nearly universal at this point. My reading choices have been reflecting this trend with science fiction being my go to genre of late. I’ve always liked it, but something about our current position on the space-time continuum makes me gravitate towards stories of the distant future. My reasoning being: whatever that future is, at least it isn’t now.
Luckily for me, there are a lot of great science fiction tales being published. While it is hard to choose, here are two of my recent favorites.
Ambassador Mahit Dzmare has her work cut out for her. Arriving in the imperial capital of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire, she has been tasked with preventing her independent, but small, mining colony from being annexed. While she has studied and admired Teixcalaanli culture and literature, she isn’t totally prepared for its Byzantine political structure and rituals. She also arrives at a time of political turmoil, with an aged emperor facing succession problems and a growing threat on the border. Oh, and the matter of the former ambassador being murdered, officially a case of food poisoning no less, has complicated things.
A Memory Called Empire is definitely chock full of world building and political intrigue, but it didn’t feel like a space opera to me. The author creates fully formed characters, Mahit and her cultural guide Three Seagrass especially, who you sympathize with as they try to negotiate a foreign cultural landscape. It also brings up intriguing ideas about identity and assimilation; the push and pull of simultaneously wanting, and not wanting, to be something else. All this plus lots of adventure, humor and fascinating concepts that only science fiction can provide make for a great read, or listen.
Murderbot, its chosen moniker, hacked its governor module long ago and is free from the corporate entities that once controlled its every move. But what is an artificial intelligence with organic elements to do with new found freedom? If it was up to Murderbot, all its time would be spent watching its beloved media serials, especially The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon, and making snarky comments. But, sadly, reality always has a way of intruding. This time around, reality includes protecting clueless, and somewhat gross humans, interacting with a cynical ship’s AI named ART, all while trying to prevent evil corporations from getting their hands on alien technology.
Network Effect is the first novel length book in the Murderbot diaries series but easily stands on its own. Wells has created a unique and incredibly entertaining central character whose take on the humans around it is both hilarious and unique. As the ultimate, but sympathetic, outsider, Murderbot’s perspective also examines the idea of looking in at a corporate culture that produces great fictional universes via popular media, but which has a reality that doesn’t match up. Ultimately, though, this is an adventure story chock full of interesting characters that is hard to put down once started.
So if you need a little break from reality as well, give these two excellent science fiction novels a try. What have you got to lose?
It seems that Mars is the preferred destination this month. The UAE launched the Hope probe to Mars on July 19th and China launched the Tianwen-1, both a probe and a lander, on July 23th. Not to be outdone, NASA launched the Perseverance Rover (with a rover the size of a SUV and a super cool helicopter) this morning on its seven month journey to the red planet.
While I have to admit that my favorite planet, sorry dwarf planet is Pluto, the space nerd in me could not resist taking a deep dive into all things Martian. Luckily we have plenty of books here at the library about Mars and its exploration as well as the tantalizing possibility of human habitation there. Read on to satisfy your curiosity (sorry, couldn’t resist).
The Perseverance rover will hardly be the first vehicle to visit Mars. There is a long and triumphant history of rovers on Mars, overcoming the odds and furthering our knowledge of the planet. We have several books and DVDs about the rovers, especially Curiosity, their findings and the scientists and engineers who made the missions possible.
Mars is also a key player in the search for life beyond our planet. While, sadly, earlier ideas of little green men or a deadly invasion force have not panned out, there is still keen scientific interest in possibly finding life at a much more basic level on the red planet. An excellent recent book that sums up this quest, both the scientific and fantastical aspects, is The Sirens of Mars by Sarah Stewart Johnson. The author expertly conveys our fascination with Mars and our deep seeded need to seek out new life and find out if we have company in the universe.
I’ve always found books about scientific ideas oddly comforting. In times of stress, books in the sciences, with their often specific and single-minded focus, allow me to take a step back and ignore the chaos all around. If only for a little while.
The author smartly realizes that many may not initially find the liquid state fascinating. To help convince the skeptical, he grounds his discussion in a common experience (well what used to be common): a transatlantic flight from London to San Francisco. While most of us might be making sure our phone is in airplane mode or perusing the inflight magazine, Miodownik has one thing on his mind: kerosene, the primary ingredient in aviation fuel.
Kerosene is a transparent, colorless fluid that, confusingly, looks exactly like water. So where is all that hidden energy stored, all that secret power? Why doesn’t the storage of all that raw energy inside the liquid make it appear, well, more syrupy and dangerous? And why is it not mentioned in the preflight safety briefing?
Thus begins an immensely entertaining, quirky, uproarious, and, yes, informative deep dive into the mysterious world of liquids.
As we continue on our flight, we are introduced to liquids that are not only explosive (kerosene) but also intoxicating (alcohol), sticky (glue), refreshing (tea or coffee), cooling (freon), visceral (saliva), and cleansing (liquid soap) to name just a few. The author’s style is the furthest thing from a lecture you could think of and you will find yourself learning a lot without even realizing it.
He accomplishes this by lots of self deprecating humor and a keen sense of human foibles. You will come to sympathize with his fictional, but long suffering, airplane seatmate who must put up with his awkward attempts at dialogue and odd unsolicited observations.
So why not distract yourself for an hour or two with some keen insight about an often encountered, but rarely discussed, state of matter? You will be entertained, informed and gain a new appreciation of the liquids in your life. Well, most of them anyway.
While having both of our physical locations shuttered has made things more challenging for all of us, there is one challenge that you can definitely overcome while practicing social distancing and spending lots of time at home. Yes, I’m talking about the Everett Public Library Reading Challenge 2020.
But how can I cross off all those twelve tasks without being able to check out a physical book you might ask? Let me show you how you can fulfill every one of them without setting foot in one of our, admittedly wonderful, locations. While the road will not be easy, actually it will, once completed you will feel like Hercules after he completed his twelve labors. No hydra killing required.
Pro Tip: Most of these suggestions require access to our eBooks and eAudiobooks via the OverDrive and CloudLibrary apps. Check out this post on how to get started if you need help getting set up.
Surprisingly, well surprisingly to me at least, our digital service Hoopla is the go to for graphic novels and comic books. I thought Hoopla only had digital movies and music, but after reading Jesse’s excellent post on their graphic novel content, I found out otherwise. Being a Sci Fi nerd, I was delighted to find the large collection of graphic novels exploring alternative storylines and versions of classics such as Alien, Blade Runner and Star Trek.
An eBook or audiobook
The choices are limitless here. Just take a gander at all that is available on Overdrive and CloudLibrary to get you started. If eAudio is your thing, Hoopla is also an excellent source of titles to listen to.
A book that challenges your point of view
This is a tricky one since everyone’s point of view is unique. Override your instincts, and go for an ebook that you might otherwise avoid. Do you like tragedy or comedy? Are you a believer or a doubter? Whatever your position, we have plenty of ebooks from both perspectives to challenge your ideas and help you cross this one off the list.
A book of short stories or essays
A simple subject search in the catalog will give you more than enough books of short stories and essays to choose from. If you don’t mind your short stories on the dark side, let me recommend Floridaby Lauren Groff, Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez and Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah as excellent choices.
A book set in a city that has hosted the Olympics
Step 1: find out which cities have hosted the Olympics. Step 2: in the catalog, use that city name as a keyword and limit the results to eBooks. Result: lots of great titles to choose from based on one city alone!
A book recommended by library staff
Might I humbly suggest this very blog for staff recommendations? While you could limit yourself to posts published since March 12th (totaling 27 so far and counting) that have focused on eBooks and electronic resources exclusively, I would suggest looking at all the authors and checking to see if the item is available as an eBook. Chances are it is.
A book published in 2020
So many new ebooks, so little time. One of the few good things about our our physical locations being currently closed is the fact that the library is buying more ebooks than ever. To find them, you could search the catalog by limiting the publication date or take a look at the new releases on the OverDrive and CloudLibrary collections sites.
A cookbook or a book about food
You could definitely search the catalog to find more than enough titles to check this one off the list. However, I would recommend taking a gander at two outstanding posts recently published by Joyce and Susan that focus on cookbooks and food related titles in ebook format to get you started.
I’ve always had a soft spot for short stories. Maybe it is my limited attention span or perhaps wanting to feel I’ve accomplished something quickly, but there is always a short story collection or two on my reading list. In addition to brevity, I’m also drawn to fiction that is odd, introspective, and, might as well admit it, a tad dark at times.
So be warned, if you want to invest in characters for 800 pagers or more and need a happy ending, the titles I’m about to recommend are probably not for you. If you don’t mind visiting the dark side now and again, however, here are three collections that are well worth your limited reading time. I will be brief. Promise.
…and Other Disasters by Malka Older is a surprisingly unified work for a collection of stories, a poem or two and a few written fragments. All are brought together by their subject: a speculative future that seems both plausible and frightening. You will learn about a child implanted with a recording device, a Lifebrarian, from birth, receive advice from voting ‘counselors’ who scientifically measure who you should vote for and why, and get inside the head of an artificial intelligence that is taught to feel in order to make better decisions. While the ideas are big, all the stories are told from an individual and personal perspective. This makes them all the more affecting, and chilling.
Quirky, at times surreal and always a bit odd, the stories making up Raised in Captivity: Fictional Nonfiction by Chuck Klosterman are many things, but never dull. How odd you ask? Well there is the story of a man who finds a puma in an airplane lavatory, a couple considering a medical procedure that transfers the pain of childbirth to the man, and a high school football team that only executes one play repeatedly every game. All the stories are told in a plain and matter of fact style, with the characters accepting the weirdness as perfectly natural. If you give this unique collection a try, you might come to accept the altered reality as well and will definitely have a good chuckle or two in the bargain.
The darkest of the three titles, Rag: Stories by Maryse Meijer is a powerful, intimate and deeply unsettling collection. The writing is sparse and direct, but the author has an uncanny ability to convey her characters’ inner thoughts and struggles. Whether you want to be in that headspace is another matter. I won’t give away any of the plots, but each story deals with ideas of gender, violence and the roles we are assigned and what we do with them. While there are elements of horror, or perhaps dark fairy tales, in these stories, they come off as all too real. This adds to their impact and is a credit to Meijer’s unique and affecting style. This is an unforgettable collection, just remember: you have been warned.