A Brave New (Virtual) World

readyplayeroneVideo games have come a long way since the very first console, the Magnavox Odyssey, was released in 1972. Augmented and virtual realities are now on the rise as gamers find more ways to distract themselves from their actual reality. But what happens when the line between real and virtual begins to blur? How will virtual realities shape our future? Explore these concepts by picking up one of these fascinating novels about video games and the people who play them:

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Immersing himself in a mid-twenty-first-century technological virtual utopia to escape an ugly real world of famine, poverty, and disease, Wade Watts joins an increasingly violent effort to solve a series of puzzles by the virtual world’s creator.

Lock In by John Scalzi – When a new virus causes one percent of the population to become completely paralyzed in body but not in mind, the United States pursues a scientific initiative to develop a virtual-reality world for victims, with unexpected consequences.

Reamde by Neal Stephenson – When his own high-tech startup turns into a Fortune 500 computer gaming group, Richard Forthrast, the black sheep of an Iowa family who has amassed an illegal fortune, finds the line between fantasy and reality becoming blurred when a virtual war for dominance is triggered.

Omnitopia Dawn by Diane Duane – Dev Logan, the genius programmer responsible for a popular, massive multiplayer online game, Omnitopia, guards a secret about his invention – it is no longer simply a program, it has become sentient.

Monkeewrench by P.J. Tracy – Grace McBride and the team at her software company are horrified when events in their murder mystery computer game are replicated in the real world by a ruthless killer, a situation that prompts them to analyze the game in order to anticipate his next move. Continue reading

Books for the Upcoming Eclipse

eclipseFor the first time since 1979, many Americans will soon be able to experience a total solar eclipse. Lasting no more than a few minutes on August 21, this spectacular phenomenon will be viewable roughly between 2:30 and 3 p.m. here in Virginia. Read more about the history and science behind solar eclipses by checking out one of these books from the library:

Eclipse: Journeys to the Dark Side of the Moon by Frank Close – Looks at the science of eclipses, reveals their role in culture, and focuses on people who travel around the world chasing these events.

American Eclipse: A Nation’s Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World by David Baron – Documents the efforts of three scientists to observe the rare total solar eclipse of 1878, citing how the ambitions of James Craig Watson, Maria Mitchell, and Thomas Edison helped America’s early pursuits as a scientific superpower.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson – Offers witty, digestible explanations of topics in cosmology, from the Big Bang and black holes to quantum mechanics and the search for life in the universe.

In the Shadow of the Moon: The Science, Magic, and Mystery of Solar Eclipses by Anthony Aveni – In anticipation of solar eclipses visible in 2017 and 2024, an exploration of the scientific and cultural significance of this mesmerizing cosmic display. Continue reading

Memories

RAFridays

This past weekend, I attended my 45th high school reunion and I’ve been reading memoirs lately.  I seem to be having a nostalgic summer and it’s been lovely!   The books recommended this week are interesting, enlightening, well written and very different from each other.  Hopefully, you’ll find something to suit your mood.

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me  by Sherman Alexie

Award-winning author Alexie has long been one of my favorites.  An honest voice for modern-day life on American Indian reservations, many of his poems, stories and novels have had bits of autobiography in them.  Recounting the complicated relationship he had with his mother, this full-fledged memoir could not have been written until after his mother had passed away.  She was a quilter and was 78 years old when she died in 2015.  Alexie has constructed this book as a quilt, built of 78 poems and 78 essays.  It’s a difficult story, because life on the rez is difficult and because their relationship was difficult, too.  As usual, though, Alexie tells it all with openness, heartbreak, and humor.

On the Move: a Life  by Oliver Sacks

Neurologist and accomplished author, Sacks is well known for his collections of case studies such as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, An Anthropologist on Mars and Seeing Voices: A Journey into the World of the Deaf.  His bestseller, Awakenings, was made into a feature film starring Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro.  This final autobiography (he died in 2015 at the age of 82) recounts a life well lived and shares intimate details which had not been made public before.  At once extremely shy and quite daring, he moved from his native Britain to California and eventually to New York City, collecting a wealth of  friendships and adventures along the way.  And yes, that is him on the cover of the book.  He had always had a love of motorbikes and spent the early ’60’s on Venice Beach (CA) as a body builder!  Listening to the audio, I found it easy to absorb the medical terms and phrases.

Here If You Need Me: a True Story  by Kate Braestrup

The first in her series of memoirs was published in 2007 and after having read it, I wanted to be her when I grew up!  (Never mind that I’m probably ten years older than she is.)  In Here If You Need Me, Braestrup recounts how her husband, and the father of their four children, was killed in the line of duty as a Maine State Trooper. To help deal with her tremendous grief, she chose to pursue his dream – to become a minister. Enrolling in divinity school, caring for her grieving family, and trying to keep the day-to-day together, Braestrup persevered and became a Unitarian Universalist minister. She then found her calling as the first chaplain for the search-and-rescue teams across the state of Maine. It’s a moving, inspirational story that reminds us that it’s the small miracles that happen every day.  An accomplished writer, Braestrup continued to relate her journey with two more books: Marriage and Other Acts of Charity in 2010 and the most recent, Anchor and Flares: a Memoir of Motherhood, Hope and Service, in which she faces her eldest son’s choice to join the military.  Beautifully done.

A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana  by Haven Kimmel

Born in 1965  in quintessential small-town America, Kimmel was nicknamed Zippy for the way she raced around the house.  Growing up in the tiny hamlet of Mooreland – where neighbors helped neighbors, people went to church on Sundays,  and everyone knew everyone else – Kimmel shares glimpses of life in a gentler time.  Laced with humor and wonderful 3rd-grade insights, A Girl named Zippy is a love letter to Kimmel’s home town.