Tag Archives: science fiction

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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Totalitarian control. Censorship. Loss of Freedom. All of these things are as much of a concern in 2017 as they were decades ago. Since Trump entered office, Orwell’s 1984 has become a bestseller once again. There are growing concerns about government control, “Big Brother” and spying to name a few. However, while 1984 has been highlighted in North America’s conscious, there is yet another perspective that should be considered: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. While not quite as popular as Orwell, Bradbury makes excellent observations about Western Society’s possible downfall.

The world of Fahrenheit 451 is one of entertainment- parlour families shown on large screens in individual’s houses that one can interact with, radio, and the pastime of driving extremely fast for the fun of it. The average citizen has been amused into submission. They have no interest in books. It happened slowly- universities gradually lost all enrolment and therefore closed; schools became places to learn how things operate- not why. Individuals gradually become submissive and they were happy to abide by the illegality of books as they continued to be increasingly entertained. At least, most citizens were.

Guy Montag is a fireman- not a person who extinguishes fires- a person who creates fires largely for the purpose to destroy books and the places that house them. One day he meets 17 year old Clarrise McClellan who is so peculiar she makes Guy question his worldview- especially his definition of happiness and his career choice. He brings these questions home and to work which makes his peers suspicious.  His superior, Captain Beatty, comes to comfort him in his doubts about being a fireman – to promote happiness, since books cause unease and unrest in people. Surely they are the detriment to people’s happiness and must be destroyed at all costs. But Montag wonders, how can that be true since his wife tried to take her own life with sleeping pills one night? Surely, there must be a reason why some risk their lives to protect books- like one lady he himself helped burn.

As I read through Fahrenheit 451 I couldn’t help but apply the themes to my own life. I have an entertainment machine in the palm of my hand-my smartphone- and I often use it for mindless dribble more than for educating myself. I look at the party culture of my generation and the inability many of my peers have to think about even the short term future and it saddens me. As I gain encouragement from Bradbury and other writers, I have been changing what I do in my spare moments- listening to audio books in the commute to and from work, taking classes, and so forth. Let’s not be made passive by entertainment, but use leisure for building us up.

 

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Groot by Jeff Loveness and Brian Kesinger

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Since the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie came out in 2014, comic fans everywhere fell in love with this previously little-known superhero team. Out of the whole group of loveable misfits, my favourite is probably Groot, the sentient alien tree. I think I’m not alone in this because Marvel Comics decided to give Groot his own solo adventure, written by Jeff Loveness and drawn by Brian Kesinger.

 

Even though he’s been to Earth many, many times, in Groot’s opinion he’s never really experienced Earth. So he talks his friend, Rocket Raccoon, into going on a road trip to Earth. The pair take the slow route, starting their adventure by hitchhiking through space (after their vehicle explodes). Along the way they encounter a bounty hunter named Eris who wants the enormous bounty on Groot. When Eris accidentally captures Rocket instead, she decides to use him as bait. But no one accounted for Groot taking his time. He comes to Ricket’s rescue in his typical slow way, having many adventures and meeting many new people on his journey to save his friend.

 

While Groot is a crazy and fun adventure (as befits a superhero story), it’s also a very touching tale about friendship. Groot always finds the best in everyone, no matter who they are and what they can do. He’s also filled with a rather childlike sense of wonder at seeing the beauty of space and the marvels of our own planet; his outlook will have you looking at the world around you with fresh eyes. Groot made me love this big-hearted tree more than I thought possible, and I’m sure you’ll feel the same if you give this graphic novel a chance

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

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Most of us are familiar with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the story of two young people from opposing families who fall in love. But what happens when you make the star-crossed lovers soldiers on opposing sides of a galactic war; soldiers who are determined to survive despite impossible odds? You get Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.

 

Saga is about Alana, a soldier from the planet Landfall, and Marko, a soldier from Landfall’s moon Wreath, who have fallen in love and started a family together. Landfall and Wreath have been warring for countless generations; neither side wants to see their soldiers fraternizing with the enemy (never mind starting families together). Alana and Marko are discovered on the planet Cleave right after Alana has given birth to their child. They’re forced to flee into the wilds of the mostly unexplored world, following a map that they hope will lead them to safety.

 

Saga is a science fiction/fantasy blend full of compelling and relatable characters. Alana is a very capable soldier even while recovering from her pregnancy. Her husband, Marko, is determined to be a pacifist after seeing his first battle. Chasing after them, among others, is Prince Robot IV, who suffers from post-traumatic stress; he’s also told that he cannot see his pregnant wife until after he kills Alana and Marko.

 

The series has won multiple awards, including six Harvey awards in 2013 (Best Writer, Best Artist, Best Color, Best New Series, Best Continuing or Limited Series, and Best Single Issue or Story), the 2013 Hugo for Best Graphic Novel, and three Eisner awards annually in 2013, 2014, and 2015. So if you’re looking for an excellent, genre-defying read, Saga is for you.
Shauna Kosoris is a member of the Thunder Bay Public Library staff.

Interview with Andy Weir

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Andy Weir Author Photo CroppedAndy Weir was first hired as a programmer for a national laboratory at age fifteen and has been working as a software engineer ever since. He is also a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of subjects such as relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight.  The Martian is his first novel.

Shauna Kosoris: The Martian is a very science-heavy science fiction book.  How long did it take you to research it?

Andy Weir: That’s hard to quantify, because I did the research while I was writing. It took me three years to write the book, and a large percentage of that was spent doing math and research.

What was the most interesting fact you discovered while researching?

Mars’s moon Phobos orbits the planet faster than the planet rotates. So even though Mars’s two moons go around the planet the same direction, if you’re on the ground they appear to be going opposite directions. Deimos goes East to West and Phobos goes West to East.

Very cool!  Mark Watney, the main character in The Martian, has a rather impressive skill set, being the Ares 3 engineer and botanist.  Did you know early on that he would have these roles?

Yes, I picked those skills early on because I knew they’d be critical to his survival.

They definitely were.  I doubt that most of us would be able to do half of what he does!  In interviews, you’ve said The Martian started out as you planning a manned mission to Mars.  Have you ever made plans for manned missions to other astronomical objects?

Oh sure. I think about how to get to the moon all the time. I did a lot of research on lunar cyclers and they’re pretty interesting.

The Martian was originally a free serial on your website.  How did you end up getting your publishing contract?

Originally the book was just a serial I posted a chapter at a time to my website. Once the book was done, people started requesting that I make an e-book version so they didn’t have to read it in a web browser. So I did and posted it to my site. Then other people emailed saying they want to read the e-book, but they aren’t technically savvy and don’t know how to download a file from the internet and put it on their e-reader. They requested I make a Kindle version they could just get through Amazon. So I did that as well. I set the price at Amazon’s minimum allowable price of $0.99. More people bought the book from Amazon than downloaded it for free from my website. Amazon has a truly amazing reach into the readership market.

The book sold very well and made its way up various top-seller lists on Amazon. That got the attention of Julian Pavia at Crown. He told his colleague David Fugate (a literary agent) about it. David ended up becoming my agent and Julian offered me a book deal. It was a whirlwind of activity because 20th Century Fox optioned the movie rights that same week.

Congratulations on all of that – I can’t wait to see the movie this October.  So what’s next for you?

I’m working on my next book now. It’s a more traditional sci-fi novel with aliens, faster-than-light travel, and telepaths, etc. It’s tentatively titled Zhek and it should be out in mid-2016

Why the switch from hard science fiction?

I had a hard sci-fi story in mind and I pitched it to the publisher, but they didn’t think it was any good. It’s a cool setting, but there’s not enough plot. So I pitched Zhek and they liked it.

Fair enough.  What book or author inspired you to write?

My main inspirations are Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

I highly recommend Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

I’ve heard great things about Cline’s book; I’ll have to check it out.  Finally, what are you currently reading?

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

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The Martian by Andy Weir

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There are lots of stories about being trapped and isolated on deserted islands or in the wilderness. These stories are often harrowing adventures of survival looking for food and shelter. But what if we took the story even further and added in the needs to find oxygen and heat as well?  That’s exactly what Andy Weir did in The Martian by setting his tale of survival on Mars.

 

Astronaut Mark Watney was part of the third manned mission to Mars (Ares 3). After a deadly storm hits, Watney’s crew believes he is killed; Watney wakes up to find himself alone on the alien world. Watney has to figure out how to survive with gear and supplies meant to last for only thirty days. He also needs to find a way to communicate with Earth and let them know he’s still alive.

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Luckily Watney was the Ares 3’s engineer and biologist, which is how he was able to think through all the immediate problems on his own (like how to grow food on an alien world which does not have viable soil). Of course, all of his solutions involve a lot of hard science, but don’t let that turn you off from the book if science isn’t your thing: The Martian is written in a very accessible way so that everyone can understand Watney’s thought processes. This is helped by Watney himself, who is hilarious; he manages to stay mostly upbeat no matter what Mars throws at him.

 

If you’re looking for a good survival story or a fantastic hard science fiction, Weir’s The Martian is for you.

Interview with Matt Forbeck

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Matt-on-Madeline-IslandMatt Forbeck is an award-winning and New York Times-bestselling author and game designer. He has twenty-seven novels and countless games published to date. His latest work includes the novel Halo: New Blood, the Magic: The Gathering comics, the 2014 edition of The Marvel Encyclopedia, the Monster Academy YA fantasy novels, and the upcoming Shotguns & Sorcery roleplaying game based on his novels.  You can find him online at forbeck.com.

Shauna Kosoris: What came first for you?  Working in game design or working on fiction?

Matt Forbeck: I wanted to be a writer since I was in grade school, but I discovered games in 7th grade, and they hooked me good. I started working on games professionally while I was in college and made a career out of it. It wasn’t until years later that I sold my first novel.

That said, tabletop roleplaying games often contain a lot of fiction. Even while I wrote those games, I was always working at honing my fiction skills, and I think that paid off well in the end.

SK: So how did you get involved with comics?

MF: I started reading comics before I even entered kindergarten, and I’ve kept up with them ever since. When I was with Pinnacle Entertainment, developing the Deadlands RPG, I wrote the first ever Deadlands comic for Image Comics.

Before even that, though, I co-designed the WildStorms collectible card game for Jim Lee’s division of Image. I even sold an inventory issue of WildC.A.T.s to WildStorm way back in 1995 or so, but that was just before Alan Moore took over the title, so it never saw print.

SK: Have you had other projects that haven’t seen print?  Do you have hope that they someday will?

MF: Most of my work has found its way out. At the moment, I have two novels I wrote for the Dust miniatures game that haven’t been released, but I believe that’s still just a matter of time before they come out.

As I said, I also wrote an inventory issue of WildC.A.T.s for WildStorm, Jim Lee’s division of Image Comics, which he then sold to DC. The artist didn’t get very far on it before Alan Moore stepped in to take over the series, way back in the mid-’90s. I don’t think there’s any hope of that ever seeing the light of day, but I had a great time writing it—and I was paid for it too!

SK: That’s the main thing!  You’ve written fiction and comics for some large game companies such as Wizards of the Coast, White Wolf, and Games Workshop.  Has your background as a game designer helped with these assignments?

MF: Very much so. It means that I’m comfortable with the source material and the fans who enjoy it. Also, because I understand exactly how the games work, if I need something in one of my books that doesn’t yet exist, I can design it myself and put it into the story with some level of confidence it’ll fit well.

It also didn’t hurt that I knew people in the fiction departments there from having worked on those companies’ games. Knowing that someone will answer your email does wonders for a writer.

SK: Most definitely!  What was it like to work with 343 Industries on the new Halo novel, Halo: New Blood?

MF: Fantastic. Honestly, I’ve written lots of novels for different companies, and 343 was an absolute pleasure to work with. Their love for the Halo universe shone through in every interaction with them, and their feedback was always helpful and constructive.

SK: That’s wonderful to hear.  Are there any particular challenges when writing a novel set in someone else’s fictional universe as opposed to your own?

MF: When you write a novel for an existing universe, much of the work of building the setting out has already been done for you, and if you’re lucky the universe is already popular and has a huge fan base hungry for your story. That’s all a fantastic help. However, it also means that you can’t just make things up as you go along, as that same fan base is sure to know the universe at least as well as you, if not better. Also, you can’t change things in that universe without permission.

When you write your own original books, you have total control over everything, but you also have to do every bit of the work. It’s daunting, but it can be more rewarding in the long run.

SK: In 2012 you ran a successful Kickstarter campaign in which you were going to write 12 novels in 12 months.  Why did you decide to tackle this amount of writing?

MF: I’m a pretty fast writer. When I’m cooking, I can usually crack out 5,000 words a day and maintain that pace. Writing a dozen short novels in a year came up to 600,000 words, which I figured I could hit.

Of course, I also had to run the Kickstarters, produce the books, market the books, design the covers, and handle dozens of other little details. It was an exhausting but rewarding year.

SK: Would you do anything differently if you were to run another Kickstarter campaign?

MF: I’d not tackle a project that size. It devoured my life, and I’m still playing catch-up with it. However, I will get back to Kickstarter again. My next drive will probably be for a short-story collection, which will include lots of my tie-in work, which my publishers graciously gave me permission to reprint. The great benefit of that project is that it’s already 90% done.

SK: You’ve been involved with a couple of Kickstarter campaigns as a game designer recently (specifically The Titan Series and the Shotguns & Sorcery RPG, which were both successfully funded).  I know you’ve designed board games, card games, miniature games, and roleplaying games throughout your career.  Do you have a favourite type of game to work with?

MF: I always seem to come back to roleplaying games, which are fantastic fun. Collectible games are probably my favorites though, mostly because I like to watch them develop over time and design new wrinkles to breathe fresh life into the game with each release.

SK: Was there a game designer who inspired you to make games?

MF: I followed in the footsteps of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson (who co-created Dungeons & Dragons) of course. The guys who showed me I could make a living at it, though, were Troy Denning and Will Niebling, who both worked at TSR (which published D&D back in the day). They just had so much love for the industry and had so much fun working in it that it became contagious.

SK: Finally, I have a few questions about what you read.  What book or author inspired you to write?

MF: My three biggest influences were J. R. R. Tolkien, Ernest Hemingway, and Raymond Chandler. I loved Tolkien for his worldbuilding, Hemingway for his brutal honesty, and Chandler for his incredible style.

SK: And what are you currently reading?

MF: I just finished up Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls, an excellent time-travel serial-killer thriller set in Chicago. Great, twisty fiction. At the moment, I’m starting Ramez Naam’s Crux, the sequel to his incredible Nexus, which was one of my favorite science fiction novels of the past decade. Great, realistic near-future SF that explores some of the hardest questions about how technology affects us all.

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Interview with Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen

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PIJpromo15Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen is the author of The Rabbit Back Literature Society and two other books that have not yet been published internationally.  He writes fantasy and science fiction stories and loves vampires.  When not writing, he is a Finnish and literature teacher, and the father of three sons.  You can find him online at rabbitbackliterature.com.

Shauna Kosoris: On your website, it says you are “Finland’s best kept literary secret.”  Do you think this is changing now that your first novel, The Rabbit Back Literature Society, has been published internationally?

Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen: If it is changing, I can’t see it, not yet anyway. I have had my own, smallish and quite devoted audience in Finland for a decade now, and I think it’s slowly growing.  I’m pretty sure I won’t make any real breakthrough in my homeland, ever – the Finnish book market just isn’t a good place for writers of non-realistic prose. But I can live with it because it seems that my books are quite nicely noticed abroad, for example, in the UK it was among other things chosen by the Waterstones Book Club. Nothing like that has ever happened to my books in Finland. But I can’t complain, really: it’s like that for most of the Finnish writers.  And in the end, I’m doing quite fine. In Finland, no more than maybe a handful of new books are marketed properly during every season – the population of Finland is 5 million and people don’t read or buy books that much anymore. Because of the polarized nature of the Finnish book market, some books sell huge numbers of copies; most books sell barely at all.

SK: Will your other novels be published internationally, too?

PIJ: Hopefully. Yes, I think so, at least my agent is negotiating about selling the international rights of the other two novels of mine, and I place my trust in her.

SK: Hopefully we’ll be seeing them here in Canada soon!  You teach Finnish language and literature.  Did any of your experiences teaching inspire The Rabbit Back Literature Society?

PIJ: I have this theory that all teachers are narcissists to some extent. Some of us even more than others. It can be a problem if you don’t know it yourself. People who work with people, especially with kids, must know their dark side in order to control it, otherwise it controls us. Laura White doesn’t know, and that’s what makes her psychologically dangerous to her pupils.

SK: Thinking of Laura White, she’s been compared to the Snow Queen.  Was this intentional on your part?

PIJ: I’m not sure if I had the Snow Queen in my mind – that fairy tale is familiar to me, though, so it’s quite possible that there is some kind of connection between Laura and the Snow Queen. More than the Snow Queen, I thought of vampires. And teachers. There is a (hopefully) small part in every teacher’s soul, dark and hungry, that carries a vampiric desire to see teacher’s own reflection in his or her pupils. So, more than anything else, Laura White is a combination of Dracula and John Keating (Dead Poets Society): a very charismatic teacher who, in the end, may take more than give…

Laura White’s original Finnish name is Laura Lumikko. Lumikko is this small snow-white predator, actually a weasel, although we have two separate words, “lumikko” and “näätä”, and “lumikko” doesn’t refer to treacherousness at all, unlike the word “näätä”. “Lumikko”, however, is a predator, and so is Laura White. Also, Laura’s Finnish last name Lumikko sounds a lot like Lumikki, and Lumikki is the Finnish name of Snow White – in a way, the pupils of Laura White are her own dwarfs, meant to reflect her deepest essence back to her, because deep down she isn’t sure who – or what – she truly is.

SK: What is it about vampires that you love so much?

PIJ: Deep down we all are vampires to each other. Some of us have souls, some don’t. Vampire is a great metaphor. Besides that, I believed in vampires when I was 5 years old and lived next to the old cemetery of Jyväskylä. Some guy next door, a couple of years older than me, told me about them and since then, I had horrific vampire nightmares for years. Every single night. Then, I think I was 10 or something, I learned how to fight them: I turned myself into a wolf and ripped their throats. My next step was to become a vampire myself and join them. That’s how I solved this nasty vampire problem of mine.

SK: I’m glad you’ve found solutions over the years.  What are you working on next?

PIJ: A novel. The working title is ‘The Days of the Mutant Cat’. It has something to do with motherhood and being a son of somebody – my mother passed away last October, and I think I need to write this novel now.

SK: I’m sorry to hear that; good luck with the writing.  To finish off, let’s talk a bit about what you read.  What book or author inspired you to write?

PIJ: It’s impossible to mention only one book. As a kid, I read a lot of fairy tales and comic books. More than anything else, I loved Donald Duck stories written by Carl Barks and some really strange Donald Duck pocket books. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis was something else: the scene where Lucy finds Narnia in the wardrobe had a huge impact on my imagination. Then there were the works of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. – I loved the strange humor of them! Ray Bradbury was also important to me. I bought The Illustrated Man for my 10-year-old son recently because I wanted to share the reading experience with him. I also bought him the Earthsea trilogy of Ursula Le Guin; it blew my mind when I was his age.

SK: I hope he enjoys them!  Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

PIJ: No. I think every book has been written so many times that in a way there are many slightly different versions of all works ever written available; no book is irreplaceable. Some of them are just more famous than others. But I think that people should dare to read different kinds of books than they are used to; leave their comfort zone once in a while and let the diversity of literature blow their mind.

SK: That’s very true.  Finally, what are you currently reading?

PIJ: The biography of Joss Whedon, by Amy Pascale. I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I still love it, and this book is both interesting and useful for us writers, I think. Besides it, I have so many unfinished books waiting, I’m a terrible reader nowadays. Being a teacher and trying to write my own book, the fourth novel of mine, just doesn’t allow me to have a long-term relationship with most of the books I begin to read. It’s too easy to leave them after 50 pages when I see something more interesting…

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