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Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi (2012)

shattermeImagine what it would do to a person to never feel the touch of another human being. Not because of loneliness, but out of fear. Something in Juliette’s body causes anyone who makes contact with her skin to undergo such excruciating pain that if contact has been made long enough, they will die.

In and out of doctors’ offices, psychiatric care, and more, her parents just want to rid themselves of their burden after the unspeakable happens. Juliette’s in an asylum—this is her life now. Until a government official takes interest in her and takes her in. Perhaps he can make use of this…gift. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi is filled with anticipation, heartache, and maybe, just maybe, a chance for Juliette to find love. This is her story.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman (2016)

Dystopian writing at its best—it is the distant future, and humanity has overcome poverty, hunger, and even death, while a seemingly benevolent artificial intelligence known as the Thunderhead watches over everything...almost everything. The one thing left to humanity is to control the overpopulation of the planet, and that is left to the scythes: men and women chosen to kill the populace at random based on a quota system. Some scythes are weighed down by the burden of responsibility while others take great satisfaction in their duties. When two teen scythes are pitted against one another to compete for one opening, it sends shockwaves through the entire scythedom.

After reading Neal Schusterman’s Scythe, check out the sequel Thunderhead.

Firstlife by Gena Showalter (2016)

firstlifeImagine if our lives right now weren’t our only lives, that if after we die, there’s another life. But there’s one caveat, we have to choose a side: Myriad or Troika. One, a world of eternal darkness but luxury beyond your deepest desires. The other, a world of eternal light and joy. If you die before choosing, you’re stuck in the Land of Many Ways: a place where you're rumored to be terrorized for all eternity before eventually experiencing your second and final death. Troika and Myriad are rivals trapped in a bitter, never-ending war, looking to recruit the most souls.

Both afterlives are in a race to recruit Tenley Lockwood, but how does she know which is the right choice? This is the afterlife, after all. Once you decide, there’s no going back. Check out Firstlife by Gena Showalter.

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau (2013)

testingJoelle Charbonneau’s dystopian novel takes place in the far future and depicts the aftereffects of a nuclear fallout. It asks the question of what makes a good leader. How does a people choose leaders that will act in the best interest of everyone? Leaders who won’t abuse the power they’ve been given and instead help the country flourish under their guidance? The Test that the title refers to hopes to be a solution to this question.

There hasn’t been a candidate chosen for the Testing in Cia Vale’s small town in a very long, long time. It’s why it comes as such a surprise that after graduating, she was chosen. Why was it her and not her brothers who were just as qualified (if not more so)?

The Testing is action-packed with decent pacing that keeps you wondering what will happen next. There is also some romance without it overwhelming the main plot (and no love triangle!). Journey with Cia Vale as she proceeds through a Test of her own.

Part of a trilogy, The Testing is followed by Independent Study and Graduation Day.

Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson (2004)

40signsCharley Quibler works part-time as a Senate environmental aid, which gives him plenty of time to bond with toddler son Joe, and wife Anne continues her career as a department head at the NSF.

When Anne meets the newly arrived envoy from the island nation of Khembalung (in the Bay of Bengal), she invites them to dinner to talk to Charley about flooding problems on their island. Charley arranges a meeting with a senator to discuss their concerns about the rising sea levels but to no avail. Soon the rains do come, underscoring all the Khembalung’s concerns with problems close to the Quiblers and all the Washingtonians.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Forty Signs of Rain treats us to an enjoyable visit with the engaging Quibler family and raises questions of how our nation may deal with some of the very wet problems of climate change. Check out other books in the series.

The Martian by Andy Weir (2014)

martianMark Watney is an astronaut accidentally stranded on Mars with too little food, no way to communicate with Earth, and no way home. Plus, everyone thinks he’s already dead. So, this is what he does…

Did you know? The Martian by Andy Weir took a not-quite-typical journey to getting published. Read about it here. For another take on The Martian, check out Jennifer's review.

The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu (2015)

darkforestCixin Liu’s The Dark Forest (Vol II) indeed is dark and is best understood if The Three-Body Problem (Vol I) is read first. This sequel allows the reader to look at the strategies and attitudes of earth inhabitants when astronomers confirm aliens from Trisolaris are in route and will arrive in a few hundred years. Nations work together for the defense of earth, some with great confidence, but some groups believe all hope is lost (defeatists) and others that a remnant must escape (escapists) into space.

As was seen in Vol. I, the Trisolarians somehow have access to most human technology (sophons?), but lately it was discovered secrets could be hidden in the human mind. In some early and infrequent communications, the Trisolarians expressed confusion that humans needed different words for thought and speech because with them all thought was public and a principal means of communication. Could this be important for earth defense or in negotiations?

Towards the end of this volume, an advance probe from the Trisolarian fleet enters our solar system and is found to be of beautiful raindrop shape and mirror-like exterior. In a most stressful attempt to capture and examine the probe, one described it as a tear from the Mother of God and all approached it with much apprehension.

The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)

giverMany of the recent popular dystopian series like Divergent, The Hunger Games, and Legend (by Marie Lu) can trace their storylines back to The Giver, the book which started it all. In a distant future, people live in a utopian society where everything is controlled—what people say, and think, and do. At age 12, Jonas will go through “the ceremony” to find out what he will do for the rest of his life, but what he soon learns about the past will change his whole world.

Check out the classic by Lois Lowry today.

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu (2014)

3bodyproblemCixin Liu's The Three-Body Problem begins with a top secret Chinese project just after the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and on into the future, Earth tries to (and perhaps does) make contact with the civilizations of Trisolaris, a planet several light years away. Trisolaris, dominated by three suns, has eons of stable, then chaotic seasons in which culture flourishes then crashes with disastrous results. Inhabitants dehydrate their bodies to survive. Scientific efforts to predict gravitational motion in a three body system have perplexed physicists on Trisolaris (and Earth) for ages. Only a few on Earth know of these extra-terrestrial efforts begun by the Chinese and later appearing in strange video games.

If the Trisolarians migrate to our solar system to escape the certain destruction of their planet, should Earth welcome them as superior beings or fight an invading enemy?

Check back in a few weeks to check out my review of the second book in the series: The Dark Forest.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (1963)

catscradleKurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle is a funny and dark satire on government, religion, and life. John is a writer who is writing a book about what important Americans were doing the day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. He quickly becomes entangled with the children of one of the bomb’s creators who are in possession of another, dangerous invention that portends doom to the entire world. It is an “out of the frying pan and into the fire” kind of story, where each absurd situation leads into the next. This is a fun read.

Neuromancer by William Gibson (1984)

neuromancerWilliam Gibson’s critically acclaimed Neuromancer tells the story of Henry Dorsett Case, a master computer hacker forced into a life of petty street crime after crossing an employer who wrecked his nervous system as payback. As Case spirals down a self-destructive path on the streets of near-future Chiba, Japan, a mysterious benefactor offers to repair his nervous system – allowing Case to once again explore the myriad gleaming pathways of Cyberspace – in exchange for a highly dangerous, confidential job. Case accepts, and is plunged into a tangled web of conspiracies with dire implications.

Neuromancer is fascinatingly paced: the first half or so reads like a series of connected short stories, while the latter half begs to be read in one sitting. The plot is a gripping tale of intrigue, and the characters are compellingly written, but where the novel really shines is in its prediction. Gibson’s deeply atmospheric prose envisages a world dramatically changed by incredible advances in computer science and biotechnology combined with growing corporate influence on political and legal matters.

Neuromancer’s frankly portrayed adult subject matter and occasionally unsettling themes definitely aren't for everyone. But for everyone else, it comes highly recommended to those looking for an engaging sci-fi thriller.

The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)

giverlowryThe book is a quick read and well done. In The Giver, an organized community controls its citizens every move and position within the community. The main character is a twelve-year-old boy, Jonas, and how he learns the truth about the community and the world outside.

Did you see the movie? How does it compare with Lois Lowry’s novel? If you haven't seen it yet, check out the trailer below.

Transhuman by Ben Bova (2014)

index.aspxLuke Abramson, a research biologist, takes his ten-year-old granddaughter Angela out of the hospital without her parent’s knowledge after specialists agree there is nothing more to be done for her brain tumor. Angela’s doctor agrees to go along to protect her patient. Luke begins an experimental therapy that he believes will kill Angela’s tumor as the three go on a cross country adventure dodging the FBI and a greedy entrepreneur determined to control the new technology. Luke also finds ways to reverse his own fatigue and aging process with the new medical techniques. Surprisingly, Luke awakens to a romantic interest in his much younger medical companion.

This story is highly recommended for septuagenarian grandfathers who love their granddaughters and can fantasize about increased vitality when blessed with the company of younger women. Ben Bova’s Transhuman touches on intellectual property policy and corruption of the powerful, but mostly is an exciting adventure for those not annoyed by some unlikely events.

 

Saga. Volumes 1-3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (2012-2014)

index.aspxIt is completely different than anything I have ever read. Every volume of Saga surprises me in new ways. I definitely recommend Brian K. Vaughan’s latest series for anyone who likes graphic novels and/or science fiction (and doesn’t mind mature content).

If you need any other motivation, check out io9’s list of 10 reasons you should be reading this series or this other review.

The Goon: Chinatown and the Mystery of Mr. Wicker by Eric Powell (2007)

Fans of The Goon will go into Chinatown and the Mystery of Mr. Wicker not knowing what to expect. But the first page says it all: "this ain't funny."

The Goon is an Eisner Award-winning comic series about a zombie-killing gangster and his stab-happy partner in a 1930s/1940s pastiche of a town overrun by monsters, and known for its black (and at times, quite slapstick) humor. But Chinatown is a marked departure, instead focusing on the titular character Goon's mysterious past and the reasons for his scarred face and heart. Writer and artist Eric Powell pulls it off beautifully, the almost purely black-and-white art evoking the clear noir influences that have always been present in the darker stories in The Goon.
After the publication of Chinatown, the regular series took a more dramatic shift, while still maintaining its black comedy elements. For this reason, it's both essential for fans of the series and a good jumping off point for new readers.