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Engaging Methuen Readers


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Happy birthday, Internet! Have a cyberpunk nightmare!

Cyberpunk happens when lowlifes dabble in high tech. Think cutpurses with cybernetic enhancements and prostitutes who moonlight as hackers. That may seem futuristic, but remember, ten years ago Google was exciting and new! In honor of the Internet’s birthday, here’s a taste of the unmitigated chaos that is our digital future.

Neuromancer by William Gibson

Case used to be a hacker. Kinda. He stole information with his brain, courtesy of implants that let him jack into cyberspace directly. Then he irritated his boss and his boss destroyed his brain, like you do.

The problem is that nobody’s as good at information theft as Case, and now someone important needs him for the job of a lifetime. Case is back, damage and all, but this time, he’s going to need some help…

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

This book was the basis for the hit film Blade Runner, although it varies in a few key points. Rick Deckard is an assassin, but he’s never killed a person – just androids. Runaway machines can blend in with the human population perfectly, but though they may look human, they have no empathy or spiritual connection. That may change, though. As the line between robot and human blurs, Deckard finds himself questioning everything he knows about himself.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Hiro is a pizza boy. For the Mafia. In an America that’s been carved up and essentially destroyed by corporate interests, he’s just a cog. But in the Metaverse, he’s a superstar hacker living a glamorous digital double life. That’s how he learns about the new computer virus that not only attacks circuitry, but the mind. Weirder still, the virus might also be a language, a religion, and a piece of lost Sumerian technology capable of freeing the world from its hyper-capitalist vice. It’s up to Hiro to figure it out – or save the day trying!

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

How many pharmaceutical pirates named Jack travel the world in their illegal submarine? Not many! That’s what makes the Robin Hood of illegal medicine such a cool chick. But when a batch of her drugs reprograms people to become addicted to work, Jack knows she’s got to set things right. That means figuring out where the drugs are coming from and stopping them by any means necessary!

Infomocracy by Malka Older

Even when the Internet finally takes over government, it’ll need scumbags to make sure the wheels don’t come off. Unfortunately, those are the same people who stand to gain from a little chaos. A corrupt politician. A radical dissenter. An employee of the search engine that rules us all. They will soon discover more than they wanted to know about how democracy really works.

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To The Audiobooks I’ve Heard On My Ride To Work

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Time spent behind the wheel of my car is time not spent engaged in productive activity, such as learning to play the flute or weeding geraniums. Whether I would become a musician or gardener with the time I now spend driving every day is an open question. However, there is still an opportunity to become, if not well-read, then at least familiar with a broad range of literature. This is especially true when the drudgery of the automobile is paired with Libby, the free library audiobook app.

Libby is an access portal for OverDrive, which is probably the most popular e-book and e-audiobook lending platform currently in existence. OverDrive hit the market early and hit it hard, rolling with every technological upgrade and innovation and shift. Within five years, CD audiobooks gave way to MP3s downloaded through OverDrive’s media app and loaded onto iPods, which in turn gave way to downloaded and then streaming audiobooks that never left the efficient angular nest of the smartphone. And it was all free.

I lean heavily on Libby for my audiobook joy. One of the things I most appreciate about it is that my demands are usually not met. If I had my way, I’d read nothing but bizarro apocalypse science fiction, in the same way that if I had my way I’d eat nothing but sushi and chocolate covered potato chips. Research conducted by me indicates that a diet of extreme, gore-oriented science fiction is about as good for your mind and social skills as a diet of carbohydrates and raw fish is good for your physical longevity. Literary fiction uplifts and transforms. It fosters empathy, cognitive skills, conversational awareness. That’s why it’s good, for my sake, that OverDrive is a veritable desert of screamingly weird garbage. When a book is available – and that is an event worth jumping for – it is normally an example of either Literature or Education. Currently, I am listening to Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth, a collection of short stories that wrestles with identity and place and is definitely Literature. My last audiobook, A Thousand Naked Strangers by Kevin Hazzard, was Education, albeit satisfyingly gory and strange. The combination has populated my dreams with pregnant ambulances agonizing about their relationships with their fathers, so I assume that whatever is supposed to be making me a better person is working.

I hear these books out as I plow microscopic furrows in the asphalt to and from my place of employment, usually listening at double or triple speed. That’s how I know I was born into the right era: I can listen to an audiobook at thrice the speed of speech. (Or half, if I’m working my way though a children’s book in Spanish.) Without the magic of audiobooks, my available reading opportunities would be consumed and expelled with my car’s exhaust every day.

In a world where I could ride the train to work, I could be more productive. I could pair my audio commute with my latest crochet project, for example, rapidly reducing my holiday gift and personal reading lists simultaneously. But I don’t live in a world where eco-friendly travel infrastructure is considered a priority, alas. I live in a world where I sit rigidly in a confined space, watching an hour-long movie about all the ways that other cars can barely miss my front fender. And in that world, audiobooks are more than entertainment. They’re a heartbeat in a sensory deprivation chamber. They’re the lone bulb in my mental safe room.


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Book Review: 1-800-Where-R-You Series by Meg Cabot

Cover image for When lightning strikesThe book series opens on our protagonist, Jess Mastriani, getting into a fight over her best friend, Ruth. Jess is a tomboy, who constantly gets into fights at school, causing her to have detention everyday. While she sees these fights as justified, the teachers and guidance counselors see them as her allowing her temper to get the best of her. She defends those who aren’t able to defend themselves. This is a recurring theme in the series.

At the end of the school day, after her detention, Jess expects Ruth to drive them home. Ruth, however, has decided to walk home. Just as it starts hailing, they take cover under metal bleachers, and Jess is struck by lightning. Thus our story begins and Jess develops extrasensory perception to find missing kids. She wakes up the next morning knowing where two missing kids from the back of a milk carton are. Jess is an all around strong, kick-butt character who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty or handle things on her own.

Her story isn’t without romance though.   Her crush, Rob Wilkins, whom she met in detention, is a bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks and is eighteen, two years older than Jess. And to top it all off, he’s on probation. Ruth comically refers to him as “The Jerk”.

As the series progresses we see Jess save lives, almost gets killed, arsons, and deal with her great aunt Rose. The series has a wide range of locations — from her small town in Indiana, to the summer camp she is a counselor at, to the back woods of her town, to New York and a Military base, and to a biker bar named Chick’s.  Jess is never at a loss for words or adventure, almost always with Rob or Ruth tagging along behind her.

This book series is well written, diverse, and without a doubt one of my favorite book series. I would recommend this series to anyone looking for realistic young adult science fiction or wild adventure.

Bistany, Nevins Library Page

First in series:  When Lightning Strikes by Meg Cabot


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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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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.


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They came…from the Future!

Incredible but true! Well, not quite yet. But while you’re just hanging out and waiting for the future to happen, why not take a look at the literature and see what we’re in for?

 

 Dystopias

The hallmark feature of a dystopia is that the society in question is actually a messed-up utopia. Often, enough people who exist within that system live well enough that they don’t care to challenge the underlying issues, which may or may not involve teenagers fighting to the death on live television. We’re all familiar with The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Giver, and other popular YA dystopias. But for the serious fan of messed-up future societies, the genre has much more to offer.

 

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret AtwoodImage of item

A classic, this story chronicles a world that has gone through a crisis in population implosion. The result: a society where fertile “handmaids” are used to provide chosen families with healthy children.

 

Image of itemHouse of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

Matteo Alacrán is a lucky boy: he has wealth, comfort, and everything a child could want. Except, of course, that he is also the clone of a powerful drug lord, and his sole purpose in life is to donate all of his vital organs to the 143-year-old criminal.

 

 

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuinImage of item

An anarchist planet. A doubter. LeGuin will make you believe that time can encompass philosophy and ethics, that an anarchist society can still survive by unyielding and unspoken laws, and that one person’s ideas can change humanity.

 

Science Fiction

Statistical probability dictates the creation of new interstellar civilizations. People meet and successfully fight giant space bugs. Well-mannered aliens contact us for theological debates. Hitchhikers endure. A lot of science fiction is about the future. In fact, you could even say that all of it is about the future. Here are some of the best examples of the genre.

 

Image of itemThe Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Welcome to the Future! We hope you’ve wound up your motorcycle and gotten the latest vaccine for this year’s viral mutations. Remember, respect the androids, even if everyone else seems to be kicking them around. They might just be the future of intelligent life on Earth.

 

The Forever War by Joe HaldemanImage of item

Lightspeed travel has some odd time dilation effects, and nowhere is this clearer than in interstellar warfare. When the brave soldiers of Earth return home, will they recognize the people they are fighting for?

 

Image of itemDo Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Sci-Fi fans may know this story in its cinematic guise as Blade Runner. In a world where android replicants are virtually identical to humans, Deckard’s job is to suss out the fake from the genuine. As he begins to doubt his own humanity, the definition of “real” becomes dangerously fragile.

 

Apocalypses

The party’s got to end sooner or later, and as you might expect, it’s sort of a drag when the lights go out. Apocalypse books have captured our imaginations since well before When Worlds Collide, Day of the Triffids and Alas, Babylon. (Try Noah and the flood.) But these days, total destruction is often high literature. And, of course, it’s more fun than ever!

 

Station Eleven by Emily St. John MandelImage of item

All the world’s a stage, and since the Georgia Flu wiped out most people, it’s a darn empty one. As a troupe of actors travels the Great Lakes, they discover that art can save – or destroy – the survivors.

Image of itemWool by Hugh Howey

A toxic atmosphere forces all surviving humans to live in the underground Silo, but not everyone believes that the air up there really is bad. When the sheriff’s wife goes above ground, he’s faced with a choice: follow her and risk death, or remain underground and never know the truth.

 

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.Image of item

After a nuclear apocalypse, an order of Roman Catholic monks struggles to preserve the knowledge of the modern world. But will humanity repeat its mistakes anyway?

 

Zombie Takeovers

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What would the future be without zombies? I, for one, don’t care to find out! From World War Z and The Walking Dead to philosophical literature like Raising Stony Mayhall, everyone loves those shambling, moaning, unkillable flesh eaters. Here, have a few more!

 

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by Mira Grant

Political machinations don’t die with the human species. As zombies attack a Presidential candidate, bloggers uncover the terrifying truth: that someone is using the undead as weapons on the campaign trail.

 

The Girl with All The Gifts by M. R. CareyImage of item

What happens when zombies are smart? What about when the smart zombies are children? The tension between humans and zombies, teachers and students, and researchers and subjects blooms in this critically acclaimed book.

 

Image of itemBreathers by S. G. Browne

After Andy dies in a car wreck, he discovers that life’s not easy for zombies. In fact, it’s downright hard to get a job, meet people, and have a decent conversation without someone screaming and trying to decapitate you. Enter the fight for zombie civil equality!