Great Reads

Chiang, Ted. The Lifecycle of Software Objects

When zookeeper Ana Alvarado decided to refocus her career and become a software tester, she knew it would change her life…what she did not know was just how profoundly.  Offered a position by start-up Blue Gamma as an “animal trainer” for their new digients (“digital entities” designed to be life-like, lovable pets for online gamers in virtual worlds), she leaps at the opportunity. Her background in animal behavior helps the company find success, creating extremely popular artificial intelligences. Their success spawns competitors in the market who use different “genetic algorithms” and training methods to evolve their own versions of the digients. Unfortunately, these competitors nudge out Blue Gamma and the company folds…but what is to become of those Blue Gamma-style digients already placed with owners, and those still homeless? The creatures are childlike, but still loving and sentient…somewhere between pets and children, but nevertheless wholly unique.  Ana adopts her own digient and becomes part of a small, but vibrant and dedicated, community of digient owners fighting for the survival and the rights of their charges.  When even the gaming platform for which the digients were originally designed fades into obsolesence, effectively isolating the digients in a tiny pocket universe, Ana and the other digient owners are forced to make some increasingly unpleasant and difficult moral decisions.

Despite its slender size, this novella is filled more tightly with complex abstractions, moral ambiguities, and science fictional ideas than most trilogies can contain.  Chiang’s mastery of the short form is evident; while keeping a firm hand on the passage of time he is nevertheless able to pack a lifetime of background, implication, and experience into a small number of pages.  

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Fitzpatrick, Becca. Hush, Hush

What can you say about a paranormal romance in which the love interest is a fallen angel?  Not only is he a fallen angel, but he’s an angel named Patch. It's really difficult to take the character seriously with a name like that.  Still, I persevered in reading this recent teen paranormal romance.

Nora is a high school student who is creeped out by her new biology partner (Patch).  When it becomes apparent that he knows much more about her than she knows about him, she becomes both curious and frightened.  Improbably, the straight-arrow Nora breaks into the student records’ office and looks through Patch’s file to find only blank pages. Things heat up as Patch and another mysterious new student both pursue Nora. There’s a love triangle to keep things interesting and a crazy best friend who helps Nora into plenty of trouble.  This series opener is definitely teen fiction and although it holds some appeal for younger readers, it's not likely to be a crossover title.  You'll find this novel in our Teen Browsing collection.

Teen/Adult Summer Reading Week Two: Plan 9 From Outer Space

Who knows where the zombies will come from.  Are they from Earth or somewhere else?  This week's challenge is to read a science fiction book.  We're giving you a few recommendations to get you started.

Keep your eye on the sky...they're coming!

 

Calder, Richard.  The Twist (SF)

Flynn, Michael. Eifelheim (SF)

Mandery, Evan. First contact, or, It's later than you think (F)

Meyer, Stephenie. The Host (SF)

Niven, Larry. Footfall (SF)

Sagan, Carl. Contact (SF)

Sigler, Scott. Contagious (SF)

Silverberg, Robert. The Alien Years (SF)

 

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Hustvedt, Siri. The Summer Without Men

It’s the rare book that can consider weighty themes without a bleak tone and plot. As readers we’re often forced to choose between literary fiction that borders on the morose and lighter fare that can feel like a waste of time. Not so with Siri Hustvedt’s new novel, Summer without Men. Hustvedt manages to examine everything from adolescent bullying to the potential grief and loneliness of old age in a charming novel that never seems depressing thanks to the wry humor of the first person narrator, Mia.

Newly separated after nearly thirty years of marriage and fresh from a brief stint in a psychiatric hospital, Mia returns to her hometown where she balances an intense introspection about her past (and life in general )with an interest in an array of women, including her young poetry students, a troubled neighbor, and her mother’s elderly friends. Mia’s compassion for these women allows her to revisit the various stages of her own life while directly addressing the reader and offering numerous asides and literary quotes and allusions regarding love and loss. Throughout Mia’s sense of humor charms the reader. She shares fantasies of releasing the rats in her husband’s lab and refers to his new girlfriend as “the Pause” and “unnamed French love object.”

Summer without Men is a quick, quirky read served up by one of the more engaging narrators in recent memory. 

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Vowell, Sarah. Unfamiliar Fishes

With a few notable exceptions (Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Bill Bryson), I believe authors should not attempt to narrate their own audio books. I mention this because I recently listened to Sarah Vowell’s latest book, Unfamiliar Fishes. While the content of the book was interesting enough, I became really irritated by the author’s reading of it by disk 2.  This did not bode well for a favorable review.

Fortunately, I stuck with it and learned a few more things about the history of Hawaii, about its unification, its natives, its first contacts with adventurers and missionaries, and its melting-pot growing pains.  Vowell is witty, as always, and doesn’t hesitate to include her personal and political viewpoints along the way. Recommended for fans of Vowell, those curious about Hawaiian history, or those in the mood for a serendipitous jaunt through an unfamiliar place.  

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