Tag Archives: science fiction

Celebrating 50 years of Star Trek

Cover image for The fifty-year mission : the complete, uncensored, unauthorized oral history of Star trek : the first 25 years

September 8th, marked the 50th anniversary of the first broadcasting of Star Trek, and the beginning of an enduring cultural phenomenon.  I chose to mark the 50th anniversary of the Star Trek franchise in this post not only because I was a big time trekker in my teens, who was inspired by its optimistic vision of the future,  but also because I owe a big debt to the television series and paperback novels for helping me learn English as a second language.  Fans can rejoice that a new series is on the horizon but we can also take comfort in the fact that the library has a lot of material in its collections covering its diverse crews and eras for us to keep on trekking.

Cover image for Star trek, the next generation. Season 1 [DVD videorecording].  Cover image for Star trek voyager. Season 1 [DVD videorecording].  Cover image for Star trek enterprise. Season: four [Blu-ray videorecording]  Cover image for [DVD videorecording]. : Star trek.

There are of course the television series (five up to now) and motion pictures, starting with the classic from the 1960’s that started it all to the most recent prequel  series Enterprise with Captain Archer at the helm.  The library has also all the feature films available on DVD or Blu-Ray, which means you can re-discover old favourites or discover them for the first time.

Cover image for The crimson shadow  Cover image for A ceremony of losses

Despite the enduring impact of the shows and movies, the Star Trek universe owes a big debt to the novels that sustained its fanbase and help build its universe to the extent that it did.  Not only do these stories have helped flesh out characters and worlds beyond what was on-screen, they also serve to this day to continue the lives and careers of the different crews after their shows ended, extending the longevity of the series and their casts.  A recent release is the Next Generation/Deep Space Nine crossover novel The Crimson Shadow by Una McCormack which tells the story of Captain Picard and his crew’s effort to rebuild the Cardassian homeworld with the help of Ambassador Garak (promoted at the end of the DS9 TV series), despite efforts from factions hostile to a peaceful future with the Federation.  In A Ceremony of Losses by David Mack, both crew feverishly work to avert the slow extinction of an entire species, fighting not only on the scientific front, but also the political one as different governments maneuver to use the crisis to their respective gains.

 

Cover image for The Star trek encyclopedia : a reference guide to the future  Cover image for Star Trek, the official guide to our universe : the true science behind the starship voyages  Cover image for The Star Trek book

As much as we loved the action, humor and camaraderie of the shows, the Star Trek universe has also garnered respect for its attempt to create a coherent vision of the future mostly based on solid science that more often than not correctly anticipated present societal and technological trends and is credited for directly inspiring technological innovations (notably cell phones and portable tablet computers).  This in turn created literature exploring the mythology and fictional universe of the show, like the Star Trek Encyclopedia, while other non-fiction works like Star Trek: the Official Guide to Our Universe or The Star Trek Book set out describing the real science behind the fiction.  Sure, technobabble used as plot devices that didn’t always made sense was often used, but such books reflect how the shows’ writers tried to plausibly address real scientific concepts as well, making it what science fiction at its best is all about.

 

Cover image for Leonard

But what if you are interested in the lives of actors themselves?  Leonard Nimoy, the actor best known for his portrayal of Commander Spock past away recently, and like some of his fellow “crew member”, he struggled with the challenges of newfound fame and of being typecasted into this one role.  His friend and colleague William Shatner relates in his newest book Leonard how they met on the set of another television show before their lives became irrevocably linked Cover image for Born with teeth : a memoirfor over five decades, and shares stories from the people who knew him best to celebrate his
life.  Kate Mulgrew also gained international fame as Captain  Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager,  but in her memoir Born With Teeth, she tells of her struggles to establish herself as an actress despite many challenges, including difficult family issues, and her ongoing career in television.

 

Cover image for Gene Roddenberry : the last conversationFinally we must not forget to include the man who started it all with his revolutionary concept of “a wagon train to the stars”: Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.  In addition to an authorized biography, the library has Gene Roddenberry : the last conversation Portraits of American genius by Yvonne Fern and deals with the author’s interactions with Gene during the last year of his life, presenting through their discussion his views on humanity and its future that shaped his vision of the show.

 

Whether you are a diehard fan of Kirk’s original 5-year mission or prefer the adventures that followed in the next following decades, there is ample trek treasures available at the library.  May there be 50 more years of trekking through the stars.

-Louis-Philippe

 

Feel the Burn: Joe Hill’s The Fireman

“It was a pleasure to burn.” Ray Bradbury

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Joe Hill’s latest novel, The Fireman, is my recommendation for your backyard read this summer. Any book that has the nerve to open with a Ray Bradbury quote (see above) saddles itself with a high expectations, and Joe Hill really delivers the goods.

The world is tormented by a killer spore, nicknamed “Dragonscale”, that infects the human race. You know you’ve got it when your skin suddenly gets covered with elaborate black and gold flecked lines, like a glowing, burning henna tattoo. The next (and final) stage of the infection is spontaneous combustion. Yes, you read that right. You just burn up, without any warning. It’s a tough diagnosis.

The novel tells Harper Grayson’s story. She’s a nurse who finds herself infected with the Dragonscale right around the same time that she discovers she’s pregnant. (Isn’t that always the way?) In her experience with treating infected patients, she’s seen cases of infected mothers who give birth to healthy children, and she is determined to live long enough to give birth to her child.

It’s a grim premise, but I felt compelled to see how it all turned out. Joe Hill’s prose smolders along and then suddenly erupts in number of literary “set pieces” that caused me to have a couple of late nights where I stayed up well past my bedtime to see what happened next.

Along the way, Harper meets up with the titular “Fireman”, an almost mythical character who, despite being infected with the ‘scale, has somehow survived it and can control and harness the power of the spore to his own benefit. Harper is a huge Mary Poppins fan, and there are many nods to that classic story peppered throughout The Fireman. For example, there’s more than a passing resemblance between “The Fireman” and a certain chimney-sweep named Bert, and one of the most moving scenes in the novel involves a group sing-along to Just a Spoon Full of Sugar. To say anything more would be a SPOILER, so let’s leave it at that.

The novel is clearly influenced by Joe Hill’s love of classic sci-fi writers like Ray Bradbury and John Wyndham, (the summer camp in the novel is called Camp Wyndham, for example), but it also could easily stand beside Stephen King’s The Stand as an example of an epic post-apocalypse story. It’s not surprising, as some of you may know that Joe Hill is actually Stephen King’s son.

It’s difficult to read a Joe Hill novel and not compare him to his famous father. I’ve been guilty of doing that very thing in the past, but I can honestly say that The Fireman stands on its own merits and showcases Joe Hill as a major creative force, period. Regardless of his DNA. From the first page you get the sense you’re in the capable hands of a master storyteller who has finally come into his own.

I love the dedication in the front of the book, which reads in part:

“Inspiration: Ray Bradbury, from whom I stole my title. My father, from whom I stole all the rest”.

If you enjoy The Fireman, you might enjoy some of these other related titles (and their cool vintage covers!) -Trevor

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

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Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

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-Trevor

Sci-Fi for a Rainy Day

There’s something about rainy days that really makes me want to read science fiction. Maybe it’s wanting to escape to another world, or maybe it’s that time of year where you can practically feel things growing around you with almost magical speed. Here’s a quick list of 5 books to keep you busy this spring.

The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis is a “what if?” exploration behind the consequences of robotics. “The Clakker: a mechanical man, endowed with great strength and boundless stamina — but beholden to the wishes of its human masters. Soon after the Dutch scientist and clockmaker Christiaan Huygens invented the very first Clakker in the 17th Century, the Netherlands built a whole mechanical army. It wasn’t long before a legion of clockwork fusiliers marched on Westminster, and the Netherlands became the world’s sole superpower. Three centuries later, it still is.

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson might use a trope that has been around since the beginning of science fiction but this offering has more twists and turns than a Forumla 1 track. “Generations after leaving earth, a starship draws near to the planet that may serve as a new home world for those on board. But the journey has brought unexpected changes and their best laid plans may not be enough to survive.”

 

Or how about Planetfall by Hugo Nominated Emma Newman? “Renata Ghali
believed in Lee Suh-Mi’s vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown.

 

The Drafter by Kim Harrison has one of the most interesting premises I’ve seen in a long time. “Peri is a Drafter, someone with the ability to rewind time 30 seconds and change the past. But every time she Drafts, her own memories are muddled—a confusion Jack, her lover and partner at Opti, the secret government agency they are both a part of, helps her muddle through. When Peri discovers her own name on a list of corrupt Opti employees, she suddenly has reason to doubt Jack—and herself, as she realizes her entire existence has been manipulated.”

If you think too many Science Fiction books rely on distopian future then you should definitely check out Gene Mapper by Taiyo Fujii. “In a future where reality has been augmented and biology itself has been hacked, the world’s food supply is genetically modified, superior, and vulnerable. When gene mapper Hayashida discovers that his custom rice plant has experienced a dysgenic collapse, he suspects sabotage.”

 

So if you’re looking to escape these rainy days just pop by your local branch a pick up one of these great titles.

-Arryn

“Great Scott!”

Clock
As summer winds down, the nights get cooler, and we realize another eight months of cold is about to begin, I can’t help but wish I could stop time, rewind back to May, or fast forward through the winter.

Time travel has long been a popular sub-genre of science fiction in books as well as on the big screen. H. G. Wells spearheaded the movement (and arguably the genre itself) with his classic novella The Time Machine. In this story, the Time Traveler ventures eons into the future and is surprised and disturbed by the disparity between the upper and lower classes, which now form two separate species.

replayAudrey Niffenegger’s novel The Time Traveler’s Wife is about a man with a genetic disorder that causes him to time travel, and his wife, who is forced to cope with his unpredictable absences. Replay by Ken Grimwood tells the story of a 43-year-old man who dies and awakens in his 18-year-old body. Some say this novel was a precursor for the comedic time-loop film, and one of my personal favourites, Groundhog Day.

groundhogMany other films have aimed to capture the thrill of time travel. Michael J. Fox won our hearts as he drove the DeLorean from 1985 to 1955 in Back to the Future. Woody Allen brought our favourite writers of the 1920’s to life in Midnight in Paris. Arnold Schwarzenegger even used time travel to go back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor in The Terminator!

Current research on time travel argues it is possible to bend time if we can travel faster than the speed of light. Stephen Hawking outlines this theory, along with others, in his famous essay How to Build a Time Machine. Hawking does an excellent job of breaking down cosmology and fourth dimensions into layman’s terms: “All you need is a wormhole, the Large Hadron Collider or a rocket that goes really, really fast.”

futureYes, the grass is always greener, but travelling back to fix a mistake, or fast forwarding to a cool, futuristic city seems pretty tempting. Sadly for us, the ability to time travel isn’t readily available yet, so reading about it in our favourite books will have to do for now. But, if we stop and think, we might find we do time travel in our own small ways. Every time we recycle a fashion trend from the 90s, listen to vinyl, or pore over pictures on our iPhones. Every time we read about the past and dream about the future. We don’t need the DeLorean to time travel – just our imaginations.

*Check out our “Great Scott!” display on the main floor at Millennium Library for more materials on time travel, outer space, and science fiction.

Brittany

Top 10 fantasy & science fiction

Earlier this year, to mark Valentine’s Day, I posted a list of the most popular romance reads at Winnipeg Public Library. This month, I thought it might be interesting to discover what local readers of speculative fiction – i.e. fantasy and science fiction in all their many genres – are checking out from the Library.

Like romance, science fiction & fantasy authors tend to write sequels and series. Several of the books below are part of complicated, multi-volume series, so you may not want to jump in at those titles; where that’s the case, I’ve also linked to the first book in the series.

On the other hand, science fiction & fantasy lends itself equally well to the short story format, so this list also features some collections of short fiction – the perfect tasting menu to help you decide whether you want a big feast of “spec fic.”

1. Trigger Warning
If you know speculative fiction, you probably know Neil Gaiman. He’s written in every style & format, from quest fantasy to graphic novels to horror to books for children – and has won awards in every one of those categories too. If you don’t know him, this sampler of some of his recent short fiction is a good place to start. (Already read this? Try Kelly Link’s collection Get in Trouble, which is every bit as mind-bendingly weird, dark, and beautiful as Gaiman’s work.)

2. Forsaken
Kelley Armstrong’s “Women of the Otherworld” series of books about the hidden societies of werewolves, vampires, and other supernatural beings are hugely popular. This story features the child of one of her most popular characters, so if you’re not already up to speed on this series, start with Bitten – the adventures of Elena, lone werewolf in Toronto.

 

3. Dead Heat
Patricia Briggs writes two urban fantasy series; this one has been praised as the “perfect blend of action, romance, suspense and paranormal.” If that sounds up your alley, start with Cry Wolf. If you’ve already read all of Anna & Charles’ stories, Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older might satisfy your need for more supernatural adventure.

 

4. Empire
“Earth has been conquered and occupied… The Resistance still fights the invaders, but they are nothing more than an annoyance to the Illyri, an alien race of superior technology and military strength.” This second novel in a series (after Conquest) follows two young rebels who are captured, conscripted, and sent to fight offworld at the edges of the growing Illyri Empire.

 

5. The Long Mars
This intriguing collaboration between Sir Terry Pratchett (best known for his humourous Discworld fantasy series) and Stephen Baxter (best known for “hard” science fiction) started with The Long Earth, in which humanity discovers a way to access a potentially infinite series of parallel Earths. If you enjoyed this series, you might like Robert Charles Wilson‘s tales of alternate worlds too.

 

6. Ready Player One
This standalone book is “part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera” set in a universe where most of humanity escapes their grim surroundings by spending every waking hour jacked into a sprawling virtual utopia.

 

 

7. Severed Souls
Another installment in the adventures of Richard Rahl and Kahlan Amnell (which began in Wizard’s First Rule) as they must defend themselves and their followers from a series of terrifying threats, despite a magical sickness that depletes their strength and which, if not cured, will take their lives… sooner rather than later.

 

8. Madness In Solidar
In Book 9 of the Imager Portfolio, Alastar finds himself in the middle of a power struggle after taking the helm of the declining Solidar’s Collegium of Imagers.

If long, complex fantasy series like those written by Goodkind and Modesitt are your choice, Kate Elliott’s Crossroads series is another excellent example.

 

9. Shifting Shadows
A collection of short stories featuring Mercy Thompson, Patricia Briggs’ other urban fantasy heroine, and her friends.

The Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews focuses on a similar tight-knit group of characters brought together by shared danger.

 

10. Golden Son
Pierce Brown’s fast-paced first novel Red Rising  quickly became a best-selling sensation. In Golden Son he continues the saga of Darrow, a rebel forged by tragedy, who has infiltrated the privileged realm so that he can destroy it from within…
Book 3 (Morning Star) is set to come out in January 2016, and I know readers from 15 to 55 who are eagerly waiting for it.

Did this list whet your appetite for more? Check out the Library’s collection of Hugo Award or Prix Aurora winners too!

Danielle

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever

“If you can’t change the world with chocolate chip cookies, how can you change the world?” –  Pat Murphy

tiptree1The James Tiptree, Jr. Award is presented annually to a work of fiction that “expands or explores our understanding of gender.” It may be the only literary award partially funded by bake sales, or to include chocolate as part of the prize! Past winners and nominees have been collected in several volumes of The James Tiptree Award Anthologytiptree3

The award is named for science fiction author James Tiptree, Jr., a pseudonym of Alice B. Sheldon. Sheldon began publishing short stories under the Tiptree name in the late 1960s. Corresponding with fans and other authors only in writing, she gave ‘Tiptree’s’ biography true details from her own life, changing only her name and gender. For almost a decade, ‘James Tiptree’ was widely believed to be a man.

alicesheldonIn James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice Sheldon, Julie Phillips explores her fascinating life. As a child Alice accompanied her parents on their travels to Africa. She was an artist, but joined the army during World War II to work in photo-intelligence. After the war she was invited to join the CIA, but eventually left to get her PhD in experimental psychology.    hersmoke

When she began writing science fiction, Sheldon chose to use a male pseudonym both to separate her fiction from her academic career, and because she felt that using a man’s name gave her the freedom to produce the sort of stories she wanted to write. Many of Tiptree’s best work is collected in the anthology Her Smoke Rose Up Forever.

Though the Tiptree award is typically given to only one work, so much great writing was published last year that the judges decided on a tie!

girlintheroadThe first winner is Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne. Set in the near future, it follows two women on parallel journeys. As the story progresses, their lives become linked in interesting ways.  A young woman in India is attacked and flees her pursuers. She sets off to cross the Trail, a bridge stretching across the Arabian Sea used to harvest hydro power. In Africa, an orphan girl joins a trade caravan traveling to Ethiopia, where she hopes to start a new life. Byrne’s vivid characters and her descriptions of Africa and India kept me hooked until the very end!

The second recipient was My Real Children by Jo Walton.realchildren An elderly woman has trouble remembering the details of her present. Her past is another problem – she remembers different versions of her own life. Her childhood and life during the war are clear enough, but afterwards her life splits in two paths. She is confused about whether or not she was married, how many children she had, and what she did for her career. In each of these alternate pasts, her own history and the history of the world are changed by the choices she makes.

Along with the winners, several other fantastic works were nominated for the award.

memorywaterMemory of Water by Finnish author Emmi Itäranta takes place in a totalitarian future where water is a scarce resource. A seventeen-year-old girl and her father are ‘tea masters’, with special knowledge of local water sources. When her father dies, this girl must decide which secrets are worth keeping.

Jacqueline Koyanagi’s space opera Ascension is a fast paced adventure with a few twists. ascension A mechanic stows away on a spaceship that came looking for her sister. But this is not your typical ship, and the crew has some quirks, to say the least! While continuing to search for her sister, they may just end up saving the galaxy along the way.

elysiumIn Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett, a computer program tells a love story as it occurred during an alien invasion. But the program has been damaged, and the narrative is fragmented. As we piece together events, a complex story of love and identity emerges.

 

lagoonNnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon is another story of alien contact.  Three strangers witness a meteor strike on a beach in Lagos, Nigeria. Together they encounter a woman who is not what she appears. By helping her, they may find a way to save not only themselves, but also the rest of humanity.

 

If you’re looking for something a little different in your science fiction this summer, give one of these titles a try!

Melanie

A blog post 65 Million Years in the Making

“Now, eventually you do plan to have dinosaurs on your dinosaur tour, right?”
– Dr. Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park

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It’s cool to talk about dinosaurs again, you guys! On June 12th, Universal Pictures will be releasing Jurassic World. Jurassic World is a direct sequel to 1993’s original Jurassic Park, pretty much ignoring the events of Jurassic Parks 2 and 3. This is probably a smart move, as I tend to remember those second and third movies being sad echoes of Spielberg’s brilliant original masterpiece. I still remember seeing the original Jurassic Park at the Grant Park cinemas. It was the first movie I saw after those theatres converted to digital sound, and I’ll never forget the scene when the T-Rex attacks and the first sign of it was when those cups of water started to shake. The sound was so crisp and clear in the theatre that our seats actually rumbled a bit.

But enough about me and my sudden geeking out about Jurassic Park. Did I mention I was at opening night when they re-released the movie in 3D a couple of years back? And I don’t even LIKE 3D. I even have a Jurassic Park coffee mug.

So to celebrate the 12 year old in all of us, let’s take a quick look at some of WPL’s dinosaur related fiction in preparation for Jurassic World. See you opening night!

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Jurassic Park: Michael Crichton

Well it’s probably best to start with the original novel. Arguably Crichton’s most famous novel, it tells the story of a mysterious theme park on an island off of Costa Rica on the eve of it’s opening. I’m trying to stay spoiler free, but is there such a thing as spoiling something that’s 25 years old and has had movies and book sequels spun off of it? Okay, let’s just say there are dinosaurs on the island and stuff happens.

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The Lost World: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Best known for creating Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Conan Doyle also wrote a series of fantasy novels. The first one in this series was called The Lost World and followed the adventures of Professor Challenger as he led an expedition to a plateau in the Amazon Basin where prehistoric creatures have somehow survived. This series of books became very influential for other 20th century fantasy writers including Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ray Bradbury.  J.J. Abrams said that The Lost World was one of the inspirations for his TV Series Lost, and Michael Crichton himself paid tribute to it by calling his 1995 Jurassic Park sequel The Lost World.

Dinosaur Summer: Greg Bear

Another homage to Conan Doyle, Greg Bear sets this novel in Conan Doyle’s “Lost World” universe. Dinosaurs are real and have been “domesticated” to the point where they are a part of “dinosaur circuses.” The plot of this novel concerns an expedition to return the remaining dinosaurs from the last dinosaur circus to the plateau in the Amazon Basin where they came from. I’m sure it all goes fine.

Journey to the Centre of the Earth: Jules Verne

Another scientifically questionable tale ( I guess that’s why they call it FANTASY), this novel is about an expedition to the centre of the Earth that starts through an Icelandic volcano. Now I’m no scientist, but I’m pretty sure going into a volcano, especially one of those disruptive Icelandic ones, is a bad idea. But guess what? They are okay and there are all kinds of prehistoric things living down there. It’s a pretty fun tale if you just decide to go with it.

Dinosaur Thunder: James F. David

Speaking of “going with it,” Dinosaur Thunder makes Jurassic Park look like a PBS documentary. This book has so many temporal disturbances and alternative timelines it even has a T-Rex living on the Moon, you guys. It’s a pretty high concept thriller, but if dinosaurs are your thing, check it out.

Kamandi Archives: Jack Kirby

Jack Kirby was a giant in the world of 20th century comics, creating (or co-creating) most of the original Marvel lineup including Captain America, The Avengers, and the Fantastic Four. He also worked for DC comics where he created Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth. Kamandi actually takes place in the distant future, after “The Great Disaster” reduces the Earth to a prehistoric state. Granted, there aren’t dinosaurs as much as super-intelligent mutated animals in this series, but it was an excuse to mention Jack Kirby.

Anonymous Rex: Eric Garcia

It seems like I’ve been listing these titles in order of “most plausible” to “least plausible.” If this is the case then let’s finish up with Anonymous Rex, possibly the least plausible of the whole bunch. The idea in this story is that the dinosaurs only faked their extinction and live among humans in latex costumes. Vincent Rubio is one of these disguised Dinos ( a Velociraptor, no less!) who also happens to work as a Los Angeles P.I. The story itself is quite funny and fast-paced, and might be just the thing for a quick backyard read this summer. It even hatched a sequel called Hot and Sweaty Rex. If you read the first one, you might as well keep going.

-Trevor

Twenty New Star Wars Novels? Yes Please!

Star Wars Logo

Like any good nerd, I’m practically buzzing as I scour the internet for any new tidbits about the upcoming Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, that hits theaters this December 18th. I’ll take anything to whet my appetite for all things long ago, from a galaxy far, far away. Fan theories about the plot of the new movie, production stills, concept art; heck, I even read this really in depth discussion about the new lightsaber design from the teaser trailer!

The most exciting news has to be the recently announced twenty books that will bridge the 30 years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. This announcement comes hot on the heels of the controversial decision by Disney Studios and Lucasfilms to discard the dozens of novels in the “Expanded Universe”.

The Expanded Universe novels covered the aftermath of Return of the Jedi and the subsequent 40 years. Director J.J Abrams and his team of writers have decided to tell a different story, essentially making the Expanded Universe novels non-canonical in the Star Wars Universe.

Needless to say I’d felt a little cheated when I’d heard this news. All those storylines, all those characters I’d loved reading about, all those evil villains were no longer relevant! However, all that means is that these 20 new titles will bring a whole plethora of new characters and stories into the universe that I, and so many other nerds, love!

Publishers have conceded that not all 20 titles will be full novels; some will be graphic novels, some will be short stories, and there is no confirmation on when the first title with hit the shelves. One thing you can be sure of, WPL will have it on the shelves as soon as possible!

Luke Skywalker

May the Force be with you.

-Arryn

2014 Hugo Awards, or How I Found My Next Read

 

The 2014 Hugo Awards were presented in London on Sunday, August 17th. This year’s winner for Best Novel went to Ann Leckie for Ancillary Justice, which tells the story of One Esk – an electronic artificial intelligence – who once commanded an entire starship, the formidable Justice of Tore. Now confined to a mortal body cobbled together from interchangeable human parts as the entity called “Breq,” the AI must survive as a multi-segmented, ancillary humanoid being in a galactic empire ruled by an oppressive government — without disobeying the law that forbids AIs from harming their creators. I will definitely put this down on my reading list!

In fact, I’ve always strived to read as many Hugo-winning books as possible. When you’re as avid a reader as I am, it’s always exciting to discover a new author, along with her or his body of work. I thought I would share some of my favourite Hugo winners, in the hopes that you might also find someone new!

RedshirtsRedshirts, by John Scalzi, won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novel and Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. While familiar with the author, I’d never read any of his works previously. Redshirts was a great introduction – definitely recommended for any classic Star Trek fan! Follow Ensign Andrew Dahl, newly assigned to the Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union, as he works in the xenobiology lab. He and the other new ensigns notice something weird about life aboard the Intrepid — on any away mission, at least one crew member dies. And each away mission seems to follow a bizarre set of rules. The crew of the Intrepid has become very superstitious and fearful about getting involved in the bridge crew’s missions. After meeting with a lost crewmember, the ensigns learn that they are characters in a TV show. As the new ensigns understand their lot, the story is similar to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, where the story tells what happens when its characters find out they are not in the “real” storyline. In what I see as inspired genius, Wil Wheaton narrates the audiobook version.

SagaSaga, Volume 1, written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples, won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story. Not only that, but the series also won the three Eisner Awards it was nominated for in 2013 (Best Continuing Series, Best New Series and Best Writer), and won six 2013 Harvey Awards (Best Writer, Best Artist, Best Color, Best New Series, Best Continuing or Limited Series, and Best Single Issue or Story). Brian K. Vaughan is one of my favourite comic writers – Pride of Baghdad holding a special place in my heart – so I was quite excited when this new series was announced. Not familiar with Fiona Staples’ work, I found myself blown away! In this first volume (collecting issues of Saga #1-6) bits of sf space opera and classic fantasy mesh in setting a sprawling stage for an intensely personal story of two lovers, cleverly narrated by their newborn daughter. Though recently soldiers from opposite sides of a massive intergalactic war, moth-winged Alana and ram-horned Marko simply want peace and anonymity to raise their daughter (an abomination to the powers that be) away from conflict and hatred. Action, adventure, love, sex, grief, and joy combine in one amazing book!

Among OthersAmong Others, by Jo Walton, won the 2012 Nebula Award for Best Novel, the Hugo Award for Best Novel and the British Fantasy Award, and was a nominee for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. Set in 1979 and 1980, this book tells the story of 15-year-old Morwenna. After engaging in a classic good-magic-versus-bad-magic battle with her mother that fatally wounds her twin sister, Morwenna leaves Wales and attempts to reconnect with her estranged father. Sent to a boarding school in England, her riveting backstory unfolds gradually as she records her thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a series of journal entries. An ominous sense of disquiet permeates the nonlinear plot as Morwenna attempts to avoid a final clash with her mother. In addition to casting an irresistible narrative spell, Walton also pays tribute to a host of science-fiction masters as she peppers Morwenna’s journal with the titles of the novels she devours in her book-fueled quest for self-discovery.

The Windup GirlThe Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi, won the 2010 Nebula Award and the 2010 Hugo Award (tied with The City & the City by China Miéville), both for best novel. This book also won the 2010 Compton Crook Award and the 2010 Locus Award for best first novel. This novel is set in a future Thailand where calories are the greatest commodity. Anderson is a calorie-man whose true objective is to discover new food sources that his company can exploit. His secretary, Hock Seng, is a refugee from China seeking to ensure his future. Jaidee is an officer of the Environmental Ministry known for upholding regulations rather than accepting bribes. His partner, Kanya, is torn between respect for Jaidee and hatred for the agency that destroyed her childhood home. Emiko is a windup, an engineered and despised creation, discarded by her master and now subject to brutality by her patron. The actions of these characters set in motion events that could destroy the country. Bacigalupi has created a compelling, if bleak, society in which corruption, betrayal, and despair are commonplace, and more positive behavior and emotions such as hope and love are regarded with great suspicion.

DiggerDigger, Volumes 1-6 by Ursula Vernon, was nominated for the Eisner Award and won the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story in 2012. Originally a webcomic, it has been released in 6 volumes, and features an anthropomorphic, no-nonsense wombat named Digger who finds herself stuck on the wrong end of a one-way tunnel in a strange land where nonsense seems to be the specialty. Now, with the help of a talking statue of a god, an outcast hyena, a shadow-being of indeterminate origin, and an oracular slug she seeks to find out where she is and how to go about getting back to her Warren. Vernon’s black and white illustrations are fantastic, and the story will stay with you for days after reading.

To Say Nothing of the DogTo Say Nothing of the Dog: or, How We Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump at Last, by Connie Willis, won both the Hugo and Locus Awards in 1999, and was nominated for the Nebula Award in 1998. This funny romp through time from 2057 back to Victorian England, with a few side excursions into World War II and medieval Britain, will have you glued to the pages. Rich dowager Lady Schrapnell has invaded Oxford University’s time travel research project in 2057, promising to endow it if they help her rebuild Coventry Cathedral, destroyed by a Nazi air raid in 1940. In effect, she dragoons almost everyone in the program to make trips back in time to locate items–in particular, the bishop’s bird stump, an especially ghastly example of Victorian decorative excess. Time traveler Ned Henry is suffering from advanced time lag and has been sent, he thinks, for rest and relaxation to 1888, where he connects with fellow time traveler Verity Kindle and discovers that he is actually there to correct an incongruity created when Verity inadvertently brought something forward from the past. Take an excursion through time, add chaos theory, romance, plenty of humor, a dollop of mystery, and a spoof of the Victorian novel, and you end up with what seems like a comedy of errors but is actually a grand scheme “involving the entire course of history and all of time and space that, for some unfathomable reason, chose to work out its designs with cats and croquet mallets and pen wipers, to say nothing of the dog. And a hideous piece of Victorian artwork.”

If you’re looking for more Hugo magic, please visit our catalogue for a listing of past winners.

— Barbara

New Futuristic Thrillers

In this paranoid yet still somewhat-hopeful age, fiction of the “futuristic thriller” bent take us to places we would perhaps rather not be but which we can’t stop imagining. Unworldly space travel. Technological advancement. End of the world fears. What better way to explore our shared images of the future than through the safety of reading? Here are a few delightful books that have recently been published in this compelling vein:

SafariScreenSnapz002The Martian by Andy Weir
This wild ride considers what could happen if a Martian wind storm scares a handful of astronauts off the red planet — but they leave one of their own behind, mistakenly believing him dead. Can he survive until eventual rescue, that is, if anybody on earth ever realizes he is alive? The book, truth be told, exercises your powers of credulity, but I think it’s still worth the roller coaster of adventure it takes you on!

SafariScreenSnapz003The Giver is an older classic by Lois Lowry (1993) made into a promising new movie (August 2014) directed by Phillip Noyce, with screenplay by Michael Mitnick. The book “is the quintessential dystopian novel… Jonas’s world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear of pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the community. When Jonas turns 12 he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.”

I vividly remember the palpable tension as characters considered the risk of making choices against the tyranny in power. Looking forward to the movie!

index.aspxAnnihilation by Jeff Vandermeer. “Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization, and the government is involved in sending secret missions to explore Area X. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer. Annihilation opens with the twelfth expedition. The group is composed of four women, including our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all of their observations, scientific and otherwise; and, above all, to avoid succumbing to the unpredictable effects of Area X itself. What they discover shocks them: first, a massive topographic anomaly that does not appear on any map; and second, life forms beyond anything they’re equipped to understand. But it’s the surprises that came across the border with them that change everything—the secrets of the expedition members themselves, including our narrator. What do they really know about Area X—and each other?”

index-1.aspxThe Omega Project by Steve Alten. “On the brink of a disaster that could end all human life on earth, tech genius Robert Eisenbraun joins a team of scientists on a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa to mine a rare ore that would provide for Earth’s long-term energy needs. But as he and the rest of the team train under the Antarctic ice shelf in preparation for the long journey, trouble erupts, and before they embark Eisenbraun is the odd man out, put into cold sleep against his will… When Robert wakes, he finds the ship deserted and not functional. He escapes to the surface of an Earth terribly changed. The plan has gone horribly wrong, but as he adapts to a hostile environment, he realizes that there is still a way to accomplish what his mission had set out to achieve. But he also discovers that he faces a new adversary of the most unlikely sort. For now,  his own survival and that of the woman whose love has sustained him in his darkest hours depend on the defeat of a technological colossus partly of his own making.”

index-2.aspxInflux by Daniel Suarez. The bestselling author of Daemon — “the cyberthriller against which all others will be measured” according to Publishers Weekly — imagines a world in which decades of technological advances have been suppressed in an effort to prevent disruptive change.

“Are smart phones really humanity’s most significant innovation since the moon landings? Or can something else explain why the bold visions of the 20th century–fusion power, genetic enhancements, artificial intelligence, cures for common disease, extended human life, and a host of other world-changing advances–have remained beyond our grasp? Why has the high-tech future that seemed imminent in the 1960’s failed to arrive?

Perhaps it did arrive…but only for a select few.”

Happy e-reading!

Lyle