Books in the Park

suggestions from the Barbara S. Ponce Public Library at Pinellas Park


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The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi

The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi

When I think of authors who have a “voice” that I always enjoy, I turn to John Scalzi. I’ve read everything he’s written, and even reviewed a few already on this blog.  His writing is conversational, clever, and snarky. He writes stories that move along at a quick pace, and he excels at writing the “thought experiment” novel.  “Lock In” is a perfect example, positing a disease that “locks in” sufferers to their bodies while their mind is active. He is brilliant at building the world around his experiment – what would society be like if this was true? How would governments, medicine, and daily life change if this happened? His exploration of that new world builds with the story and characters of his novel, and often uncovers unusual twists that surprise at the end.  The Collapsing Empire is like this – a giant What If? space travel depended on a “Flow” between worlds that allows interstellar travel. How would planets be colonized? What would government be like? What would happen if the Flow wasn’t stable?

The book opens with Cardenia, whose father’s death was unfortunately preceded by the deaths of his heirs – except for Cardenia. She inherits the title of Emprox of the Interdependency and a problem unknown to the rest of her empire. Her unexpected rise to power also proves a challenge, as she is now marriage material for the most powerful families in the empire. She navigates this as best she can while trying to uncover the plots and schemes around her.

Meanwhile, on the farthest possible planet from Cardenia’s, events are unfolding in a backwater world that suddenly has immense significance. A fitful civil war escalates into a conflict involving all the players in the center of the Interdependency. We meet all the characters that we know will play large roles in the future of the empire.

Scalzi’s pacing is fluid and the action moves along swiftly. His characters are interesting, funny and sometimes a little bit scary. We know this title is the first in a series, and there is a little bit of framing for the story to follow, but the read is so entertaining that the framing fades into the background. A nice read to start off the series.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Collapsing Empire.

 


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Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor

binti-okoraforWe here at the Barbara S. Ponce Library are big fans of the works of Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor, especially her novel Who Fears Death, which, in 2011, made her the first black person to win the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. Okorafor has proved herself to be a major player in the science fiction world, and no self-respecting scifi fan should miss the chance to pick up her work.

Binti is a novella set in a universe where starships are living technology and multiple races interact on a galactic scale. When the titular Himba woman is offered a scholarship at the most prestigious intergalactic university, family strife about her selection and her decision to accept it cause her to abandon her family without warning. She finds herself on a living starship with many people from many cultures, and is intimidated by their strangeness until she finds commonality with fellow students in her field.

She has barely started feeling at home when a terrifying event changes the course of her life, and she is thrust into a war of intolerance and revenge. Her academic gifts and understanding of the experience of strangeness, linked with her compassion, make her a key player in creating a new future.

Okorafor uses her deep knowledge of African culture and religion to flesh out the interactions between individuals. Her descriptions of the Himba people and their practices reflected through her protagonist are used to show the many differences, and eventually, the many commonalities all peoples share. Binti’s thoughts are laid bare for the reader, and we struggle as she struggles, and fear when she fears. Her talent is a key part of the story, and she steps into her new life while respecting her past.

Binti has won both the Hugo and the Nebula Award for short fiction. While Binti is a short novella, there are two more to be published in the series.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Binti.


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Library Playlist: The Expanse (2015 – )

expanse-season-oneI adore science fiction television, but lately it doesn’t seem as if it loves me back. Far too much of what’s appearing on TV right now is either dreadfully boring or so cheap and unconvincing that it looks like a craft project rather than a major television series. I get that this stuff is tricky, but aren’t we past the era when set design consisted of papier-mâché and Christmas lights? Yeah, there are a bounty of decent superhero shows right now, but fans of hard sci-fi like myself know that they don’t really count. Mix all that mediocrity with a new Star Trek series whose release date is about as fixed as a mirage and it’s easy to become discouraged. Imagine my surprise then that the SyFy Channel had paused from making Sharknado sequels to give us something pretty good. It’s time to rejoice: The Expanse is the space drama that we’ve been owed for some time now.

It’s two hundred years in the future, and humanity has spread throughout the Solar System. Detective Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane) has taken on the task of locating the now missing Julie Mao (Florence Faivre). Meanwhile, the destruction of the ice hauler Canterbury forces Executive Officer James Holden (Steven Strait) to make decisions that will embroil him and his crew in the midst of a potential interplanetary conflict. Back on Earth, the United Nations executive Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) hopes to stop a war before it begins. Soon, all three will discover that their paths converge upon a massive conspiracy, one that could have dire consequences for humanity.

Like complex political intrigue set against the backdrop of space? The Expanse might just be for you, with beautiful ships, celestial bodies, and space vistas augmenting a clever story of interplanetary intrigue. Still not convinced? How about rousing performances from a talented cast? Thomas Jane is awesome fun to watch as the cocky, hard-luck Miller, and Shohreh Aghdashloo is delightfully cunning as U.N. high official Avasarala. No doubt, The Expanse is a quality series, but it’s also an effort that is long overdue for the SyFy channel. In this golden era of TV, SyFy and its frequently lackluster attempts at dramatic television were always a disappointing oddity. Hopefully, The Expanse is not a fluke and we can expect more like it. Highly Recommended.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Expanse.


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The Girl With All the Gifts, by M. R. Carey

girl-with-all-the-gifts-careyThere’s a small problem with zombie novels: besides the zombies, you just have people with problems. That can get stale quickly, especially when graphic novels like The Walking Dead and books like The Passage have covered just about every problem that people in a zombie-infested world can have. The zombies themselves, as metaphors for our inevitable deaths and barely repressed predatory natures, make great extras in horror stories, but don’t necessarily make a great plot—unless a good writer can breathe some life into them. As paradoxical as it sounds, zombies with life in them is what makes The Girl With All the Gifts worth a read.

Melanie is 10 years old and lives in a prison cell. Every day wary armed guards strap her down a wheelchair and then wheel her into a classroom for lessons with the other students. There they learn geography, history, literature, advanced math, and all about the holdout of Beacon, where the last of humanity lives walled away from the “hungries” that prey on them. School is the one bright spot in Melanie’s bleak existence, especially when Miss Justineau teaches. But now Melanie’s classmates are disappearing one by one, taken away by the guards at the command of callous Dr. Caldwell. As Melanie wonders how long it will be before she’s taken, the guards talk in hushed voices about a perimeter breach.

Zombie fans will find a lot to like here, but so will anyone who wants a more nuanced science fiction story about the nature of humanity and the folly of thinking we’re the pinnacle of evolutionary perfection. Plus, the original, imaginative details concerning the zombie infection were fully absorbing.

There is a movie based on the book starring Glenn Close as Dr. Caldwell. The screenplay was written by the author. Have you seen the movie? What did you think?

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Girl With All the Gifts.


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The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown

wild-robot-brownWhen Roz the robot is shipwrecked on a tiny island, she has only her basic programming to guide her. Roz is not built for the outdoors, but she is designed to be adaptable, thoughtful, and intelligent, and she soon realizes that her best hope for survival is to learn and gain support from the island’s hostile animal inhabitants. Gaining the animal’s trust takes time and it’s only when she tries to care for an orphaned gosling that the other animals finally decide to help her. The island starts to feel like home to Roz until one day, the robot’s mysterious past comes back to haunt her.

The Wild Robot is author and illustrator Peter Brown’s first novel. Brown, known for his children’s picture books, such as Children Make Terrible Pets, has totally succeeded in producing an utterly charming first novel. Though The Wild Robot starts off slow, once Roz learns the language of the animals, the story flourishes. The animals of the island all have big personalities and Roz begins to form friendships with them, like with Chitchat the squirrel and Loudwing the goose. Roz solicits their help to care for the gosling Brightbill who she becomes a mother to. Roz and Brightbill eventually become invaluable members of the island community. Roz even helps the animals survive through a grueling winter by teaching them to make fire.

This book has been compared to Hatchet and My Side of the Mountain. Readers who enjoy these types of survivalist stories will definitely be drawn into Roz’s tale. It could also be compared to Stuart Little. Both are stories about extraordinary protagonists who don’t quite belong and through adventure and perseverance make a life for themselves. Lovers of these types of stories as well as both robot and animal lovers will find something to delight in here. For adult readers, The Wild Robot makes a great parenting story and the philosophical questions that naturally arise between robot Roz and living animal Brightbill can be in turns both fun and thoughtful. With such a wide appeal, Brown’s book can also be enjoyed together as a read aloud for younger children. No one should miss out on this sparkling book!

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Wild Robot.


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Star Wars: Before the Awakening, by Greg Rucka

before-awakening-ruckaHave you caught Star Wars fever? Well then now is a great time to explore the new expanded universe with one of the first additions in the book series. Star Wars: Before the Awakening takes us into the lives of Stormtrooper FN-2187 (later called Finn), scavenger Rey, and Resistance pilot Poe Dameron before the events of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. This story is available exclusively to readers.

The book is broken up into three parts and has amazing illustrations of the main characters. It begins with FN-2187, who has received top marks in all of his training as a Stormtrooper, and introduces some of his comrades.

Next, travel to Jakku to learn more about the mysterious scavenger, Rey. She was deserted on the desert planet at a very young age and needed to learn to fend for herself. She finds ship parts and trades them for food and even builds herself a computer with a simulation program to learn how to fly spaceships.

The last character that we are introduced to is Poe, the best pilot in the New Republic Navy. Poe tells his commanders what a threat the First Order presents, but they dismiss his fears. Seeing what Poe is up to, General (formerly Princess) Leia Organa recruits him to fight for the resistance.

I would recommend this book for readers in middle or high school. It was definitely an entertaining read and it was nice to learn more about the new characters. Happy reading and may the Force be with you!

Check the PPLC Catalog for Star Wars: Before the Awakening.


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The 5th Wave, by Rick Yancey

5th wave yanceyImagine that you are a teenager living in a painfully normal town; in fact, your chief worries in life are school, your crush, and trying to figure out what to do on a weekend night. In the midst of this normality, on just another regular day at school, the lights go out. You look out your class window and see a plane falling from the sky, you then realize that the cars have stopped in the middle of the road, and that every piece of technology that the human race has come to rely on is now defunct. This is the first in a series of “wave” attacks coordinated by “the Others,” who Cassie, Rick Yancey’s snarky heroine, discovers to be an alien race. The following waves are coldly and precisely calculated to decimate the human race until all that remains are lone survivors and small groups on the fringes. Cassie’s sole remaining family member, her five-year-old brother Sam, then gets kidnapped by a mysterious military group dedicated to training child soldiers. It becomes her mission to save her little brother while trying to survive alone. But people are not what they seem and no one can be fully trusted. And Cassie’s little brother may play an integral role in the 5th Wave, designed to be the most devastating of them all.

Rick Yancey’s novel, the first in a series of three, is an interesting and fresh take on the “the aliens have come to take over the planet” premise. Each wave is well thought-out and it is evident that Yancey has done his scientific research to create an excellent young adult science fiction novel. His main character, and the chief point-of-view for the novel, Cassie, is witty and clever. Her commentary and inner dialogue makes the novel a quick and interesting read.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The 5th Wave.