unRequired Reading Blog
Many early science fiction “space operas” were simple narratives of good vs. evil, with clean-cut heroes, dastardly villains, and no more ambition than seeing the hero fly off to another adventure at the end. Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, with its sprawling narrative, morally ambiguous characters, and realistic interpretation of both social and mathematical science, changed the course of science fiction forever. Asimov’s masterpiece presents an intriguing story of the fall of civilization, and the many people from varying walks of life who attempt to restore it. With Asimov’s meticulous attention to detail and a vibrant, chaotic universe, this novel will satisfy any fan of thoughtful, socially-aware science fiction.
Foundation is the story of the planet Terminus, a resource-poor planet at the edge of the galaxy that becomes the seed of a movement to save civilization after the fall of the Galactic Empire. The novel begins as the renowned “psychohistorian” Hari Seldon, having developed a mathematical model for the behavior of human beings on a mass scale, has foreseen the doom of the Empire and gathers up a group of scholars to create an encyclopedia of knowledge to aid humanity in the coming Dark Age.
Imagine a future where teens rent their bodies to senior citizens who want to relive the moments of their youth. In Starters by Lissa Price, this is exactly what happens. A genocide spore killed everyone who wasn't vaccinated in time. Left behind are the very young and the very old. Many children are left without parents or caretakers. They must survive in an unfriendly world where they are viewed as unattended minors and are forced to resort to any means possible in order to survive. If a teen agrees to rent out their body to a senior, they are paid a substantial sum of money. It is very enticing to a starving and homeless teenager.
C.S. Friedman has long been one of my favorite fantasy writers or, really, writers in general. Having written two trilogies and four stand-alone novels in the past two decades, she's not the most prolific writer in the fantasy world, but when she chooses to publish, her work is always brilliant. I was first introduced to her stories in high school by a friend who was in the middle of reading her Coldfire Trilogy. I've always been loathe to accept recommendations from friends who say, "You've gotta read this book!" but I'm glad I did. And now with her second series, the Magister Trilogy, I've just finished and thoroughly enjoyed Feast of Souls.
This first book takes place in a world that is practically medieval, with tales of small, squalid villages, deeply-forested trails, and grand, opulent capital cities and castles. Friedman takes great care to emphasize the disparity between the peasants--dirty, uneducated, and willing to sell themselves and their families to stay afloat--while the rich go about their lives oblivious to those "below" them. There are three main categories of persons in this book: the morati, regular mortal people, no matter their walk of life; the witches, natural magicians who must draw upon their own life-force to perform their work and who, consequently, are rather short-lived; and the magisters, mysterious sorcerers who act as political counselors and power brokers who do not die. The secret to magisters' immortality is known only to them.
Jake Knight seems to have it all. He's a fifteen-year-old technology whiz who can jump a ten-foot wall with his parkour skills. He's enrolled in a nice British school, and his dad is an ambassador to the small West African country of Burkina Faso. To Jake, Africa is a land of excitement and adventure...and he will soon learn that it is also the land of the Outlaw.
Jake thinks his boarding school life is pretty lame and spends his time playing Geothimble, a scavenger hunt that uses GPS technology. When Jake's extracurricular activity gets him suspended, he is sent to his father's embassy. Jake could not be happier, but little does he know that he's about to get enough excitement to last a lifetime.
In 1972, Richard Adams’ classic fantasy novel Watership Down was first published. This exciting adventure follows the travels of a group of rabbits seeking a new home after the destruction of their warren. Evocatively written and imaginatively plotted, this novel excelled in portraying the world we humans perceive as mundane as a place filled with danger and mystery, and also excelled in its depiction of the primitive religion and folklore the rabbits created to explain the natural environment. After I finished reading Watership Down a couple of months ago, I searched for a similar fantasy told from the perspective of animals, but finding a novel of its caliber proved difficult. Many of the other animal-centered fantasy stories I found were either too deliberately whimsical or too childish to live up to Adams’ novel. Eventually I found David Clement-Davies’ Fire Bringer and decided to give it a try based on the recommendation by Adams on the back cover. Filled with adventure, suspense, and gripping depictions of the natural world, this novel lived up to my lofty expectations.
She never knew her father the farmer. But in Paul Fleischman’s Seedfolks, Kim is determined to do something to connect with him, though he died before she was born in far-off Vietnam. Her mother and sisters remember him with incense and candles on the anniversary of his death. However, that’s not enough for Kim. She has something else in mind even though the prospect of carrying it through is unnerving. The Cleveland neighborhood her family can afford to live in is scary. But outside the apartment building is vacant lot. Well, it’s not exactly vacant. It’s filled with junk—an old couch, tires, all kinds of trash—a real haven for rats. But it’s ground that’s not spoken for. And Kim has a plan.
On Wendy Everly’s 6th birthday, her mother tried to kill her with a butcher knife in Switched, by Amanda Hocking. This was after claiming that little Wendy was a monster and baby murderer...sentiments that didn't win her the Mother of the Year award but landed her in a mental hospital. After that, Wendy and her protective brother, Matt, went to live with their loving Aunt Maggie. Unfortunately, things didn’t get much easier for Wendy. She was kicked out of almost every school she attended, and school administrators and kids alike seemed equally hostile to her. At 17 years of age, Wendy still feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere, and she has difficulty even eating food that most kids seemed to love, like cake and pizza.
Vee Bell has narcolepsy in Slide by Jill Hathaway. Or at least that’s what her family and friends think. Once, Vee tried to tell her father the truth, but he sent her to a shrink who didn’t believe her either. Now she doesn’t even dare tell even her best friend.
Sliding. That’s what Vee thinks of it as. When she gets too tired to fight it, she falls asleep, but doesn’t dream. Instead, she enters other people’s minds. She can hear, smell, taste, and feel everything that they’re experiencing. Sliding only lasts for moments, but it is long enough to exhaust and sometimes scare her. She’s slid into backstabbing friends and teachers behaving badly. As a result, Vee takes constant caffeine pills to stay awake and is always just barely functioning.
Bitterblue takes place eight years after the end of Kristin Cashore’s earlier novel, Graceling. At the end of that book, ten-year-old Princess Bitterblue became Queen of Monsea upon the death of her father, the vicious psychopath, King Leck. Bitterblue is still trying to help her country recover from the trauma of her father’s 35-year reign of terror. Leck held the kingdom in thrall by controlling people’s thoughts, changing their memories so they always believed he was a kind and caring ruler while he really terrorized the citizens. Because of her youth, Bitterblue has relied heavily on her advisors who promote what they call a forward-thinking agenda. They urge her to pardon everyone for any crimes committed during Leck’s reign and encourage everyone to simply forget that anything bad happened.
Frank Gallows has some explaining to do. The burned-out ghost wrangler has just sent an innocent child into the world of the dead. The kid's name is Garth Hale. In the regular world, he's just your average boy...who also happens to have a terminal illness. But Garth discovers that he has some quite extraordinary powers in Ghostopolis.
No living souls have ever made it back to the regular world, so Mr. Gallows is losing his job for this big-time screw up. The fact that Garth didn't have much time to live in the first place makes the situation even worse. Gallows has to hang up hunting those ghosts who wish to remain in the land of the living. He'll never have the pleasure of capturing repeater offender Benedict Arnold. No, Gallows has to right this wrong. Luckily, his ex-fiancée Claire Voyant has a machine that can take you back and forth between the worlds. Frank is going to have to play nice.