Ghost in the Shell

Vast information networks, artificial intelligence, and cybernetics applied to the human body are the wave of the near-future in Masamune Shirow’s sci-fi thriller, Ghost in the Shell. Major Kusanagi, an operative of Section 9, must follow the trail of the Puppet Master, a mysterious hacker who can even access the human mind and manipulate memories. What Kusanagi doesn’t know is that the Puppet Master has been looking for her as well.

The film version of Ghost in the Shell received high critical praise upon its release in 1996 and has strongly influenced the genres of anime and science fiction. Empire magazine placed it at #92 on its list, The 100 Best Films of World Cinema.

Masamune Shirow also created the popular graphic novel series Appleseed. If you like futuristic manga involving cyborgs and existentialism, Masamune Shirow is the author for you!

Author Birthdays: Ford, Banks, Ellis

February 16th marks the birthday of authors Richard Ford, Iain Banks, and Warren Ellis.

Richard Ford is an American writer. He won the Pulitzer and the PEN/Faulkner Award for the sequel Independence Day, which is the second in a trilogy of books featuring the character Frank Bascombe, also seen in The Sportswriter and The Lay of the Land.

Ford's first novel was A Piece of My Heart, a "story of two godless pilgrims" which turns violent. His first collection of short stories, Rock Springs, is described by Booklist as having "characters so put upon by life that resorting to desperate acts even murder is totally within the realm of possibility".

Iain Banks is a Scottish author. If you see a book written by Iain M. Banks, that's also him, but specifically in the sci-fi genre. He was named one of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945" by the New York Times.

Banks's newest novel is one of those M. sci-fi ones, called Surface Detail. Part of the "Culture novels", it continues the line of stories of the Culture, an interstellar society that is both socialist and utopian. If you're not interested in sci-fi, his 2009 Transition, a historical fiction novel (perhaps erroneously published under the name Iain M. Banks), might be more your style.

Warren Ellis is an English writer of mostly graphic novels, though his Crooked Little Vein is a mystery (non-graphic) novel. One of his works, Red, you may recognize, since it was recently made into a film starring Bruce Willis.

Among Ellis's other many graphic novels is the series Fell, which is extremely interesting in its layout. Ellis created the graphic novel so that it would be cheap to buy--$1.99, actually--by using more panels per page to create less pages.

The Future of Gender

Futuristic Man 2Futuristic Man 2 What would the world be like if 90% of its population was gay instead of straight? How would an all-female society interact with mixed gender societies? What would aliens think about human sexuality if they could study us? Science Fiction has always been used as a tool to observe how we live and interact as people. The following books explore the weird, wide world of gender and sexuality, and what odd permutations of the human equation we may have to look forward to in the future.

Herland – Three men exploring what was thought to be wilderness discover an advanced society made up entirely of women.

The Forever War – A time-travelling soldier witnesses humanity’s evolution away from heterosexuality and towards a more peaceful clone-based society.

Woman on the Edge of Time – One woman realizes that her actions will determine whether the future is a utopia of equality and community, or a nightmare of sexism, classism, exploitation and poverty.

China Mountain Zhang – Award winning novel about the growth and changes in one man’s life, mirrored by the changes in a future where China is the world’s foremost superpower.

The Wanting Seed – War, cannibalism, persecution of heterosexuals. This is the solution to world overpopulation, apparently. Needless to say, this book is controversial.

Hero – The gay son of a former superhero finds himself forced to use his own superpowers to protect the same society that persecutes him.

Trouble and her Friends – Fans of Neal Stephenson should check this out. Think cyberpunk with a butt-kicking lesbian protagonist.

Author Birthdays: Grey, Oe, Morrison

January 31st marks the birthday of authors Zane Grey, Kenzaburo Oe, and Grant Morrison.

Zane Grey was an American author who wrote primarily westerns; his most famous was probably Riders of the Purple Sage. Many of his books were turned into movies, including Fighting Caravans (starring Gary Cooper) and The Thundering Herd (with Harry Carey).

Grey's westerns also include Betty Zane, which was inspired by his great-great-grandmother of the same name and was his first novel, and The Great Trek: A Frontier Story, which was inspired by Grey's deep-sea fishing trip to Australia in 1935.

Kenzaburo Oe is a Japanese writer and Noble Prize winner. His first novel was Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids, which Booklist called a "bleaker and more pessimistic" Lord of the Flies.

Oe's books are almost all influential. A Personal Matter is a semi-autobiographical story that touches on the subject of his son's brain hernia; also semi-autobiographical is The Changeling, which includes a fictionalization of the suicide of Oe's brother-in-law.

Grant Morrison is a Scottish comic writer and adult graphic novelist. He has done quite a few issues of Batman and Robin graphic novels, as well as many other superhero works with DC Comics.

Morrison's other works include the graphic novel series WE3, which is about three household pets turned deadly cyborgs, and Sebastian O, the steampunk story of an alternate Victorian London and the assassin Sebastian.

2011 Best in Genre Fiction - American Library Association Reading List Council Awards

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The Reading List annually recognizes the best books in eight genres: adrenaline (including suspense, thriller and adventure), fantasy, historical fiction, horror, mystery, romance, science fiction and women’s fiction. This year’s list includes novels that will please die-hard fans, as well as introduce new readers to the pleasures of genre fiction - and what pleases me most is to see many debut novels among the winners and on the shortlists.

Adrenaline
The Nearest Exit by Olen Steinhauer

Fantasy
Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

Historical Fiction
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

Horror
The Dead Path by Stephen M. Irwin

Mystery
Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

Romance
A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh

Science Fiction
The Dervish House by IIan McDonald

Women’s Fiction
Solomon’s Oak by Jo-Ann Mapson

Author Birthdays: Franklin, Asimov, Michaels

January 2nd marks the birthday of authors John Hope Franklin, Isaac Asimov, and Leonard Michaels.

John Hope Franklin was an American historian who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His best known work is From Slavery to Freedom, which is often regarded as the definitive history of African-Americans, outlines African origins, slavery, and the fight for freedom.

Franklin's other works include Runaway Slaves: Rebels On The Plantation, a book about the resistance and escape of African-American slaves, and an autobiography which Library Journal described as "worth knowing and understanding because at its heart it is a particularly American story about the challenges of being black in this country, about personal triumphs, and about his feeling of urgency regarding the promises America has yet to realize."

Isaac Asimov is best known as a Russian-American science-fiction writer. Among his books, he is probably most widely recognized for his series, especially the Foundation series, which actually includes dozens of stories, one of them being the basis for the film I, Robot.

Asimov's many, many--and I mean many--other works include the two award-winners The Gods Themselves and The Bicentennial Man. There is also Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, which first came out in 1977, named for Asimov because of his huge standing in the science-fiction genre.

Leonard Michaels was an American writer of short stories, novels, and essays, who graduated with his Master's and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. One of his novels, Sylvia, is based upon his first wife, who committed suicide.

Michaels also wrote some autobiographical fiction collected in the book Shuffle. Publishers Weekly discusses it as "Created in fragments of journal entries, short stories and memoir-like confessions, a matrix of past and present formations is slowly brought into focus; thus, a life."

Author Birthdays: Fry, Bester, Moorcock

December 18th marks the birthday of authors Christopher Fry, Alfred Bester, and Michael Moorcock.

Christopher Fry was an English playwright, best known for the romantic comedy "The Lady's Not for Burning", which resembles Shakespeare's comedies, but contains a sense of post-WWII sentiments. It is considered the "spring" play out of his seasonal series, which also includes autumn "Venus Observed", winter "The Dark is Light Enough", and summer "A Yard of Sun".

Fry also wrote the plays "The Boy with a Cart" (a celebration of Saint Cuthman of Steyning) and "A Phoenix Too Frequent" (a comedy based on Petronius's tale of the Ephesian widow).

Alfred Bester was an American science fiction writer and winner of the FIRST Hugo Award for his book The Demolished Man, set in a futuristic world filled with telepathy; it is often called a precursor to the cyberpunk subgenre.

Bester's other works include the novels Psycho Shop, written in conjunction with fellow sci-fi writer Roger Zelazny, and The Stars My Destination, an adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. He also wrote quite a few short stories, collected in titles like Virtual Unrealities.

Michael Moorcock is an English science fiction and fantasy and literary writer, and winner of about 15 awards. Among those, I will mention the Nebula Award for Behold the Man and the World Fantasy Award for Gloriana.

Many of Moorcock's series and standalone novels are in a similar world/universe grouping known as The Eternal Champion. Among these are works like The Jewel in the Skull of the Hawkmoon series and Elric: The Stealer of Souls, which is a collection of (some of the) stories with the character Elric.

Author Birthdays: Pohl, Schulz, Robinson

November 26th marks the birthday of authors Frederik Pohl, Charles Schulz, and Marilynne Robinson.

Frederik Pohl is a 90-year-old American science fiction writer and National Book Award, Hugo Award, and Nebula Award winner. His book Jem won the National Book Award in 1980, Man Plus and Gateway both won the Nebula Award in 1976 and 1977 respectively, and Gateway also won the Hugo Award in 1978.

Pohl has written 7 series and at least 30 other novels, over 20 collections, as well as an autobiography and some non-fiction works. One of the stand-alone novels is The Coming of the Quantum Cats, which includes Nancy Reagan as President of the United States and an escapee Stalin who found his refuge in America. His latest work, the finishing of a novel started by Arthur C. Clarke, is called The Last Theorem.

Charles Schulz was an American cartoonist, best known for the comic strip and cartoon Peanuts and its characters, though his first cartoon was actually one called Li'l Folks. His honors are probably a bit more prestigious than most authors': the Congressional Gold Medal, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and even being the Grand Marshal of the Rose Parade.

Schulz has one "autobiography", and had many biographies written about him, including Sparky: The Life And Art Of Charles Schulz and Schulz And Peanuts: A Biography.

Marilynne Robinson is a five-time award-winning American writer. Housekeeping won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award; Gilead won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Ambassador Book Award; and Home, a companion to Gilead, won the Orange Prize for Fiction.

Robinson's newest book is a non-fiction work entitled Absence Of Mind: The Dispelling Of Inwardness From The Modern Myth Of The Self. The book consists of lectures given at Yale University about science, religion, and consciousness.

Author Birthdays: Atwood, Foster, Moore

November 18th marks the birthday of authors Margaret Atwood, Alan Dean Foster, and Alan Moore.

Margaret Atwood is a Canadian writer who has won many literary awards, including the Arthur C. Clarke Award for The Handmaid's Tale and the Booker Prize for The Blind Assassin. She has also published novels like The Penelopiad, a reworking of Homer's Odyssey that focuses on Penelope, and The Tent, a collection of short stories and line drawings.

Atwood has also written many books of poetry. Among them are The Door, published in 2007 and discussing the topic of old age, and True Stories, which is dedicated to fellow poet Carolyn Forché and focuses on the subject of human rights.

Alan Dean Foster is an American sci-fi and fantasy writer. Among his numerous series are Flinx and the Commonwealth, Dinotopia, Spellsinger, and The Taken Trilogy.

Singular novels by Foster include Quozl, a tale of alien "invasion", which Booklist has called "entertaining and even comic at times without being frivolous", and Parallelities, a story of parallel worlds in which the main character, Max, finds himself many times over.

Alan Moore is an English writer and popular adult graphic novelist. His most popular works would probably be the graphic novels Watchmen and V for Vendetta, both of which were made into films. He has won many awards for his works, including the Jack Kirby Award, the Eagle Award, and the Harvey Award.

Moore has also written many other adult graphic novels. From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, like Watchmen, were turned into films as well. The Ballad of Halo Jones, categorized as a "feminist space opera", tells the story of Halo Jones and her need to escape her boring, futuristic world. Promethea, another one set around a superheroine, has been noted to be "awash in references to mythology, literature, religion, and arcania".

Author Birthdays: Crichton, Korman, Burroughs

October 23rd marks the birthday of authors Michael Crichton, Gordon Korman, and Augusten Burroughs.

Michael Crichton was an American author and screenwriter, probably most famous for Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain, both of which were novels turned into movies. Among his lesser known--but critically praised--works is A Case of Need, his debut and award-winning mystery novel.

Crichton's final work, published the year after his death, is Pirate Latitudes. As you might guess from the title, it's about a 17th-century Caribbean pirate trying to take a Spanish galleon.

Gordon Korman is a 47-year-old Canadian children's and young adult author. He won the Air Canada Award for promising authors in Canada when he was only 16. He also has many ALA recognitions for his young adult novels.

Korman has written many youth series, including the Everest, Island, and Dive series. He also wrote the second book in the 39 Clues series, One False Note.

Augusten Burroughs is an American writer, best known for his novel Running with Scissors. The story was intended by Burroughs to be a "memoir" of a family, which he later had to call a "book", since the family it was based on sued. The story was made into a film in 2006.

Burroughs' latest work was published last year. Called You Better Not Cry: Stories For Christmas, it's a set of short autobiographical stories relating to the holidays.

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