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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.

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

The Girls (Review)

The Girls by Emma Cline deviously bases itself on a set of murders that have defined the genre of true crime. The Manson family have occupied us with morbid fascination for up to five decades; every macabre detail has been combed over and repackaged for our ready consumption. But The Girls is not a story about the gore- although it does intersperse the novel out of necessity- it’s a story about the dichotomies that shook America through the murders. The pure evil that found space to blossom during the summer of love, the pretty young things capable of gruesome executions, the untouchable celebrities decimated at the hands of the ordinary, the young innocent minds willing to do the unthinkable.

The Girls is told from the perspective of young, neglected Evie whose angst ridden relationships with her divorced parents accompanied by a sense of adolescent isolation predisposes her to the young women in the novel’s Manson-esque cult.

Attracted to their sexual confidence, fifteen years old Evie strikes up a bond with Suzanna, and slowly begins to mimic her mannerism and dress. Eager for love, escape, and adventure Evie unquestioningly inhales, snorts and drinks her way to acceptance, willingly oblivious to the impending evil.

The Girls is ultimately a tender story of girlhood, how fragile yet clumsy attempts at adulthood are frustrated by boys, parents and men who fear or wish to possess a girl’s burgeoning sexuality. Evie battles the ennui of a middleclass existence through petty crimes committed against her neighbours, and other small infractions lead by Suzanna. Imbued with a sense of exceptionalism by cult leader Russell, Evie begins to overlook the violations to her being, attributing it to an education and the promise of a higher state.

In recognising the subtle manipulations of Evie and her crippling adolescent insecurity, it’s difficult for the reader to question her choices. Rather you find yourself empathising with her as you’re flooded with memories of your own adolescence. My heart ached as the child’s innocence was cruelly stripped away leaving a deeply troubled adult, incapable of believing in herself. Cline’s greatest achievement is how intricately she captured the human condition, leaving- as the blurbs suggest- many celebrated authors enthralled by her talent.

This is a beautiful, poignant novel that will not just transport you to California during the summer of love, but it will place you very firmly in the shoes of Evie for an exhilarating and intense experience you never thought you would understand.

Aysha Raja

Aysha Raja