Thursday, January 07, 2016

Best of 2015: Science Fiction

A couple of the many items [old and new] enjoyed by Burbank Public Library staff during 2015, recommended for your consideration:

Reviewed by Margaret B.,
Library Page

One of my favorite books I read in 2105 was Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. Station Eleven is a dystopian tale set in North America, 20 years after a flu pandemic wipes out most of the population. It’s not a gore-filled zombie story, so don’t expect the standard outrageous blood and violence. There is love, joy, tension and fear (an evil Prophet). I felt Station Eleven did a good job of portraying how humans might actually behave when learning how to survive and display hope when rebuilding civilization in a new world.

The book follows a number of characters, primarily Kirsten Raymonde, a young woman who is part of a traveling troupe of actors. The group travels from small town to small town, performing plays and entertaining the meager populace. Their motto, “Survival is insufficient” (from a Star Trek episode) embodies the story’s message. From the start, I was engaged by the mystery of who the characters are, who would survive, and then how character lives/stories intertwined. I found the book an easy, quick read, and I definitely recommend it.

Editor's note: Station Eleven won the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke award, the U.K.'s most prestigious prize for science fiction. It was also a finalist for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award. Burbank Public Library also offers the e-book and the audio book.


My favorite movie book was The Martian, by Andy Weir. I saw the movie, starring Matt Damon, first, about an astronaut-botanist who is accidentally stranded on the planet Mars. The character, Mark Watney, must learn how to survive without enough supplies and in an environment that is not conducive to human life. What could have been a boring, depressing monologue was instead a fascinating display of human ingenuity and hope. The Mark Watney character is ingenious and snarky, funny and optimistic while also sharing his fears and trials. Watney, along with NASA players on Earth trying to handle the situation, held me spellbound for 2.5+ hours.

After seeing the movie, I read the book, which includes the written journals and communication of Mark Watney (pretty much the movie dialogue) with specific mathematical and scientific details on how he makes alterations. Additionally, we get NASA physicists' descriptions of trajectory and propulsion (terms and descriptions that make me glaze over). However, having seen the movie, I had a visual understanding of what was being done. I did not feel the need to dissect and try to totally comprehend every chemical reaction being described. For those who love physics and chemical equations, you can enjoy analyzing the veracity of those paragraphs; I heard Weir was pretty accurate. The movie is true to the book, but there are enough small revisions and expansions that it makes the book well worth reading even after seeing the movie. I would never have read such a technically heavy science fiction book if I had not seen the film, but I am very glad I read The Martian for its excellent, engaging writing.

BPL also offers The Martian as an e-book and an audio book.

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