Science Fiction Fridays: My favorite druid

When I discovered the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne, I was expecting an apathetic, immortal druid, with a sad story and lots of dangerous magic. What I got was Atticus O’Sullivan, a delightfully well-adjusted 2,000-year-old tea-maker with a penchant for fish and chips. In the first book, Hounded, Atticus and his sidekick (a wise-cracking Irish Wolfhound) have a bit of problem in the form of an ancient Celtic deity bent on retrieving a hidden magical sword. This first story is fast-passed, witty, and lots of fun.

In the second book, Hexed, Atticus is up to his ears in witches. Since he’s been burned by women with magical powers in the past, he hopes signing a peace agreement will keep the local coven safely on the other side of town. Unfortunately, things get complicated when more witches arrive, equipped with big magic and sinister intentions. Atticus and his pals must out-magic and out-think the new arrivals before they can claim the city for themselves.

In Hammered, Atticus reluctant agrees to escort a group of pissed-off monsters into Asgard, home of the Norse Gods. Apparently Thor is a bit of a jerk and nearly everything supernatural wants to take him down. This story is a little more tragic and angst-heavy than the previous two, but it does have comic relief in the form of a giant, talking squirrel. It also sets the scene for the continued adventures of Atticus and his friends in the next book, Tricked, due out in early spring.

Science Fiction Fridays: The World’s Saddest Assassin

I love fantasy with detailed world-building, complex characters and political intrigue, so I was pleased to come across Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice the first book in the Farseer trilogy.

Assassin’s Apprentice starts when a six year old child, only known even to himself as “boy,” is dropped at the royal court by his grandfather. The boy, later dubbed Fitz, is the bastard of Prince Chivalry, and the fact of his existence is all the more an affront in the face of Chivalry’s lack of an heir with Lady Patience. Fitz grows up at the heels of Chivalry’s stableman, Burrich, and it is in the stables that he learns he easily bonds and connects with the minds of animals, a skill called Wit which Burrich makes Fitz known is to be feared rather than indulged. When King Shrewd takes an interest in Fitz, he begins his training as an officially acknowledged offshoot of the royal bloodline. Fitz’s training includes secret sessions with the King’s man, Chade, where he learns the subtle arts of death.

Fitz is a character that is apart from his surroundings, never fully trusted and accepted, and this in-between status shapes him in interesting ways.

Robin Hobb creates a rich, complex world and introduces the stories, myths and superstitions that define the Six Duchies at the beginning of each chapter. Assassin’s Apprentice explores loyalty, survival and ethical dilemmas within a story packed with psychological growth and surprising political schemes resulting in a breathless, dark conclusion.

Hobb’s debut certainly earned her a following that has only grown over the course of her career. If you enjoy the Farseer trilogy, you can follow Fitz in the Tawny Man trilogy as well.

Also, check out Robin Hobb’s recent interview with Peter Orullian.

Science Fiction Friday: The Moon Over Miami

It’s pretty much a granted that every science fiction and fantasy fan is only biding their time until moon colonies are a reality. We all secretly hope that permanent off-Earth habitation, open to the few brave souls ready to tame the unknown, will happen in our lifetimes. The technology is ready. In fact, the only thing missing is the political will to conquer our lunar remora. Sometimes you just want the feature to hurry up and get here, you know? The moon has a long and rich history in the science fiction cannon. Whether it’s as a setting, a scientific clue to the universe, or the launching pad for points unknown, the moon has cast a long shadow, matched only by Mars, as an object of fascination for colonization in our solar system.

With that in mind, I thought I would make this column all about my top five books involving the moon. Everything from hard science terraforming to terrifying lunar disasters to the fantastical man on the moon. I think this will give you a nice moon fix, but let me know in the comments anything I missed.

 

The First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells
Though Wells is only half-right and half-wrong with the science he uses in his classic moon tale, I promise you this book is a lot better than the trashy pulp you might lumping it with. A group of scientists set off to explore the moon, only to discover it already has inhabitants—giant insect-like creatures who aren’t exactly thrilled at the prospect of sharing. While the story has some breath-taking action and adventure, the true appeal is Wells’ subtle satire of imperialism and exploitation.   

 

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein
Probably the greatest Moon story ever told, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is both an exploration of the true difficulties of making a habitable world on the moon, and also a rousing adventure of the political dissidents that try to free the moon from the tyranical oppression of Earth’s governments. Full of the complex characters and deft plotting that made Heinlein a legend.

 

 Moonrise by Ben Bova
Bova has a made a career of using hard science ideas to explore our solar system. However, his books are anything but dry. Moonrise is a murder mystery buried in a tense political drama over the privitization of moon colonization. Intricately-plotted and dramatic, Moonrise is a perfect entry into Bova’s rich and detailed universe.

 


Life As We Knew It
by Susan Beth Pfeffer
After a meteor collides with the moon it sets off a series of catastrophic events as the Earth is slowly ripped apart. The story is told from the point of view of a teenage girl named Miranda as she struggles to accept the end of the world in slow motion. It’s the vivid characterization and sense of dread permeating Life As We Knew It that makes it a modern classic of the genre. The first in a trilogy, with twists big and small, Life As We Knew It should please just about any type of reader.

 

Duplicate Effort by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
The latest in Rusch’s excellent Retrieval Artist series about private detectives based on moon colonies who take on the dangerous jobs the cops won’t touch. Humans co-exist, not always peaceably, with bizarre alien species and often despicable humans. Rusch’s writing is hard-boiled detective fiction at its best, but set on a moon colony. A great mixture of suspense, science fiction and mystery, with characters that live on the wrong side of the track, but are always striving to be on the side of the angels.

Science Fiction Fridays: Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsongs

A new year, a new column! Today marks the inaugural post of our new series Science Fiction Fridays. Every Friday librarians and people of interest will talk about their favorite science fiction and fantasy books, television, movies, art, music and whatever other newly discovered media we find interesting.

The recent passing of Anne McCaffrey has left a huge void in the science fiction world. While there are many popular female science fiction writers creating dazzling and award-winning books right now, McCaffrey’s works are so singular, unique and warm, it’s hard to even make comparisons. Through her many novels and characters, one always got the sense that McCaffrey was creating people she herself cared about. These weren’t simply toy soldiers conjured up to perform acts of violence or follow some pre-ordained plot. Rather, McCaffrey’s gift was to give her protagonists life, and then set them free to make decisions, suffer defeats and celebrate triumphs. And while most people know McCaffrey for the rightfully celebrated Dragonriders of Pern universe, she has several novels outside of the series that are worthy of the same amount of worship. With that in mind, here are the top 5 non-Pern novels by McCaffrey that are well worth checking out. Feel free to leave your suggestions, or even your favorite Pern novel, in the comments.

Crystal Singer is the galaxy-spanning adventure of the ambitious Killashandra, a young woman who has trained all her life to be singing star, only to discover she is disqualified from high honors as a singer for a burr in her voice. I always picture Stevie Nicks as a stand-in for Killashandra, which only makes this book more fun to read the further you take it. Romantic and fast-paced, Singer is as unique and charming as the best of McCaffrey.

The Ship Who Sang is probably one of my favorite McCaffrey books, Pern-related or not.  The surprisingly poignant tale of Helva, born with severe congenital defects, whose only salvageable part, her brain, is inserted into a titanium shell than integrated with a scout spaceship. More a collection of vignettes than a full-fledged narrative, the book still manages momentum and emotional resonance. One of McCaffrey’s most subtle and thorough explorations of big concepts like humanity and consciousness. Legend has it McCaffrey had to stop reading this one out loud because she would always cry at the end.

 

Dinosaur Planet is the story of a scientific exploration to the planet of Ireta, an almost inverse of Pern. A colorful cast of scientists explore the planet only to discover strange murders and mutilations of the local flora and fauna. While the mystery only gets going in this first book of the series, I promise you’ll be reaching for the second book the moment you finish the last chapter.

 

 

Freedom’s Landing is a great pulse-pounding combination of romance, survivalism and interstellar politics, similar to McCaffrey acolyte Lois McMaster Bujold. The alien Catteni kidnap a young woman in Denver and she awakens to discover a large chunk of humanity has been enslaved on an alien planet. The protagonist is smart, witty, resourceful and ingenuous. Not content to rule science fiction, McCaffrey had to conquer chick lit as well.

 

To Ride Pegasus might be one of McCaffrey’s best character books, where both minor and major characters through the epic span of the book are rendered as complex individuals. The novel focuses on four women with the psychic and healing abilities that set them apart from humanity, in ways the protagonists never dreamed of. The beginning of the Rowan series starts here, which I would write more about but I’m out of space.

 

That’s all for this Friday, but check back same Battime next week where librarian Misha will tell us all about one of her favorite fantasy books of 2011!

“The tears I feel today
I’ll wait to shed tomorrow.
Though I’ll not sleep this night
Nor find surcease from sorrow.
My eyes must keep their sight:
I dare not be tear-blinded.
I must be free to talk
Not choked with grief, clear-minded.
My mouth cannot betray
The anguish that I know.
Yes, I’ll keep my tears til later:
But my grief will never go.”
― Anne McCaffrey, Dragonsinger

It’s the End of the World As We Know It

The leaves are falling, the bubble has been popped for awhile now, and the holidays are right around the corner, which means it’s the best time to read dystopian fiction! Knowing these characters have it worse of then we do definitely puts a spring back in my step.

In Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde society is based on a Colortocracy. Those lucky enough to see the higher end of the color spectrum live in a higher social class. Eddie Russett, a lower level Red, has one goal:  to marry into the Oxblood family in order to ensure a higher familial red count. However, this goal goes array when he commits a violation that sends him to East Carmine, a city on the Outer Fringes. He is sent to do a chair census and once there meets Jane, a Grey who instantly captures his heart. Although Jane is a lowly servant girl Eddie will risk all he ever wanted for her attentions. Continue reading “It’s the End of the World As We Know It”