Posts Tagged ‘Aliens’

Best New Books of 2014: Dan B’s Picks

December 3, 2014

My favorite books of this year include a dark and grim Fantasy, a book about meditation, the newest Star Wars novel set far, far away, and two near future Sci-Fi thrillers. Here are some of my top picks from 2014:

Half a KingHalf a King by Joe Abercrombie
Move over George R.R. Martin, there’s a new author of grim, dark Fantasy in town. Prince Yarvi is the titular “half king” due to his deformed and crippled left arm, with which he can hold neither sword nor shield. That’s fine with Yarvi, as he never wanted to be a warrior or king, and is content to continue his studies. However, Yarvi’s plans change when his father the king and his brother are both murdered by a rival king from across the sea. Yarvi must strike back against treacherous enemies, but some are seen and others are hidden.  See my full review.

10% Happier10% Happier by Dan Harris
ABC newsman Dan Harris has never been a very spiritual guy. The news biz is pretty cut throat and for years he was driven to succeed and get on air as often as he could. One fateful day the mounting pressure got to him, and while reporting the news on Good Morning America, he had a nervous breakdown – live on national TV. Harris’ memoir-cum-self-help book about the benefits of meditation takes readers through his journey, and if doing something can make you 10% happier, wouldn’t you want to try it?

A New DawnA New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… Kanan Jarrus is a former Jedi student who’s become a loner, never staying put too long. Almost 20 years before A New Hope, the Empire defeated the Republic and the people of the galaxy began to suffer. The Emperor has sent Count Vidian to the planet Gorse and its moon Cynda to ensure productivity is high in their mining operation, no matter the cost. There just might be a spark of rebellion soon. This novel takes place shortly before the new Star Wars Rebels cartoonSee my full review.

Lock InLock In by John Scalzi
In the near future, a virus spreads that leaves about 1% of our population locked inside themselves, unable to control their bodies. They can interact with the world two ways: through an “integrator” (a person who lets them ride inside their body), or through the use of a robotic body that they control remotely, known as a “threep.” When a murder occurs involving an integrator, rookie FBI agent Chris Shane is partnered with Leslie Vann to solve the case. Chris, a victim of the disease who uses a threep, soon discovers the real mystery goes much deeper.

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
Astronaut Mark Watney becomes stranded on Mars when a dust storm forces his team to evacuate and return to Earth earlier than planned. He is presumed dead, but has miraculously survived, and although he knows he’ll be the first human to die on Mars, he fights to stay alive. As the mission’s engineer, Mark may have just enough know-how to figure out how to get enough air, pressure, food, and water to live. By turns thrilling and laugh-out-loud funny, this tale of survival set against a Science Fiction backdrop will have you turning pages past your bedtime.

A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller

October 6, 2014

Star Wars: A New DawnA long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

The legendary “Dark Times” in Star Wars span about twenty years between Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Episode IV: A New Hope. This is when the Empire rises, growing in power and taking over across the galaxy. A New Dawn takes place about six years before the events in the new Star Wars Rebels cartoon. This novel is also the first in the new, official Star Wars Expanded Universe – created in consultation with Lucasfilm.

In this story we’re introduced to a whole new cast of characters. Kanan Jarrus is a drifter, a loner who never stays in one place too long. He’s been hauling miners and explosives between the dark side of the planet Gorse and its moon, Cynda, when he gets sucked into larger events beyond his control. Hera Syndulla is a Twi’lek female and one of the earliest members of the secret, underground rebellion. She’s come to Gorse to observe the Empire’s takeover of the mining operations and to scout for potential recruits. Skelly is a Clone Wars veteran and munitions expert who believes that the moon Cynda is in great danger of being destroyed through unsafe mining practices. Unfortunately for him, he can’t seem to get anyone in power to listen to him and he comes off as if he’s got a few screws loose.

Count Vidian, Emperor Palpatine’s efficiency and business expert, has been dispatched to Cynda aboard an Imperial Star Destroyer to increase production of the mining facilities – by whatever means necessary. Count Vidian is a cyborg, part human and part machine, similar to other baddies like General Grievous and Darth Vader. The Count makes for a ruthless villain, treating everyone from the Captain and crew of the Star Destroyer ship to the mining industry representatives with contempt and violence. He cares only that the Emperor’s demands are met – and that he’s able to turn a tidy profit while doing so.

There’s plenty of action as the events unfold, and some great world-building too, since just about everything happens on either Gorse or Cynda. We learn quite a bit about the unusual relationship between Gorse and Cynda, as well as the hardy miners and rough civilization that has settled on a planet that has a permanent dark side. One of the things I enjoyed most about this novel is that the characters and setting were all new, while still very much a part of the larger Star Wars universe.

John Jackson Miller also wrote the great Sci-Fi Western story, Kenobi, which I reviewed last year.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Join us on Saturday, October 11 from 3-5 p.m. for Star Wars Reads Day when we’ll have fun crafts, trivia, books, and more in an event for all ages to celebrate all the reasons why we love Star Wars.

Best New Books of 2013: Janet L’s Picks

December 9, 2013

I like books that feature characters, whether fictional or real-life, to whom I can relate.  This year I was drawn into the world of a motherless girl in the NC mountains, an alien sent to Earth from another planet, a fellow librarian, service personnel redeployed home, and the commander of the British sector of post WWII Berlin.

Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel
In The Good Soldiers, David Finkel wrote about the lives of the soldiers of the US-216 Infantry Battalion during their deployment in Iraq.  Thank You for Your Service is the eye opening account of what life is like for these same soldiers as they return home.   This is a searing, heartbreaking and sometimes infuriating book, written with compassion and a great eye for the telling detail.

Flora by Gail Godwin
Ten year old Helen Anstruther lives in a dilapidated old house at the top of a rutted driveway in Mountain City, North Carolina. It’s 1945 and her father needs someone to stay with his motherless daughter while he goes to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to contribute to a mysterious project related to World War II.  Twenty two year old cousin Flora is recruited.  The developing relationship between Helen and Flora is the heart of the story and has unexpected and devastating consequences.  Read my full-length post here.

The Humans by Matt Haig
The family of mathematician Andrew Martin is surprised but pleased by the sudden, favorable change in his behavior.  Little do they suspect it’s because he’s been replaced by an alien sent to prevent him from discovering a mathematical truth that could give humans unprecedented power. Instead the alien finds himself warming to and falling in love with the very beings he’s been sent to destroy.  This novel deftly combines math, poetry, and family dysfunction into an often hilarious and touching exploration of what it means to be human.

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook
Colonel Lewis Morgan is in charge of the British operations in the divided city of Berlin, immediately following the end of World War II.  His wife resents the assignment; they lost a child in the bombing of England by German planes.  Morgan struggles to treat the defeated Germans in a manner he considers decent while fulfilling his mission of rebuilding the war torn city and identifying former Nazis.

The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne
Josh Hanagarne has a well developed sense of humor, forged in the crucible of a loving family fond of practical jokes — and he needs it. Diagnosed with Tourette syndrome at a young age, he faces extra challenges in life. His condition affects his school life, his love life, and his stint as a missionary for his church.  He must persevere to find love, finish his education, and establish a career.  Along the way he develops coping mechanisms, including controlling his tics through physical exercise.  This is a very funny, beautifully written book with a lot to say about perseverance, family, marriage, faith and yes, weight training. Read my full-length post here.

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

November 26, 2013

milkThis is Neil Gaiman’s fifth book published this year! The other books include, Chu’s Day: a picture book about a sneezing panda, The Silver Dream: co-written with Michael & Mallory Reaves – the sequel to the teen novel Interworld, Make Good Art: Neil’s commencement speech from the University of the Arts, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane: a magically creepy book that is only for grown ups. Fortunately, the Milk, however, is for kids and for grown ups of all ages. It is the story of an ordinary dad who has a very extraordinary adventure on his way to the corner store and back to get some milk for his kids’ cereal. What makes this fun adventure even better are the illustrations throughout the story by Skottie Young.

You see, when the dad in this story steps out to get some milk for his kids (because who wants to eat dry Toastios?) he is kidnapped by Aliens on his way back home. The dad escapes only to end up on a ship with nasty pirates. He’s made to walk the plank, but at the very last second is saved by a time traveling stegosaurus in a balloon (Professor Steg invented the time traveling device). Soon they are beset by volcano god worshipping islanders who want to sacrifice them, but some finagling with the space-time continuum pops them away. They travel into a dark land inhabited by vampires, who want to have the duo for breakfast. The traveling companions once again manage to escape certain doom only to end up back home and to be captured once again by the same aliens from the beginning. The aliens then also bring the pirates, the islanders, and the vampires on board their space ship to further menace dad and Professor Steg. During each part of this fun and funny adventure dad almost loses the milk, but fortunately, the milk makes it home with dad, so his kids can eat their Toastios, and he can have his tea.

Kids who read this book will grow up to like Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide series; and adults who love Douglas Adams will really enjoy this kids’ book! Fortunately for the kids in the story, their Dad survives his adventures to bring home the milk, and fortunately for all of us, Neil Gaiman continues writing (and at an amazing pace!) and created this wonderful story about time travel and breakfast cereal.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Kenobi by John Jackson Miller

October 4, 2013

This new novel isn’t just for Sci-Fi fans, but it should also appeal to lovers of Western movies and novels too. It is set on the desert planet of Tatooine and features the struggles of a loner outcast as he tries to live peacefully and quietly on the fringe of a ranch town. His plans go awry as he becomes involved with the lives of the townspeople and the man who wants to lead them. Obi Wan Kenobi was an inter-galactic hero during the Clone Wars, but now that The Republic is controlled by Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader, Kenobi must go into hiding and change himself into a recluse. The story is reminiscent of classics Westerns, such as Shane.

Kenobi occupies an abandoned home out in the Judland wastes of the desert so that he will be able to keep an eye on the infant Luke Skywalker living with his aunt and uncle. One day he ends up rescuing a mother and her daughter from a crazed runaway Dewback (a lizard about the size of a steer). Shortly after that he comes to “the Oasis” for supplies, where the mother Annileen Calwell (everyone calls her Annie) runs the store. Strangers are not a common sight in this small town where sand is everywhere and moisture farming is one of the main occupations, so naturally the townspeople are very curious about Ben. Try as he might to keep a low profile, Kenobi is slowly drawn into helping Annileen and her family.

This Western / Sci-Fi story also answers some questions that fans may have about the years in between the more recent prequel trilogy and the original films. What happened to Obi Wan Kenobi after Anakin became Darth Vader at the end of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith? How did the forty-ish Jedi Obi Wan (played by Ewan McGregor at 34) age to become the seventy-something “crazy old Ben” Kenobi (played by Sir Alec Guinness at 62) in just nineteen years? I, for one, enjoyed learning the answer to a question I hadn’t even realized I was wondering about.

In addition to a great story in the Western style, Miller also explores a bit more about the Tusken Raiders and gives readers insight into a bit of their history and religious beliefs about life on this desert planet with two suns. The author also shares Kenobi’s Jedi meditations directed toward his former master Qui Gon Jinn, an excellent technique for letting the reader in on Ben’s private thoughts and worries. Other Star Wars inhabitants of Tatooine also make appearances, such as Jawas, Banthas, and Hutts – and we even get a trip to the big city of Mos Eisley. Hey, if a Western / Sci-Fi crossover could work for Joss Whedon’s Firefly, why not for Star Wars too?

P.S. Did you know that Saturday, October 5 is Star Wars Reads Day?

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Star Wars: Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn

March 25, 2013

This heist/caper story is highly reminiscent of the movie ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ with Han Solo & Lando Calrissian in roles similar to those played by George Clooney & Brad Pitt. (And it’s funny because both the positive and negative reviews on Goodreads claim the similarity to that particular movie as the main reason for why readers did or did not like it.) But, this novel is also just a great Star Wars story in its own right, taking place just after the events of Episode IV: A New Hope, when Han Solo helped defeat the Empire and blow up the Death Star to save the Galaxy. Scoundrels mixes familiar and unfamiliar characters in a job involving stealing a hefty sum from one of the richest and most powerful crime lords on the planet Wukkar.

There is plenty of the action that Star Wars fans are used to with droids, aliens, landspeeders and blasters and more that make it easy to visualize the story as if it were a movie. Scoundrels is also sprinkled with some very humorous moments throughout the story. We get some background on Han & Lando’s rocky friendship and even learn what is very likely the reason that Lando ends up betraying his friends in Cloud City in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. There are a few other references that true geeks will appreciate, incuding one to the Han vs. Greedo showdown in the Mos Eisley cantina.

If you’ll pardon a small *spoiler* I just can’t help myself from mentioning one of my favorite scenes in the novel (which I also couldn’t help gushing about to my wife, who is not exactly a Star Wars geek). While the heist is going down, Zahn throws in a reference to ‘Indiana Jones’ – also created by George Lucas – when Han Solo (played by Harrison Ford, of course) is fleeing in front of a runaway giant ball that is crushing everything in its path.

The book contains a twist ending with another familiar Star Wars character making an appearance at the very end, but I won’t spoil that surprise. This is only the third Star Wars novel I’ve read, and my first by Timothy Zahn, who is a wonderful storyteller that has been writing in the Star Wars universe for a very long time. I’m definitely planning on reading more; in fact, I recently forked over two bucks to get his e-book novella about Lando and a few of the other crew from this novel in an earlier adventure: Star Wars: Winner Lose All.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Redshirts by John Scalzi

January 25, 2013

Any geek worth his or her salt will know where the title for this book came from. For those of you who aren’t Sci-Fi nerds, it comes from Star Trek and a “redshirt” is a low ranking crew member who accompanies the Captain and other bridge officers on dangerous missions away from the ship. The redshirts almost always die. This concept is so ingrained into Star Trek lore, that J.J. Abrams even included it in his movie re-booting the franchise a few years ago. Here, Scalzi puts his own unique — and hilarious — spin on the idea in his newest* novel. (*Dang it, I wrote this review when the book came out last June, but we’ve had too many hold requests on it for us to promote it on our blog until now.)

Regular readers of this blog may remember what a huge fan I am of John Scalzi, and will note that I have blogged about several of his books before. So, suffice it to say, that I was really, really looking forward to this one! Ensign Andrew Dahl is a recent graduate of Space Fleet Academy and newly assigned to the Universal Union’s flagship vessel Intrepid. He makes a few friends with other new crewmen (and women) while waiting to board the ship and as soon as he’s on board he’s approached by the Chief Science Officer, Q’eeng. Dahl is accompanied to his assigned department (Xenobiology) and on the way Q’eeng asks him if he is interested in participating in away missions. Dahl isn’t necessarily keen to leave the ship on any dangerous missions, but he gets the impression that Q’eeng wants him to agree, so he does. After a few strange incidents in the Xenobiology lab, he and his friends discuss the odd start to their assignments in the mess hall — and they all seem to have noticed some of the same strange things about the U.U. ship Intrepid. Everyone on board, from bridge officers to department heads, to crewmen (and women), behaves VERY strangely about away missions.

Soon, Dahl and some fellow ensigns accompany a couple of Lieutenants to a space station which emitted a distress call to which the Intrepid has responded. The two away teams find themselves in some very deep doo-doo because the machines on board the space station have gone berserk and are killing all the humans. Needless to say, once the survivors have returned to their ship, Ensign Dahl and his crewmates begin to put two and two together about why everyone board is so twitchy about away missions and working directly with the bridge officers.  As the tagline on the front of the book says, “They were expendable … until they started comparing notes.” What follows is a rollicking send up of that old sci-fi show we geeks love, which also has some thought-provoking big ideas – and “meta-ness” – behind it.

If you liked Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide series of books, if you enjoyed the movie Galaxy Quest,  and definitely if you are a Fan of Star Trek (Trekkie or Trekker), you have got to read this new novel by this award-winning author and all around cool guy.

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Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card

October 5, 2012

I didn’t discover Ender’s Game until my early 20s, when we found each other and fell in love.  After that, I read the first two sequels in the series (Speaker for the Dead and Xenocide) which I enjoyed, but didn’t want to get sucked into an epically long series (now 14 books long) when there are so many other wonderful books to read. Until, that is, I heard that Orson Scott Card was writing a prequel to my beloved Ender’s Game, covering the time directly before the Formics arrived in our solar system

Earth Unaware follows three separate stories; that of the ship El Cavador, home to a family of Venezualan free-miners, which becomes closely intertwined with the story of a corporate ship captained by Lem Jukes, son of the notorious (and incredibly wealthy) Ukko Jukes of Juke Limited, and finally, that of Wit O’Toole, head of the Mobile Operations Police (MOPs) an “elite international peacekeeping force,” as he seeks new recruits for his team.

When an object is picked up on El Cavador’s radar moving very fast and toward Earth, the residents of the ship know two things; that whatever it is can’t be human, and that it could change the future of human civilization as they know it. Their long-range communication devices are down thanks to a recent skirmish with Lem Jukes’ ship, which is now, ironically, the only one that El Cavador is close enough to spread the news to.

Earth Unaware tracks the actions of both ships as they try to relay word of the alien ship to Earth, and of the MOPS, as they attempt to anticipate the unexpected and to prepare for anything. If you’ve read Ender’s Game, I think you know what’s coming…

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The Android’s Dream by John Scalzi

September 10, 2012

If you take a look at my previous posts you’ll notice that I love me some humor and satire in my books. You’ll also notice that I’m a huge geek for Science Fiction and that I’ve blogged about the author John Scalzi several times before (my wife says that he’s my “man-crush” but we’ll leave that theory alone for right now). So, how could I not love a satirical science fiction novel about the diplomacy and inter-species relations between humans and an alien race with vastly superior military and technological power? Of course, I thoroughly enjoyed The Android’s Dream, despite the fact that I was a tiny bit disappointed to find out that there is no actual android in the book. The title is a reference to Philip K. Dick’s classic novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? However, while there is no adroid in this book, there is a sheep … sort of.

The story opens with an Earth diplomat who murders his alien counterpart during a routine trade negotiation meeting in one of the most creative, imaginative – and humorous – ways possible. This, in turn, causes an inter-stellar incident with the reptilian Nidu race. They demand that a very rare breed of sheep be delivered to them for a coronation ritual on their home world. This wouldn’t be a problem, but the few of these sheep that exist on Earth have all mysteriously died very recently. Thus, the state department enlists just the man for the job: Harry Creek.

Creek is a former war hero and computer hacker/genius who also has an unusual skill set that makes him the ideal person for his offical role with the State department. Harry is the guy who delivers bad news to the aliens living on Earth. When an alien  diplomat’s wife is refused her entry visa because of the infidelity that she is committing, Harry has to break the news to her husband. And, when the diplomatic crisis that can only be solved with a sheep arises, the government taps Harry to solve this little problem as well.

How Harry ends up handing things and finding the desired sheep is an interesting and very entertaining journey. Mixed in with all of this are some mercernary thugs of dubious skill, the Church of the Evolved Lamb (which is trying to influence the course of human history over many generations), scheming and plotting government agents from rival departments, a large furry alien on a religious quest, and the world’s first (or is it?) artificial intelligence created from an actual human mind. In true Scalzi fashion, this book has a great story with plenty of action, some twists and turns along the way, and hidden within are some “”big ideas”” on which one can ponder about human nature and how we do – or don’t – get along on our little planet.

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Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi

April 7, 2011

If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you’ll know that I love humorous books as well as science fiction.  Well, you can imagine how happy I was to read this funny story of an up and coming Hollywood agent who is recruited to “represent” an alien species who wants to make first contact with humanity.  The main problem, though, is the these aliens don’t look like what you might think of when you think of aliens.  No “Close Encounters” gray bodies with bubble shaped heads, no “E.T.”, not even the aliens from the Aliens movies.  Nope, these guys (known as the Yherajk) are the size of a small dog, the shape of … well, they have no real shape, they’re sort of gelatinous, and they smell worse than four day old fish.  So, not exactly an easy assignment for our hero, Tom Stein.

Of course, that’s not Tom’s only problem, he’s also got a tabloid rag doing an exposé on him, some very unbalanced clients (ranging from a Hasselhoff wanna-be to a singer turned-actress with a body like Barbie, but a personality that makes Shannon Doherty look kind, to a 20-something shapely blonde actress with little talent who suddenly wants to do an “Oscar worthy” Holocaust movie), plus the fact that he doesn’t exactly know how he’s going to sell these repulsive aliens to humankind.   Told with John Scalzi’s trademark wit, I found myself chuckling along with the all too believable situations that Tom finds himself in – both when dealing with his clients, his boss, and Joshua: the alien chosen to represent the Yherajk to humanity).   These aliens have studied earth culture via the television broadcasts we beam out into space for the better part of the last century (much as the aliens did in Galaxy Quest, although these guys can at least tell that TV is not real life).  When I reviewed Scalzi’s Old Man’s War back in January, I said I was looking forward to reading more books by him, and I’m glad I didn’t wait too long before reading the sequel to that book: The Ghost Brigades, and this one, and I still am looking forward to discovering what else Mr. Scalzi has in store.

If you like your Sci-Fi silly or your Fantasy Funny, then I hope you’ll consider this book, as well as some of the other books you’ll find on our online reading list of Funny Sci-Fi & Fantasy. Several other books on that list have been featured on our blog before, such as The Eyre Affair, Anansi Boys, and To Say Nothing of the Dog.

Find & reserve your copy of Agent to the Stars in our catalog.

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