Friday, June 21, 2013

Just Finished

In the last couple days I finished reading Fallout by Todd Strasser, an extremely grim science fiction alternate history look at a middle school age boy in 1962 when nuclear war strikes. His father has had a fallout shelter constructed under an addition to the house so when the sirens sound they are overwhelmed by neighbors trying to get in. This is a horrifying story of what could have happened. I think, this perhaps, may hold more interest for people who remember the bomb drills and fallout shelters of the early 60s. It vividly brought back to me my memories of 1962 when my dad and uncle excavated a 10 ft. deep hole in the crawl space under our house. We kids were charged with surreptitiously smuggling the dug up dirt into the garden so nobody would know we had a bomb shelter. We never did really have a bomb shelter, just a big hole under the house.

Earth Girl, a debut novel by Janet Edwards is a terrific science fiction tale set in the far future (2788) when humanity has spread to several planets. Jarra is Handicapped, one of the few who, due to a medical condition, can only live on Earth. There is a huge stigma attached to being Handicapped. Jarra will have to live her life out on Earth. She wants to major in pre-history, the history of humanity before they migrated off to other planets. During the exodus to other planets, cities fell and were deserted. Students in their first year prehistory studies do field work in the abandoned cities. Jarra registers with an off planet university because the first year of the program is done on Earth and she can see what it feels like to not be Handicapped. It turns out that she has plenty of talents that make her a valuable part and a leader of her class. This is good science fiction adventure. It reminded me of the great sf adventure stories of Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Book of the Week - Solstice by P.J. Hoover

Hoover, P.J.
Tor Teen

Not too far into the future, global warming has accelerated, the coastal cities are gone, air conditioning is strictly limited, and students deal with heat drills and emergencies. The city of Austin mists everything with a yucky green gel when temperatures get too high even though one in ten people are allergic to the substance. The city has also been building domes for when heat bubbles threaten the city. Piper, a high school senior, lives with her mother outside the domes in a greenhouse complex where they raise all kinds of plants. The environment has become so bad that cut flowers are illegal. For her 18th birthday, Piper's best friend Chloe takes her to get a tattoo. Chloe has dreamed the tattoo and it turns out to be Greek letters spelling out sacrifice. Shayne a new guy at school goes for Piper right away even though Piper's overprotective mom has kept her our of the dating scene. Then, another new guy shows up, Reese who claims his father knows her mother. Suddenly she has two very hot guys vying for her. When her mother goes away for a weekend, Piper goes on her first date and discovers there is much more to these two new boys in her life than meets the eye.

What could be better than a dystopian future combined with Greek mythology?

This enticing combination of an all too scary near future and classical mythology is impossible to put down.

fantasy, romance, science-fiction, speculative-fiction, teen

Saturday, June 15, 2013


I think it is amazing how what I read so often relates to something else. Yesterday I finished Jodi Picoult's The Storyteller then I went online to read the news and ran across this article, "Alleged Nazi SS Commander Found Living in Minnesota".  Earlier this week or maybe last week I listened to Tracy Chevalier's The Last Runaway and last night I started reading Rebecca York's Bad Nights (after seeing the Nazi thing in the news) and both mentioned the underground railroad. I think I run across mentions of the underground railroad five or six times a year. Rare to run into them in two books within days of each other. The interconnectedness of everything I read always makes me think.

Does this happen to you?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

In Response to "What Kids Are Reading: In School and Out"

This story has me so riled up I could spit. There are four points that are so wrong on so many levels. For one, kids and teens are reading more now than I’ve ever seen in my life. Forty years ago when I was a teenager I rarely ever met anyone who liked to read but now I regularly hear from lots of kids and teens who are reading and talking about books. Two, leveling books is a flawed system and contributes to turning some students off reading. Three, the classics, books from a different age that used longer syllables, words, and sentences may not be the same classics students read in high school decades ago. They may have the same titles and character names but as I understand it, bowdlerized classics were the norm rather than the exception. Four, last but not least – genre is not a bad thing. The gratuitous bashing of genre, a way of classifying story by type, does not speak to the worthiness of books.

My mission in life is to put people together with the stories that will teach, inspire, incite active thought, and last but not least, entertain. People do not become fluent avid readers by decoding and analyzing text. They become readers by reading. Reading is like golf. You can learn the vocabulary and see, hear, or read how golf is played. But, no one becomes a competent golfer without actually golfing and spending a substantial amount of time to master the sport. If it were not enjoyable, very few people would ever stick with it long enough to become accomplished. The same thing is true of reading. One becomes a competent reader by reading. The hours and pages it takes to become a good reader are fun and easy if the reading material is enjoyable.

So many times it takes just the right book to introduce an individual to the joys of reading. My father-in-law didn’t enjoy reading until he was 75 and read Harris and Me by Gary Paulson. My husband was in his 40s when Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child turned him into someone who reads for pleasure rather than someone who only reads work related material. My son as an emerging reader at age 3 became an ardent reader when he fell in love with headlines on Weekly World News at the market check-out. It is a tragedy to not allow our children to be hooked by a book while in school.

The way reading is taught in this country seems to be a diabolical plan to keep people from being readers. Too many schools using AR keep students from reading anything they are interested in by only allowing students to “read” at their level. AR takes the intrinsic value of reading away and replaces it with points and prizes. Struggling students and gifted students are both hurt by this. Students are forced to read material that may have the requisite number of syllables, words, and sentences for their “level” but have no appeal, no life, no joy. Students, whether above or below level, are hurt by not being allowed to read the books that are popular with their peers and removing them from the conversation that circulates between readers of the same books. If something is important to the reader, he or she will be more able to read it and make sense of it than an advanced reader who has no interest in it. I think it was Kelly Gallagher in Readicide who used an anecdote about low reading level baseball playing students who were able to read and understand an article about the intricacies of baseball better than a group of students with high reading scores but no interest in baseball.

Where I really have issues with the story is the disparagement of genre. Great literature can appear in any genre just as much mediocre fiction is published in the literary fiction genre. Genre should not be a barrier to finding terrific books, it should be a window into new worlds, new ideas, and other's lives.

If you want to hear or read the NPR story it is "What Kids Are Reading."

Monday, June 10, 2013

Living With Jackie Chan by Jo Knowles

Over the years there have been many teen pregnancy books. Most of them focus on the girl who becomes pregnant. The very first novel I ever read that dealt with teen pregnancy was Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones by Ann Head. I borrowed it from a friend my freshman year of high school and read it only at school because I was afraid my strict parents would confiscate it for its racy subject. There are books about girls who decide on adoption, abortion, or keeping their baby. Some teen books dealing with teen pregnancy and parenting are even about boys -- Angela Johnson’s multi-award winning classic The First Part Last but up until now, all the novels with a male protagonist  I’ve found have been about the boy stepping up and being a read dad. Living With Jackie Chan is about Josh, a character from Jumping off Swings. Even though it takes place after Jumping Off Swings it isn’t really a sequel. The style is very different and focuses completely on Josh who did not escape unscathed when he impregnated a girl with whom he had no relationship beyond the few minutes of sex when he lost his virginity. Feeling guilty, Josh decides to move a few hours away from home to live with his uncle and finish high school. His uncle teaches karate and is a huge fan of Jackie Chan. Josh’s life is complicated by the crying baby who lives upstairs who wakes him at 2 am every morning and leaves him thinking about the child for whom he
never accepted any responsibility. He also finds a friend in a girl who lives upstairs who also takes karate with him but has a very controlling and perhaps abusive boyfriend. This thoughtful, sensitive book does break new ground. It will be in bookstores and libraries in September.

High School (gr.9-12). Teen. Contemporary. Issues.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Diversity in Speculative Fiction is a great resource for finding interesting things relating to science fiction and fantasy (speculative fiction). Today's link to an article "Beyond 'Game of Thrones': Exploring Diversity in Speculative Fiction" in Los Angeles Times Hero Complex made me think of Diverse Energies, edited by Tobias S. Buckell and Joe Monti, published by Tu Books.

Diverse Energies is a terrific collection of short stories set in bleak futures. Like all anthologies, some of the stories are all out amazing while others are good but don't really connect with me. I love the concept of this anthology but what it was missing was a story from Toby Buckell who did a great job, along with Joe Monti, of putting this together. It will resonate with lots of teen readers. This anthology spoke directly to me because like the editors and some of the writers, I am of multiple ethnicities.

Strangely enough I never thought of SF characters as all being white. I just always in my mind saw the characters as being of indeterminate ethnicities, believing the world would have moved on from pigeonholing people. I always thought that in the future everyone would be mixed, like in Ursula K. LeGuin's Lathe of Heaven.

As an aside and the reason I so connected with this book is that both editors, in the preface and afterword, address an issue that more and more teens see every year, that of looking like a white person but being from a mixed cultural background.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

And the Brouhaha Goes On

Just saw this tweet from Scott Westerfeld who is one of my (admittedly many) favorite science fiction authors.

If you care about science fiction and fantasy, this @nkjemisin speech at #cont9 is compulsory:

So, If Scott Westerfeld says to read something I do.  I went to N. K. Jemisin's blog and read the Guest of Honor speech she made at the Continuum Con going on right now in Melbourne, Australia. I agree with Scott. Everybody involved in SFF -- readers, writers, fan, con-go-ers, should read this (and people who like complex, challenging, and beautifully written fantasy should read her books). It relates to the posting earlier this week about what Ann Aguirre was talking about in her blog.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Books of the Week - YA SF The Shade of the Moon by Susan Beth Pfeffer and Planet Thieves by Dan Kronkos

Just finished reading The Shade of the Moon by Susan Beth Pfeffer, 4th in her Life As We Knew It series. Talk about dystopian! What is so scary about this one is that it is way too easy to see how it could happen following any kind of apocalyptic event. The event that created the epic disaster for this series was a meteor colliding with the moon and changing its orbit. I never read the first book but did read The Dead & the Gone and The World We Live In. They are compelling reads enjoyable even without the benefit of reading Life As We Knew It. They are adventure stories of survival and how the characters are shaped by a drastically changed world. The Shade of the Moon is set 4 years after the moon moving event. Jon is living in Sexton, an enclave where there is sufficient food due to factory greenhouses. The clavers work or go to school six days a week. Teens there have some kind of non-messy job after school. Jon's is playing soccer. So he has practice everyday and on Sundays his high school team travels to take on other teams. The messy work, farming, cooking, cleaning, manual labor in Sexton is done by grubs. They live in grubtowns. The one that supplies Sexton with domestics and laborers is called White Birch and it is where Jon's mother, sister, and brother-in-law live in a tiny apartment with no locks because grubs aren't allowed to lock anything. Jon is what is called a "slip" meaning he doesn't have value himself to be a claver but he, his stepmother, and his baby half-brother had a permission slip to live in an enclave. Jon, who was spoiled to begin with starts seeing life differently when Sarah, the daughter of the new doctor, starts attending the high school in Sexton and points out the unfairness of the dichotomy between clavers and grubs. Bad things are going to happen in this dark book but Pfeffer leaves the reader with the feeling that if individuals choose to work hard and do right, things will get better.

Planet Thieves by Dan Kronkos is a different can of beans. It is an action packed space adventure that has lots of appeal for younger teens and sf fans who like Star Trek, Star Wars, and Ender's Game. Thirteen-year-old Mason Stark, a cadet on a training mission aboard the SS Egypt, is on the bridge working on a prank to play on his sister, a ship's officer, when they are attacked by an enemy Tremist ship. The Tremists are a big unknown even though they experienced first contact several decades earlier. They wear some kind of armor and their faces have never been seen, always covered by a reflective shield.  Great fight scenes, good buddy stuff including Mason's best friend who is a girl, and an unanticipated foe. I love books with earnest young heroes. Thinking about it, it had some similarity in feel to Timothy Zahn's great Dragonback Adventures and to some of Heinlein's so called juveniles.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

SFF Brouhaha

I'm not a member of SFWA so I didn't read the article or the response to it. What I did read was Ann Aguirre's blog post. I also saw her on a panel at probably Dragon*Con, but it could have been WorldCon, or maybe even ALA and she was wonderful. Most of the authors I've met in Fandom are interesting and enjoyable to be around. Unfortunately I've also seen far too much of the misogynistic behavior she describes.

I know a thing or two about science fiction. I'm not big on fandom but I have read, and remembered, an enormous amount of SF over the years. I even wrote a book about SF (together with Bonnie Kunzel who is an SF expert), Strictly Science Fiction: A Guide to Reading Interests. In my opinion, anyone who dismisses Ann Aguire's SF as not being real science fiction is making a big mistake.

So, here is my review from back in 2008.

Aguirre, Ann
Ace 9780441015993
2008 - March

Wow! Grimspace is one of the best page-turning sf novels I’ve read in years. Sirantha Jax is one of the rare few in the known universe who has a gene that allows her as a jumper, to navigate grimspace, the parallel place in space that allows faster than light travel. All navigators work for the Farwan Corporation but they usually burn out quickly. In order to fly the ships a navigator must team up with a pilot because to travel from one point to another, the navigator must see and the pilot must do. It is the only way travel through grimspace can occur. Jax is in a Corp. facility following a horrendous crash that killed everyone on board including Kai, who was her pilot, her lover, and her entire world. Now that her physical injuries have been taken care of the Corp. keeps sending in a sadistic shrink because Jax can’t remember anything around the deadly accident. She is sprung from the facility by March, an independent pilot with a small crew who takes her to a hostile planet. She nearly causes the annihilation of her rescuers and two conflicting groups dirtside on the planet that seems like something out of the old west but with flying dinosaur-like predators to boot. This is only the beginning of a grand universe spanning adventure as Jax tries to find out what happened in her crash as she becomes part of a mission to create a new academy to find or create navigators apart from the Corp. Fast paced action, believable romance, terrific well developed characters, creative world building all in a package that will appeal greatly to fans of the TV series Firefly because of the camaraderie, ethics, and strength of the characters.  I would expect this first novel to be nominated for a Campbell award and am thrilled that
the sequel already has a publication date later this year. --Diana Tixier Herald