Monday, May 9, 2016

Some Of the Best 21st Century Science Fiction Book List

Are you looking for a good Science Fiction book? Want only the best? Check out this book list...

1) "Broken Angels" by Richard K. Morgan

The second in what might be a series on the exploits of Takeshi Kovacs.

In Altered Carbon ( Mar. 2003), Morgan put his antihero’s antihero on a Chandler-esque mission in a futuristic San Francisco, mopping up with ease all the lowlife scum who got in his way. This time out, Kovacs is back to being what he initially trained to be: a soldier. War has been raging on the planet of Sanction IV, where Kovacs’s mercenary unit, Carrera’s Wedge, is helping the Protectorate crush a nonsensical but nevertheless vicious uprising. Recuperating from his wounds in an orbital hospital—his current body, or “sleeve,” is being fixed, while his consciousness, or “stack,” is downloaded into another sleeve—Kovacs meets Jan Schneider, a pilot with an interesting proposition. Schneider was hauling some archaeologists around a dig for Martian artifacts (such artifacts are discovered quite often, on many planets, apparently, but nobody knows what to make of most of them) when she and her crew came across some sort of hyperspatial gateway that led to a point in space far, far away, where was parked an actual Martian spaceship. But the war got in the way. All that’s needed now is to bust the lead archaeologist out of the internment camp she’s being held in, line up some corporate backer for more manpower, equipment, and financing, stake a claim without being killed, and get filthy rich. It’s not quite so easy in actuality, of course, what with all the corporate espionage going on and a senseless war raging, but Kovacs (a killing machine who’s sick to death of death, though he can’t deny his knack for it) will likely manage. Here, Morgan has nicely expanded the scope of his series, giving a detailed look at the chaotic hodge-podge that interstellar discovery has turned a small section of the galaxy into, along with the Milosevic-like bureaucrats and soldiers jockeying for position in it. Occasionally overdosing on world-weariness, but nevertheless a thrilling cyberpunk actioner.

Book Two of Three

2) "Ilium" by Dan Simmons

A three-pronged start to another gigantic series from Simmons (the Hyperion Cantos) that will leave most readers waiting breathlessly for the next installment.

Ilium, of course, is another name for ancient Troy, and the tale opens on the blood-soaked plains of that besieged city as the Greek armies carry on their nearly decade-long attack, while Thomas Hockenberry, Ph.D.—“the unwilling Chorus of this tale”—studies the whole affair. Reassembled from scraps of DNA thousands of years in the future, Hockenberry and a host of other scholars were gathered up and sent to the past by a race of creatures with awesome powers and fickle tempers (the Greek gods) to serve as their recorders for what they saw as this grandest of games. Hockenberry is a past master of the Homeric epics, so the job has its rewards, namely comparing Homer’s poetry to the specifics of the battle taking place in front of him. It’s a harrowing affair, since ancient warfare is more horrific than he imagined (the Greek and Trojan “heroes” are often just overmuscled nitwits), and since one of the “gods,” Aphrodite, has just enlisted him to help kill Athena. The two other story arcs (which link up later) take their cues from The Tempest (and more than a touch of The Time Machine) rather than from The Iliad. In one branch of the story, a band of research robots dives into the terraformed atmosphere of Mars, while in the other, a small race of impossibly spoiled people putter about in the genetically altered, gardenlike playground that is Earth far in the future.

Just as unwieldy and pretentious as it sounds, but Simmons (Worlds Enough & Time, 2002, etc.) never lets the story get away from him, using copious amounts of wit to keep the action grounded—and utterly addictive.

3) "Caliban's War" by James S.A. Corey

Part two of the topnotch space opera begun with Leviathan Wakes (2011), from Corey (aka Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck).

Previously, a dangerous alien protomolecule was weaponized by an amoral corporation and field-tested against a habitat in the asteroid belt, bringing Earth, Mars and the Belt to the brink of war. Thanks to whistle-blowing Belter spaceship captain Jim Holden, all-out war was averted and the habitat diverted to Venus. Now, the protomolecule has taken over that planet and appears to be building a gigantic, incomprehensible device, a development viewed with alarm by the great powers. Then, on Ganymede, a creature able to survive unprotected in a vacuum, immune to most weapons and hideously strong, wipes out several platoons of marines. Fighting breaks out and the great powers teeter on the brink of war. Mysteriously, just before the monster's appearance, somebody kidnapped a number of children who all suffered from the same disease of the immune system. Botanist Prax Meng, the father of one of the children, asks for Holden's help in finding his daughter. As Ganymede's fragile ecosystem collapses, Holden flees with Prax. Meanwhile, on Earth, fiery old U.N. bigwig Chrisjen Avasarala realizes she's been outmaneuvered by forces in league with the corporation that thinks to control the protomolecule. The characters, many familiar from before, grow as the story expands; tension mounts, action explodes and pages turn relentlessly.

Independently intelligible but best appreciated after volume one—and with a huge surprise twist in the last sentence.

Book Two of Six

4) "The Passage" by Justin Cronin

Literary author Cronin (Mary and O’Neil, 2001, etc.) turns in an apocalyptic thriller in the spirit of Stephen King or Michael Crichton.

You know times are weird when swarms of Bolivian bats swoop from the skies and kill humans—or, as one eyewitness reports of an unfortunate GI, off fighting the good fight against the drug lords, “they actually lifted him off his feet before they bored through him like hot knives through butter.” Meanwhile, up north, in the very near future, gasoline prices are soaring and New Orleans has been hit by a second hurricane. Wouldn’t you know it, but the world is broken, and mad science has something to do with it—in this instance, the kind of mad science that involves trying to engineer super-soldiers but that instead has created a devastating epidemic, with zombie flourishes—here called “virals”—and nods to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and pretty much every other creature feature. Bad feds and good guys alike race around, trying to keep the world safe for American democracy. In the end the real protector of civilization turns out to be a “little girl in Iowa,” Amy Harper Bellafonte, who has been warehoused in a nunnery by her down-on-her-luck mother. Mom, a waitress with hidden resources of her own, pitches in, as does a world-weary FBI agent—is there any other kind? Thanks to Amy, smart though shy, the good guys prevail. Or so we think, but you probably don’t want to go opening your door at night to find out.

The young girl as heroine and role model is a nice touch. Otherwise a pretty ordinary production, with little that hasn’t been seen before.

Book One of Three

5) "Accelerando" by Charles Stross

A fix-up novel linking together Stross's innovative “Lobsters” stories.

Stross (The Hidden Family, 2005, etc.) begins his story in the second decade of this century, just on the verge of the Singularity—the emergence of artificial intelligences superior to humankind. Manfred Macx, central figure of the first three stories, is an electronic entrepreneur, reinventing economics on the fly to exploit the potential of amplified human intelligence. His major struggle is staying one step ahead of his ex-wife, Pamela, an accountant who pursues him around the world with a huge bill for back taxes. A brief reunion results in the birth of a daughter, Amber, who uploads herself into a computer program to go on an expedition to a nearby star, where alien intelligence has been detected. The aliens turn out to be small-time (but highly advanced) con artists, preying on naive beings who fall for their crooked economic schemes. But her real discovery is the inevitable byproduct of the Singularity, the emergence of computronium, microscopic artificial intelligences who surround their star and convert all extraneous mass into further copies of themselves. Upon her return to the solar system, Amber encounters her son Sirhan, the offspring of an alternate version of herself and the cleric sent by Pamela to undermine her father's plans to insure her freedom. The last three stories reunite the entire family, including Aineko, Manfred's cyborg cat, now working to escape the solar system while there's still time. Stross spins this generational saga with great wit and energy, throwing in references to a huge range of literary and cultural material, an even more exhilarating mix in novel form than in the separately-published stories. Stross also manages to make economics seem almost as cool as the runaway cybernetic revolution that serves as background to the story.

Cutting-edge science fiction from the brightest star in the new British invasion.

6) "Pattern Recognition" by William Gibson

A return to the present makes this SF scribe more prescient than ever.

It’s been a long time since Gibson wowed us with Neuromancer (1984) and the rest of the Sprawl trilogy that changed the then-moribund field of science fiction forever. Unfortunately, it’s been a hard act to live up to. His latest might not satisfy his readers’ high level of expectation, either, but it’s doubtless his best work since Count Zero (1986). Even though it’s his first novel set entirely in present time, there’s a sense that he’s getting back to his roots. The heroine, Cayce, is a nod to the hacker in Neuromancer who became the prototypical cyberpunk antihero. She’s a cool, slinky, yet insecure piece of mystery who has a near-oracular ability to predict the Next Big Thing. After being called in to consult on whether a new logo will work, Cayce says only one word, “No,” and her fee is earned. She’s then hired for a bigger project by über-cool marketing firm Blue Ant to investigate the origins of a strange series of film clips—over a 130 now—that have been showing up on the Internet and attracting a wide cult of fans, including Cayce, who try to figure their origin and purpose. Soon Cayce is jetting off to Tokyo, back to London, then off to Russia, following the wispiest threads of evidence, rumor, and blind conjecture. Someone’s tracking her, and a sinister fog of suspicion fills Cayce’s jet-setting, wireless world. Gibson’s narrative is more relaxed than it has been in years, trusting in Cayce’s strangely addictive personality and in his own laser-perfect cultural radar—Malcolm Gladwell meets Marshall McLuhan in a chat room—to carry the story along. Some elements could have easily been jettisoned (Cayce’s literal allergy to brands and logos is ridiculous), but for every misstep there’s a dash of pure, beautiful insight: “We have no future because our present is too volatile . . . We have only risk management. The spinning of the given moment’s scenarios. Pattern recognition.”

A slick but surprisingly humane piece of work from the father of cyberpunk.

Book One of Three

7) "The Quantum Thief" by Hannu Rajaniemi

A sort of paranoid-conspiracy, hard sci-fi whodunit: the Scotland resident, Finnish author's jaw-dropping debut.

Notorious thief Jean le Flambeur serves an indeterminate sentence in the surreal Dilemma Prison governed by artificial intelligences, or Archons, at the behest of Earth's ruling "upload collective" called the Sobornost. The Archons' notion of rehabilitation is to compel the prisoners, incarcerated in infinitely repeating transparent cells, to play murderous mind games with infinite copies of themselves. Soon enough, though, along comes spacer Mieli in her alluring sentient spaceship to rescue le Flambeur—providing that he's willing to work for her. The thief has little choice, it's either accept or stay and be shot through the head over and over. And so they're off to Mars, where the multi-legged city of Oubliette wanders the landscape, terraforming as it goes. Here, time itself is currency; memory, and hence reality, is held collectively, privacy is a fetish preserved by unbreakable encryption and enforced by powerful "tzaddiks," but everybody's strings are being pulled—even the string-pullers'—by hidden higher authorities. Mieli's employer, known only as the pellegrini, wants le Flambeur to perform a particular if unmentioned service, while the thief has his own ulterior motives for cooperating: years ago he hid large chunks of his memories here, and now he needs to recover them to attain his own vengeful goals. Meanwhile, brilliant young detective Isidore Beautrelet, having just solved the murder of a prominent chocolatier, accepts another assignment—involving an arch villain named…le Flambeur. All this barely hints at the complex inventions and extrapolations, richly textured backdrop and well-developed characters seamlessly woven into a narrative stuffed with scientific, literary and cultural references.

Spectacularly and convincingly inventive, assured and wholly spellbinding: one of the most impressive debuts in years.

Book One of Three

8) "House of Suns" by Alastair Reynolds

Far-future, galaxy-spanning space opera involving clones, robots, mass murder and hundreds of post-human cultures, some alive, most extinct, set in a universe different than Reynolds' Revelation Space yarns (Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days, 2005, etc.).

Six million years ago, from a civilization known as the Golden Hour, the House of Flowers—comprising the thousand male and female immortal clones, or “shatterlings,” of Abigail Gentian—set off to explore the galaxy. Every 200,000 years they meet up to celebrate and share memories. Since they travel at sublight speeds, most of this time is spent in stasis, so they do not so much live history as tunnel through it, as one of the characters observes. It's often a weakness, since readers are afforded glimpses of dozens of cultures without being offered involvement in any. Our alternating narrators—a third narrative strand features Abigail becoming addicted to a simulated-reality role-playing game, for reasons that only become clear much later—impetuous, courageous Campion and smarter, more empathic Purslane, are an item, against House rules. They're running late for the next reunion and need ship repairs. A piratical post-human named Ateshga attempts to trick Campion, but Purslane outwits him and rescues memory-impaired Hesperus. The three reach the reunion site 50 years late, only to learn that the Flowers have been ambushed and all but wiped out. Campion and Hesperus rescue a handful of Gentians—50 out of a surviving 900-odd. But why the slaughter, and who did it? Believe it or not, the Andromeda Galaxy is a major plot issue.

Absorbing, but lacking the edgy brilliance and almost desperate urgency of the Revelation novels.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Young Adult Novels To Look For Book List

Want something new and exciting? Looking for the next book in a series? Check out this book list...

1) The Forbidden Wish" by Jessica Khoury

A Middle East–inspired fantasy version of “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp.”

Jinni Zahra, long imprisoned in her lamp, has languished for hundreds of years in a dead city as punishment for a mysterious transgression against her kind, one that also resulted in the betrayal of the warrior queen who last held the lamp, whom Zahra still mourns with the term of endearment “Habiba.” A young thief guided by a magic ring finds the city and lamp, freeing her. Other jinn quickly offer her a bargain from their ruler: he will free her from the lamp if she rescues his son, imprisoned in Aladdin’s home city—a deal with a strict time limit. Zahra uses Aladdin’s desire for vengeance against the drug-addled king’s brother—the sadistic power behind the throne—for his revolutionary parents’ deaths and the ill treatment of the peasantry. Aladdin’s audacious and bold but unable to kill, so Zahra offers an alternative revenge: he will seduce and marry the crown princess, become king, and expel his enemies—bringing them to the palace and supporting her mission. But iron-willed Caspida is no typical princess, and Zahra’s feelings for Aladdin steadily grow—despite the taboo against jinni-human love that destroyed her Habiba. Khoury allows Zahra to narrate in the first person, placing her in a distinct fantasy world that draws on Middle Eastern tropes but is no cognate of real-world geography. Though the dynamic ending fully concludes their story, readers will likely long for more stories—say, 1,000 of them.

Dripping in magic, strong women, and forbidden love. (Fantasy. 12 & up)

2) "Sword and Verse" by Kathy MacMillan

Literacy becomes the key to liberation in a thoughtful debut fantasy.

Tutor-in-training Raisa may be one of the most privileged Arnathim in Quilara, but she is still a slave, like all her people. Unlike them, she has learned to read and write the sacred symbols in order to teach future kings. Her relative freedom would make her an ideal recruit for the Resistance, but she fears being executed like her predecessor; besides, she’s interested only in writing and in pursuing her torrid, forbidden romance with Prince Mati. But when Mati’s throne, their lives, and all Quilara come under threat, she may lose any choice. Raisa’s narration is cleverly interwoven with the myths of the divine origins of writing and the oppressive system it sustains, providing a fascinating spin on a common fantasy plot. Unfortunately, Raisa herself—vacillating, selfish, and shallow—is an unimpressive protagonist, and an attempt to reinscribe racial power dynamics (the Arnathim are white and curly-haired, while their oppressors are olive-skinned with straight, black hair) falls flat. While she condemns the Resistance for their distrust in Mati’s (impotent) promises of reform, the Arnathim suffer mostly offstage, allowing Raisa to wallow over her ill-judged (and inherently abusive) affair. Once the nation collapses into treason, revolt, and armed invasion, the literal deus ex machina (or ex tabula) resolution seems awfully pat for a society scarred by generations of bigotry and exploitation.

Kudos for a fresh take on a fraught topic but not for derailing slavery into a vehicle for romantic angst. (Fantasy. 12-18)

3) "Reign of Shadows" by Sophie Jordan

Star-crossed romance smolders in a sunless fairy-tale kingdom of ugliness, horror, and grisly violence.

Born on the eve of a now seemingly perpetual eclipse, Luna has spent her 17 years in darkness; alone with two loyal retainers in a remote tower, she hides from both the monstrous “dark dwellers” and the power-mad chancellor who murdered her royal parents. Everything changes after she rescues a few wanderers from Outside, including Fowler, a bitter youth particularly adept at survival. Once her sanctuary is discovered, Luna flees with Fowler, who longs to be rid of her while harboring sinister secrets of his own. Luna and Fowler alternate painfully florid narration of their journey through a far-fetched world where “everything is bleakness and death.” Fowler is an archetypical brooding hero; his cynical, callous exterior merely shields a heart bruised by his traumatic past. Luna, while laudably confident and competent (despite the disability she’s unaware of till he tells her about it), is also superspecial, flawlessly compassionate, and noble, with senses so implausibly acute that she almost totally compensates for it. Their inevitable romance is swoony, angst-y, and (discreetly) consummated, leading all too predictably to tedious misunderstandings, feckless self-sacrifices, and an abrupt, over-the-top cliffhanger that may inspire eye-rolls from even the most fervent devotees of the genre.

All the standard tropes and clichés, only ever-so-much more so. (Dystopian fantasy. 14-18)

4) "Ruined" by Amy Tintera

An undercover operation goes awry in this series-opening political fantasy.

Despite a rising death toll, royal families of four kingdoms continue to plot one another’s demise through martial, marital, and sometimes magical means. Eager to stop the extermination of the magic-wielding Ruined of Ruina and find her kidnapped younger sister, Olivia, the chosen Ruined heir, Emelina Flores kills Princess Mary Anselo of Vallos, assumes her identity, and weds Prince Casimir Gallegos of Lera. “Useless” Em lacks bone-crunching, viscera-splattering Ruined powers but continually plans how to kill people, using household decorations if necessary. She is aiming to extract information on Olivia’s location before killing Casimir and his family and letting the warriors of Olso attack, but budding romance stays her hand…and provides most of the plot. Em and Cas share the narrative as well as a history of overbearing, bloodthirsty parents—Em’s mother’s method for keeping the peace was “to kill everyone who threatened it”—and their gradual courtship is marked by endless misunderstandings and opportunistic slaughter. Tintera’s mix of violence and vengeance with a star-crossed-lovers story offers an olive-skinned heroine and only slightly lighter-skinned hero, abundant angst, and plentiful cinematic action sequences, if few sympathetic or developed secondary characters. Readers expecting resolution must wait for the sequels.

Standard fantasy and warfare featuring a lethal leading lady. (Fantasy. 14-18)

5) "Map of Fates" by Maggie Hall

She's the destined savior of the secret oligarchy ruling the world, but she just wants her mom.

Avery used to think she was just your average violet-eyed American teenager with a mysterious past. She's since learned that she's the prophesied daughter of the Circle of Twelve, destined to marry the One to protect the Circle against their ancient enemies, the Order. Worse, she knows who the One really is, and it's not the scion of any of the 12 inbred families that include most of the world's politicians, businessmen, actors, and beautiful people. Instead it's Stellan, the gorgeous childhood best frenemy of Avery's forbidden love, Jack. Of course, none of this will matter if they don't rescue Avery's mother, a hostage of the Order, by solving the ancient puzzle of Napoleon on an old bracelet. Meanwhile Avery's powerful blood family—the Saxons, the British members of the Circle of Twelve—are determined to marry her off to another Circle house in an attempt to consolidate power. If only the Order weren't bumping off the few bearable candidates for Avery's hand as fast as she can meet them. And of course, there'll soon be the sudden yet inevitable betrayals. The novel reads like a heap of “chosen one” tropes thrown in a blender, and it centers on an epic battle between two forces composed mostly of jerks. Despite its retrograde premise, this love-triangle thriller features a pleasing moment of responsible sexual choice.

Surprisingly readable, given its unlikely setup. (Thriller. 12-16)

Book Two of Two

6) "Assassin's Heart" by Sarah Ahiers

A betrayed teenage assassin seeks revenge against her family’s murderers.

In a lavishly constructed fantasy world with an intricate society of religious assassins, murder’s legal—provided it’s committed by a clipper, a member of an elite assassin Family, as worship of the goddess of death and resurrection. Oleander “Lea” Saldana, of the Saldana Family, is secretly seeing Val, a member of the Saldanas’ nemesis Family, the Da Vias. When a surprise attack on her home leaves Lea the last member of her Family standing, she knows whom to blame: the Da Vias, Val, and herself. On the run from the Da Vias—who know a Saldana escaped—Lea must brave rival clippers and the equally deadly angry ghosts outside the city wall in order to find the other remaining Saldana: her uncle Marcello. He’s been long exiled for some mysterious incident that involved the murder of his uncle (the Family head), and that is also the source of the Da Vias’ rage. The worldbuilding—especially the story’s internal rules governing ghosts and the way the worship of different gods shapes each country—is smarter than the story’s protagonist, whose baffling decisions are plot-driven. Too, the exposition seems not to trust readers’ memories. The pace limps along through repetitive prose and frequent reminders as Lea slowly makes progress, especially romantically (predictable but sweet). The final act’s twists show more life than the rest of the book.

It’s a nifty premise, but the execution doesn’t live up to it. (Fantasy. 12-16)

7) "Tell the Wind and Fire" by Sarah Rees Brennan

“It was the best of times until it was the worst of times” in a fantastical Tale of Two Cities.

In Light New York, Light magic provides luxurious ease for its practitioners, but the symbiotic Dark magic provokes ostracism and confinement. Lucie Manette escaped Dark New York as a heroine after rescuing her father from imprisonment, but she remains guilt-ridden over those she left behind. When Carwyn, a doppelgänger created with illegal Dark magic, unexpectedly saves his double, Ethan (Lucie’s beloved and nephew of the Light Council’s leader), Lucie is sickened by the exposed corruption among the ruling caste. But as the downtrodden Dark populace rises in bloody revolution, Lucie has to make a terrible choice. Retellings of beloved classics are tricky, but here, Dickens’ overall plot and major characters translate effortlessly into this intriguingly imagined setting. Lucie and Ethan are more complex than their rather insipid Victorian prototypes, and Carwyn retains all the bad-boy fascination of his charismatic counterpart. Less successful are the direct quotes from the original, which feel strained and artificial. Brennan is best where she is most original: her metaphorically rich magical system, her timely (and timeless) championing of society’s outcasts. Her trademark witty dialogue—although restrained by the somber narrative—still sparkles, making the inevitable tragic conclusion all the more poignant.

This respectful and occasionally clever homage may be most appreciated by those least familiar with the original. (Fantasy. 12 & up)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

May the Force Be With You

It's Star Wars Day!

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

The evil Trade Federation, led by Nute Gunray is planning to take over the peaceful world of Naboo. Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi are sent to confront the leaders. But not everything goes to plan. The two Jedi escape, and along with their new Gungan friend, Jar Jar Binks head to Naboo to warn Queen Amidala, but droids have already started to capture Naboo and the Queen is not safe there. Eventually, they land on Tatooine, where they become friends with a young boy known as Anakin Skywalker. Qui-Gon is curious about the boy, and sees a bright future for him. The group must now find a way of getting to Coruscant and to finally solve this trade dispute, but there is someone else hiding in the shadows. Are the Sith really extinct? Is the Queen really who she says she is? And what's so special about this young boy?

Director: George Lucas
Writer: George Lucas
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman | See full cast & crew
Released: 1999

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Ten years after the invasion of Naboo, the Galactic Republic is facing a Separatist movement and the former queen and now Senator Padmé Amidala travels to Coruscant to vote on a project to create an army to help the Jedi to protect the Republic. Upon arrival, she escapes from an attempt to kill her, and Obi-Wan Kenobi and his Padawan Anakin Skywalker are assigned to protect her. They chase the shape-shifter Zam Wessell but she is killed by a poisoned dart before revealing who hired her. The Jedi Council assigns Obi-Wan Kenobi to discover who has tried to kill Amidala and Anakin to protect her in Naboo. Obi-Wan discovers that the dart is from the planet Kamino, and he heads to the remote planet. He finds an army of clones that has been under production for years for the Republic and that the bounty hunter Jango Fett was the matrix for the clones. Meanwhile Anakin and Amidala fall in love with each other, and he has nightmarish visions of his mother. They travel to his home planet, ...

Director: George Lucas
Writers: George Lucas (screenplay), Jonathan Hales (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
Stars: Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor | See full cast & crew
Released: 2002

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

During the near end of the clone wars, Darth Sidious has revealed himself and is ready to execute the last part of his plan to rule the Galaxy. Sidious is ready for his new apprentice, Lord Vader, to step into action and kill the remaining Jedi. Vader, however, struggles to choose the dark side and save his wife or remain loyal to the Jedi order.

Director: George Lucas
Writer: George Lucas
Stars: Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor | See full cast & crew
Released: 2005

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

A young boy from Tatooine sets out on an adventure with an old Jedi named Obi-Wan Kenobi as his mentor to save Princess Leia from the ruthless Darth Vader and Destroy the Death Star built by the Empire which has the power to destroy the entire galaxy.

Director: George Lucas
Writer: George Lucas
Stars: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher | See full cast & crew
Released: 1977

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

After the Rebel base on the icy planet Hoth is taken over by the Empire, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and C-3PO flee across the galaxy from the Empire. Luke travels to the forgotten planet of Dagobah to receive training from the Jedi master Yoda, while Vader endlessly pursues him.

Director: Irvin Kershner
Writers: Leigh Brackett (screenplay), Lawrence Kasdan (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
Stars: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher | See full cast & crew
Released: 1980

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Darth Vader and the Empire are building a new, indestructible Death Star. Meanwhile, Han Solo has been imprisoned, and Luke Skywalker has sent R2-D2 and C-3PO to try and free him. Princess Leia - disguised as a bounty hunter - and Chewbacca go along as well. The final battle takes place on the moon of Endor, with its natural inhabitants, the Ewoks, lending a hand to the Rebels. Will Darth Vader and the Dark Side overcome the Rebels and take over the universe?

Director: Richard Marquand
Writers: Lawrence Kasdan (screenplay), George Lucas(screenplay) | 1 more credit »
Stars: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher |See full cast & crew
Released: 1983

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

30 years after the defeat of Darth Vader and the Empire, Rey, a scavenger from the planet Jakku, finds a BB-8 droid that knows the whereabouts of the long lost Luke Skywalker. Rey, as well as a rogue stormtrooper and two smugglers, are thrown into the middle of a battle between the Resistance and the daunting legions of the First Order.
Released: 2015

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

National Teacher Appreciation Day

Happy Teacher's Day!

Political and educational leaders first began discussions for a day to honor teachers in 1944. In 1953, Eleanor Roosevelt persuaded the 81st Congress to proclaim National Teachers’ Day. Congress declared March 7, 1980, as National Teacher Day. The National Education Association continued to observe Teacher Day on the first Tuesday in March until 1985, when the National PTA established Teacher Appreciation Week as the first full week of May. The NEA Representative Assembly then voted to make the Tuesday of that week National Teacher Day. National Teacher Day is an unofficial national holiday.

National Teacher Appreciation Day, also known as National Teacher Day, is observed on the Tuesday of the first full week in May. This day is part of Teacher Appreciation Week, which is the first full week in May of each year.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Blogger Choice Book List

Here are some of my current favorite books. These are ones that I enjoyed and hope that you do too. Check out this book list...

1) "Hero" by Perry Moore

Superman had kryptonite, and Thom, the teenaged basketball star and son of the now-retired Major Might, tries hard to keep his own Achilles heel—being gay—under the radar. His powers of healing seem to bring him nothing but bad press, however, especially when he decides to go out for a superhero-like boot camp headed up by the League, the sworn protectors of Moore’s Metropolis-like city. At first, Thom seemingly botches every one of his team’s missions, but when a series of hero-murders threaten world destruction, a cigarette-smoking, foul-mouthed seer assures him that soon enough his strength, powers and sexuality will play a role in saving humankind. Despite the near-ridiculous superhero theme running through this first novel, the interpersonal relationships between Thom and his likable, equally tortured compadres keep the plot’s feet on the ground. Capes, X-ray vision, tights and cheesy superhero spoofs run amuck. Despite a few half-hearted attempts at realism, the book reads like a complicated yet quick-moving adult novel. Disappointingly, Moore doesn’t dig deeper into Thom’s newly found gay world past his coming out, and no doubt readers will be curious as to how he survives in his new skin. (Fiction. YA)

2) "The Wednesday Wars" by Gary D. Schmidt

It’s 1967, and on Wednesdays, every Jewish kid in Holling Hoodhood’s class goes to Hebrew School, and every Catholic kid goes to Catechism. Holling is Presbyterian, which means that he and Mrs. Baker are alone together every Wednesday—and she hates it just as much as he does. What unfolds is a year of Wednesday Shakespeare study, which, says Mrs. Baker, “is never boring to the true soul.” Holling is dubious, but trapped. Schmidt plaits world events into the drama being played out at Camillo Junior High School, as well as plenty of comedy, as Holling and Mrs. Baker work their way from open hostility to a sweetly realized friendship. Holling navigates the multitudinous snares set for seventh-graders—parental expectations, sisters, bullies, girls—with wry wit and the knowledge that the world will always be a step or two ahead of him. Schmidt has a way of getting to the emotional heart of every scene without overstatement, allowing the reader and Holling to understand the great truths swirling around them on their own terms. It’s another virtuoso turn by the author of Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy (2005). (Fiction. 10-14)

3) "Voyager" by Diana Gabaldon

The third (Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber) in a time-travel trilogy that again creates a vivid sense of daily life in 18th- century Europe. Unlike its predecessors, however, Gabaldon's latest relies more on genre clichÇs than on history for its drama. The story opens in 1746, on the battlefield of Culloden, where Scotland's dream of winning independence from England has just been brutally crushed. Our hero, gallant Highland laird Jamie Fraser, survives the battle and makes his way to a cave near his estate. There, he goes into hiding for several years, then turns himself in to the English to protect his near-starving dependents--and winds up in prison. Meanwhile, Claire Randall, the love of Jamie's life- -whom he had sent back through a charmed circle of stones to the safety of her passionless but companionable 20th-century marriage just before the battle began--is raising her and Jamie's daughter and working as a doctor in postwar England. Once their daughter is grown, Claire traces Jamie's fate through historical documents, realizes he survived Culloden, and steps back through the circle for the third and last time--to join him in 18th-century Scotland, 20 years after they parted. After a passionate reunion, they're soon on the run again from the English--and it's an eventful journey. While chasing a mysterious ship that kidnapped Jamie's nephew, the pair and their ragtag entourage dodge pirates, battle a witch, and survive saber slashes, gunshots, brushes with typhoid, and violent tropical storms at sea.

4) "The Dead and Gone" by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Seventeen-year-old Alex, the son of a Puerto Rican New York City working-class family, attends college-prep Vincent de Paul on scholarship. An after-school job and chores assigned by his building superintendent father keep Alex focused on a better future, with ambitions of attending an Ivy League school through study, hard work and a little faith. But when his parents fail to return home after the catastrophic environmental events following the moon’s altered gravitational pull, Alex suddenly faces the reality of survival and the obligation to protect his two younger sisters. His moral and religious upbringing is continually put to the test as he finds himself forced to take action that is often gruesome if not unethical—like “body shopping,” to collect objects to barter for food. As in the previous novel, Life as We Knew It (2006), realistically bone-chilling despair and death join with the larger question of how the haves and have-nots of a major metropolitan city will ultimately survive in an increasingly lawless, largely deserted urban wasteland. Incredibly engaging. (Fiction. YA)

Book Two of Four

5) "The Lost Sun" by Tessa Gratton

When the god Baldur the Beautiful vanishes, can two teens rescue him and win their hearts’ desires?

In a country very like a modern America populated by Norse-descended followers of Odin and his pantheon, 17-year-old Soren struggles against his berserker heritage and the disgrace of his father’s having lost control in a shopping mall. At his school, Sanctus Sigurd, he meets seethkona Astrid Glyn, a prophetess who’s sure her world-famous mother’s not dead. The two set off across the United States of Asgard in hopes of finding Baldur, who did not rise from his ashes as he does at the end of each winter, and thereby winning a boon from Odin Alfather. Finding Baldur turns out to be the easiest part of their quest; the duo must find a way to return him to the gods without drawing attention to themselves, as no one knows who orchestrated the god’s disappearance, and the rest of the country wants him back too. Gratton’s series opener is a wordy, languid adventure dotted with slightly twisted retellings of Norse myths. The breathless internal conflicts and easily overcome external conflicts never quite ignite. It’s chock-a-block with cornball plays on American cultural and place names made slightly Norse-y.

When gods other than Baldur finally appear, things get interesting; maybe future installments will begin there. (Fantasy. 12 & up)

6) "Glass Sword" by Victoria Aveyard

Reborn as the infamous “lightning girl,” Mare struggles to build an army of newbloods to face the murderous new king.

After narrowly escaping the burning city of Naercey, Mare and her friends make their way to a secluded island where her family and the Scarlet Guard lie low. Bruised and beaten, Mare quickly realizes she can’t trust anyone, not even her closest friends—maybe not even family. But Mare has a plan: she’s going to track down the rest of the newbloods—Reds with unknown powers that rival the strongest Silvers’—and build an army. She sets out with those closest to her, including Cal, the now disgraced prince. Feeling incredibly alone, she can’t help but gravitate toward him; they share an ache for the person they both believed Maven to be before he became a treacherous king. As her conviction rises, so does the body count, and it isn’t long before Mare becomes eerily like the killer she’s trying so hard to destroy. Though her friends are disturbed by what she’s become, not even they can stop her now. Her quest is fraught with trials and bloodshed, but the action lags; the traps begin to feel too familiar, and the first-person, present-tense narration spares no detail. Tragedy seems to be a certainty before the end, but the spectacle still packs a surprising punch.

This too-long heroine's journey requires that the next volume provide sufficient fireworks to keep readers invested in the planned four-book series. (Fantasy. 13 & up)

Book Two of Two

7) "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline

Video-game players embrace the quest of a lifetime in a virtual world; screenwriter Cline’s first novel is old wine in new bottles.

The real world, in 2045, is the usual dystopian horror story. So who can blame Wade, our narrator, if he spends most of his time in a virtual world? The 18-year-old, orphaned at 11, has no friends in his vertical trailer park in Oklahoma City, while the OASIS has captivating bells and whistles, and it’s free. Its creator, the legendary billionaire James Halliday, left a curious will. He had devised an elaborate online game, a hunt for a hidden Easter egg. The finder would inherit his estate. Old-fashioned riddles lead to three keys and three gates. Wade, or rather his avatar Parzival, is the first gunter (egg-hunter) to win the Copper Key, first of three. Halliday was obsessed with the pop culture of the 1980s, primarily the arcade games, so the novel is as much retro as futurist. Parzival’s great strength is that he has absorbed all Halliday’s obsessions; he knows by heart three essential movies, crossing the line from geek to freak. His most formidable competitors are the Sixers, contract gunters working for the evil conglomerate IOI, whose goal is to acquire the OASIS. Cline’s narrative is straightforward but loaded with exposition. It takes a while to reach a scene that crackles with excitement: the meeting between Parzival (now world famous as the lead contender) and Sorrento, the head of IOI. The latter tries to recruit Parzival; when he fails, he issues and executes a death threat. Wade’s trailer is demolished, his relatives killed; luckily Wade was not at home. Too bad this is the dramatic high point. Parzival threads his way between more ’80s games and movies to gain the other keys; it’s clever but not exciting. Even a romance with another avatar and the ultimate “epic throwdown” fail to stir the blood.

I do not agree with this person's opinion of the book. I found it to be exciting and an interesting book. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Let's See the World Book List

Do you like reading about other peoples' travels? Want to read one now? Check out this book list...

1) "City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi" by William Dalrymple

A charming portrait of the ancient Indian capital of Delhi by a talented young British travel writer. Dalrymple, whose debut book of travel writing, In Xanadu (not reviewed), received much praise, spent a year wandering around the dilapidated city of Delhi uncovering the layers of history found in its architectural and human ruins. With his wife, Olivia Fraser (whose pen-and-ink illustrations help the book along), Dalrymple finds a Delhi that is still trying to overcome the traumas of British colonialism and the partition of 1947, in which most Muslims migrated from India to the newly created Pakistan and many Hindus, expelled from the Punjab, fled to Delhi, creating a new, less sophisticated class of resident. The title refers to the spirits that according to legend have, throughout the ages, watched over the inhabitants of Delhi. At first, Dalrymple finds that much of the old life, including the belief in djinns, seems to have faded; but after some digging, he learns that these old customs are simply hidden and very much alive. Judiciously parceling out strands of Indian history, Dalrymple shows that the unique Delhi ways have always been able to withstand the worst of wars and other calamities. He takes us, in an affable style, through the sprawling city and introduces us to the frugal Punjabi people who now make up the majority of the population, as well as to the remnants of the old colonialists, and then to the fascinating ways of people of the underbelly -- the sad, regimented lives of contemporary eunuchs, the tenacity of the squatters, and the timeless world of the many religions that have quietly coexisted for centuries in the chaotic warrens of the indestructible city. Not a heavyweight experience, but this warm look at Delhi is a pleasant starting point for anyone interested in this mysterious city.

2) "Shadow of the Silk Road" by Colin Thubron

Thubron (In Siberia, 2000, etc.) takes an arduous 7,000-mile journey following the ancient silk trade route from inland China to Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.

At the very least, his marathon expedition through desert, mountains and war-scarred landscapes testifies to the author’s fortitude and resourcefulness. He’s quarantined by Chinese authorities during the SARS epidemic, nearly killed by a drunk driver in a head-on collision and forced to endure treatment of an abscessed tooth by a team of Iranian village dentists who don’t use anesthetic. Thubron attends a rock concert staged in a Tehran military hospital, dodges suspicious guards at several remote border crossings and searches out the tombs of Genghis Khan, Omar Khayyam and Ayatollah Khomeini. He augments his trenchant narrative with impressive historical background and evocative lyrical prose: “In late autumn the road traversed a near-desert plain. From time to time a faint, brown wash overhung the horizon, as if a watercolorist had started painting mountains there, then forgotten them.” Even the most erudite readers, however, may find themselves daunted and disoriented by this lengthy sojourn in such consonant-laden regions as Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, complete with their obscure attendant cultural histories. Until 1498, when the Portuguese sailed around Africa and found a safer route to China’s riches, the Silk Road across central Asia was traveled by successions of invaders. East-bound from Rome, Greece and Arabia came poetry, metals and conquering armies. From China, traders carried westward such wonders as silk, paper, gunpowder and the mechanical clock. Thubron carefully picks through the cultural and archeological remains of a half-dozen societies with a discerning eye and a scholar’s discipline, pausing to note the fallout from such relatively recent arrivals as China’s murderous Red Guards, the Taliban and ruthless Afghan warlords. He also pauses long enough to meet and introduce a host of memorable characters, including a Chinese college dean and some Afghan truck drivers.

An impressive, rewarding and occasionally exhausting trek, most suitable for the hardcore travel reader.

3) "Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris" by Sarah Turnbull

Love and adjustment in a foreign climate.

Though Australian journalist Turnbull came to Paris—and stayed—because of love, she is remarkably reticent about her relationship with Frédéric, the French lawyer she first met in Bucharest in the early 1990s. This is not an overly significant defect, because she delivers so much, and so intelligently, on the rest of her life there. The Australian TV reporter had taken off a year to travel around Europe when Frédéric asked her to visit him in Paris. She arrived somewhat apprehensive and speaking little French, but after a while found herself beginning to understand a society so different from direct, easygoing Australia. Soon she was in love not only with Frédéric but with Paris. Turnbull describes their two apartments, the first in a leafy suburb, the next in Sentier, the Parisian garment district, noisy but close to the city center. She observes the natives’ pride in their heritage and their differences, especially from Anglo Saxons, and notes the media’s deference to politicians. French business letters are written in flowery prose, Turnbull tells us, and it is considered selfish to dress like a slob. Even dinner parties are different: unfriendly and impersonal, the author found. (After fleeing from several tables to weep, she was cheered by a guidebook that advised her to think of herself as a chair to which no one was expected to talk.) As Turnbull adjusts to her new life, she begins working as a freelance writer and interviews such French cultural stars as restaurateur Alain Ducasse and clothing designer Christian Lacroix. At first the author cannot understand why Frédéric loves his family home on the chilly northern coast, but as she gets to know his relatives and the locals, that changes along with her other attitudes to the French.

An engaging story of a sometimes rocky but ultimately affectionate relationship with another culture.

4) "Last Chance to See" by Douglas Adams

Despite the joint authorship, this is Adams's (The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, etc.) book, written in the first-person and marked by his singular nose for absurdities, as he and zoologist Cawardine--who contributes an epilogue--tour the world on the track of rare or endangered species.

The journey begins in 1985, as the two men tramp through Madagascar in search of the aye-aye, a rare nocturnal lemur ("like virtually everything that lives on Madagascar, it does not exist anywhere else on earth"). Three years later, still flush from their first success, the team reunites to hunt the Komodo dragon. This proves a sickening enterprise, involving passage through honky-tonk Bali ("Bali Theme Park," Adams dubs it) to a bedraggled island where the giant lizards gulp carrion before delighted polyestered Americans. On to Zaire, where a tangle of red-tape and greed ("every official you encounter will make life as unpleasant as he possibly can until you pay him to stop it") doesn't prevent a glimpse of white rhino and mountain gorilla. In New Zealand, the duo spots the kakapo (a fat, flightless parrot); in China, the Yangtze River dolphin; in Mauritius, a rare fruit bat--all allowing for hilarious travel writing (as in Peking, where Adams visits Mao's tomb while the theme from Hawaii Five-O blares over giant loudspeakers) as well as a noble plea for ecological sanity.

Surprisingly mature reflections on the environment--with Adams's trademark comedy humming along at high pitch: eco-humor comes of age.

5) "The Pillars of Hercules" by Paul Theroux

With his effortless writing style, observant eye, and take-no- prisoners approach, Theroux (The Happy Isles of Oceania, 1992, etc.) is in top form chronicling this 18-month circuit of the Mediterranean. Only 15 miles separate the Pillars of Hercules at the mouth of the Mediterranean, but as is his wont, Theroux took the long way. It's the old Grand Tour route, charted by many seeking wisdom and experience. And if it was now haunted and decayed, so much the better: ``Half a lifetime of traveling had given me a taste for the macabre.'' Theroux has a gift for the quick landscape sketch: hoofing it about the paths of Corsica, the lunarscapes of Italy's toe, the streets of a Tunisian town; but everywhere he finds people. His misanthropy is given a rest on this journey; yes, fools populate the pages, but so too do a host of dignified characters, from the ordinary joes he shares cabin space with to Naguib Mahfouz and Paul Bowles. They all make for a very immediate experience: ``These sudden strange encounters . . . were much more interesting than the Roman amphitheaters and the ruins.'' Theroux has never been one to let pass any abrupt or truculent or stupid behavior (``several aspects of this reeking vulgarity interested me''), and it is always a pleasure when he calls a miscreant on his thuggish conduct. This contributes a snappy edge to the proceedings (Do you torture political prisoners here in Turkey? How do you feel about the Fascists coming to power in your Italian village?) and it keeps the journey fast on its feet. Theroux bestows perhaps his greatest compliment of all to the journey itself: ``I knew I would go back, the way you went back to a museum, to look . . . and think.'' Never has he said that before. As satisfying as a glass of cool wine on a dusty Calabrian afternoon.

6) "River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze" by Peter Hessler

A two-year sojourn in a small city in central China yields this youthful, gracefully impressionistic portrait of a time and place from newcomer Hessler.

In 1996, Hessler reported for his Peace Corps duty to Fuling, a city of some 200,000 souls astride the murky Yangtze River, which cuts through the green and terraced mountains of Sichuan Province. This account is a chronicle of the author’s days in Fuling and of a brief summer interlude of travel farther afield. Hessler’s writing is unselfconsciously mellow, a lazy pace that works admirably in conjuring up Fuling as a place. There is the gentle knock of the croquet ball in the morning when the court below his window comes to life. There is this river city of steps pressed against hills; there are ridgelines cut with ancient calligraphy and pictographs that disappear under water during the rainy season. There are his students—a poignant, watershed generation who delight him to no end. Big things happen while he is in China (the Three Gorges Project is in full swing and Deng Xiaoping dies), but it is the everyday stuff that is so affecting. The surprise and unpredictability of the townsfolk catch him unawares more than once, he feels the sensitivity of being a foreigner, with all eyes upon him and little cultural abrasions everywhere: “Those were our Opium Wars—quiet and meaningless battles over Chinese and American history, fueled by indirect remarks and careful innuendo.” And he loves it, despite the dislocations and frustrations: even the creepy drinking bouts at banquets (“Every banquet has a leader, a sort of alcoholic alpha male”) and the relentless mocking of his foreignness by strangers (for, although the Peace Corps is no longer considered a running-dog outfit, foreigners are nonetheless seen as freaks) become sources of nostalgia after a while.

A vivid and touching tribute to a place and its people.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Popular Native American Author Book List

Want something to read? Check out this book list...

1) "Shadows Cast By Stars" by Catherine Knutsson

A post-apocalyptic debut breathes new life into a quickly flagging genre with its setting among the First Nations peoples of the Pacific Northwest.

Even though they live in the Corridor, Cassandra Mercredi and her family have kept to the Old Way. When a new strain of the Plague that killed their mother emerges, she, her twin brother, Paul, and her father flee to the Island, where the Band clings to treaty lands. Métis, they are apart from the specific culture of the Island, but they are nevertheless Other, and their blood contains the only known cure for the Plague. Cass finds herself apprenticed to healer Madda and increasingly drawn to Bran, the son of the Island's vanished leader. She also experiences a terrifying connection to the Sisiutl, the serpent-spirit that dwells in the lake by her house. Knutsson's narrative is ambitious, twining together Pacific Northwest mythology, standard post-apocalyptic tropes and a coming-of-age story inflected with romance. Readers of Sherman Alexie'sThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian will recognize the harsh realities portrayed, albeit within the science-fictional framework. Knutsson’s language is often atmospherically beautiful, but the story flounders at times, introducing unfulfilled subplots that may be foreshadowing for events in future volumes or simply red herrings.

Nevertheless, it's an absorbing read populated by characters hardly ever found in teen novels.(Science fiction. 12 & up)

2) "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heave" by Sherman Alexie

With wrenching pain and wry humor, the talented Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian--and previously a small-press author (The Business of Fancydancing, a collection of poetry and prose-- not reviewed--etc.)--presents contemporary life on the Spokane Indian Reservation through 22 linked stories. Here, people treat each other (and life) with amused tolerance--although anger can easily erupt in this environment of endemic alcoholism and despair. The history of defeat is ever- present; every attempt to hold onto cultural tradition aches with poignancy: Thomas-Builds-the-Fire is the storyteller everyone mocks and no one listens to; Aunt Nezzy, who sews a traditional full- length beaded dress that turns out to be too heavy to wear, believes that the woman ``who can carry the weight of this dress on her back...will save us all.'' Meanwhile, young men dream of escape--going to college, being a basketball star--but failure seems preordained. These tales, though sad and at times plain- spokenly didactic, are often lyrically beautiful and almost always very funny. Chapters focus on and are narrated by several different characters, but voices and perspectives often become somewhat indistinguishable--confusing until you stop worrying about who is speaking and choose to listen to the voice of the book itself and enter into its particular sensibility. Irony, grim humor, and forgiveness help characters transcend pain, anger and loss while the same qualities make it possible to read Alexie's fiction without succumbing to hopelessness. Forgiveness seems to be the last moral/ethical value left standing: the ability both to judge and to love gives the book its searing yet affectionate honesty.

3) "Ceremony" by Leslie Marmon Silko

The central character of this haunting first novel by a Native American is a young World War II veteran, Tayo, born of a promiscuous Navajo mother and a nameless white father. He has retreated into mental illness from the horrors of the war against the Japanese in the Philippine jungles and is kept for a while in a Veterans hospital where his identity becomes as insubstantial as smoke. Released to his mother's family on a reservation in New Mexico, he is confronted once again with rejection for being part white and for the shame his now dead mother had brought to her kin. The novel traces his efforts to become whole again among a dispossessed people in an arid land where the ex-GIs drink up their disability checks to forget what the whites have taken from them. There are naturalistic scenes of skid row squalor in contrast to scenes of human dignity deriving from the folk traditions of the Navajo, with their deep respect for nature. As the story weaves back and forth between Tayo's past and present, it sometimes blurs a little, and readers may lose their bearings for a moment. But they will be rewarded, if they keep reading, with an emotionally convincing picture of a culture unfamiliar to most.

4) "Winter in the Blood" by James Welch

The narrator lives on a Montana reservation with his outspoken mother Teresa, her new husband Lame Bull, and memories of his father and brother Mose -- the latter killed at fourteen in an automobile accident so meaningless it permeates his life with its own kind of symbolism. He dreams about the woman people thought his wife -- a worthless Cree who stole his gun and an electric razor he couldn't use anyway because there's no electricity in his house. He helps his stepfather with the harvest. When he finally does get to town, a long car and bus ride away, it is to get drunk, walk in and out of strange bedrooms with women whose faces he doesn't remember, get beaten up for no good reason, and to accept drinks from white men whose lies are no more real than his own life. It is a world in which time passes in odd jerks -- the world of a drunk in which minutes stand out with stunning clarity but the days disappear -- all of which he accepts as naturally as the lack of money, discrimination, and the copped-out Indians who accept the governance of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the rigged tribal elections. A laconic, extremely naturalistic dialogue fits oddly well with a prose so spare it emerges on the far side of poetry. A very fine first novel.

5) "Love Medicine" by Louise Erdich

Called a novel, Erdrich's book of powerful stories interlocks the lives of two Chippewa families in North Dakota, the Kashpaws and the Lamartines (though some are Morrisseys too, and Nanapushes)--a tribal chronicle of defeat that ranges from 1934 to the present, Illegitimacy, alcoholism, prison, and aborted dreams of something better mark both clans; and the fluidity of exchange between them is echoed by poet Erdrich's loose, time-shifting approach--an oblique sort of narration that sometimes makes it difficult to remember who's who among the characters. Even when hard to follow, however, this web of stories keeps its theme vividly in focus: the magical haunting that reminds the various generations of the families of their basic identity. And, whether the haunting comes in the form of nightmares or supernatural powers, Erdrich convinces us that these people, sunk as low as imaginable, retain powers, the "love medicine" of the title. (When, astoundingly drunk, Gordie Kashpaw hits a deer on the road with his car, he drags it into the car, onto the backseat; the deer, merely stunned, awakens--and Gordie soon knows that the deer is also his dead ex-wife June, whom he must kill again. "Ears pricked, gravely alert, she gazed into the rearview and met Gordie's eyes. Her look was black and endless and melting pure. She looked through him. She saw into the troubled thrashing woods of him, a rattling thicket of bones. She saw how he'd woven his own crown of thorns. She saw how although he was not worthy he'd jammed this relief on his brow. Her eyes stared into some hidden place but blocked him out. Flat black.") Erdrich fuses mystery and violence, exaltation and deepest despair--so poetically that the rich prose sometimes clots. But, despite flaws and excesses, this is a notable, impressive book of first fiction: the unique evocation of a culture in severe social ruin, yet still aglow with the privilege and power of access to the spirit-world.

County Cat Link

6) "House Made of Dawn" by N. Scott Momaday

To call this first novel ""strongly lyrical"" and ""evocative,"" as the publishers do, though the description is an accurate one, may be to give it the kiss of death. We are probably more willing to admire this kind of ""fine"" naturalist writing (by a young American Indian, a poet and a scholar) than to really enjoy it. It is doubtless this part of the novel, however, including a section on eagle trapping and bear hunting, which drew praise from Yvor Winters as ""one of the great short pieces of prose in English."" The general theme of the book is the disintegration of a young ""longhair"" Indian named Abel who is unwilling and unable to adapt himself to the white man's 'notions of ""civilization."" Momaday's writing, when dealing not only with natural phenomena but with characters, is detailed and explicit (this includes the young man's sexual encounters) and one's sympathies are aroused in a general way but we remain, finally, uninvolved in his tragedy.

7) "Reservation Blues" by Sherman Alexie

With the same brilliant mix of dark humor, sorrow, and cultural awareness that distinguished The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (1993), Alexie's first novel tells the bittersweet story of an all-Indian blues and rock-and-roll band. Thomas Builds-the-Fire is the Spokane Reservation's resident storyteller, but everyone there ignores him. Driving around one day, he happens upon legendary blues singer Robert Johnson, who says he's been drawn to the reservation by recurring dreams of Big Mom, an ancient, mysterious woman who lives in the clouds. Johnson, now claiming that he faked his death in 1938, believes that Big Mom alone can relieve the burden he acquired some 60 years ago when he made his famous deal ``at the crossroads'' with the devil. After Thomas leads Johnson to Big Mom, he inherits the singer's guitar. Touched by its power, he decides to form a blues band, recruiting a guitarist, a drummer, and two backup singers from Spokane and another nearby reservation. Their band, Coyote Springs, soon attracts attention from whites, including New Age groupies Betty and Veronica and Cavalry Records A&R men Sheridan and Wright, who appear to be the reincarnations (or did they ever die?) of notoriously ruthless 19th-century US Cavalry officers. Careening nearly out of control, Alexie's text playfully mixes past and present, fanciful dreams with the harsh reality of a tribe whose traditional livelihood is fishing and who are now stuck on land with dammed-up rivers. His razor wit is at its most poignant when dealing with Indian tradition, hope, and despair as his characters confront white religion and duplicity. All the while, Alexie successfully dances around culture-clash clichÇs in this fresh, vibrant modern fairy tale. Blues as biting, sharp and timeless as any by Robert Johnson or Bessie Smith.