Sci-Fi

NVCL Reads: Dystopic Canadian Novels

Reading today’s headlines it is no surprise that dystopian fiction has attracted a new audience.  Book sales of classics like 1984 and Brave New World have skyrocketed, meanwhile Canada’s dystopic diva Margaret Atwood has found a new fanbase for her classic, The Handmaid’s Tale, with Hulu’s dark and wildly popular TV series.

In honour of these dark times, may I present #NVCLreadsDystopia

 

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandelstation eleven

I absolutely LOVED this book.

Station Eleven asks a question that most dystopian novels miss: how do the survivors of a worldwide epidemic learn to enjoy life after they’ve learned how to survive? What happens to art when 99.9% of the world is dead? Emily St.John Mandel weaves convincing characters together with the most intriguing elements – Shakespearean theatre, a traveling symphony, cults, kidnappings, a very fluffy puppy, secret poets, sci-fi comic books, the life of the rich and famous, and the life of a paparazzo. Station Eleven is one of those books that sits in your mind, begging for attention, long after it’s over. (From the publisher).

The Handmaids Tale and Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
handmaidstales

Although it was originally published in 1985, as mentioned earlier The Handmaids Tale is likely the best known piece of Canadian dystopian fiction today. Set in a near-future totalitarian England, the Republic of Gilead,  the novel explores themes of women in subjugation and the various means by which they gain individualism and independence.

If you’ve had enough of Gilead, Margaret Atwood has plenty to offer for those interested in imagining just how bad things could get.

As the first book in the dystopic trilogy, and soon to be it’s very own HBO series, no Canadian dystopic list would be complete without Margaret Atwood’s riveting novel Oryx and Crake. 

When the story opens, the narrator Snowman is sleeping in a tree, wearing an old bedsheet, mourning the loss of his beloved Oryx and his best friend Crake, and slowly starving to death. He searches for supplies in a wasteland where insects proliferate and pigoons and wolvogs ravage the pleeblands, where ordinary people once lived, and the Compounds that sheltered the extraordinary. As he tries to piece together what has taken place, the narrative shifts to decades earlier. How did everything fall apart so quickly? Why is he left with nothing but his haunting memories? Alone except for the green-eyed Children of Crake, who think of him as a kind of monster, he explores the answers to these questions in the double journey he takes – into his own past, and back to Crake’s high-tech bubble-dome, where the Paradice Project unfolded and the world came to grief. (From the publisher).

Neuromancer by William Gibson neuromancer

Neuromancer was  the first novel to win the Nebula, Huge and Philip K. Dick Award–an unprecedented achievement which thereby legitimized cyberpunk as a mainstream branch of science fiction literature. Set within the Matrix, a world within the world and global consensus- hallucination, Neuromancer follows the story of Henry Case. Case had been the sharpest data-thief in the business, until vengeful former employees crippled his nervous system. But now a new and very mysterious employer recruits him for a last-chance run. The target: an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence orbiting Earth in service of the sinister Tessier-Ashpool business clan. With a dead man riding shotgun and Molly, mirror-eyed street-samurai, to watch his back, Case embarks on an adventure that ups the ante on an entire genre of fiction. (From the publisher).

 

Company Town by Madeline Ashby

companytown

New Arcadia is a city-sized oil rig off the coast of the Canadian Maritimes, now owned by one very wealthy, powerful, byzantine family: Lynch Ltd.

Hwa is of the few people in her community (which constitutes the whole rig) to forgo bio-engineered enhancements. As such, she’s the last truly organic person left on the rig—making her doubly an outsider, as well as a neglected daughter and bodyguard extraordinaire. Still, her expertise in the arts of self-defense and her record as a fighter mean that her services are yet in high demand. When the youngest Lynch needs training and protection, the family turns to Hwa. But can even she protect against increasingly intense death threats seemingly coming from another timeline?

Meanwhile, a series of interconnected murders threatens the city’s stability and heightens the unease of a rig turning over. All signs point to a nearly invisible serial killer, but all of the murders seem to lead right back to Hwa’s front door. Company Town has never been the safest place to be—but now, the danger is personal. (From the publisher).

 

Nostalgia by M.G. Vassanji  nostalgia

For fans of the HBO series Westworld, comes a taut and thought-provoking novel about the personal identity and the power of one’s past.

In the indeterminate future in an unnamed western city, physical impediments to immortality have been overcome. As society approaches the prospect of eternal life, a new problem must be confronted: with the threat of the brain’s storage capacity being overwhelmed, people want to move forward into the future free from redundant, unwanted and interfering memories. Rejuvenated bodies require rejuvenated identities–all traces of a person’s past are erased and new, complete fictions are implanted in their stead. On occasion, though, cracks emerge, and reminders of discarded lives seep through. Those afflicted suffer from Leaked Memory Syndrome, or Nostalgia, whereby thoughts from a previous existence burrow in the conscious mind threatening to pull sufferers into an internal abyss.

Doctor Frank Sina specializes in sealing these memory leaks. He is satisfied in his profession, more or less secure in the life he shares with his much younger lover, content with his own fiction–a happy childhood in the Yukon, an adulthood marked by the influence of a mathematician father and poet mother. But one day, Presley Smith arrives in Frank’s office. Persistent thoughts are torturing Presley, recurring images of another time and place. As he tries to save Presley from the onslaught of memory, Frank finds clues that suggest Presley’s past may be located in war-torn, nuclear-ravaged Maskinia, a territory located in the southern hemisphere, isolated from the north by fiercely guarded borders and policy barriers. Frank’s suspicions are only intensified when the Department of Internal Security takes an interest in Presley. They describe him as one of their own, meaning his new life was one they created for him, and they want him back. Who was Presley before the Department remade him, what secrets are buried in the memories that are encroaching upon him? As Frank tries to save Presley from both internal and external threats, cracks emerge in his own fiction, and the thoughts that sneak through suggest a connection with the mysterious Presley that goes well beyond a doctor and his patient. (From the publisher).

 

Beach Reads 2016

beachreadsYesterday afternoon I went down to Ambleside for my first beach read of the season… and it was glorious.  There’s something irresistible about the combination of sun, sand, sea, and book.  As rushedrushedrushed as life sometimes feels (especially as the kids’ school year winds to a close), I fully intend to take time to pass the time reading on the beach, and here are some of the books I intend to take with me:

What We Become* by Arturo Perez-Reverte

Max is a charming conman working as a ballroom dancer on an ocean liner when he meets Mecha, a married woman.  The two share a strong connection that lasts over decades.

girlsThe Girls by Emma Cline

I like the contrast of dark themes and sunny beach, and can’t wait to get my hands on this debut.  The New York Times raves, “Emma Cline’s first novel, “The Girls,” is a seductive and arresting coming-of-age story hinged on Charles Manson, told in sen­tences at times so finely wrought they could almost be worn as jewelry.”

sweetbitterSweetbitter by Stephanie Danler and The Assistants by Camille Perri

Call it new adult chick lit if you must; to me stories of young women discovering who they are and what they stand for (and hopefully making several interesting mistakes along the way) veritably screams, “Beach!”

sleepingSleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

Taking a page from World War Z, Sleeping Giants takes the form of an oral history, in which an 11-year old girl falls through a hole in the earth and is found cupped in the palm of a giant mechanical hand.  This is the book that has been most recommended to me, and I’m looking forward to immersing myself in its mysteries.

voodooThe Voodoo Killings by Kristi Charish

Above all else, I’m still a sucker for a good zombie story.  Kincaid is a 27-year old necromancer living in modern day Seattle and making a living channelling Kurt Cobain, when she finds herself embroiled in a murder mystery.

Have a great beach read you’d like to add to the list?  Please share in the comments below.  Happy Beach Reacing!

-Patricia

Recent Award Winners

Oh how my TBR pile grows!  Every time it seems like I have a nearly manageable pile of books by my bedside table, I find two or three more I have to read.  This problem gets worse around this time of year thanks in part to the many fantastic literary awards out there.  Here are some recent winners that are simply begging to be read:

vegetarianThe Man Booker International Prize Winner

The Vegetarian* by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith

Yeong-hye is an ordinary woman plagued by extraordinary dreams that inspire her to stop eating meat.  This small change sets a bizarre chain of events in motion in this Kafka-esque novel.

uprootedThe Nebula Award Winner for Best Novel

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

A wizard named Dragon takes Agnieszka away from her Polish village to serve him for a period of ten years.  During that time, she learns she has a rare gift for magic, and finds herself on a deadly quest.

HeadFullThe Bram Stoker Award Winner for Superior Achievement in a Novel

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Did 14-year old Marjorie have schizophrenia or is she the victim of demonic possession?  And was the reality show filming Marjorie representing the truth? Her sister Merry is determined to find out…

inventionThe Orwell Prize Winner

The Invention of Russia by Arkady Ostrovsky

The Orwell Prize is awarded annually to a non-fiction title that “makes political writing into an art.”  This year’s winner examines the social, political, and economic changes that have happened in Russia over the past three decades.

-Patricia

*As always, thanks to NetGalley and Edelweiss for digital ARCs of these titles.

Gong Hey Fat Choy

February 8th is Chinese New Year – so Happy New Year! Here are a few reading selections to help expand your understanding of this fascinating culture.

Nonfiction:

AgeOfAmbitionAge of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China, by Evan Osnos

Looking at the clash between individual aspiration and authoritarian control in the new China, New Yorker staff writer, Evan Osnos, delivers a vivid portrait told through the stories of everyday people. With great narrative flair, the author explores the themes of economic change, censorship, and personal values. Winner of the 2014 National Book Award in Non-fiction.

MasteringChineseCookingMastering the Art of Chinese Cooking, by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo

So what’s not to love about Chinese food? This cookbook provides skill-building lessons, brush drawn illustrations of step-by-step techniques, and great photographs of finished dishes, ingredients, and landscapes. This beautiful book is a great way into the ancient cuisine of China, and is a delight to leaf through as well.

CountryDrivingCountry Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory, by Peter Hessler

Road Trip! Acquiring his Chinese driver’s license, Hessler sets out to track how the automobile and improved roads are transforming China. He follows the Great Wall, and then moves to a small farming village which dramatically alters before his eyes. Finally he ends up in a city where he witnesses the shift from agriculture to industry. Along the way, Hessler writes movingly about the average people who are reshaping the nation.

Fiction:

frogMo Yan – Frog

You might know Mo Yan as the 2012 Nobel prize winner for literature.  Mo sheds light on the far-reaching implications of China’s one-child policy in Frog.  Tadpole is a playwright writing a play about his aunt Gugu, a midwife and steadfast Communist who performs abortions to demonstrate her loyalty to the party.

 

threebodyCixin Liu – The Three-Body Problem

2015’s Hugo Award Winner was this hard science fiction Chinese novel in translation. The Three-Body Problem attempts to answer an age-old SF question: What happens when humans and aliens make first contact? The book is the first in an anticipated trilogy; volume 2 is due out later this year.

americanbornchineseGene Luen Yang – American Born Chinese

Yang made news earlier this year when he was named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in the US.  If you haven’t already, I urge you to read his graphic novels starting with American Born Chinese. It tells three intertwined stories about characters longing to fit in.

You can read his inspiring inaugural speech online; his powerful closing sentiments echo our own,

Let me end by encouraging you to read without walls. Find a book with someone on the cover who doesn’t look like you or live like you. Find a book about a topic that you don’t know much about. Find a book that’s in a format you’ve never tried before: a graphic novel, a words-only novel, or a novel in verse.

Read without walls and see what happens.

I bet it’ll be something amazing.

恭禧發財!

-Michael and Patricia