Monday, January 28, 2013

An Interstellar Co-incidence?

A few months ago I read a science fiction novel called Blue Remembered Earth, by Alistair Reynolds.. The story revolves around a grandmother who dies under mysterious circumstances. She leaves behind a secret message for her grandchildren. The granddaughter is an artist. These messages send the grandchildren on a quest across the solar system in search of a universe-shattering secret science project that the grandmother was working on before she died.

A few weeks ago I picked up 2312, the new science fiction novel by Kim Stanley Robinson. 2312 is a story about a grandmother who dies under mysterious circumstances. She leaves behind a secret message for her grandchildren. The granddaughter is an artist. These messages send the granddaughter on a quest across the solar system in search of a universe-shattering secret science project that the grandmother was working on before she died.

Donʼt believe me? Check out the cover art on these two books. Co-incidence? Conspiracy? Science Fiction writersʼ late-night wager after a few beers? I have no idea. Itʼs just too bizarre.

Admittedly, they are two very different books. Blue Remembered Earth has a fairly straight-forward plot line: what was the secret technology that the grandmother was guarding and how did the grandkids solve the mystery and promote that technology?

2312 is a richly-textured science fiction meditation on humanityʼs role in space, artificial intelligence and what it means to be human. The plot line of grandmothers, grandchildren and alien space technology is simply the jumping-off point of a much bigger story.

But itʼs still kindaʼ odd, donʼt you think?

You can reserve Blue Remembered Earth here, and 2312 can be reserved here. Check them both out and see if you don't perceive an inter-stellar co-incidence of your own.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Clay Jannings has been laid off from his web design job and he’s getting desperate. Then he stumbles across Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. They’re hiring.

Clay lands a job as graveyard-shift clerk, and in his boredom begins to unravel the store’s many secrets. Why are so many of the books illegibly encrypted? And why does the bookstore let people borrow the encrypted books, rather than buying them? How does this place even stay open? What’s really going on here?

Along with Kat, a cute hacker girl he he hopes to impress, Clay turns his tech-savvy problem-solving skills to the decidedly low-tech puzzle of the encoded books and the always-open bookstore. Clay and Kat solve the mystery before they even understand what the mystery is, sending ripples of horror through the strange secret society that controls Mr. Penumbra’s store. Then Clay’s boss, the kindly Mr. Penumbra, disappears. What have Clay and Kat done? Can they fix it?

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore explores, among other things, the intersection of old technology and new. Clay and his buddies use a computer to solve problems in a few hours that people have spent years studying in books - but do they actually learn anything? That makes the book sound rather serious, which it definitely isn’t; it’s fast-paced, peopled with interesting and exciting characters, and sometimes a little silly.

 This novel is a celebration of nerdery. When I say “nerd,” I don’t mean a person with thick glasses and poor social skills. (Necessarily.) I think of a nerd as a person who expends time and energy and passion on things that society doesn’t value very much - like role-playing games, scale models, or typeface design. By that definition, the characters in Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore are all complete nerds. In Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, nerdery is a superpower; nerdery helps you find satisfaction, love, and truth.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a delightful little novel. Thick with references to current technology, it might feel obsolete six months from now. All the more reason to pick it up and read it today.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Laughterhouse by Paul Cleave

Don’t let the title fool you—“Laughterhouse” is slaughterhouse with the “S” scraped away. This is a hardcore noir thriller with a respectable body count, set in Christchurch, New Zealand. It features ex-detective Theodore Tate on the trail of a vengeful killer.

Tate has recently been released from four months in jail following a bust that went wrong, and he’s still reeling from the death of his daughter in the drunk-driving accident that put his wife in a coma. He’s in a very dark place, a place where lust for revenge could seem natural, like justice being done.

Caleb Cole lost his daughter, too—but not to a drunk driver. He lost his little girl to a mentally-ill abused child molester who had been sentenced to psychiatric care instead of to jail. He lost his wife and unborn son to suicide. The only thing keeping him alive now is a desire for justice, and he’s a big believer in an eye for an eye, a daughter for a daughter—and in spreading the blame.

After Cole’s first kill, Tate is allowed to join the Christchurch Police Department's homicide investigation as a consultant. It’s his first step toward getting his old job back on the force, his first chance to prove himself again after all that’s gone wrong. The case is a tough one, though: Tate’s insight into the killer cuts both ways. When it comes down to it, will Tate act on the side of law, or of a bloodier justice?

The Laughterhouse is Cleave’s third Theodore Tate book, but can definitely stand alone. Cemetery Lake (currently on order) and Collecting Cooper are numbers one and two.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Newport Reads!

Newport Reads! kicks off its eighth annual reading program this week. This community reads program is sponsored by the Newport Public Library Foundation.

The idea of a community reads program started in Seattle in 1998 to deepen engagement in literature through reading and discussion – if everyone in the community read the same book there would be many discussions in many places, a community connection.

Mink River by Brian Doyle is the book selected this year for Newport Reads. The novel is set in a fictional Oregon Coastal town, Neawananka, at the mouth of the Mink River. It weaves together the stories of dozens of characters. Doyle’s style is inventive and might take a few pages to get used to, but it is reminiscent of ancient storytellers.

The book was described on a Newport Library blog as “a weird and charming novel that tells the tale of Neawananka. Skipping from character to character, it explores the town's geography and its wildlife, its myths and tales, its dark woods and flashing streams.” It is a portrait of one summer in the life of the town.

Two programs will be presented to foster discussion of the book. The first is a Readers Theater on April 11 at the Newport Performing Arts Center. This will be a cabaret style setting and will feature actors taking on the persona of characters in the book.

Brian Doyle will present an authors talk on April 18 at 7 p.m. in the McEntee Room at the Newport Library for the second program. He will discuss his book, take questions and autographs.

Doyle is a Portland author, the editor of Portland Magazine at University of Portland. He is the author of 10 books. His background in nature writing and humor is woven into Mink River.

This is an Oregonian Top Ten Northwest Book, which says: “The greatest gift of Mink River is that it provides every reason in the world to see your own village, neighborhood and life in a deeper and more nuanced and connected way.” What a perfect review for a community reads book!

Local bookstores have copies of the book, should you want to have your own copy autographed, or the library has many copies available to be checked out.

The Reading Circle at the library will be discussing Mink River on April 9, 2013 in the McEntee Room at the library from noon until 1:30 p.m. Bring your lunch and join the discussion. Mark your calendars now for all of the programs. - courtesy of Carol Ruggeri, Newport Public Library Foundation Board

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Rage with the Machine

In Amped, the new science fiction thriller by Daniel H. Wilson, Owen Gray has a machine in his head. Without it, he would die—but with it, he’s not considered human anymore. He’s “amped”—and so are millions of other Americans, who received cutting edge medical intervention for epilepsy, borderline intelligence, and other conditions, before public opinion coalesced into resentment and fear. The machines are supposed to allow people who otherwise would have been constrained by physical or mental limitations to live “normal” lives. But the machines do their jobs too well, making the recipients stronger, faster, and smarter than everyone else. Then a Supreme Court ruling solidifies the anxiety of a nation, stripping civil rights from the amped. A wave of condoned prejudice and violence roils across the country.

Owen always believed that his amp was intended solely to prevent epileptic seizures, but when he loses his teaching job and is forced out of his home, his father reveals that Owen’s machine has extraordinary dormant powers. If he chooses, Owen could be the linchpin that secures victory for the amped. But how can he ally with one side against the other, when there should be no sides at all?

Amped explores the positive and negative effects of technology on culture, economy, and the individual; and the ways in which fear and hope shape the policies of a nation. That makes it sound awfully serious, but I didn't call it a thriller for nothing—Amped is also fast-moving and fun, with sympathetic characters and enough moral ambiguities to keep it interesting.

Wilson is the New York Times bestselling author of Robopocalypse, the “Resident Roboticist” at Popular Mechanics, and a resident of Portland, Oregon.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Ozarks mystery

In 1929, a sixteen-year-old girl from the high country of northern Arkansas accused five men of murdering her boyfriend. Her melodic name was Tiller Ruminer, and she’d known the five men all her life: she was related to most of them by blood or marriage. 

The dead man was Connie Franklin, a drifter who’d come passing through six weeks earlier, and who had promised to marry Tiller. Now Connie was gone, five men were in jail, and a flock of newspaper reporters was about to descend upon the Ozark Mountains to cover a crime that turned out to be even more sensational than they realized. 

The story of Connie Franklin and Tiller Ruminer is told in Ghost of the Ozarks: Murder and Memory in the Upland South by Brooks Blevins. The most interesting aspect of Ghost of the Ozarks is its portrayal of the region’s culture, like this fascinating passage about the name of an Arkansas town, which was originally named Buckhorn. In 1883, the town changed its name to St. James: a memorial to Jesse James, the patron saint of disgruntled ex-Confederates and the powerless poor whose life of banditry had been cut short less than a year earlier in St. Joseph, Missouri. Local legend has it that James and his gang spent the night at the home of A.W. Canard in Dugan on their journey back to Missouri after holding up a stagecoach in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1874. There is no hard evidence that the James gang ever came through Buckhorn, and Arkansas, like other states in James’s orbit, abounds with “Jesse slept here” lore... Buckhorn residents’ memorializing and simultaneous beatifying of Jesse James reflected not only the community’s overwhelming Confederate sympathies a generation after the war but also the probability that St. Jamesians viewed vigilante terrorism as an acceptable expression of communal will. 

As for the murder of Connie Franklin - well, it’s a problematic story. In the years since 1929, the Ozarks have been transformed by Depression, war, and the march of modernization. The descendents of the people involved were far from willing to talk about the past, even to an Arkansas native like Blevins. 

And many of the documents relating to the case have disappeared, including trial records. Blevins had to rely on newspaper reports for much of his story, and these, he shows, were far from reliable. Newspapers were determined to portray the story as one of violent feuding moonshiners.  Their articles were full of preconceived notions of what mountain folk were like. 

Only one thing emerges clearly: no one in the case seems to have been deeply committed to telling the truth for long. Unusually for a true-crime book, by the end Blevins can’t even say for certain that there was a murder at all.  

Though there might have been. Depending on who you ask.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Annual Magazine Giveaway

Newport Library's annual magazine giveaway will take place on Thursday January 10, 2012 between 10 AM and 6 PM in the McEntee meeting room.

This is a great opportunity for crafters, artists, teachers and students to pick up a variety of recent edition titles in a wide variety of topics, from general interest and news magazines, to craft, gardening and religious titles.

Magazines are available on a first come, first serve basis. And please bring your own bags and/or boxes. There is no limit to the number of magazines you may take.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth George

Elizabeth George is well known for her series of mysteries featuring British Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley, which has been made into a popular BBC television series, The Inspector Lynley Mysteries. George’s newest book is something different, a young adult novel with a paranormal twist, but her trademark excellent writing makes The Edge of Nowhere required reading for her adult fans as well.

Fourteen year old Becca King has always heard “whispers,” tidbits of thought that overflow from other people’s minds. When her stepfather finds out, he forces her to use her talent for his benefit, until she hears a secret that he’ll kill to protect.

Unable to go to the police, Becca and her mother Laurel flee California, struggling to find a safe haven and new identities. Laurel plans to set up a new life for them in northern Washington, and drops Becca off to stay with an old friend who will keep her safe while Laurel gets everything in place. But when Becca arrives at the friend’s home on Whidbey Island, the woman has suffered a heart attack. Becca can’t get through to her mother, and is stuck with no place to stay, no friends within a thousand miles, and hardly any money.

Things become even more complicated, as the kindness of strangers both protects Becca and draws her into their problems. When a boy is hurt in the woods, his sheriff father is determined to find out who’s responsible. Becca knows something, but should she risk drawing the attention of the police with her stepfather still after her? And when will her mother come back?

The Edge of Nowhere is the first in a series of Whidbey Island books, and I look forward to the next.