Hillingdon Libraries Staff continue their Literary Challenge 2017. We read and review a fiction book on a set theme every month. This time it’s Science Fiction, a whole genre. Some of our readers even gave their books more than 5 out of 5 stars! You can find a separate Science Fiction section in all our 17 libraries.
1. The Ship by Antonia Honeywell
I read this book with a reading group. It wasn’t popular with everyone, but I enjoyed it. It raised so many questions in my mind – What would really happen if… There was no food in the supermarkets, no fuel for transport, no fresh water, no emergency services. How would we behave towards each other if we had to fight for everything we needed to survive. Money would be useless. Food and shelter are your absolute priority.
Lalla has grown up in this world. She is kept safe by her Mother and Father. Her parents are her only influence. Her Father is a very clever man. He has spent years gathering together a stockpile of food on a ship which is kept hidden on a dock somewhere in London. The only disagreement between her parents is that her Father wants take 500 carefully chosen people and with his family out to sea, where they can start a new chapter in their lives. Mother believes there must be another option. Things will get better, eventually. Mother gets shot and the decision to leave everything Lalla has ever known is made there and then.
If our world ever got as bad as this book suggests there is no bright future. Who would want to be a scavenger, fighting for food and shelter. On the other hand, would I want to be cast out to sea for the rest of my life with 500 other people, knowing I could never step back onto land? Yes I would have food to eat and an endless supply of fresh clothes, but what sort of future would this be. Every day would be the same – staring at an endless sea. No news, no events. Nothing. A dilemma I would never want to face. Lalla is the only ‘guest’ on The ship who does not idolise her Father, the man who has saved 500 lives. These people have been asked to forget the past, but how can Lalla. Her mother has been killed. How can all these other people be so agreeable to everything her Father wants? Lalla rebels in every way she can. This book is disturbing in places and I felt quite uncomfortable thinking about how I would react under the same circumstances.
4 out of 5 stars. Barbara – Ickenham Library
2. The Prestige by Christopher Priest
Almost genre defying, what with a plot about rival Victorian magicians in London, epistolary narratives and some very Gothic goings on, but at heart this is the very essence of science fiction. Alfred Borden and Rupert Angier are bitter rivals, the stakes raised when Borden unveils a seemingly impossible magic trick called The New Transported Man. Angier can’t figure out how he does it, but he seeks the help of inventor Nikola Tesla to better the original, using the modern science of electricity to transport matter from one place to another. In A Flash is the more impressive spectacle, but is it a magic trick? And is it what it seems? What are the costs to both magicians in keeping their secrets so closely guarded? The books theme of duplicity, obsession and deathly ambition are perfectly served by the events, and the structure allows for a gradual, thrilling release of information that makes this an intelligent page turner. There’s an elegant mirroring of the fates of the two main characters, and so many potential spoilers that I need to stop writing about it and just urge you to read it! (The Christopher Nolan film version is great, too, with some very different plot decisions that Christopher Priest was very impressed by).
5 out of 5 stars. Darren – Uxbridge Library
3. Anthem by Ayn Rand
Written in 1937, this short novel anticipates the horrors of Nazi-Fascism with disturbing precision. The male protagonist, Equality 7-2521, lives in a future world where people bear numbers instead of names, and centuries of cultural and technological regression, together with linguistic engineering, have created a colourless and static society. Love and friendship are forbidden. No electricity, no printing, no mirrors. Science itself has lost its meaning, and any idea, or even evidence, which is not supported by all men will be discarded. There is no space for individual acts, no room for solitude and independence. A striking line shows the dangers of conformism: “What is not thought by all men cannot be true,” said Collective 0-0009.” I found it an inspiring reading, ambitious and rich. Ayn Rand could have developed this novella in a full-length novel, but this is not always necessary when an author writes about such powerful ideas. After 80 years ‘Anthem’ is still a relevant book.
4 out of 5 stars. Federico – Northwood Library
4. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
The very first zombie apocalypse story and by far the best. When Robert Neville finds himself the last person on earth not affected by a new disease turning everyone, living and dead, into vampires, he boards himself up in his house to keep them out and stay alive. By night naked infected women prostrate themselves outside, trying anything they can to get him to come out, and his old neighbour Ben Cortman relentlessly keeps on calling him “Neville… Neville”. He descends into alcoholism and paranoia, hoping beyond hope that just maybe there are other people like him. Then he finds Ruth and everything changes.
I adore this book. Matheson says so much on themes such as society, loneliness, desperation and resilience. Neville is your ultimate ‘everyman’, instantly relatable and it’s painful to see him relive the death of his partner and child, as well as working non-stop all day just to be able to feel safe at night (which is rare). Yet, the deeper he spirals into depression the harder he works and it’s when he decides to work on a cure to the disease you can see how clever Matheson is. I love the concept of a new society growing out of chaos into something new and without giving too much away it’s this that is the final blow to Neville. The last lines encompass the book “a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever. I am legend.”
All the stars ever. Lara – Harefield Library
5. Do Android Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
I’m not a huge fan of science fiction in general, finding it tends to the pretentious or the banal, sometimes both at once. Among the shining exceptions, the shiniest for me is Philip K. Dick, who sadly died just before the film of this novel, retitled Blade Runner, brought his futuristic imagination to wider notice. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a much better title, though you can see why they made the change. It encapsulates the humour in Dick’s writing, which is never far from the surface. For instance, an incidental delight of this novel is the concept of kipple, i.e. paper litter which, when nobody is around, reproduces itself. It’s a feature of a world transformed by radioactive dust but strikes a chord in ours too. The basic plot will be familiar to anyone who, unlike me, has seen Blade Runner. A bounty hunter is on the trail of six androids, illegally on Earth after escaping a colony planet. He must subject them to a scientific empathy test to detect their lack of humanity before ‘retiring’ (i.e. killing) them. In the complex process of doing so he finds himself questioning what it means to be human. In Dick’s world nothing and nobody are what they they seem, and in later works his drug-fuelled visions acquired a certain paranoia, but this novel is among his most celebrated. For a serious but not solemn science fiction experience, it cannot be bettered.
Lots of stars, planets, and other heavenly bodies. Mike – Eastcote Library
6. Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
Science fiction as social commentary is a pretty rich theme and Woman on the Edge of Time is one the greatest, if not the greatest exploration of feminism, race and the future. Starting with the main character, Connie or Consuelo being beaten by her niece’s pimp, you soon learn that her life and those of a poor chicana woman in the Bronx is pretty wretched. Incarcerated against her will in mental institutions, forced into abortions and medical procedures without her consent she isn’t treated as a human. All the while the pimps and men that dominate her life see women as either commodities, punching bags or incapable of their own decisions. Her visions (or are they something more?) of life in 2137 with the androgynous Luciente and the village utopia provide some respite. Their harmonious village of simple living, relative harmony, gender equality and a radical take on the family are the opposite of her life of grinding poverty and exploitation. Covering race, misogyny and environmental catastrophe the novel seems as relevant now as when it was written in 1976. As with all science fiction the utopian future of Luciente is of course not as utopian as it might first appear and questions of gender, sex and violence are not simply treated. Thoughtful, provocative and relevant – this book stands the test of time and is a must read for fans of feminist fiction.
4 out of 5 stars. Stephen – Yeading Library
Have you read any of these? Are you a Science Fiction enthusiast? You can borrow all these books from our catalogue. Thanks for reading!