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!

Shifting Dunes

When it comes to epic book series impossible to film, first came Lord of the Rings, (which was done marvelously at last but needed more than 10 hours of screen time).

Then came Dune.

Dune, by Frank Herbert, is considered the best-selling Science-Fiction novel of all time (though it’s far more Game of Thrones than space ships), with more than 12 million copies sold in 14 languages. It tied for the 1966 Hugo Award. And like Lord of the Rings, getting it to film is a Holy Grail of filmmakers.

Dune tells the far-distant-future story of Duke Leto Atreides, who is given the stewardship of the desert planet Arrakis, also known as Dune. Dune is the only place in the universe where the spice Melange exists – a spice that not only can alter your mind, in some species it lets them fold time and space, creating almost instant space travel. “He who controls the spice, controls the universe.” Thus, Dune is a hotbed of politics and backstabbing. When the Duke is murdered, his son Paul, deemed an abomination by a powerful religious group, is seen as a prophesied savior by the natives of Dune. So begins the battle for control of Dune. The book is an immersive, detailed, visionary epic of grand scope (there’s a dictionary in the back). When you read the book, you are on Dune. This is a book that sticks with you for years to come.

Herbert wrote five books to the series; his son Brian added another twelve after his death. Dune – even just the first installment – is a novel of such grand scope (like GOT and LOTR) that putting it to film has been almost laughable – think of Rankin Bass’s 90-minute adaption of The Hobbit. Game of Thrones took 8 years and more than 73 hours to tell – can you imagine it as a three-hour theater film and have it make sense? It was tried in the 70’s, but after 3 years of attempts, the budget just couldn’t be managed. In 1984, David Lynch did make it, condensing much of the book to ethereal voiceovers, changing major points to condense action, and adding some now-cheesy early computer effects (the blue contacts of the Fremen didn’t work, and every frame of the film had to be colored by hand). It’s a film you either love or hate, with musician Sting as Feyd Rautha famously flexing in a winged bikini.

In 2000, SyFy channel did two Dune mini-series, which were much better received, won several awards, yet seemed to fade into obscurity faster than Lynch’s version, with the chief complaint it stuck too close to the source material, and dragged. Now, thanks to Warner Bros and HBO, we have a $165 million dollar spectacle by Denis Villeneuve that covers – only half the book, with a sequel (hopefully the second half) due in 2023. 

While the film has been viewed favorably, the scenery and cinematography spectacular, Villeneuve took many liberties with the material that once again changes the focus and depth of the story. To modernize it, he gender-swapped characters (which goes against the society Herbert wrote) and changed the roles of other women (no, the Bene Gesserit. He left out much of the religious aspect, the mysticism, even avoided the word jihad, used by the Fremen. It gives a sanitized, whitewashed view of the story, afraid of offending anyone. Herbert believed that modern societies will always decay back to a feudalistic society, and that the desert cultures, especially those of the Middle East, were more prone to messianic complexes and religious wars (remember, he’s writing in 1964 or so, when the Middle East was still rather bland politically. Think Star Wars and Tatooine, or The Great Humongous in Road Warrior, etc. There’s a lot to be said for that theory). To remove the root of the story – is it still the same story? Can anyone ever make a decent, book-abiding video version of Dune?

If you can’t wait for the new film to come out on DVD (or, rather, the first half of the book), check out the book series itself. Few things are better than the source material.

I can give up Sting in his bikini (though I thought he was a perfect Feyd), but there is no better Gurney Halleck than pre-Captain Picard Patrick Stewart. That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it!

Dune

Dune Messiah

Children of Dune

God Emperor of Dune

Heretics of Dune

Sandworms of Dune

Dune: House Atreides

Dune: House Harkonnen

Dune: House Corrino

Dune: The Machine Crusade

Dune: The Lady of Caladan

The Winds of Dune

The Sisterhood of Dune

Paul of Dune

Mentats of Dune

Navigators of Dune

 

Teen Book Reviews: Six of Crows and One of Us is Lying

Teens: did you know that you can earn community service credit for writing a book review and submitting it to us? Today, we’ll hear from two teens who did just that. Find out more about how to earn community service hours from home at cheshirelibrary.org/teens/.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, reviewed by Matti L.

Six of Crows is one book that’s part of a much larger fictional universe created by Leigh Bardugo, called the Grishaverse. In chronological order, the Grishaverse is made up of the Shadow & Bone trilogy, the Six of Crows duology, the King of Scars duology, and 3 supplemental books that really focus on fairy tales that only occur inside the Grishaverse. Even though the first book I read in the series was Six of Crows, I didn’t have much trouble understanding the characters even though I skipped the Shadow & Bone trilogy. I originally figured that I would be more confused, as if I had skipped the 5 books in Percy Jackson & the Olympians and started with The Lost Hero, but this didn’t happen.

There was a lot of time to meet the characters, learn their backgrounds and initial interactions with each other when they were all on a ship together, traveling to Fjerda. I did need to be patient about understanding the different types of Grisha and the different countries’ relations with each other. I’d say that there are two main reasons that made this book a great book; the first reason is that the plot picks up very quickly, which I enjoy in a book that is 450+ pages long. The book began with a demonstration of a healer abusing her powers and taking control of a ship, and luckily Bardugo revisited that scene fairly early in the book, to show what Kaz Brekker and his crew need to prevent from happening again. Many books don’t have an exciting plot completely set out until around page 150, but Bardugo had her plot taking off by around page 50.

The second reason that I liked this is because it felt like the author laid the story out very similar to a TV show, so it imitated a lot of the techniques to create interest or suspense. For example, a character might go out by themselves at night, and right then is when Bardugo would explain the backstory for the character. Another example is how she never split the group of 6 into more than 3 groups because it can be hard to follow in shows and literature. Also, Leigh never did any form of filler scenes or chapters, where a character would just describe the environment, or go into vivid description of the plan. A lot of this is because Kaz Brekker, the witty main character doesn’t let others know his plans so it always comes as a surprise. This fosters lots of suspense when Kaz makes unexpected decisions all to support his ‘big picture’ plans. In total, I’d say this book was really great because I never lost interest, there was a lot of suspense, and a satisfying ending that left room for interest in the sequel and other books in the Grishaverse.

5 stars.

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, reviewed by Hida A.

After a somber year-and-a-half in solitude, there are few things that have excited me. Following the same mundane routing while simultaneously worrying about the lingering public health crisis is no good for the mind. I’ve read my fair share of books over this time, but few are as gripping, as thrilling, as fist-clenching and teeth-grinding, as One of Us is Lying. This, simply put, is one of those books you can’t help but finish in one sitting. If you have the willpower to resist, I commend you for having such an iron-will. But I’m sure there are few people who can actually do so. If you’re looking for a book that excites you, that keeps you rooting for the underdogs, despising the jerks, and predicting the plot like there’s no tomorrow, then look no further: One of Us is Lying is a thriller you can’t miss out on.

From the very beginning, the book captures your attention and proceeds to hold it throughout. It all begins with a seemingly ordinary high school detention. Five students: Simon (The Outcast), Bronwyn (The Brain), Nate (The Criminal), Copper (The Athlete), and Addy (The Beauty), share detention despite their individual protests. Yet, the unthinkable happens–Simon winds up dead. Anaphylaxis. No Epi-Pen. A failed emergency response. From that point forward, the town of Bayview is thrown into chaos as the media swarms and accusations fly. Each student in the room is suspected of murder, of triggering Simon’s allergic reaction by exposing him to his allergen–peanut oil. The police beat down on the “Bayview Four” and try to crack down on the case, but the investigation seems to be leading nowhere. There are so many plot twists and turns as new information is collected, keeping you on the edge of your seat. The fact that Simon prided himself in creating a schoolwide gossip app to expose fellow students made the case even more compelling. Tons of people have a reason to hate Simon. But who had the guts to kill him?

Not only was the plot worthwhile, but the author’s style and perspective were also noteworthy. Chapters alternate between each of the four protagonists, offering the reader great insight into the case as well as any deeper motives. You gain a great new perspective into the plot and realize it’s much more complex than it seems on the surface. That’s what I love about this book, you’re not lulled into a predictable, boring plot. I spent a lot of time thinking Simon’s murder case over and over, and when I reached the end, I was absolutely shocked–in a good way though! The puzzle pieces began to fit perfectly in my head and I realized what a masterpiece One of Us is Lying is! Great read!

The only reason I deducted a star was because it ended so quickly and I wanted to keep reading more and more! Read this carefully–the killer may not be as orthodox as you may initially think…

4 stars.

8 Mars Novels for Fans of the Red Planet

Were you glued to your screen on Feb. 18, 2021, when NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover made its final descent to the Mars?  This is the first rover mission designed to seek signs of past microbial life. Earlier rovers first focused on and confirmed that Mars once had habitable conditions. The goals of this mission are:

  1. Determine whether life ever existed on Mars
  2. Characterize the Climate of Mars
  3. Characterize the Geology of Mars
  4. Prepare for Human Exploration

If you’re caught a touch of Martian Fever, or just wondered what it might be like to be on Mars yourself, we’ve got a reading list for you:

Kids’ Fiction

The Lion of Mars by Jennifer L. Holm. Bell has spent his whole life – all eleven years of it – on Mars. When a virus breaks out and the grown-ups all fall ill, Bell and the other children are the only ones who can help.

We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey. After a year on Mars, a young boy and his family migrate to the planet Choom, but the inhabitants of Choom, who look like giant mosquitoes, don’t really like humans and it is up to the boy and his family to change their minds if they hope to survive.

Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson. While waiting to leave Mars before it burns up just like the Earth before it, Liam and his friend Phoebe discover some facts about time and space and realize that the human race is just one of the races trying to survive in space.

In the Red by Christopher Swiedler. When a massive solar flare hits their Mars colony, friends Michael and Lilith are stranded with no protection from the sun, a quickly dwindling supply of air, food, and water, and little hope for rescue.

Adult/YA Fiction

Red Rising by Pierce Brown. A tale set in a bleak future society torn by class divisions follows the experiences of secret revolutionary Darrow, who after witnessing his wife’s execution by an oppressive government joins a revolutionary cell and attempts to infiltrate an elite military academy.

The Martian by Andy Weir. Stranded on Mars by a dust-storm that compromised his space suit and forced his crew to leave him behind, astronaut Mark Watney struggles to survive in spite of minimal supplies and environmental challenges that test his ingenuity.

The Sky So Big and Black by John Barnes. Accompanying her eco-prospector father on a tour through the Martian wilderness, Terry finds herself having to guide the trip’s young survivors back home after a terrible accident.

Mars Life by Ben Bova. Discovering proof that intelligent life had existed on Mars millions of years earlier, scientists Jamie Waterman and Carter Carleton struggle to protect Mars funding in the face of ultra-conservatives who fear the discovery will compromise their religious beliefs.

 

CPL Staff’s Favorite Reads of 2020

Ask a librarian for some good books, be prepared for a long list! I recently asked our staff members to share some their favorite reads in 2020, and the answers that came back were many and varied. We really do read a lot! Not all the books on this list were published in 2020, (some were older books we just got around to reading in 2020!), but all received a solid thumbs up from a member of our staff:

Children’s Books

Picture Books

Chapter Books

YA Fiction

Adult Fiction

Adult Non-Fiction

 

( * – this book was recommended by more than one staff member)