DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!

science fiction

Jun 4 2011

ShareReads: Space Opera

by Jesse M

ShareReads appears on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it. The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it. The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading. Remember: posting a response also counts as an activity for the Summer Reading for Adults program.

It’s summer again, and that means ShareReads will once again be appearing in this spot on Fridays. To start off the discussion, I’d like to talk about one of my favorite (sub)genres of fiction, space opera. Space opera is science fiction on a grand scale: settings that span galaxies, time-scales measured in centuries, and larger than life characters, technologies, and conflicts. The term space opera has no relation to music, but rather draws a parallel between the style of writing and soap operas of daytime television fame. Although the term was originally used pejoratively, space opera is now a very popular genre with published works in a variety of different media, including books, television, film, and video games.

While there are many talented authors producing works of space opera, for this post I’m going to focus on my personal favorite, Peter F. Hamilton. Hamilton is a British author of mystery and science fiction, who first made his mark on the space opera scene with the epic, sprawling Night’s Dawn series. Originally published as a trilogy, it was broken up into six separate books here in the U.S. due to its size (around 3,200 pages total). I am currently re-reading (for what is probably the fifth time) the first title in the series, The Reality Dysfunction, and despite the fact that I already know what’s coming next, I still cannot put it down. Hamilton’s depiction of an interstellar human confederation spread across hundreds of planets and the high technology humans and their alien neighbors serve as a highly detailed backdrop for the dozens of point-of-view characters introduced in the novels. The plot is complex and ambitious in scope, as it must be to keep the reader engaged through the thousands of pages it takes for the story to play out. I highly recommend these books to any science fiction fan.

Sadly, the books in this series are not available in the DCPL catalog, but fortunately the library does have a number of Hamilton’s other titles in stock, several of which are also considered space opera. Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained make up the Commonwealth Saga, which is set in a universe as richly imagined as that of the Night’s Dawn trilogy. Equally as epic in scope and once again utilizing a large cast of point-of-view characters to tell the story, the duo of books would be an excellent starting point for individuals interested in getting a taste of Hamilton’s take on space opera. If you find you enjoy this sort of thing, after finishing the Commonwealth Saga you can dive right into the Void Trilogy, Hamilton’s latest offering, set in the same universe as the Commonwealth Saga but 1200 years in the future. The library carries the first two books in the trilogy, The Dreaming Void and The Temporal Void.

Have you ever read any space opera? If so, tell us about it! Or you can just tell us about what you’re reading now. Join the discussion, and welcome to ShareReads!

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Apr 27 2011

Only The Worst!

by Joseph M

In past entries, we’ve talked about how the jacket covers can tell you something about when a book was published as well as provide vital clues as to the identity of a book which resists identification by other means.

Today I’d like to mention a website devoted to showcasing the most bizarre, inexplicable, and just plain bad science fiction and fantasy book covers out there. It’s called Good Show Sir, and it is billed as “Only the worst Sci-fi/Fantasy book covers”.

The pictures are hilarious, and the commentary even more so! I find it highly amusing. Can you think of any book covers that are so bad they are good?

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Mar 11 2011

A Dance With Dragons

by Jesse M

Big news for fantasy fans: author George R. R. Martin has announced an official publication date for the long awaited fifth installment of his celebrated A Song of Ice and Fire series! Originally slated to be published in 2007, A Dance With Dragons will finally be on shelves by July 12 of this year.  But the good news doesn’t end there.
Martin has also been hard at work adapting a miniseries, “A Game of Thrones“, based on his novels for HBO. The first episode will debut in just over a month, on April 17. HBO has just released a trailer for the series, which you can watch here.

For those not in the know, George R. R. Martin is a prolific and acclaimed author of science fiction and fantasy. Dubbed “the American Tolkien” by TIME magazine, he also possesses the distinction of being my favorite fantasy writer of all time. You can read more about the author and his work at his website, and learn more about the world in which the novels are set here.

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Dec 3 2010

The Morrow Project

by Jesse M

Do you ever wonder what the future holds? How all of the new technologies currently being developed and implemented will change the way we live our lives? If so, you may be interested in The Morrow Project, “a unique literary project which shows the important effects that contemporary research will have on our future and the relevance that this research has for each of us.” Four authors (Douglas Rushkoff, Ray Hammond, Scarlett Thomas, and Markus Heitz) produced short stories inspired by “research currently being conducted…in the fields of photonics, robotics, telematics, dynamic physical rendering and intelligent sensors”. The results are available as a free e-book download (EPUB or PDF) or in podcast form.

If you are interested in further reading along a similar vein, there is an abundance of excellent and thought provoking science fiction in the DCPL catalog. Two I’d recommend in particular are David Marusek’s Counting Heads and Accelerando by Charles Stross, both of which illustrate the pleasures and perils of post-scarcity economics and the frightening and fascinating places technology will take us over the coming decades.

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Aug 31 2010

Better Living Through Sci-Fi

by Joseph M

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, but inspiration can come from the pages of a book as well. In fact, science fiction authors can exert considerable influence on development of modern technology. An example of this is the virtual world known as Second Life, which was directly inspired by Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash, as described in this NPR story. More examples can be found in this related article.

The website Technovelgy helps interested users explore this phenomenon with tools such as a timeline of science fiction invention as well as an alphabetic glossary of science fiction technology, searchable by book, author, or category. Users can also browse the site’s archive of almost 3,000 news articles featuring science fiction.

What science fiction innovations do you foresee in our future?

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Jun 28 2010

The Zooniverse

by Jesse M


When I was younger, I had aspirations of making a career in science. Initially I was most fascinated by paleontology (the study of pre-historic life) but as I grew older I became more and more interested in the space sciences. Originally this manifested as the relatively common childhood desire to be an astronaut, though as time passed I realized it was unlikely that I would ever have the opportunity to become one. As the years progressed I maintained an interest in the space sciences and continued to consume related media on a casual basis, but my choice of courses in high school and college sent me on a career path in the social sciences rather than the astronomical fields I’d been interested in as a youth. These days, my enthusiasm for space science is mostly evidenced by my love of science fiction novels and short stories. Library work is very rewarding, but there isn’t much opportunity to advance the cause of science while on the job. Luckily for me, there is a website called Zooniverse which simultaneously satisfies the desire of amateur enthusiasts like myself to contribute in some fashion to the scientific community while also utilizing the power of crowdsourcing to assist scientists and researchers deal with the flood of incoming data they receive from astronomical instruments.

How does it work? Just head over to the site and check out the list of active projects (such as classifying galaxies or exploring the lunar surface). Select one that you’d like to participate in, watch the tutorial, and get started!

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May 16 2010

The Baen Free Library

by Jesse M

Baen Books is a science fiction and fantasy publishing company established in 1983 by long time science fiction publisher and editor Jim Baen. The company was ranked eighth in terms of total books published (in the SF genre) and was the fifth most popular SF publisher based on the number of bestseller list appearances, according to the Locus 2005 Book Summary. Notable authors published by Baen books include David Weber, Larry Niven, Mercedes Lackey, and Robert Heinlein.

Baen books also offers something else which sets them apart from their peers: free downloads of select published works by their stable of authors through The Baen Free Library. Baen author Eric Flint explains:
“Baen Books is now making available — for free — a number of its titles in electronic format. We’re calling it the Baen Free Library. Anyone who wishes can read these titles online — no conditions, no strings attached.”
The idea is that rather than adopt the restrictive digital rights management approach, authors could choose to allow the opening novel in a series to be read online for free, under the theory that a free copy would get people interested in the author and would not only increase sales of the physical book itself but also create return buyers for the other titles in the series. Additionally, as Flint points out, their approach is an effective way to generate word of mouth advertising:

“How many people who read a book they like which they obtained from a public library never mention it to anyone? As a rule, in my experience, people who frequently borrow books from libraries are bibliophiles. And bibliophiles, in my experience, usually can’t refrain from talking about books they like.”

The DCPL catalog contains many titles by these authors, so if one of the free ebooks available from Baen piques your interest in a series, it is likely you can get the rest of the books for free as well, from your local library.

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Jan 22 2010

Time Travel Fiction

by Jesse M

time-machine DCPLive imageIn this week’s post, I will discuss one of the most interesting and variable of genres, time travel fiction. For our purposes, time travel simply means either going forward or backward in time (for a more detailed explanation of time travel, go here). Time travel fiction can generally be divided into two distinct catagories, time travel fantasy vs. time travel science fiction. Generally, the categorization is made based upon the method of time travel; stories involving time travel devices and technologies are considered part of the science fiction genre, whereas stories that involve time travel through supernatural, magical, or unexplained means are considered part of the fantasy genre. Additionally, time travel science fiction is more likely to concern itself with the possible consequences of time travel, such as the Grandfather Paradox.

While time travel fiction has been around for centuries (many different cultures possess ancient myths and folktales in which the characters engage in something akin to forward time travel; examples include the Hindu account of King Kakudmi and the Japanese tale of Urashima Taro), it was in the 1800s that the genre came into its own. One of the earliest examples of time travel in fiction takes place in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (the ghosts of Christmas past and future serve as the medium by which the travel occurs, putting this into the time travel fantasy category). The latter part of the century saw the publication of the seminal time travel novel, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, in which the protagonist builds a device which carries him to the far future, and eventually back again. The book marked the first appearance of a “time machine”, a term coined by Wells, and as such can be considered the first time travel science fiction novel (this is not entirely accurate, actually The Time Machine was his second published work involving the concept of time travel, the first being a short story titled The Chronic Argonauts, however The Time Machine was more successful and is responsible for popularizing the genre). Other novels published in the 1800s involving time travel include A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (which is an excellent example of time travel fantasy, as no explanation for the time travel is ever provided, and despite the protagonist’s introduction of ideas and technology well in advance of the time period, there is no examination of the potential consequences of this) by Mark Twain, and Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, the third largest best-seller of its time, which features a young American male who falls into a hypnotic sleep and wakes over 100 years in the future.

[read the rest of this post…]

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Jul 1 2008

Unlimited Enthusiasm

by Heather S

Unlimitedenthusiasm_4 Unlimited Enthusiasm Expo ’08, aka Camp Jump and Yell for Boys and Girls and Wizards, is coming to Atlanta! On July 6, Harry and the Potters, Math the Band, Uncle Monsterface and Dumbledore D$ will be rocking at Eyedrum. The enthusiasm will be unleashed starting with an early show at 5pm and the regular show at 6pm.

According to the press release, one can “expect a show filled with kids and adults, parents and teenagers, all collectively losing their minds in a joyous outpouring of geeky summer fun. This will be the ultimate experience in participatory concerts with volunteers for each show on hand to mix Kool-aid and Tang and make peanut butter and jelly and grilled cheese sandwiches. There will be name-tags! Voter registrations! Awesome wizards! Giant monsters! Cool videos! Rock and roll aerobics! Inflatable monkeys! Dancing sock puppets! A rock and roll tour can be whatever we want, so long as we have one thing: Unlimited Enthusiasm. “

Advance tickets are available for $10 at Little Shop of Stories or at a local Ticket Alternative Outlet, which include Criminal Records, Decatur CD or Ella Guru. Advance tickets can also be purchased online from Ticket Alternative. Tickets on the day of the show or at the door will be $12.

I will see you jumping, yelling and dancing with sock puppets at the Expo!  I’m so excited and I just can’t hide it, I’m planning on losing control and letting the enthusiasm flow! *

* My apologies are given to the Pointer Sisters for mutilating their song with my silliness. I blame my unlimited enthusiasm.


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