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What’s Crazier than a Tornado full of Sharks

By Howard Shirley, Teen Department

Sharknado.

Sharktopus.

Megashark.

Sharks with frickin’ lasers for eyes. (Yes, that’s a thing.)

What do these have in common?

Sharks, you say?

Well, duh.

They always come out on Shark Week?

Okay, yes, that too. But keep going.

They’re really, really silly ideas for monsters?

Bingo! Winner, winner, monster dinner!

Sharks in a tornado? A cross between a shark and an octopus (which really isn’t that scary a beast, unless you’re a clam)? A giant shark (okay, yes there did use to be these megalodons)? And laser eyes? What are they, sharks from Krypton?

Okay, they’re all fine as a doodle on the side of your algebra homework (which you really need to finish; it’s due tomorrow). But let’s be honest they’re kind of, well, dumb.

But they’re not the dumbest ideas ever for monsters. And the truth is, dumb monsters can be a lot of fun.

Dumb combination monsters go back a long way. The ancient Egyptians believed in jackal-headed men, crocodile-headed men, cat-headed women, and of course the original sphinx, with a man’s head on a lion’s body. The Phoenicians gave us a man with the body of a fish. But the Greeks topped them all. One-eyed giant (cyclops), men with the bodies of horses, the chimera with the heads of a dragon, a lion and a goat, the medusa with snakes for a hairdo (maybe she got all stone-faced because she couldn’t do anything with it), a man with the head of a bull, men with goat legs, a man with a hundred eyes, and worse.

But it seems every age has its bizarre combos. The Middle Ages gave us the unicorn and mermaids, and things went so bizarre in the Renaissance that travelogues seriously suggested there were men with their faces in their stomachs (talk about fast food).

Today we know that’s all nonsense. Unless, of course, you believe in Nessie, Champie, Bigfoot, Mothman (no kidding), Yetis (no, not the coolers), Chupacabras, the Jersey Devil, and human-faced goats (okay, that last one is bizarrely real)! And, of course, aliens.

Why do we create these monsters? Is it to explain, to entertain, to scare, or just because we can? That’s a question for another article, but at the library, we like ‘em all. So if you want to “check out” some monsters on your own, here are a few of our favorite literary monster mish-mashes:

Miss Erin’s Picks:

  • Zombies vs. Unicorns by Holly Black. With a title like that, you know it’s gonna be epic!
  • Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend by Alan Cumyn. Because nothing says “hunk” like a dude who’s also a dinosaur.
  • Zombie Blondes by Brian James. Mean girls are so much meaner when they’re undead.
  • A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz, featuring fairies maimed by the cannibalistic gnomes who work for them (“Call it a tax.”), and a revolution and, well, what more do you need to know? Read the rest for yourself!

Mr. Howard’s Picks:

  • The Dragonback series by Timothy Zahn, featuring an alien dragon poet-warrior who’s also a living tattoo. Starting with Dragon and Thief, this sci-fi action series is part Star Wars, part mystery, and part coming-of-age tale, and all terrific.
  • Squirrel Girl, from The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl graphic novels. Okay, not a monster, but a superheroine with the combined powers of a squirrel and a girl, which turns out to be awesome. And yes, she can beat anyone, even the most powerful villains of the Marvel Universe. Take that, Galactus.
  • The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey, being the purported memoirs of an assistant to a 19th century monster hunter who hunts down the “those can’t be real” monsters of fable (including those “face in their stomach” guys). Scary, realistic, and very intense, Yancey pulls off turning nonsensical creatures into a horrific threat. And then does it again in two more books in the series!
  • The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, by Terry Pratchett, seems like a light, funny fantasy “con game” story… until the legendary “Rat King” monstrosity enters the picture, in a sequence that will have you looking over your shoulder with every word.
  • The Hungry Cities Chronicles, beginning with Mortal Engines, by Phillip Reeve, which has the best mash-up ever: a city and a tank. Okay, no that’s not a monster, but actual cities on tank treads that gobble up other cities? How could your inner monster-mashup muscle not love that? Just because it’s mechanical, doesn’t mean it’s not a monster!
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. The President of the Galaxy, who’s also a starship thief, has two heads. And he’s one of the more normal monstrosities the hapless British hero meets in this over-the-top scifi laugh fest.

Or come by the Teen Room and peruse our Dungeons & Dragons manuals, ‘cause nothing says ridiculous monster mash- up like an Owlbear. (Yes, it’s a bear. That’s also an owl! Oooo, scary!) Unless it’s a Gelatinous Cube, which is, uh, basically acidic Jello. Shaped like a giant cube. That moves.

Sharknado, you’ve got nothing on us!

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Fabulous Teen Tech

by Howard Shirley, Teen Department

It’s Teen Tech Week, and to celebrate we consulted a panel of teen readers about their favorite techy stories, featuring fantastic technology they wish was real, and creepy technology they’d rather never see. And then we rounded out the whole thing by selecting a few books we love featuring tech both real and imaginary—as well as tech you may someday create yourself!

Fiction

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender’s Game begins after humanity has barely survived a genocidal war against technically advanced alien invaders, and Earth fears that race’s eventual return. The last invasion was defeated almost solely by the action of one heroic military officer, and the leaders of Earth are desperate to create soldiers who can mimic that hero’s instinctive skill. Potential candidates are selected as children and trained in an orbiting military academy, featuring a recreational battle game, sort of a cross between laser tag and Red Rover, played in zero-gravity inside a huge sphere. The eventual victors of this tournament, led by the novel’s young hero, Ender, also train in a complex computer simulator, learning to command the space fleet that must confront and destroy the enemy—with unexpected results. Our panel of teens loved the idea of the battle game in its weightless environment, as well as the computer simulator.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

For creepy tech, our teens brought up the Divergent series and the technology used in the novels to identify and control the members of a dystopian future society. At sixteen, everyone is divided by law into five distinct factions, ostensibly chosen by the individual. The choice, however, is influenced by a complex personality test run in a virtual reality environment, which uses the individual’s personal fears to direct that choice. Secretly, one of the factions develops a serum that allows them to use the VR tech to control the minds of others and launch a bloody coup. “Divergent” refers to those who can’t be easily regimented by the VR test and who can recognize the VR world as not being actual reality, thus becoming immune to the effects of the mind-control. Everyone agreed that this sort of technology was one they’d never want to see come into reality.

Attack on Titan by Hajime Isayama

This popular manga (Japanese comic book series), features another dystopian setting, where humanity has been reduced to a tiny population living in an immense walled city to protect itself from roving, gigantic “Titans” whose only apparent desire is to eat humans. The warriors assigned to defend humanity are equipped with “vertical mobility devices,” which are arrow-tipped grappling hooks fired by gas canisters. The cables allow the warriors to swing through city, forests, and even from the Titans themselves, “just like Spiderman” as our teen panel put it. The soldiers also use flexible swords which are the only weapons capable of killing the monstrous Titans. The blades, however, are destroyed when they strike a Titan, and the hilts must be reloaded from a supply cartridge worn like a scabbard at the warrior’s waist. Our teen panel loved the idea of being able to swing through the air with the grappling-hook harnesses, and who doesn’t love a techy sword?

Our teen panel then rounded out the discussion with recommendations for books and videos featuring Doctor Who—because TIME TRAVEL! (Which is hard to beat as tech goes.)

Our Honorary Best Book for Teen Tech Week:

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer by Sydney Padua

Part part non-fiction, part fiction, this highly amusing and intelligent graphic novel tells the adventures of (the real) Lady Ada Lovelace and (the also real) Charles Babbage in an “alternate pocket universe;” the alternate part being that the two actually build the invention they collaborated on in real life—the fabulous Analytical Engine, a steam-powered Victorian-era computer! If you’ve ever wondered what the Steampunk phenomena is all about, these two historical persons are at the heart of it. (As one of the book’s characters quips about the pair, “Oh look, we’re present for the invention of the geek.”) The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage mixes silly adventures and fabulous Victorian engineering with real history about the development of computing, programming languages, and a dash of women’s rights, all nearly a century before anyone made the first computer chip. If you love steampunk, history, computers or just laughing out loud about any of them, there’s no better book to grab for Teen Tech Week.

Other Teen Tech books in our collection include:

Time Travel Tech (because Doctor Who!)

  • Loop by Karen Akins
  • Hourglass series by Myra McEntire
  • The Time Machine by HG Wells (the father of them all)

Spy Tech

  • Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz
  • Gallagher Academy series by Ally Carter
  • The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp Series by Rick Yancey

Cybertech

  • Feed by MT Anderson
  • The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyers
  • Blue Screen by Dan Wells

Space Tech

  • Avalon Duology by Mindee Abnett
  • Dove Arising by Karen Bao
  • The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
  • Existence by David Brin
  • Illuminae Series by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
  • Dragonback Series by Timothy Zahn

Genetic Tech

  • Maximum Ride Series by James Patterson—teens bio-engineered with angel’s wings, pursued by teens bio-engineered as wolves.

Tech That Never Was (But Should Have Been) Tech

  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
  • Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel
  • Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld—featuring steam-powered walking tanks and bio-engineered flying whales!!!

Almost There Tech

  • Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld—featuring a hoverboard that floats over metal rails, or water with a strong iron content. Real  efforts to create hoverboards have in fact produced two workable versions- one that operates only above a metal surface, and another that operates (using superconductors) over a magnetic surface. Aside from the lack of any ability to float over water, this tech really does exist.

Ridiculous Tech

  • Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams—the tech is as silly (and impossible) as the novel, but who wouldn’t love to own the spacecraft Heart of Gold?

Actual You Can Do This Tech

Technology just isn’t something in books or something made by other people. If you love tech, why not make it your career? Check out these non-fiction books to kickstart your quest!

  • Careers for Tech Girls in Engineering by Marcia Amidon Lusted YA 620.0023 LUS
  • Preparing for Tomorrow’s Careers Series:
  • Powering Up a Career in Robotics by Peter K. Robin YA 629.892 RYA
  • Powering Up a Career in Software Development and Programming by Daniel E. Harmon YA 005.12023 HAR
  • Powering Up a Career in Nanotechnology by Kristi Lew YA620.5023 LEW

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DISASTER

By Howard Shirley, Teen Department

with apologies to Joss Whedon and Sam Raimi

CAST

RickUscropRICK, or Rick Grimes, is the lead character of the graphic novel and television series, The Walking Dead written by Robert Kirkman, which features a zombie pandemic that turns much of North America (and presumably the rest of the world) into a land dominated by re-animated corpses that attack any other living thing, including Rick’s band of survivors.

Ash vs Evil DeadASH, played by Bruce Campbell, battles his own version of undead zombies in the popular Sam Raimi films, The Evil Dead, The Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness. Part horror films, part camp comedy, the story was recently revised as a television series starring Campbell. ASH’s line about the shotgun is borrowed from the films.

JAYNE or Jayne Cobb was the “muscle” character in the short-lived sci-fi cult series, Firefly, as well as the movie set in the same universe, Serenity, 1363454-jayne07-2and a series of graphic novels written by the show’s creator, Joss Whedon (writer/director of the hit Avengers movie). Many of the stories in the series feature the “reavers,” which, while not actually undead zombies, are clearly inspired by classic zombie horror films, and appear to equally hard to stop and equally hungry for human flesh. Vera is Jayne’s favorite gun. JAYNE’s description of Vera is taken from the television series.

life2Afterlife02ARCHIE is the famous comic character from the long-running comic book series. JUGHEAD is his best friend. Recently both feature in Afterlife With Archie written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, graphic novels set in an alternate universe, where the town of Riverdale, including many of Archie’s friends, succumb to a zombie plague.

SETTING

A high school cafeteria room, with tables and chairs. There are double doors with frosted glass window panes set in them that lead out of the room. A podium has been set up on one of the tables. RICK stands behind the podium, holding a gavel. The others, except for JUGHEAD, move about the room.

RICK: I now call the first meeting of the Zombie Survivalists Society to order. First on the agenda–

(Noise from the back). No, Jayne, we are not changing the name to the “Not-Deaders Gang.”

JAYNE: But I *like* that name.

RICK (pounds gavel): As I was saying, first on the agenda, did anyone lock the door?

ARCHIE: Jughead went to do that!

RICK: Both doors?

ARCHIE: Sure. Don’t worry. We can trust Jughead.

JAYNE: What kinda mother names her kid “Jughead?”

ASH: Same kind that names her son “Jane.”

JAYNE: It’s JAYNE. With a “Y.”

ASH: And I’m Ash. With a chainsaw.

(SOUND EFFECT: Loud chainsaw revving.)

RICK (pounds gavel): Ash, turn that thing off. The undead will hear it!

ASH: Let ‘em. I got plenty of gas.

RICK: Off, Ash.

ASH: All right, all right. No need to get your gavel bent outta shape. It’s off.

RICK: I think that’s tip one, folks. Noise attracts the undead. So it’s best to keep as quiet as you can, even if you’re well-armed… or, uh, have a chainsaw for an arm.

JAYNE: Wait, that thing is part of you? You ain’t got no hand under there?

ASH: Lose a hand, gain a chainsaw. Groovy.

ARCHIE: They had a chainsaw at the hospital?

ASH: Hospital? Naw, kid, I got this in Hardwares at S-mart. Shop smart, kid. Shop S-mart.

ARCHIE: That doesn’t sound all that smart.

ASH (shrugs): Smart, dumb– I’m the one with the chainsaw hand.

ARCHIE: What does that even mean?

RICK (pounds gavel): Okay, okay. Let’s get back to business. Seems like a good time to talk about armament.

ASH: Chainsaw and boomstick (waves shotgun)— The twelve-gauge double-barreled Remington, S-Mart’s top of the line. Retails for about a hundred and nine, ninety five. It’s got a walnut stock, cobalt blue steel, and a hair trigger. Shop smart, shop S-mart!

ARCHIE: Who talks like that? It’s like I’m trapped in an alternate universe.

JAYNE: Shiny. But I got Vera. (Holds up military rifle) It’s a Callahan full-bore auto-lock. Customized trigger, double cartridge thorough gauge. It is my very favorite gun. Can’t get that at your S-mart.

ASH: Can’t get ammo for it, either.

RICK: Solid point. A gun’s no good without bullets.

JAYNE: Oh, I got lots of bullets. Armor piercing, Alliance armory stuff, best you can buy in the Black.

RICK: Why would you want armor piercing rounds?

JAYNE: In case them goram reavers pick up some body armor off dead Alliance troopers.

ARCHIE: Wait, what’s a whatchamacallit “reaver?”

JAYNE: What we’re talking about, right? Come at ya’ fast, rippin’ ya’ apart. Only way to stop ‘em is to kill ‘em fast. And Vera will do that, full auto, broad spread.

ASH: You gonna get head shots on a horde of deadites with full auto?

JAYNE: Head shots? Why head shots?

ASH: Because that’s the only way you kill deadites—take out the brain. Or say the right words.

RICK: Words? What words?

ASH: Klaatu barada nikto… or something like that.

ARCHIE: How is a quote from The Day the Earth Stood Still supposed to stop zombies?

JAYNE: Zombies? Ain’t we talking about reavers? Ya’ know, men what’s gone nuts on account of the Alliance mucking around with folks brains?

ASH: Naw, we’re talking about deadites, the living dead, summoned from the grave by unholy magic and dumb teenagers.

ARCHIE: Hey!

ASH: No offense, carrot head.

RICK: “Unholy magic?” Where’d you get that? All the zombies I know of are caused by a viral plague. They bite, you get infected, die, and the virus brings your corpse back, with a raging hunger for human flesh.

JAYNE: Hang on, I’m taking notes. Can you guys talk a bit slower?

ASH: Well, those deadites never made me a zombie, but they possessed my hand. Had to cut it off for this! (Revs chainsaw again.)

ARCHIE: Cut off your own hand? That is completely gross.

ASH: Gross? Naw. Kiddo, it’s groovy.

JAYNE: So you guys are saying instead of insane killer nutjobs from the Black, you’re fighting superfast dead people from Hell? Told Mal he shoulda sent Shepherd Book to this shindig instead of me.

ARCHIE: Ours aren’t fast. They just kinda shuffle, like Frankenstein. (He mocks the walk.)

RICK: Yep, that’s about right.

JAYNE: You guys can’t run away from that?

ASH: Sure woulda made my life a lot groovier.

ARCHIE: Hard to run when the whole high school just keeps walking after you, never stopping, moaning for your flesh, like this—(Moans) URRRRRRRRR….

RICK: Whole school? Make that the whole world. As far as I can tell, it’s a global pandemic.

ASH: Groovy.

JAYNE: I ain’t thinking that’s any kind of what I’d call ‘groovy,’ Sawboy.

RICK: Look, this whole thing is about survival. And that’s more than just having the right weapon or knowing where to shoot. You need a plan, dependable transportation, a safe route for evacuation, supplies and more. And you have to make certain everybody in your family is on the same page, so they all know what to do and where to go when disaster strikes.

JAYNE: That’s a bit more than I can write down on this candy wrapper.

ASH: I’m surprised you can write anything down.

RICK: You don’t have to. The Center for Disease Control has already created a preparedness plan for dealing with a zombie plague. You can find it on the Internet at http://www.cdc.gov/phpr/zombies.htm.

ARCHIE (using a tablet): I’ve got it right here. Look, they even have a graphic novel we can download. http://www.cdc.gov/phpr/zombies_novella.htm

ASH (to JAYNE): Groovy. That oughta make it easy enough for you to understand.

JAYNE: Ha. Funny. (to RICK) But if this plan is for zombies like you’re talking about, why are me and Lefty here?

ASH: Hey…

JAYNE (continuing): Sounds like we got totally different monsters to fight.

RICK: The plan works for just about any disaster—zombie plagues, reaver attacks, or more realistic events like floods, tornadoes, disease outbreaks and more. The right things to do are pretty much the same, no matter what happens.

ARCHIE: I gotta show this to the gang. We could have been much better prepared when it all started. Jughead, Moose, Reggie, Betty, Veronica—sure would have helped.

RICK: Speaking of Jughead, where is that friend of yours? He should have been back by now.

ARCHIE: Well, I dunno. Wait, there he is!

(All turn to look at a shadow appearing in the windows of the doors into the room. It’s Jughead’s trademark crown-toothed hat.)

JAYNE: Nice hat. I’d wear that.

The door opens, and Jughead staggers into the room, one arm out, one clutching his stomach mouth open.

JUGHEAD (moaning): Muh-urrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…

ASH: Deadite!

JAYNE: Reaver!

ARCHIE: Zombie!

ALL (except JUGHEAD): RUN!

There is a mad dash for the exit, with yells, screams and knocking over of chairs. JUGHEAD alone remains in the room.

JUGHEAD: …urrrppp! ‘xcuse me! Man, that was a long time coming up. Any of you guys want a sandwich, too? Guys?

THE END?!?

NOTES

The CDC Zombie Preparedness Guide is real, if tongue-in-cheek. Though centered around an imaginary zombie plague, the guide offers real tips and advice for general disaster preparedness.

 

Get Away With Teen Read Week

By Erin Holt and Howard Shirley, Teen Department

Teen Read week is here! Sponsored by the Young Adult Library Services Association, Teen Read Week highlights books and reading for teens and young adults. This year’s theme is “Get Away at Your Local Library,” and we’ve compiled a list of new books to help teen readers do just that. We’ve recently added all of these books (and many more) to our collection at the Franklin Teen Room, so come by, grab a book, and get away!

Get Away to Another Time: Capture the experience of the past, whether long ago or even simply a few decades, with these recent works of historical fiction:25163300

  • Audacity by Melanie Crowder, YA F CROWDER: A historical novel in verse about Clara Lemlich, a real life heroine in the fight for women’s labor rights at the turn of the century.
  • The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz, YA F SCHLITZ: Be taken back to 1911 with Joan, a fourteen year old who just wants her life to turn out like the books she reads and loves. This novel explores feminism, the role of women in history, and how dreams aren’t as far out of reach as we think.

Get Away to Another Planet: Soar away with new science fiction adventures:Avalon

  • Avalon and Polaris by Mindee Arnett, YA F ARNETT: A teenage boy fights for freedom in his family’s aging spaceship in this future space adventure series.
  • Serenity, Firefly Class 03-K64: Leaves on the Wind by Zack Whedon, YA F WHEDON: Fans of the short-lived science fiction television series Firefly can recapture the adventure with this graphic novel, set in the time immediately following the events of the movie Serenity. (Suitable for older teens.)

Get Away to Another Life: Stay in the present (and near future) with these new contemporary adventures:Mosquitoland-314x475

  • We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach, YA F WALLACH Go on a journey with 4 high school teenagers as they face themselves, each other, and their inner demons as they await a meteor to hit Earth. This stunning debut is best suited for older teens.
  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold F YA ARN: Combine a road trip, a romance, a homeless man, and a cast of quirky character and you’ve got a surefire hit with this awesome debut novel.

Get Away to Another World: Fantasy: Get whisked away into a world like you’ve never known in these fantasy novels.

  • 23569428Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman, YA F HERMAN: The first installment of the brand new Blood of Gods of Royals series, this book will leave you wanting more! Join main character Katerina as she embarks on a royal mission, involving murder and a love triangle!
  • The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang, YA F YAN: This graphic novel tells the story of an American Chinese teen in the time leading up to World War II, whose mother vows to turn him into a superhero. Based on an actual pre-war comic book hero created by a Chinese-American artist, the book is pure fantasy, but also a revealing look at the American Chinese culture of the time.

Get Away with Girl Power:Looking for a strong and confident main character who is a girl? These books are for you!24957546

  • Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, YA F MUR Willowdean is fat, and okay with it. When a beauty pageant opportunity arises, it’s her big chance to prove how beauty comes from this inside as well as the outside, regardless of size.
  • Queen of Shadows by Sara J. Maas YA F MAAS If you love the THRONE OF GLASS series, get in line for the next installment in this awesome series about assassins, espionage and more as you follow the path of the strong and awesome Celaena Sardothien! A combination of fantasy and girl power all rolled into one!

Forgotten History: The WWII Novels of Ruta Sepetys

By Howard Shirley. Teen Department

The Battle of Britain. Pearl Harbor. Stalingrad. The Holocaust. Seventy years later, the events and places of the Second World War echo in our minds, in stories we’ve told over and over, in novels, memoirs, television and film. One might think there is nothing new to discover, no secrets left unexamined. But the truth is that much of that history still remains hidden and forgotten, not because of conspiracy or government secrets, but merely because few have bothered to look— except for novelist Ruta Sepetys.

rutasepetys_photoThe daughter of a war refugee from Lithuania, young Ruta grew up hearing stories of her family’s escape from war-torn Europe. A Lithuanian military officer, Ruta’s grandfather found himself in the crosshairs of Stalin’s secret police, when the Soviet Union overran Lithuania and her sister Baltic states, Estonia and Latvia, in the opening months of World War II. Knowing without any doubt what he and his family’s fate would be, the officer fled into Germany with his family, including Ruta’s father, a young boy. They lived out the war in a refugee camp, little more wanted by the German government than the Soviets. Eventually, the family immigrated to America; the boy grew up, married, and Ruta was born.

But as Ruta herself says, that was only ever half of the story. Because though the war had ended, Lithuania would remain in the Soviet grip for fifty years. And among those in that grip, were the other half of the Sepetys family—the aunts, uncles and cousins she never knew, who had not slipped from Stalin’s noose.

And a noose it was. From 1941 through 1944, Stalin arrested, tortured, deported and murdered Lithuania’s political and intellectual classes en masse, in a ruthless effort to crush the Lithuanian nation and erase its culture from Europe, replaced by the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Communist Party.

Ruta’s family was part of that purge. Herded into crude train cars built for cattle, with the outside labelled “Thieves and Prostitutes,” Lithuanian doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, and their families, including the elderly, children and even infants, were shipped across the breadth of Russia to Siberia, some even forced to settle in the tundra above the Arctic Circle. Denied food, medicine, winter clothing and even the most rudimentary shelter, countless numbers died from neglect and exposure. Others were killed outright by the brutal NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB of the Cold War era. And, of course, any of Lithuania’s political or military classes, not to mention college professors and journalists, were never sent to Siberia; they were carted into Soviet prisons on trumped up charges, tried, convicted and executed by Stalin for the Glory of Mother Russia.

Most in the West had no idea, or for that matter, even cared.

Until Ruta Sepetys asked what happened to her cousins.

In her curiosity, Sepetys found the forgotten story of her family and the Lithuanian people—a story she had never fully known. As she says, there was only one thing she knew to do: pick up a pen, and write.

tumblr_mg09hdS6En1rgach4o7_400And she did. She wrote her first novel, Between Shades of Gray, the tale of a girl very much like the Sepetys cousins, a teenager with dreams of being an artist, who is instead swept up into the nightmare of Stalin’s greed. Between Shades of Gray is her story, but it is also the story of the Lithuanian people—the forgotten history that to this day Russian strong men wish to keep hidden. It is a tale of survival, of fortitude, of hope, and of love. Now translated into over 30 languages and sold in 45 countries around the world, Between Shades of Gray has broken open the lock of history, and the story of Lithuania and her Baltic neighbors is now known around the world, and will never be forgotten.

But this blog is about novels, not just one book.

Because Ruta has found another forgotten piece of history to bring before the world. And it’s the answer to this question:

What is the greatest maritime disaster in history?

The sinking of the Titanic?

Not even close.

It is the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustoff, a civilian liner acting as a refugee ship, and filled by Baltic and German civilians trying to escape the rape of eastern Europe by the Soviet Red Army. The Gustoff went down in the freezing Baltic Sea, in the winter of 1945, sunk not by an accidental encounter with an iceberg, but a torpedo strike from a Soviet submarine. On board were an estimated ten thousand people; almost all were civilian refugees. Barely a thousand survived.

Nine thousand souls lost. Nine thousand stories forgotten.

But not by Ruta.

34352-1With her latest novel, Salt to the Sea (February 2016) Ruta Sepetys once again takes a moment in history the world has overlooked, and restores it fresh before us. Four teens flee the Soviet onslaught, each with their secrets, their fears, and their dreams. Four stories converge on a German port, the Baltic Sea, and the Wilhelm Gustoff. Through the eyes of these teens, Sepetys explores questions of guilt, forgiveness and redemption, what is truly meant by bravery and cowardice, and what happens when the soul abandons compassion for self-deluding pride. Ruta’s writing is always captivating; the simplest sentence carries weight beyond its words. The smallest detail sparks a vivid image, sometimes stark, sometimes brilliant, but each time beautiful. With her words, Sepetys captures moments in time, like memories renewed to life. With this story, Sepetys explores the human heart. There is adventure, there is mystery, there is villainy, there is tragedy, and there is hope. In Salt to the Sea, the forgotten are forgotten no longer, and in Ruta’s pen, the sea gives up its dead.

You’ll have to wait until February to read Salt to the Sea, but Between Shades of Gray is available now on our Teen Room shelves. Pick it up, and transport yourself into a history you never knew, and a story you will never forget.

Happy Birthday, Harry Potter! (And Neville Longbottom, too.)

By Howard Shirley, Teen Department

9610573944_25fc1360f5_o_dBorn as the seventh month dies, as all Harry Potter fans know, is the haunting prophecy that forever establishes the boy wizard’s birthday as July 31. Though Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone* was first published in 1997 (making the series nearly 20 years old), according to Rowling the character himself was born in 1980, making the wizard a thirty-five year old father of three, with his adventures beginning in 1991 and coming to an end in 1998, when he was 18.

So, what’s Harry been up to for the last 17 years or so? The series ends with an epilogue featuring Harry’s two sons headed for Hogwarts, set presumably in September 2017, when Harry is 37. In it we come to know that Harry is an Auror, more or less the equivalent of a wizardly policeman/ secret agent.** Aside from this, little else is offered, although during the years, she has dropped hints and tidbits about her characters’ lives . It’s pretty much up to the fans to imagine what his life is like, though the scene implies it’s a happy one.

Last year, JK Rowling offered a tidbit about Harry and his friends through her Pottermore web site, featuring an article written by (notorious) wizardly gossip columnist Rita Skeeter (introduced in the fourth novel, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). Of course, whatever Rita Skeeter writes is “deliciously nasty,” to quote Albus Dumbledore, and less than accurate. In this case, it’s more or less a “seen and heard” column about audience members at the Quidditch World Cup,*** with Skeeter’s nastiness limited to cracks about gray hairs (Harry), thinning hair (Ron), and more than dubious rumors of unhappiness at home in the Potter marriage. The article itself is only available on Pottermore, but a further summary of the contents can be found here.

tumblr_mt0ozs1irR1qdibyzo1_r1_500But there are other developments going on as well. JK Rowling has already penned a new Harry Potter screenplay, based on her short book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (by Newt Scamander), itself a fictional bestiary of magical creatures which Harry and company use as a textbook at Hogwarts.**** Eddie Redmayne, an Oscar winner for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking, has already been signed to play the titular author, and an open casting call has been made for a young heroine named Modesty, Newt’s daughter. The film is initially reported to be a trilogy. For more info, the magic of the web will guide you to the following articles:

But those are not stories about Harry, as they are set some seventy years before Harry is born, and apparently in New York City (so perhaps we’ll see what life is like for American wizards and witches?).

Rowling has instead crafted another Harry Potter tale, though it’s neither a story nor a novel, but a stage play. Scheduled to open in 2016 in London’s West End theatre district, the title is Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and was co-written with award winning playwright Jack Thorne. Rowling has said it’s “not a prequel,” though it tells more of the story of Harry’s parents. And of course we have yet another magical link.

So there you have it—all that is happening in the wizarding world (at least that we Muggles know of).*****

On a side note there is some “old news” that even local fans may not be aware of—there is a Tennessee connection with the Harry Potter novels (and films). It involves a famous legend and ghost story of middle Tennessee, and the connection appears in every novel of the series. It’s not until the fifth novel, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, that the full legend comes into play (with a little hold over into the sixth novel). What’s the connection? Well, let’s just say it involves a famous witch, a poltergeist (a spirit who throws things), and a family curse. If you want to find the connection, read the books again!

And that’s our birthday present to you—more to learn (and love) about…images

 


*The novel was retitled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for its American release, and the name of the title object was similarly changed, but otherwise it’s the same book.

** So, does he introduce himself to the bad guys as “Potter. Harry Potter,” and order his butterbeer shaken? We remain in mystery.

*** Quidditch is a wizard’s sport, sort of combination of field hockey , soccer, cricket and dodgeball, combined with a one-item “I spy” hunt and played on broomsticks. Really, where have you been for the last twenty years that you don’t know this?

**** Hogwarts is the boarding school where Harry and other young witches and wizards go to learn about magic, and, apparently, fight various nasty creatures and servants of the evil wizard Lord Voldemort, who seems to have a habit of terrorizing the school at least once a year. But only during term.

*****Non-magical people who can’t cast spells or fly around on broomsticks, but have to ride cars and airplanes and use telephones, e-mail and Twitter instead of owls to convey our messages. Really, do try to keep up!

Back To the Future of the Past: Time Machines, Hoverboards and One Flying Car – PART 2

By Howard Shirley, Teen Department

Last time we reviewed the predictions that Back to the Future II got completely wrong, such as the computerized celebrity waiters, dust resistant paper, self-fitting clothes, and weather control.  Now we’re going to look at the predictions that were almost right (different technology with the same purpose, technology that has almost the same function, ect.), as well as the technology predictions that are absolutely correct.


ALMOST


2015_delorean_aFlying Cars. This, of course, is the biggie (if you don’t count time machines, which we didn’t have in 1985 or 1989, either). And though a perennial favorite of science fiction and future predictions, we still don’t have our flying cars. But we do have “driveable planes,” like the Transition, an aircraft with folding wings and four wheels. Designed to comply with road safety regulations, it’s intended as an airplane which can be driven home on ordinary roads and parked in a garage. Rather than a car that flies, it’s a plane that drives; it still needs an airport for takeoffs and landings, and requires a pilot’s license to operate. So a true “flying car” that one simply hops in and takes off into the air whenever and wherever is still a fantastic dream. BUT there is something a lot closer which may soon be available– the hoverbike. Demonstrated a few years ago, a hoverbike consists of two large horizontal counter-rotating fans, on top of which is mounted a saddle-seat like a motorcycle. Supposedly simple to operate and fly, the device has been featured in a number of videos, and even appears briefly in an advertisement for Honda (who bought the design from its inventors). Thought the videos only depict the hoverbike operating a few feet over the ground, the vehicle could achieve heights of several thousand feet, making it, if not a flying car, a flying motorcycle. Can you get one? Well, not yet, though rumor has it the device is being considered as an expensive luxury sport item. It may not be headed to your garage, but if you know any billionaires, maybe they’ll give you a ride one day.

Flying signs. The “skyways” of 2015 America don’t appear much different from the roads of 2015—congested, confusing, and marked by signs… only these signs can fly, hovering in place in the flight paths of the flying cars we don’t have. Some even offer advertisements, like billboards without posts. Well, not having flying cars, we obviously don’t have (or need) flying signs. But could advertising drones be far away? Like planes flying over beaches and sporting events, pulling signs touting local diners, drones could easily carry similar signs, or even hover in place. No one has done this yet, but it’s certainly possible… though we might end up wishing it wasn’t.

back-to-the-future-docs-glasses-2015Doc Browns’ visor glasses. At the start of the film, Doc Brown hops in his now fusion-powered flying Delorean and flips down a set of opaque sliver glasses, which presumably he can see through. Although how they work is never shown, Doc’s visor appears to transmit visual information to him while driving, not unlike a “heads up” display used by military helicopter pilots. In a way, it’s a combination camera and information device. Remember Google’s infamous attempt to introduce “Google Glasses?” Instantly ridiculed by comedians and amateur YouTube productions, these modern version of Doc’s visor provoked such strong reactions against “secret spying” as to lead some bars and restaurants to ban Google Glasses before they even got started. Ironically, the same capabilities are present in just about any common smart phone– perhaps spying from one’s hand is more acceptable than spying from one’s head? (In an ironic twist, a few of the comic videos depicted male Glasses wearers taking secret photos of women and calculating “vital statistics.” This appears to be a feature of Doc Brown’s binoculars later in the film. As he tracks the movements of Marty’s future son, the binoculars keep shifting an “aiming” crosshair to women who walk past the boy, with numbers spinning briefly into view, implying that Doc is a bit of a voyeur. This also echoes Marty’s father’s teenage Peeping Tom misadventure in the first film.)

Self-tying shoes. Not to be outdone by the jacket, Marty’s 2015 sneakers (Nike, no less), lace themselves with a button push. The dream of boys everywhere (and exasperated parents), this little wonder of the future is, alas, not here… yet. Nike itself has promised to release exact replicas of Marty’s shoes, complete with powered self-lacing feature, this year in honor of the film. Replica versions of the sneakers, without the automatic laces, are already available (and they still look funky and futuristic, thirty years later). But as yet, the dream has not been realized, though sources insist that Nike is on track. After all, there are twelve months in 2015, and the movie is set in October.

Self-drying clothes. Another dream of boys and anyone caught in a sudden shower, Marty’s outfit suddenly turns into a full-body dryer after he falls in a pond. Inflating like a balloon to the whir of hidden fans, the jacket blasts itself and Marty with air, declaring within seconds (in a computer voice like a video game) “Clothes dry.” Leaving aside how hot the air would have to be to fully dry clothes in less than five seconds, one begins to wonder how much these things must weigh to hold all the motors, batteries, and other components to perform the functions shown. Certainly no such self-drying wonders exist. However, polymer technology has produced coatings that shed water completely. Liquids, oils, even dust pour off treated surfaces like ball bearings rolling out of a pan. Already available in paint (bars in Germany coat exterior walls to discourage public, uh, “relief,” as any liquid simply ricochets back on its source), this technology could produce clothes which would never get wet in the first place (or even dirty).

18grjkc6yp4wrjpgAutomatic beverage dispenser at a restaurant. Marty encounters this device in the local diner (the same spot where a diner existed in 1955). Repeating a standard product-placement from the original film, Marty orders a Pepsi (ironically, not the “Pepsi Free” product of the 1985 film, which had been renamed in 1987. Amusingly, what had been Marty’s preferred drink the day before no longer existed the next morning, when the second film begins!). Regardless of flavor, the restaurant counter opens and a bottle of Pepsi pops up, suitably surrounded by a cool mist. It’s practically an ad, and reminiscent of the Pepsi commercials of the era. Ad or not, cool or not, instant-Pepsi counters don’t exist that I know of. And, really, there doesn’t seem to be much point to this “advancement” over an ordinary vending machine or a refrigerated cabinet. Of course, self-serve sodas are a staple, and new computerized “mix your own soda” systems have become popular in some fast food restaurants. Also, some fast food restaurants use automated drink systems that dispense cup, ice, liquid and lid for their drive thru lines. So label this one a “sort of.”

Upside down soda bottles. Of course, issuing an ordinary Pepsi bottle from 1985 would not do for a futuristic film. So instead, Marty’s drink appears in a bottle that is, apparently, upside down, with the lid or cap on the bottom (ooo, that futuristic design!). This spectacularly nonsensical idea has not arrived, to no one’s real surprise. However, the concept has been applied to thicker semi-liquid products like ketchup and mustard, and some shower products as well. Instead of having to turn the bottle over and shake or pound it to get the product to slowly drain its way to the opening and onto a burger, the upside down bottle has the product already at the opening, ready to ooze onto your meal. The future is here!

Hoverbelt / brace. This device is shown as an aid for the elderly and (presumably the disabled) to help them move around. No such technology exists, or appears likely too. But several steps have been made in developing wheel chairs that will “stand up.” And maybe the Segway two-wheeled electric scooter counts as a similar approach?

Scenic window. Not so much, but giant, flat screen TVs exist, and images of all types can be easily produced, and DVDs of all sorts of repeating scenes are available. So if you want your TV to show you a garden or an ocean view or a crackling fire, you can find it.

bttf2-digital-cameraSmart binoculars. I mentioned these in the discussion of Doc’s visor, so I’ll return to them here. In the film, the device looks a little like an iPhone with a wide edge, only Doc peers through the edge rather than using a screen. The binoculars are revealed to have a built-in “heads up” style display that provides information about whatever (or whoever) is being viewed. In some ways, this may be similar to military tech already in use (like the previously mentioned pilot’s helmets) — and of course, the infamous Google glasses. The capabilities of the device do look like a possible feature in a smart phone camera. We certainly have telephoto lenses and computer magnification available, serving a very similar purpose. Cameras also have “face” trackers that attempt to isolate faces to help provide proper focusing and framing for the eventual photo. So perhaps all the smart phones have out-guessed the futurism of the film. In some ways, Doc’s fancy binoculars seem almost quaint.

Trash robot. Cute and simple, this is basically a roving trash can that picks up street debris. While we don’t have those, we certainly do have creations like the Roomba robot vacuum cleaners and floor scrubbers, eagerly roving around homes and businesses, performing pretty much the same purpose.

Dog walking drones. Arriving at his future neighborhood, Marty sees a hovering small saucer, a bit like a drone, holding the leash of a large dog; it’s a flying dog-walking robot. As it turns out, we do have drones. And we do have dog-walking robots (yes, really: http://theweek.com/articles/484714/luna-really-need-dogwalking-robot). But alas, the glorious wonders of the dog-walking drone have not yet appeared on the scene.

Laser discs as recycled trash. Everywhere you look in the future, you see giant reflective laser discs, gathered up in bales like stacks of recycled cardboard. Remember the laser disc? They were like CDs or DVDs, only as big a round as a vinyl record (okay, you post ‘90s types, bigger than a Frisbee). Once the Blu-ray of the day, clearly in 1989 people thought the laser disc would become as ubiquitous as, as, well as the DVD players which completely replaced them became. The irony of the scene is that, yes, laser discs were indeed destined to become trash, but within about ten years, not thirty, and there appear to be more laser discs in the town of Hilldale in 2015 than were probably sold in LA for the entire 1980s. So while the giant laser discs are indeed gone from the scene, they were never really all that much in the scene to begin with. Still, the smaller and far more ubiquitous CD/DVD/Blu-Ray disc might be on the way out thanks to downloadable digital music and video products. But the physical medium for holding artistic content still remains popular, and unlikely to vanish quite yet. Sure, CDs and DVDs do wind up in the trash, but that’s because we have so many of them that they’re easily replaced, not that anyone has stopped using them at all.

Bionic implants. Briefly mentioned in the film (and implied to be faulty), bionic implants are a staple of modern science fiction. Microchip implants have been demonstrated in reality, though not as commercial products. Much opposition to the idea remains, both out of health concerns and fears of what such implants might mean in a period of growing government surveillance and ever more intrepid (and nefarious) computer hackers.

18grjxzhvs5ccpngAutomatic gardens. Marty’s kitchen has a built-in garden that automatically delivers fresh fruits and vegetables on demand. So far, gardens remain traditional, or people are content to browse the produce section at the local supermarket. But hydroponic technology does offer the possibility of in-home, dirt-free gardens; though having this built into the ceiling seems a bit much.


RIGHT


Hoverboards. The most famous sequence in the film, of course, is the “hoverboard” chase between Marty and the future teenage grandson of his family nemesis, Biff. The chase mimics the skateboard sequence from 1955 from the first film, only the skateboards have been replaced with wheel-less “hoverboards” that float a little less than a foot above ground. This, of course, was probably considered even more fanciful by the film’s makers than even the flying cars, but guess what— hoverboards actually exist. Invented by two scientists just last year, the Hendo hoverboard has famously been demonstrated on YouTube and featured on network news. Unlike Marty’s board, this one only works over a metal floor, and operates on the principle of magnetic induction and repulsion. But it works—hovering a few inches above the surface, riders can spin it, turn it, and even try half-pipe moves. Of course, as a frictionless device it doesn’t operate exactly like a skateboard, as it can slide in any direction, not just forwards and backwards (control is very much an issue). It’s also quite heavy, so jump moves are out; you won’t be flipping this in the air for a kick-move or a 360! But it is a hoverboard and it does work, and you can bet Marty would love to give it a try (Tony Hawk has).

Thumbpad door locks. Access to Marty’s future house is not by keys but by a thumbpad that apparently only recognizes the print of the owners. Locks like this do exist, but the technology hasn’t been brought to the average home in any significant way. However, Apple’s new thumbprint security system for the iPhone 6 could be easily incorporated into “smarthouse” systems and apps to allow thumbprint approval for remote entry and security control. So if you want this “future tech,” you can probably get it.

Giant wall screens. Yep, we got ‘em, if you want to pay for them. (The author personally knows someone with a 72” wall screen. And yes, it’s huge, and yes, he bought it to watch football). Also, the film features multiple images on a single screen , a feature that is quite common, both built into a TV itself or from cable providers.

TV phone. In one scene, the future Marty talks through his giant wall television set (yes, we have those) to both a coworker and his boss. Skype, Facetime and other Internet videoconferencing technologies have made this a common, everyday reality, though we don’t use our televisions, we use our computers. Ironically, the scene ends with the boss sending Marty a firing notice by fax. While we still have these devices, for the most part fax machines have faded from usage, replaced by digital documents, texting and “cloud” computing.

Voice activated lights/houses. Marty’s future house is voice-activated, with a talking computer operating the lights and other features of the home. This can in fact be done, though app-controlled “smart houses” seem to be the new trend, and quite expensive, not something found in the older middle class dwelling the future Marty owns. But any home can take advantage of systems like the Nest programmable thermostat and Nest fire alarm, which offer “intelligent” control of heating and safety systems, with these devices able to detect and respond to human presence. And AT&T (and others) advertises fully digital home control systems that operate everything from the water faucets to the door locks with the slide of finger on a smartphone. If you want Marty’s computer controlled house, you can get it.

Sound device that makes strange noises. These have been readily available as novelty items for years, and sound chips are in things as simple as greeting cards. Some devices and chips are programmable or let you record your own sounds. Of course, these days apps on a smart phone serve the same purpose. The future has clearly jumped well past the movie prediction!

Police computing tablet. In the film, police use an electronic pad to collect information about suspects or individuals, identifying Marty’s girlfriend Jennifer (as her future self) and locating her (future) home. This moment is possibly the one truly prescient prediction in the movie, as the iPad and computing tablets like it weren’t even dreamed of in 1989, which was just seeing the advent of viable laptop computers. (Of course, Star Trek: The Next Generation showed viewers the PADD, a small, handheld, flat device about the size and shape of a thin book, as the futuristic replacement for clipboards and books, so the idea of a “computing tablet” was already in the minds of Hollywood science fiction writers). Today, tablet computing offers similar capabilities to the police tablets in BTTF2, and laptops and tablets are used in many police departments by officers both in the office and in the field.


So, there you have it—the future they thought versus the present we got. But perhaps the biggest difference between our present and their imagine future is what the filmmakers missed completely—the ubiquity of the cell phone. Not only are these not in use, they’re not in sight. Instead, their future 2015 still has phone booths. Even Superman can’t find one of those!

Back To the Future of the Past: Time Machines, Hoverboards and One Flying Car – PART 1

By Howard Shirley, Teen Department-Back-to-the-Future-Part-II

1989, the first year of George Bush’s presidency (the father, not the son), the last year of the Reagan decade, and the year that brought the sequel to the blockbuster time travel movie Back to the Future.

In the first film, teenager Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox) accidentally travels back in time to 1955, in one of the most unique time travel devices ever filmed—a stainless steel Delorean sports car. Exploring his now retro hometown, Marty inadvertently prevents his parents from meeting, a catastrophe that means he would never be born; unless he sets things right and helps his teenage parents find true love again. Aided by Doc Brown, the time machine’s eccentric inventor, he saves the day and his parents’ future marriage (and, incidentally, transforms their future lives from dull to dreamy). The film ended back in the year 1985, with the Doc Brown character zooming off into the future… and then instantly returning to take Marty (and his teenage girlfriend) to 2015 to save their own kids from that unknown future.

It took four years to find out what that future was—a time of flying cars, home fusion generators, and instant pizza. At least, that’s what the film-makers in 1989 thought the future would be like. Well, 2015 isn’t the future anymore. So what did they get right, and what did they get wrong?


WRONG


Back to the Future DeLorean Time MachineMr. Fusion home and car nuclear fusion generators. In the first film, the Delorean time machine is powered by a plutonium fission reactor (and, yes, small nuclear reactors are indeed possible and have been built for laboratory use). But when Doc returns from the future, he’s had it fitted with a plastic device resembling a food processor, labelled “Mr. Fusion.” Doc proceeds to stuff it with garbage (a banana peel, beer, and even the beer can), announcing he needs “fuel.” So apparently the future of 2015 was expected to have cheap and easy access to virtually unlimited energy that could produce nuclear fusion from any solid or liquid matter.

Well, nice try, but that’s not here, nor around the corner, nor even probable. As far as we know, nuclear fusion requires very specific isotopes of hydrogen or helium, not something you can unlock in a banana peel. And today’s fusion reactors remain pretty much what they were thirty years ago—immense, expensive and complicated machines that fill entire buildings, and require more energy to ignite than they produce from the fusion process itself. So it seems Mr. Fusion is a complete no go… but maybe not. Lockheed-Martin’s famous Skunk Works research division announced last year a potential way to create relatively inexpensive controlled fusion reactions without the massive power requirements which have so far been necessary (and have rendered fusion untenable as an energy solution). Lockheed expects to produce a viable, economically feasible fusion power plant that could fit on the back of a flatbed semi, and expects to do so in the next ten years. From any other source, this proposal might seem laughable, but the scientists at Lockheed aren’t given to absurd claims. So though Mr. Fusion isn’t here yet, just maybe he’s hanging out around the corner.

Instant sleep device. In the film, Doc Brown decides that bringing Marty’s girlfriend along is a bad idea, and he solves the problem by instantly putting her to sleep with an electronic device he shines in her eyes. Setting aside the questionable nature of using such an item on an unsuspecting person (much less a teenage girl), not to mention the underlying sexism of the moment (why is the future dangerous for her but not for Marty?), do we have anything like it? Well, not really. In a way, a Taser serves as a knock-out device, but far more violently, and isn’t intended as a path to unconsciousness for the victim (pleasant or otherwise), just a state of helplessness. Instantly induced, non-chemical sleep would be a medical wonder, but would we really want such things being available outside of a controlled medical environment? Probably not; the chance for abuse is obvious.

Weather Service (weather control). When the trio arrives in the future, it’s pouring down rain. Marty comments that the events Doc predicts don’t work for the weather. Doc checks his watch, and the rain instantly stops, with bright sun appearing immediately. “The National Weather Service. Right on the money,” he says—apparently in 2015, we’re supposed to be able to control the weather. Well, we’re not even close. We’re still arguing about whether what we do (by accident) affects the climate, and what we can possibly do about it if it even does. Controlling the weather remains as far in the future as it’s ever been.

Self Fitting ClothesSelf-fitting clothes. Marty has to dress like his teenage son (conveniently identical to his some-day father). The jacket Doc hands him at first seems absurdly wrong—the sleeves are easily a foot longer than Marty’s arms, and the body dwarfs his frame. But a press of a tab causes the outfit to instantly contract to the proper size, the sleeves folding up like an accordion. As any parent of a young teen will tell you, this is an incredible idea. Imagine purchasing an outfit for a twelve-year-old and have it still fit him at age thirteen! But, alas, no such clothing exists. On the other hand, given the rate at which teen fashion changes, many teens would probably be whining about having to wear “last year’s” clothing again, whether it automatically fit or not.

Rejuvenation. Doc Brown brags about how “rejuvenation” has made him ten years younger—though to Marty and us, he looks pretty much the same as he did in 1985 and even 1955. Doc implies that the process somehow restores a person’s youth, a staple of science fiction for over a century. Well, no, we still can’t do that, though plastic surgery to make one appear younger remains in vogue (with somewhat dubious success; youth is in the eye of the beholder). However, certain research may indicate paths to restoring some measure of youth to older people. Experiments with mice involving stem cells and other genetic methods have indeed made older mice “younger,” in terms of their cells’ abilities to restore themselves (a natural process that is lost and in fact prevented over time, producing the effect we know as aging). These experiments, however, remain largely on the far edge of medical study, and as currently done have potentially dangerous side effects, especially a high risk of cancer. They’re certainly not ready now for any human application, nor likely to be ready in the very near future.

Windows in luggage. In a rather odd moment, Doc pulls a duffle bag out of his car, presses a button, and the plastic side panel on the duffle changes from an opaque white to a clear window, revealing the clothes inside. As far as I know, this device doesn’t exist, but why would such a thing even be needed? Maybe for easy inspection at airports, though I can’t imagine too many people want their packed undies to be revealed to everyone in the TSA line. I guess if one wonders if you remembered to pack that green shirt, you can reveal the window and glimpse inside without having to open the bag and move anything…

No lawyers, resulting in swift justice. This is a one-off joke in the film, to explain how in 2015 a character can be arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced all on the same day. Doc Brown simply says, “Since they abolished all lawyers, the justice system operates swiftly.” Thankfully, this development has not occurred, as the absence of competent representation would likely produce more injustice for the accused than the opposite. Whatever its faults, the justice system we still have seems superior to the one implied by this joke.

tumblr_inline_nhil0tWZs61rfu4os“Instant” pizza / food rehydration. The future version of Marty’s mother arrives to visit Marty’s family, declaring that she’s brought pizza. The pizza turns out to be a plastic-wrapped disc barely the size of a bagel. She rips open the package, stuffs the puny thing in a boxy appliance labeled as a “food rehydrator,” and presses a button. Seconds later, a full-sized large pizza slides out of the machine. Yum. Thankfully, we’ve dodged this particularly unappealing bullet. Still, quick meals have made quite an upswing in quality over the days of Hamburger Helper and the barely edible frozen pizzas of my youth, so maybe a rehydrated pizza really would taste good. I’m not betting on it, though.

Inflated prices. In the future Hilldale, an advertisement for converting a car to hover-capability suggest a “bargain” price of “$39,999.95,” which, even with the obvious luxury aspect of a conversion, implies a significant devaluation of the dollar, especially if such a cost is considered “within reach” and worth paying for on a used vehicle. Thankfully, while inflation has been bad enough, especially over the last decade (about 9-10%), it hasn’t been quite as bad as the movie suggests.

Martyenterscafe80sPockets turned out as a teen fashion fad. Doc yanks Marty’s pockets out, declaring it’s the latest thing for teens. If only out-turned pockets were the “teen rebellion” fashion statement of the day, rather than exposed boxers (or worse, briefs). But the latter fad seems to be on the way out, so who knows what “kids in the future” (i.e. “this fall”) will decide to do to shock mom and dad instead?

Dust resistant paper. Nope. Though there are coatings that can repel dirt and grime might be a solution, if anyone really needs paper that always stays clean.

Extendable baseball bats. The future Biff grandson, as much of a bully as his grandfather, pulls out a baseball bat to attack Marty. The bat is collapsible, telescoping to full size with the push of a button. This innovation, which doesn’t seem to be of much use in sports, hasn’t arrived, but telescoping toy light sabers from the Star Wars films have been around for years, though they extend at the flick of a wrist, not by any power source.

Computerized celebrity waiters. The diner, like all good restaurants in the future, has dispensed with wait staff (or, apparently, any staff), replacing everyone with ceiling-suspended robot waiters, consisting of video screens with computerized images of Michael Jackson (alive in 1989, but tragically and prophetically dead today) and Ronald Reagan (looking and sounding very Max Headroom-ish, another blast from the ‘80s. The future back then w-w-w-as hi-hi-hip. And it stuttered). Yes, today some restaurants have experimented with apps and at-the-table ordering and paying systems, but a good old-fashioned living waiter still dominates the market. Digital celebrity appearances, however, have been incorporated into films, television shows, and advertisements, with deceased stars like Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly appearing to endorse modern products created long after their deaths. And documentary footage has been digitally doctored in film to give the illusion of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson and Richard Nixon, among others, interacting with characters portrayed by modern actors. There is also a restaurant in Japan which has indeed replaced human waiters with bizarrely smiling robots, so maybe a dead celebrity robot server will come to pass. Personally, this writer hopes not.

SHARK3D holographic signs and images, without a screen. At one point, Marty is briefly terrified by the image of a giant shark that lurches out of the air to apparently swallow him. It turns out to be nothing more than a 3D hologram, projected into the surroundings by the local theater to advertise the latest iteration of the Jaws movie series (thankfully, Jaws IV seems to have killed that brand for good). As yet, 3D images still require either a projection on a flat surface or special glasses or curved screens to create; they can’t just be flung into the air. However, certain experimental devices have demonstrated ways to produce screenless 3D effects. One creates pockets of plasma in the air which will reflect laser light beamed onto the plasma. Multiple lasers can thus produce a three-dimensional image apparently in empty space. But this technology is nowhere near reaching the ability to create a giant shark munching down on a passerby.


Next time — what did the movie get right?WHITE-BOX

It’s Durin’s Day!

By Howard Shirley, Teen Library Assistant

“Then what is Durin’s Day?” asked Elrond.

The first day of the dwarves’ New Year,” said Thorin, “is as all should know the first day of the last moon of Autumn on the threshold of Winter. We still call it Durin’s Day when the last moon of Autumn and the sun are in the sky together. But this will not help us much, I fear, for it passes our skill in these days to guess when such a time will come again.”                                                          

The Hobbit, ‘A Short Rest’

Fortunately, while it may pass the skill of Thorin and Co. (who clearly spent more time looking for gold underground than looking up at the heavens), it does not pass our skill to discover the date of Durin’s Day. All one needs is a copy of The Hobbit, a good lunar calendar, and an understanding of what is meant by the terms “Autumn” and “Winter” in the mind of an expert on Medieval English Literature, which Tolkien himself was.

Lunar calendars are easy. Most calendars today already depict the moon’s phases, and if not, the Internet provides easy access to lunar information for any region and day on Earth. At this point, we need only consult The Hobbit to see what characteristics of the lunar cycle are associated with Durin’s Day.

From Thorin’s conversation with Elrond we see that “Durin’s Day” assumes that the moon and sun are visible at the same time in the sky. Such an event is not unusual; indeed throughout the year both the sun and the moon will be visible in the sky together, sometimes at dawn, sometimes throughout the morning or the afternoon, and sometimes at sunset. But which of these moments is meant by Thorin’s description? And since this happens many times in the traditional “Autumn” months of September, October and November, which month is meant and which phase is being described? If we go merely by Thorin’s description, Durin’s Day could cover many days in the year, and potential several days in a row! Yet clearly in the story Durin’s Day is indeed a specific day that happens only once a year (and if you read the story, that fact is crucial to the plot). So any given day when the moon and the sun are seen together is not necessarily Durin’s Day, even if it’s Autumn and even if it’s about to become Winter.

 


 Which Moon Is It?

Fazat_e_Hënës

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The first thing to determine is which phase of the moon applies. As it circles the Earth, the moon undergoes different phases depending on the amount of sunlight or Earth-shadow which strikes the moon’s surface. Although the progression is gradual, these are typically referred to as a New Moon (when the moon is on the sunlit side of the Earth and cannot be seen either during the day or at night), a waxing crescent (when the moon is only visible as a crescent shape; waxing means that shape is becoming more lit), a half-moon (equal parts light and shadow, appearing as a semi-circle), a waxing gibbous moon (meaning more than half is lit, sort of like a squished circle), and a Full Moon (all sunlight and no shadow). From this point the lit portion of the moon grows smaller, or “wanes,” giving a waning gibbous moon, a half-moon, a waning crescent moon, and finally back to New Moon again. In this context, “the last moon of Autumn” is not the last night that a moon can be seen before it “disappears” as a New Moon, but rather the entire cycle from New Moon to New Moon. This is important to consider, as this means that Durin’s Day comes as the moon’s cycle overlaps the “threshold of Winter” (the meaning of which we will examine later). Whichever full cycle of moon is in the sky on the last day of Autumn and the first day of Winter before becoming a New Moon again is therefore the “last moon of Autumn.” So the relevant moment of Durin’s Day therefore is when that moon first appears after the New Moon, not when it disappears for the New Moon. (Why isn’t Durin’s Day the date of the phase called the New Moon? Because the moon has to be visible in the sky with the sun in order to be Durin’s Day. The New Moon phase is never visible, so Durin’s Day is never the exact date of the New Moon.)

This is further echoed by The Hobbit when Durin’s Day arrives in the book:

If he lifted his head he could see a glimpse of the distant forest. As the sun turned west there was a gleam of yellow upon its far roof, as if the light caught the last pale leaves. Soon he saw the orange ball of the sun sinking towards the level of his eyes. He went to the opening and there pale and faint was a thin new moon above the rim of Earth.                                                                                   

The Hobbit, ‘On the Doorstep.’

Later in that same scene the book reads:

The gleam went out, the sun sank, the moon was gone, and evening sprang into the sky.

Thus, moonset and sunset occur together in this passage. What we are left with is a visible “new moon—“ obviously the silver sliver of a waxing crescent, not the invisible New Moon—which sets either just before or just after the sun.

6757624729_15ba3d650f_bVisibility is a debatable issue here, but in general anywhere from 24 to 36 hours after the New Moon the fresh crescent phase will reveal a visible arc. You and I might strain to see this in our overly-lit cities, but in Bilbo’s time and place—sitting on the slopes of the Lonely Mountain, far from any city lights or even the sight of Laketown, that fingernail of moon would be clear to the keen-eyed hobbit.

So, for the moon in question we have the first visible crescent after a New Moon, for the cycle that overlaps with the “threshold of Winter” as the beginning of Durin’s Day. But we’re not done yet…

 


When’s the Threshold?

This is the single largest point of confusion about dating Durin’s Day. What did Tolkien mean by “Autumn on the threshold of Winter?” Various arguments have been put forth for this. Some go with the date of Winter being the Winter Solstice, placing the “last moon of Autumn” as being the moon cycle that precedes the moon cycle that coincides with the Winter Solstice (usually around December 21st; the date varies each year). Such arguments place Durin’s Day as occurring in the last weeks of November or the first weeks of December.

However, this idea is based on assuming that the Winter Solstice marks the start of Winter. It does not. Rather the Winter Solstice is actually the mid-point of Winter. This may seem odd when you think about things like freezing temperatures and snow, which in the Northern Hemisphere range typically from December through February. But those are merely the climatic effects of the season, not the markers of the season itself. The day of the Winter Solstice is the shortest day and longest night of the year. While the effects of winter are just building up steam, as it were, the Earth and Sun are actually progressing back towards Spring!

The text of The Hobbit goes further to suggest that a late November or early December date for Durin’s Day simply doesn’t fit. The “doorstep” of the Lonely Mountain is described as being a hidden, pleasant area adorned with a carpet of grass, and the valley below it as having grass “for the ponies to eat” (The Hobbit, ‘On the Doorstep’). Obviously, this implies living, green grass, as can still be found in middle and late fall, not the dead brown grass of early winter, which would not be refreshing to either ponies, dwarves, or a lone hobbit. Keep in mind, too, that The Hobbit is set in an environment analogous to early 20th century rural Europe, the climate Tolkien was familiar with, where late November and early December are marked by mostly barren and dead vegetation, if not snow-covered ground. Since Tolkien himself drew the mountain as having a snowy peak, presumably year-round, this implies that the lower slopes of the mountain themselves have a significant elevation, and thus would be subject to colder temperatures fairly early in winter. Yes, that’s a supposition, but the likelihood of green grass thriving on a mountain slope in December or even November remains on the thin side. But note also that Bilbo can still see the pale leaves of Mirkwood, even from the heights of the Mountain. Given the distance from forest to mountain, it’s unlikely even a sharp-sighted hobbit could discern leaves on mostly barren trees, as would mark late November. So these natural details imply a climatic season more in line with October or very early November than the onset of climatic winter in December.

So what then determines the “Threshold of Winter” for the dwarves? A clue can be taken from the very nature of Durin’s Day. The key elements of Durin’s Day are not the progress of climate or the changes of the seasonal cycle—neither of which the dwarves would much note, living their lives largely underground—nor even the progression of the stars (as would fascinate the elves), but rather the position of the sun and moon, the sole sources of natural light that would enter the dwarves’ underground halls.

If the progression of the sun and moon are then the method for determining Durin’s Day and the Dwarven New Year, then the progression of sun and moon are probably the determining factor in their dating of the seasons. We can see this significance in the earlier passage where Durin’s Day is first mentioned—when Elrond spies the magical “moon-letters” on Thror’s Map in Rivendell, and notes:

“They can only be seen when the moon shines behind them, and what is more, with the more cunning sort it must be a moon of the same shape and season as the day when they were written… These must have been written on a midsummer’s eve in a crescent moon, a long while ago.”                                                                                   

The Hobbit, ‘A Short Rest’

Clearly for the dwarves, the position of the moon is significant in everything to do with their calendar.

So wcountry-road-autumn-mountain-sunsethat does this mean for Durin’s Day and the “threshold of Winter?” It means that the threshold of Winter is based on the position of sun and moon, not on weather. You or I might call it “Autumn” when the first chill hits the air, and we begin to notice the color of the fall leaves begin to rise amid the green. But not a dwarf. A dwarf calls it “Autumn” when the sun and moon say it is Autumn, and Winter when they say it is Winter. We must then go back to look at events like the Summer and Winter Solstices as our marking points. Using these as our guideposts, knowing that the dwarves would define these events as the midpoint of Summer and Winter, we see that the other seasons would be similarly defined. So, are there any solar and lunar events that mark Spring and Autumn? Yes—the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes.

The Equinoxes mark the days of the year in which day and night are exactly the same length—clearly an event of significance to dwarves when it comes to the light entering their caverns! The Autumnal Equinox occurs in mid-September, usually around Sept. 21st. Like the Winter Solstice, it marks not the beginning of Autumn, but rather the mid-point of it.

7000954491_b90f823e4a_bSo, to the dwarves, if the Autumnal Equinox is the mid-point of Autumn, and the Winter Solstice is the mid-point of Winter, what then is the “threshold of Winter?” Why, it is naturally the point when the sun is mid-way between Autumn and Winter, occurring sometime in late October or early November. In fact, we celebrate this very point in time today—Halloween. In the original pagan cultures of Celtic and Germanic Europe, the halfway point between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice marked the time when Winter rose to claim control over the world. It was also a time when the Underworld supposedly opened—an idea whose echoes we see when the last light of Durin’s Day reveals the secret passage into the depths of the Lonely Mountain! (Tolkien, who held the Chair of Medieval Literature at Oxford, knew his mythology.) So is Halloween Durin’s Day?

No. Because while Halloween might be “the threshold of Winter,” it is not necessarily the date when “the last moon of Autumn and the sun are in the sky together.” But it is the moon cycle that overlaps Halloween which points us to Durin’s Day. One therefore need only determine what cycle of the moon coincides with Halloween, and then look for the day on which that cycle is first visible in the evening sky—the first night of the new crescent moon, shining alongside the setting sun. This day is Durin’s Day.

And what does that mean for us? Well, according to The Farmer’s Almanac, in 2014, the first visible crescent moon* after the New Moon, with a cycle that overlaps Halloween (“the threshold of Winter,”) is listed by the U.S. Naval Observatory as occurring on October 25, with a moonrise time of 7:39 AM, CDST**, and a moonset time of 6:25 PM, CDST. Sunset occurs at 5:01 PM, CDST. Thus, our Durin’s Day this year is Saturday, October 25th.

So, on that evening, go out and look westward for the thin moon in the early evening sky. And as the sun sets, have your key ready– for a thrush may knock nearby, and the last light of Durin’s Day might reveal a passageway to dwarven gold.e16d6b6e-6001-436d-b597-cf02d43ddd05

 


Notes:

*Although the New Moon is on October 23rd, the following evening of the 24th only 1% of the surface is technically illuminated, which is invisible to the naked eye—even a hobbit’s. On October 25th, the illumination rises to 4%, which is readily visible as a thin crescent, low in the western sky. Moon phase visibility data from Stardate.Org

Moonrise, moonset, sunrise and sunset data from the United States Naval Observatory. You can look up this information for any year using their online table creator.

** Central Daylight Saving Time

All text and illustration references: The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by. J.R.R. Tolkien, 70th Anniversary Edition with illustrations by J.R.R. Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2007, Copyright 1995 by The J.R.R. Tolkien Trust Company.

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

IncarceronBy Howard Shirley, Teen Library Assistant

Finn doesn’t know who his parents are, or even if he ever had any. All he remembers is waking up inside the terrible prison of Incarceron, a prison so vast it seems to be a world all of itself. Finn doesn’t know how he came to the prison. The one thing he does know, is that he doesn’t belong here, and unlike all the other prisoners, he’s certain there was a time when he wasn’t inside Incarceron. And that he must escape. But there is no escape from Incarceron. The prison sees to that— because Incarceron is alive, with a mind of its own, and eyes that watch his every move, and powers that defy understanding.

Claudia knows who her parents are (or were). She knows where she is and who she is. She is the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, the mysterious prison which no one has ever been to and no one can find, except the Warden. Claudia may not be imprisoned, but her life is far from free. Her entire future has been planned out for her, from birth on. She has been promised in marriage to the heir to the throne, to be the Queen of a rather odious future King, and the pawn of whatever power game her cold and sinister father is playing. Claudia’s desire to escape is every bit as strong as Finn’s—and to do it, she knows exactly what she needs to do: find Incarceron and fling wide its hidden, impenetrable doors, sparking a revolution.

But neither escaping from or finding Incarceron are going to be simple tasks; indeed, they may both be impossible. Because Incarceron is not what it seems to be, nor what it was meant to be, and the secrets behind it all are beyond either Finn or Claudia’s wildest imaginings.

Part fantasy, part science fiction, Incarceron is a grand adventure inside (and outside) a fantastic world unlike any other. Full of twists and turns and unexpected revelations, it’s a book that’s as hard to predict as it is to put down—you may guess some of Incarceron’s secrets, but you won’t guess them all. And unlike Finn, once you enter Incarceron, you won’t want to escape.

CALL NUMBER: YA F FIS

Recommended for all readers.

 

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