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Perhaps some delightful sci-fi/fantasy can alleviate your back-to-school blues.

We’ve nearly reached the end of summer, my friends. Depending on where you’re reading this, folks are headed back to school–if they haven’t begun already–and everyone’s trying to get those last few days at the pool/beach in before things turn colder. While reading can be done in any season as easily as any other, I too am amazed by how quickly the summer has gone past.

Still, good things are around the bend (like new TV shows), and some good books are going to be released pretty soon. I’ve included one on this list that comes out this September, while the others are already out. Either way, I’ve got some good reading recommendations for you.

Check them out:

[box_light] 5) “Lock In” — John Scalzi[/box_light]

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I’ve not read much of John Scalzi’s work before “Lock In,” though I greatly enjoyed what I’ve read. In “Lock In,” Scalzi takes us to a fascinating science fiction world a few decades in our future where a virus has swept humanity in a global pandemic. It’s not a zombie virus, (thank goodness. I think I’m about zombied-out at this point), but it does affect a lot of people. Many died of flu-like symptoms, while others died or suffered brain damage from brain swelling. All who survived were changed, to one degree or another. Those who lived fell into three groups. Some suffered mental retardation; some remained close to the same, even though their brains had changed a little; and the vast majority had locked-in syndrome.

Locked-in syndrome–which is totally a real thing, bee-tee-dubs–is like a coma or total paralysis except the patient is completely aware the entire time. Now imagine a world where millions of people are locked into pseudo-comas, the medical technology needed not only to keep them alive, but keep them sane. Imagine the United States’ First Lady contracting this disease, and the vast wealth of the nation poured into helping sufferers of the disease.

What results is a world where people with Haden’s syndrome (named after the First Lady) have chips and wires in their heads that allow them to upload their consciousnesses into androids (commonly called “threeps” after C3PO from “Star Wars”) or into Integrators: human beings whose brains were changed by Haden’s, but who weren’t locked-in.

Our story takes place 25 years after Haden’s changed the world, where a rookie FBI agent, who has Haden’s himself, finds himself on a complicated case right out of the gate. It looks like an integrator was involved, but the more evidence our protagonist collects, the less things add up.

All in all, Scalzi created a really awesome world in this story, and this book does what I think all great sci-fi should do: It asks how the world would be if something really major happened (in this case, a vast majority of people with locked-in syndrome) and then it looks at all the consequences of such a change, from the disconnection between people born with Haden’s who don’t feel a part of the physical world, to the perceived privileged that Haden’s sufferers have in the eyes of the healthy majority. I felt like the plot lacked a bit of punch near the end of the story, but I still really liked the world.

 

[box_light]4) “Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon” — David Barnett[/box_light]

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I covered Barnett’s first Gideon Smith book last September and he’s coming out with a new one this September. The Gideon Smith books take place in a steampunk alternate history in which the American Revolution failed after Paul Revere was caught before he could make his midnight ride (along with the rest of the people involved), and our Founding Fathers were executed by the Crown before the fledgling nation of America could make it out of the nest. As a result, North America is a bit more patchwork than we’re used to: The Northeast is British, the colonies south of the Mason-Dixon Wall are their own confederate nation, Louisiana is a godless, heathen, witch-filled swampland, Texas is a lawless conglomeration of feuding warlords, and California is now the bulwark of a new Japanese Meiji.

Here’s the thing about Gideon Smith, though: he’s British. In fact, he’s considered the Hero of the Empire, and sure, his adventures take him around the world–in the last book, he found a great mechanical dragon in Egypt, and his sweetheart, Maria the clockwork girl, was bound into it against her will–but England is his home. So why so much information about the New World?

Good question, dear readers! It’s because most of “Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon” takes place in the New World! Indeed, a character from the first story steals the brass dragon, Maria still in the ancient machine’s mental grasp, and flies it to Texas. Specifically, the domain of one Thaddeus Pinch, the self-styled “King of Steamtown.” He is a tyrant, a sadist, and he will stop at nothing to get the power of the dragon (and Maria) for his own. It’s up to Gideon Smith, Hero of the Empire, as well as his friends, to keep the dragon out of hostile hands while rescuing Gideon’s lady-love.

Now, the Gideon Smith stories are somewhat in that pulp-adventure vein, and as such, certain things are to be expected of the genre. I was a bit disappointed that of the few female points-of-view we’re given, all of them are a bit fixated on the men in their lives, but at the same time, when you live in a world dominated by men, they’ll probably be on your mind. In any case, this novel features dinosaurs, airships, and giant, steam-powered mecha, so it gets a pretty decent score in my book.