Author Birthdays: Niven, Dillard, Boyne

April 30th marks the birthday of authors Larry Niven, Annie Dillard, and John Boyne.

Larry Niven is an American author of science fiction. He is probably most well known for Ringworld, a winner of many literary awards, which has three sequels and a few prequels.

Niven's latest works include Stars and Gods, a collection of short stories and pieces of non-fiction, Betrayer of Worlds, a prelude to Ringworld, and The Best of Larry Niven, a collection of short stories with the author's explanations for them.

Annie Dillard is an American writer and former contributing editor of Harper's magazine. Her most well known work is The Maytrees, a story of "loving and longing", which was named one of the Top 10 Best Books of 2007 by the New York Times Book Review.

Dillard won the Pulitzer Prize for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, a book about religion and philosophy in the style of a journal. She also has written a book of found poems called Mornings Like This.

John Boyne is an Irish author; you may have heard of his novel The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, which was also made into a film. His forthcoming novel is called The Absolutist, set to come out in the UK in May.

Boyne's other books include The Thief of Time, a mixture of historical fiction and fantasy about a boy born in the 18th century who doesn't age, and Crippen, a mystery set in the early 20th century.

Machine of Death

If you could find out what the manner of your death will be, would you want to know? Keep in mind that it will be vaguely summarized in one or two words. You might be told your cause of death is “fishing” and then die of food poisoning from a tuna sandwich. Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die is a collection of short stories describing the variety of human experiences in the wake of this knowledge.

The machine of death is accessible to all cultures. After the majority of people use it, the force of the global reaction begins to alter societies. Social groups define themselves by death, and it affects industries and the job market. The results of the machine can give clues about the future. Even the population count is affected as people lose interest in planning lives they know will end. Those who refuse to know how they will die are outcasts from a world newly-obsessed with death.

Each story in the collection is full of twists and turns to keep the reader involved and on alert. Because even when you know how a story will end, what happens before that point can constantly surprise you. Edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bernardo, and David Malki, Machine of Death is a fast-moving, multi-faceted, fun exploration of how western society reacts to life and death.

Author Birthdays: Hersh, Kingsolver, Okorafor-Mbachu

April 8th marks the birthday of authors Seymour Hersh, Barbara Kingsolver, and Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu.

Seymour Hersh is an American award-winning journalist and author. Many of his articles were written for The New Yorker. He won a Pulitzer in journalism for his writing on the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War.

Hersh's books include a biography of JFK, called The Dark Side of Camelot, which portrays the late president as reckless, and was very controversial after its publication. He also wrote Chain Of Command: The Road From 9/11 To Abu Ghraib, which discusses topics like the torture and mistreatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib.

Barbara Kingsolver is a multi-award-winning American author, whose latest novel was the popular The Lacuna, which won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2010.

Kingsolver's best known work might be The Poisonwood Bible, which is about a missionary family who moves to the Belgian Congo in the mid-20th century. Her most interesting book, in my opinion, might be her non-fiction book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year Of Food Life, which outlines Kingsolver and her family as they attempt to eat solely locally-grown food for one year.

Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu is a Nigerian-American fantasy writer. Her newest book, Who Fears Death, was nominated for the Nebula Award in 2010.

Okorafor-Mbachu has written some young adult novels, which may be of interest to many teens in world literature classes who are looking for something a bit more modern than the classics. Her novel The Shadow Speaker is set in a futuristic West Africa and relays the tale of a girl with magical powers who is seeking vengeance.

Author Birthdays: Trelease, Robinson, Cullin

March 23rd marks the birthday of authors Jim Trelease, Kim Stanley Robinson, Mitch Cullin.

Jim Trelease is an American artist, writer and educator. His The Read-Aloud Handbook, according to his website, "was the inspiration for PBS's 'Storytime' series". It emphasizes the importance of reading aloud to children, and has been used by both parents and educators.

Trelease also published a collection of stories which he thinks are perfect to read aloud. It includes many classics, as well as some inspirational stories, like "I have a dream: the story of Martin Luther King, Jr" by Margaret Davidson.

Kim Stanley Robinson is an American science fiction writer. His Mars Trilogy has won Hugo and Nebula Awards. The trilogy focuses on a world in which Mars is a colony (by 2027, no less).

In 2009, Robinson published Galileo's Dream, in which Galileo travels to the future and finds himself caught up in political struggles on one of Jupiter's moons.

Mitch Cullin is an American writer of both novels and short stories. His collection of short stories is called From The Place In The Valley Deep In The Forest, and, as explained in a Booklist review, while the stories' topics are not fictional, "Cullin completely avoids making essays of his stories by focusing on vividly realized characters caught in the middle of those circumstances".

Cullin's A Slight Trick Of The Mind is a story of Sherlock Holmes in his old age, his memory failing. The cover is a tribute to Holmes' love of beekeeping in the novel.

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."

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