Out of This World: Great Sci-Fi and Fantasy Nancy Pearl had a hard time compiling a short list of her favorite science fiction and fantasy books. There are too many good ones, she says. But one title seemed a natural to the Seattle librarian: Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians.
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Out of This World: Great Sci-Fi and Fantasy

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Out of This World: Great Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Out of This World: Great Sci-Fi and Fantasy

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Seattle librarian Nancy Pearl has come by again with another list of book recommendations. This time, her favorites from the science fiction and fantasy bookshelves, including a book which begins with this sentence.

NANCY PEARL: (Reading) So there I was, tied to an altar made from outdated encyclopedias about to get sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of evil librarians.

INSKEEP: The power of the librarian, as read by Nancy Pearl, our librarian. The book is called "Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians." And why did this make the top of your stack?

PEARL: This is one of the most entertaining books that I've read in recent months that's aimed at 10 to 13-year-olds. The main character is a young 13-year-old named Alcatraz Smedry, who has been sent to one foster home after another for all of his life because his foster parents get very fed up with him breaking things though he doesn't do it on purpose he doesn't think. For his 13th birthday, his grandfather, Leavenworth Smedry, comes to tell him that he needs Alcatraz's help in order to defeat this cult of evil librarians who are planning to take over the world.

INSKEEP: Can I just ask about this particular book…


INSKEEP: …because the tone of it and the way it's approached reminds me a lot of a Lemony Snicket books. You have this orphaned kid who begins talking about how horrible things are and how horrible things are going to become. Is there some connection there and influence?

PEARL: I certainly think the popularity of the Lemony Snicket books didn't deter Brandon Sanderson from writing this book. The thing that's nice about this book for me is that it also had this very nice message, that each of the Smedrys in addition to being named after a famous prison…

INSKEEP: Like Alcatraz?

PEARL: Like Alcatraz and Leavenworth. But also, what you think of his flaws can turn it to great strengths.

INSKEEP: Nancy Pearl is our non-evil librarian who sent us a stack of science fiction and fantasy books, and the next on the stack here - this is from Neal Stephenson, "Cryptonomicon."

PEARL: Well, the "Cryptonomicon" in this book is an imaginary book that has everything about codes and ciphers. And this is a book that I give to people who love World War II adventure stories, spy novels and - Neil Stepehenson, I mean, this is a really hugely ambitious, brilliant book. It's got a wide range of characters. He has included real people like Ronald Reagan and Douglas Macarthur, but he has his invented characters mix and mingle with them. And so it's partly during World War II in the Pacific Theater, and also at Bletchley Park outside London, where all the codes and deciphering of German code of transmissions were being undertaken. And then, it's also partly in the present, where a bunch of computer geeks are trying to set up a data to haven and an imaginary country.

So it's all those things. He handles the transitions between and among those different places really well. There are characters in there that I think the readers will - that I have come to care for.

INSKEEP: Now, here's a book from the 1970s by Joe Haldeman "The Forever War," and just as you sometimes get DVDs that say the director's cut, this says the author's preferred edition of the groundbreaking SF classic. What happened here?

PEARL: Yes. This is one of the great anti-war novels, I think, along with oh, "All Quiet on the Western Front" perhaps. What happened is that it was a originally published in serial form and the second or third big chapter is quite depressing. And I think that that was the left out of some of the earlier additions of it. But this has it in there and it really belongs in there.

This is a book that Joe Haldeman wrote following his service in combat in the Vietnam War. And the heroes' experiences, William Mandella's experiences in this war, that lasts for 14 centuries, Earth time, but only a few years for the people who are fighting and traveling at - near the speed of light.

INSKEEP: That just slows down time for people, especially Einstein's theory?

PEARL: Okay, yes. Yes, yes. And he makes use of that in this book so that what is 14 centuries on Earth is really a few years, at most, for the people who are fighting in this war.

INSKEEP: When you say it reflect the Vietnam War, I just wonder I'm looking at the back jacket here and it says of the "Forever War."

(Reading) The Earth's leaders have drawn a line in the inter-stellar sand despite the fact that the fierce alien enemy they would oppose is inscrutable, unconquerable and very far away.

Are there hints of the present time in this book?

PEARL: I think that this is a book that is about every war. I think it grew out of Haldeman's experience in Vietnam, but I think that what they find in here is that the soldiers are just there to carry out the orders of higher ops who often have no idea of what it's really like in combat. And so in that sense, I think it could be World War I, it could be the Iraq conflict or could be any of those things. And as soldiers who come from a war always find their world very, very much changed from when they left it, whether it's 14 months or 14 centuries.

INSKEEP: Here's another book on your stack: Guy Gavriel Kay, "The Last Light of the Sun."

PEARL: "The Last Light of the Sun" belongs in a group of books that I think we could call historical fantasies. Guy Gavriel Kay has done a whole series of these and what you get is a fantasy that is set in a world that is very, very recognizable and yet it's suddenly different often because Guy Gavriel Kay has added, it's a magic here and there.

INSKEEP: Where are we in the theoretical past here?

PEARL: We're in the 9th Century, the 900…

INSKEEP: Like the Middle Ages, basically.

PEARL: Early, early Middle Ages and it were in England - what's going to become England. And we're in the midst of what was occurring in the Ninth Century, which was all of these - the Anglo-Saxons - the Vikings and the Celts are all battling one another for supremacy. I found - this would be a great book to hear - read aloud.

INSKEEP: Do you want to read us a paragraph before we go on?

PEARL: Okay. This is just the beginning, chapter one.

(Reading) A horse, he came to understand, was missing. Until it was found nothing could proceed. The island marketplace was crowded on this gray morning and spring. Large armed, bearded men were very much present but they weren't not here for trade. Not today. The market would not open no matter how appealing the goods on a ship from the south might be. He had arrived, clearly, at the wrong time.

Isn't that good?

INSKEEP: Very clear, very visual.

PEARL: And I always feel with his books - that by Gavriel Kay's books, that you can - you really learn so much as well as having all of that enjoyment of reading a book.

INSKEEP: Nancy Pearl is the author of "Book Lust" and "More Book Lust" and "Even More Book Lust" and a lots of book lust after that, and - what's the latest one called again?

PEARL: "Book Crush."

INSKEEP: "Book Crush." Thank you very much.

PEARL: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: You can see all of Nancy Pearl's sci-fi and fantasy picks at npr.org.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

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