Title: Lighthouse Island
Author: Paulette Jiles. She is the author of several novels, including Enemy Women.
Readers: Professor Michal, teacher Shannon, stay-at-home parents Colleen B. and Kristi.
Summary: In the coming centuries the world’s population has exploded and covered the earth with cities, animals are nearly all gone and drought has taken over so that cloudy water is issued by the quart. There are no maps, no borders, no numbered years. On this urban planet the only relief from overcrowding and the harsh rule of the big Agencies is the television in every living space, with its dreams of vanished waterfalls and the promise of virtual vacations in green spaces, won by the lucky few.
It is an unwelcoming world for an orphan like Nadia Stepan. Abandoned by her parents on a crowded street when she was four, the little girl is shuttled from orphanage to orphanage, foster-family to foster-family. Nadia grows up dreaming of the vacation spot called Lighthouse Island, in a place called the Pacific Northwest. And beyond the confusion and overcrowding and the relentless television noise, comes a radio voice from an abandoned satellite that patiently reads, over and over, the great classical books of the world-Big Radio, a voice in the night that lifts Nadia out of the dull and perpetual Present. An opportunity for escape appears and Nadia takes it, abandoning everything to strike out for Lighthouse Island in a dangerous and sometimes comic adventure.
Our Take: Such a promising idea, but our readers are in agreement that the execution falls flat. We need solid worldbuilding in dystopian fiction and we never felt like we understood this one.
Title: The Panopticon
Author: Jenni Fagan
Genre: Commercial Fiction, Sci-Fi, we don’t really have a good answer for this one.
Readers: Policy wonk BakingSuit, copyeditor Lori, librarian Pam, day care teacher EMarie and nonprofit director Kimberly.
Summary: Anais Hendricks, fifteen, is in the back of a police car, headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders. She can’t remember the events that led her here, but across town a policewoman lies in a coma and there is blood on Anais’s school uniform. Smart, funny and fierce, Anais is a counter-culture outlaw, a bohemian philosopher in sailor shorts and a pillbox hat. She is also a child who has been let down, or worse, by just about every adult she has ever met. The residents of the Panopticon form intense bonds, heightened by their place on the periphery, and Anais finds herself part of an ad hoc family there. Much more suspicious are the social workers, especially Helen, who is about to leave her job for an elephant sanctuary in India but is determined to force Anais to confront the circumstances of her birth before she goes. Looking up at the watchtower that looms over the residents, Anais knows her fate: she is part of an experiment, she always was, it’s a given, a liberty – a fact. And the experiment is closing in.
Our Take: A split decision. Everyone found it challenging and thought-provoking. Very dark and troubling. Lori and EMarie thought it worked while Pam, Kimberly and BakingSuit thought it didn’t quite come together. Definitely not light reading, but perhaps a good pick for those who like a challenge.
Title: The Explorer
Author: James Smythe. He has published some previous novels through independent presses.
Readers: Administrative coordinator Cyn, and lawyers Cait, Elizabeth H. and Rochelle. (Lawyers and sci-fi, who knew?)
Summary: When journalist Cormac Easton is selected to document the first manned mission into deep space, he dreams of securing his place in history as one of humanity’s great explorers.
But in space, nothing goes according to plan.
The crew wake from hypersleep to discover their captain dead in his allegedly fail-proof safety pod. They mourn, and Cormac sends a beautifully written eulogy back to Earth. The word from ground control is unequivocal: no matter what happens, the mission must continue.
But as the body count begins to rise, Cormac finds himself alone and spiralling towards his own inevitable death … unless he can do something to stop it.
Title: Man in the Empty Suit
Author: Sean Ferrell. He is the author of a previous novel, Numb.
Genre: Sci-Fi, Mystery
Readers: Day care teacher EMarie, librarian Mary Liz, victim advocate MJ and lawyers Maratai and Cait.
Summary: Say you’re a time traveler and you’ve already toured the entirety of human history. After a while, the outside world might lose a little of its luster. That’s why this time traveler celebrates his birthday partying with himself. Every year, he travels to an abandoned hotel in New York City in 2071, the hundredth anniversary of his birth, and drinks twelve-year-old Scotch (lots of it) with all the other versions of who he has been and who he will be. Sure, the party is the same year after year, but at least it’s one party where he can really, well, be himself.
The year he turns 39, though, the party takes a stressful turn for the worse. Before he even makes it into the grand ballroom for a drink he encounters the body of his forty-year-old self, dead of a gunshot wound to the head.
Read If You Enjoy unusual, abstract and mind-bending reads.