Friday, April 30, 2010

Doing a little readers' advisory

As an academic librarian, I do not get to do as much readers' advisory as a public librarian might do. However, it is an area of librarianship that I enjoy a lot, and I wish I could get to do it more often. So when I get the rare request for reading recommendations, I am thrilled. Recently a good friend contacted me via Facebook. She requested the following:

  • Some scifi to read for fun over the summer.
  • Something a bit dark like cyberpunk or dystopic novels or graphic novels (yes, I am aware these elements can be diferent, but that was the request).
  • Something intellectual and not just brainless fluff like Star Trek or interstellar romances (I assumed she meant romance as in love affairs, not romance in the classic sense like H.G. Wells).
So, on that basis, I took a little bit of time to think about it, and I sent her a reply. I figured the reply would be good enough to share with my five readers (yes, we have added a follower to our tally) in case they may be looking for reading ideas. Of course, readers of this blog are welcome to comment and add their ideas as well. Anyhow, here is what I recommended with a bit of an explanation or rationale on how it fit the request, and some additional comments I did not include in the original reply. I recommended works that I have personally read and enjoyed:

  • I started by suggesting my new discovery from last year. This was Hiroshi Sakurazaka's All You Need is Kill. It certainly fits within the concepts of dystopia and/or cyberpunk, and it certainly is not fluff. This novel is a good example of Japanese science fiction, done in translation by Haikasoru, a wonderful press "dedicated to bringing Japanese science fiction to America and beyond" (from their website). I enjoyed this novel very much, and I am looking forward to reading more works from that publisher. As for the novel, one reviewer called it "Groundhog Day, but in a war zone." The protagonist is a soldier stuck in time, reliving the same combat day over and over, having to improve his skills each day in order to break from the cycle. And then there is the Full Metal Bitch (I will let you find out who she is).
  • John Scalzi's Old Man's War, which has been compared to Heinlein at his best. Not cyberpunk, but it kind of looks at a future of man that may or not be a utopia. I went on to read the sequel The Ghost Brigades, which was interesting but not as good as Old Man's War. It did turn me off from reading the other works that followed; I got the impression the quality would not be as good. Ghost Brigades looks at a particular type of unit, the titular ghost brigades, which appear in the first novel, so if this interests you, the novel is worth reading. But as I said, not as good as the first.
For the graphic novels, I recommended the following:

  • Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, Batman: The Long Halloween. This work is simply excellent. Basically, there is a serial killer who kills on holidays over a year starting in Halloween. You can read it any time, very immersive. Personally, I have read this twice already, always around October. You can never go wrong with any work by Loeb and Sale, but this one is definitely one of their best.
  • If you want something different and in alternative history, try Neil Gaiman's Marvel 1602. It's Marvel heroes like Spider-Man in the Elizabethan era. My friend is an English Ph.D. student, so I knew she would appreciate this type of work. It does have a very nice dark element to it as well. Also, the work is by Neil Gaiman, and you can never go wrong with Gaiman. There are two sequels done by other writers to this book.
  • From Allan Moore, the Promethea series (link to Book One; the series has five books). This series deals with mythology and takes place in a future time. I presumed my friend had already read Watchmen, which would likely fit more into her request. However, Promethea does take place in an alternate future that does display some dystopic elements (slightly). Again, this will likely appeal to a literature major as well. I did tell her that if she had not read Watchmen, that she should rush to read it.
I gave the above as something to start from. I did throw in a bonus at the end by recommending a book I am currently reading: Shadows Over Baker Street, edited by Michael Reaves and John Pelan. This is one of the most delicious anthologies I have read in a while, so to speak. The premise is basically Sherlock Holmes with Lovecraftian mysteries and settings. If you like either Sherlock Holmes or H.P. Lovecraft's works, you will enjoy this. This is a book that is truly made to savor, so I am taking my time reading through it as one takes time to savor a fine cognac. One of the stories, Gaiman's "A Study in Emerald" is very good and won an award. I told my friend that if she wanted a bit of the intellectual with some horror and mystery thrown in, that she had to try this book.

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