Blogs: Science fiction/Fantasy

The Water Knife book jacketI’ve been thinking a lot about climate change lately. It isn’t surprising, I suppose. After all, it was a very dry winter and spring here followed by one of the hottest summers in Portland history. What sparked these thoughts, however, wasn’t the weather but a book, The Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi. The novel is set in a near future Phoenix where prolonged drought has left the American Southwest a place where states compete for what little water remains and refugees from climate disasters in Texas eke out a bare existence. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great book and I highly recommend it, but you need to start it knowing a few facts: the story is dark; and it’s brutally violent; and it’s all too plausible.

It isn’t like I’m a newcomer to apocalyptic stories. As one of my earlier reading lists will attest, I grew up in the 1980s convinced the world would end in a nuclear holocaust. I’ve reveled in apocalypses from a variety of causes, comet impacts, plagues, alien invasions, you name it, but this one has bothered me more than others. It isn’t even like this is the first Paolo Bacigalupi novel I read in which climate change is a major point. So why has this one stayed with me? I think I’ve figured it out, at least in part. First, not only did I grow up in Arizona and Texas but I still have friends and family in both places. Thus what Bacigalupi describes has a certain familiarity. Also, while it has been around for a long time, there have been an increasing number of books in this cli-fi (climate fiction) genre. Most disturbing, though, is the fact that the book seems more and more prescient. Many scientists are saying that the worst-case scenarios of climate change are not only increasingly likely but will occur much faster than expected. In other words, The Water Knife has shown me the future and it scares me.

While some people think the new cli-fi could be beneficial and lead to positive change, I’m going to have to take a break from this sub-genre and other dystopias for a while. It has been like a cloud hanging over me for weeks now and I’m in need of some sunshine. Maybe you can suggest a book that will brighten my day? I could really use something with a hopeful ending.

For more cli-fi, check out this list.

Seveneves book jacketWhen they announce they end of the world, they’ll do it at Crater Lake. Or at least that’s how Seattle author Neal Stephenson envisions it in his hefty new hard SF tome, Seveneves.  So how is the world ending this time? When the Moon explodes due to some unknown force, it’s shocking at first, but quickly becomes an astronomical edutainment show. The pieces are even given cutesy names such as Potatohead and Mr. Spinny. But then two fragments collide and become three, and three become four. Astronomers start running simulations and discover that life on earth is going to come to an end in about two years’ time. The continued fragmentation will create a massive debris cloud called the White Sky and a catastrophic meteor storm dubbed the Hard Rain (perhaps after this appropriately dire and prophetic Bob Dylan song?).  After this, Earth will be a flaming ember for at least 5,000 years. S’mores, anyone?

Our heroes are the astronauts of the International Space Station, who must transform it into a self-sustaining habitat capable of supporting as many people as can be launched off the ground during the two years before the Hard Rain. These launches are hasty and kludgey… (although I kind of enjoyed it when a Walla Walla vineyard got taken out by an errant rocket). Yes, there’s a lot of engineering and orbital mechanics involved, but this is a tense, sad, and harrowing read, and I couldn’t put it down. Later some humor surfaces, and the story is not without a glint of far-future hope, but the beginning is just wrenching. If you like (or at least don’t mind) your nail-biting human drama salted with delta vees, mass ratios, and Tsiolkovskii equations, this is the book for you.

dog and jim butcher book


Thanks to a colleague's enthusiastic recommendation of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Filesmy summer reading is all set

However, all good things must come to an end(or at least until a new book in the series comes out…) and the hunt for the ever elusive "next book" begins.




If you are looking for your next book, check out a few of the many ways you can discover them through Multnomah County Library

Don't forget that you can always ask any of us on the My Librarian team for a personalized recommendation!

Take a look around! While you do that,  I'll be hunkered down with Stella and Chicago's best wizard for hire...




The characters of fantasy novels are so often great warriors or mighty magic users (aside from the hobbits of course!) .  Special people marked for greatness.  Somebody Important! What about the rest of us?  How about a book about a miller's daughter in a humble colony village?  Or a teenage prostitute? 
A Turn of Light book jacketA Turn of Light by Julie E Czerneda is about Jenn, a miller's daughter in an isolated frontier community.  Jenn dreams of a wider world that she can never see and as her birthday marking adulthood approaches she is in many ways still a child. Though nearly an adult and with her father suggesting marriage, Jenn is still running off to pick flowers in the meadow and dodging her chores.  Jenn has always had an invisible protector that only spoke to her.  A careless wish of hers one day turns him into a man.Karen Memory book jacket
In Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear,  Karen Memery ("like 'memory' only spelt with an e"), a teenage "seamstress" at Madame Damnable's Hôtel Mon Cherie in Rapid City (reminiscent of a gold rush era Seattle) is making the best of things...  Her world is full of steam powered marvels that can do wondrous things and steam powered terrors as well.  Karen is well treated where she is and knows most girls in her trade have it much, much worse.  Sensible sort that she is, she is putting every coin she can aside as a girl can't "sew" forever.  Once she had a mother and father and a good life helping them gentle horses.  Then death claimed them both too soon.  She had no higher hope than setting aside enough silver to buy a little bit of land and a couple of promising horses to train and sell, but she can't turn aside when a badly brutalized girl is found near the establishment she works at.
And now I'm going back to lords and heroes with the new book by Stina Leicht: Cold Iron. I always enjoy finding a new author to try.  Maybe
it'll be great!

Leviathan Wakes book jacketLeviathan Wakes is the first book in the Expanse series by James S. A. Corey (a pen name for for co-writers Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham).  If you prefer to watch instead, it is currently being produced as a 10 episode series for the SyFy channel. My husband wanted to read the book before seeing the show so he started in on it.  After about a third of the book, he insisted I also had to read it before watching the show. He wasn't too far into the second book when he asked for the third.

In this universe, set a few hundred years in the future, humanity has managed to colonize the solar system but hasn't yet reached the stars. The crew of a small ice hauler responds to a distress signal, and it all goes horribly, horribly wrong from there. Earth groans under the weight of 30 billion hungry mouths and doesn't get along with Mars or Luna.  Those three all look down on the 50 to 100 million Belters living on asteroids in the outer solar system. The Belters live a hardscrabble life taxed into poverty by the inner system and resent the folks born into a gravity well. When the ice haulers point the finger at Mars for the death of the ship, they find that things get ugly very, very fast.  The more sensible scramble to keep systemwide war from breaking out but the rest just add to the chaos. Remember, you don't need bombs if you can just push a big rock down a gravity well, so the wiser heads are terrified of humanity wiping itself out.

Once I got my turn with book one, I found this to be an action-packed title that alternates between two main characters who feel like believable men.  You see a great deal of the life in the "Belt" and it's a rough place.  Mistakes very quickly equal dead and the justice is quite frontier in style. Pretty much any consensual vice you can imagine appears to be legal but nobody bats an eye that an engineer that neglected some life support systems fell out of an airlock with some pretty terrible injuries. The science part of the science fiction does have a great deal of "handwavium", but it feels real.  The reader is given little details like how many years it took to put a stable spin on a larger asteroid so it would have some gravity for the inhabitants.Firefly dvd cover

I think that the setting and flavor of Leviathan Wakes would appeal to anyone who has the good taste to have loved Firefly.  It’s nice to see a new set of “big damn heroes”! I don't know that I hold out the greatest of hopes for the tv. show being as good as the books, but if they stick to the exciting story and interesting characters there's hope!  Even the tv show turns out to be awful, the books are well worth reading if you like space-set science fiction at all.

Do you love urban fantasy? I do. I love that the stories are set in the real world with an action paced plots and supernatural beings. I connect better with a story if it’s set in our modern world. And if there is humourous dialogue-you’ve got me. I become a devoted fan!

Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles series is at times so funny I can laugh for a full five minutes about a scene. The stories are pageturners with a mix of supernatural beings that are Nordic, Celtic, Native American, Roman or Greek gods. There are vampires, witches, and werewolves thrown in too.

The Iron Druid is Atticus Sullivan who lives in Tempe Arizona with his Irish Wolfhound, Oberon when we first meet him in book one Hounded. The fact that the story is set in Tempe Arizona makes me giggle. Because then it is a nod to sunny noir.

The humor I love best in the series is in the discussions between Oberon and Atticus. There’s comic relief and diversion when Oberon and Atticus discuss snacks like sausage when they are worried about an upcoming battle. If you like your supernatural action story with a side of humor then you might love Iron Druid Chronicles series. I do.

off to be the wizard coverHey Mister Fantasy. Keep it light okay?

Reading fantasy can be a daunting task. Epic series, characters with hard to pronounce names, and sprawling universes add up to a challenging read for those with less than the average attention span.  However, these things shouldn’t stop anyone from entering the realm of the imagined unreal. Fantasy has a lighter side.

Scott Meyer’s Off to be the Wizard continues the tradition of Douglas Adams, Terry Brooks, and echoes themes of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

Martin Banks is an average fellow, who happens upon a computer file that literally changes everything.  As he embraces his new found “magic”, the authorities discover a few things askew forcing him to flee. His landing pad? The middle ages. However, he quickly finds that life as a fledgling wizard isn’t so easy in the big hamlet…

Flash Gordon movie posterYou know that one movie. Maybe you’ve loved this movie since you were a kid, so your love for the movie is based in part on a sense of nostalgia as well as the movie’s inherent awesomeness. That movie that you’ve seen dozens of times because anytime a friend says they haven’t seen it, you insist that they watch it with you.
For me that movie is the 1980 cult classic Flash Gordon. And yes, if you haven’t yet experienced the splendor that is Flash Gordon, I recommend that you make it your #1 movie watching priority. Based on the comic strip of the same name, Flash Gordon is over-the-top campy science fiction at its finest.
The movie opens with football star “Flash” Gordon and travel journalist Dale Arden boarding a small plane. During the flight red clouds suddenly block out the sun, and the pilots disappear. Of course this is all the work of Emperor Ming the Merciless who has declared that he will have a little fun with planet Earth before he destroys it. Flash and Dale crash land the plane into mad scientist Dr. Hans Zarkov’s greenhouse. Zarkov has built a rocketship that he tricks Flash and Dale into boarding, and with one quick scuffle and an accidental push of the launch button the trio are off to planet Mongo, home of Ming the Merciless. 
Flash Gordon’s wacky plot  isn’t the only thing that makes it a must watch movie. What also makes it such a cult favorite are the opulent costumes, the color saturated set, and the hilarious special effects. But wait, the topping on this decadent campy sci-fi cupcake...the soundtrack, composed and performed by Queen!  

Call out to all you Conspiracy Theorists (yes, all y'all on the down low too). Here's a great follow-up to Santa Olivia by Jacquelyn Carey.

Glitched haptics. The klept. Homunculus parties. Disoriented yet? Like that feeling? If so, you should read The Peripheral, the new novel by William Gibson. Known in the past for cyberpunk, near-futurism, and epic,city-destroying battles with Neal Stephenson, here he tries his hand at that most tricky SF device: time travel. Or at least, something close to that.  Fear not - this is no stereotypical yarn: no one becomes his own grandpa, and no attempts to kill Hitler go horribly awry. And it’s even slyly humorous, if you pay attention (I loved the awkwardly romantic telepresence via Wheelie Boy… you’ll see).

The Peripheral book jacketFlynne Fisher lives in the near future, somewhere in the south in a house without running water. She makes a living playing video games for hire or doing shifts down at the 3D printing fab. Wilf Netherton is a publicist in London sometime after a mysterious event known as “The Jackpot” has occurred. In his time, genetic modification is rampant, nanobots scurry everywhere, and you can control live bodies with your mind. When Flynne covers a gaming shift for her brother (a former soldier suffering from the aformentioned glitched haptics) she sees something she shouldn’t have, something that will threaten her life and cause these two worlds to become forever entangled.

We’re talking neutron star density of the new here… It’s heady stuff, bewildering and alien at first, but that’s part of the pleasure. And yet, the more things change… well, you know what they say. Artspeak is just as cipherlike and nonsensical in the future as today, publicists are still hapless and gutless (sorry Wilf!), tattoos are still a thing, and unfortunately for most of us, the rich are still getting richer, a grim reality that even those in future can’t escape.

For more cyber thrillers and biotech chillers, try this list.



Subscribe to