What Should We Read Next – The Finalists, For Your Consideration

Thanks to everyone who suggested a book (or several…) for our next 6 months of meetings and discussions!  I have gathered all of the suggestions here, arranged in alphabetical order (by author), along with the description of each book submitted by the person who suggested it.  If you have attended one of our meetings, and given me your email address, you will also be receiving a copy of this list at your email address, along with a link to a poll, where you can vote for your favorites (up to 6 books).  If you did not receive an email from me, or if you have not yet participated in our group but would like to do so, send me an email at LNEAL@cityofevanston.org, and I will send you the link to participate in the poll.   Vote before our next meeting (August 5), where I will reveal the results!

Without further ado, here are the nominees:

Midnight Riot, by Ben Aaronovitch (2011)

This is a genre-bender, mixing a twist on the classic English fantasy novel with a British police procedural.  Think Harry Dresden in London, or perhaps Harry Potter all grown up in the very gritty real world, but with more relatable characters, and writing that manages to be hilariously and effortlessly funny.  Probationary Constable Peter Grant was born and raised in a council estate to a mixed-race family, and dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.

The Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi (2015)

“The American Southwest has been decimated by drought. Nevada and Arizona skirmish over dwindling shares of the Colorado River, while California watches, deciding if it should just take the whole river all for itself. Into the fray steps Las Vegas water knife Angel Velasquez. Detective, assassin, and spy, Angel “cuts” water for the Southern Nevada Water Authority and its boss, Catherine Case, ensuring that her lush, luxurious arcology developments can bloom in the desert and that anyone who challenges her is left in the gutted-suburban dust.

When rumors of a game-changing water source surface in Phoenix, Angel is sent to investigate. With a wallet full of identities and a tricked-out Tesla, Angel arrows south, hunting for answers that seem to evaporate as the heat index soars and the landscape becomes more and more oppressive. There, Angel encounters Lucy Monroe, a hardened journalist, who knows far more about Phoenix’s water secrets than she admits, and Maria Villarosa, a young Texas migrant, who dreams of escaping north to those places where water still falls from the sky.  With bodies piling up, bullets flying, and Phoenix teetering on collapse, it seems like California is making a power play to monopolize the life-giving flow of a river. For Angel, Lucy, and Maria, time is running out and their only hope for survival rests in each other’s hands. But when water is more valuable than gold, alliances shift like sand, and the only thing for certain is that someone will have to bleed if anyone hopes to drink.”

Consider Phlebas, by Iain Banks (1988)

There’s really no better way to start with The Culture than where Banks himself began. His first published sci-fi novel, Consider Phlebas establishes almost every one of the common elements that could be found in future Culture books, from Special Circumstances to Minds. The plot follows Horza, a shapeshifter who is tasked with tracking down a Mind on a planet off-limits to most. Along the way he encounters cannibals, crashed shuttles and misguided allies, all while evading Special Circumstances.

The Curse of Chalion, by Lois McMaster Bujold (2000)

A beautifully written fantasy book, with understated magic, intriguing religion, quiet romance, a physically infirm hero, and Bujold’s touches of humor throughout.  A man broken in body and spirit, Cazaril, has returned to the noble household he once served as page, and is named, to his great surprise, as the secretary-tutor to the beautiful, strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is next in line to rule.  It is an assignment Cazaril dreads, for it will ultimately lead him to the place he fears most, the royal court of Cardegoss, where powerful enemies, who once placed him in chains, now occupy lofty positions. In addition to the traitorous intrigues of villains, Cazaril and the Royesse Iselle are faced with a sinister curse that hangs like a sword over the entire blighted House of Chalion and all who stand in their circle. Only by employing the darkest, most forbidden of magics, can Cazaril hope to protect his royal charge—an act that will mark the loyal, damaged servant as a tool of the miraculous, and trap him, flesh and soul, in a maze of demonic paradox, damnation, and death.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011)

A sci-fi book set in a dystopian future, where humanity has basically retreated to a virtual reality version of the internet (OASIS). The main character embarks on a quest (that involves a lot of 80s references) to win control of OASIS, racing other questers and corporations.  I thought it was really fun to read and has so many things to talk about, particularly with all the recent interest in net neutrality.

Babel-17, by Samuel Delaney (1966)  

Winner of the Nebula Award for best novel of the year,  Babel-17 is all about the power of language. Humanity, which has spread throughout the universe, is involved in a war with the Invaders, who have been covertly assassinating officials and sabotaging spaceships. The only clues humanity has to go on are strange alien messages that have been intercepted in space. Poet and linguist Rydra Wong is determined to understand the language and stop the alien threat.

The Difference Engine, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (1992)

1855: The Industrial Revolution is in full and inexorable swing, powered by steam-driven cybernetic Engines. Charles Babbage perfects his Analytical Engine and the computer age arrives a century ahead of its time. And three extraordinary characters race toward a rendezvous with history – and the future: Sybil Gerard – dishonored woman and daughter of a Luddite agitator; Edward “Leviathan” Mallory – explorer and paleontologist;Laurence Oliphant – diplomat and spy. Their adventure begins with the discovery of a box of punched Engine cards of unknown origin and purpose. Cards someone wants badly enough to kill for…  Part detective story, part historical thriller, The Difference Engine is the first collaborative novel by two of the most brilliant and controversial science fiction authors of our time. Provocative, compelling, intensely imagined, it is a startling extension of Gibson’s and Sterling’s unique visions – in a new and totally unexpected direction!

The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch (2006)

Recommended for fans of classic adventure stories – the description makes comparisons to Robin Hood or Oceans Eleven, but the story I was most reminded of was The Count of Monte Cristo, in a constantly evolving, slow-reveal fantasy setting.  An orphan’s life is harsh — and often short — in the island city of Camorr, built on the ruins of a mysterious alien race. But born with a quick wit and a gift for thieving, Locke Lamora has dodged both death and slavery, only to fall into the hands of an eyeless priest known as Chains — a man who is neither blind nor a priest.

A con artist of extraordinary talent, Chains passes his skills on to his carefully selected “family” of orphans — a group known as the Gentlemen Bastards. Under his tutelage, Locke grows to lead the Bastards, delightedly pulling off one outrageous confidence game after another. Soon he is infamous as the Thorn of Camorr, and no wealthy noble is safe from his sting.  Passing themselves off as petty thieves, the brilliant Locke and his tightly knit band of light-fingered brothers have fooled even the criminal underworld’s most feared ruler, Capa Barsavi. But there is someone in the shadows more powerful — and more ambitious — than Locke has yet imagined.  Known as the Gray King, he is slowly killing Capa Barsavi’s most trusted men — and using Locke as a pawn in his plot to take control of Camorr’s underworld. With a bloody coup under way threatening to destroy everyone and everything that holds meaning in his mercenary life, Locke vows to beat the Gray King at his own brutal game — or die trying…

Uprooted, by Naomi Novik (2015)

Novik is best known for her alternate-history Temeraire books, which imagine the Napoleonic Wars…but with dragons.  This (so far) standalone book is different, based in the Polish folklore Novik learned from her family.  It’s beautifully written, and kept surprising me all the way through.  As you read the description – a girl who lives in a village at the edge of a malevolent and sentient forest, held back by the power of a magician who takes a girl from the village every ten years – you will think, “I know where this is going; I’ve read it a thousand times before…” – trust me, you don’t, and you haven’t.  The heroine, Agnieszka, starts the book by explaining that “Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”  

Boneshaker,  by Cherie Priest (2009)  

Boneshaker was nominated for both the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award; it was a PNBA Award winner, and winner of the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. From Publishers Weekly: “Starred Review. Maternal love faces formidable challenges in this stellar steampunk tale. In an alternate 1880s America, mad inventor Leviticus Blue is blamed for destroying Civil War–era Seattle. When Zeke Wilkes, Blue’s son, goes into the walled wreck of a city to clear his father’s name, Zeke’s mother, Briar Wilkes, follows him in an airship, determined to rescue her son from the toxic gas that turns people into zombies (called rotters and described in gut-churning detail). When Briar learns that Seattle still has a mad inventor, Dr. Minnericht, who eerily resembles her dead husband, a simple rescue quickly turns into a thrilling race to save Zeke from the man who may be his father. Intelligent, exceptionally well written and showcasing a phenomenal strong female protagonist who embodies the complexities inherent in motherhood, this yarn is a must-read for the discerning steampunk fan.”

Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson (1992)

An example of cyberpunk. From Amazon: “One of Time magazine’s 100 all-time best English-language novels…weaving virtual reality, Sumerian myth, and just about everything in between with a cool, hip cybersensibility to bring us the gigathriller of the information age.  In reality, Hiro Protagonist delivers pizza for Uncle Enzo’s CosoNostra Pizza Inc., but in the Metaverse he’s a warrior prince. Plunging headlong into the enigma of a new computer virus that’s striking down hackers everywhere, he races along the neon-lit streets on a search-and-destroy mission for the shadowy virtual villain threatening to bring about infocalypse. Snow Crash is a mind-altering romp through a future America so bizarre, so outrageous…you’ll recognize it immediately.”

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