Tag Archives: science fiction

#2. The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

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The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey is a fascinating take on the zombie/end-of-the-world story. It is a science-fiction infusion of survival, drama, terror, and melancholy that works on many different levels as it is experienced at points by very different people: soldiers, scientists, teachers…and Melanie.

Melanie is a very special student in a classroom located at a secure military encampment far outside of London. Restrained each morning at gunpoint and wheeled to class, Melanie learns advanced calculus, Greek mythology, and the geography of a world which she is starting to suspect no longer exists. She’s glad to be safe at the base, away from a horrible plague that wiped out most of society, but unsettling questions are creeping into her mind. Is this how every child goes to school? What happened to her parents, the parents of her classmates? And why does her favorite teacher, Miss Justineau, look so very sad whenever Melanie talks to her about these things?

This is a thrilling, emotional book. I would recommend it to anyone; you’ll probably find yourself somewhere in one (or several) of the people as they scramble to survive in a world that may very well have hit its carrying capacity for life as we know it.

Rating: 5 out of 5 canteens of filtered water from a hidden supply cache. 

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2015 Spring Round-Up

Happy June, all you readerly types!

Spring just flew right on by, didn’t it? I am happy to say that while :ahem: enjoying bountiful spring showers and helping my preschoolers wrap up their year, I did manage to get a few books read. Here is the 2015 Spring Round-Up for Earl Grey and a Million Words.

#2. Yes Please by Amy Poehler

yes-please-9781447283287This was a fun read! I have enjoyed Amy Poehler’s work since Upright Citizen’s Brigade somehow made its way onto Comedy Central in the late ’90s. Though I didn’t always understand the performance art vibe of the quirky sketch show, I liked the brazen energy of that little blond woman. This book acts as a scrapbook of her childhood, the formation of her career, the heartache of divorce, and the joy she finds in her sons and her deep friendships with other funny women. The section devoted to Parks and Rec made me predictably weepy, and her reflections on motherhood are sincerely charming. I especially appreciate how much she focuses on embracing joy in life and being kind. It feels so genuine, and reappears constantly as she describes crummy jobs and meeting big-time celebs on SNL. Through the highs and the lows, be kind to your heart. Laugh a lot. Help when you can. It’s all great advice.

Yes Please is an excellent autobiography; I am only sad that I didn’t wait and purchase this one on audiobook. She reads the book herself, and I can only imagine it’s a riot.

Caffeinated Accompaniment: Amy declares in her book that she drinks tea instead of coffee, as it has always been the beverage she drinks with her Bostonian mother while they chat. In this spirit, I recommend Paris Tea by Harney and Sons: a bright, fruity black tea with dreamy vanilla tones.

#3. The Martian by Andy Weir

martianI had read about this book on a Best of the Year list somewhere, so I picked it up in paperback toward the end of March. I won’t lie: this took me a long time to read. It’s a fantastic sci-fi survival story, but it focuses intently on very real science. It was the most frustrating part of the book for me — as I am not the most tech-minded person out there — but also the thing I admired most about it. Weir took real-life space travel protocol and extrapolated it out into a very readable, suspenseful book. It became a bestseller overnight for good reason. Hell, there’s even a movie adaption:

If you don’t mind reading page after page of water condensation logs and satellite trajectories, you will be rewarded with plenty of laugh-out-loud gallows humor provided by our protagonist Mark Watney. He’s stranded on Mars after a freak accident during a sandstorm, but he’s not ready to throw in the towel just yet. His tenacity is impressive, though perhaps misplaced: the terrain is unforgiving, the supplies are low, and Mark has an unfortunate gift for making things explode. Armed with botany skills and an annoyingly vast array of 1970s music and TV shows left behind by his crew mates, Mark tries his damnedest to stay alive long enough to get rescued. That is, if anyone ever realizes he’s still up there.

I would definitely recommend this one. It opened me up to the world of hard sci-fi, and I am excited to see what they do with the film.

Caffeinated Accompaniment: For the truly brave of heart, you could do as Watney does and enjoy some Martian coffee: a caffeine pill dissolved in water.

#4. Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

CBJccHTUYAATN2cI love this book! I’ll say that again: I LOVE THIS BOOK! This was a spot-on recommendation from a friend of mine who knows I enjoy horror stories. The book itself is formatted like an Ikea catalogue, with glossy, wide pages, order forms & advertisements, and chapter headings resembling product descriptions. This book manages to combine the soul-sucking nature of retail work with the chilling ambiance of a haunted house. Imagine, if you will, a haunted house. Now imagine a superstore that resembles a gigantic house. Think ghosts can live there?

They totally can.

At the Cuyahoga branch of Orsk, an unabashed copycat of Ikea, the workers are starting to notice some strange things. Gross smells, misplaced furniture, water stains, and creepy scrawling notes in the bathrooms are becoming too prevalent to ignore. One night, some of them stay behind to figure out what’s really going on when the store closes. They’re in for far more than affordable living room sets and knockoff Swedish cabinetry.

I started this book on a road trip to Iowa and completed it by the time we settled into our hotel. The action moves quickly, even before any of the hapless employees realize the sinister nature of the Orsk building. It’s a unique setup for a horror story and is filled with characters you root for as they try to figure out a way to escape their horrifying ordeal.

Caffeinated Accompaniment: If you’re anything like our disgruntled retail saleswoman Amy, reluctant protagonist, you’ll opt for a refillable styrofoam cup of gas station coffee. If you’re more like me, you’ll raise a delicious (though slightly overpriced) cup of Starbucks in honor of this consumerist nightmare.

#5. Feed by Mira Grant

feedFeed is a dystopian horror story set in 2040, one generation after The Rising. The Rising refers to the fateful outbreak of Kellis-Amberlee, a virus which turns humans into zombies. We view this world through the eyes of Georgia Mason, voracious Newsie in this frightening place. She works with her brother Shawn and their partner Buffy as they try to make a name for themselves in the highly competitive blogosphere. In this future, blogging has become a more credible news source than mainstream outlets, as most network news stations refused to report on the Kellis-Amberlee virus when it first struck. In a life-changing development in their journalistic careers, Georgia, Shawn, and Buffy win a spot following the presidential campaign of a Midwestern senator and hit the road with his whole political team. But politicking after The Rising is a lot different than it used to be: zombie animals, frightened communities barricaded behind chain link fences, constant blood tests, and security sabotages make the campaign trail a potentially deadly place. In the face of viral outbreaks and political backstabbing, Georgia is determined to deliver the news…no matter the cost.

This was an interesting read, but I didn’t find myself as invested in the story as I had hoped. I will say, the world-building is phenomenal. It’s filled with detailed descriptions of daily life, public policy, transportation procedures, and security features in a world where zombies are just a normal part of the everyday. I really enjoyed that aspect of the book. The main characters, however, did not feel as real to me as the world they inhabited. Georgia is a no-nonsense, high-stakes news reporter from the first page, but her initial motivation is never terribly clear to me. She rants about the power of the truth extensively and has a reputation for being a newshound, but most of the blog excerpts we read are not actually news stories. They are opinion-laden editorials about why she likes reporting the news so damn much!

About halfway in, when the plot thickened and the team was threatened from every possible direction, I was already kind of burned out on Georgia’s truth and justice monologues. I think if her news obsession had been portrayed as more of a growing realization that the search for truth was deeper and different than she had imagined it would be, if there had been some hint of naïveté at the beginning, I think I would have been able to relate to her better. As she is, she is a very strong lead character. She’s just flat.

The other characters feel equally flat, except maybe Buffy. She’s introduced as a sort of in-her-own-world boho figure, writing fiction for the site and never stepping into any zombie hot zones. As the novel progresses, we also learn she’s incredibly skilled in computer programming and creating secret bugging devices, as well as being devoutly religious on the down-low. She’s an interesting character, though unfortunately we don’t see as much of her as we do Georgia and Shawn. Also, just as a side note, Georgia and Shawn’s relationship is very awkward to me. They joke about their codependency, but it does little to lighten the feeling that their togetherness is excessive. Having a sibling myself, I couldn’t 100% get behind their repeated declarations of love for each other. Maybe if I lived in a world overrun with zombies, I would feel differently about it.

I recommend this one if you are interested in zombie stories, but otherwise it didn’t resonate too strongly with me. I might eventually read the others in this trilogy, but I’m still unsure.

Caffeinated Accompaniment: Even in this screwed-up version of the future of America, there’s still Starbucks. So treat yourself to a Vanilla Creme Frappuccino and watch the world end.

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#13. Ur by Stephen King

Last weekend, we drove down to Dallas. One of my best friends from college and her husband moved down there this past year, putting them only 3 hours away from Oklahoma City. It was an excellent visit — a brewery, an Asian art collection, the art museum, a walk around the cool & eclectic arts district, and a very intense game of Scrabble.

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Christmas Market in the Bishop Arts District, where our friends live.

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Fashion exhibit at The Crow Collection of Asian Art.

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Samurai exhibit at The Crow Collection of Asian Art.

You might be wondering what a weekend getaway to Texas to see our friends has to do with my quest for a million words. Joe’s Nissan Versa has a CD player, which means that on the night before we headed out we made a stop at the Metropolitan Public Library to pick up an audiobook for the drive! We picked up two, but wound up listening to only one: Ur by Stephen King. Originally available only for the Amazon Kindle, this novella introduces readers to Wesley Smith, an English teacher at a small college who loves books. One day in class, he scoffs at a student doing his reading assignment off a Kindle…a computer. But, fresh off a breakup where his ex-girlfriend accused him of being unable to use such devices “like the rest of us,” he takes it as a personal challenge and orders one online.

There are some weird manufacturing quirks to his new Amazon purchase. For one thing, it appeared in the mail for him after only one day, even though he didn’t request one-day delivery. Also, it seems to be a shade of bubblegum pink. Finally, it has an experimental prototype menu called “Ur.” As Wesley loses night after night of sleep exploring Ur novels and Ur news archives, he can’t help but wonder: How many Urs are out there? And why did this strange Kindle show up in his?

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#11. The Giver by Lois Lowry

giverI have to begin this post by expressing my satisfaction with Overdrive, a library lending app that allows you to borrow eBooks and Audiobooks from your local library right to your devices. It is wonderful. I am actually a bit disappointed that I have not used it until now, but I intend on utilizing it quite a bit from now on.

I used to listen to Audiobooks quite a bit when I was living in Iowa City. I walked, biked, or took the bus wherever I needed to go, and I had ample time to listen to stories on my 20 minute walks to work, or on a solo bus ride to Coralville. One summer I listened to probably 10 full novels, since I had picked up hours working at the library removing old RFID tags from our entire collection of media. Well, this past month I have taken up walking and running once or twice a week, and remembered how much I used to enjoy Audiobooks. Browsing Overdrive, I saw that The Giver was available. A beloved elementary school classic, it was a title I had often seen but never picked up for myself.

The Giver is a science fiction tale of Sameness. In the Community where Jonas has grown up, all the dwellings are the same. All the people are ultimately the same, a certain number of each young age group with the same tunics and hairstyles and bicycles. But to Jonas and his friends, it is a secure world. It is very safe and ordered in the Community, with simple family units expressing their feelings each evening and doing their Community-assigned jobs. There is no pain in his world, no confusion. But Jonas feels a little different than the other children in his Age 11 group. He can see things in ordinary objects that other people cannot, perceive small changes in things like apples or strands of hair. He doesn’t understand these odd visions until he receives his job assignment and meets The Giver. Through him, Jonas learns to question the rules and order of his Community, and even the people he cares for the most. And after he has received what The Giver has shared with him, he knows he can never go back to living the way he did before.

This is an excellent dystopian novel, and although it was written as a children’s book, its deceptively simple language and dark themes make it just as compelling for adult reading.

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#20. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

#20. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

My husband lent me his copy of The Handmaid’s Tale about two weeks ago, thinking I would like it because of my passion for feminism as well as my interest in awesome/bleak literature. After having finished it, I heartily commend Joe on his recommendation. Atwood creates a world only slightly removed from our own — perhaps only three, four years in the future, a world that has drastically shifted under a fundamentalist military coup and changed how society operates based on gender. The world is a little different here and there, though we still recognize it so well it sends shivers up the spine: toxic waste, environmental infertility, biological warfare, completely automated banking. We glimpse this world through a document left behind by a Handmaid named Offred, who describes her day-to-day life as well as memories of the time before, when she had a normal life with a family and a job. She also describes the shift, how slowly yet suddenly America became the extremist nation state of Gilead, and her reprogramming experiences at The Red Center in an attempt to assimilate these women to the new regime.

I don’t want to give too much away, because if you have never read it the shocking nature of a Handmaid’s purpose is made all the more powerful. I will say that it was moving, upsetting, and intriguing all at once, and punctuated perfectly by a “Historical Notes” section at the end, which serves as a kind of in-world epilogue. It is the future, more than a century beyond the events that Offred shares, and a symposium is being held to discuss research into Gilead society. It is with great levity that they touch on the heartbreaking, terrifying moments of Offred’s life, and is perhaps the most chilling part of the entire story.

This is a must-read novel for everyone, as it remains eerily timely almost 30 years after its first publication. Dystopian literature can sometimes be dismissed as too unlikely, too advanced, too brutal to really exist. Yet The Handmaid’s Tale gives pause, for it is a timeline that could all too easily fall into place.

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September 15, 2013 · 2:49 pm

#8. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

ImageI finally read a book that my husband and college friends have been heralding for a long time: the ultimate wink-and-a-nod cyberpunk thriller, Snow Crash. The book weaves together the various bits and bobs of the unlikely partnership of a katana-wielding, pizza-delivering online warrior prince and a sassy teenage street courier with an awesome skateboard and a soft spot for mechanical dogs.

The story gets complicated quickly. Alongside Hiro (our katana man) and YT (our street courier), there’s the Mafia, an entire online social structure known as the Metaverse, a dangerous virus, the Feds, Sumerian mythology, a hydrogen bomb strapped to a motorcycle, religious fundamentalists, and a lot of awful neon franchises from residential enclosures to drive-through liquor stores. It’s a fun, freaky romp through the wasteland of an L.A. that, at this point in time, doesn’t seem so far in the future.

The nearly 500 pages of this book go very quickly. There are lots of fun, futuristic action scenes mixed in with highly cerebral passages about ancient languages and the nature of the brain. If you enjoy sci-fi, linguistics, or just cool storytelling, you’ll really enjoy this novel.

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