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While it may be tempting to dismiss science fiction writing as somehow less relevant than other fiction due to its often speculative nature—dealing as it does with undiscovered worlds, unknown cultures, or fantastical technologies—the fact of the matter is that some of the best social commentary can be found in your library’s sci-fi section. Going beyond the reality that we know gives us a chance to imagine how we would think and act in scenarios that would test us in ways we are unlikely to encounter normally, and the results of those tests tell us a lot about who we really are, both individually and as a society.
|In The Martian (2014), Andy Weir tells the story of Mark Watney, an astronaut who is part of a manned mission to Mars that is forced to terminate its stay early due to hazardous conditions on the red planet. In the course of their evacuation during a severe dust storm, Watney’s suit is compromised, causing him to be left behind when all available information points to his already being dead. He recovers from his ordeal to find that the rest of the crew has left the planet and that he has no way of contacting them or Earth to request a rescue—perhaps a moot point since any rescue attempt would arrive too late to save him from starvation in any case. What unfolds is a story of survival, of Watney versus the Martian elements armed with only those supplies left behind by the crew and a wry sense of humor that keeps him going in the face of certain death. Written as a series of journal entries, this fast-paced novel manages to communicate the urgency driving Watney’s predicament in a way that demonstrates his intellect and competence while maintaining a high level of suspense.|
|Our next novel is also set on Mars, but not the desolate, unexplored Mars of the near future. Instead, Moving Mars (1993) shows us a planet long ago colonized by Earth and currently struggling to determine its destiny. Casseia Majumdar is a young Martian woman whose development is central to the story, as is the larger evolution of the Martian colony as a political entity. In the years since the planet was first colonized, Mars has become home to second- and third-generation Martians who wish to advocate for autonomy from an Earth that is increasingly hostile to Martian interests. This political drama is exacerbated by certain technological breakthroughs that threaten to fundamentally change the relationship between the two planets. Author Greg Bear creates a world rich with backstory and character development, and slowly—perhaps too slowly for some readers—brings the narrative to a boil. Winner of the 1994 Nebula Award, Moving Mars is epic in scale and a good selection for fans of hard science fiction.|
|The second read-alike for this month is The Dog Stars (2012), by Peter Heller. Like The Martian, The Dog Stars is a story about isolation and survival; however, Heller’s novel takes place not on Mars but on a plague-ravaged Earth. Set after not one but two superbugs wipe out the bulk of the population, the story is told by Hig, a former contractor and pilot living in an abandoned airport with his dog and a fellow survivor named Bangley. With Hig providing airborne surveillance and Bangley bringing tactical knowledge and firepower, the two have carved out a reasonably secure niche while remaining emotionally distanced from each other. When a traumatic event causes Hig to question his commitment to their day-by-day existence, he heads off in search of something he cannot name—meaning, redemption, or perhaps just something new. Heller uses his apocalypse to empty out the world so that he can examine the ways in which we might fill it again, and the result is an uplifting, if bittersweet, tale.|
The Martian, Moving Mars, and The Dog Stars are all available to borrow at E.P. Foster Library. In addition, The Martian and The Dog Stars can be borrowed as eBooks through OverDrive. You can also access NoveList Plus from our eLibrary’s Reading Suggestions section. If the book you are interested in is not currently on the shelf at your branch, you can always request that a copy be sent to the branch of your choice in person, over the phone, or online through our catalog.
Launched by Ronald Martin.
I’m sure many readers can relate to the joys and struggles of raising a teenage daughter, but imagine how challenging that would be if you were Darth Vader and your daughter was Princess Leia. Yes, Jeffrey Brown is back, with his take on life as a dad in the Star Wars universe in Vader’s Little Princess. Readers will recognize familiar scenes, characters, and even dialogue as Vader struggles to raise his daughter from her precocious youth to her rebellious teen years.
Throughout the book, readers will sympathize with Vader (yes, you read that right) as he makes sure his little princess brushes her teeth, does her chores, and dresses properly (no slave-girl outfits allowed). He may be one of the most powerful Sith lords in the universe, but he’s also just a dad. Granted, most dads don’t have to deal with their daughters crashing their Imperial shuttle or blowing up the Death Star, but they can relate to a dad whose daughter is dating, talking on the phone (or in this case, a hologram) with her friends, and rebelling against her elders.
These one-page vignettes are funny, endearing, and very familiar to anyone who is raising, or has raised, a teenage girl, and you don’t need to be a Star Wars fan to appreciate that.
Heather, the Graphic Novel Goddess
Each year on Earth Day, millions of people throughout the world gather to clean up litter, protest threats to the environment, and to celebrate progress in reducing pollution.¹
How are you celebrating Earth Day?
¹"Earth Day." World Book Online Reference Center. World Book, 2014. Web. 22 Apr. 2014.
Join us at E.P. Foster Library on Sunday, April 27, for “The Sweetest Sounds: The Music of Richard Rodgers,” a guest lecture by OLLI presenter Bruce Collins.
The lecture will include original cast recordings of some of Rodgers’ classics, together with the stories behind their creations.
The event is from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the Topping Room. We look forward to seeing you there!
Of the two “end of the world” comedies released last year, This Is the End is set in L.A. and features the current Hollywood comedy brat pack, while The World’s End is set in a small British garden town and features a slightly more mature—but no less manic—guy group.
The World’s End is the latest film from director Edgar Wright and actors Simon Pegg and Nicholas Frost, who produced such bizarre classics as Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007). These films often also feature a kind of stock company of fellow actors, and as a staunch Anglophile I thought it would be interesting to see what other films from the group’s members are in the Ventura County Library collections (as are both The World’s End and This Is the End).
One of the most amusing Pegg/Frost comedies is Paul (2011), which is about two aging British fanboys who attend a science fiction convention in L.A. and end up having a bizarre close encounter of their own on a road trip to find Area 51.
Pegg, also a screenwriter, is a regular in the recent Star Trek and Mission Impossible films, and does a lot of animation voice work, as does Frost.
Probably the most well-known other guy is the Hobbit himself, Martin Freeman. He has the lead in The Good Night (2007), a film about a relationship-impaired musician who can only be with his dream love in dreams. The ironic conclusion gives new meaning to all those song lyrics about dreaming forever.
Freeman is also Watson in the recent Sherlock TV series, and stars in the new FX series Fargo, which premieres April 15.
One of the more prolific members of this group is Irish actor/writer/director Paddy Considine, best known for The Bourne Ultimatum (2007).
Surprisingly, considering his comic turns in the Pegg/Frost films, Considine has been involved with some of the most serious (and seriously depressing) recent films. Pu-239 (2006) is an HBO drama about a worker caught in a deadly accident in a Russian nuclear plant who steals a stash of weapons-grade plutonium in a botched attempt to sell it to provide for his wife and child when he is written off by the plant managers.
In director Jim Sherman’s In America (2002), Considine is the father of a poor Irish family who emigrates to America, ending up in an impoverished apartment in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. The film won three Academy Awards and features amazing performances by the two young actresses who portray the family’s daughters.
Considine is also in a remake of French director Claude Chabrol’s Hitchcockian thriller, The Cry of the Owl (2009), based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith. Considine also wrote and directed Tyrannosaur (2011), which unfortunately is not in the Ventura collections. Perhaps that’s just as well, as reviews have cited it as—though excellently done—one of the most disturbing films about male rage ever made.
It’s interesting how a mainstream feature such as the well-publicized The World’s End can lead you to explore your friendly local library’s film vaults to discover a variety of lesser-known but interesting, off-beat (and free!) film discoveries.
European Cookies for Every Occasion, by Krisztina Maksai, is a wonderful and challenging cookie cookbook. The photography is outstanding and the recipes are precise with limited ingredients. With patience and determination this book will bring you to another level of cookie baking. With some practice your cookies will be miniature masterpieces, reeking of elegance and panache!
I took on the Blueberry Surprise recipe. I love blueberries, as noted in an earlier entry, and chocolate is another favorite of mine, so Blueberry Surprise it was! The recipe was relatively easy, rolling the blueberries up into cookie dough was quite fun. I learned a great way to melt chocolate in a microwave oven from this recipe: just do it in ten-second increments, ten seconds then stir. In about 20 seconds I had creamy, melted chocolate to top the cookies off with.
The results of my effort were quite tasty, I must admit. My Blueberry Surprise cookies were a bit rough-hewn and a little bit of the surprise was exposed; however, they were yummy! So, check this book out and astound your family and friends with your cookie-baking skills.
Check out the book at Foster Library, or put it on hold—we will send it to you.
If there are any cookbooks in Foster Library’s collection that you would like me to try out, please leave the title on our Facebook page and I’ll get cooking!