It’s THREE days til Christmas, and I’m willing to bet there are more than a few of you out there that don’t have all your Christmas shopping done. I’ve been guilty of it too. Waiting til the last minute, still unsure of what to get people, and frantically scrambling around two days before in some of the worst retail environments of the year. Not fun. I feel your pain, seriously. Shopping online not withstanding (because it’s too late for that guys, come on), I have a few recommendations for those Nerds in your life that might be a little difficult to shop for. I’m talking about readers. What’s worse than going in to the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section of a bookstore with no idea what’s good, or what your Nerd will actually like? It’s so frustrating!
Never fear, I’m here to help you! I’ve got several recommendations in Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror that should help your last minute gift getting. I’ve even got one for the Young Adult Nerd Reader in your life…
Published in 2011, Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson. Despite the obviousness of the name, this speculative fiction novel about a possible robot uprising is anything but obvious. Written a bit like World War Z, in that each chapter tells a different tale from a different character’s experience of the uprising, Robopocalypse weaves a compelling story about what happens when an scientist unwittingly unleashes a super intelligent sentient A.I., called Archos, into the world and how the human resistance comes to be. Daniel H. Wilson himself holds a PhD in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University, and drew heavily from his research in robotics when writing the novel. It’s both a commentary on human’s over-dependence on technology and disregard of our negative impact on the earth’s environment, and a testament to our ability to adapt when the need arises. This one is a page turner, and while I haven’t yet read the recently published sequel, Robogenesis, I expect it to be just as compelling. Also, Steven Spielberg has acquired the film rights but the production has been postposed as he claims this story is too important and the script needs more work. Here’s hoping he gives it the treatment it deserves.
Another Sci-Fi great, published in August of this year, is the latest from Sci-Fi master, William Gibson. The Peripheral marks Gibson’s return to speculative fiction after his last trilogy that, presumably, took place in the present. It’s a difficult premise to describe without giving away a lot of the more interesting parts of the story that are much better enjoyed when they slowly dawn on you. The story centers around Flynn and her brother, Burton, a former US Marine from the Haptic Recon force (I wasn’t sure what Haptics were going in to this novel, so if you need a primer click HERE). Essentially he’s a special ops guy that was wired up, with physical implants, to virtual gear and handled things like drones and robotics remotely – and got so messed up because of it that he was discharged and is on permanent disability. Flynn and Burton live in a near future that’s not quite a dystopia but is most definitely on its way, and they are both on the lower economic end of the social order. To make ends meet Burton picks up a contract job that, he believes, involves beta testing a virtual reality video game, but when he can’t meet his obligation one night he hires his sister to sit in for him. What she sees on her shift makes her think its more than a video game, and when people start trying to kill her brother she thinks these things might be related. There’s way more going on in the novel than just this, but it’s just the setup. The thing about Gibson’s work is that it takes awhile to settle in to. It was a solid 100 pages before the puzzle started making sense to me, and the fact that I still wanted to know, was compelled to know even, is a testament to just how great of a writer Gibson is.
In the Fantasy genre, and I am apparently a little late to the party on this, but if I am I know other people are too, the 2007 Patrick Rothfuss novel The Name of the Wind (#1 in The Kingkiller Chronicles), is just incredible. And you don’t have to be an avid fan of epic fantasy to enjoy it. It’s easily as fun to read and as well written as Lord of the Rings, if not quite so expansive in its universe. It follows the tale of one man, Kvothe, and his quest to find the mysterious being that killed his family. Known as The Chandrian, this mysterious being and his followers are things of stories, of myth. And yet Kvothe saw them when he was just a young boy, when he was helpless to do anything about it. In his world there is only one place to go to learn about the secrets of the past, and the magic of the world that he’ll need to know in order to gain his revenge, and that is The University. The Name of the Wind is about his journey to the University and his time there. His journey includes death, thievery, friendship, love, magic and, eventually, dragons.The follow up book (which I have yet to read, and was published in 2011), The Wise Man’s Fear, chronicles his last days at The University and what happens afterwards. George R.R. Martin himself blogged “The Wise Man’s Fear was worth the wait. I gulped it down in a day, staying up almost to dawn reading, and I am already itching for the next one. He’s bloody good, this Rothfuss guy.” There is also a novella out just this year, The Slow Regard of Silent Things (the perfect companion book for people who are already fans of the series). The final book in the series, The Door of Stone, is expected out next year, if all goes as planned. 20th Century Fox has optioned the TV rights to the series, but there is no further information on who is involved or when we might expect it to be released.
In the Horror genre, while not typically my field of interest but sometimes offers up some gems, is the 2014 novel The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey (of Hellblazer and X-Men: Legacy fame). The Girl With All The Gifts is to the zombie apocalypse as The Passage is to the vampire apocalypse (another worthy Horror novel you may want to check out, the first in a three part series, which has been optioned for film by Ridley Scott). After a fungal infection mysteriously infects the vast majority of the world’s population and turns them into mindless flesh eaters called “Hungries”, the few remaining uninfected humans live mostly in compounds like Beacon, a military run complex in England that serves as a shelter to civilians, but also as a research facility to a set of “hungries” that are different than most of the infected. And they all happen to be children. One of these children, Melanie, seems to be special among these children, possessing a near genius level IQ. When the base is overrun from the outside, Melanie, her teacher Miss Justineau, Doctor Caldwell (who was experimenting on the hungries), Sergeant Parks and an enlisted private, escape in a damaged Humvee. Without the protection of the compound they have to travel through lands infested by hungries and get to the south of the country where there is, presumably, another safe haven. M.R. Carey manages to make this story interesting and fresh at a time when zombie stories are a dime a dozen. This one is good for both adults and young adults with proclivities toward dark fantasy or anything to do with zombies.
Finally there is this gem of a Young Adult series called The Klaatu Diskos by Pete Hautman. It’s an unusual series that follows two adolescents from two different time periods who time travel through portals that come to be known as The Diskos (due to their disk-like shape). This is a perfect gift for any kid that has shown any interest in Doctor Who as many of the time travel tropes will already be familiar to them (this time travel stuff can get nuts, so having a grasp on it beforehand is always helpful). It’s hard to know what to say about this series except that it is imaginative and remarkable both in story and characters. It can get a little dark at times. The female protagonist, who is from a far far future where technology is all but banned, is essentially raised to be sacrificed within her culture’s religion (she escapes through a diskos – don’t worry, I didn’t give anything away). The young boy protagonist follows his father through a diskos but ends up in what is likely the tomb Jesus was buried in (and offers up an interesting theory as to how he could be resurrected in three days). The first two books are heavily adventure based and are my favorite, whereas the last of the series is much more character based and ties up a lot of information about the relationships we learned about in the first two. All in all though, a great and underestimated series.
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