Posts filed under ‘Science Fiction’

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

Pub Date: Dec. 2009

Fiction (Adult)

400 pgs.

The title may sound…familiar.  It may even seem like you can’t pick up a magazine, turn on the TV or get a good book recommendation lately without hearing about it. And with good reason.  Shades of Grey is the wonderfully clever, inventive new novel from Jasper Fforde, author of the beloved “Thursday Next” literary fantasy series.  I assure you, you’ve come to the right book.

In Britain more than 500 years in the future–centuries after the ominous-yet-vaguely-titled “Something That Happened”–the world has become a Colortocracy, its hierarchy based on the amount of pure color perception one has.   Our narrator, Eddie Russett, is a Red.  Reds happen to be the second-lowest color on the totem pole, above only Greys, who have no or very little color perception at all.  Nonetheless, Eddie cheerfully accepts his lot in life, following the ridiculous Rules laid out by “Munsell” centuries before, and planning his marriage to Constance, a union that will guarantee Eddie a lifetime of cushy complacency.

But then Eddie and his father are unexpectedly sent to the Outer Fringes, ostensibly to conduct a “chair census,” and Eddie meets a feisty, disagreeable Grey named Jane.   Eddie is instantly smitten.  Jane, less so.  Soon, Eddie finds his worldviews challenged and his eyes opened to a vibrant underground network of Grey dissidents and other like-minded radicals.  Eddie finds himself in love with Jane, although she attempts to kill him, multiple times, and even ends up pitching him into the mouth-hole of a carnivorous tree.  How does that turn out for Eddie? You’ll have to read on to find out.

This book blew my mind.  It’s the only book I have ever felt compelled to read twice in a row, in two different formats.  First, I listened to the audiobook version–it’s a treat on audio, voiced with acerbic perfection by John Lee, a renowned British voice actor.  I enjoyed the audio immensely but felt like I was missing something, and immediately obtained the print version after the audio was over.  I’m so glad I did.  The audiobook whet my appetite, but this is a book that can really be savored in print–Fforde adds so many absurdist touches and clever details that I got so much more out of it the second time.  Also, some may fear dystopian novels like Shades of Grey to be too dreary or heavy-handed—but then, they haven’t read Fforde.   Shades of Grey manages to be satirical, absurd, serious, insightful and extremely funny all at once.

So go on, pick up Shades of Grey, and see what everyone’s talking about.  And then tell all your friends–you’ll be glad you did.



August 31, 2012 at 3:20 pm 1 comment

Love The Hunger Games? Try these!

Although it was published nearly 4 years ago, Suzanne Collins’ young adult dystopian bestseller, The Hunger Games, and its subsequent sequels, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, remain as popular as ever.  Due in part to the release of the cinematic version of The Hunger Games earlier this year, The Hunger Games Trilogy is the hottest series of the year.  What to do if you’re on the waiting list for the books, but they haven’t come in for you yet? What about if you’ve read the books and are looking for the next great action-packed series with similar themes? Never fear, we have compiled a list of read-alikes for Suzanne Collins’ blockbuster series. Enjoy!

P.S…..Don’t forget to check out our Dystopian Reads display this month!

First, Becky recommends….

Books of Ember series by Jeanne DuPrau

The Books of Ember are my go-to series to recommend for middle-schoolers or above.  Like The Hunger Games, the Books of Ember (The City of Ember, The People of Sparks, The Prophet of Yonwood,  and The Diamond of Darkhold) deal with a dystopian world where residents live underground and have never seen natural light.  If you like fast-paced and compelling science fiction, check out this series suitable for age 11 to adult.

Feed by M.T. Anderson

Imagine your Facebook newsfeed literally wired to your brain, floating inside your line of vision all the time. Teenage Titus lives in a future world where tiny computer chips release feeds of constantly updating news, information and advertising directly into peoples’ brains.  Then Titus meets Violet, an intelligent home-schooled girl without a feed who thinks for herself.  Bitterly brilliant, cutting and right on the money, M.T. Anderson’s Feed is one of those books that almost hits too close to home, predicting a not-too-distant future that seems disturbingly possible.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

L’Engle’s classic sci-fi tale is one of my favorite books of all time.  Meg Murray, a smart but unhappy misfit who feels she doesn’t measure up to her brilliant scientist parents, must travel to a distant world to save her long-lost father.  L’Engle’s characters are unforgettable, and fans of Katniss will appreciate the similarly strong-willed Meg.

More Hunger Games Trilogy Readalikes (compiled from NoveList)

Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld

Reason:  Fans of vividly imagined, dystopian future societies, ugly secrets, and high-octane action will be well pleased with either of these hugely popular science-fiction series. — Ellen Foreman, NoveList

Seven Kingdoms trilogy by Kristin Cashore

Reason:  While the Seven Kingdoms trilogy is fantasy and the Hunger Games books are science fiction, readers who love independent heroines, political intrigue, romantic tension, and compelling writing will devour either of these stirring series full of action and adventure. — Ellen Foreman, NoveList

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Reason:  Strong female heroines must literally fight to survive in these gritty, action-packed, and fast-paced dystopian stories, both of which make room for romance and other complicated relationships amid the ratcheting violence and suspense. — Jennifer Stubben Hatch, NoveList

July 24, 2012 at 8:53 pm Leave a comment

Star Wars: The Old Republic: Fatal Alliance by Sean Williams

Pub date: July 2010

Science-Fiction (Adult)

417 pgs.

If you’re at all interested in Star Wars or videos games, you probably know that the much-anticipated online role-playing game, Star Wars: The Old  Republic, was just released.  Fatal Alliance is a tie-in novel to this game, the first of a series of three, with a fourth set to be released in fall 2012.  Don’t be discouraged if you haven’t heard of The Old Republic.  You don’t need to know anything about it in order to enjoy the novel, but you should have at least a basic knowledge of the Star Wars universe.

Fatal Alliance is set in the Old Republic era, thousands of years before any of the films took place.  The story begins on the Auriga Fire, where captain Jet Nebula has just encountered a mysterious ship in Wild Space.  When he attempts to contact the ship, warning that his crew is preparing to board them, the ship responds “we do not recognize your authority” and proceeds to blow itself up.  The Auriga Fire just manages to escape, thanks to Jet’s quick reflexes.

The strange ship wasn’t entirely destroyed, however.  A couple of remains end up in the hands of the Hutts, who decide to hold an auction, knowing that these objects’ value will attract bidders from both Empire and Republic alike.  Meeting at the auction are a Jedi Padawan who is trying to prove himself ready for knighthood, a Republic Trooper who was kicked out of her squadron, an Imperial spy who would much rather stay in the shadows and out of the action, and a Sith apprentice, ruthless and full of hatred for the master who sent her.  A botched robbery attempt soon reveals the true nature of the auctioned objects, and everyone on all sides find themselves fighting for their lives.  A threat is revealed that is far too powerful for either Empire or Republic to face alone, and they begin to realize that they must fight together to save the galaxy.

If you’re looking for a book full of intense sci-fi action scenes, look no further, because this one delivers.  It was definitely un-put-downable at moments.  I’ve heard some criticize it for having shallow characterization, but I don’t think I would entirely agree.  While some fringe characters could use some fleshing-out, I thought the main characters were all pretty well-written.  I could recognize the Jedi’s feelings of failure and his lack of self-confidence.  I enjoyed seeing the directionless and lonely Republic Trooper find a place for herself both in battle and among friends.  I also have to praise the book for having some great, well-rounded female characters, which can be rare in the science-fiction genre.

This book’s aim was to get the reader excited about the video game, and interested in this period of Star Wars history.  In that, the author certainly succeeded.  If the plotlines of the game are half as exciting as this novel, I’ll gladly join in.


December 20, 2011 at 3:21 pm Leave a comment

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Pub Date: September 2003

Fiction (Adult)

547 pgs.

What a book. Audrey Niffenegger’s debut novel is a genre-busting masterpiece.  At its core this is a love story between two people: Clare, an artist, and Henry, an academic librarian.  The thing is, Henry was born with a certain condition: he is “chronically displaced from time.” Simply put, he time travels.  He might be cooking dinner in his apartment one night in 1997, and in a flash, find himself back in his childhood bedroom in 1967, watching himself–as a toddler–sleep. These flashes happen to Henry all the time, and they are beyond his control. It is not uncommon for Clare to ask her husband, after he materializes in their living room after several hours away, “When were you?”

Henry and Clare’s relationship is exactly like a Mobius strip–it literally has no beginning and no ending.  Ever since Clare was a little girl, a man named Henry has been appearing to her in a field near her house. They become friends, and the child Clare accepts Henry’s time-traveling explanation.  Gradually Clare begins to realize the meaning of their relationship. Then when they meet in the Newberry Library, Henry’s place of employment, after a couple of years with no contact, Clare is overjoyed to see her long-lost love. But Henry has no idea who she is.  He is meeting her for the very first time. It is only after their inevitable marriage that Henry starts traveling back in time to visit the young Clare.

This is a superb love story, and a superb sci-fi novel, that touches on many concepts–the ideas of fate and free will being foremost among them.  The characters, particularly of Henry and Clare but also of their many close friends and relatives, were well-developed, honest, interesting, unique, flawed people. What really impressed me about this book was how intricate it is–Niffenegger handles her complicated timeline with grace. She raises many questions, and searching for the answers proves to be a delicious process.

I have to say, this is the best book I have read in a long time.  It’s a meaty book, too, over 500 pages in paperback—but unfortunately even long books must end some time! I wish I could travel back to right before I started this book, and savor the journey all over again.

March 13, 2010 at 9:02 pm Leave a comment

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

the-year-of-the-floodPub Date: September 2009

Fiction (Adult)

448 pgs.

Margaret Atwood has done it again with her meaty, thought-provoking and incredibly compelling new novel, The Year of the Flood.  Related to her 2003 novel Oryx and Crake (although it is not a sequel, and it can certainly be read as a stand-alone novel), Flood features some of the same characters, as Atwood develops the back stories of both major and minor Oryx characters.  Flood ends in approximately the same spot as the earlier book, although Atwood has taken an entirely different route to get us there.

I enjoyed Oryx, although I ultimately found it quite depressing, and it took me a little while to get through.  Devouring Flood in a single weekend, however, I found that it was resonating with me more than its predecessor. Perhaps because I found the characters more interesting, or perhaps because the situation portrayed in this novel is even closer to reality than it was six years ago, when Oryx was released. As Atwood herself stated in an interview,

“When Oryx and Crake came out, it seemed to many like science fiction–way out there, too weird to be possible–but in the three years that passed before I began writing The Year of the Flood, the perceived gap between that supposedly unreal future and the harsh one we might very well live through was narrowing fast. What is happening to our world? What can we do to reverse the damage? How long have we got? And, most importantly–what kind of “we”?”

Atwood is a storyteller first and foremost, and in The Year of the Flood we are introduced to two former members of an ecologically aware organization, called God’s Gardeners, that melds science and religion. The Gardners preach non-violence, resourcefulness and respect for all living things, but are dismissed by others as a “greenie cult.” Toby is a longtime member-turned-health spa worker, and Ren is a young exotic dancer.  The “Waterless Flood”–a deadly plague foretold by the Gardners–has arrived, destroying most of the human life.  Toby, Ren and other survivors must find each other in the aftermath of this disaster, and Atwood takes us along as they explore their present and remember their pasts.

Atwood’s frequently disturbing subject matter may be off-putting to some, but she is such a fantastic writer that I urge you to pick up this or another one of her books, and to let yourself into her dark, beautiful worlds. This book will make you think.  It will grab you and not let go.

October 16, 2009 at 3:13 pm 1 comment

Featured Genre Friday: Science Fiction

Usually I’m a girl based firmly in reality.  But, really, who can resist the pull of a good science fiction novel? It’s where to head if you want your normal world skewed just a little bit.

kindred-25th Kindred by Octavia Butler / Pub Date: 1979 / 264 pgs.

This novel by the late, great Octavia Butler, deals with many themes: racism, slavery, feminism, time travel. Dana, a thoroughly modern 1970s woman, is inexplicably sent back in time and finds herself deposited on a white slave owner’s farm. She is there for a moment, then returns to the present day. But it starts to happen again and again.  Realization begins to sink in for Dana–first, that she appears whenever a white little boy, Rufus, is in danger, and second, that Rufus is actually her ancestor, and the black child he will eventually sire will become her own grandmother. However, Dana knows that not continuing to save Rufus’s life means jeopardizing her own birth.  Powerful, harrowing book.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro / Pub Date: Mar. 2006 / 304 pgs. neverletmego

It is hard to talk about how good this novel is without giving away too much of the sublimely written, beautiful, calm yet undeniably creepy story.  Kathy, in her early 30’s,  is an alumna of an elite boarding school in Britain’s countryside. But the school has a special purpose and the students are of…unexpected origin. The students themselves are “told but not told” what is really going on, and it is the same for the reader as Ishiguro subtly and masterfully reveals meaning. Go into it blind, but with an open mind. Never Let Me Go is the Topsfield Town Library Book Club pick for November, so you have two months, but if you crack open the cover you will finish it in a day.

swiftly tilting A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle / Pub Date: 1978 / 224 pgs.

This is one of the sequels to A Wrinkle In Time.  However, I think it does quite nicely as a stand-alone title.  I must mention that this is one of my favorite series of all time, and I usually never enjoy fantasy, and this has such fantastical elements to it. (Unicorns! Strange planets!) But the books blow my mind.  In Planet, the world is on the brink of a nuclear war and the family of Meg Murray, the heroine of Wrinkle, have the power to stop it. Meg must help her brilliant baby brother Charles Wallace, now 15, travel back in time with the help of a unicorn to unravel the events that have brought the world to this place.  It is such a layered story that can be enjoyed on so many levels, for adults and young adults alike.

oryxOryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood / Pub Date: May 2003

Oryx and Crake is a dystopian tale set years in the future after climate change and technological downfall have rendered the world unliveable.  The post-apocolyptic trio of Snowman (“a man once known as Jimmy”), his childhood best friend Crake (so-called because it was once his handle in a multiplayer online game), and Oryx,  a Southeast Asian prostitute who first meets the men as a child, is a love triangle for the ages.  Not a “nice” story by any means, it is disturbing and depressing, but a fine book in the tradition of Huxley, Orwell, or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

September 25, 2009 at 8:41 pm Leave a comment

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