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Science Fiction Update

Science fiction has plenty of book series. The Mechanics Institute Library has recently acquired a few new ones and added to some popular ones.

Fire Logic, the first book of Laurie J. Marks's tetrology "Elemental Logic," has proven so popular with members that we have acquired the next 2 books: Earth Logic (book 2) and Water Logic (book 3). The fourth book, Air Logic, is due this June. 

We've also purchased the next 2 titles of the "Themis files" series by Sylvain Neuvel, continuing Sleeping Giants with Waking Gods then Only Human

John Scalzi continues his "Interdependency" series that started with The Collapsing Empire. The next installment, The Consuming Fire, is already on the new books shelf. 

Rebecca Roanhorse published the very popular Trail of Lightning last year. Her following installment in "The Sixth World" series, Storm of Locusts, just arrived at the library in April. 

Pierce Brown's latest addition to his "Red Rising" novels converts what was a "trilogy" into a "saga" with a fourth novel: Iron Gold. This one received very high ratings from over 28 thousand people on GoodReads. 

We have started a couple of new series as well: 

Holly Black's "Folk of the Air" fantasy series has enjoyed rave reviews. We have acquired both the first title, The Cruel Prince, as well as the follow up, The Wicked King.

Those who are fans of Jasper Fforde's "Thursday Next" series will love the new Mike Resnick book The Master of Dreams, the first of his planned dreamscape trilogy

Elizabeth Bear, author of the popular Range of Ghosts, has started a new series called "White Space" with the debut title: Ancestral Night.

Posted on Apr. 30, 2019 by Steven Dunlap

Iconography: an irreverent introduction

I have always had an amateur's interest in fine art. I never took a course in art appreciation but I have learned as much as I can from books and from a friend with an M.F.A. who acts as my personal docent when we visit museums together. I always wondered about paintings, from medieval times to the present, that included numerous objects for no apparent reason or people making unusual (to me, anyway) gestures. What do they mean? Why did this artist include a broken wheel in this painting? How do we know that baby is Jesus? What's the funny-looking "thing" that looks like a feather duster that you see people holding in old paintings all the time? You can find answers to these and lots more questions in the Colons' book, newly arrived at the Library. The objects in paintings that mystify many of us in the 21st century had symbolic meanings very commonly known centuries ago, in other words: iconography. The authors include helpful lists in the appendices. But the real fun comes in the picture by picture descriptions and explanations that make sense out of scores of paintings included in this book (and by extension, hundreds or thousands of others not inlcuded in the book that contain the same iconography). They limited their selection of the art works to those that have big, high definition graphics on the World Wide Web easily found with a DuckDuckGo or Google image search of the artist's name and title of the painting. This way they kept the size (and cost) of the book small and inexpensive. 

The whimsical writing makes this far from the usual dry academic tome. For example, to explain a painting that includes a man incongruously standing with a hatchet sticking out of his head they write: 

The painting of St. Peter the martyr is a stunner. In fact, he looks quite stunned as well. A 13th century Dominican priest from Verona, he was assassinated -- you guessed it -- with a hatchet through the skull. He was fast tracked to sainthood in only 11 months -- an ecclesiastical record.

Check out this book for more of the same -- plus the answers to my questions above. 

Posted on Feb. 7, 2019 by Steven Dunlap

The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge

First Abraham Flexner revolutionized medical education in the U.S. Then he founded the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University. His seminal essay about “useless” knowledge continues to stand as the most eloquent defense of primary research. The companion essay by the Institute’s current director, Robbert Dijkgraaf, provides fascinating historical background on Flexner and his views on the relationship between research and public policy.

Check to see if this book is checked out and reserve it via our catalog.


Posted on Sep. 3, 2018 by Steven Dunlap

The Hawkline Monster : a Gothic Western

Richard Brautigan spent his most productive years as a writer in San Francisco, although he was born in Tacoma Washington. He once admitted that all he could do at all well was hunt and write. His writing always reflected his life in the American West and its frontier character. With The Hawkline Monster : a Gothic Western he takes the western genre, scrambles it with horror, then adds his trademark dark humor and imagination, resulting in one the best 20th century novels most people have never heard of. The last 5 or so pages elevates this from just an amusing story to a great novel.

For a more expansive description and critique of Brautigan’s work, see The Poetry Foundation’s biography:

Check to see if this book is checked out and reserve it via our catalog.

Posted on Sep. 1, 2018 by Steven Dunlap

Great resource for writers!

Do you have an idea for a book or story that involves invisibility? Philip Ball wrote the book for you. Invisible : The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen covers nearly everything about the idea of making yourself or other objects invisible throughout history and different cultures: from magic to physics. Would you like to use a historically authentic spell? Perhaps you would like to incorporate "Crooke's dark space" into a novel taking place during the Victorian age? And how do you arrange mirrors to hide half of a person's body? You will find answers to these questions and more.

To be the first to read this book, reserve it via our catalog.


Posted on Aug. 31, 2018 by Steven Dunlap

Who hates whom

Bob Harris, writer of quirky television shows, decided to learn about all the conflicts in the world, why they started and “who hates whom.”. Although this book is a bit outdated (published in 2007, before ISIS, the fall of Gaddafi or the Syrian Civil War) many of the conflicts described in this book continue to this day. Harris applies a somewhat irreverent sense of humor to his description of many of the wars and long-simmering international feuds he discovered in his research. He shows an appreciation for the absurdity of many of the world’s conflicts, such as the dispute between India and Pakistan over which country rightfully includes inside its borders  a barren, resourceless, uninhabitable wasteland visited by only the most intrepid mountain climbers. A short and enjoyable read that will inform your understanding of current events.

To be the first to read this book, reserve it via our catalog. 

Posted on Aug. 29, 2018 by Steven Dunlap

Cambodia : a book for people who find television too slow

Canadian writer and cultural analyst Brian Fawcett uses an innovative format to combine fiction and non-fiction in order to convey his ideas on modernity and the changes we have experienced in the 20th century. A single essay shares each page with a series of short stories as one runs along the lower have of the page while the others take the upper half, making you think about the imaginary and the factual at the same time. 

Check to see if this book is checked out and reserve it via our catalog.

Posted on Aug. 28, 2018 by Steven Dunlap

Fool on the Hill

Matt Ruff’s strange and often hilarious book has so many unusual characters that telepathic dogs look relatively ordinary in the larger scheme of things. He writes a vividly strange story that includes rats poised for conquest fighting fairies you can only see when you’re drunk or crazy. This novel starts with a few oddball students at Cornell University, adds some unusual people who come to campus then grows progressively stranger.


Through the “man who tells lies for a living” you read a story that strongly evokes the time in everyone’s lives when desires, expectations, hopes and figuring out what to do with the rest of your life all come crashing together. And you will never see dogs the same way again.


To be the first to read this book, reserve it via our catalog.

Posted on Aug. 24, 2018 by Steven Dunlap