Tag Archives: science fiction

Final frontiers and beyond. With poison.

waste of spaceOne reason I love pretty much any book by Stuart Gibbs is that he throws in interesting facts, and he’s done all kinds of research, just so he can drop a line or two in the middle of an otherwise action-packed and kind of silly story, and suddenly you’ve learned something about rocket science.  Look through his website (www.stuartgibbs.com) and you’ll see what I mean  In a world of fake news, this is – for book-loving nerds – like strawberry pie on a summer day.  I don’t really know where I was going with that.  I might just have been thinking about strawberry pie.

In any case, right in there with the mystery about who poisoned an entitled rick jerk named Lars is some cool space travel information about what life on the moon might really be like, as well as an explanation of how someone might make cyanide on the moon.  You never know what you’ll come across.

It’s the last of the Moon Base Alpha series, but I know he’ll be on to something else awesome, so it’s ok.  It’s really ok.  Really.

Waste of Space by Stuart Gibbs

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I love Roz and I cannot lie

wild robot escapesShe’s back!  You might not have been waiting with quite as much excitement as me, but SHE’S BACK!

This is how much I love Roz, the Wild Robot…

When the first book came out, I told almost everyone I knew about it more than once, even some people who don’t read middle grade.  We need to get out of our boxes sometimes, right?  Well, that was a book you should do that for!

I bought a copy to give to a teacher friend.  When she didn’t read it right away, I admit I was a little annoyed.  BUT this year, she read it as a read-aloud in the golden after-lunch “literature” time, and all the kids in her completely nuts third grade class loved it.  They loved it so much that when I mistakenly said the new book was called The Wild Robot Returns, someone corrected me, because she had already been bugging her mom about getting the new book, which you can see is The Wild Robot Escapes.

So I pre-ordered a copy of the book for the class. Kids who are that excited about a book really need the sequel. And I put myself on hold for both the paper and electronic copies at the library, just to be sure I would be getting it close to its release date.

Because the e-book copy was released before either paper copies could arrive, I read it in the middle of the night – thank you, insomnia – and finished it by 7 a.m. on its book birthday.

Would you be surprised to find out I love it?  Probably not.  But loved it I did.

In the first book, Roz survived and adapted and thrived when she was the only surviving robot shipwrecked on an island.  She became a parent, a leader, a builder, and a community member.  She learned to speak with animals and worked with them to create a safe environment for all.  Then those awful retrieval robots appeared and forced her back into human society.

She’s just been reformatted and sold to farmer at the beginning of The Wild Robot Escapes, and even though her life is one of repairing buildings and hanging out with dairy cows, you just know she is going to have a big adventure soon.  Will she escape?  Will she reconnect with her animal family?  Can she outsmart a vindictive wolf?  Will she be changing lives again?

I love Roz.  She’s the perfect example of how what some people see as “defective” is really just different in a super wonderful way.

And if you’ve got a minute, check out the author’s blog post on creating Roz and the sequel – it’s pretty cool, too!  Click here.

The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

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One of the 99%? It could be worse.

landscape with invisibleWhen the vuvv arrive, they come in peace.  They make deals and work with the super-rich to create a world without work, which means the rest of the world has an even harder time surviving.  Nice.

Adam and Chloe come up with a scheme to help their families survive, only to realize that making their relationship into a 1950s reality show will kill their respect for each other and any smidgen of love that might have sparked it and leave them wide open for vuvv lawsuits, too.  (Litigious aliens… what a concept.)  Add in a disease, some art, and absent family, and you’ve got a real recipe for disaster.

Strangely, there is a sort of happy ending here, but it doesn’t involve getting the vuvv to leave or becoming a part of the 1%.  Life still kind of sucks, but oh well.

Why did I like this book?  I don’t read a lot of sci-fi these days, so it was nice to come across this.  Dealing with aliens (or the 1%) is bewildering and absurd here, but it’s mostly Earth-based, not on a ship in space. Adam and Chloe are great characters who aren’t trying to save humanity–just themselves and their families–and they’re not even doing a good job of it.  I’d probably loathe Chloe as much as Adam does, but you can’t really blame her for hating him, either.  This relationship is toxic all around, which shouldn’t be a reason to like the book, but kind of is.

Maybe none of this matters?  Really, it’s just a good story—no surprise from M.T. Anderson.  It’s not 500 pages long either, although it’s stayed in my head longer than some of those have.  Good enough reasons to read it?  Yes, yes.

Landscape with Invisible Hand by M.T. Anderson

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Sometimes one trick is all you need

nathan hale one trick ponyStrata is not a rule follower.  She and her buddies have gotten away from their Mad Max-ish caravan and are looking for treasures.  Probably they shouldn’t be doing this, because the Pipers (evil, energy-seeking aliens) are close enough that—oops!–Strata and her friends might uncover something that would attract them.

But there’s a pony!  And Kleidi (the pony) is a neat twist on the cliché of girls and ponies, because Kleidi is a robot, a fast and clever robot. Kleidi can also stop really fast and hard.

Along the way, we learn about the dystopian homeland that the Earth has become, and how humans have adapted and yet are still losing against aliens who see them and their planet simply as food and minerals.  It’s nothing like Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales about moments in U.S. history, and yet the storytelling and art are equally perfect for the topic.

Pick up Zita the Spacegirl  (Ben Hatke) and you’ve got an excellent double feature for a rainy afternoon of reading.

one Trick Pony by Nathan Hale

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If you’ve ever wondered about lava tubes or pooping in space…

spaced out


I know.  That’s not much of a way to start any kind of grown up review of a book.  But seriously, if you’re that grown up, you probably shouldn’t be reading middle grade.  And it’s all scientifically accurate, too, so get past that and read the book, my friends.

A few months ago, I did a little author talk for Mrs. B’s class on Stuart Gibbs, the author of Spaced Out: Moon Base Alpha, as well as the FunJungle  and Spy School series.  What an interesting life!  And the guy’s got a great blog, too. (http://stuartgibbs.com/blog/)  Sure, he spends time promoting his books there, but he also writes about things he cares about.  I took a few entries on endangered rhinos and lava tubes in for the kids to read.  As with his books, they’re a great combination of funny, quirky, and informative.

The entry on lava tubes brings us to Spaced Out, which is also all of those things—funny, quirky, informative.  In addition to a good mystery, you get a lot of cool information about what life would really be like on the moon.  Most of it makes living in Iowa look pretty good, to be honest, but it’s super interesting and answers some of those questions you’d have.  How do you go to the bathroom?  Does anything you eat actually taste good?  How would you go to school?

Dashiell Gibson is still stuck at Moon Base Alpha, and although there are really cool things about it, the toilets aren’t one of them.  Some of his fellow residents are not much more fun.  When someone goes missing, everyone wonders if it’s a repeat of the murder Dash solved in Space Case.  Even doing a search on Moon Base Alpha can be a challenge, and oh, there’s also an alien who visits Dash telepathically.

You’d think all of this could push things over to ridiculous, but it worked for me.  There’s an unexpected bit of heaviness towards the end on taking care of the planet and war – all of which I agree with — but I’m not sure whether kids would be put off by it or not.  They are probably thinking the same thing a lot of the time, so why shouldn’t Dash?

It’s a rare author who can pull off a goofy middle grade-action- adventure-mystery and also manage to broaden your scientific knowledge.  Well done, Stuart Gibbs.  What’s next?

Spaced Out by Stuart Gibbs

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Read you will

trilogy_header_newIn 1977, I was twelve years old. Old enough to ride my bike almost everywhere. Old enough to have some babysitting money to spend. Not old enough to be cynical or to have to pay for car insurance. As I remember it now – who knows if this is accurate? — I saw the first Star Wars movie more than 10 times that summer, riding my bike to the closest theater for the matinees whenever I could. My friend Amy and I had Star Wars shirts, and I started a collection of character cards. My Burger King Star Wars glasses are somewhere in the attic still.

Time passed, the characters in the second trilogy didn’t speak to me, Disney bought the franchise, and here we are now, waiting for the release of a new Star Wars movie. Someone with some smarts and a marketing plan decided that putting out some middle grade Star Wars books would be a good idea. Someone decided to rely on popular authors like Alexandra Bracken, Adam Gidwitz (A Tale Dark and Grimm), and Tom Angleberger (Origami Yoda series) to do the work. It could have been a complete disaster – predictable retellings falling flat, a whole generation of bored tweens who wouldn’t understand why this whole thing was such a big deal.

But no— fortunately, these authors are too good for that. Alexandra Bracken uses The Princess, the Scoundrel and the Farm Boy to set up the later novels. She relies heavily on the movie script, which worked fine for me, and creates the world of the Empire and the Rebellion in all its most wonderful and most horrible realities. As an adult reading the stories of my youth, it was quick and action-filled and fun, even in the scary moments. Knowing how things would turn out didn’t diminish the story one bit.

Adam Gidwitz follows up with the story from The Empire Strikes Back, but he sets a different tone. So You Want to Be a Jedi? lets the reader really imagine Luke’s internal battle to become a Jedi, and the reader IS Luke, charging ahead, realizing at the last minute that he might not be ready, wanting to help his friends. It’s intense and yet still funny, and maybe some kids will learn to meditate before they face their personal Darth Vaders. Who knows? Loved it!

Tom Angleberger takes on The Return of the Jedi in Beware the Power of the Dark Side! His narrator is all-knowing and sometimes judgmental, which somehow was the perfect follow-up for So You Want to be a Jedi? .

“An endless desert. Two robots. Two robots plodding through and endless desert. Fear not, reader! It will get better!”

There are moments when you, like the characters, are left hanging, and others when you’re in on the joke. This playful, quirky spin worked so well for me that I forgot at one point that I knew exactly what was going to happen. That’s part of the real joy of these books for grown-up fans. Instead of pretending we don’t all have an idea of what’s going to happen, these retellings take what we already know and spin and bounce and have fun with that knowledge. What fun for me! What fun for my 12 year old self remembered!

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