New Trends in Science Fiction

Say Science Fiction, and most readers will make a face as images of bad 50’s movies, computers and technobabble, and Star Wars arguments come to mind. “I don’t read Science Fiction,” but chances are, you do. Science Fiction simply means a story that more or less follows the laws of science as we know them, as opposed to fantasy, which drags in magic and elves and things that don’t normally exist on Earth. The material is as broad as anything else in fiction.

Science Fiction has come a long way since 1977, and is almost unrecognizable to the campy 50’s tin-can imagery. Like rock music, science fiction has a hundred sub-categories, and chances are you’ve read – and liked – at least one. Here are some of the newest trends you may not know about.

Soft Science Fiction:  “Soft SF” isn’t new, but the definition is newer. Soft SF doesn’t deal with “hard” techno stuff, but concentrates on people, societies, psychology, and intrigue.  Cloud Atlas, The Handmaid’s Tale, Flowers for Algernon, Yiddish Policemen’s Union, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and Alas, Babylon all fall under “Soft” SF. Half of Stephen King can be categorized here. You could make an argument for Jason Bourne, too.

Gender-Focused: These stories explore cultures and people who may have a single gender, multiple genders, or are genderless entirely. Check out Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller, or the Grandmama of them all, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin.

Afrofuturism: Representation of minorities is growing in SF, and with it new ways of seeing inclusion in the future. Check out top authors like N. K. Jemisin, Colson Whitehead, Nnedi Okorafor, P. Djeli Clark, and Octavia Butler.

International: There’s a huge influx of stories being translated from other countries. While America may be stuck on space opera and predictable heroes, other countries aren’t, and offer a refreshing break from the Same Old Thing. Try The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, Master and the Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, The Witcher Series (yeah, the TV one) by Andrzej Sapkowski, The Lost Village by Camilla Sten, or Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruis Zafon.

Generation Ship fiction: No faster than light ships here, but pressure-cooker stories onboard ships making a long haul. Dangers take on a whole new meaning when you’re dependent on your ship for years on end. Check out Across the Universe by Beth Rivis, Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke, Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson, or Ship of Fools by Richard Russo.

New Space Opera: Space opera traditionally involves weapons, danger, heroes, and rescued damsels (Star Wars being a perfect example, among many), but newer stories are throwing in more gritty realism. They’re a higher quality of writing, more scientifically plausible, and tend to address more social issues under the guise of “fiction.” Grown-up SF. Try the Leviathan Falls series by James Corey, Hail Mary by Andy Weir, the Thrawn series by Timothy Zahn, The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey, or Winter’s Orbit, by Everina Maxwell.

Climate SF:  With the doomsday clock ticking down the moments to an expected 6th mass extinction, climate SF may be the most relevant wave of stories to hit shelves, and can fully include apocalyptic virus stories. Read them!  State of Fear by Michael Crichton, New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson, The Overstory by Richard Powers, Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver.

Science Fiction isn’t the same old trope you’re used to, but a growing, evolving body of literature with numerous authors, styles, and focus – and guaranteed there’s one right for you!

Celebrities – They’re Just Like Us! The 10 Best Celebrity Memoirs of 2021

We seem to be in the midst of a celebrity memoir boom. Seems like every celeb with time on their hands during the height of the pandemic used that time to write their memoirs. Of course, not every famous person’s story is interesting enough to devote an entire book to, but we’ve picked out 10 from 2021 that we think are worth the page count. There is something really appealing about a candid celebrity memoir that reveals the real person behind the “persona”, be prepared to be entertained, and even inspired, by these celebrity stories.

The Beauty of Living Twice by Sharon Stone. She was one of the most renowned actresses in the world–until a massive stroke cost her not only her health, but her career, family, fortune, and global fame. Stone talks about her pivotal roles, her life-changing friendships, her worst disappointments, her greatest accomplishments, and ultimately, how she fought her way back after devastating illness.

Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci. Tucci reflects on the intersection of food and life, filled with anecdotes about his growing up in Westchester, New York; preparing for and shooting the foodie films Big Night and Julie & Julia; falling in love over dinner; and teaming up with his wife to create meals for a multitude of children. A gastronomic journey through good times and bad, five-star meals and burned dishes.

Just As I Am by Cicely Tyson. Her memoir was released just days after the 96-year-old actress passed away this year. The Academy, Tony, and Emmy Award-winning actor and trailblazer tells her stunning story, looking back at her life and six-decade career. President Barack Obama said of her: “In her long and extraordinary career, Cicely Tyson has not only succeeded as an actor, she has shaped the course of history.”

Broken (in the best possible way) by Jenny Lawson. As Jenny Lawson’s hundreds of thousands of fans know, she suffers from depression. In Broken, she brings readers along on her mental and physical health journey, offering heartbreaking and hilarious anecdotes along the way. Jenny humanizes what we all face in an all-too-real way, reassuring us that we’re not alone and making us laugh while doing it.

Trejo : My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood by Danny Trejo. You may not know him by name, but character actor Danny Trejo has one of the most recognizable faces in film and television. On screen, the actor played scores of bad guys, and has been killed at least a hundred times. This is an inspirational story of a journey from crime, prison, addiction, and loss to unexpected fame as Hollywood’s favorite bad guy with a heart of gold.

Forever Young by Hayley Mills. Under the wing of Walt Disney himself, Hayley Mills was transformed into one of the biggest child starlets of the 1960s through her iconic roles in Pollyanna, The Parent Trap, and many more. This memoir is a behind-the-scenes look at the drama of having a sky-rocketing career as a young teen, as well as the challenges of dealing with an industry that wanted her to remain to bound to a wholesome, youthful public image.

All In : An Autobiography by Billie Jean King. In this spirited account, Billie Jean King details her life’s journey to find her true self. She recounts her no only her groundbreaking tennis career–six years as the top-ranked woman in the world (twenty Wimbledon championships, thirty-nine grand-slam titles) , but also her activism as a feminist and social justice fighter in the wake of her coming out as gay at age 51.

Going There by Katie Couric. For more than forty years, Katie Couric has been an iconic presence in the media world. In her brutally honest, funny, and sometimes heartbreaking memoir, she pulls no punches as she reveals what was going on behind the scenes of her sometimes tumultuous personal and professional life.

The Storyteller : Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl. The legendary American musician, singer, songwriter and documentary filmmaker offers a collection of stories that focus on the memories of his life, from his childhood to today. With his reflections on touring with Scream, joining Nirvana and watching it all crumble, creating Foo Fighters when his life was at a crossroads, and now crisscrossing the world as a family man, Grohl offers an honest portrait of an extraordinary life made up of ordinary moments.

The Boys : A Memoir of Hollywood and Family by Ron Howard & Clint Howard. What was it like to grow up on TV? For Ron, playing Opie on The Andy Griffith Show and Richie Cunningham on Happy Days offered fame, joy, and opportunity, but also invited stress and bullying. For Clint, a fast start on such programs as Gentle Ben and Star Trek petered out in adolescence, with some tough consequences and lessons. By turns confessional, nostalgic, heartwarming, and harrowing, The Boys is a dual narrative that lifts the lid on the Howard brothers’ closely held lives.

 

Some of Your Favorite Authors Have New Books Coming Out This Month!

September’s got some great new releases heading to our shelves. Here are eight that we’ve been eagerly anticipating, put your name on the hold list for your favs, if you haven’t already!

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell. From the New York Times bestselling author of Then She Was Gone and The Family Upstairs comes another riveting work of psychological suspense. One year after a young woman and her boyfriend disappear on a massive country estate, a writer stumbles upon a mysterious note that could be the key to finding out what happened to the missing young couple.

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty. A family of tennis stars debate whether or not to report their mother as missing because it would implicate their father in this new novel by the New York Times bestselling author of Big Little Lies and Nine Perfect Strangers.

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead. A furniture salesman in 1960s Harlem becomes a fence for shady cops, local gangsters and low-life pornographers after his cousin involves him in a failed heist, in the new novel from the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys.

Bewilderment by Richard Powers. A widowed astrobiologist and single father to a troubled son contemplates an experimental neurofeedback treatment that trains the boy on the recorded patterns of his mother’s brain in the new novel from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Overstory.

The Wish by Nicholas Sparks. From the author of The Longest Ride and The Return comes the story of successful travel photographer Maggie Dawes, struggling to come to terms with a sobering medical diagnosis, who is unexpectedly grounded over Christmas with her young assistant and begins to tell him the story of the love that set her on a course she never could have imagined.

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. The novel follows four young dreamers and outcasts through time and space, from 1453 Constantinople to the future, as they discover resourcefulness and hope amidst peril in the new novel by the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of All the Light We Cannot See.

Matrix by Lauren Groff. Lauren Groff returns with her exhilarating first new novel since the groundbreaking Fates and Furies. Cast out of the royal court, 17-year-old Marie de France, born the last in a long line of women warriors, is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey where she vows to chart a bold new course for the women she now leads and protects.

Fuzz by Mary Roach. Join New York Times bestselling science author Mary Roach as she tags along with animal-attack forensics investigators, human-elephant conflict specialists, bear managers, and more. Combining little-known forensic science and conservation genetics with a motley cast of laser scarecrows, langur impersonators, and mugging macaques, Fuzz offers hope for compassionate coexistence in our ever-expanding human habitat.

Darkly Dahl

Roald Dahl is an author of controversy. He’s lauded for being a brilliant writer; he’s shunned because of his 1920’s upbringing and racist and antisemitic writings and comments. His children’s books are considered classics of literature; his children’s books are ignored by some who complain they are too dark for children’s literature.

Too dark? Let’s look at this.

Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother was eaten by a predatory wolf, Cinderella’s stepmother made her into a slave, Hansel and Gretl were abandoned (twice!) by their parents and taken in by a cannibalistic hag; the Little Match Girl freezes to death all alone. Is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Matilda darker than that? Not quite.  

There is some truth to it – in many of Dahl’s stories, parents, if not most adults, are seen as evil, or cruel, or incompetent providers – mean teachers, poor and ever-working parents, buffoonish adults who cannot see the plight of the child (Wonka is most definitely – well, Wonky). There are elements of racial bigotry (the tiny black (yes, they were black in the book) oompa loompas living on grubs; Germans always being fat gluttons, etc). But is this so far from other children’s stories? Not so much. Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events is also darkly humorous, and few are crying foul. Dr. Doolittle bleaches a man’s skin, rather than let a black man marry a white woman. Peter Pan’s stereotypical depiction of Native Americans is downright painful and offensive on many levels. Bigotry and stereotyping is nothing new, only that fact that we now call it what it is. 

One point to remember is that parents, quite frankly, are a pain in the neck to children. They love them, while at the same time resent them for setting limits, saying no, and dragging children kicking and screaming through the process of growing up. For Dahl – and millions of others – who grew up in British boarding schools, at the mercy of bullies they couldn’t escape and teachers who were allowed to whip children, the experience left a more lasting impression (Pink Floyd, anyone?). For those in Britain who grew up in World War II, who as children hid during the Blitz or were shipped out to board with strangers, it lends another level of abandonment and trust issues to children’s literature. There’s a reason behind a lot of the dark – and for British children, it’s a shared cultural memory. Is Fantastic Mr. Fox an allegory for the war? Possibly. 

Another point to consider is children are the hero of their own story. It’s fine if Daddy vanquishes the dragon, but children would much rather be the ones doing it. Tween and Pre-tween children desperately want to be seen as competent, able to impress grown ups with their abilities. Children want to be the hero, and they can’t do that if Mummy and Daddy are with them telling them no – hence the number of orphan stories, or children alone. They can’t rely on the adults with them, or the story won’t work. A story about a child who tried and failed, who gave up and lived with their perceived oppression, isn’t a story a child wants to read about. There’s no role model there, no hero, no inspiration, no one to pretend to be. So of course Matilda has to shine, and the Peach must kill James’s wicked aunts, even if he has to find kinship with a bunch of insects, and even wacky Mr. Wonka can’t miss the good that dwells in Charlie. 

Darkness, shmarkness. The world is a dark place, and childhood a relatively new invention. In too many places, children are still locked in war-torn places, famines, camps, drug violence, and abusive situations. Our lauded fairy tales of yore – right down to Mother Goose and Aesop’s Fables – hark back to far darker times.

 Let them read. If nothing else, darker literature provides the perfect chance to discuss empathy, fantasy vs. reality, and handling tough situations – including some of the tough times we’ve been through in the past year.

The Magic Finger

Danny the Champion of the World

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

The Witches

The BFG

Matilda

James and the Giant Peach

Fantastic Mr. Fox

British Mysteries from Book to Screen

Today’s post comes to us from our Deputy Director Deb, who loves a good mystery!

Many devoted mystery readers began with Agatha Christie’s classic golden age mysteries featuring Miss Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot. I certainly did! These distinctly British offerings are a perfect gateway into the world of mysteries. And like so many other British mysteries, they have been made into marvelous television series, which you can watch using the library’s new streaming video service, Acorn TV. Or you can download the books in e-book or e-audio from the library’s website.

Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple are both well represented on Acorn TV and in our e-book and e-audiobook collections. Consider reading or listening to Murder on the Orient Express, The ABC Murders or The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Check out Acorn TV and watch Marple, Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime, The Agatha Christie Hour and Agatha Christie’s Poirot. Also try Christie’s classic locked-room mystery, And Then There Were None, considered to be the world’s best-selling mystery, available in e-book and e-audio and on Acorn.

The Agatha Raisin series by M.C. Beaton features a middle-aged woman who sells her London PR firm and moves to the country (the Cotswolds, to be precise), where, in true amateur detective fashion, she encounters—and solves– murders galore! Try the first book in the series, Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, available in both audio and ebook. Or read any of the others—like so many long-running mystery series, it isn’t necessary to read them in order. Then watch Agatha Raisin on Acorn, a top pick for fans of cozy British mysteries.

One of my favorite village cozy series, also by M.C. Beaton, features the unambitious and charming policeman Hamish Macbeth who patrols the village of Lochdubh in the Scottish Highlands. I have listened to all of them on audio. The reader, Graeme Malcolm, imbues the audiobooks with such charm and personality that I’m betting you, too, will be hooked! We have more than a dozen titles available on e-audio, including Death of an Honest Man and  Death of a Gossip. Then check out Hamish Macbeth on Acorn.

The Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood, featuring a glamorous private detective in 1920s Melbourne, is actually Australian, but close enough to fit in with our British theme. The supremely independent Miss Fisher has class, sass and the means to pull it all off! Try Cocaine Blues, the first in the series, or The Spotted Dog. The clothes alone make the series worth watching Miss Fisher on Acorn!

Ann Cleeves’ series featuring Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope is considerably darker than the other series in this post. DCI Stanhope is a solitary, obsessed, caustic, brilliant investigator near the end of her career working in northern England. Try listening to the first in the series, The Crow Trap, or read The Seagull. And be sure to watch Vera on Acorn TV.

Set in Ireland, the long-running Jack Taylor series by Ken Bruen has been thrilling readers (and now TV fans) for years. Taylor is a classic ex-cop turned seedy private eye prowling the underbelly of Galway. Try e-book or e-audio  Galway Girl or e-audio Purgatory and check out Jack Taylor on Acorn.