Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton
A beautiful book about isolation and connectedness at what may be the end of the world. Astronomer Augustine, in his seventies, is the last scientist left at an observatory on Ellesemere Island, in the Canadian high arctic. It’s midnight all the time in the Arctic winter, but that also makes for spectacular views of the Northern Lights. After a rumor of war, when the other scientists were evacuated, he finds young Iris hiding in the observatory. Augustine has always put his career first and his relationships with his colleagues and family a distant second, so it’s a big adjustment to relate to the mostly silent girl. Together, they wait for spring and sunrise to arrive, and then journey to a well-stocked camp at Lake Hazen. During the long arctic nights and later the long summer days, Augustine scans the radio bands, looking to connect with someone, anyone else. Eventually he hears the voice of Sully, an astronaut in the spaceship Aether, on the way home from a voyage to Jupiter and its moons. Sully has also put her family second in her quest for the stars, and she and her shipmates are haunted by the continued radio silence from Mission Control. Augustine has two bouts with fever, and suffers from arthritis. He worries about what will happen to Iris, but doesn’t seem that interested in the rest of the world, unlike the crew on Aether, anxious about what they will find as they approach earth, and how to live in a world gone dark and quiet. This is one of those novels likely to stay with the reader well after the book is finished, with vividly drawn settings, complex characters, and thought-provoking scenarios. Readalikes include Station Eleven by Hilary St. John Mandel, and The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey, although these two books are very different from each other.
Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
The author of the dystopian trilogy The Last Policeman takes a different approach to contemporary fiction: alternate history. The Civil War never happened, slavery is still legal in several southern states, and free does not mean equal. Victor is a free black man on assignment in Indianapolis for the U.S. Marshals Service, on the trail of a runaway bonded person known as Jackdaw. Victor infiltrates a cell of the underground airline, a master of disguise. In flashbacks, we learn that Victor spent his childhood as a bonded person, so why is he tracking down runaways now? Is it just that he enjoys the privileges of his job and situation, from air-conditioning to a car to the music of Michael Jackson? And yet he befriends Martha Flowers, a young white woman with a biracial son. As Victor travels between free and slave states, the world is a fascinating one, as the economy doesn’t seem to be thriving and technology lags behind ours. Laptops, cell phones, and GPS exist, but most cars are older and foreign. This novel is not light reading, but the world-building and storytelling skills of Winters make this book very hard to put down.
The Last One by Alexandra Oliva
Twelve reality show contestants walk into the woods and up a mountain to face solo and group challenges. They all have nicknames, including Tracker, Biologist, Airforce, Carpenter Chick, and Zoo. The challenges are probably familiar to watchers of any wilderness survival show, but some of the contestants are totally unprepared to survive in the wilderness, which is unusual. Caffeine withdrawal, insufficient clothing, and inability to read a map or compass are unexpected. An expert, along with Tracker, shows the contestants some of the skills they need, but no one will be prepared for the real challenge they face: a fast-moving epidemic. One morning Zoo wakes up alone, without a cameraman in sight. Zoo is married, and wanted one last adventure before starting a family. Following her blue markers, she doesn’t see anyone for many days, although some gruesome dummies are unsettling. After a coyote encounter leaves her with broken glasses, her blurry vision makes it hard to tell reality from the game. She is joined by a young teenage boy, who tries to tell her about the epidemic. They head out on a final quest, and the result is completely unpredictable. Fast-paced, very suspenseful, and moving, this first novel is sure to be a hit this summer.
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
To begin with, this is a massive book that feels like two different novels. Most of the book is set in the near future, with an epilogue at the end set 5,000 years in the future. At the start of the book, Earth’s moon breaks apart into seven massive pieces. Scientists don’t know why, but soon realize that the rocks will start colliding with each other, forming smaller and smaller boulders that will eventually result in a destructive hard rain of debris. Estimated time to the hard rain is two years. Stephenson has put a lot of thought into what might happen if we had two years to prepare for disaster, including the political, social, and technological challenges, and puts most of these thoughts in the book. His readers are used to these info dumps, but they are unusual. What happens is that the International Space Station gets a lot bigger and busier, with Earth trying to send as many people into space as possible. These challenges take up most of the book, with an intriguing glimpse at a new civilization in a marvelous setting in and around Earth 5,000 years later. The characters, settings, and plot are all compelling reading, but a few events seemed forced to me, unrealistic even for ambitious science fiction. I really would like to read more about the people of the future, and hope Stephenson writes more about their world.
LibraryReads is a monthly list of the top ten new books nominated by librarians around the country. As a librarian I can request digital copies of books before they are published, and I am one of the librarians who read and nominated Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.
The September Library Reads booklist is here :
Finally, a hard to put down post-apocalyptic novel that isn’t bleak and violent. I don’t always enjoy books with multiple points of view that also move back and forward in time, but I loved this book. The main characters are all connected to Arthur Leander, who is performing as King Lear in Toronto as a flu epidemic is spreading around the globe. Later, we encounter the Symphony, a traveling orchestra and Shakespeare troupe traveling around western Michigan.
Lists from the last year are also available, making LibraryReads a great place to look for reading suggestions.
World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters
The final book in a completely plausible pre-apocalyptic trilogy, World of Trouble finds former detective Hank Palace and his dog racing against time to find his younger sister Nico, encountering a cast of quirky characters. The asteroid Maya will probably hit Earth soon, but Hank keeps following leads from New England to a deserted police station in Ohio on his bike, and finds both hope and one last case to solve after he arrives. Hank is an appealing protagonist, and this book is just as compulsively readable as The Last Policeman (here’s my review of the first book) and Countdown City. World of Trouble will be available in mid-July.
Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
In the first book in a science fiction trilogy for teens, life on Earth changed over a decade ago. A red star, called Calamity, suddenly appeared, and some people developed extraordinary powers, and became the Epics. David, 18, has been studying the powers and habits of Epics for ten years, since the day Steelheart killed David’s father in a bank. Steelheart is the ruler of Newcago, formerly Chicago, which he has coated in steel. Tunnels and rooms of steel are now underground. People don’t mind living underground because Nightwielder, another Epic, has blotted out the sun over Newcago. David hopes to join the Reckoners, an underground group secretly plotting against the Epics. Are all Epics evil? David thinks so, but his father believed differently. A quick, fast-paced read that will leave the reader waiting for the next book in the series.