Tag Archives: Recommendations

5 Sci-fi and Fantasy Novels About Climate Change That Everyone Should Read

Spring was technically supposed to begin in Ontario almost a month ago, but I don’t think Old Man Winter ever received that memo. The last several weeks have been filled with snow, sleet, cold temperatures, and the annoyed mutterings of millions of Canadians who are beyond ready for a proper spring now.

While we’re waiting for the snow to melt away for good and the sun to eventually peek out from behind the clouds again, I’ve been thinking about how often climate change is talked about in the SFF genre. All of the books I’m about to discuss today show what happens to a civilization (or the lack thereof) long after the weather patterns destabilized and the seasons people thought they could count on became unpredictable.

1. The Book of Dave: A Revelation of the Recent Past and the Distant Future by Will Self.

It’s easy to forget what the past was really like when a society has to struggle to survive every day. This is even more true when it comes to documents that aren’t easy to understand to begin with and when the people reading them are only barely literate at all. This tale showed what happened when the journal of an frustrated cab driver was accidentally discovered five hundred years after his death and fashioned into a harsh, new religion.
The satirical elements made me laugh, but it also made me think about how easy it is to misinterpret something that was written a long time ago in a culture that was nothing at all like your own.

2. Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1) by Octavia E. Butler.

I must be honest with you here. Water isn’t something I ever worry about running out of in Ontario. It’s so abundant here that I can’t see us running out of it anytime soon.
Not everywhere on Earth is like this, though. There are places like California that are using water faster than it can be replenished. They’d be in trouble even if the climate in their area wasn’t already becoming drier than it has been before.
The characters in this book had to face the threat of running out of water at the same time their government collapsed, their home was destroyed, and their family was torn apart.
3. Mara and Dann  A Novel by Doris Lessing.
Take the crises of one country in Parable of the Sower and expand them to the experiences of millions of people across an entire dying continent in the distant future.
This was actually the first science fiction book about climate change that I ever remember reading. The fact that it was told through the perspective of an orphaned and often painfully hungry child only made her observances of how climate change can destroy entire civilizations even more poignant. Mara and her brother did nothing to deserve all of the suffering they experienced, and yet that couldn’t save their parents’ lives or fill their stomachs with food when all of the rivers dried up and the crops failed.
4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  by Philip K. Dick.
Climate change has already begun driving far more species to extinction than is typical in our world. How many more species we’ll lose forever depends on many factors, and I can’t even begin to guess what the final tally will be.
The interesting thing about the setting in this book is that it happened after humans have killed off so many other species that we began making robotic versions of various animals to keep us company. There were even robotic people who had no idea they were robots because they looked, felt, and sounded exactly like biological people.
 It wasn’t addressed clearly in the plot from what I can recall, but I always wondered what everyone was eating to stay alive in this universe after all of the old ecosystems had been destroyed.
5. The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
Only read this book if you’re comfortable with very dark and disturbing plots. I’m glad I read it once, but I was so saddened and horrified by certain plot twists that I don’t think I could stomach them again.
The Road could be the logical conclusion to any of the books listed above. It was set at a time when there were no plants and animals left on Earth and the few remaining humans were all slowly starving to death. The main character, an unnamed father, must try to keep himself and his young son alive against impossible odds.
What is your favourite science fiction or fantasy novel about climate change?

5 Classic Science Fiction Books That Everyone Should Read

There’s something about the snowy days of January that makes me want to curl up with a classic science fiction novel and not lift my head up again until April.

I’m not entirely sure why I have this urge. Maybe it’s because burying my nose in something that was old and often assigned in English class a few years after I’d read it was exactly how I used to spend cold winter weekends when I was a kid? There is also the joy of discovering a story you’ve heard lots of references to in other places. I was positively thrilled to finally get the real version of the first entry on this list. As interesting as movies and TV shows are, they often make changes to the characters or plot that anyone who isn’t familiar with the original might not even notice.

At any rate, if you haven’t read any of these classics yet, I can’t recommend them highly enough. Yes, I’m playing a little loose with the definition of the term classic in this post. I believe that the more modern books I included are going to be as highly praised a century from now as they are today.

“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley.

Ignore everything you may have heard about Frankenstein from TV shows and movies. Frankenstein wasn’t even the name of the creature that was created by nineteenth century science and ingenuity. That name actually comes from Dr. Frankenstein, the scientist who first came up with the idea of stitching the bodies of various corpses together and seeing if he could bring his creation to life.

What I appreciate the most about this tale is how much attention it paid to developing the characters. No one was perfectly virtuous or villainous in the storyline including the monster himself. Yes, this is part of the horror genre, but it probably isn’t the same type of horror most people imagine when they think about this genre.

All of the fear has a purpose here, and it’s not simply to frighten you. It wants to make you think.

 

“Out of the Silent Planet” by C.S. Lewis.

What if the Earth isn’t the only planet in the universe that contains intelligent life? What if we’re not even the most interesting populated planet out there?

That’s all I can say about this storyline without giving away spoilers, but this trilogy was full of delightful plot twists. C.S. Lewis really knew how to play around with the common tropes in the science fiction genre and come up with a new approach to them.

“Parable of the Sower” by Octavia E. Butler.

I wish Ms. Butler had lived long enough to finish this series. She wrote so many incredible things, and “Parable of the Sower” is honestly one of the best science fiction stories that’s been written in the last 50 years.

Imagine what North America would be like if their societies crumbled slowly instead of overnight like it does in, say, The Walking Dead. (No, there are no zombies in “Parable of the Sower,” though)

The characters in this tale did watch their financial and social prospects dwindle for many years before their home literally burns down and they’re forced to march north and hopefully find a safe place to live.

“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury. 

The warnings in this tale about what censorship and totalitarianism do to a society are as timely now as they were when Mr. Bradbury first released this work.

I also enjoyed the descriptions of how the government in this world got people to stop reading books and thinking for themselves. What I assumed they’d do to shut down the flow of information was the exact opposite of how it actually went down.

There were a lot of reasons why I enjoyed the storyline, but this was one of the biggest ones. I never would have guessed that the average person could be so complicit in creating a new government that wasn’t actually what they wanted at all.

“Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley.

On a somewhat silly note, the cold, clinical scene that showed how babies are gestated in this society still haunts me. It’s not gory or anything, but it was nothing at all like how humans reproduce in our world. I read that section two or three times in a row to fully understand how it worked the first time I picked up this story.

One of the other reasons why I recommend this tale so highly has to do with how it approaches the idea of prejudice. No one is born with prejudices. They’re something that have to be directly or indirectly taught to a child. How this happened in this society was as creative as it was disturbing.

4 Movies I’m Looking Forward to Watching in 2018

So far, 2018 doesn’t seem to be offering quite as many movies that I’m looking forward to watching as the end of 2017 did. This is a good thing, though, since my to-watch list of movies in general is still quite long and I haven’t actually managed to catch any of the movies in that previous post.

It will be nice to have the chance to watch them and some of the other films on my to-watch list over the next few months.

With that being said, there are still a few 2018 movies that I can’t wait to see. Now that we’re quickly moving to the end of this year, this is the perfect time to look forward to some of the exciting stories that will soon be told.

Black Panther 

Release Date: February 9

I’m generally not a huge fan of superhero movies, but Wonder Woman was an exception to that rule earlier this year.

Black Panther will be my 2018 exception to the rule, too. The trailer looked incredible, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about the storyline so far. I can’t wait to see if it will live up to the hype, and I fully expect it  to do just that.

A Wrinkle in Time

Release Date: March 9.

Who else loved this book when they were a kid? I’m planning to reread it before watching the movie because I’ve honestly forgotten a lot of the plot. All that remains is a sense of wonder and excitement about the characters’ adventures, and I can’t wait to see how that translates to the big screen.

From what I’ve seen so far, it’s going to be quite the adventure.

The Little Stranger.

Release Date: August 31.

The poster for this film doesn’t seem to be available yet, but that doesn’t make me any less excited to watch it. Sarah Waters is a talented storyteller in general, and this tale of hers is especially thought-provoking because it can be interpreted in so many different ways.

The main character was a doctor who is hired to look after the members of a formerly-wealthy family who live in a crumbling mansion. While tending to the old war wounds of one of the family members, the doctor slowly begins to wonder if the once-grande estate is haunted.

This isn’t your typical ghost story, though. At least in the book, you can find evidence to support nearly any explanation you wish to believe for why that family’s house was so eerie or how they lost their wealth so quickly. I’m hoping the film will capture the grief and decay of that strange house without pushing the audience to any one particular conclusion about why it was such a sad place to live.

 

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Release Date: November 16.
It will be almost a year before anyone gets to see the sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I’ve already begun to count down the days until the next instalment in this series is released.
I’m thrilled that J.K. Rowling is continuing to expand the Potterverse. While I’ll continue hoping that she’ll someday write a prequel to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone that explores his parents’ lives in more depth, I’m happy to learn about other parts of that universe in the meantime.
Fantastic Beasts was an energetic and playful movie. I expect the exact same experience from the sequel.
What 2018 films are you most looking forward to watching?

10 Fantasy Books I’d Recommend to New Readers of This Genre

Last August I blogged about science fiction and fantasy books I’d recommend for elementary, middle school, and high school students.  Last week I blogged about science fiction books I’d recommend to adults who are unfamiliar with that genre.

Today let’s talk about books that are a wonderful introduction to fantasy in general for anyone who hasn’t explored this genre yet. I’m much more selective about what types of fantasy fiction I read than I am about science fiction. On the positive side, once I fall in love with a fantasy story I will become one of it’s biggest advocates for many years to come.

I generally have a preference for fantasy tales that were written for children or teenagers for reasons that are hard to tease out. This list reflect that, although there are still plenty of novels for adults on it as well.

Fantasy is a genre that requires a lot of world-building in order to make an unfamiliar place feel like home for the readers, so there won’t be any short stories in today’s post. Longer novels usually do better in this regard in my experience.

Finally, I gravitated towards books that have been made into films, TV shows, mini-series, or plays. I often prefer to watch fantasy rather than read it because of how rewarding it is to see a world I’ve spent years dreaming about finally come to life, dragons or intelligent little rabbits and all. Nearly all of the recommendations below have been transformed into one of these things at least once.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

First of all, everyone’s heard of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. There are references to it everywhere, and for good reason. This was actually one of the first fantasy tales I ever read, and it’s something I enjoy going back to visit again every so often.

The scene that made me a lifelong fan was the one where Alice drank a potion and magically shrunk to a fraction of her size. I giggled the first time I read it, and it’s still charming to me to this day.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman.

I saw The Princess Bride movie years before I had any idea it was based on a book. It was a fairy tale that seemed to somehow be self-aware, and it was like nothing I’d never read or heard of before. I’m still not entirely sure if it was supposed to be a kindhearted parody of the fantasy genre or an homage to it. Given the tongue-in-cheek but ultimately warm and supportive writing style, it’s probably a little of both.

What I do know about this story is that it’s timeless and appeals to kids and adults alike. To me, this is a sign of great fantasy.

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

Before I read The Mists of Avalon, I’d never known that retelling a classic legend from the point of view of an antagonist was something that had been or could be done. Morgan le Fay was someone I’d barely heard of at that point, and all of the reference to her in the versions of the older King Arthur legends I had read were fairly negative.

It came as a shock to me, then, to read about Arthur’s life and kingdom from the perspective of Morgan. I was fascinated by all of the details of her life that the author invented in order to explain why this character made certain decisions and why the other characters didn’t always understand her.  Morgan became much more human and likeable to me after I finished The Mists of Avalon.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.

Creating imaginary worlds and then playing in them is arguably one of the best parts of childhood. Terabithia was as complex and magical as any other world a kid could imagine, and I loved reading about Jesse and Leslie’s adventures there.

This is also one of the few fantasy novels I’ve ever read that had a sad ending. I don’t give generally give away spoilers in my posts, but I would recommend being cautious with this one for readers who are younger or sensitive.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling.

Every once in a while I run across someone who has never read the Harry Potter series. I’m slightly surprised every time it happens, but I’m sure there are other series out there I haven’t tried yet that others would have the same reaction to.

This series is a smart introduction to modern fantasy for a few different reasons: it has a large fanbase; the movies were well done; the story telling only gets stronger as the series continues. It’s also aged well and is something I expect people to continue to read for generations to come because of that.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.

I have one word for you: puns. This story is brimming with them, and it only makes the Kingdom of Wisdom even more amusing than it would have been otherwise. I also enjoyed the messages embedded in this one about the importance of education and the wonders you can discover if you explore the world around us with curiosity.

The fantasy genre can be quite good at exploring messages like these without feeling preachy or pushing the main plot off topic. The Phantom Tollbooth did a fantastic job of showing the readers the importance of these things without skimping on the development of the plot.

The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman.

Disclaimer: I haven’t read the other two books in this trilogy yet. My recommendation only extends to The Golden Compass at this point.

This is the heaviest and most complex book recommendation for today’s post. I almost deleted it and replaced it with something else, but I eventually decided that it should stay. Complexity isn’t a bad thing, and neither are stories that are darker than what is typical for the age range or genre they were written for.

How do you know what is real? What do you do when your experiences of the world don’t match the orthodox explanations for how things work? When should – and shouldn’t – we trust authority figures simply because they’re authority figures?

These are hard questions for adults to answer, and they’re even tougher for kids to comprehend. I enjoyed seeing how Lyra tried to figure out what the truth really was regardless of who wanted to stop her.

 

Watership Down by Richard Adams.

Watership Down was something I discovered shortly after I developed my love of rabbits. The idea of reading an entire story about a fluffle* of rabbits who were searching for a new home was quite appealing, and I only enjoyed it more once I realized just how unique each rabbit was and how much they all mattered to the plot as well as to their urgent need to find a safe place to call home.

*No, I am not being cutesy here. This is the technical term for a group of rabbits, and I love it.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Not only is this a classic Christmas story, it’s a magical glimpse into what fantasy can look like if its set in an urban society that barely seems aware of its existence at all. Out of all of the different types of fantasy out there, this one is my favourite. It’s exciting to find the subtle hints that a fantasy realm has influenced an otherwise completely ordinary society.

Having such an ordinary setting also made Scrooge’s encounters with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future even more poignant than they would normally be. Who would have guessed that such a wealthy, greedy, and powerful man was being quietly watched by beings who desperately wanted him to change his tune before it was too late?

 

The Stand by Stephen King.

Will the world end with a bang or a whimper? This novel was so long that I only managed to read through the whole thing once. All of those extra pages and scenes were used to to create a frightening world in which 99.4% of the human population died from an unforgiving virus that had been accidentally released into the general human population.

The survivors were gradually separated into two distinct groups, one lead by a devil figure and the other lead by a woman who is fighting on the side of good. That’s when the plot became a must-read for me. This is such a classic trope in the fantasy genre, and it was explored fully in The Stand.

How about you? What fantasy books would you recommend to new readers of this genre?

10 Science Fiction Books I’d Recommend to New Readers of This Genre

Last August I blogged about the science fiction and fantasy books I’d recommend for elementary, middle school, and high school students. Today I’m talking about science fictions books I’d recommend to adults who have never read anything in this genre before. Next Thursday I’ll be blogging about books in the fantasy genre that I think every adult should read.

While science fiction and fantasy are typically grouped together in the SFF genre, there are enough differences between the two of them as far as storytelling goes that they deserved to have separate posts.

I focused on a few different criteria for this week’s list. The books I recommended obviously needed to be completely understandable to someone who has no idea what the tropes or common themes of this genre are. That criteria alone was a little tricky to meet, but I think I did a pretty good job of picking tales that didn’t use a lot of jargon.

Many sci-fi novels include jokes or subtle references to other, older works. As much as I love what’s happening with modern science fiction, I honestly do think that the classics are the best place to begin because of how influential they are and how often they are still referenced in books that were published decades later.

I also quickly developed a preference for short stories while I was working on this list. It’s much easier to convince someone to devote 15 minutes to reading something short and sweet than to hand them a 400 page book that may take weeks or months to finish. All of the short stories on this list are available to read for free online, and I’ve provided links to them below.

Rain, Rain Go Away by Isaac Asimov.

This is a deceptively simple short story about a group of people who are waiting for the rain to stop. The twist ending is something I adored the first time I read it, and I hope it will appeal to new readers as well. I wasn’t able to get a picture of the cover for this one because it was published as part of an anthology years ago and I couldn’t get the cover for that book to load into this post.

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin.

What would you do to live in an utopian society? I loved the way this short story forced its audience to think hard about that question. There is so much more I want to say about it, but everything else I could add would give away spoilers.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

I’m always surprised by how many people have heard of this book but never actually read it. If someone is in the mood to dive into nineteenth century horror and science fiction, this is the perfect place to start. Yes, the pacing is much slower than what you’d typically read in 2017, but with that slower pacing comes many opportunities for the author to painstakingly explain why Victor Frankenstein created his monster and what happened once it came to life.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

This book was the blueprint for many future dystopian novels, including Oryx and Crake which I will be discussing below. It covers everything from the horrors of being monitored by your government in every moment of your life to what happens when science figures out how to alter the intelligence of large portions of the population. I especially enjoyed the sections that showed how scientists reduced the intelligence of fetuses that were not destined to become the leaders of their society.

Fledgling by Octavia Butler.

I’d make this entire list out of Octavia E. Butler’s books if I could. (Maybe someday I’ll devote a post specifically to her?)

She is such a creative writer, especially in this tale which is neither as heartwarming as you’d expect a story about a child to be nor as as chilling as you’d expect vampire fiction to be. The beautiful tension between those two concepts is one of the many reasons why her tales are such an excellent introduction the this genre.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.

One of my favourite parts of the science fiction genre is general is how it gets readers to pay attention to critical social, political, and scientific issues by framing them as fiction and allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions about other ways to interpret those scenes.

Oryx and Crake is the introduction to the MaddAddam trilogy, and I was mesmerized by it from the very first scene. After a single man destroyed the entire world, the small handful of remaining characters had to figure out how to survive in a society where genetically-engineered organisms and crumbling buildings are really all that’s left of humanity’s legacy. The science in this tale is at times wacky, frightening, and mind-blowing. It is a must-read.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.

Many books about humans meeting aliens assume we will have the upper hand. This is one of the ones that doesn’t, and that made it even better than it otherwise would be. The other reason why I’d recommend it to newcomers to this genre is that it was very good at asking philosophical questions about everything from what it means to be human to what we might be able to expect if we ever met another sentient race.

All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury.

I know I’ve recommended this before in a Suggestion Saturday post, but I had to give it some attention again. The science fiction elements in this story weren’t actually mentioned right away, and if you blinked you might have missed them entirely until they were talked about again.

Somehow the subtle nature of that part of the storytelling made the ending even more satisfactory.

 

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.

This wasn’t a friendly piece of science fiction, but it is an important one. My favourite high school English teacher assigned this to us. I don’t remember what she said about it after we read it, but I do remember how disturbed I was by the way this society was set up.

 

Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan.

There are many fantastic graphic novels out there, but this is the best one I’ve read yet. The idea of being the last man – but not the last human – on Earth fits so nicely into the science fiction genre, especially once the main character realized what had happened and began to figure out what to do with his life from that point forward.

What do you think of my list? What have I missed?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on it on Twitter today.

Tailored Book Recommendations Are the Best

The Chronicles of Narnia was one of the first series I remember being recommended to me. My generous uncle gave me all seven books in that series at once when I was in elementary school. As soon as I read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, I began quietly touching the back of every… Read More

Who to Follow on Twitter If You’re Into Mindfulness and Meditation

A few weeks ago I started a new series of posts on this blog about Twitter accounts that share the same theme. This week I’m going to be recommending accounts that are about mindfulness and meditation. There aren’t as many mindfulness and meditation suggestions as there were for the science fiction and fantasy version of… Read More

5 Modern Scifi Books You Should Be Reading

This post was inspired by a few different conversations I’ve had recently about my favourite science fiction books. I hope you find at least one new recommendation in this list! The Book of Dave by Will Self. What is it about? A grim, futuristic society set in the land formerly known as England. This society’s religious beliefs and… Read More