THE AGE OF THE PUSSYFOOT (weird but interesting old book cover)

     I'm not sure any more needs to be said about this. I weeded this from my high school library because unfortunately it has languished on the shelf for a long time. But I kept it for myself. I really do like the cover, despite the snicker-inducing title. And look at that geek chic author portrait! He is OWNING it.

BOOK REVIEW : "Existence" by David Brin

Click HERE to see/buy the book on Amazon.

     This book is a treasure-trove of ideas! It's set hundreds of years in the future, when humanity experiences "first contact." But of course it's not what anyone is expecting, and there are revelations and hoaxes and twists galore. 
     The scope of the book is so huge and complex it's hard to summarize it, but one of the major themes is trying to figure out and avoid the many possible fatal pitfalls of advanced civilization. One idea I found VERY interesting is that many people (politicians and extremists on both sides of the spectrum) become addicted to self-righteous indignation, which keeps them from rational discourse. And our society tends to just feed into that and make it worse, rather than realizing an addiction for what it is: the enemy of a mature and rational society.
     This is the kind of book you sort of wish everyone HAD to read because there are a lot of clever and "important" concerns and ideas. I love the idea that diversity is vital to the survival of a species, that it brings "hybrid vigor." 
     I swear this book is very entertaining, too! Not just concepts and causes. There's a lot of great artificial intelligence stuff, genetically-engineered smart dolphins, extreme future sports, virtual reality Matrix-type mind trips, etc. Lots of adventure! Hopefully humankind won't self-destruct in any of the creative and plausible ways detailed in this book, but instead survive and thrive. 
     The ultimate message of the book is very hopeful and enlightening.

NOTE: Existence is slated for a June 19th, 2012 release. I was lucky to get an advance e-copy for review through NetGalley.


          Finally one of our students brought up the "Steampunk" genre in our last library book club meeting. She was way excited about it, eyes wide and mind on fire. I thought, NOW is the time to put together a bibliography on Steampunk books for our students!
          A few years ago at a writer's conference I attended a presentation by David Gale, Editorial Director for Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. He told us that "Steampunk" was going to be the next big thing in children's publishing, and blow up all over the place.

Feel free to reproduce this image if you like, we put it on one side of our bookmark, with the reading list on the reverse.

          Here is the list we came up with, using only books currently in our library collection. Some of these have all the elements of Steampunk, some of them may only have a few. If a particular title seems not Steampunky enough for you, just consider it "recommended if you like..."

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi (graphic novel)
The Clockwork Three by Matthew Kirby
The Death Collector by Justin Richards
Doctor Illuminatus by Martin Booth
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve
Flora Segunda by Ysabeau S. Wilce
 The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Gotham By Gaslight (“Batman” graphic novel)
His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
“Hollow Fields” manga series by M. Rosca
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
“The Infernal Devices” series by Cassandra Clare
“Keys To the Kingdom” series by Garth Nix
Larklight by Philip Reeve
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
The List of 7 by Mark Frost
“Monster Blood Tattoo” series by D.M. Cornish
Nick of Time by Ted Bell
Pastworld by Ian Beck
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
Tanglewreck by Jeanette Winterson
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
Whitechapel Gods by S.M. Peters
Worldshaker by Richard Harland

          If you're not sure what Steampunk is, think Victorian Science Fiction, with fantastical machinery using steam power. Gritty London streets, either in the actual Victorian era, or influenced heavily by it. Top hats, goggles, cogwheels and clockworks... Jules Verne and H. G. Wells are considered the grandfathers of Steampunk. You tend to find mechanically-inclined strong female characters in Steampunk.
          Here are some other core Steampunk titles, which may or may not be appropriate for junior high and/or high school libraries:

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
The Difference Engine by William Gibson & Bruce Sterling
Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter
The Return of the Dapper Men by Jim McCann, Paul Morrissey, & Janet Lee
Steampunk by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer
The Steampunk Trilogy by Paul D. Filippo
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

          Incidentally, I remember first hearing about Steampunk way back in about 1993 when I was working at the Santa Ana Public Library in the children's and young adult section. Just sayin'. The genre ain't NEW, but apparently there's a resurgence. Which is cool for those of us who work with teens.

GENRE : Dystopian fiction

          A Librarian friend and I have created (and presented a workshop on) a bunch of really great "Recommended if you like" lists, or "RIYL" for short.  We presented at the California School Library Association conference, and have continued to work on building our collection of genre lists.  We format them as double-sided bookmarks, with the genre heading and an illustration/picture on one side, and the list of titles on the reverse, and leave them out on the circ desk for students to browse through and keep.  What's really great is when you see kids keeping the bookmarks and checking off each title as they read their way through the list.  (Examples of some of our list titles: "Have You Mythed Out?" "Read the Movie," "RIYL Tim Burton," "Sugar and Spikes," and "Define Normal")

          When the English classes are studying 1984 they all start asking for books "like" 1984, which is a pretty specific sub-genre of science fiction, or rather speculative fiction.  It gets pretty sticky.  If you just do a general search in the library's database for science fiction, you get way too much, same with using "future" as a keyword.  I've started manually adding "dystopian fiction" in the cataloging records for any books that fit the bill, so it's quicker & easier to find them. 

          Here's an updated version of our Dystopian Fiction bibliography:


What does the future hold?

The Diary of Pelly D by L.J. Adlington
Feed by M.T. Anderson
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood
Fahrenheit 451 by Bradbury, Ray
The Roar by Emma Clayton
The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Dick
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by N. Farmer
The House of the Scorpion by N. Farmer
The Dirt Eaters by Dennis Foon
The Beach by Alex Garland
“Gone” series by Michael Grant
Among the Hidden by Margaret Haddix
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Epic by Conor Kostick
This Side of Paradise by Steven L. Layne
The Cure by Sonia Levitin
Fearless by Tim Lott
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
Messenger by Lois Lowry
The Resistance by Gemma Malley
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The Secret Under My Skin by J. McNaughton
Z for Zachariah by Robert O’Brien
1984 by George Orwell
Witch & Wizard by James Patterson
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Pearson
Last Book in the Universe by Philbrick
The Forest of Hands & Teeth by C. Ryan
Unwind by Neal Shusterman
“Virtual War” series by Gloria Skurzynski
Truesight by David Stahler
War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
“Uglies” series by Scott Westerfeld
The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn
Storm Thief by Chris Wooding
*All titles found in our Library*

          At first it was kind of fun, and I was finding plenty of books, but then I started noticing that there are numerous sub-genres of what I guess would fit under the umbrella term "speculative."  Things like post-apocalyptic, steampunk (all the rage now), etc.  And just because a novel is set in the future, does that automatically  make it utopian/dystopian?

          Even some English & Literature teachers have a hard time defining the parameters of general "science fiction."  I bossily intervened earlier this year when one of our English teachers claimed Jurassic Park was NOT science fiction because it's not set in the future.  She told a student he couldn't use it for a sci-fi book report, and since that teacher is a pal of mine, I emailed her several different comprehensive definitions of sci-fi from several different sources, to show that sci-fi isn't just future fiction.  Her reply was, "I think someone has waaay too much time on his hands over there in that library..."

          Which was funny, but unfair.  Isn't that the kind of thing we library people are SUPPOSED to care about?  Isn't that why we're here?  To be anal-retentive about literary details, definitions, and labelling?  (I have many thoughts & ideas on labelling.)  Anyway, she conceded the debate and let the kid use Jurassic Park, so...  I win.  Probably mostly because she doesn't really give a shit, as long as the kids are reading and comprehending.

          (And by the way, unfortunately I now feel compelled to work on a list of science fiction that deals specifically with genetic engineering, cloning, stem cells, etc. starting with Michael Crichton's books.)

          But back to dystopian fiction:

          I know everyone's batshit crazy for the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, and it's obviously THE dystopian teen series at this time.  I'm sure it's great, but the concept just makes me think of Battle Royale by Koushun Takami, which was originally published in Japan in 1999, almost a decade before The Hunger Games.  I haven't read Hunger Games yet, and I never will because I'm totally sick of hearing about it.  (Note: I did read Collins' Gregor the Overlander and totally loved it) 

          I'm sure what differentiates Hunger Games most from Battle Royale is that it's more palatable to teachers and librarians.

          Therefore, if I decide I want to read about teens having to battle to the death for survival in a harsh future, I will read the more controversial and possibly distasteful Battle Royale.  Because that's how I roll.


          I just finished reading Robert J. Sawyer’s Flashforward, which served as “inspiration” for the television series.  I love the series, and I really enjoyed the book, but the differences between the two are even more pronounced than is usually the case when books are made into film.  The book is much less about the mystery of what caused the blackout and visions, and more about the psychological effects and ramifications, and intellectual extrapolation on what it all means.  Then at the end it gets pretty cosmic and shoots off WAY into the far-distant future.  Fascinating.
          But the one page I dog-eared (I’m not proud of it!  I’m sorry!) so I’d be able to find it later was a scene set in the author’s vision of what book stores would be like ten years into the future.  But he wrote it in 1999, so his future was actually last year!
          It’s interesting, so I shall provide the passage here:
I wish this edition's cover didn't so heavily
reflect the TV series. But I'm just being picky.

(Following excerpt from Flashforward, by Robert J. Sawyer, copyright 1999)

Day Eight: Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Jake and Carly Tompkins could have met at TRIUMF, but they decided not to.  Instead, they met at the Chapters superstore in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby.  This one still devoted about half its space to actual pre-printed books that were for sale: guaranteed bestsellers by Stephen King, John Grisham, and Coyote Rolf.  But the rest of the facility was taken up by individual display copies of titles that could be printed on demand.  It took only fifteen minutes to produce a single copy of any book, either in mass-market paperback or as an octavo hardcover.  Large-print editions could be had, as well, and computer-translated editions in any one of twenty-four languages could be produced in only an additional few minutes.  And, of course, no title was ever out of stock.
          In a brilliant bit of preadaptive evolution, book superstores had been building coffee shops into their facilities for twenty years now—giving people the perfect place to spend some pleasant time while their custom books were printed.  Jake got to Chapters early, entered the attached Starbucks, ordered himself a tall decaffeinated Sumatra, and found a seat.


#1 in the "Song of Ice & Fire" series
          I have a weakness for epic fantasy of the Medieval kind.  Kingdoms at war, court intrigue, all of that.  Of course I LOVE George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice & Fire, but since the next book in that series is taking FOREVER to be completed, I've been on the hunt for other big honkin' door-stopper dark Medieval fantasy novels.
#1 in "Kingdoms of Thorn & Bone" series
          Gregory Keyes' Kingdoms of Thorn & Bone had me on the edge of my seat.  I read all 4 books in the series one after the other.  Then I discovered Tad Williams' Shadowmarch, and read the first 2 books, now waiting eagerly for the 3rd in paperback.
#1 in "Shadowmarch" series
          I'm such a sucker for stories that begin with brutal royal assassinations, followed by the heirs of the kingdom having to go on the run as fugitives.  All the better if one of the princesses, not some douchebag prince, reveals herself to be tough as nails and most fit to eventually rule the kingdom.  The antithesis of the Disney Princess syndrome.  And I like magic in SMALL doses, thank you.  Nothing crass or hokey, please.
#1 in the "Acacia" trilogy
          Which brings me to Anthony Durham's Acacia trilogy.  Probably the closest thing I've found to Martin's Song of Ice and Fire, and I don't mean that it's a rip-off.  It's epic and masterful and I can't wait to get my hands on the 2nd book, The Other Lands.  By the way, each of the books I'm talking about here average 800 pages, which is a requirement for me when it comes to dark fantasy epics. 
#2 in the "Eyes of God" series, but the BEST cover illustration ever, right?
          Now I'm totally engrossed in John Marco's trilogy: The Eyes of God, The Devil's Armor, and The Sword of Angels.  I've finished the first two, and will have to obtain the last one soon.  I know it's super nerdy, but I find it really awesome that the focal point of the kingdom in Marco's series is a giant LIBRARY.  Wars are fought over it, partially because of what a library stands for, and partially because of a mysterious and revolutionary "cataloging machine" built by the Librarian.  (It just figures that even in fantasy fiction people only get pro-active about the library when technology is involved.)  Plus there's a magic city across the desert where the crippled and deformed obtain miraculous powers from long-dead spirits with the help of a midget called The Witch of Grimhold.  How cool is that?  Well, I mean it's cool if you're a fantasy nerd like me.
          Toward the end of the second book in the series I ran across the following line that sells the whole thing, as far as I'm concerned.
          "I think you've brought poison into my library, Baron Glass."
          That one line is all I need to be totally hooked.  And I wish MY name was "Baron Glass."


          Because of our lack of any book budget I try to get my coworkers to donate their books to our library.  A teacher friend of mine just brought in two giant bags full of science fiction, all hardback.  Some of it was totally awesome vintage stuff, which I immediately covered with those nice mylar book jackets. 
          My favorite is Science Fiction of the 30's, compiled by Damon Knight, copyright 1975 Bobbs-Merrill. 

          It collects stories and illustrations originally published in the 1930's.  A lot of the illos are lame and/or too dark, but I found one that's a keeper.  It's from a story called "The Mad Moon," by Stanley G. Weinbaum.  Here 'tis:
The captions read: (L) "Get Out! Beat it! Scram!" he shouted at the giggling, gibbering creatures--
(R) The great, idiotic heads, the silly grins, and giggles--those giggles would drive him crazy.

          I'm keeping that one for myself.  It's too fragile and cool.