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Many friends and fellow League members asked me how I was doing coming out of the intensity of the National Book Festival in the days and weeks since the event wrapped. The simple answer varied slightly but the honest answer is that the recovery process took longer than expected as it affected me in unanticipated ways. My feet bounced back quickly after two days of non-stop walking and standing. But the build-up of stress in my body unleashed itself by breaking my lifelong record of sleeping through the night, creating a dull & uncomfortable ache in my upper body and shoulders, and dulling my spirits and focus. To combat the symptoms and force my body to relax, I retreated to the comforting arms of a true love: reading.

As a former proud member of the Pershing Middle School Name That Book Club, I would easily describe myself as a voracious reader. Oddly enough, reading was not my escape from the craziness during book festival preparations. Reclaiming this habit has been good for the Lioness soul. Besides finishing Cloud Atlas, I inhaled four other books in  eight weeks. One was candy – pure, simple, and sweet – and thus does not require anything more to be said. But the other three demand sharing with the world.

First up – A Fire Upon the Wind by Vernor Vinge. (What a name – I can’t not say his last name without his first too – Vernor Vinge. Try it. Vinge on its own just doesn’t sound as awesome as Vernor Vinge. Ah the joys of alliteration.) During our hellish Labor Day weekend, we sought comfort at the Politics & Prose bookstore in DC where I holed myself up in the Fantasy & Science Fiction section. I looked for book festival authors first and found Vernor Vinge’s Hugo Award-winning book, A Fire Upon the Deep. Of course it came home with me and of course I had my sister stand in line at the festival for it to be signed on my behalf. (Oh how I wished I had read more by then so she actually had something to say about the book!)

One joy of fantasy and science fiction genre is marveling at the worlds the authors create. My reading resume leans heavily on the fantasy side; my respect and appreciation though for science fiction has grown exponentially over the past year as the authors imagine new world and social orders based around the sciences, not magic or other inexpiable powers. (For the record, I have to state that Twilight is NOT – I repeat NOT – science fiction. I read a blogger make that correlation once and UGH! So many reasons why that rankled me so!)

As with most science fiction books, Vinge begins by laying a lot of groundwork in creating and explaining the new interpretation of outer space. He goes beyond simply envisioning the human race expanding within our own galaxy; but instead created a multi-layered and complex vision of outer space as a whole and its relation to intelligence. Added to that, Vinge created several different non-human based alien species, ranging from a plant-machine hybrid to a multi-member mind-sharing pack of four-legged animals. I’ll admit the first 100 pages were a bit of a struggle as I wrapped my head around what he was describing. Once I had a solid grasp of the basic machinations though, I was sold.

The story itself was not one of my favorites. But I tip my hat off to an author whose intellect and creativity can envision something so intricate and rich and yet maintain a sense of still being believable. I look forward to picking up the second book of the trilogy, The Children of the Sky, and seeing where he takes the reader next.

Second – While another book from the fateful trip to Politics & Prose was ready to go on my bedside table, something lighter was necessary so I picked up my nook and purchased Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan thanks to the recommendation from a blog all about reading. It turned out to be the perfect follow-up book from A Fire Upon the Deep as it too addressed the limits of (or perhaps limitless?) intelligence and its connection to technology. But Sloan also mixes in equal doses of old-world mystique and adventure and blends the two together wonderfully. I highly recommend this book to any and all with in interest in fantasy, programming, or science fiction. It was also the perfect segue into the third book…

Last but not least – Patrick Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind – also from my trip to Politics & Prose. While many books had small write-ups by the employees of the bookstore, the following recommendation (and glowing reviews from Orson Scott Card & Ursula Le Guin, two authors I hold in high regard) moved me enough to purchase immediately and not wait until my next visit:

Name of the Wind is a classic trickster tale, except that the trickster gets to tell the story. We first meet Qvothe, a surprisingly likable rogue, as an unassuming innkeeper; but as he relates the astonishing events of his past we begin to wonder who he really is. The world that unfolds as he tells his story is full of adventure, magic and music. The magic (which is more like alchemy than wand-waving) somehow feels as real as science, while still maintaining its wonder. In the sequel, A Wise Man’s Fear, the stories of past and present begin to merge. Now, I am eagerly awaiting the final volume of the trilogy.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. The story is fantastic and immediately draws you in. As soon as I finished the last page and knew that the second book of the trilogy was already in print, I pulled up the internet to see when the third book is scheduled for publication. Good news – it’s already written! Bad news – no official release date.

With all that said, you now have the hard decision of what to read first and I have the hard choice of what to read next! What a wonderful problem to have!

Tess, the Lioness

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