All Hallow’s Picks – Sci-fi

If you’re looking for a good mix of classic and contemporary science fiction to help take advantage of our All Hallow’s Read discount, look no further. These five books are an excellent starting point down the wormhole of some excellent sci-fi.

Foundation (Foundation #1) – Isaac Asimov

For twelve thousand years the Galactic Empire has ruled supreme. Now it is dying. But only Hari Seldon, creator of the revolutionary science of psychohistory, can see into the future — to a dark age of ignorance, barbarism, and warfare that will last thirty thousand years. To preserve knowledge and save mankind, Seldon gathers the best minds in the Empire — both scientists and scholars — and brings them to a bleak planet at the edge of the Galaxy to serve as a beacon of hope for a future generations. He calls his sanctuary the Foundation.

But soon the fledgling Foundation finds itself at the mercy of corrupt warlords rising in the wake of the receding Empire. Mankind’s last best hope is faced with an agonizing choice: submit to the barbarians and be overrun — or fight them and be destroyed.

American War – Omar El Akkad

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, that unmanned drones fill the sky. And when her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she quickly begins to be shaped by her particular time and place until, finally, through the influence of a mysterious functionary, she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. Telling her story is her nephew, Benjamin Chestnut, born during war – part of the Miraculous Generation – now an old man confronting the dark secret of his past, his family’s role in the conflict and, in particular, that of his aunt, a woman who saved his life while destroying untold others.

The Machine – James Smythe

Beth lives alone on a desolate housing estate near the sea. She came here to rebuild her life following her husband’s return from the war. His memories haunted him but a machine promised salvation. It could record memories, preserving a life that existed before the nightmares.

Now the machines are gone. The government declared them too controversial, the side-effects too harmful. But within Beth’s flat is an ever-whirring black box. She knows that memories can be put back, that she can rebuild her husband piece by piece.

Monday Starts on Saturday – Arkadi Strugatski, Boris Strugatski

Sasha, a young computer programmer from Leningrad, is driving north to meet some friends for a nature vacation. He picks up a couple of hitchhikers, who persuade him to take a job at the National Institute for the Technology of Witchcraft and Thaumaturgy.The adventures Sasha has in the largely dysfunctional institute involve all sorts of magical beings–a wish-granting fish, a tree mermaid, a cat who can remember only the beginnings of stories, a dream-interpreting sofa, a motorcycle that can zoom into the imagined future, a lazy dog-sized mosquito–along with a variety of wizards (including Merlin), vampires, and officers.First published in Russia in 1965, Monday Starts on Saturday has become the most popular Strugatsky novel in their homeland. Like the works of Gogol and Kafka, it tackles the nature of institutions–here focusing on one devoted to discovering and perfecting human happiness. By turns wildly imaginative, hilarious, and disturbing, Monday Starts on Saturday is a comic masterpiece by two of the world’s greatest science-fiction writers.

Kindred – Octavia Butler

The first science fiction written by a black woman, Kindred has become a cornerstone of black American literature. This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity. Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.

All Hallow’s Picks – Horror

Itching to take part in our All Hallow’s Read sale but overwhelmed by the sheer number of books you could buy? Don’t worry! We have you covered on our top books to pick up if you’re looking for something spooky to read when the midnight hour is close at hand!

The Strain – Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

A Boeing 777 arrives at JFK and is on its way across the tarmac, when it suddenly stops dead. All window shades are pulled down. All lights are out. All communication channels have gone quiet. Crews on the ground are lost for answers, but an alert goes out to the CDC. Dr. Ephraim “Eph” Goodweather, head of their Canary project, a rapid-response team that investigates biological threats, gets the call and boards the plane. What he finds makes his blood run cold.

In a pawnshop in Spanish Harlem, a former professor and survivor of the Holocaust named Abraham Setrakian knows something is happening. And he knows the time has come, that a war is brewing.

So begins a battle of mammoth proportions as the vampiric virus that has infected New York begins to spill out into the streets. Eph, who is joined by Setrakian and a motley crew of fighters, must now find a way to stop the contagion and save his city – a city that includes his wife and son – before it is too late.

The Boy on the Bridge – M.R. Carey

From the author of USA Today bestseller The Girl With All the Gifts, a terrifying new novel set in the same post-apocalyptic world.

Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy.

The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world.

To where the monsters lived.

House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski

Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd assortment of marginalized youth — musicians, tattoo artists, programmers, strippers, environmentalists, and adrenaline junkies — the book eventually made its way into the hands of older generations, who not only found themselves in those strangely arranged pages but also discovered a way back into the lives of their estranged children.

Now, for the first time, this astonishing novel is made available in book form, complete with the original colored words, vertical footnotes, and newly added second and third appendices.

The story remains unchanged, focusing on a young family that moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane where they discover something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

Of course, neither Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Will Navidson nor his companion Karen Green was prepared to face the consequences of that impossibility, until the day their two little children wandered off and their voices eerily began to return another story — of creature darkness, of an ever-growing abyss behind a closet door, and of that unholy growl which soon enough would tear through their walls and consume all their dreams.

Salem’s Lot – Stephen King

Author Ben Mears returns to ‘Salem’s Lot to write a book about a house that has haunted him since childhood only to find his isolated hometown infested with vampires. While the vampires claim more victims, Mears convinces a small group of believers to combat the undead.

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories – H.P. Lovecraft

Collecting uniquely uncanny tales from the master of American horror, H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories is edited with an introduction and notes by S.T. Joshi in Penguin Modern Classics.Credited with inventing the modern horror tradition, H.P. Lovecraft remade the genre in the early twentieth century. Discarding ghosts and witches, and instead envisaging mankind at the mercy of a chaotic and malevolent universe, Lovecraft’s unique works would prove to be a huge influence on modern horror writers such as Stephen King. This selection of short stories ranges from early tales of nightmares and insanity such as ‘The Outsider’ and ‘The Rats in the Walls’ through the grotesquely comic ‘Herbert West – Reanimator’ and ‘The Hound’, to the extraterrestrial terror of ‘The Call of Cthulhu’, which fuses traditional supernaturalism with science fiction. Including the definitive corrected texts, this collection reveals the development of Lovecraft’s mesmerising narrative style and establishes him as a hugely influential – and visionary – American writer.

Borne (Review)

A despotic flying bear ruling over the decrepit remains of a city. A shape-shifting creature of unknown origin that can have multiple eyes; flatten itself along walls and picks up ideas and language like a toddler growing up in a hyper fast time lapse. Added to the mix is a scavenger named Rachel who ventures out into the city to bring back scraps of food and biotech to her lover and survival partner Wick to create material that can help fortify and hide their home, the Balcony Cliffs, from all around them. Their enemies include the flying bear Mord, the forces of the mysterious Magician who controls parts of the city, and other scavengers. To say that the city is unforgiving and difficult to live in would be an understatement. Rachel and Wick live in a constant state of alert and with good reason; one wrong move and any one of their enemies could attack.

Mord is the creation of The Company, a sprawling business that created new species and creatures out of biotech and released them into the city to see how they would fare. Mord was The Company’s biggest project, and its biggest failure. As it lost control over the giant bear after granting it the power of flight, The Company fell into disarray and its employees scattered or eventually became Mord’s lunch. Wick was one such former employee but refuses to share what he did at The Company with Rachel, straining their relationship as she occasionally snoops in his room for answers.

Against this backdrop of uneasy alliances, constant threats, and secrets, enters the titular character: Borne. Rachel originally finds Borne “clinging to Mord’s fur like a half-closed sea anemone” emitting a smell of a wave, the brine in the air causing her to think that were no “mutilated, burned bodies dangling from broken streetlamps” around her. Intrigued by the find she brings it home and refuses to let Wick break it down into parts that he could use to build more biotech. Borne quickly becomes more than salvage to Rachel; establishing himself as a creature of untold intelligence and possibility. When he reveals he can talk Rachel takes it upon herself to teach him as much as she knows, kicking off a strange mother-creature relationship that becomes the book’s main focal point. As she becomes increasingly attached to Borne, her relationship with Wick, who looks upon the new member of their family with suspicion, grows strained as they continue to work together to make Balcony Cliffs safe from the outside world.

After having devoured VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy where Annihilation lured me into the mystery of Area X, I was expecting a similar sort of dense narrative to wade through. Where the Southern Reach explored the relationship between the natural world and humans, an alien form of nature establishing a pristine unlived area where a coastal town once used to be, Borne grounds itself in its gritty urban setting where nature has been altered and mutilated by humanity’s unthinking and unabashed tinkering with it. Despite the terrible conditions the characters find themselves in, Borne is ultimately a book about triumphing over one’s own demons, what it means to be a family, and hope.

Borne, amorphous and inquisitive, endears himself to the reader with his child-like behaviour and constant questioning. Borne is, for a lack of a better term, a new born, and his views on the city breathe fresh life into Rachel’s stale and bleak outlook. In a memorable moment she takes Borne to the balcony of their home and shows him the city with its crumbling buildings and polluted river below. Gazing at the river Borne declares it “beautiful” and Rachel begins looking at it from a new perspective. As Rachel’s bond with Borne deepens, her desire to protect him from the horrors of the world clash with reality as the impossibility of that desire is constantly reinforced by attacks from feral Mord proxies and genetically altered children.

Featured on many summer reading lists by publications such as The Washington Post and receiving rave reviews from The New York Times and The Guardian, Borne is a testament to VanderMeer’s inventiveness and above all his ability to write realistic scenes of human interaction (even if that interaction is with a sentient glob) making it an incredibly emotional and evocative narrative, establishing VanderMeer as an expert in world building and writing.

In Borne there will be a final battle, secrets about The Company will be revealed and more importantly, secrets about Rachel’s own life, making it ideal summer reading; a fantastic adventure story that is incredibly inventive and incredibly human in its outlook.

Rohama Malik

Rohama Malik

The Power (Review)

The cover attracted me as soon as we unpacked it, bright red with a hand-drawn black hand and silver vein-like tendrils tracing its outline. It seemed to embody Margaret Atwood’s declaration of “Electrifying!” and “Shocking!”

Shortlisted for the Bailey-Gifford Prize, the title refers to teenage girls suddenly finding themselves imbued with a strange electrical power they are unable to control that electrocutes those around them. The girls can awaken this power in older women, establishing the first hint of global sisterhood that other characters will eventually espouse. As each woman tests her limits they begin banding together, inciting mass rebellions in Riyadh and Delhi, breaking free from human trafficking and, in some cases, becoming rulers of entire countries, each woman fending for herself at times in extremely violent ways. The story follows four central characters: Allie, an abused foster child in America who reinvents herself as a religious figure named Mother Eve; Roxy, a powerful daughter of a London crime family; Margot, an ambitious American politician; and Tunde, a Nigerian journalist who was one of the first people to observe the power and made a name for himself as being one of the few men involved in these women-centric upheavals.

The world occupied by these characters is one that is incredibly similar to ours, the girls’ electrocution powers are at first the only difference present. However, as women worldwide begin to hone their skills, men become increasingly irate about the changing status quo, forming their own guerrilla groups aimed at protecting men from the tyranny of women (employing rhetoric not unlike the Men’s Rights Activists one finds on the internet today). A porn industry evolves around the use of the power while drugs are developed to enhance it. Men are advised not to wander alone at night or without a female guardian- a sentiment which evoked much schadenfreude as I read. To see real-life limitations on women turned on their head and applied to men underscores the ridiculous emphasis placed on what one must do to protect oneself from members of the opposite sex. As the book progresses men are deemed too emotional for their own good and unable to take care of themselves, and women begin to assert themselves as the ones to deal with directly.

A clever framing device in the novel shows the ‘present’ as an actual post-apocalyptic future where female superiority is unquestioned. A male author writing the story of Allie and company breaks the fourth wall to seek guidance from ‘Naomi Alderman’, his friend and celebrated author. Naomi guides him on how to make his book more palatable for what will be his predominantly female readership, supplying him with friendly advice that is again reminiscent of what women today hear.

Alderman’s work comprises of women from all walks of life, without coming across contrived. This is no small feat as the book subverts every conceivable gender norm, rewrites history, and reinvents the world as we know it in one of the most effortless ways I have seen in a while. The novel thus becomes historically and geographically global as the characters, fictional and real travel to countries, which are enchantingly depicted.

The Power is a roller coaster of a book. Some parts had me punching the air in triumph while at others my chest constricted so much that I was ready to yell at anyone who interrupted my reading. The last time this happened, I was eleven and Lyra was about to be severed from Pan in The Golden Compass.

This book bears the mark of all excellent speculative fiction by making you question everything about the world you live in, irrespective of your gender. Asking fundamental questions of what it means when a marginalized group is suddenly endowed with a mysterious power and what one would do in that situation, The Power is a book I would highly recommend to anyone and everyone looking for an excellent dystopia novel that shatters everything you think you know.

Rohama Malik

Rohama Malik