Kim Stanley Robinson has come up a couple of times on this blog lately. I recently reviewed his latest novel, Aurora, and of course his Mars Trilogy came up in my thoughts about The Martian by Andy Weir. The Mars Trilogy was at the back of my mind the whole time I was reading the short story anthology Old Mars—I wasn’t sure how I’d react to retro Planetary Romance-style stories about the Red Planet in a post-Robinson world.
I admit I waffled a bit over reading the George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois edited anthologies, Old Mars and Old Venus. These were put together as a nostalgic celebration of the Planetary Romance era of science fiction from the 1930s through the ’50s. Mr. Martin and Mr. Dozois grew up on that work, it forms the deep core of their love of SF, and it’s rather delightful how delighted they are to harken back to those times.
But I have no nostalgia for Planetary Romance. It’s not the SF I grew up on. I’m not intrinsically inclined to like these stories simply because they remind me of the bygone good old days.
I didn’t need them to be nostalgic, I just needed them to be good stories.
I admit, as well, that I was somewhat cautious about the premise of these anthologies: stories set on the versions of Mars and Venus we imagined before probes and exploration taught us otherwise—the canaled Mars of Burroughs and Bradbury; the hot, wet, jungle and watery Venus of Leigh Brackett and Roger Zelazny. I was skeptical of a premise that requires both authors and readers to ignore everything that science has taught us about these planets in the intervening 50+ years.
I’m of two minds as to how I should review Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson.
Taken in-and-of itself, my response to this novel is overwhelmingly positive. It’s damn good. Good enough that I fully expect it to be nominated for some awards (although I don’t know if it’s good enough to win any).
Compared to some Mr. Robinson’s other work, however, my reaction to this novel is less favorable. But, then, maybe it’s unfair to compare Aurora to his other work…
I’ll start by mentioning some of the reasons why this book works well:
I got into Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels a couple of years ago and the character immediately became one of my favorites, ranking alongside Spencer, Jim Chee & Joe Leaphorn, Alex Delaware, and V.I. Warshawski. John Rebus is a fascinating police detective.
The Beat Goes On collects all of Mr. Rankin’s Inspector Rebus short stories and presents them in chronological order. Reading through them is a delightful journey through the history of this character.
I tend to be cautious about short stories in the mystery genre. The short form is too short to create truly compelling whodunits. The mystery aspect must necessarily be rather simplistic, due to spatial constraints.
I read Ready Player One over a year ago, but somehow never got around to posting my review of it here on my blog. Given that it’s one of my all-time favorite novels—and given how often I now compare other books to it—I really should post my review. So, here it is…
Ready Player One is a nostalgia trip like no other. It’s an ode to the rise of gaming and geek culture, a recollection of the early history of geekdom, all crammed between the covers of a really good future dystopian SF novel.
Most of the time, nostalgia bores me. I find affectionate trips down our cultural memory lane insipid, overly rose-tinted, and saccharine.
Ready Player One, though, grabbed me from the very first page and wouldn’t let me go. It kept me up past my bedtime, it kept me off my computer and social media, because reading it was the only thing I wanted to do.
The Martian by Andy Weir is brilliant. That’s one word I try not to overuse or water down—brilliant. This novel earns it.
It’s the story of an astronaut, Mark Watney, a member of the Ares III mission to explore Mars, who gets stranded on Mars when the rest of his crew abandons the planet and believes him dead. On his own in an environment lethal to life, Watney must find a way to survive with only the equipment and supplies left behind. If he can survive, he also needs to find a way to get back home…
On the last day of the KLA/MLA joint conference last week, I attended a session titled “Why We Need Diverse Books.” I believe the #WeNeedDiverseBooks initiative is one of the most important social movements going on right now. I believe diversity is the most important frontier for collection development in libraries.
The session presenters recommended a variety of publishers who are good sources of diverse titles and gave examples of successful diversity programming they had done at their own libraries. For me, the most interesting point raised was the need for foreign language titles in a diverse collection. Language is an essential facet of cultural diversity, and yet our diversity collections are still predominantly written in English. A truly diverse collection which serves a truly diverse community should have resources in a multiplicity of languages. Too often, this gets overlooked in collection development efforts. I think this is a point well-made.
I walked out of this session asking myself another question which sometimes gets neglected in our discussions about diverse books:
How do we get white dudes to start reading diverse books?
Last week, I attended the three-day joint conference of the Kansas and Missouri Library Associations, “Libraries Without Borders.” I attended half a dozen sessions, learned about some useful projects and products, met lots of people – all the things you go to a conference to do. It was an enjoyable and productive few days. Every night, I went home excited to talk about all the new ideas in my head.
But the part of it that I keep going back to, the bit that sticks with me most powerfully, is the awards reception that was held at the end of the second day. Representatives of both the KLA and MLA handed out awards to various individuals for meritorious service, distinguished professionals, best library, etc. Pretty standard, as awards ceremonies go. What struck me about it is this:
Every single person who received recognition that evening made it a point to pass on credit for their work in their acceptance speech. Every one of them made it clear that they didn’t do their work alone, and that their awards belonged as much to their staff, or their director, or their board who supported them. Every one of them acknowledged that their success was the result of the efforts of many other people, working on many fronts.