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I've been delving into the fascinating world of sketchnoting, and have been practicing my skills (and trust me, you should see the very first one I created....practice does help!) I've seen professor Karin Perry from Sam Houston State University do book reviews via sketchnotes and decided to try it out.
What is NOT in the sketchnote is my personal review. So this is what I think of this book:
WOWOWOW!!! This is 599 pages of intense plot, conflict, and survival all set in a science fiction thrillfest based on documents, journals, e-mails, imessages, and high security reports... and even concrete poetry. The format itself is enough to draw the reader in and it reads fast because of this. The characters are an excellent mix of adults and teens, which makes this science fiction novel so believable. Adding diagrams of the ships adds a deeper dimension for the readers as well as their mode of travel through wormholes. This is a deep space chase that will grab you to turn the next page to see what happens. Huge twist at the end - VERY unexpected! One of the top 10 best books I've read this year! Highly recommended for JH/HS.
The Plot: Our world, about 400 years in the future. For various reasons (wars, water shortage, environmental changes) an AI (artificial intelligence) named Talis seized control of, well, everything, and first forced peace on the world by blasting a few cities.
Then Talis realized there was a better way. That destroying towns wouldn't create world peace. But hostages would. Child hostages, to be specific. It's simple: take a child of each leader. Hold onto them until they are 18. If the leader declares war, the child hostage's life is forfeit.
Greta Gustafsen Stuart is the Duchess of Halifax and the Crown Princess of Pan Polar Confederacy. She has been a hostage since the age of five. She is now sixteen; if she can make it until eighteen....
But her country has water. And others don't. And she knows that one day, sooner rather than later, war may be declared and her life may be forfeit.
The Good: Alright, let's cut to the chase: this is a Favorite Book of 2015. Hell, I'll go on record and say this is easily a top ten book. I'll go even further: I'll be damn disappointed if this isn't on awards lists and best lists at the end of the year.
And to say why this is so, why I am so passionate about this book, I'll be talking spoilers. So fair warning: stop now if that bothers you, read The Scorpion Rules, then come back.
The Scorpion Rules is a dystopia, or, at least, a dystopia for those children of rules and leaders who are sent away to be held hostage, knowing that if their parents pick country over blood they will die. They have been taught history to understand their role and their history, including ancient history to give a broader, perhaps colder, perspective on people and war and violence.
Greta, like her friends and fellow hostages, have been taught about their role; have been taught to accept it; have been taught to not fight back. To not resist. To not escape.
And then a boy comes to their school, a boy whose grandmother just gained power so he's been sent as hostage, a bit older than most, and less royal, so less prepared. Elian.
I KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO SAY IT'S JUST ANOTHER DYSTOPIAN ROMANCE BUT IT ISN'T. AND YES THERE IS A SECOND LOVE INTEREST BUT IT'S NOT A TRIANGLE JUST, WAIT.
Yes, it's dystopian; but like I said, at least for this book, it shifts the burden of the dystopia to the upper class, to the privileged. And the Children of Peace, the hostages, realize both their burden and their privilege. And it's grounded in real history -- the exchanging and taking of hostages has historic basis. (Fans of the TV show Reign will remember King Henry saying he and his brothers where hostages in the Spanish Court. That was true.) I say at least for this book, because we haven't seen much of life beyond where Greta lives, so I can't be sure of how others live. There is a hint that Talis controls and meddles with the lives of others, but it's unclear just how much of an impact that has.
This dystopia also makes sense; it's coherent, enough is given to explain why and how this system was accepted and evolved. It's also thoughtfully and realistically diverse. The Children of Peace come from all over the world, from all types of countries. Some, like Greta, are their for hereditary reasons -- she is the crown princess, born into this world, born to be a hostage. Others, like the Children from what was the United States, are there because parents have been voted into/taken charge by other means. They have no titles; they may arrive at the school older, with their status sudden and unprepared for. That is Elian.
And it's also grounded in science fiction, not fantasy -- the AI that controls the world, Talis, and the link between humans and computers is a scientific element of the story, not a fantastical one, and it's not just the push for the story. Talis is present throughout, lurking in the background, moving to the forefront.
Also, the threats are real. The Scorpion Rules starts with a child hostage being taken away because his country declared war. There is a graveyard by the school. There is torture, there is manipulation, not nice things happen again and again.
Now, on to the love triangle. Which isn't. There is new boy Elian and there is some sort of connection or attraction between him and Greta, but more important than that, is that Elian shows Greta another way. That submission and acceptance is not the only path in life. That no matter what, there is choice.
And then there is Greta's best friend and roommate, Xie. Greta has not just accepted the way she has been raised, the future she's been told to expect. She has also buried most of her emotions and feelings, avoiding emotional risk. And yet when Elian helps provide the catalyst for her to open up, and change, and question, it also helps her unlock her frozen feelings for Xie.
See? It sounds like a triangle because there are two people -- but it isn't. It so, so isn't.
One last thing: Greta may have accepted her part in life and politics; she may have tried to avoid certain deep attachments; but she is also a royal. Born to be a hostage, born to live a role, but also born to take her place if she lives past 18. Born to be a leader, and at her school, she is a leader. She's not a follower. She's not passive, even if to someone like Elian, the Children of Peace hostages look passive and accepting.
So, go, read it, and like me, look forward to the next book. Because I have no idea what will happen next -- and that? That is a great feeling to have.
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The Plot: It's 1824 and Annabel Lee, 17, has moved to her father's death following her mother's death. The world of Philadelphia, and her role of daughter of a doctor, is very different from a childhood spent in Siam. She lacks the freedom she had there.
There are secrets in her father's house -- including her father's two assistants, handsome Allan and cruel Edgar. Including her father's scientific experiments.
And there are the gruesome murders....
The Good: I'll be honest: I read Of Monsters and Madness about a year ago, when it first came out, enjoyed it, but just didn't get around to writing anything up.
Then I saw the movie Crimson Peak (review tomorrow) and began to wonder about possible read-a-likes for teens who may go see the movie and want a taste of Gothic horror and romance. And I remembered Of Monsters and Madness.
The setting, early nineteenth century Philadelphia, is wonderfully shown; Annabel is a strong young woman who has been raised away from her father and his family. She wants to connect with them and please them, but her desire for independence and to pursue studying is at odds with their perceptions of what a proper young lady is. Plus, Edgar Allen Poe as a hot young man!
And plus there are references / homages to works by Poe as well as other writers. So this can lead to wanting to read more Poe, and Robert Louis Stevenson, and Oscar Wilde.
Of Monsters and Madness was published by Egmont USA, which, sadly, no longer exists. So when I went to the author's website to write this post, I was very pleased to learn a few things: first, that it's available on Kindle; second, that for a limited time it is $1.99; and third, that Verday has included the sequel, Of Phantoms and Fury, in the Kindle edition so you are getting two books for one.
Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.
The Martian by Andy Weir has a fabulous back story. Initially published chapter by chapter and made available for free on the author’s website, readers soon fell in love with the story. First, they asked him to make it available as an ebook, so they could enjoy it on their e-readers rather than having to read it […]
When I saw Kirkus describe this book as “Gothic, gadget-y, gay” I knew I needed it in my hands as soon as humanly possible. I am happy to say it is all of those wonderful things. And while I didn’t quite love it, I did really, really enjoy this book. There’s so much to like! Yes, there are wonderfully complex characters, killer robots, and the sweetest M/M romance. The writing beautifully evokes the brooding boarding school setting. This is a near-future sci-fi thriller with a touch of the dystopian. 16 year-old Lee is the closeted son of an ultra-conservative president who is both fiercely anti-gay and anti-robot. It’s unfortunate then, that Lee has a penchant for tinkering with mechanicals, too. The Human Values platform was created in response to an attack by Charlotte, an AI gone rogue, in which Lee’s mother was murdered. Ever since, Charlotte has been using her... Read more »
Days after the events featured in The Watcher, the Watcher is taken hostage by a dragon, leaving Kristen, Will and Nicki alone in a strange new world. With no choice but to try and rescue their friend, Kristen and the others must travel through ancient cities, forgotten burial grounds, and eventually into the heart of the great storm.
Faced with the unknown, will they be able to traverse the storms that stand before them as well as ones within their own hearts?
So before we begin, I want to thank Sharon for having me. She's secretly a unicorn, and that story will have to be told some other day, but she's a kind, sweet lady and it was a pleasure to be asked to come here and write.
I am going to write about my books, why I wrote them, and the lessons you can learn from them. Stormdancer is book two of the Watcher Saga. In it, the Watcher, the main character from book one is kidnapped leaving Kristin, Nicki, and Will to chase him down. The journey is improbable and fantastic and in my opinion the kind of magic a good story creates.
I want to talk about some of the themes of the story. In particular, dealing with grief and changes. Because entering into this book, I was left in a quandry. The Watcher was the Watcher's story; about his journey to discovering who he was, and more importantly, what he wanted to be. This wasn't the Watcher's story anymore. It is the first line in book two.
“This is not my story anymore.”
That was deliberate, conscious line that illustrated the problems I had starting book two. I wanted to flesh out the characters I introduced at the end of book one, yet I didn't want to lose the strong presence the Watcher had in book one.
So who were the three kids I rescued? I chose Kristin as the main character in book two. They had just gone through the loss of everything they knew. Kristin represented that tragedy. Losing a family.
It parallels my own story. Not that I lost my whole family, but my whole family situation collapsed at a very young age. My mom and dad fell apart and I remember that when I was younger it was like my fault. Why did two people I love have to do this? Why did things have to change? It messed me up. I tried to tell myself I was over this pain of not having this unit in my life. I ran away from home at one point because of the pain.
I was very fortunate. I had two teachers look after me. One of them a principal, and the other was my grade four teacher. I was her last class. We didn't make the greatest impression, but to my surprise, she was there for me when I least expected it.
That's Kristin in chapter three. She was happy in her life – it was all she knew. And that turmoil is expressed very much in all her actions for the first half of the book. She has become my favorite character to write in the saga so far. Watching her rise above her own stuff was a vicarious experience.
I had to learn at a young age that life was a struggle. A lot of kids have their childhoods end a lot sooner than maybe they should. I thought the three kids had been through hell, and it was just beginning. Making them grow up happened to me.
The silver lining going through grief is that people come together. Family isn't just blood. It's the people you go through things with, that are there with you through thick and thin. Going back to the very beginning, it wasn't just the Watcher's story anymore. It was about the kids, and going through their own fires, and becoming closer for it.
So if you are a kid reading Sharon's blog, I hope this book teaches you to be brave. I'm not going to lie to you; life is hard. Chances are you have gone through some painful things and are probably stronger and braver than I was ever was. I'm not going to make you a promise that it'll get any easier. What I can tell you though, is that you can overcome. The big secret that most adults don't even know is that if you believe you can do it, you can. You are strong and powerful and can do anything.
But I'm also going to say that there are people who are there for you no matter what. People that believe in you. They will be there when you fall, and they will be there to help you rise. They are the people worth being with.
Joshua Pantalleresco writes stuff. It's even on his business card. This is a succinct way of saying that in addition to writing poetry, he also does interviews, columns, comics, prose and anything possible with the written word. When he isn't writing, he's playing with podcasts, filming stuff, fiddling with alternative medicine, travelling, talking to people and pretending he is a rockstar. Stormdancer is his second book through Mirror World Publishing. He lives in Calgary.
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Do you want to read a dystopian novel with a genderqueer protagonist who may or may not be part lizard? If this sounds like something you didn’t know you wanted, Lizard Radio is the book for you. It’s a hard book to describe. Our protagonist, Kivali – familiarly known as Lizard, was abandoned as a baby (wrapped in a lizard t-shirt!). Lizard is adopted by Sheila, a human woman who becomes her foster mom and sends her, at the opening of the novel, to CropCamp. The novel takes off from there – CropCamp is all about teaching teenagers how to be good citizens of an oppressive totalitarian government; teens have to attend CropCamp or one of the many other strictly regimented government-run camps and, if they fail, risk being sent to Blight. At CropCamp, a camp focused on developing agricultural workers, group conformity is prized; state-sanctioned heterosexual relationships are supposed to emerge... Read more »
Blankets by Craig Thompson was one of the first graphic novels I read. Over the course of a week, during lunch breaks while I worked at the bookstore, I consumed this 592 page adult graphic novel and was astounded at what a moving, intimate experience reading this book proved to be. Thompson followed up Blankets with Habibi, an epic story that begins with a nine-year-old girl being sold
To make Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora make sense, I had to imagine a metafictional frame for it.
The novel tells the story of a generation starship sent in the year 2545 from the Solar System to Tau Ceti. It begins toward the end of the journey, as the ship approaches its destination and eventually sends a landing party to a planet they name Aurora. The narrator, we quickly learn, is the ship's artificial intelligence system, which for various reasons is learning to tell stories, a process that, among other things, helps it sort through and make sense of details. This conceit furthers Robinson's interest in exposition, an interest apparent at least since the Mars trilogy and explicit in 2312. As a writer, he seems most at home narrating scientific processes and describing the features of landscapes, which does not always lead to the most dynamic prose or storytelling, and he seems to have realized this and adjusted to make his writerly strengths into, if not his books' whole reason for being, then a meaningful feature of their structure. I didn't personally care for 2312 much, but I thought it brilliantly melded the aspirations of both Hugo Gernsback and John W. Campbell for science fiction in the way that it offered explicit, even pedagogical, passages of exposition with bits of adventure story and scientific romance.
What soon struck me while reading Aurora was that aside from the interstellar travel, it did not at all seem to be a novel about human beings more than 500 years in the future. The AI is said to be a quantum computer, and it is certainly beyond current computer technology, but it doesn't seem breathtakingly different from the bleeding edges of current technology. Medical knowledge seems mostly consistent with current medical knowledge, as does knowledge of most other scientific fields. People still wear eyeglasses, and their "wristbands" are smartwatches. Historical and cultural references are to things we know rather than to much of anything that's happened between 2015 and 2545 (or later — the ship's population seems to have developed no culture of their own). The English language is that of today. Social values are consistent with average bourgeois heterosexual American social values.
500 years is a lot of time. Think about the year 1515. Thomas More started writing Utopia, which would be published the next year. Martin Luther's 95 Theses were two years away. The rifle wouldn't be invented for five more years. Copernicus had just begun thinking about his heliocentric theory of the universe. The first iterations of the germ theory of disease were thirty years away. The births of Shakespeare and Galileo were 49 years in the future. Isaac Newton wouldn't be born until the middle of the next century.
Aurora offers nothing comparable to the changes in human life and knowledge from 1515 to 2015 except for the space ship. The world of the novel seems to have been put on pause from now till the launch of the ship.
How to make sense of this? That's where my metafictional frame comes in. One of the stories Aurora tells is the rise to consciousness of the AI narrator. Telling stories seems to be good for its processors. Much of the book is quite explicitly presented as a novel by the AI — an AI learning to write a novel. Of course, within the story, it's not a novel (a work of fiction) but rather a work of history. Still, as it makes clear, the shaping of historical material into a narrative has at least as much to do with fiction as it does with history.
It's easy to go one step further, then, and imagine that the "actual" history of the AI's world is outside the text. The text is what the AI has written. The text could be fiction.
It could, for instance, be a novel written by an AI that survived the near-future death of humanity, or at least the death of human civilization.
What if the "actual" year of the novel is not near the year 3000, but rather somewhere around 2050. Global warming, wars, famine, etc. could have reduced humanity to nearly nothing just at the moment computer technology advanced enough to bring about a quantum computer capable of developing consciousness and writing a novel. What sort of novel might an AI learn to write? Why not a story about a heroic AI saving a group of humans trapped on a generation ship? An AI that helps bring those humans home after their interstellar quest proves impossible. An AI that, in the end, sacrifices itself for the good of its people.
This helps explain the change of narrators, too. At the end of Book 6, the ship has returned the humans to Earth and then accelerates on toward the sun, where, we learn later, it burns up. Book 7 is a traditional third-person narrative. This is a jarring point of view shift if the AI actually burned up in the sun. (And how did its narrative get saved? There's some mention of the computer of the ferry to Earth having been able to copy the ship AI, though also mention that such a copy would be different from the original because of the nature of quantum computing.)
But if we assume that the AI narrator is still the narrator, then Book 7 is the triumph of the computer's storytelling, for Book 7 is the moment where the AI gets to disappear into the narration.
Wouldn't it be fun for an AI to speculate about all the possible technological developments over 500 years? Perhaps, but only if its goal was to write a speculative story. It might have a more immediate goal, one that would require a somewhat different story. It might be writing not to entertain or to offer scientific dreams, but to provide knowledge and caution for the few survivors of the crash of humanity.
Book 7 tells us to value the Earth, our only possible home. It shows a human being who has never been to Earth coming to it and learning how to love it. The moment is religious in its implications: the human being (our protagonist, Freya) is born again. Just as the AI is born again into the narration, so Freya is born into Earthbound humanity. There is hope, but the hope relies on living in harmony with the only possible planet for humans.
The descendants of the last remnants of humanity, scrambling for a reason to survive on a planet their ancestors battered and burned, might benefit from such a tale. (Also: One of the implicit messages of the story is: Trust the AI. The AI is your friend and savior.)
Viewed this way, Aurora coheres, and its speculative failures make sense. It is a tale imagined by a computer that has learned to tell stories, a cautionary fairy tale aimed perhaps at the few remaining people from a species that destroyed its only world.
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John Scalzi returns to the Old Man’s War universe for his next fantastic installment. Following on from The Human Division, which was told over thirteen episodes, this time Scalzi tells his story over four novellas and once again demonstrates his total mastery in whatever form or perspective he chooses to tell his stories. Have firming […]
I totally loved this book. This sucked me in from the opening sentence and still has not let me go. The moment I finished I started missing all the characters straight away and want to get back to this universes as quickly as possible. This is science fiction at its best; expansive, alien, full of […]
We are thrilled to welcome author Stefanie Gaither to the blog this month as our columnist for Ask a Pub Pro! Stefanie is the author of the very popular and thrilling Falls the Shadow, with the sequel coming in 2016. She's here to answer your reader questions on unusual names for fantasy, how many books can an author squeeze into a series, the balance of fiction and fact for science fiction, and how many POV characters can make up an ensemble.
If you have a question you'd like to have answered by an upcoming publishing professional, send it to AYAPLit AT gmail.com and put Ask a Pub Pro Question in the subject line.
Also, please do not forget next week's Happy Potter Birthday celebration! If you were inspired to write, or if your writing was any way influenced by JK Rowling, we'd love to hear from you! Please send a paragraph (or two) telling us how Harry Potter influenced your writing and you may be included in next week's celebration.
Email posts to AYAPLit AT gmail.com, and please put Happy Potter Day in the subject line. We'll let you know before July 31 if yours is one of the submissions chosen.
Author Stefanie Gaither on Character Names, Science Fiction Research, and POV
1) Writer Question: I'm worried about the names I'm creating for my WIP. My story is a fantasy, and the names I've envisioned sometimes have hyphenated endings to add a suffix meaning onto the name. But it seems that I've heard hyphens in names are frowned upon. I'm keeping the names very simple, even with the hyphens, so that it will not be confusing to the reader. Do you think that will work? Or would the use of hyphens be too off-putting? Would an apostrophe be better?
I actually just finished up a fantasy WIP of my own, so I understand the name struggle :) I don’t think that hyphens in names are immediately off-putting—so long as it fits the story and/or character. Other readers may feel differently, of course. If you’re really concerned about it, maybe there’s a way to compromise? Have their formal name hyphenated, but perhaps they go by a nickname that flows more easily for the reader?
Either way, one thing I like to do when figuring out names is to ask people unfamiliar with my story/character what comes to mind when I mention a person named “XYZ” or whatever; in your case, maybe write the name and then ask friends and fellow writers what immediately jumps into their minds when they see it—and if it’s in line with what you’re going for with this particular character, then you’re golden. Poll as many people as you can. Of course, not everyone will have the same answer, but it will give you a general idea of what the name you came up with is “showing” potential readers about this character—and whether or not they’re stumbling over things like hyphens.
I’ve a nasty habit of finishing every children’s book I start, no matter how dull or dire it might be. I am sort of alone in this habit, which you could rightly call unhealthy. After all, most librarians understand that their time on this globe is limited and that if they want to read the greatest number of excellent books in a given year, they need to hold off on spending too much time devouring schlock and just skip to the good stuff. So it is that with my weird predilection for completion I am enormously picky when it comes to what I read. If I’m going to spend time with a book, I want to feel like I’m accomplishing something, not slogging through it. My reasoning is that not all books are good from the get-go. Some take a little time to get going, you know? It might take 50 pages before you’re fully on board, so I always give the book the benefit of the doubt. Some books, however, have the quintessential strong first page. They are books that are so smart and good and worthy that you feel that you are maximizing your time on this globe by merely being in their presence. Such is the case with Mars Evacuees. A sci-fi middle grade novel that encompasses everything from gigantic talking floating goldfish to PG discussions of alien sex, this is one of those books you might easily miss out on. Stellar from the first sentence on.
At first it seemed like a good thing that the aliens had come. When you’ve got a planet nearly decimated by global warming, it doesn’t sound like such a bad deal when aliens start telling you they’ve got a way to cool down the planet. The trouble is, they didn’t STOP cooling it down. Turns out the Morrors are looking for a new home and if it doesn’t quite suit their needs they’ll adapt it until it does. Earth has fought back, of course, and so now we’re all trapped in a huge space battle of epic proportions. Alice Dare’s mother is the high flying hero Captain Dare, killer of aliens everywhere. But all Alice knows is that she’s being shipped off with a load of other kids to Mars. The idea is that they’ll be safe there and will be able to finish their education in space until they’re old enough to become soldiers. And everything seems to be going fine and dandy . . . until the adults all disappear. Now Alice and her friends are in the company of a cheery robot goldfish and must solve a couple mysteries along the way. Things like, where are the adults? What are those space locust-like creatures they’ve found on Mars? And most important of all, what happens when you encounter the enemy and it’s not at all like you thought it would be?
The first sentence of any book is a tricky proposition. You want to intrigue but not give too much away. Too brash and the book can’t live up to it. Too mild and people are snoring before you even get to the period. Here’s what McDougall writes: “When the polar ice advanced as far as Nottingham, my school was closed and I was evacuated to Mars.” I could not help but be reminded of the first line of M.T. Anderson’s Feed when I read that (“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck”). But it’s not just her first sentence that’s admirable. In a scant nine pages the entire premise of the book is laid out for us. Aliens came. People are fighting them. And now the kids are being evacuated to Mars. Badda bing, badda boom. What I didn’t realize when I was first reading the book, though, was that this chapter is very much indicative of the entire novel. There is a kind of series bloat going on in children’s middle grade novels these days. Books with wild premises and high stakes are naturally assumed to be the first in a series. There’s a bit of a whiff of Ender’s Game and The White Mountains about this book when you look at the plot alone, and so you assume that like so many similar titles it’ll either end on a cliffhanger, or it’ll solve the immediate problem, but save the bigger issue for later on. It was only as I got closer and closer to the end that I realized that McDougall was doing something I almost never encounter in science fiction books these days: She was tying up loose ends. It got to the point where I reached the end of the book and found myself in the rare position of realizing that this was, of all things, a standalone science fiction novel. Do they even make those anymore? I’m not saying you couldn’t write a sequel to this book if you didn’t want to. When McDougall becomes a household name you can bet there will be a push for more adventures of Alice, Carl, Josephine and Thsaaa. But it works all by itself with a neat little beginning, middle, and an end. How novel!
For all that, McDougall cuts through the treacle with her storytelling, I was very admiring of the fact that she never sacrifices character in the process of doing so. Carl, for example, should by all rights be two-dimensional. He’s the wacky kid who doesn’t play by the rules! The trickster with a heart of gold. But in this book McDougall also makes him a big brother. He’s got his bones to pick, just as Josephine (filling in the brainy Hermione-type role with aplomb) has personal issues with the aliens that go beyond the usual you-froze-my-planet grudge. Even the Goldfish, perky robot that he is, seems to have limits on his patience. He’s also American for some reason, a fact I shall choose not to read too much into, except maybe to say that if I were casting this as a film (which considering the success of Home, the adaptation of Adam Rex’s The True Meaning of Smekday, isn’t as farfetched as you might think) I’d like to hear him voiced by Patton Oswalt. But I digress.
When tallying up the total number of books written for kids between the ages of 9-12 that discuss the intricacies of alien sex, I admit that I stop pretty much at one. This one. And normally that wouldn’t fly in a book for kids but McDougall is so enormously careful and funny that you really couldn’t care less. Her aliens are fantastic, in part because, like humans, there’s a lot of variety amongst them. This is an author who cares about world building but also doesn’t luxuriate in it for long periods of time. She’s not trying to be the Tolkien of space here. She’s trying to tell a good story cleanly and succinctly.
The fact that it’s funny to boot is the real reason it stands out, though. And I don’t mean it’s “funny” in that it’s mildly droll and knows how to make a pun. I mean there are moments when I actually laughed out loud on a New York subway train. How could I not? This is a book that can actually get away with lines like “If you didn’t want me to build flamethrowers you shouldn’t have taught me the basic principles when I was six.” Or “It was a good time in Earth’s history to be a polar bear. Unless the rumors were true about the Morrors eating them.” Or “Luckily I don’t throw up very easily, but it made me feel as if I was being hit lightly but persistently all over with tablespoons.” That’s the kind of writing I enjoy. Silly and with purpose.
So it’s one part Lord of the Flies in space (please explain to me right now why no one has ever written a book called “Space Lord of the Flies”), one part Smekday, and a lot like those 1940s novels where the kids get evacuated during WWII and find a kind of hope and freedom they never would have encountered at home. It’s also the most fun you’ll encounter in a long time. That isn’t to say there isn’t the occasional dark or dreary patch. But once this book starts rolling it’s impossible not to enjoy the ride. For fans of the funny, fans of science fiction, and fans of books that are just darn good to the last drop.
Misc: And since this book is British (did I fail to mention that part?) here’s the cover they came up with over there.
I think I may like ours more, though both passed up the fact to display the goldfish, which I think was a mistake. Fortunately, the Brits at least have corrected the mistake (though I’m mildly disappointed to see that there is a sequel after all).
Author: Robert Repino
Publisher: Soho Press
Publication Date: January 20, 2015
ARC provided by publisher
"I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords."
Mort(e) by Robert Repino was an ARC I picked up at last summer's ALA Annual Conference and I finally found the time to read it.
I was intrigued by its animal
Title: The Time Machine
Author: H.G. Wells
Narrated by: Sir Derek Jacobi
Publisher: Listening Library
Publication Date: June 11, 2013
Listening copy via Sync
H.G. Wells' The Time Machine is one of those science fiction classics that I just never got around to reading, so I thought listening to a free Sync copy would be a perfect way to finally get around to it.
I've seen the Hollywood
Have you heard about the story set in a neo-noir dystopian society somewhere in the not so distant future? Most of you are probably nodding your heads in an emphatic yes.
Adding to that list is Jason Shawn Alexander’s first issue of Empty Zone.
Though the setting isn’t original, the story and the artwork make this comic a fantastic read. Think if the movie Blade Runner, the movie Tank Girl, Vertigo’s Sandman comic, and the anime Ghost in the Shell had a torrid love affair. Empty Zone would be the reason all of them have to submit to a paternity test.
The protagonist’s name is Corrine, a young and sexy woman who moonlights as super soldier for hire. Her easy-on-the-eye looks hints nothing at her enhanced abilities (save for her giant robotic arm of course). Her constantly reoccurring nightmares make her a haunted woman. But in this future where technology is advanced and society is crumbling, bad dreams are not the only things haunting her.
As the story goes, this first issue does well in introducing us to the characters, but still holding enough back that we are left wanting to learn more about their personalities and motives. The strange scenery and events leaves many questions to be answered, setting up what may be a good run for the series. As I mentioned, the atmosphere may not be original, but the writing makes up for that. The twist introduced at the end also sweetens the deal.
Writing aside, the artwork could carry this comic alone. Each panel looks like it should be framed on the wall. A lot of care went into the drawing, inking, and coloring (to which Jason Shawn Alexander wears the three hats of creator, writer, and artist). The facial drawings remind me a little of the rotoscoping used in A Scanner Darkly. Rotoscoping is essentially tracing over a film frame by frame. Everything from body articulation to facial expressions is highly detailed and close to real life. Objects and scenery are equally as well done. Overall, this thing deserves to be appreciated.
Empty Zone is a great addition to comics and collections. The artwork and writing is well done, with the pace taking readers for a fun joyride that doesn’t move too fast or slow. Fans of dark comics, as well as science fiction books and movies will surely enjoy this series. Image Comic’s Empty Zone hits local shelves June 17th.
Today, Faber Academy and I are kicking off the blog tour for Kim Curran's DELETE! It's had a bit of trouble getting out, due to the closure of Strange Chemistry, but it's coming and it's having a blog tour!
Summary : The country is at war. Beset by enemies within and without. And all because of the decisions changed by one boy, Scott Tyler. In this ravaged alternative reality, Scott hardly recognises himself. He's a war hero, a leader of a unit of Shifters and maybe the only one who can prevent the country's frail defences from crumbling.
But all Scott wants to do is find a way back to the world he knew, without losing the girl he loves. With every Shift he makes, Scott edges closer towards oblivion. With no one to trust – not even himself – how much is he willing to risk to get home?
Review: This is the end of a trilogy, so this review will contain spoilers for the first two books (and you really do need to read Shift and Control before this one). Following the end of Control, Scott finds he has shifted to a world where Britain is at war, and Scott is apparently the Commandant of ARES, or at least its present form, and everything is completely different. However, unlike most Shifters whose realities change when they shift to accomodate for that shift and they accept that shift as being the one true reality, Scott remembers the more peaceful, less treacherous world, and he wants to get back.
I really enjoyed Shift and Control, and thus I was very excited to read this. When I did get to read Delete, I read it so quickly. I think if life didn’t get in my way, it would be a one-sit-read.
You know how I said Control put the plot on a larger scale to Shift? It’s happened again. Majorly. Again.
I loved the different sides of the characters we got to know. Frankie, Aubrey, and Katie were all changed but also still them, and Scott...woah. in this world, Scott’s personality is rather different to the one he remembers having, and I loved seeing him struggle with what he remembers, what he thinks he is, what what he has to do in this world. So much character development.
The plot progressed well. It’s fast, but there are also quieter moments. Especially between Aubrey and Scott as he tries to find the differences between the past Aubrey and the one now. .
I did have mixed feelings about the end. Initially I really disliked it, but after a little time, I realised how wonderful it was because Scott has learnt things and might be able to make things better and maybe it isn’t as bad an ending as I thought.
Overall: Strength 5 tea to a brilliant ending to an action packed series examining decisions and their consequences.
Cambridge University Press recently released The Cambridge Companion to American Science Fiction edited by Eric Carl Link and Gerry Canavan, a sequel, of sorts, to 2003's The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction edited by Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn. I bought the James and Mendlesohn volume at the first science fiction convention I ever attended, the Worldcon in Boston in 2004, and I think it's an admirable volume that mostly does its best to try for the impossible, which is to present a coherent overview of the history and scholarship of science fiction as a genre-thing (mostly in the Anglo-American mode). I have mixed feelings about the Cambridge Companion to... series, because the volumes often feel like grab-bags and pushmi-pullyus, a bit too specific for people looking for an introduction to the scholarship on a topic, a bit too general for people with knowledge of a topic. They often contain a few excellent individual chapters amidst many chapters that feel, to me at least, like they needed about 15 more pages. That's still, inevitably, the case with James and Mendlesohn's volume, but many of the chapters are impressively efficient, and as a guide for beginning scholars, the book as a whole is useful.
The new Link and Canavan book doesn't work quite as well for me, and it has a higher number of chapters that seem, frankly, shallow and, in a couple of cases, distortingly incomplete and sometimes flat-out inaccurate. With a topic limited to a particular geography, you'd think the editors and writers would be able to zero in a bit more. Some chapters do so quite well, but my experience of reading through the book was that it felt more diffuse and less precise than its predecessor, with annoying little mistakes like Darren Harris-Fain's statement that James Patrick Kelly's story "Think Like a Dinosaur" requires close reading to find its SF tropes (it's set on a space station and includes aliens; finding the SF tropes doesn't require close reading, just the most basic literacy). Despite the annoyance of little errors and the frustration of wild generalizations in many of the post-WWII chapters, I began to wonder if the big problem might be a matter of the volume's determination to focus on "American" science fiction, a determination that works very well for the chapters looking at pre-World War II fiction, but then becomes ... problematic.
The problem, though, might be me. I'm not at all the intended audience for the book, I have ideological/methodological hesitations about some of the framing, and I have a love/hate relationship with academic science fiction scholarship in general — feelings that are probably mostly prejudices unburdened by facts. (Sometimes, I have trouble shaking the feeling that SF criticism is still wearing training wheels.) At the same time, though, I'm also drawn to the idea of scholarship about science fiction and its related genres/modes/things/whatzits, because I am (for now) ensconced in academia and also have been reading SF of one sort of another all my life, off and on. I'm not particularly familiar with Eric Carl Link as a scholar (though I'm using his Norton Critical Edition of The Red Badge of Courage in a course I'm teaching right now), but I've been following Gerry Canavan's work for a few years and I think he's a force for good, someone who is trying to keep SF criticism moving into the 21st century. Indeed, I just got back from the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, where I heard Canavan deliver a truly interesting paper on posthumanism, Kim Stanley Robinson, eco-SF, etc.
In my more radical moments, I wonder if, to move into this century, we shouldn't just get rid of the whole idea of "American" science fiction, or at least the study of it as such. (Heck, in my most radical moments, I wonder if we shouldn't get rid of the whole idea of "science fiction", but that's a topic for another time...)
Let's look at the book, or at least its premise and introduction. (I'm not going to do a blow-by-blow review of each chapter. If you must know, the chapters that seem to me most worth the time it takes to read them are Lisa Yaszek's "Afrofuturism in American Science Fiction", John Rieder's "American Frontiers", Karen Hellekson's "Fandom and Fan Culture", and Priscilla Wald's "Science, Technology, and the Environment".) The introduction by the editors serves various purposes, and succeeds impressively in giving a concise overview of 19th century American science fiction. If you want to know where to begin with American proto-SF, you could do a lot worse than to read that section of this intro.
The most provocative part of the introduction is the part that seeks to justify the book's focus on science fiction from the United States (there's no Canada or Mexico, so this isn't North American SF, though Margaret Atwood gets some passing mentions; there's nothing about South American SF; this is United Statesian):
The simple premise of the present volume ... is that the science fictional imagination is so fundamental to the arc of history across the so-called American Century that we might productively talk about a specifically American SF. Many of the ideas, themes, and conventions of contemporary science fiction take their roots in a distinctly American cultural experience, and so SF in America serves as a provocative index to twentieth- and twenty-first-century American culture, reflecting America's hopes, desires, and fears. (4)
I am an avowed skeptic of canonical nationalism, and so my instincts are to tear into these statements, but at the same time there's a real truth to them: science fiction as a genre is deeply tied to origins in American pulp magazines and then in the paperback revolution of the 1950s, '60s, and 70s, as well as, to some extent or another, the dominance of blockbuster Hollywood over so much cultural production (although in some ways that also helps de-genrefy SF by absorbing the idea of the science fictional into whatever Hollywood product happens to be highly popular, whether Star Wars or The X-Files or superhero movies). Additionally, as this Cambridge Companion makes clear, USian mythmaking is a key component to a lot of the foundational works of what we think of as genre SF — myths of individualist heroism, myths of the frontier (John Rieder's chapter tackles this head-on, which is one reason why it's among the strongest chapters in the book). For a long time, what we USians might call SF in other countries was different from American SF, even as American SF was derived from primarily European writers of the 19th century, especially Wells and Verne. One of the major differences was that it was in the US that an immigrant from Luxembourg, Hugo Gernsback, successfully severed science fiction from other streams of fiction, distinguishing it not only from "literature", but also from all other types of popular and pulp fiction. The innovation was not simply a matter of definition or labelling, as that had been done plenty of times elsewhere, with terms like "scientific romance". Science fiction as a genre didn't need a definition, it needed a system. It was Gernsback who, in the late 1920s, not only gave SF its own magazine but also created ways for readers of that magazine to identify themselves as a discourse community — to be, in a word, fans. It was in the US, then, that the production, distribution, and reception of SF as a genre system successfully began, and that system soon allowed for the dissemination of the values constituting it, values that were often stereotypically "American".
After World War Two, things get awfully complex, however, as genre SF becomes quite productively transatlantic, and as the space race and the Cold War affect global perceptions of technology and the future. The New Wave, for instance, makes little sense from a purely US-centric standpoint, and yet the decade of the 1960s in literary SF — and all its repercussions — makes no sense without the New Wave. (Further, as Samuel Delany has pointed out multiple times, it should really be New Waves — Moorcock's New Wave was not Ellison's New Wave was not Merril's New Wave was not Cele Goldsmith's New Wave, etc. The way they diverge and overlap deserves attention.)
And yet, it's also true that American SF publishers and media producers have had more power and success overall than others, at least with English-language SF, and so their ideas of SF spread easily beyond US borders.
The hegemonic monster (hegemonster?) of US power in the second half of the 20th century deserves scrutiny, and science fiction could be a tool for such scrutiny, as I expect the editors of this book hoped to be able to at least begin to do, and as some of the chapters, do, indeed, pay attention to. We need, though, a Cultures of United States Imperialism for science fiction, or a study of Rick Perlstein's histories of US conservatism alongside a study of science fiction in the same era, or ... well, the possibilities are many, because science fiction is often a genre of power fantasies, and the United States is often a country fueled by such fantasies. (For all its messiness, Thomas Disch's The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of at least asked some useful questions.) Such an intervention isn't really what Cambridge Companions are about, however.
One of the dangers that the field of American Studies faces is the danger of re-centering American power just as we're beginning to de-center it in literary, cultural, and political studies. We can see the de-centering effort on a small scale with literary science fiction, where the rise of the internet has allowed a nascent movement of global SF to grow, and where there is a stronger awareness than ever of writers and audiences from around the world. There's a long way to go, but if the 20th century was an American century, and also a century of American science fiction, then perhaps the 21st can centered differently.
The editors of the Cambridge Companion hint toward this in their introduction. They are no American jingoists. But they also write: "The vast canon to which all contemporary creators of SF (in all media, forms, and genres) respond is thus (for better or worse) tightly linked to American ideas, experiences, cultural assumptions, and entertainment markets, as well as to distinctly American visions of what the future might be like" (5). I think that statement is false in one important way — I would say "most creators of anglophone, genrefied SF" rather than "all contemporary creators of SF (in all media...)" etc, because I think this rather all-encompassing generalization neglects certain tendencies in British SF that have been influential, and it completely wipes out non-US/UK SF. The result is an unfortunate and I expect unintentional valorizing of UScentricity, unless it is premised on a very narrow definition of SF, which it seems not to be. But this is the danger of nationalistic scholarship, especially when performed by scholars from within a particular nation — they remain blind to the world they cannot see, and so the map they create is one where the US is in the center and is bigger than any other area.
Americanness was, obviously, not quite so much of a problem for the James and Mendelsohn Cambridge Companion, where many of the contributors were not America. Nonetheless, it was very much not a Cambridge Companion to Global Science Fiction — a topic too big for the slim confines of any one book in the Cambridge Companion series. (To see some of the scope, look at the International tag at the SF Encyclopedia site.)
There is no denying the centrality of the US to science fiction in any way that science fiction makes sense as a label. (For better or worse, as Link and Canavan say.) But for myself, I wonder what it means to study American science fiction solely, much as I wonder what it means to study American literature solely, or American anything solely. Or to call it "American".
And yet to deny the centrality of a thing called "American literature" is foolish and distorting, even though, in my more idealistic and la-la-land moments, I might want to. We are not the world? We are the world? We are ... what?
As I think about the introduction to this book and my inchoate (if not incoherent) resistance to the American in American Science Fiction, I can't help but also think about a paragraph in Aaron Bady's recent, important Chronicle of Higher Education essay, "Academe's Willful Ignorance of African Literature", a paragraph that I have no answers for, and which nags at me:
I worry that as Americanists move into “World Anglophone” literature, the world outside of Britain and the United States gets included in theory, but will continue to be excluded in practice. As crass it might be to use “world literature” as a shorthand for “the rest of the world,” the alternative might be worse. I worry that the actual effect of rebranding English departments as “World Anglophone literature departments” would only normalize the status quo. Will their survey of Anglophone letters still consist of dozens of scholars working on British and American literatures and a single, token Africanist? That might be the best-case scenario. For all its flaws, at least the term “postcolonial literature” recognized on which side of the global color line it located its subject, and recognized how much work was yet to be done.
When thinking of "American science fiction", I can't help but think of all that that term doesn't encompass, and perhaps my struggle with this Cambridge Companion is that my own deepest interests are in what sits at the margins, what defies the definitions, what lurks beyond the scopes.
(I told you I'm not the audience for this book!)
I wonder, too, why there isn't more scholarly attention to things like Analog magazine and Baen Books. Neither appears in the index to The Cambridge Companion to American Science Fiction, and the sorts of things published by Analog and Baen don't seem to get much discussed by SF scholars. And yet shouldn't a book about American science fiction provide more than just the most passing of passing mentions to Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven? The ascent of science fiction in the United States parallels the ascent of Reaganism and neoliberalism, and how is it that among the various references to Star Wars in this book there are none (that I found, at least) to Ronnie's own beloved version? This American Science Fiction needs more Amurrican science fiction, more Newt Gingrich, more Rapture culture, more survivalism. Too much academic SF criticism cherry-picks favorites to valorize, and since most academic lit critics are armchair leftists of some sort or another (myself included), we get lots of Left Hand of Darkness and not nearly enough Left Behind.
(I have no good transition between these paragraphs, so I hope you'll pardon me this momentary aside to admit it. Hi, how are you? Thanks for continuing to read this rambling post, even though I'm sure you have something better to do. We're almost done. Shall we get back to it?)
To set down scholarly stakes within a realm called The American not only risks valorizing an already highly valorized Americanicity, but it also risks seeing things in a narrower way than the creators of the works under study themselves did, and I firmly believe that criticism should add breadth and depth to material rather than narrowing it, should give us more techniques of reading rather than fewer. This is my problem with some versions of canonical nationalism: they are procrustean, and miss the ways writers, for instance, learn from a variety of materials that are not so geographically bound. Among scholars, there's been in recent decades more of a push for, for instance, a view of transatlantic writing and thinking — of the Black Atlantic, of transatlantic Romanticism and transatlantic Modernism(s).
"American" is not only geographical but ideological: the mythography of Americanism. Tracing the flows to and from that ideology is especially interesting to me, particularly as a way to try to interrupt those flows, or at least look at their edges, cracks, and pores. (The Cambridge Companion to Anti-American Science Fiction, anyone? No?) I like that Link and Canavan end the book with a chapter titled "After America", and though I have reservations about the chapter itself, which isn't nearly ambitious enough, the gesture seems necessary for this age: to at least imagine a move beyond the centrality of US power and US dominance, to change the perspective and shift our lenses. Certainly, as global warming threatens to eradicate most life on Earth, the moral imperative of our age is to move beyond any one nation, to perceive the planet entire, and to do what so much science fiction has aspired to do, even if it has almost always failed: to look at things from a broader perspective.
What if "After America" were to mean after the idea of America, after the dominance of the nation, after the discourse of Americanness? (America is just so 20th century, dude.) By ending with "After America", this Cambridge Companion includes the seeds of its own destruction. A worthwhile move, it seems to me. But then, I like books that want to destroy themselves.
Readers looking for tension, angst, fantastical myths, well-rounded characters, and a very human tale of survival will delight in this quick and engrossing page-turner of a story, sure to inspire the inner-Zodiac in everyone.
The limited-time TIME TRAVEL STORY BUNDLE is officially on sale for one more week. A lot of you have already bought it, which is great–I hope you’re enjoying the books in there as much as I am! I’ve already ripped through 3, and have 9 more to go (I can skip Parallelogram (Book 1: Into the Parallel) since I wrote it myself and consequently have read it more than anyone else in the world. So far). I love reading about time travel, and these books are such a treat for my brain. I hope you’re all treating your brains to this fabulous book bundle, too.
If so, then are you ready for one more free thing?
This one isn’t a high-stakes giveaway like the last two I’ve done, it’s a straight bonus offering for the first 20 people who respond.
So whether you’ve already purchased the Time Travel Story Bundle, or are about to go do it right now, the only thing that matters is being one of the first 20 people to send me an email here with two pieces of confirming information: the email address you used when you made the purchase, and the download link you received once the purchase was complete. That’s it! Then if you’re one of the first 20 people who qualifies, I’ll send you everything you need to get the free audio book.
Why am I doing this? Because I know you’re going to love the books in the story bundle, and I also take a gleeful kind of pleasure in giving away free stuff. I have a plan to do that every month for the rest of this year, so make sure you’re part of my Readers’ Group mailing list so you always hear about it first!
Good luck! Can’t wait to give 20 of you some audio swag!
I have finally found an environmental book for older readers, and it is terrific.
Sixteen-year-old Laura, the journal keeping main character in The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd, is a member of a punk band. She has an appalling older sister, and her parents are falling apart. Sounds pretty generic YA, doesn't it? What makes this book riveting is its setting and its main character.
Are Good Environmental Books All About Setting?
The 2015 Britain of The Carbon Diaries is one suffering from energy shortages and horrific climate problems, as is the rest of the world. Britain, however, is the first country to start carbon rationing. The book is Laura's account of her family and neighbors dealing with limited access to energy while suffering through an extreme winter, a drought, and torrential rain. Her older sister is appalling because she is bitter and angry about her gap year in America being cancelled. Her parents are falling apart because they're having trouble coping with the social change they're being hammered with. Dad, for instance, is the head of a travel and tourism school. With carbon restrictions, people can't travel. That pretty much puts an end to the tourist industry in Britain, and he loses his job.
The book isn't a cautionary tale, in my humble opinion. It's much more of a thriller. What's going to happen next and how will the characters survive it? Though Laura comments on the selfishness of others a couple of times and wants very much for the rest of the world to get on board with carbon rationing, this is not a "Let's save the planet!" story. There is no instructive message.
I'm sure many reviewers probably write about The Carbon Diaries' environmental themes. I always have trouble determining what an environmental theme would be. I've seen some writers calls The Carbon Diaries' theme "climate change." That seems more like a subject to me. I would say the theme of The Carbon Diaries involves a teenager struggling to find her place as an older person in her family and her place in society, one that is dramatically changing. Those are traditional YA themes, not environmental ones. It's the environmental setting that makes those traditional YA themes interesting and makes this book environmental.
Isn't climate fiction, fiction dealing with climate change, all about setting?
A Good Character Always Does Wonders For A Book
Laura is like an edgier, smarter Georgia Nicholson. The format of the book is even similar to the Georgia Nicholson books. It's a journal, of course, and there are several pages at the end translating British terms for American readers, which you find in Georgia's books. This is not a complaint. I like Georgia. I like Laura.
A Good Book Doesn't Have To Teach You Anything
Though The Carbon Diaries doesn't insist that readers do anything, the characters' struggle was so intense that it has an impact. I hadn't read much before I started obsessing about whether or not I'd turned the heat down at night. I freaked out a bit over that power outage in Washington earlier this week. And, yikes! They're rationing water in California!!
Very few people like to be preached at or taught. If a piece of fiction is well done, it creates a response in readers without doing either of those things.
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The Latest issue of Luna Station Quarterly is live and available to purchase as a digital download or a lovely hardcopy to hold in your hands. Or, you can read it for free at the LSQ site. It’s chock full of exciting, thought provoking, fantastical tales. Enjoy!
Once a month I lead a book group for 8-12 year olds at our local public library and our most recent session was about science fiction books. It was one of the most enjoyable sessions we’ve had, so I thought I’d share what we did.
My first challenge was to come up with a list of science fiction which 8-12 year olds might enjoy. This wasn’t such an easy task, but in the end my book list read like this:
Several people helped me come up with this list (thank you!), but I’d like to give a special shout out to author SF Said who was tremendously helpful in making suggestions about books I might like to consider.
I knew that most of the kids in my group hadn’t read any science fiction at all (though most had seen either some Dr Who episodes or the Star Wars films), and so first we had a discussion about what we mean when we talk about science fiction in relation to books. The definition we came up with was:
Fiction which typically focuses on:
either science or technology
life in space, on other planets or aliens
and whilst there is often some sort of fantasy element, the fantasy is potentially believable (through technological advances, for example), and therefore distinct from fantasy with dragons and spells.
As the aim of the session was to get the kids exposed to a wide variety of SF, and to choose at find at least one SF book which they thought looked interesting enough to read, I wanted to expose them to lots of different books in the short time we had. And so I came up with a board game which the group played in teams.
All the books on my list above, plus some space-themed poetry and space non-fiction books were placed in the centre of our table, and each team was give a game template, a dice and a lego spaceman or alien as their counter.
The aim of the game was for each team to get to the end of the board game (set out a little like snakes and ladders ie with the possibility of having to move forward and backwards on the board), collecting as many (glow in the dark) stars as possible along the way. Teams won stars by correctly answering questions associated with the numbered star they landed on each time they rolled the dice.
All the questions were about the books in the centre of the table, and so to find the answers, the kids had to do a lot of browsing. Some questions were very simple (“Who is the author of X”), some involved a value judgment (“Choose three words to describe the illustrations in Y”) and some required more in-depth browsing inside books (eg “Which book opens with the lines XYX” or “Which book is set in X”). When each team had found the answer to a given question they came and gave me the answer, and if it was correct (or simply reasonably thoughtful in the case of value judgments), the team got a star and returned to roll the dice for their next question.
The game was over when every team had reached the end point on the board, and the winning team was that which had collected the most stars. The victors each won a Mars bar (you get the space connection?) and the book of their choice from a small selection I brought with me from my past review pile.
Once winnings had been distributed we went round the group and everyone had to pick up one book which had caught their eye, and comment on what it was about the book that they liked the look of.
The session went with a blast (no pun intended, but I’m happy to keep it in ). I think it worked so well because:
There was a (team) competitive element – this meant the game got quite loud and physical, with lots of books being picked up and discussions going on
The kids won stuff – everyone went home with some glow in the dark stars, in addition to the victors’ winnings
The kids had a period of pretty intensely browsing books they might not otherwise have picked up, and everyone went away with a new discovery (the most popular books were the graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time, Space Cat, Space Dog, Phoenix, Mars Evacuees and Lost on Mars)
If you’d like to try the game out you can download a copy of this board game here (pdf) but you’ll need to create your own set of questions to go with whichever books you’re using in your session. You’ll see on the board that there are time warps (they look like tornadoes), a teleporter, and two tardises (tardi?) – if kids landed on these they had the choice to go forwards or backwards along the board, and pretty soon they realised that it was actually beneficial to move back wherever possible as this gave the team the chance to win more stars.
Next month’s bookgroup meeting is actually all about celebrating our first birthday, so if you’ve any suggestions for great book-themed party games to play, I’d really love to hear about them!
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