WHERE THE COMPANY RUNS EVERYTHING: THE WAREHOUSE

There isn’t exactly a category for speculative thrillers, as compared to psychological or military thrillers, but if there were, the new book, The Warehouse, by Rob Hart, would certainly fall into that category.

In the sort of alternate future world of The Warehouse, a giant technology company called Cloud, has pretty much taken over the whole American economy.  Everybody, it seems, either buys from Cloud or works for Cloud. Paxton, one of our protagonists, takes a job as a security guard at a Cloud facility, and ends up living and working on site. Cloud has ever so helpfully set up facilities where people can live and work, complete with entertainment halls, open plan offices, and vast warehouses (in an echo of historical examples like Pullman’s villages for their workers in the late nineteenth century).  The world outside Cloud’s doors is pretty bleak, so Paxton starts to feel he’s doing all right for himself, even if there are some hints that Cloud may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Zinnia appears to be one of Paxton’s co-workers, another drone in the hive that is the Cloud. He would never imagine that she’s actually an outside agitator, infiltrating the world of Cloud to figure out what’s really going on inside this behemoth.  She befriends Paxton, or so he thinks. She begins to see him as the key who could open up the darkest truths inside the company, if she’s willing to sacrifice him to get what she wants.

Her plan risks their lives as Paxton begins to see the underside of the life he’s managed to construct inside Cloud and the ugly truths about what Cloud is willing to do to keep its power and its secrets.

Of course there’s no company like Cloud now; that’s what makes it speculative. And yet, with just a few little changes to our current society and the current tech giants operating in it, the world of The Warehouse could just be the image of our future, and a thrilling and terrifying future it could be, if Hart’s vision is close to accurate.  

So if ordinary conspiracies and dangerous corporations seem too ho-hum for you, why not take a look at an alternate future with even scarier conspiracies and corporations?  Give The Warehouse a try.

 

HUGO WINNERS AT THE FIELD LIBRARY 2019

Looking for the hottest speculative fiction around?  Not ready to trust yourself and your time to anything but prize-winning writing?  You’re in luck, because some of the top Hugo awards from 2019 are right here at The Field Library, ready for you to check out and enjoy.

The best novel of the year was The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal, which I already wrote about when it came out (here).  And just in case the book leaves you feeling you need more about the wonderful women astronauts in this alternate reality, you can pick up the sequel to The Calculating Stars, which is The Fated Sky, taking place in 1961 when people have already gone to the moon and are preparing to colonize Mars as well.

You can imagine how delighted I was to find that Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells, was awarded the Hugo for best novella.  Anyone who’s read this blog knows how much I love the Murderbot series, and Artificial Condition, in which Murderbot teams up with a sentient Research Transport vessel (a vivid character in its own right) to go back to the planet where it earned its nickname, finding out what it actually did and whether it is in fact bad, is terrific (see here).  All of the Murderbot books are excellent, and they’re all short (novellas), so do yourself a favor and start with the first one, Condition Red, and work your way through.  Good news for fans: there’s a Murderbot NOVEL coming out soon, and of course you can count on the Field Library to get a copy as soon as it’s there.

The Hugo winner for best series is Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series, all the books of which are here at the Field Library: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, A Closed and Common Orbit, and Record of a Spaceborn Few.  If you’re a fan of space opera (the sub-genre, not necessarily the book), and have a soft spot in your heart for the short-lived Firefly series or Star Trek, you should definitely introduce yourself to the Wayfarers’ universe.

Check out our Hugo winners and enjoy the best speculative fiction of the year.

 

HARD LIFE IN THE HEARTLAND: SEPTEMBER FIELD NOTES SELECTION

Sometimes it’s great just to be able to laugh about a book club book, and the members of the Field Notes Book Group shared a lot of laughs over A Walk in the Woods on Saturday.  Thanks to everybody who came and discussed the book, and voted for our September selection, Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country in the World, by Sarah Smarsh.  We will be meeting to discuss this book in the Teen Zone at The Field Library on Saturday, September 21, from 11 – 12:30, and as usual, refreshments will be provided.

For a variety of reasons, when Americans think about poor people, we tend to picture people living in the cities, usually on the coasts, but in fact the majority of poor in America are rural people living in the “heartland.”  Sarah Smarsh writes a vivid portrait of what it was like to grow up in Kansas farmland, facing abusive relationships, lack of medical care, unsafe working conditions and lack of resources and education that would have allowed people to escape their lives of grinding poverty. 

Come and pick up a copy of the book at the Circulation Desk and then join us on September 21 for what promises to be a lively discussion, complete with snacks.

GET THE JUMP ON SEPTEMBER BESTSELLERS

Are you ready for what are sure to be bestsellers coming out in September? Are you aware of how close September actually is (hint: it’s a lot closer than you think)?  Get out your library card and get ready to put holds on these new books from bestselling authors, all of which are coming to The Field Library in a few weeks.

First up is James Patterson (of course) with his latest, Killer Instinct.  It starts with the murder of an Ivy League professor in New York City, which brings out Dr. Dylan Reinhart, an academic expert on the psychology of murder.  He’s reunited with his former partner, Detective Elizabeth Needham, as one of the worst terrorist attacks in New York history hits. Her courageous action brings her to the attention of the violent sociopath behind the attacks, basically putting a target on her back while at the same time Reinhart fears his secret past is going to rise up to haunt him.  Reinhart and Needham race against time to prevent a terrible disaster, facing a psychopath different from anyone they’ve ever encountered before.

When Stephen King publishes a new book, it’s bound to be a hot one, and in his latest, The Institute, King does what he does best: creates a dangerous world with ordinary seeming people capable of horrible things. The Institute of the title is a mysterious building which houses children with special psychic gifts, such as telekinesis and telepathy. The children, like our protagonist, Luke, were kidnapped from their former homes, their parents murdered, so they could be brought to the Institute, where the sinister staff (of course) uses almost inhuman means to extract every bit of the children’s supernatural abilities. The good children, the ones who cooperate and don’t cause trouble, are in Front Half.  The other kids, the bad kids, are sent to Back Half and never seen again. As more and more kids disappear into the Back Half, Luke is desperate to escape, but nobody escapes the Institute. Expect creepiness, nail-biting suspense and all the dark humor you want to find in a Stephen King novel.

A real rarity is a sequel to a book published more than thirty years before, especially when the original book in question is a classic with an ambiguous ending which was kind of the point of the book.  I’m talking, of course, about The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, which came out in 1985 (thirty four years ago, in case you’re counting).  I can’t say whether the extremely successful television series that’s now starting its fourth season had anything to do with this, or whether current political events were the impetus, but the fact is that this September Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, called The Testaments, will be coming out.  Having read the original many times (most recently with the Field Notes Book Group), I have trouble imagining how she could continue the story, and apparently she’s not continuing Offred’s story but providing testimonies from three other residents from GIlead fifteen years after the end of The Handmaid’s Tale.  It will be interesting to see where Atwood sees Gilead developing and what depths she can add to the world, probably different from the way the television series envisions it.  In any case, this is going to be a hot book, so if you want to be one of the early readers, you should put it on hold now.

Get ready for the bestsellers coming out in September: place holds and come on in.

POST HUMAN WORLD, AS TOLD BY A CROW: HOLLOW KINGDOM

If I start out by telling you that Hollow Kingdom, by Kira Jane Buxton, is the story of the zombie apocalypse, as narrated (mostly) by a domesticated crow named S. T.,you’re probably thinking it’s going to be told with a certain amount of attitude, that there will be a lot of action in it, and that it (or at least parts of it) will be funny in a Sean of the Dead kind of way.  You’d be correct. What would surprise you is how poignant and powerful the book is.  At least, that certainly surprised me. It’s a terrific book, moving and beautiful in places while also being dark and funny and obscene in others.

Let’s start out with S.T.’s language.  He’s the main narrator, and I won’t even tell you what S.T. stands for (don’t worry, he tells you right away); suffice it to say it’s two four letter words relating to his color and general shape. He has a foul mouth, there’s no question about it.  He comes by it naturally, of course. We don’t actually see much of the man who taught him to speak, but what we find out about Big Jim makes it clear he wasn’t the most refined of people, and the language he used is the language S. T. uses. If you’re a person who’s offended by multiple f-bombs, you probably won’t be able to get through this book.

Which would be a shame, because you’d be missing something really special.

S.T. is a wonderful character.  Raised by the crude and somewhat boorish Big Jim, he refers to human beings as “mofos” (think of Samuel L. Jackson whenever he uses that term), but affectionately.  At the outset of the book, and for quite a while, he thinks of himself as something other than a crow, maybe part human, maybe a human in the shape of a crow. He sneers at the rest of the crows in his neighborhood, and has endless admiration for the mofos, both the ones he’s actually met and lived with and near and the ones he’s heard about and seen on television. If it weren’t for the whole humans turning into zombies thing, he would probably spend his whole life living with Big Jim and Dennis, Big Jim’s hound dog, ignoring the rest of the world.

Of course, something happens, and people start changing in terrible ways. I keep using the word “zombie,” but that’s not what S.T. thinks, and it’s not entirely accurate. Humans devolve into mindless creatures, eating anything that they find (including, horribly, their own pets in some cases), chasing after cell phones and ipads whenever they see them.  Domestics like S.T. and Dennis have to find ways to survive without humans as all the human infrastructure is overwhelmed by a resurgent nature, including all the creatures that ordinarily live in human territories (crows, other birds, raccoons, squirrels, opossums, etc) and the inhabitants of the Seattle Zoo, now freed and making themselves at home.

The book is surprisingly poignant, partly because of some of the things that happen along the line (warning: some characters we care about are killed), but mostly, I think, because our guide through the bulk of  the story is S.T. We first see him in sarcastic and snarky mode, but very soon we discover the depth of his heart, his eagerness to find a cure for Big Jim (a funny and poignant scene in itself), his recognition that Dennis, the hound, is suffering from depression and his efforts to make Dennis happy again.  His relationship with Dennis, in particular, changes over the course of the book from his referring to the dog as having “weapon grade incompetence” to his referring to him as “my Dennis,” and trying to protect him from the outside world, seeing him as a part of S.T.’s “murder” (as crow groups are called).

Unlike the wild animals, S.T. misses us mofos.  He remembers his relationship with Big Jim, and wishes he could get that back.  He thinks with regret of all the wonderful things we mofos invented and did, which the animals now taking over the world will not be able to recreate. He sees the writings the last healthy humans wrote, saying “We did this to ourselves,” and “we deserve this,” and he doesn’t agree with them, though most of the other animals do.  S.T. wants to save what we did best, difficult as that might turn out to be.

Over the course of the book, S.T. changes.  He’s still a dual-natured creature, part crow and part domesticated animal.  There’s always going to be a part of him that’s shaped by Big Jim, by his experiences with humans, but he comes to accept his crow side, and to be accepted by the wild crows for the first time.

There’s plenty of action, plenty of danger, to keep you turning the pages, but ultimately it’s the animals, and especially S. T. (who’s not the only narrator, but the main one; the others, including especially the Mother Tree, add a lot to the book’s depth) who keep you caring, keep you feeling. We don’t need to know how the plague started, but we find out anyway (and I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the surprise and the power of it), and as we watch it ravage the human world, and what happens to human beings who survive (spoiler: it’s not good), you might think this is a downer of a book, too sad to read in dark times.

Ultimately, though, it’s not a downer.  There’s hope in the book, hope for the future of the world, even if it’s a world that doesn’t include human beings. I confess I’m not sure about the end; it’s a satisfying end, but it’s not the end I thought we were leading up to, and I’m still not entirely sure it was the right way to end the book.

Set aside some time, because this is a book that sucks you right in and holds you until you’re finished, and drop in to Hollow Kingdom.  You’ll ultimately be glad you did.

 

HOT READS FOR THE DOG DAYS OF SUMMER

As we move into the dog days of summer when it’s too hot and humid to even want to think about anything, what could be more entertaining than a fast paced thriller that keeps you turning the pages and forgetting everything but what’s happening in the book?  If you’re in the mood for a hot read in hot times, check out the new thrillers available at The Field Library.

City of Windows, by Robert Pobi, has a visceral draw for the deep miseries of summer heat and humidity: it starts in a record-setting blizzard in New York City (there, don’t you feel cooler already?), where an FBI agent is assassinated by a single, seemingly impossible shot: the agent was in a moving SUV, the snow was blowing around enough to blind people, and all evidence is destroyed by the storm.  To solve this amazingly difficult case, the FBI turns to an extraordinary former agent, Lucas Page, a man who has already paid a terrible price for his work and who, with a new family and a new life, wouldn’t ordinarily want anything to do with even the most intriguing case, except that the dead man was Lucas’ partner. The murder Lucas starts investigating is only the first of a series of increasingly unlikely and skilled sniper killings, all targeting law enforcement officers.  Lucas must figure out the identity and motive of this extraordinary shooter before his own family is targeted, as seems more and more likely.

While we’re on the subject of killers who are incredibly difficult to track down, we have the killer in Outfox, by Sandra Brown. A series of wealthy women married men, and then disappeared without a trace, leaving no clues for police to follow and no closure for their friends and families.  The men they married also disappeared completely as if they’d never existed, Our protagonist, FBI agent Drex Easton, is convinced that the women were murdered by a conman sociopath he knows as Weston Graham (one of Graham’s many identities), but every time he comes close to finding Graham, the man slips away into another persona and another identity and Drex is left with nothing.  This time, though, Drex latches on to someone he’s convinced is his nemesis, now using the name of Jasper Fox, now married to a wealthy businesswoman many years younger than he. Drex insinuates himself into the couple’s lives, trying to get closer to Jasper before Jasper can pull his disappearing act with his wife, Talia. Complicating things is Drex’s growing attraction to Talia himself, which gives him yet another reason to want to stop Jasper before he goes too far.

Women in jeopardy and women who are unreliable narrators are common factors in thrillers these days, but The Perfect Wife, by J. P. Delaney, takes those tropes in a slightly different, and decidedly creepy, direction.  Abbie wakes up in a hospital room, groggy and without any memories of who she is or how she got where she is now.  There’s a man in her room claiming to be her husband, telling her all kinds of things about her life: that she had a terrible accident five years before, that she was on the verge of death and it was only a miracle of modern technology that brought her back to life.  He tells her she’s a brilliant artist, a loving mother to their young son and a perfect wife to him. She doesn’t remember any of this, which is scary enough in itself, and as she starts to remember bits and pieces here and there, a lot of what her husband is telling her begins to fall apart, and she finds herself questioning his motives, and even his facts.  What’s really going on? What really happened to her five years ago, and what could the past be that’s so terrible her husband would be spending that much effort to hide it from her?  

 

Give yourself a break from the heat and humidity and immerse yourself in these new thrillers here at the Field.

 

SEARCHING FOR JUSTICE IN FUTURE AMERICA: THE HOUND OF JUSTICE

In order to get the most out of the second book in the Janet Watson Chronicles, The Hound of Justice, by Claire O’Dell, you first have to read the first book, A Study in Honor.  This is not one of those series you can read out of order or start anywhere; if you haven’t read A Study in Honor, I highly recommend it on its own merits and also as a basis for reading this excellent new novel.

The other thing you have to let go of when you start this book is the notion that this is an African American Female version of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, set in a future and very damaged America.  Yes, you do have a Doctor Watson, in this case Janet rather than John, African American rather than English, who was injured in a war in which she served (and I have to give O’Dell credit for not screwing around with the nature of Janet Watson’s injury: she got part of her arm blown off and in addition to the post-traumatic stress, she has an artificial arm to get used to using; the original John Watson was injured either in his arm or his leg and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never quite seemed to have made up his mind which it was).  And yes, you do have a brilliant and eccentric Holmes, in this case Sara rather than Sherlock, who has connections inside and outside of government and who has musical ability (piano in Sara’s case, violin in Sherlock’s) and a habit of dragging her companion into complicated mysterious situations without sharing a lot of information about what they’re doing or what she knows about what’s going on. But if you come to this book looking for a twisty, complicated Sherlock Holmes type mystery where the genius detective sees and deduces from clues neither Watson nor the reader can see clearly or understand properly, you are going to be disappointed. And that would be too bad, because you’d be missing out on a very entertaining, suspenseful book just because you’re looking for the wrong thing.

The Hound of Justice picks up where A Study in Honor left off, with Watson set up in a really nice job she doesn’t feel she deserves in the Georgetown Medical Center in Washington D.C., with a new and very expensive artificial arm she’s learning how to use.  She’s sharing a room, again, with Sara Holmes, who is cooling her heels, having been placed on sabbatical by whatever government agency employs her (it’s never clear to Watson exactly who’s paying the bills here).  The book starts with a literal bang: on the day of the inauguration of a new president, bombs go off in D.C. and a number of people are killed. Watson happens to witness the bomb blast, and immediately goes to her hospital to help with the damaged survivors. This attack, it turns out, was set up and organized by a group of terrorists associated with the New Confederacy, who are trying to keep the United States from negotiating a peace with the New Confederacy (and this is why I told you you should really read the first book).  It seems Holmes’ and Watson’s adversary from the previous book, Irene Adler (a name that will be familiar to any fans of Sherlock Holmes), who seemed to be killed at the end of that book, is still alive and might be involved with this terrorist activity.

If this were a Sherlock Holmes type story, the next thing that would happen is that Holmes would be called upon by some representative of the government to investigate what’s going on, and Watson would be called upon to help.  While that’s sort of what happens, the focus here is on Watson and her life without Sara Holmes, her efforts to overcome the PTSD of her initial injury, her efforts to rehabilitate herself and work her new arm well enough to return to surgery, and the complications her relationship with Sara brings to her life in general.  Something is going wrong at the hospital: people are being treated for routine ailments and sent home, and then days later return to the hospital to die horribly.  

And then Sara disappears, after intimations that the government is watching Sara and Janet’s every move.  Micha, Sara’s mysterious cousin, reaches out to Janet in Sara’s name, saying Sara needs her to come behind enemy lines in the New Confederacy, without giving a lot of detail or explanation.  As an African American woman, and a veteran of the New Civil War, Janet wants nothing less than to sneak across the war zone, but she forces herself to go to Sara’s help anyway, and finds herself in an adventure of false identities, underground resistance cells and a massive and frightening conspiracy worthy of the best of John LeCarre.  Even in the movies which bore the least resemblance to the original Holmes stories, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson never faced anything as dangerous as this.

The worldbuilding here is excellent; without doing any info dumps, the author manages to give us a vivid picture of a future, and frighteningly plausible, America, an America where the North and South have once again gone to war, but this time with weapons of the 21st century, not the 19th.  She shows us how that war, that political situation, affects everything in the lives of her characters, and she’s especially good at showing how such a world would affect people of color (who comprise most of the characters in the book).

Janet Watson is a character you want to follow, a person you care about: damaged but working on it, proud but willing to admit mistakes, a person whose relationships with her family are complicated but healing (or at least capable of being healed), a person who’s dedicated to her work and the people she cares about. She’s a vivid narrator, even in situations where she herself isn’t sure of what’s going on or what’s going to happen.  

Is there going to be another book in the series?  Maybe. The author leaves an opening at the end, while still wrapping up this plot satisfyingly.  I would be delighted to read another book with these characters in this setting, but if there isn’t going to be another, I’m still glad I’ve read these two, and I definitely recommend them to anyone who wants a good, absorbing, suspenseful read with characters different from the run of the mill protagonists in suspense novels.

 

WHEN TO GIVE UP ON A BOOK

I know we were all taught to finish what we started, and that many of us still have that deep-rooted feeling that if we start a book, we MUST finish it.  But I’m going to advance a radical idea: sometimes a book just isn’t worth finishing at this time. It took me years to come to this conclusion (and to fight down a lifetime of education to the contrary), but I can safely say I am a better reader and a happier person for it.

The question, of course, is when you should give up on a book, and the answer depends on a number of factors.

The first factor is whether you HAVE to read the book.  If it’s a book for a course you’re taking (especially if the course is all about this particular book), then yes, you absolutely have to read it, no matter how difficult it may be.  If it’s a book you’re reading for book group, then yes, of course you have to read it, especially if it’s a book your whole group chose and ESPECIALLY if you were the person who proposed this book in the first place. As a book group leader, I try to be tolerant and accepting in general, but really, if you’re not going to read the book (the whole book), why are you coming to this meeting to discuss the book you didn’t read (or didn’t finish)?

If it’s not in one of these categories, is there another reason you feel you HAVE to read the book?  And thinking you have to finish every book you start doesn’t count as a reason here. For instance, if someone you love gave you the book or recommended it to the sky and insisted that you read it, you might feel an obligation to that person to force your way through the book. Only you can decide how to balance your affection for that person for the amount of trouble you’re having with the book.  If you have a good relationship, you might be able to tell the person honestly that you couldn’t get through the book (with or without an all-purpose excuse like, “I was just too busy”) without harming the relationship too much.

Once you’ve decided that you can stop reading the book (and this is a personal decision, of course), how much time should you give yourself before you give up.  There are some books in which you can tell in the first few pages that this is not for you, and in that case, there’s no point in forcing yourself to slog through any more.  But if you’re not actively repelled, or put to sleep every time you pick the book up, and the problem is just that it’s not catching your attention the way you’re like, a good rule of thumb is to get through 50 pages.  If it’s still not working for you, for whatever reasons, then you can say you gave it a fair shake and you can give up on it with a clear conscience. Think of it this way: if the book’s 200 pages long, you’ve read a quarter of it, and if it’s 400 pages long, you’ve read an eighth, and if you haven’t found anything you like in an eighth to a quarter of the book, odds are good you’re not going to find anything you like in the rest of it either.  Sometimes it takes more than 50 pages. For instance, I always tell people to give The Time Traveler’s Wife 75 pages before giving up in confusion; it takes that long to get the rhythm of the book. 

Don’t feel bad because you’re giving up on a book.  There are tons of great books out there, and just because one of them, this particular one, wasn’t right for you at this time, that doesn’t say anything bad about you. Maybe it wasn’t the right time for you to read this book, and maybe you’ll be ready to read it another time.  That was the case with me and Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel.  The first time I tried to read it, I found it utterly impenetrable, but then (being stubborn) I picked it up again six months later, and whizzed through it.  The book hadn’t changed, but my circumstances had, so I could focus better on the book. Or sometimes you’re not at the right point in your life for a particular book: when everything seems to be going wrong, probably reading a great but seriously depressing book like A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara, would be too much for you, but when you’re feeling stronger you might be able to deal with all the pain and horror of that book (which is, I reiterate, a great book, even though it’s 700+ pages and made me cry several times).  

And even if you don’t come back and read that particular book at a later time, think of all the wonderful books you’ve made space in your life for by not forcing yourself to plow through some book that’s trying to destroy you.