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Engaging Methuen Readers


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Review: “Perdido Street Station” by China Mieville

The back of Perdido Street Station dismally fails to capture it in summary. Oddly, it succeeds for exactly this reason, drawing people into the book through what are essentially false premises. By the time the hapless reader understands that they have been duped, it is too late. They are too far into the snare and there is no escape from the land of Bas-Lag.

Here’s the blurb:

Beneath the towering bleached ribs of a dead, ancient beast lies the city of New Crobuzon, where the unsavory deal is stranger to no one–not even to Isaac, a gifted and eccentric scientist who has spent a lifetime quietly carrying out his unique research. But when a half-bird, half-human creature known as the Garuda comes to him from afar, Isaac is faced with challenges he has never before encountered. Though the Garuda’s request is scientifically daunting, Isaac is sparked by his own curiosity and an uncanny reverence for this curious stranger. Soon an eerie metamorphosis will occur that will permeate every fiber of New Crobuzon–and not even the Ambassador of Hell will challenge the malignant terror it evokes.

The blurb gets a few things right, namely that Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, a brilliant but unfocused dabbler in several scientific pursuits, is the primary focus of the book. However, the rest sucks. So I’m going to write a few better descriptions that the good people of Del Rey are free to borrow in exchange for a slice of royalties.

A visit from a mutilated foreign stranger sends scientist Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin

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Artist unknown. Saved from Pinterest

careening down a dangerous path that leads through the twisted streets and various dens of criminal activity that is the city of New Crobuzon. Along the way, he’ll hatch a deadly public health threat from its pupa, disrupt the drug trade and its maniacal mobster kingpin, and confront the most fearsome menace of all: his own closest friend. As the hum of New Crobuzon is replaced by nightmare screams and its many alleys grow dark with fear, Isaac must risk everything to save the city that he loves.

See, THIS description pulls in the city of New Crobuzon itself, which represents a vivid backdrop to the tale, while implying a decent threat level that does not rope in the *entirely incidental* Ambassador of Hell.

However, there are some issues with this description, too. After all, the cast of characters in Perdido Street Station is expansive. Let’s see if we can’t introduce a couple other people.

 

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Artist unknown. Saved from Pinterest

A chilling misstep by a hapless scientist unleashes a fate worse than death on the city of New Crobuzon. Now Isaac  Dan der Grimnebuilin must bear the burden of his mistake and repair the damage before more of his friends die. Meanwhile, Isaac’s girlfriend, half-insect artist Lin, struggles with a commission that may have everything to do with the accident, while the mysterious wingless bird-man, Yagharek, wanders the city in search of his lost power of flight. Together, they will join forces with criminals and drug addicts, inter-dimensional demigods and monsters made of gears and wheels, only to face the difficult truth: it may already be too late…

This isn’t bad at all! See? Already better than that first blurb! But what it *doesn’t* capture is the Steampunk aesthetic of New Crobuzon and the roiling wave of political tension upon which the story bucks and sways for the duration of the book.

In a city that runs on both steam and thaumatergical magic, where the political elite soar in blimps and the polity ride in taxis pulled by machines that may yet become sentient, the punishment for transgression is worse than death. But that threat can’t equal the rewards: the scientist who discovers how to make a mutilated bird-man fly could generate unlimited energy and finally correct the many social ills of New Crobuzon. But when Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin goes too far, the consequences of his research reverberate through the twisted streets of brick and stone, even as far as the great copper thinking machine that hides in the city’s expansive dump and into dimensions where enormous forces communicate in transcendent poetry. All centers on the city’s hub and center of government: Perdido Street Station, from whence all trains travel and where all dangerous things end up sooner or later.

Et voila: you now have a decent idea of what Perdido Street Station is about. Therefore, you also have no excuse to not go and borrow it from the library today.

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Artist unknown. Saved from Curufea.com

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Dystopias, Police States, and Other Uplifting Tales

Ever find yourself or your society sliding inexorably backward toward a dystopian hellscape reminiscent of Europe’s Medieval Dark Ages? Ever feel like the forces arrayed on the horizon of liberty are gathering like the coming of a long and merciless storm? Ever nurse the simmering fear that you might rise one morning to find that you no longer draw free breath, say free words, think free thoughts?

Buddy, you’re too serious! What you need is a good old dose of catharsis. Try these gut-busters. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll have something to talk about during your mandatory annual loyalty test.

 

1984 by George Orwell449585

OK, you knew I was going to say it. You did. But seriously, have you actually read it?

Go do it. I’ll wait.

 

 

1488284Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

If your system isn’t good for people, change the people. It’s efficient! In a warped future America, mass-produced citizens inhabit pre-made social strata, kept there by brainwashing, genetic engineering, and physical reward. However, like all precision machines, a grain of sand in these works can initiate a total system breakdown. When an outsider penetrates the mechanics of this Brave New World, it will show itself to be anything but.

 

 

Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller, Jr.1047211.jpg

The end of the world has already come. Welcome to the post-post-apocalypse. Society is gone, replaced by a social system deathly afraid of the technology that caused the demise of civilization. But in one abbey, a group of dedicated monks preserve the writings of ancient pro-science sage Leibowitz, who may still, one day, become a saint.

 

 

1310034When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

Hannah Payne is a criminal. It’s written on her skin, which has been genetically altered to show the world her crime: red, for the murder of her unborn baby. For the crime of abortion, she becomes simultaneously a pariah and the source of entertainment for a world both repelled by and deeply invested in sin. A modern revisioning of The Scarlet Letter!


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Reading in a Non-Material World

Is this the real life? Is it just fantasy? These books call into question all that we know and experience, from the things we care about to the very air we breathe. These aren’t tales of parallel universes – instead, they deal with minds trapped in worlds within the world, embedded in realities that are as real as we believe them to be.

Image of itemReady Player One by Ernest Cline

The Earth is a wreck. The cities are miserable places. Being alive in general isn’t a great experience. Luckily, there’s virtual reality! Plug into OASIS, where knowledge of pop culture and classic video games can earn you vast wealth and save you from your bleak life…or put you directly in the cross hairs of ruthless enemies.

 

 

 

 

Image of itemSophie’s World by Jostein Gaardner

Part philosophy primer and part coming-of-age novel, this unique book is not to be missed. Young Sophie tries to catch herself blinking in the mirror, but she’s never fast enough…until one day. As she learns about philosophy from her mysterious tutor, she begins to question the reality of the world she sees.

 

 

 

 

Animal Man by Grant Morrison

To make a long story short, comic book hero Animal Man, who can borrow the abilities of any animal, realizes that his life is an elaborate fiction engineered for maximum drama by an
unscrupulous comic book writer. When he does, he needs to come to terms with his existence. Does he reconcile himself to being fictional? Or does he confront his creator and demand justice for the death of his family?

 

 

 

Image of itemThe Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

In a world where literary authors have the same social status as rock stars, Jane Eyre is a literary enforcer. Her job is routine: stop militant Baconians from bombing performances of Shakespeare plays, detect criminal forgeries of Byronic verse, and things like that. But when someone starts kidnapping literary characters from within the pages of their own books, she’ll need to go deeper into her books than ever before!

 

 

Image of itemSnow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Any one of a number of cyberpunk novels could qualify for world-within-a-world status, but Snow Crash is one of the most famous. Hiro is a pizza boy and hacker, skilled with swords and code alike. But there’s an ancient, deadly neurolinguistic virus moving through the virtual world, and it threatens to end the fun…permanently. Only Hiro can uncover the plan of the dangerous religious fanatic behind it all.

 


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Review: “The Voyage of the Basilisk”

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In this third installment of the memoirs of Lady Trent, hero and dragon naturalist Isabella must navigate treacherous seas, international politics, and quasi-Victorian concepts of propriety in order to study the dragons of many continents. From sea-serpents to fire-drakes, any dragon that needs studying is worth endangering life and limb for.

This was unquestionably an entertaining book. Written in a Victorian-esqe style, it was a convincing anthropological tale of a world analogous to ours. While its criticisms of 19th-century class and gender mores wasn’t necessarily original, it was still fun to root for a heroine who was on the right side of future history. A little gender studies-worthy cultural mix-up is handled with aplomb and enriches the story.

But I kept expecting more from this book, which had clearly been so thoroughly researched. I don’t know if I’d feel differently if I’d read previous Lady Trent stories, but this just felt oddly light in the loafers. Maybe I’m too used to Hollywood, where she’d get the guy and be accepted into the Highly Literate Society and overcome all barriers triumphantly to a gigantic round of applause, all within ninety minutes. This wasn’t really that kind of instant-gratification story. In fact, Isabella doesn’t get even half of what she wants in the end, though she achieves enough in the way of small victories to be satisfied for the moment. That’s definitely in keeping with the book’s emphasis on realism – as if to counterbalance the magical implications of dragons and ancient civilizations and all that, the book is studiously, stubbornly magic-free – and many readers will appreciate it.

As for me, I wanted her to shack up with the dude, fight the bad guys with cutlasses, and rule over a dragon sanctuary with the power of sea-serpents. I’m a big explosions kind of girl. Victorian-style literature in general has always been too staid for my taste, and while I enjoyed this and recognize that it’s a sophisticated and interesting piece of work, I’ll probably gravitate back toward Stephen King and David Wong after this.

Also Read:

6381205Soulless by Gail Carriger

Alexia Tarabotti’s soulless state makes her something of a social outcast. But when she is attacked by a vampire, the sheer level of transgression of manners is simply intolerable. Time to investigate!

 

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Kindred Nature: Victorian and Edwardian Women Embrace Nature by Barbara Gates

Real women rebel, too! This book recounts the impact of pioneering woman naturalists who lived during eras when their achievements weren’t necessarily celebrated.

 

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

The British realm is locked in a deadly game with Napoleon’s army, and Napoleon has one enormous advantage: dragons. But when the HMS Reliant captures a French ship bearing an unhatched egg, the tide will turn…


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Did you miss our Spring Fling with Books Thursday Night?

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That’s okay, because I’m here to present to all you gentle readers a list based on the books that were talked about last night. If you have any questions about them, feel free to drop by the Reference Desk and speak to one of us (or any one at the Reference Desk. We’re all librarians who love to talk about books!)

Now, in no particular order our books that we flung Spring-ily:

http://catalog.mvlc.org/opac/extras/ac/jacket/large/r/1393471Krista

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
The Kingdom by the Sea by Paul Theroux
House by Tracy Kidder
Dead Wake by Erik Larsen
As Always, Julia ed. by Joan Reardon

 

Snow Crash

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Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez
The Stand by Stephen King
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

 

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The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
Dangerous Women ed. by George R.R. Martin
The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

 

Image of itemDanielle

Long Upon the Land by Margaret Maron
Playing with Fire by Tess Gerritsen
Lock In by John Scalzi
Alex + Ada, Vol. 1 by Sarah Vaughn
Captain Marvel, Vol. 1: In Pursuit of Flight by Kelly Sue DeConnick

 

tl;dr We would very much like it if you came to the Reference Desk and talked to us about books!


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Let’s Do The Time Warp

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Theoretically, time travel is within the reach of modern technology. All you need is a pretty fast spaceship and some luck! Failing that, you could fall through the years loosey-goosey as a result of a family curse, a set of magic standing stones, or a genetic condition. Get your time travel groove on with these once and future classics!

 

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To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

In 1940, a bomb exploded a Victorian travesty of art and taste called the bishop’s bird stump (don’t ask.) Though most people might consider this piece of history rightly lost, unfortunate temporal historian Ned Henry is tasked with traveling through time to study it for a historical restoration of Coventry Cathedral. But when one of his colleagues accidentally changes history, Ned has to keep two would-be star-crossed lovers apart…for the sake of the future! A comedy of manners with a science fiction twist, this is a great pick for fans of Downton Abbey.

 

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Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

What would this list be without Outlander? In 1945, nurse Claire Randall walks through a set of standing stones in Scotland and emerges in the year 1743. There, a young laird steals her heart and challenges her fidelity to her husband. Meanwhile, her modern-era medical skills may yet brand her a witch…and she may not be the only time traveler in 18th-century Scotland. Fans of the TV show will adore this sweeping, epic love story in its original format!

 

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11/22/63 by Stephen King

If you could change one thing about history, what would it be? Would you kill Hitler? Save the life of Archduke Franz Ferdinand? What about the life of John F. Kennedy? When modern-day Jake Epping finds himself in 1958, he realizes that, in a decade, he’ll have the chance to stop the death of a President. But time resists change…

 

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The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Like most of us, Clare lives her life from the past into the future. But her husband, Michael, is displaced in time and randomly disappears and reappears at moments of emotional import. Though this strains their relationship, their love transcends time. This isn’t as much of a science fiction book as it is a drama with a clever theme. In other words, it’s perfect for the non-scifi fan!

 

 

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Kindred by Octavia Butler

The year is 1973. Dana has just turned 26 when she is wrenched from California back to antebellum Maryland, where she saves a white slaveholder from drowning. Then, just before she is captured and enslaved herself, she returns abruptly to her own present. Time and time again, Dana finds herself back in Maryland, trapped in a land of slavery and pain, often forced into servitude, compelled to rescue the man who would become her great-great-grandfather. Butler herself called this “grim fantasy.” It’s heavy and thought-provoking, but it easily ranks among the great science fiction – and historical fiction – books of all time.

 

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Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

An alien abduction leaves Billy Pilgrim unstuck in time, traveling back and forth through his life to experience and re-experience, again and again, its most significant and mundane events. But Pilgrim is trapped within the events of his own life: Dresden, where he’s a prisoner of war during World War II; his time of the alien planet Tralfamadore; the death of his wife. The book is a powerful statement about war and what people do when they’re at the mercy of forces more powerful than they are.