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Annihilation

If you enjoy science fiction, you should check out the 2014 Nebula Award winner Annihilation. It's the first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer. Four women; a biologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor, and a psychologist, enter a quarantined area known as Area X. They make up the twelfth expedition tasked with researching and mapping the terrain. Little information has been gathered from previous expeditions because they have all ended in untimely mysterious circumstances. The story is told through the biologist's point of view as she writes down the group's findings in a field journal.

You may be familiar with the 2018 film adaptation directed by Alex Garland and starring Natalie Portman which I also highly recommend, but there are many differences between the book and the movie.

Check out Annihilation today – available as an eBook and eAudiobook through Overdrive.



River of Teeth

In an alternate reality set in the early 20th century, the U.S. government has released wild hippos into the marshes of Louisiana as an alternative meat source. To no one's surprise, it is a ludicrous and disastrous idea.

The main character, Winslow Houndstooth, has lost everything and is driven by one thing: revenge. After the government hires Houndstooth, mercenary and part time hippo-wrangler, to clear the ferals from the marshes, he assembles a ragtag team of degenerates to help him out. Each member has their own specialty, hippo they ride on, and serious issues. The group must set aside old grudges and actively avoid being eaten alive to collect their payday.

This novel is as absurd as the summary makes it out to be, and I loved every second of it. From the first page, you can tell the author understands how ridiculous the story is and embraces it. I never knew I needed hippo-riding cowboy mercenaries in my life until River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey (2017) was put in my hands. It's a fantastic mix of classic western tropes with science fiction elements. It's a short novel, only about 175 pages, but it's long enough to fall in love with the characters and keep you laughing.


Scythe by Neal Shusterman (2016)

scytheConfession time: Out of all of the Abraham Lincoln 2019 award nominees, this was the one I was least looking forward to. Teenagers forced to kill? Grim Reaper death person on the cover? Morality? Not another dystopian! I was so, so, so wrong.

Scythe on audio was a bit of a slow start, but I was soon waking up ten minutes earlier to have more time in the car in the morning. I needed to know what was happening to Citra and Rowan.

I gasped out loud. I shouted at the car stereo. I cackled. I sent all-caps text messages to two friends who were reading it at the same time. (If you stop by the Kids & Teens Ask Us Desk, I would be happy to re-enact some of these text conversations.)

The world building is phenomenal, the characters are fully developed -- and they grow throughout the book. I would have a hard time trying to find fault with Scythe...which is probably why it won a Printz Honor in 2017.

This would be my vote for the Abes (PDF), if I were a teen and allowed to vote. Instead, I'll just be sitting here watching Neal Shusterman's Twitter account, waiting impatiently for the announcement of book three in the series.

[Word to the wise, the sequel to Scythe -- 2018's Thunderhead -- leaves you thrown off a cliff hurtling towards Earth. You might want to wait until that third boo has a publication date before diving into Thunderhead.]

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.

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (1992)

doomsdaybookThis book hit all the right notes: likable, interesting characters; gripping story told from multiple perspectives; and historical fiction blended with believable time travel. In 2048 England, students and professors at Oxford have mastered the art of time travel as a means to fill in the gaps in the historical record. Budding historian Kivrin plans to visit 1320 Oxford to learn more about everyday life in the Middle Ages; instead, she ends up in 1348 at the height of the Black Death. A mysterious epidemic in 2048 also creates chaos, preventing Dunworthy (Kivrin’s mentor) from bringing her home.

A compelling narrative, Doomsday Book will propel you forward, frantically turning to pages to discover the fate of those in past and future. My first foray into Connie Willis’ novels—but it won’t be my last!

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.

Lock In by John Scalzi (2014)

lockinRequired: a willingness to suspend disbelief and go along for the gripping ride. In this near futuristic thriller, newly minted FBI Agent Chris Shane gets thrust into a complicated case on his first day.

NPR summarizes the premise best: in this world, Haden's Syndrome is “a global, meningitis-like pandemic that, in addition to killing lots of people, also left a certain percentage of them completely paralyzed. This paralysis is called ‘lock in.’” Shane is a Haden and uses a personal transport device to navigate the world (hence the futuristic technology part).

Science fiction isn’t my go-to genre, and it may not be yours, but if you enjoy fast-paced adventures with a mystery to solve, give this one a shot. In John Scalzi’s Lock In, the world is grounded in enough reality that theoretically it could happen. And Will Wheaton does a fantastic job narrating the novel. Highly recommended.

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.