The Blog of Toledo Lucas County Public Library
It’s official: our Online Science Fiction/Fantasy Book Club This group found engaging conversations by reading about people and worlds experiencing circumstances not unlike our own. Below is a recap of our selections from the past year, along with a few titles we plan to read over the coming months. Links to register for these future meetings can be found at the end of this blog post. We hope you will join us the fourth Monday of every month from 6 to 7 p.m.
The Online Science Fiction/Fantasy Book Club is hosted by us—Patrick Cook from King Road Branch and Joe Cowley from Locke Branch. If you have any questions or need help registering, feel free to call or drop by our branches, or send us an email at Patrick.Cook@toledolibrary.org and Joseph.Cowley@toledolibrary.org.
If science fiction and fantasy are not your thing, the Toledo Library offers a whole host of online book groups ranging from fiction, romance, mystery, and everything in between. Visit toledolibrary.org/bookgroups for more information!
On with the books!
From one of the masters of the science fiction genre, this stand-alone tale is spun from a difficult “What if?” scenario: what if the Allied Forces lost World War II? Set mostly in what we know as the western United States, this story pushes at some key concerns like “What is authenticity, and how are things valued,” “How much does everyday life depend on governmental leadership,” “How potent can a single book be,” “Is censorship effective,” and more.
This title portrays a dystopia that centers around a potential future where corporations and the private sector have conquered and reign over the planet. It is a deeply disturbing insight into our current world as much as a speculative fiction on what could be. Some of the questions this title will leave you wondering are things like “How far are you willing to go to increase life expectancy,” “Does our relationship with media alter our psyche,” and “What is the future of human agriculture?”
Perhaps the most fast-paced title on the list, this science fiction story wastes no time on excessive descriptions. Taking place on Mars in the future, this is a story of fighting for freedom as part of a rebellion but told with far wider complexities and implications. Red Rising heavily explores the capacity of power and social structure, while inviting you to wonder things like: how much of our ability is innate to us, and how much is learned? What level of suffering are you willing to endure to affect change? Bonus: There’s also a graphic novel version!
This quintessential title from Octavia Butler places a heavy emphasis on morality and even theology compared to the other books on this list. Some questions to ponder while you read Parable of the Sower are “Is change truly inevitable,” “Does our empathy determine our success as a species,” “Are local communities more sustainable,” “Is it worthwhile to explore space,” and “What do we do about dwindling resources?” Bonus: This book also has a graphic novel adaptation!
This more comedic entry begins by pointing out how ludicrous some of our bureaucracy appears when carried out to grander scales, and continues to poke fun at politics, celebrity, philosophy, and all manner of subjects through the exploration of the main character Arthur Dent. There are many titles in this series, but the first is a short and easy read just to see what preposterous thing will happen next. And Stephen Fry narrates the audio version, which is just perfection.
The fourth title in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Hainish Cycle series, The Left Hand of Darkness was published in 1969 and was a truly groundbreaking story when it came to examining gender and sexuality. The main character, Genly, is tasked with a diplomatic mission in a civilization whose inhabitants can be male or female, a mother or father, and can change roles between every breeding cycle. This book won both the Nebula and Hugo awards in 1969 and 1970, respectively, so you can expect high quality prose from a fantastic author.
Give this political tale a go while we patiently wait for the new cinematic release. Taking place on a desert planet called Dune, this book features power grabs, spies, and a chosen-one protagonist with superhuman abilities. This one also has a very nice graphic novel.
A comedic take on the apocalypse from two of fantasy’s best authors. Featuring an angel and a devil as unlikely companions who have misplaced the antichrist, this story examines Judeo-Christian theology with a lens of dark humor. We found our readers enjoyed the questions and thoughts raised in Good Omens, such as “Does free will exist and to what extent?” and “Is prophecy possible due to free will not being that free?” It is a very quotable book and managed to sum up most people’s experience of 2020 with this one: “The future came and went in the mildly discouraging way that futures do.”
This harrowing story of Jim Crow racism is also touched with supernatural horror befitting its Lovecraft namesake. Let’s be honest here—H.P. Lovecraft was as influential as he was problematic. He seemed to be afraid and have hatred for pretty much everything. This text folds in some of those problems while maintaining a page-turning desire to see what nightmare awaits the cast of characters in the next town over or even down their own hallway. One of the more intriguing pieces of this story isn’t the cosmic horror, but the realistic history interwoven with it. I found the real-world existence of the travel guide, a cornerstone of the first story arc in the book, equal parts fascinating and horrifying.
In this science-heavy book, author Michael Crichton recounts the cautionary tale of man fighting his own creations, trying to survive in a would-be theme park that has turned into a nightmare after the release of the main attraction: dinosaurs. It provides a fascinating insight into our earlier understanding of DNA and genetics, and took some liberties with what’s possible, seeing as it was written over 30 years ago.
This tale of environmental destruction, human modification, and corporate greed was also honored with both a Hugo and Nebula award. While the themes of this book overlap with Oryx and Crake, it certainly tells a much different story. The Windup Girl really shines when it comes to the settings, as it is focused on east Asia, centered in Bangkok, Thailand. It’s fascinating as it shows the verdancy of the landscape with the simultaneous lack of food options and antagonistic environment. Its characters are also complex, and their motivations varied.
This grim story, where many of the characters are children between the ages of 5 and 10 years old, is an epic of space warfare between humans and a race of aliens known as the buggers. The action plays out quickly, centered on the titular Ender’s grooming by an underhanded military complex into an implement of space combat, surrounded by a cohort in similar positions.
What’s next? Well, we already have our books set out for the next four months! Take a look below and register for any or all of them.
This tale of magical realism crossed with historical fiction centers around the two mythic beings of the title being brought together in New York at the end of the 19th century. The Golem and the Jinni was selected as a contrast to previous titles, as it features a romance and an unusual combination of cultures. Register for this June 28 virtual book group program here.
A classic premise of extraterrestrials encountering modern humanity, but this tale turns it by making the aliens apparently benevolent, to a point, and creating a clear critique of colonialism in the process. The Lesson received a Neukom Institute Literary Award, which lets you know it has solid science as well as the cultural analysis. Register for this July 26 virtual book group program here.
This buddy-road-trip story features an ex-con as bodyguard for an ex-god. It’s an interesting foray into figuring out just what it is that makes a god and just what it is that we are worshipping here in the states. Who knows what this book will make us wonder? Register for this Aug. 23 virtual book group program here. Bonus extended session with this meeting, because we’re also going to be working with the Toledo Museum of Art and getting a tour of the upcoming exhibition, Supernatural America: The Paranormal in America Art. We’ll meet from 6 to 7:15 p.m. for a half hour tour of the exhibition and 45 minutes of book discussion.
A truly essential fantasy science fiction hybrid. There’s barely a story involving dragons printed these days that can’t trace its roots back to this book. Anne McCaffrey was the first woman to win both Hugo and Nebula awards, breaking the glass ceiling for future female fantasy authors. Who knows what this book will make us wonder? Register for this Sept. 27 virtual book group program here.