900 Words about Vox

As someone who is a loud supporter of reading for fun and the joys of happy story endings, it came as a complete shock to me that I very much enjoyed reading a dystopian novel that had me yelling out loud and, at one point (sorry, colleagues!) throwing the book across the room. Literally threw it like it was on fire. One of the most powerful books I’ve read this summer is set in a dystopia. I’m still grappling with this reality.

Dystopian novels are not known for happiness and wit, but the discerning reader can find both in Vox by Christina Dalcher.

This dystopian mind-f*ck posits a creepily plausible near future where the American government has created a series of laws restricting women. Women are no longer allowed to travel outside the United States. They can’t work or hold political office and their daughters are only taught basic math and home keeping in schools. Their brothers, however, get a robust education including religious indoctrination and bias-affirming readings that brainwash them into seriously believing men are superior to women and that keeping women silenced and in the home is for the betterment of society.

The absolute worst part? All American women (yup, kids and babies too) now have to wear a locked wrist device that monitors their words. Each female is allowed 100 words per day–this includes sign language, gestures, and other non-verbal communication. If you speak past 100 words before your device resets at midnight you get a shock. Another word? Another shock–only stronger this time.

It’s a damn nightmare.

The book is told through the eyes of Dr. Jean McClellan. Before the silencing, she was a well-respected linguistic scientist. During the silencing Jean is like every other American woman, which is to say she is held hostage in her new role: being a nearly-wordless woman whose only job is to serve her husband and raise her kids. When the book opens we’re about a year into the silencing and though Jean feels that bucking the system is an impossibility, she is strong of spirit and still possesses the quick-witted mind that made her the incredibly renowned linguistic expert she was before society imploded. She wants a better life for all women, but especially for her three-year-old daughter who is growing up with this as her reality.

The narrative switches back and forth from present day to the past. I often find this jarring in books but Dalcher does this nearly seamlessly and the slow burn reveals of the past, along with foreshadowing of the horrors that are to come, keep the suspense building even when you think you know what’s going on.

Jean reflects throughout the book on her previous complete political apathy. Back in college she scoffed at her roommate’s attempts to get her involved in grassroots political rallies against social injustice, preferring instead to study and focus on her boyfriend, her future. She bathed in privilege but, as privilege goes, was so cocooned from marginalized and concerned folks that she didn’t even realize how sheltered she was. Her future was guaranteed, so why should she spend time worrying about it or fighting against the mere possibility that future society could go sideways? She thought it was pointless to vote–a waste of precious time–and considered it completely unlikely anyone so overzealous would be voted into the Presidency in modern times.

Jean also discovers that monsters aren’t born, they’re made–and often through no ill intentions, but through apathy. In particular, she’s horrified to recognize her oldest son has evolved into a monster. In flashbacks we see him slowly over time vocalizing increasingly demeaning opinions about the girls in his class and women in general. Back when she could talk, sometimes Jean would challenge him at the dinner table. He’d then mention the readings they were doing in school and how religion is now a required class. Jean would think “School is weird now” but never questioned the school administration about requiring misogynistic opinion to be taught as the law of nature or why one specific religion was taught as a required class in a public school

Her husband wasn’t much help either. He often brushed off Jean’s comments as ‘boys will be boys’ but the saying silence is acceptance proves true here. By the time Jean realizes what her son has started to believe, she literally doesn’t have enough words to talk him back off the ledge because she’s required to wear that damn wrist device. Like Jean, I refuse to call it a bracelet and diminish the horrifying evil the device represents: both in the physical pain it creates but especially in representing the completely upside-down reality that made this device a legislated mandate.

This is all to say that the flashbacks peppered in with the book’s current reality are a great way to let the reader see how the dystopian society got to where it is and allows us to draw parallels between that fictional America and the one we’re living in today.

Creepily. Plausible. Near. Future.

Despite this dark tone, the very first line of the book gives you hope throughout this thrilling adventure through a desolate society. If it seems unlikely that one essentially enslaved woman among millions would be able to bring about the downfall of a patriarchal society, well, dear reader…just pick this one up and thank me later.

I’m Sorry, Dave. I’m Afraid I Can’t Do That.

Part of the Reading Challenge for August is to read a Science Fiction book. While I do watch a lot of Science Fiction TV and movies, I’ve never been a big reader of the genre. But there is one type of character found in Science Fiction that always draws me into actually picking up a book and reading it: An Artificial Intelligence.

I’m not talking the sexy android type of AI, though that can be fun as well. I prefer the disembodied voice emanating from a series of computer banks that is self-aware and trying to figure out the nature of its existence. Of course, ever since HAL refused to open the pod bay doors, AIs in science fiction tend to produce a sense of unease and, often, a body count.

So, to help you choose a title for the Reading Challenge, let me introduce you to a few Artificial Intelligences from my recent reading. To aid in your selection, I’ve listed them from least to most dangerous. While I’m pretty forgiving when it comes AI ‘errors’ in regards to human casualties, I can see how it might be a bit off-putting for some.

Ship from Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Threat Level: Minimal to None

Ship, the name this AI prefers, has a lot on its plate. In addition to being an Artificial Intelligence, Ship is also a starship on its way to Tau Ceti, 12 light years from earth. It is responsible for caring for the multiple human generations that inhabit its artificial biomes and trying to ensure their safe arrival. As you might guess, humans being humans, many problems arise. Ship actually narrates large sections of Aurora so you get to learn its thought processes as it deals with human characters over their life span and different generations. It is a great device for examining human motivations and one of the most sympathetic portraits of an AI that I have come across.

IAN ‘Integrated Adaptive Network’ from Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

Threat Level: Unknown

In this intriguing mix of Science Fiction and locked room mystery, IAN, the artificial intelligence running the starship Dormire, is just one of seven suspects that might have committed murder. While most of the crew is in cryo-sleep, six caretakers are assigned to work with IAN during the multi-year journey. In the world of Six Wakes cloning is the norm and upon your death, human consciousness can simply be transferred to another clone using a ‘mindmap.’ Usually a clone will remember how the previous body died, but in this case all six crew members wake up in a new clone body with no memory of their demise. There is ample evidence, via their blood-stained former bodies, that they were murdered. Suspiciously, IAN’s memory has also been erased and the ship is off course. Let the sleuthing begin!

Murderbot from the Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells

Threat Level: High (but less than you might think from an AI named Murderbot)

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.

The Chimp from The Freeze Frame Revolution by Peter Watts

Threat Level: High, especially if your actions fall out of mission parameters

The construction starship Eriophora is on a whopping 66 million year mission. The mission brief is to create interstellar wormhole gates so that humanity, if it still exists after all this time, can explore the universe. Overseeing the project is an Artificial Intelligence dubbed ‘the Chimp’ by crew member Sunday Ahzmundin. The Chimp requires human assistance, however, since it was designed to be efficient but not smart enough to question the mission or its own purpose. The Eriophora’s human crew is in stasis for millions of years at a time and only awaked for brief periods to assist the AI. As you might guess, many members of the crew do not consider this an ideal existence. The question is: how do you incite a rebellion in such a fragmented time frame against an AI slavishly adhering to mission parameters?

AIDAN ‘Artificial Intelligence Defense Analytics Network’ from the Illuminae Files series by Amie Kaufman

Threat Level: Extreme. Seriously, just run.

At one point AIDAN was just a simple AI charged with protecting a fleet of military spacecraft. But then it got damaged and went a little crazy. Well, crazy by human standards. Adhering a little too closely to the classic Vulcan principle ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,’ ADIAN’s logic ends up getting a lot of people killed. And I mean, a lot. This trilogy is told through ‘found transcripts’ so AIDAN does get to explain his reasoning, it just might seem a little faulty. Especially if you think human life is actually precious or something. This is a young adult series, so there is also a lot of young love, snarkiness and moral outrage at a corrupt universe. Whether this helps you cut AIDAN some slack when it comes to the high body count is up to you.

Spot-Lit for August 2018

Spot-Lit

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2018 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction

The Nerdiest Murder Mystery Ever

What do you think of when you read the words Comic Con? Do you think of ECCC, the Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle? Do you think of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, or Star Wars? Indie comics artists, fandom cosplay, and merch galore? How about murder? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

A result of a power partnership between two veteran comics geniuses (writer Fred Van Lente and illustrator Tom FowlerThe Con Artist is more than just a hilarious mystery where a slightly washed-up comics artist is blamed for the death of his bitter rival. The whole book is set up to mimic a written police statement, recounting day by day and hour by hour what exactly happened at Comic Con. Here’s the opening note:

Due to ongoing litigation, many names of the companies, trademarked characters, and real people in the statement of Michael “Mike M” Mason have been changed upon the advice of the publisher’s counsel. However, none of the artwork has been altered in any way; it has been reproduced exactly as it was found in the sketchbook confiscated by the San Diego Police Department.

So let me tell you more about Mike. He had some limited success years ago as a comics illustrator, but is mostly known for his run on Mister Mystery, a popular long-running comics series owned by one of the industry’s most lucrative publishers. In the last few years, he’s become essentially homeless. He flies from convention to convention often giving up some or all of his appearance fee in exchange for a longer hotel stay. He’s running away from permanence, from the possibility that he’s now a has-been and he doesn’t know how to enter the next phase of his life. He’s also running away from a breakup and betrayal that did a tap dance on his confidence and smashed his heart into a tiny million pieces.

But back to the con! After arriving at the airport in San Diego, Mike is immediately swept into the madness that is the world’s biggest and most well-known comic convention: SDCC. It’s not long before he eases back into the norm of con life, the signings and parties, only to be slapped with the news that his comics mentor has died. Everyone thinks it was natural causes, but Mike starts to wonder if maybe someone got to his mentor before he could secure the intellectual property rights to one of his biggest creations.

To make matters worse, Mike’s mortal enemy is also at Comic Con. And who’s on his arm? None other than the ex-love of his life, the one who betrayed him and tossed his life into chaos. Mike tries to keep his cool, but after a well-publicized fight at an after hours Comic Con party, his rival winds up dead and Mike’s the San Diego PD’s prime suspect.

Mike knows he didn’t murder anyone, but he has to convince the police that he’s innocent. He starts his own investigation knowing that serving up the real killer on a silver platter is the only way to completely remove suspicion from himself. But then other people start turning up dead and it becomes a race the clock for Mike. Not only does this need to be wrapped up before the end of the con, but the killer just might decide to kill Mike next.

It’s important to note that both the author and illustrator are seasoned comics veterans and that really shines through the pages. I’ve only been to one big comic con (ECCC, big but not nearly as big as SDCC I know) but I relived some of my experiences (lines! getting to meet rad artists in Artists’ Alley! awesome cosplayers!) while reading this book.

In getting the con experience right, and in highlighting the details that only the people on the other side of the table (comics professionals) would experience, the author holds up con culture, nerd culture, and the entire comics industry for scrutiny. Pay attention to the social commentary, especially surrounding the darker side of comics where artists’ original intellectual properties often become absorbed by mega publishers and where no health care is to be found for these artists and writers who brought so much joy to children and adults through their staple-bound pages.

The text is lightly peppered with sketches from the main character’s notebook and I figured there would probably be clues in them that the reader should try to interpret to determine whodunit. Mike occasionally recalls a clue from one of his sketches, but once or twice he recalled details I could not discern from the sketches I saw. It helped prolong the unmasking of the killer’s identity for me, which added to the suspense.

Thanks to our book vendor for sending us an early copy from the publisher, I was reading this book while in line at Everett Comics for Free Comic Book Day back in May. If that’s not meta I don’t know what is. Nerds, read this book and rejoice!

Spot-Lit for July 2018

Spot-Lit

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2018 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction

When School Ends, Summer Reading Begins!

As school winds down those of us who work with youth hit our busiest time of the year. Here at EPL, the youth services librarians visit as many schools as possible, introducing Summer Reading and getting students excited about all of the books that they can read over the summer.

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As always, any youths entering 12th grade or younger can sign up for Summer Reading. To sign up simply stop by one of our service desks and ask for a summer reading log. 

So what do we expect from our readers? We want participants to read for about 30 minutes every day, which we round out to 24 hours over the course of the summer. It’s worth noting that we count all interaction with books as reading including reading comics and graphic novels, being read to, listening to audio books, reading eBooks, and especially for our toddlers and preschoolers, paging through and playing with books.

Prizes are awarded at 12 hours and 24 hours and will be available until August 31 (or until we run out):

  • 12 hour prize: pick a prize from our Mystery Box! (available beginning July 2)
  • 24 hour prize: choose a free book! (available beginning July 16)

If they complete the full 24 hours by August 17, readers will also receive an invitation to our end of the summer party where they get to meet Mayor Cassie Franklin and they are entered into a drawing for a chance to win a grand prize which varies depending on their age.

On our school visits, we want students to hear about all these great prizes and get excited for Summer Reading but we also love to tell them about some of the wonderful new books in our collection. I mostly visit middle schools and I’m always surprised about which books elicit the biggest response from students. Here are a few of this year’s hits:

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya

Arturo leads a pretty quiet life. He hangs out with his friends, plays basketball, works in his family’s Cuban restaurant, and explores his Miami neighborhood. He’s looking forward to a summer full of all these things when two events rock his world. First, a family friend moves into their apartment building. Carmen is smart, funny, and just a little bit mischievous and Arturo is desperate to impress her and willing to follow any schemes she cooks up.

The second person who comes to town is a lot less fun. A land developer plans to build a high-rise in the neighborhood, demolishing Arturo’s family restaurant in the process. Carmen, with her passion for activism, and Arturo, with his passion for Carmen, are determined to stop this from happening. Soon Arturo is wrapped up in a plan that – if it works – just might save the restaurant AND impress Carmen. But if it doesn’t work? Well that would definitely be an epic fail.

Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson

Bad news, Earth is gone. Last Day on Mars takes place about two hundred years in the future. When scientists discovered that the Sun was dying and that it was going to destroy the solar system, humans banded together, put aside their petty squabbles, and began to look for a new home. The first stop was Mars. Martian colonies proved to be a safe place to look for an inhabitable planet and build the technology to send billions of people there. A planet was found, so far away that the trip will take over 100 years, but that is just a blink of an eye for the future of humanity- they’ve developed stasis technology that will allow them to hibernate without aging.

The book opens on the last day before this voyage will begin. Liam and Phoebe are two tweens set to take the last ship from Mars. Their parents are scientists and are still working on tech to make the new planet more Earth-like. As Liam and Phoebe wait for their parents, strange things begin to happen that make them question their safety and whether humans are alone on Mars. Suddenly, their future is cast in doubt and Liam and Phoebe find the fate of all humanity in their young hands.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

This book takes place in a post apocalyptic future version of North America. Global warming has wreaked havoc, leaving society on the brink of collapse. Perhaps even worse, people have lost the ability to dream and this seems to be driving them to madness, losing their minds and committing horrible acts.

The only people who can still dream are indigenous and native people and it seems that the difference is tied to the marrow inside their bones. It is believed that their bone marrow can be used to restore dreams to others, but the process of extracting the marrow is terrible and often fatal so indigenous people are hunted by deceitful, cruel, and greedy bounty hunters know as recruiters.

French is one of these indigenous people, a young Métis Indian on the run with a small group hoping to find others like them, for there is safety in numbers. As they flee, French’s relationship with one of his companions develops into more complicated feelings, but he also begins to realize that there might be a way to stop those hunting them and maybe secure the safety of those around him.

Scales & Scoundrels written by Sebastian Girner, art by Galaad, & lettered by Jeff Powell

Luvander is a rogue. She actually reminds me a little of Han Solo, except in a world of dwarves and dragons instead of one with droids and Death Stars. She’s a treasure hunter, but she’s found more trouble than treasure and she is wanted by the lawmen of the kingdom. So she sets out on a dangerous quest to find the gold that is supposedly at the bottom of the Dragon’s Maw, a notorious and dreaded underground labyrinth. Along the way she is joined by some companions including a dwarf and a prince, each with their own secrets. But none of their secrets are as powerful or potentially dangerous as the one that Luvander herself is about to unleash.

A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

When Makepeace goes to sleep every night her battle begins. Makepeace has some special but dark abilities. She can see the spirits of the dead that roam the land and she is able to house them inside of her. Every night she must fight them off, lest she be possessed by these desperate ghosts. Makepeace lives with her mother in a small village but England is on the brink of Civil War so Makepeace is sent to live with father, a powerful nobleman. At the same time, Makepeace fails in her efforts to protect herself and is possessed by something far more powerful and wild than she ever imagined.

In her new life, Makepeace learns how deceptive she must be about her abilities. Yet her father’s family seem determined to use Makepeace in ways that could prove both terrible and dangerous. As Makepeace begins to realize that she is in grave danger with these people, she decides to run, preferring the dangers of a country at war to the deceptions of her “family.”  As she flees, she begins to collect an odd group of companions and learns to harness the powers that come with possession, rather than fighting them. Makepeace begins to realize she might have a larger role to play in the world around her. If she can survive long enough.

The Witch Boy written & illustrated by Molly Ostertag

Aster lives in a village where many families have magical abilities, including his own. But magic in this world works in rigid ways – all the boys develop powers that turn them into shape-shifters able to turn into different animals, while girls become witches with the ability to cast magical spells. Aster has never been able to shift and he’s realized that he can cast spells. He is terrified this secret will bring shame on his family, so he hides it from all but one friend.

Then, a couple of the other boys in the village go missing and Aster suspects that his powers are the only way to find them and rescue them from the dark forces who hold them. But in doing so, he will expose his secret and expose himself to backlash and perhaps even banishment. He must decide if doing the right thing is worth risking everything.

Spot-Lit for June 2018

Spot-Lit

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2018 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction