Monday, March 31, 2014

Redshirts by John Scalzi SF SCALZI

If you know much about the original series of Star Trek, you know that being a crew member, who was not a member of the main cast, on an away team mission was a very dangerous thing. Usually, it meant that the crew member was not going to make it back to the ship alive. Most of these crew members were wearing "red shirts." Scalzi builds on this concept with the new crew members of Universal Union's flagship, The Intrepid. Ensign Andrew Dahl is excited to begin working in the Xenibiology lab, and he quickly makes friends with the other new ensigns assigned at the same time that he is: Finn, Hester, Hanson, and Duvall. On his first day, though, Dahl starts noticing some very odd things about the Intrepid, such as the miracle "box" that "almost" has all of the answers to really tough problems, the way that all of his fellow crew members seem to disappear when either Captain Abernathy or Chief Science Office Q'eeng enter an area, and finally, the alarmingly large number of crew members that have been lost on away team missions. While digging deeper into these mysterious happenings, Dahl comes across another crew member, Jenkins, who has been hiding from the rest of the crew for years and monitors everything on board. Jenkins has a wild theory that sounds utterly insane, but it might just be exactly what is going on. In order to save their lives, the Ensigns will have to pull together on a crazy mission to stop those forces pulling them to almost certain doom. There are also three "codas" at the end of the story, which wrap up the lose ends left in the story.

I worried, when I started listening to the book, that my level of nerdness (and Star Trek knowledge) might not be be enough to understand all of the little jokes and allusions that Scalzi makes in Redshirts. I soon realized that I am indeed nerdy enough to enjoy them. I really enjoyed all of the main characters in the story, and I found myself really invested in their finding a way to stop the all of the death going on around them. I also found myself laughing out loud many time during the course of the story. I also would not worry much, if you are not a huge Star Trek fan. The story is still an enjoyable one and very funny.

I will warn you, though, that there is strong language all throughout the book, but I found this story very clever and hysterical. I also think the reader, Wil Wheaton (who you may know as Wesley Crusher from Star Trek The Next Generation) does a great job of bringing the story (and all of the sarcasm and wit) to life.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

2014 NAACP Awards for Literature

Author Kadir Nelson from the 2007 Image Awards.
Nelson won a 2014 Image Award for his book
Nelson Mandela.

The NAACP celebrated the achievements of people of color in the arts last month at its 45th Annual Image Awards last. With a focus on works that particularly promote social justice, the organization recognizes standouts in the realm of films, TV, music and writing.

Below are the Image Award literature winners that we've got here at the library and the categories in which they won:

Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery
By Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer
973.714 WILLIS
Debut Author
Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner-City Funeral Home
By Sheri Booker
The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks
By Jeanne Theoharis
The Vegucation of Robin: How Real Food Saved My Life
By Robin Quivers
613.2622 QUIVERS
Nelson Mandela
By Kadir Nelson
Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles: America's First Black Paratroopers
By Tanya Lee Stone
J 940.5403 STONE (also on audiobook, J AD 940.5403 STONE)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Flights of Passage: reflections of a World War II aviator by Samuel Hynes

This book, first published 26 years ago, successfully evokes the picture of what it was like for a young man aged 19 to enter the service, learn how to fly, and be shipped to the Pacific, to participate in the final days of World War II. Hynes spent 2 years and 8 months away from his home, going in as a scared teenager and exiting as a flier, a married man and one who had experienced combat. 

Hynes became an academic and is now retired from Princeton, where he was the Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature. (We have four of his books on literary criticism, in addition to this memoir.)  Hynes wrote “Flights of Passage” forty years after the war, but pretty well succeeds with his aim to write it from the sensibility of the 19 year old, not from the professor’s viewpoint.  It might be because of this, but it is not a “deep” story.  We can identify and root for the young man who wants to succeed, not fail, and who also wants to fit in. When we hear of deaths and tragedies, however, they are duly noted and passed over…sometimes Hynes remarks on how the Japanese kamikaze attacks struck he and the others as being alien to themselves – and how strange it was to inhabit islands where the original inhabitants has all been transported elsewhere, so the Americans could dig in and fight. 

What stays with you is the instincts of the young, particularly the young men, and how they settle into whatever huts or barracks are offered, take on the routine that is set out for them, and still manage to keep their individuality, their pranks, their anger and their simple high spirits.  You realize that the age old tradition of the comic song was alive and well in those days, and belting out irreverent and (sometimes) obscene lyrics was a common pastime.  Details like describing the songs, and how they were sung, help to recreate that age, before TV, when simple kids really were simple, and even the smart alecks not that much more sophisticated.

Another nice touch throughout the book is Hyne’s description of flying.  Beautiful imagery captures the lyricism of flight as well as the danger - from wind and clouds, from fog and dark night.  Hynes explains the technical aspects of flying enough to give the reader an approximate understanding of maneuvers, without overwhelming us.  You can see, from his description of the training, why everyone can’t be a flier.  Not everyone can learn to fly in darkness, over land and sea, and roll a plane upside down and come out of it, which Hynes said at first felt like sheer suicide. 

This is a good memoir, not just for finding out what life was like for fliers in the Pacific, but to glimpse the war from their viewpoint - more as a necessary evil, something that got them in the air and gave them something to fly for.  

Click here to see the book in our catalog.