Mark's Reading List

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The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1) By Becky Chambers Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062444134
Availability: On Our Shelves (Note - We update this inventory once per day.)
Published: Harper Voyager - July 5th, 2016

A debut novel that evokes the best of old- fashioned science fiction adventure and adds smart elements of satire, humor, and social commentary.  The crew of the Wayfarer, a bore ship that "punches" holes through subspace to connect distant locales in interstellar space via wormhole, is a collection of humans, aliens, alien humans, and an overseeing AI named Lovey.  Rosemary, who is fleeing family and hiding a secret, joins them and quickly discovers a new life that is both demanding and accepting in ways she never before imagined. The dialogue alone sets this novel a cut above. The characters are all fully realized, smart, and revealing in ways that bring us into their curious family, matching a wide and crowded universe as distinctly imagined as any in the genre.  An unexpected treat, built of equal parts intelligence, sensitivity, and an adult appreciation of the 12-year-old SF fan in all of us.

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Martians Abroad: A Novel By Carrie Vaughn Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780765382207
Availability: Out of Print
Published: Tor Books - January 17th, 2017

Martians Abroad is remarkable, salubrious, entertaining, and never takes its audience or its characters for granted. Polly and her brother Charles (twins, after a fashion) find themselves sent to Earth by their ambitious and often autocratic mother to be educated at the Galileo Academy, and the two find themselves the first Martians to ever attend Galileo.  It does not go smoothly. The story sets the problem of adapting and assimilating to a culture that insists on viewing you as inferior.  Told from Polly's point of view, it details the difficulties and occasional triumphs of being the outsider needing to win respect while learning to survive.  I read it with a pleasurable mix of nostalgia and sympathy for the siblings.  Recommended.


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House of Windows By John Langan Cover Image
ISBN: 9781682308127
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Published: Diversion Books - July 11th, 2017

Set to be re-released in July 2017.

If H.P. Lovecraft and Saul Bellow had ever collaborated on a ghost story, the result might be very much like John Langan's debut novel House of Windows. Not so much in style, but in the way the two writers would temper each other and blend their signature motifs into something simultaneously more sinister and more sophisticated. Patiently, persistently, and with great skill, Langan has constructed a modern ghost story about nightmares and families and fouled hopes and expectations imposed and denied, with a caution at its heart, that no matter how many windows into the soul one has, if the curtains are drawn or we refuse to honestly look, we cannot truly know each other. Or ourselves.

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Celestial Mechanics: A Tale for a Mid-Winter Night By William Least Heat Moon Cover Image
ISBN: 9781941110560
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Published: Three Rooms Press - April 11th, 2017

William Least-Heat Moon has taken a story of people making choices incompatible with their own desires and natures and given us a travelogue of the spirit. The trajectories of these three people, each one trying to find their place in a cosmos crowded with distraction and uncertainty, reveal the geography of the self and the gravity of choice. In the end we're offered a map of roads oft-traveled and too little remarked on the journey to hope.

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The Buried Giant (Vintage International) By Kazuo Ishiguro Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307455796
Availability: On Our Shelves (Note - We update this inventory once per day.)
Published: Vintage - January 5th, 2016

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Time Travel: A History By James Gleick Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780307908797
Published: Pantheon - September 27th, 2016

James Gleick is a gifted "explainer." His several books on science tackle abstruse and complex fields and make them intelligible and even fun to the lay reader. His biography of Richard Feynman was superb. Now he turns his attention to something which at first blush may seem trivial---time travel. He begins with the first fully realized incarnation of the idea, in H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, and then proceeds to examine how this relatively recent notion has affected 20th Century physics as well as popular culture. Entertaining, thoughtful, and lucid throughout, this books is a delight. -Mark's Holiday Staff Pick, 2016

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Seven Brief Lessons on Physics By Carlo Rovelli Cover Image
ISBN: 9780399184413
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Published: Riverhead Books - March 1st, 2016

Many books come along purporting to be for the non-scientist, easy for the general reader, but they either are not or are so dumbed down as to be pointless. This one, however, is the real deal: a book about physics for the nonspecialist that is not pitched to any lowest-common-denominator level and manages to convey not only the essence of the major questions of physics in the 20th Century but explain how much we do and how much we do not know---and why. This is a gem. Elegantly simple while in no way simplistic, the ideal primer. Much recommended. -Mark's June Staff Pick, 2016

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Numero Zero By Umberto Eco, Richard Dixon (Translated by) Cover Image
By Umberto Eco, Richard Dixon (Translated by)
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ISBN: 9780544635081
Published: HarperVia - November 3rd, 2015

Eco has been a voice of profound common sense since he began publishing. In essays and a series of novels he has shown us repeatedly how false assumptions can lead to catastrophe, especially in the area of conspiracy. Foucault's Pendulum was a complete autopsy of the dangers and absurdities of too close an engagement with presumed occultisms, secret histories, and the pseudo-intellectual obsessives and political adventurers who derive their purpose in life from such things. His last novel, Numero Zero, while briefer than his usual forays, engages completely another facet of the underside of public discourse by way of the creation of a newspaper which is never intended to see print. It is a device for other purposes and the staff of journalists hired to produce it give us a view of what goes on in "editorial meetings." One of them is chasing a theory that Mussolini survived WWII. The twists and turns are alternately funny, frustrating, and horrific. As ever, he cautions us not believe everything we read, but also to never abandon the quest of truths. Common sense was his forte. That and an impish delight in human intellectual foible. -Mark's May Staff Pick, 2016


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Margaret the First: A Novel By Danielle Dutton Cover Image
ISBN: 9781936787357
Availability: On Our Shelves (Note - We update this inventory once per day.)
Published: Catapult - March 15th, 2016

The entire period both just before, during, and just after the Enlightenment was filled with individuals seemingly larger than life, robustly engaged in challenging any preconception they could find, hunting them down, nailing them to a board, dissecting them, and flinging their conclusions in the face of any convention that presumed to deny them agency. Margaret, Duchess of Newcastle, was an eccentric, brilliant woman who challenged a convention further. First woman to be invited to address the infant Royal Society, before men like Boyle and Pepys, she fought against an inborn reticence to make herself more than society insisted she should be. She wrote, she made her own clothes, she presented audaciously, upsetting apple carts and collecting admirers and champions, producing plays and books, including one proto-science fiction novel. She styled herself Margaret the First. The full flavor of the period and her place in it---and against it---is on display in Danielle Dutton's marvelous novel. -Mark's March Staff Pick, 2016


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The Snow Queen By Joan D. Vinge Cover Image
ISBN: 9780765381774
Availability: Special Order
Published: Tor Books - October 27th, 2015

A vast, epic reworking of the fairy tale, Vinge's Hugo winning novel follows the fortunes of Moon and Sparks, cousins friends lovers, rustic inhabitants of Tiamat, a world with a centuries long winter-summer cycle and a culture whipsawed between them, with the Winters ruling during the ice-bound dark times when the world is cut off from the interstellar Hegemony and its trade. Arienrhod, the current Winter Queen, plans to extend her reign by a subversion of tradition, seeding the Summers with her own clone embryos so the next Winter Queen after summer will be her own genetic self.  But nothing ever goes as planned and Moon, the clone heir, resists her intended destiny. In so doing, though, she places Sparks in peril at the hands of the Snow Queen.

The new 35th anniversary edition of this beautifully imagined and artfully realized story is available now, reminding us how good science fiction can be and how deep its roots go in literature. -Mark's January Staff Pick, 2016

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On Inequality By Harry G. Frankfurt Cover Image
ISBN: 9780691167145
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Published: Princeton University Press - September 29th, 2015

Frankfurt is a Princeton philosopher whose previous "little" book---On Bullshit---is one of the most concise as well as entertaining examinations of what may seem like a frivolous subject but is central to our daily interactions with the modern world.  Here, there is no frivolity. Frankfurt is presenting a careful critique of a hairtrigger subject with a view to moving the conversation off the hot-button aspects of economic inequality and onto the more solid grounds of respect and identity.  His contention that by focusing so much attention on economics alone we are shortchanging the wider, more trenchant question, and ultimately doing ourselves a disservice by ignoring the real bases of the issue.  Certainly, this is a book to be argued with, which seems to be his intent---broaden the dialogue, talk about All The Things, and widen our gaze.  This is not a book to simply read and accept.  It serves as the basis for an ongoing conversation. -Mark's November Staff Pick, 2015

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The Water Knife By Paolo Bacigalupi Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780385352871
Published: Knopf Publishing Group - May 26th, 2015

Near-future science fiction that could very well be historical fiction in 10 or 20 years.  The American southwest, in particular Arizona and Texas, are falling apart due to the effects of climate change.  Water is the new oil and it is controlled by competing states---California and Nevada---which brush up against the ragged edge of rebellion to defend their rights.  Angel Velasquez works for Catherine Case, who is the queen of Nevada water rights.  He's a Knife whose job it is to go out and secure water rights by almost any means and cut them loose from those who have but tenuous hold on them.  Something big, however, sends him to Phoenix where he encounters Lucy Monroe, a journalist who struggles to survive and still find truth in a city ruled more by the dictates of the gun by any kind of legitimate authority.  Through her he gets on the trail of a set of nearly mythical rights that seem to be leaving nothing but death in their wake.  

A page-turner with a serious message and superb storytelling with characters whose humanity shimmers throughout, though sometimes with a dark light that is all-too recognizable. -Mark's October Staff Pick, 2015

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Aurora By Kim Stanley Robinson Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780316098106
Published: Orbit - July 7th, 2015

Interstellar colonization is a staple of science fiction and its examples range from high adventure almost swashbuckling to the detailed examination of the "real thing."  Robinson's new novel is one of the latter and in its scrutiny of the possibilities and problems of the whole notion it brings us face to face with enormity such an enterprise would be.  The novel opens as the ship, which has a personality of its own, painstakingly developed over years by the chief engineer, is approaching the goal of its long voyage.  It's a generation ship.  People now alive were not when the ship departed Earth and the present population is impatient for landfall.  But the daughter of the engineer, who by default inherits her mother's reputation aboard ship, becomes the one who has to cope with a series of crises which call the entire project into question, forcing them all to face the choice of trying another system or turning around and heading home, a voyage that will take 170 years.  Robinson's attention to detail and the hard choices his characters must face push Aurora several notches above average. -Mark's September Staff Pick, 2015

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Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs By Johann Hari Cover Image
ISBN: 9781620408902
Availability: Special Order
Published: Bloomsbury USA - January 20th, 2015

Chasing The Scream by Johann Hari.  This is an overview, written somewhat novelistically, of the Drug War.  If you always thought there was something not quite right about national or international drug policy, this will reveal the reasons for that intuitive unease.  We have been "fighting" this war for over a century now and all that has happened is that it has gotten worse---bigger, more expensive, insanely destructive.  Hari went on a three-year journey to track down answers and came up with some amazing revelations.  We have an insane drug policy.  

This isn't all just one-sided, though---Hari has the same fears most people do and he examines those as well.  This is not prescriptive other than that we need to stop doing things the way we have been, because all the evidence suggests it does not work.  You may find your sensibilities and prejudices thoroughly shaken up by this book. -Mark's July Staff Pick, 2015

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The Windup Girl By Paolo Bacigalupi Cover Image
ISBN: 9781597808217
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Published: Night Shade - May 5th, 2015

Dystopias come in all denominations of grim. What sets the better ones apart is the plausibility of the scenario and the attention to detail, plus the vividness of the characters. In this, Bacigalupi shines, giving us a near future of flooded nations, food shortages, and unremitting corporate greed continuing to turn blind eyes on the condition of the world when a profit can be made.  Although it is not wholly a matter of evil people, because these are not "bad" people. Rather, what we find here is very human people trying to do the best they can under circumstances that never clarify.

And then there is Emiko, an engineered being, the "wind up girl" who is made a bit too well and one day starts making her own decisions, quite at odds with how she should have been.

This is first-rate SF with all the virtues of a literary novel. Not to be missed. -Mark's July Staff Pick, 2015


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The Secret History of Wonder Woman By Jill Lepore Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780385354042
Published: Knopf Publishing Group - October 28th, 2014

Any book that connects Margaret Sanger, lie detectors, and superheroes is bound to be interesting.  Even better when the connections all come together in one man and his circle of intimates.  William Moulton Marston was one of the early inventors of the Lie Detector (though his was not the model that came into common use).  He was also a fervent feminist in the days when women were still going to jail for speaking out.  Eventually he created the comic book character Wonder Woman, which became the third most popular superhero during the Golden Age of comic superheroes, right behind Batman and Superman.  How all this came about is the subject of Ms. Lepore's in-depth study, which at times shows real life to be decidedly weirder than what may be found in the annals of DC Comics.  To say Marston was a problematic personality would be putting it mildly and the life he led with the women who obviously loved him was, to say the least, unconventional.  A fascinating look at a "lost" period of 20th Century culture. -Mark's April Staff Pick, 2015


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All Those Vanished Engines By Paul Park Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780765375407
Published: Tor Books - July 1st, 2014

Paul Park is known for writing quietly intense speculative fiction about people (and aliens) in the midst of transformations.  In this, his newest novel, he gives us an alternate history that revolves around family secrets and unexpected interventions, a time eerily familiar yet running along a skewed trajectory in which the Civil War is ended by women and World War II holds stranger secrets about a past that has rearranged our future.  In the tradition of David Mitchell, the interlocking narratives span more than a century and a half and conspire to give a story much larger than the sum of its parts. -Mark's Holiday Staff Pick, 2014


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The Peripheral (The Jackpot Trilogy #1) By William Gibson Cover Image
ISBN: 9780425276235
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Published: Berkley - October 6th, 2015

Flynne Fisher is just trying to get by in a horribly depressed rural economy sometime in a near-at-hand 21st Century America.  She's smart, savvy, and has a brother with friends who have all been damaged by their military service as highly trained special ops. Her mother is dying of cancer and she doesn't want to have anything to do with the major cash industry, illegal drugs. So she takes what she can get. She substitutes for her brother one night in a virtual reality game he claims he's beta-testing. Flynne is good at these but hates most of them because of the violence.  This is just a security gig, though, running off paparazzi from a high-class party in a London that doesn't look much like London. On the second night she witnesses a particularly brutal murder in the game and suddenly people are trying to kill her and her family.  Then she learns that it was never a game but actual security being run 70 years in the future via a time-travel link that is now changing her world.

Gibson has always written smartly about the most unexpected aspects of human encounters with technology and science.  This is the first time he has tackled time travel and he does so in the most logical yet unexpected way to produce a thrilling, intense story about the consequences of meddling, both in the past and in the future. Possibly one of the best-conceived and executed time travel stories ever written, one in which the only thing really traveling is information, but in the end showing us how information is, really, everything. -Mark's December Staff Pick, 2015


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Bleeding Edge: A Novel By Thomas Pynchon Cover Image
ISBN: 9780143125754
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Published: Penguin Books - August 26th, 2014

Pynchon is known for manic, high-voltage prose that spills and overflows like a storm surge, metafictional forays into psycho-philosophical culturescapes that ooze and wreak of paranoia and conspiracy.  Reading one of his tomes can feel like a compulsive run to Marathon, exhausting and exuberant at once.  Imagine, then, what such an imagination might convey under some restraint, in a novel that reads more or less like a "normal" thriller, and deals with what may be an actual conspiracy.  The Bleeding Edge may be Pynchon's most accessible novel in that case.  Set in the months before 9/11 it follows Maxine Loeffler as she hunts down what may be simple fraud or may be international money laundering or may be a global threat, all in the geek-ridden, nerd-besotted world of dotcommers and venture capitalists. In typical Pynchon fashion, kitchen sinks abound.  Uncharacteristically, one moves through the story with considerable ease, though with increasing anxiety. -Mark's November Staff Pick, 2015


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The Last Days of New Paris: A Novel By China Miéville Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780345543998
Published: Del Rey - August 9th, 2016

In Paris, during the early days of the Nazi occupation, a young American schooled in the occult symbolist morphologies of Crowley and company infiltrates the enclave of French Surrealists holed up in city center. He finds them ensconced in a kind of internal exile, playing at resistance by ignoring the Nazis and pretending they are the gatekeepers and caretakers of the essential Paris.   Breton, Varo, Lamba, others. The American has brought a device–Americans have always been good at devices—which, in one frenetic evening, manages to capture the surrealist essence of these imagineers and store.  The “battery” is conceivably a tremendous weapon with which to fight the Nazis, but it is stolen, and then in at the end of a series of tragic inevitabilities, explodes, unleashing the transformative power it contains on the very fabric of Paris. The novel is riddled with Surrealist quotes, riffs, nods, and inspirations. This is an alternate history built on the notion that imagination and art can be as brutally decisive in war as any martial technology—but that the deployment of such visions must be done with care.  Absolutely (!) superb, a striking triumph. -Mark's November Staff Pick, 2016