Sunday, June 24, 2012

SciFi Summer Update



Why Sci Fi?
Build curious, critical thinkers.
My three month mission – to explore fabulous new titles, seek out new authors and new must read recommendations, to boldly go where I haven’t gone before. Oh, and to reread some old favorites along the way.  I know many of you are dying to know what I’ve found, so this update includes the first few weeks of my Sci Fi Summer reading.



First Light – Rebecca Stead
Two storylines collide as a boy visits Greenland with his parents on a scientific expedition and a girl longs to explore the "wider world" and leave the confines of her village below the ice. 

I really enjoyed this story, though I would classify it as more adventure and less science fiction. The one thing that disappointed me was that she didn't expand more on the science fiction aspect. I REALLY wanted more to the mitochondrial DNA aspect of the tale, and how that plays out. 

This is my second Stead book, and I can see the fingerprints of L'Engle on her storylines. Don't get me wrong, I really do like that! This book would be a fabulous partner novel with either Wind in the Door (L'Engle, and also deals with mitochondria) or City of Ember.

Age level: The plot was appropriate for middle grades on up, and the scientific concepts weren’t overly challenging. I would have no qualms handing this book to strong upper elementary students.

Science Concepts: Global warming, genetic diversity, biology

Wonders and What Ifs?: How could humanity survive in a hostile climate? What possible powers lie within us?

Historical Tie-ins: witch hunts and persecutions of “different” groups.

Narrator/Main Character: Told from the dual viewpoints of a girl and a boy.


The Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1 – by P.J. Haarsma
All the adults perish on a trip to another world. Their children, embryos at the start of the voyage, are brought to life by the ship’s computer and nurtured on the way to the new world. When they arrive, they have to take on the debts of their parents before they can enjoy a new home.

A little bit Ender, a little bit Matrix. A whole fun adventure. 

Age level: I would call this firmly young adult. The concepts are fairly challenging, and the plot needs some reader sophistication.

Science Concepts: astronomy, space travel, computer sciences. 

Wonders and What Ifs:
How will humanity change? Where can we go once we fill up our world? What would alien races be like? How could we survive the trip to another galaxy? What other types of worlds are possible?  What powers may be locked within the minds of humanity?

Historical Tie ins:
Slavery and Indentured servitude, History of computers, Ethics of bio engineering
Narrator/Main Character: Told from a male perspective.


Black Hole Sun by David Macinnis Gill
Quite a rip-roaring adventure tale, with just a hint of romance. 

I liked this book on a lot of levels. I enjoyed the Mars setting, and the hints at the history of the terraforming that has occurred. I enjoyed the repartee between the characters, especially between the main character and AI that lives in his head. It had the science fiction as well as a western feel to the tale. Since I am a huge fan of Firefly, this worked beautifully for me. It had just the right amount of "new words" sprinkled in to build the world for me, but not so many that it ended up becoming confusing. I also enjoyed the creative swearing (author created swear words serve many purposes - world building and also keeping the language more PG-13)

Age levels: This is a young adult novel. There is violence and romance, with some innuendo.

Science concepts: Living on other planets. Alien life forms. Technology, especially in battle gear. Bioengineering and genetic manipulation.

Wonders and What Ifs:
When is it acceptable to alter life genetically? What are the possible consequences?
What kinds of governments work well in harsh environments? What are the drawbacks?

Historical Tie-ins:
Concepts of honor among warriors (Japanese Samurai, rules of warfare in modern ages, knighthood)
Class differences and conflicts

Narrator/Main Character: Told from a male perspective, though the AI in his head is female.

Old Man’s War
The elderly are recruited to fight to protect human colonization efforts on other planets. They are promised a new lease on life – a new vitality and health – but they must leave the earth and cut off all ties with their former lives forever.

I absolutely loved this book, but it is for an adult audience. I would consider late high school or college, but the story really hangs on the reader understanding how it feels to get old. There is also considerable mature content in terms of language used, violence levels, and sexual themes. There are more books in the series, including one that is designed to be young adult. I intend to find and read that one to see if it could stand alone for younger audiences.


I have also reread two classics since summer began.

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury. Check out my extensivediscussion with Kathy (aka The Brain Lair) on my blog. There is a reason this is a masterpiece, and it has stood the test of time.

I, Robot – Isaac Asimov. Love this - it's a collection of short stories but they all flow together into a larger whole.  While this book was originally written for an adult audience, there was nothing I would deem inappropriate for the young adult crowd. For students who are interested in robotics or artificial intelligence, it is a must read.

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