Authors Neal Stephenson & Emily St. John Mandel: Different Visions for the Future of Mankind

Today’s guest post is by Harold Kramer, our go-to sci-fi guy!

While his works are usually categorized as science fiction, author Neal Stephenson’s novels span many genres, since they interweave politics, religion, archaeology, philosophy, technology, computer programming, and cryptography.  His novels take place the past, present, and future and often include actual historical characters.  His early, innovative cyberpunk novel, Snow Crash was named one of Time magazine’s 100 best English-language novels.

My favorite Neal Stephenson book is Cryptonomicon.  It takes place during two distinct periods, World War II and 1997.  The main characters are from the same family, but they are from different generations.  It’s a novel for people who like science-based, thought-provoking, fiction.  The plot focuses on the British government’s efforts at code breaking during World War II. If you are familiar with the movie The Imitation Game, many of the real-life characters in that film appear in this work of fiction.

I recently read Stephenson’s latest novel Seveneves.  In this book, Earth becomes uninhabitable when an unidentified object strikes the moon that bursts into fragments.  These fragments eventually surround and smother the earth.  Humans survive by migrating to “space arks” where they must live for thousands of years.  Through various circumstances, political squabbles, and other unforeseen events, seven women, the seven Eves, are left to re-populate mankind. However, five thousand years later, humans have been discovered still living on earth resulting in complications between those who are earthbound and those who are space- bound.  While this topic has been covered by many other science fiction novels, Stephenson’s book has a unique perspective and it is based on hard scientific facts that make it stand out from the usual “earthlings migrate to space” novels.

Another dystopian novel, with a radically different point of view is Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. It  was a National Book Award Finalist and won the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award.  In this book, the earth is ravaged by a mysterious plague that wipes out much of mankind.  Earth has become a world with no technology – not even electricity.  The story focuses on a group of survivors who are musicians and actors and are called The Traveling Symphony.  They travel from town to town performing works of art from the past.  The book concerns their amazing journey and is full of colorful characters who end up at an abandoned airport called “The Museum.”  There is a villainous “prophet” who provides an interesting plot element.

Thanks to the readers who responded to my first blog post with some suggestions for authors worth considering.  I’m happy to mention Larry Niven, author of The Ringworld series, a classic work of science fiction and Anne McCaffrey, author of the Dragonriders Series and the first woman to win both a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award. Let me know if you have more science fiction or fantasy authors worth noting.


Sci-Fi Favorites

Today’s guest post was written by Harold Kramer.

In this blog post, I’m going to discuss some of my favorite science fiction (sci-fi) books and authors.  If you are interested in sci-fi, a good place to find some of the best science fiction are the Hugo and Nebula Awards. These annual awards constitute a list of outstanding sci-fi literature and drama. They also provide an international platform that showcases both established and new sci-fi authors in a broad range of genres and sub-genres.

Contemporary sci-fi has split into many sub-genres, such as dystopia (think Red Rising), alien invasion  (like Ender’s Game),  cyberpunk (like Neuromancer), and sci-fi/fantasy (Dune, for example).  The common thread, that makes any literary or dramatic work science fiction, is that it deals with scientific topics such as life on other planets, space flight, time travel and life in the future.  In fact, the library has recently merged its sci-fi collection into the fiction collection since it is has become difficult to distinguish “regular” fiction from science fiction.

For starters, here are two of my favorite authors:

Jack McDevitt is a master writer of classic sci fi.  He has been compared to Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, two legendary sci-fi authors. He has been nominated for the Nebula Award sixteen times.  His two ongoing series of novels are the Alex Benedict series and the Academy or “Hutch” (Priscilla Hutchins) series.  Both series have definitive timelines, so you should really start at the beginning of each series. However, each novel can stand on its own.  My favorite Alex Benedict novels are Coming Home and Seeker. Seeker won the 2006 Nebula Award for Best Novel.   Two of my other favorites are his first novel, The Hercules Text a story about mankind’s reaction to receiving an intelligent signal from space, and Omega, a Priscilla Hutchins novel about mysterious energy clouds in space. It was nominated for the Nebula Award in 2004.

Connie Willis is an American writer who has won more Hugo and Nebula awards than any other science fiction author ever.  My favorites books by her are her trilogy of time travel novels.  These include Doomsday Book that is an account of time travel to the 14th Century by a female heroine who is a historian from Oxford University sometime in the late 21st Century. It is moving story of human frailty and courage during a time of great devastation. It’s as much historical fiction as it is sci-fi.  Blackout and its sequel All Clear also feature female historians from Oxford University. These books are detailed, compelling novels about the courage of the British people during World War II.  These novels won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

Let me know about some of your favorite sci-fi authors and novels and I will feature them in future blogs.

Hidden Treasures in the Library Lobby

When you walk into the Cheshire Public Library you enter the main floor lobby. This large area is home to CD’s, DVD’s, Audiobooks, adult fiction, and new books. There are also a variety of displays, the public catalogs, the circulation desk, and the Friends book sale and donation area. Most regular visitors to the library are aware of their favorite areas, and browse those areas comfortably. However, like in the children’s room there are some hidden treasures that often get over looked and deserve some attention.

IMG_3110Science Fiction
I have always been a big fan of science fiction and fantasy, and love helping people discover new authors and series to explore. Unfortunately, most people miss our Science Fiction shelving area entirely. As with our mystery books, they are shelved separately from the rest of the fiction. You can see which area any adult (or children’s) book is shelved in by reading the call number. Adult fiction call numbers will all start with where they are shelved; Fiction, Mystery, or IMG_3116Science Fiction. The mysteries are easy to find, since they are shelved right after the regular fiction. However, the Science Fiction materials are shelved on the wall near the fiction between the audiobooks and classic movies.

Graphic Novels
Graphic novels are not just for children and teens. Take for example the popularity of The Walking Dead. Our selection of graphic novels in the lobby is not huge, but it is high IMG_3111quality and well worth taking a look at. Since it is a fairly small collection it might be easy to over look, but it is not hard to find or to browse if you are interested. The collection is housed on the endcap of the New Biography and Nonfiction shelf, facing the windows and DVD’s. If you like what you see, but are looking for even more graphic novels, do not be afraid to explore the large selection in the Teen’s Room!IMG_3113

Categorized DVD’s
Most regular visitors know where to find the DVD’s they enjoy most, and where our Quick Flick, New, regular, and Blu-Ray movies are each shelved. However, there are a few groups of films that are shelved separately. We have labeled  these disks and changed their call numbers to IMG_3112match these special areas, but infrequent movie borrowers might not know about these little nooks and crannies. Classic movies are labeled with a red Classics label and are shelved on a slat-wall display on the wall by the fiction books. Comedy movies have an orange Comedy label and shelved in the next slat- wall display. On the same wall, in the build in bookcase between those two IMG_3114slat-wall displays, you can find the television show box sets which have a bright pink TV label on them.  If you keep following that wall to the corner you will find the Family Films (with a green label), and in the next bookcase after a window you can find the non-fiction films (classed by number) and the Foreign Films which have a yellow Foreign sticker on them.IMG_3115

Lost And Found
While not a part of our library collection, it is an often asked for and searched for item. Small or valuable items (wallets, phones, jewelry, etc) that have been turned into library staff stay at that service desk for a time and then are tucked away in a safe until claimed. However, items like coats, mittens, notebooks, umbrellas, and so on are kept at the IMG_3117service desk of the area they were found in for a few hours and are then placed in our Lost and Found bin. This is located between the Friend’s donation area and the Audiobook collection.

Do not forget about the variety of ever changing displays. Any of our items that are on these displays can be checked out. If you are still unsure where to find what you are looking for swing by the Circulation desk and we would be glad to help you!

Books for the Clone Club – What to Read After Orphan Black

I recently discovered the BBC America series Orphan Black, somewhat by accident. In my job as Social Media Coordinator at Cheshire Library, I spend a lot of time on various social media networks, where I’d see Orphan Black referenced regularly. The show has a very vocal online fandom, particularly on Twitter and Tumblr, and I guess this is a good example of social media effectively surpassing traditional advertising in getting the word out about something. After the fandom’s outpouring of joy when the show’s lead, Tatiana Maslany, was nominated (finally! they exclaimed) for an Emmy, I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

Luckily we own Seasons One, Two, and Three here at CPL, which allowed me to binge-watch my heart out, and guess what? They got me! It’s a really riveting show that, not being a huge sci-fi fan, I normally wouldn’t have thought to watch. I have joined the masses in my awe of Tatiana Maslany’s “heavy lifting” as an actress, playing multiple clones in each episode and making them all identifiable and unique.

Season Four won’t premiere until sometime in 2016;  where to get our clone fix in the meantime? Fear not, Clone Club, I’ve found a few books to fill the genetically-engineered void until then. Surprisingly, to me anyway, most of these are considered YA (young adult) books, but they stand up to adult reading.  So if you like fiction with a clone-y twist, might I suggest:


1False Sight by Dan Krokos. Resolving to move past the disturbing truths of her clone origins to enjoy time with Peter and her other friends, Miranda is compelled to follow her genetically programmed instincts when a member of her team turns rogue and triggers a humanity-threatening war.


2Project Cain by Geoffrey Girard. Jeff Jacobson learns that not only was he cloned from infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s blood as part of a top-secret government experiment, but there are other clones like him and he is the only one who can track them down before it is too late.


3Partials by Dan Wells. In a post-apocalyptic eastern seaboard ravaged by disease and war with a man made race of people called Partials, the chance at a future rests in the hands of Kira Walker, a sixteen-year-old medic in training


4Falls the Shadow by Stefanie Gaither. When her sister Violet dies, Cate’s wealthy family brings home Violet’s clone who fits in perfectly until Cate uncovers something sinister about the cloning movement.  Murder, morality, and a slow-burning romance fill the pages of this futuristic thriller.


5The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer. This modern classic takes on an iron-fisted drug lord, clones bred for their organs, and what it means to be human. Winner of the National Book Award as well as Newbery and Printz Honors.


7Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Kathy grows up at a peculiar English boarding school called Hailsham, knowing that she and her classmates are “donors,” clones raised for organ harvesting. Kathy has deferred her fate by becoming a caregiver for dying clones, including her close childhood friends Ruth and Tommy. This award-winning novel straddles the YA and Adult Fiction genres, and takes the reader on a real emotional journey.

The Martian is Coming!

martiAll I can say is


I have not read a book this gripping in ages. Oh, sure, I adore the Retribution Falls series by Chris Wooding, they are delightful and make my heart sing, but in The Martian, Andy Weir has managed to catch me in my weakest spot, a tale that feeds both my need for a good imagine-if story and lovingly nerdy details that set my non-fiction scientific brain on fire. I got to the end, and I wanted to read it all over again.

Very rarely do I seek a book out. They just happen to come to me in weird ways and tickle my interest enough that I open the cover (and covers are so VERY important. If it wasn’t for the fantastic artwork on the original Dragonlance books, I never would have entered a world that kept me trapped for more than ten years and ultimately sent to me to Lord of the Rings, which, really, is the Great-Granddaddy of the genre anyway). This time, I saw the trailer for the upcoming movie version of The Martian (release date: October 2, 2015), and was intrigued enough that when the book passed through my hands, I grabbed it.

Mark Watney is a crewman on the third manned mission to Mars. When a dust storm hits the crew on their way back to the lander, a piece of equipment snaps off and skewers his spacesuit, sending him reeling down a dune. His crew searches, but can’t locate him in the storm. His vital signs aren’t registering, and they all saw him toothpicked by that antenna. At the last possible second, they admit to themselves he’s dead and blast off to the mother ship while they can.

Only one problem.

He’s not dead.MV5BMTcwMjI2NzM2MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDkyNTI5NTE@._V1_SX214_AL_

The story revolves around Watney’s ability to survive the impossible, figuring things out as he goes, making everything out of the most basic substances, James T. Kirk channeling MacGyver. Because the supplies left behind were meant for six and he’s only one, he’s able to piece things along using his own ingenuity until NASA realizes he’s still alive. They try and mount a rescue mission, but NASA being NASA and twisted up in bureaucracy and safety margins, not everything is going to go by plan. The chances of Watney making it or not remain 50-50 right up until the final pages. This is a book that will make you sneak off every possible second to read just one more paragraph. From the first page, it will grab you and never let you go. By the end, you’re going to be looking around your house to see if you, too, have anything that can free oxygen or create water, and you will never look at potatoes the same way.

Knowing that in the film Matt Damon has the lead role of Watney makes you read the story in his voice. He is a brilliant piece of casting; the book seems written for him and he will be utterly convincing in the role. Check out the trailer here: . Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise) is directing, and he is certainly adept at handling suspense. I’m waiting to see what they do with the soundtrack, since it’s a running joke through the book that the only music that was left behind is disco (can you imagine being stuck somewhere for months or years with nothing but a few tracks of disco to listen to? I love the Saturday Night Fever album, and I do love ABBA, but not for weeks on end!).

You don’t have to know science to enjoy the book. You don’t even have to know your Phobos from your Deimos. You just have to love a good pressure-cooker story. Don’t let this one skip your orbit.

Andy Weir, I love you.

Mars surface close to equator

Mars surface close to equator