“Today we’re introducing three revolutionary products … The first is a wide-screen iPod with touch control. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough internet communications device.”
It’s 2007, only ten years ago. On stage, Steve Jobs continues: “Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices. This is one device.” And so the smartphone revolution started.
The “one device” wasn’t brand new. It borrowed many technologies and ideas that already existed, but it also introduced new ones, and combined everything with patented Apple smoothness.
Watching Jobs unveil the iPhone is fun, mostly because it already seems so quaint (his talk is on YouTube). The user interface, Multi-Touch, was perhaps the most miraculous tech that the iPhone gave us, and when Jobs nonchalantly scrolled through his phone’s music library with a swipe of his finger in front of that crowd ten years ago, it drew the biggest gasp of the evening.
Jobs’ first public iPhone call was to audience member Jony Ive, who answered on a flip phone. Bantering with his boss, the Apple designer now known as Sir Jony says, “It’s not too shabby, is it?”
Today, even as I finish up this review, Tim Cook is about to wow us with yet another iPhone with not too shabby features. As if to prove their importance, there have been fifteen different iPhones already, their progeny are global and seemingly without number, and here comes the new generation.
These days, the iPhone routinely accompanies astronauts in space, but it wasn’t that long ago that a library staffer wowed us by showing off an early iPhone at a staff day “technology petting zoo.” I was curious about how many of my coworkers use which phones, so I conducted an informal survey. The iPhone (in at least seven permutations) won handily. Samsung came in a very distant second, and there were some others, including four flip-phones.
Brian Merchant has written a “secret history” of the one that started it all, entitled "The One Device." What’s notable, and to me most interesting, is that it’s not just another book on Steve Jobs or Silicon Valley. In fact, it takes an ecological (iCological?) perspective of Apple’s most important product. Early reviews didn’t seem to get it, or if they did, they saw it as a distraction, but this approach sets the book apart in important ways.
Why is Merchant’s book important? Because something that has changed the world as profoundly as the iPhone demands a social and ecological perspective. By using different facets of the phone as windows to different components of its ecosystem, Merchant unearths the world in your pocket — for better or worse.
You’ve heard the suicide stories of the Chinese iPhone manufacturer, Foxconn. Have you also heard of the hellish mines of the Congo, where the ghost of Joseph Conrad may still be writing? What about the Bolivian tin mines? And what happens to those billions of old phones when new versions are announced?
Read "The One Device." You can do so on your phone, of course.
— Jake Vail is an information services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
I’m lucky enough to do storytime here at the Lawrence Public Library, and while there are some challenging days of herding toddlers, it is a joy and a privilege to introduce children to literature and catch a small slice of their innocence and wonder.
When we started up storytime again this fall, I wanted to try something different: Read a handful of random books, held together only by the fact that they were published in 2017. (Weirdly, most of them are from February; who knew that was such a hot picture book publishing month?)
Here are a few of my favorites. My only disclaimer is that I chose these for a Toddler Storytime audience; I think all of these would work well for older and younger kids — I mean, they utterly delight me — but keep in mind they were picked to work for toddlers especially.
"A Perfect Day" by Lane Smith (February 2017)
The twist at the end of this book had me giggling in delight. Imagine your perfect day … then add a bear. The illustrations are full of life and are just as engaging as the text. Lane Smith is well known for his work with Jon Scieszka in "The Stinky Cheese Man" and "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs." While there is echo of the same style, the illustrations are much dreamier and less dark. I could stare at them all day.
"Stack the Cats" by Susie Ghahremani (May 2017)
What do cats do? Stack! A cute counting book full of adorable kittens who, for some reason, are going to stack themselves. A silly premise with equally quirky and colorful illustrations, this book subtly introduces math concepts in the form of stacking cats. What’s not to like?
"A Good Day for a Hat" by T. Nat Fuller, Illustrated by Rob Hodgson (March 2017)
Mr. Brown has a hat for every occasion. Raining? He’s got a hat for that. Cooking? Chef’s hat engaged. Fire-breathing dragon? Helmet acquired! With increasingly ridiculous situations and hats for specific needs, the repetitiveness of the book has you smiling as you await the next wacky situation. Boldly colored and hilarious.
"Ribbit" by Jorey Hurley (February 2017)
Gorgeous. That was my immediate thought when I flipped through "Ribbit" for the first time. I was a little worried to read this for toddler storytime because of the sparse text, with one word per two-page spread. But the illustrations are so beautiful and engaging, mesmerizing the kids as well as myself. In the picture-book world, which is sometimes full of busy illustrations with tons of text, "Ribbit" is a calm break in the clamor that reminds you less is more.
"Not Quite Narwhal" by Jessie Sima (Feb 2017)
A book with narwhals and unicorns? Sign me up! Kelp the "Narwhal" is just trying to find his place in the world. He knows he doesn’t fit in with his narwhal buddies, but when he views a strange creature on land, he realizes he might not be the narwhal he thinks he is. With swoon-worthy illustrations and an excellent message, I highly suggest this adorable book.
What’s your favorite picture book from 2017 so far? Luckily, we’ve still got three months to go. Sound off below!
— Lauren Taylor is a youth services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
Zora Neale Hurston wrote during the height of the Harlem Renaissance, contributing novels and short stories, as well as literary anthropology. She was a bold woman surrounded by male peers and unparalleled in both talent and ideas.
She died alone and impoverished, buried in an unmarked grave, without having received the recognition or recompense she so strongly deserved.
"Their Eyes Were Watching God" was written over a period of seven weeks when Hurston was 46. Using both poetic prose and rich, palatable patois, it tells the story of Janie Crawford as she journeys from one unpleasant marriage into another, until finally finding the love of her life in the rambunctious and unexpected Vergible “Tea Cake” Woods. She faced scrutiny and ostracization from her male literary peers for not being political enough.
In a forward to "Their Eyes" by Mary Helen Washington, Richard Wright is quoted to say the novel “carries no theme, no message, no thought.” Was the lack of politics the problem, or perhaps was it that Hurston chose to focus on the theme, message, and thought of a black woman rather than a man?
In the decades since her death, Hurston’s legacy has been carried on by her literary daughters and sons who saw what her peers had missed: a brilliant mind poetically communicating the complexities of the human condition. In other words, a Harlem Renaissance-Woman.
In the early 1970s, Alice Walker went in search for Hurston’s unmarked grave, laying a stone and writing a personal essay for "Ms." magazine called “Looking for Zora.” This passion and dedication helped to launch a revival for Hurston’s work that continues today.
Full conferences have been dedicated to Hurston’s legacy, including one that is happening in Lawrence this week. Black Love: A Symposium celebrates the 80th anniversary of "Their Eyes" on and around KU campus this week (Sept 11th – 18th 2017) with esteemed panelists, cultural events, movie screenings, and a marathon reading of the honored novel.
“Zora Neale Hurston’s Radical Black Love” by Ayesha Hardison (KU) and Randal Maurice Jelks (KU)
Films on Black Love, available online or at local video sources (LPL included!)
“Finding Zora” — University of Florida Dept. of Anthropology page on Hurston’s anthropological contributions
"Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography" by Robert Hemenway
"Glorious" by Bernice McFadden — a novel paralleling and partially inspired by Hurston’s life
-Kate Gramlich is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
I live within a mile of the Kansas River. In spite of the Bowersock Dam and other infrastructure, this is a good place to connect with wildness. Walking on the levee beside the river offers a chance to watch birds soaring and fishing — great blue herons are frequently present at the river, and in winter, bald eagles are, too.
Frequently people are making use of the water via kayak, canoe or fishing boat. In spite of the nearby development, the river is a relatively wild place.
At the other side of the broad continuum of local wild spaces are the richly diverse Haskell-Baker Wetlands and also the expansive Clinton Lake Wildlife Area, yet there is value in every degree of wilderness.
My reflections are inspired from reading the book "Wildness: Relations of People and Place." This new anthology includes creative and provocative essays, stories and poetry—it represents diverse understandings of our natural world by many highly regarded writers.
I was driven to the book "Wildness" when I read a review by author J. Drew Lanham. I reviewed Lanham’s book earlier; "The Home Place: Memoirs of A Colored Man's Love Affair With Nature" is a book of elegantly-written prose connecting his commitment to land ethics with social justice with a great deal of inspired optimism.
Lanham wrote this about "Wildness":
This amazing amalgam goes at the issue of nature, wildness, and our relationships to it via personal story, lyrical verse, and reflection. It is storytelling and word-singing at its best...and a book I simply want on my bookshelf to pull down and read words that flow like water but have the lasting impact of fire.
The book is filled with deep, thoughtful explorations of human connections to the idea of wildness. Each writer shares their response to these questions: What defines our ecology, and how are the natural and the human communities interdependent? What keeps the whole community in harmony and helps it sustain and thrive? —In other words, what is the process of persistent wildness?
"Wildness" was created by the Center for Humans and Nature, an organization associated with the University of Chicago. Their website, www.humansandnature.org, is an interactive forum of socially and ecologically focused tools to advocate, reach out, and explore. Here is how they describe their organization:
The Center for Humans and Nature partners with some of the brightest minds to explore human responsibilities to each other and the more-than-human world. We bring together philosophers, ecologists, artists, political scientists, anthropologists, poets and economists, among others, to think creatively about a resilient future for the whole community of life.
Several short videos related to the essays in "Wildness" are highlighted on their website at www.humansandnature.org/wildness. Each video features an author from the book and adds depth to the themes of environmental and social justice. One of the most compelling of these videos is presented by Mistinguette Smith.
She discusses African American understandings of wildness and her work with the Black / Land Project, a community garden in Cleveland. Wildness and relationships to land are defined differently, based on cultural experiences and historical injustices. For Smith, wild connections are made in a community garden where you can grow your own food.
By exploring the book "Wildness,"I have reinforced my resolve to connect environmental and social justice. And I am compelled to echo the message in my review of J. Drew Lanham’s "The Home Place." I hope you will also be inspired to reach out to be more inclusive — to engage more kids and adults from diverse communities to explore and connect with relatively wild places. I am envisioning exponentially greater advocates for our community’s wildness.
It seems appropriate to note, in relation to eco-justice, recommended assistance to survivors of Hurricane Harvey may start with the helpful resources at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, disasterphilanthropy.org.
— Shirley Braunlich is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
I’ll be honest, until this year I had never participated in a book club. In theory, they’re right up my alley. I work at a library. I’ve always worked in bookstores. Reading = good. Discussions = good. But joining a book club can be a little intimidating.
Apart from leaving the comfort of my home, which as a rule I only leave to work or shop for groceries, it’s a time commitment. There are only 24 hours in a day, and when eight of those are spent playing video games, time just gets away from you. Who knew?
For those of you in a similar time crunch — legitimate or self-imposed — the Lawrence Public Library is launching its first documentary club, Doc Discussions. It’s as easy as “book” clubs get. Step one: an hour and a half (more or less) commitment to watch one of the best documentaries around. Step two: Come talk about it for an hour at the library. Doesn’t get more efficient than that.
Or does it?
Thanks to Kanopy it does. Kanopy is a wonderful (relatively) new addition to LPL’s online streaming services that brings thousands of documentaries right to you. It’s a curated collection of over 30,000 films that comes with free 24-hour access to some fantastic documentaries, foreign films, and Criterion Collection classics.
How do I access all this bounty, you ask?
On Aug. 2, Doc Discussions had its unofficial kick-off with our screening of the acclaimed documentary "I Am Not Your Negro" and the amazing panel discussion that followed.
For our first official screening and chat, we’ll be watching "To Be Takei" on Saturday, September 16. It’s a delightful look at the life of Star Trek’s George Takei and a very entertaining yet poignant exploration of race, gay rights, celebrity and the power of positivity. So watch with us. Can’t make the screening? No problem; remember, you can access Kanopy at home 24/7. Either way, come to Doc Discussions' inaugural meeting right after the film. See you there!
"To Be Takei" will screen from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Saturday, September 16. The Doc Discussion meeting will take place directly afterwards from 5 to 6 p.m.
-Ian Stepp is an information services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
Just in case you’ve been living under a rock rather than reading our phenomenal blog posts, I’m obligated to tell you that my colleague Sarah Mathews is a freaking rockstar.
She reads things, she writes about them, she spreads generally wonderful vibes and every Sunday morning throughout Summer Reading 2017 she’s asked you: What are you reading?
After finding one of her favorite books of all time ("The Shadow of the Wind" by Carlos Ruiz Zafón) in a comment on these Facebook posts years ago, Sarah decided to don her superhero cape and resurrect the tradition.
There are a million books you’ve never heard of. Many people won’t even pick a book up if they don’t like the cover — a practice that, as you can imagine, is very controversial among librarians.
For three months, we’ve collected these crowdsourced reading recommendations from our community of bookish folks. Every Facebook post got responses from 20–50 people, which combined represent months of dedication and creative energy that has transformed my idea of reading as a solo endeavor into a space for cohesion, collaboration, and community.
Of the 283 total books mentioned that we currently hold in our collection, there were a handful that were spotted multiple times. So, without further ado, welcome to the Entirely Unofficial Lawrence Community Book Club! This summer, in no particular order, many of us read:
- James Patterson, "16th Seduction"
- John Grisham, "The Whistler"
- Neil Gaiman, "American Gods"
- David Sedaris, "Theft by Finding"
- Eddie Izzard, "Believe Me"
- Frank Herbert, "Dune"
- B.A. Paris, "The Breakdown"
- Paula Hawkins, "Into the Water"
- Stephen King, "The Dark Tower"
- Angie Thomas, "The Hate U Give"
- Colson Whitehead, "Underground Railroad"
- Kate Quinn, "The Alice Network"
- Kristin Hannah, "The Nightingale"
- Nora Roberts, "Come Sundown"
- Randy Shilts, "And the Band Played On"
- Anthony Doerr, "All the Light We Cannot See"
- J.D. Vance, "Hillbilly Elegy"
- Ann Patchett, "Commonwealth"
The complete list of reading recommendations is available in our catalog.
— Logan Isaman is the community assessment coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library.
We’ve now entered into what I’ve deemed the “weird phase” of Marvel.
With the commercial and critical success of the previously unknown property "Guardians of the Galaxy," director James Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman have paved the way for indie creators to work on blockbuster titles while bringing their own unique visions and perspectives to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Yes, it has to fit within the overall Disney/Marvel branding aesthetic, but early trailers for "Thor: Ragnarok," directed by the mastermind behind "What We Do in the Shadows" Taika Waititi, and "Black Panther," directed by Ryan Coogler, look as if Marvel’s team have decided to shake things up a bit.
As someone who is typically in a state of comic book movie fatigue, this infusion of creative vitality helps keeps the superhero formula from becoming stale and pastiche while introducing a much more diverse and eclectic vision of superheroes to an already expansive world.
However, I feel that there are two beloved characters in particular who have been overlooked and deserve to make their onscreen debut either as part of a Netflix series or the new Marvel Phase: both She Hulk and Howard the Duck.
"She Hulk" by Charles Soule
"She Hulk" stars Jennifer Walters, attorney at large. She’s just your average Jane Doe, except she happens to have green skin and superhuman strength combined with a lack of anger management skills.This story treatment by Charles Soule in particular opens with Jennifer losing her job at a law firm because she failed to bring in high-spending superhero clients. In a quest for self-discovery, she decides to open up her own legal agency while taking odd jobs to pay the bills, even if it means representing the children of supervillains in immigration law cases or patent violations filed against Iron Man himself.
Charles Soule has perfected the art of superhero writing, as much of Jennifer’s story focuses on her daily life and social interactions rather than building up to an epic showdown or cosmic conquest. In many ways, this approach makes Jennifer’s story even more relatable, as she goes to the bar after a hard day, struggles to find work in a tough job market, and faces discrimination because of her appearance. For instance, nobody will rent to her because they’re afraid she’ll hulk out and destroy the premises. And you think your insurance premium is outrageous.
The dialogue is heartwarming, and Jennifer’s struggles serve as an allegorical message that speak volumes about our current economic and political climate. She Hulk will become one of your new favorite super heroes by the end of the story, and it would be a perfect series to adapt for Netflix’s Marvel Universe. Even Jessica Jones’ BFF Hellcat makes an appearance as She Hulk’s trusty sidekick, so we can only hope that Jennifer will show up at some point as part of "The Defenders." Fingers crossed.
"Howard the Duck" by Chip Zdarsky
The most recent "Howard the Duck" manifestation by Chip Zdarsky is a whole lot of weird, self-referential, fun. The story opens in a "Secret Wars" Volume 0 title called "What the Duck?" (I know it’s confusing) that follows the life of private investigator Howard the Duck. Like She Hulk, he is down on his luck and looking for work. He can’t even afford to hire a secretary and instead uses a papier-mache creation with a face drawn on it to greet his nearly nonexistent clientele.
Howard’s luck changes when a mysterious gentleman asks him to retrieve a stolen necklace, a job that has him speeding across the galaxy in true "Doctor Who" fashion and solving cases while meeting plenty of extraterrestrial creatures. The story continues in serialized format, as it was one of the more popular "Secret Wars" publications, and is one of my favorite titles done by Marvel as of late.
"Howard the Duck" is a unique reading experience with zany characterizations and plenty of laugh-out-loud scenarios. The story has a little bit of everything: She Hulk listening to Taylor Swift while watching cat videos? Check. Rocket Raccoon shaving a map of a spaceship into his chest hair? Check. An '80s workout montage complete with a tank top that says “No Harm No Fowl?” Check. In particular, I’m a massive fan of the many film noir references sprinkled throughout the dialogue, art style, and overall tone that balances beautifully with the more humorous elements to hit all the right notes.
What makes "Howard the Duck" so refreshing is that Chip Zdarsky uses the graphic novel medium to make fun of running gags and cliches within Marvel in the same way that "Enchanted" pokes fun at Disney's princess stereotypes. I think that we need more lighthearted superhero fare that moves us farther away from the brooding, Christopher Nolan "Batman" type of hero.
"Howard the Duck" proves you don’t need an impending apocalypse or a serious personality to tell a good story. Howard would be an excellent addition for new adventures in cosmic Marvel. Who wouldn’t say no to a film noir space adventure? I sure wouldn’t.
What lesser-known Marvel titles would you like to see adapted next? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Until then, I’ll just keep hoping that I’ll get to see some of my comic book favorites on the silver screen.
-Fisher Adwell is an information services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
I’m fascinated by the concept of bucket lists. Few things fascinate me more than hearing what other people consider to be must-have life experiences, mostly because the range of “must-have” encompasses so much.
I have a general life bucket list (see the Northern Lights; go sky-diving; walk the Camino De Santiago), but I also keep a more specifically bookish bucket list, stocked with book-related experiences I’d like to have during my lifetime - everything from reading specific books to getting more bookish body art to attending conventions.
Recently, I got to put a checkmark next to a huge item on my bookish bucket list: visiting The Ripped Bodice, an all-romance novel bookstore located in L.A. I discovered the store via their excellent Twitter last year and had been sadly pining away from afar. (You know that whine-and-paw-at-the-ground thing that dogs do when they’re sad? That was me, every time someone posted photos of The Ripped Bodice.)
As luck would have it, one of my dearest friends moved to L.A. last fall and issued me a standing invitation to visit her. So in May, I booked a flight, and 24 hours after landing, my beloved friend Katelyn and I walked through the doors of The Ripped Bodice. (Well, she walked — I am reliably informed that I bounced through the door, Tigger-like, and then preceded to levitate with joy for the rest of our time in the store.)
While Katelyn browsed and took photos with Sir Fitzwilliam Waffles, Esq., the store’s dog-in-residence, I got direct Readers’ Advisory help from one of The Ripped Bodice’s owners, Bea, who patiently listened to me explaining what I like in romance (competent characters trying their best; a tinge of sadness in the tone) and what I don’t (banter for banter’s sake; alpha heroes) and then helped me pick out a completely reasonable number of books for purchase.
Completely reasonable, and definitely not so many that the cost of said books hit the triple digits and I had to take advantage of the store’s free shipping policy to get them all home. Definitely not.
On a generally excellent trip, visiting The Ripped Bodice was a definite high point — not just because it is the most beautiful store in the world, but because it was so wonderful to get to talk about a topic I love with people who share my love of it. I’m pretty sure I teared up at one point.
Other major items on my bookish bucket list:
Visiting the Ingalls Homestead in De Smet, South Dakota: I couldn’t tell exactly you how many times I read the Little House series as a kid, but it was at least 15 times all the way through (and many more for my particular favorites). Now that I live a few hours’ drive from South Dakota, I’m low-key planning a trip to the Homestead and other important locations from the books.
Read the complete works of James Baldwin: Given that Baldwin’s career as a writer spanned four decades and included novels, plays, essays, short stories, poems, and various other uncategorizable work, this one will be a years-long project. I wrote a thesis on Baldwin, have a tattoo with a quote from one of his novels, and read his work for pleasure, and I’ve made it through maybe 30 percent of his work — which is honestly a generous estimate. If I ever achieve this goal, you will all know because I’ll never shut up about it.
Completing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, for short): I’ve made half-hearted attempts at NaNoWriMo in the past, but I lack the drive to actually finish it. The major problem with this item is that it falls under the extremely broad category of things I want to have done but do not want to actually do.
I may never get through all of these, but it’s fun to think about. What about you, readers? What items are on your bookish bucket list?
— Meredith Wiggins is a readers' services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
Okay, so “dying” is quite an exaggeration, but sometimes hyperbolic language is necessary when you’re really really excited to crack open one of your favorites. Lately, more and more, I have been inspired to revisit some old friends of mine, rather than discovering new books. There is something ultimately comforting about starting a book already knowing how much you love it.
The types of books I am talking about are the ones that whenever I see them on display, I want to selfishly snatch them up and check them out before anyone else gets a chance to read them. I just can’t help myself — these books are so good. Here are three of my all-time favorites that are all at the top of my “To Read Again” pile.
1 "The Magpie Lord" by K.J. Charles
K.J. Charles is a favorite author of several of us at the Lawrence Public Library because she manages to create such interesting and complicated characters you can’t help but fall in love with, all in around two hundred pages or so.
In this novel, Stephen is an adorable, uptight magician with a major chip on his shoulder and Lucien is a sassy and (somewhat) sophisticated nobleman with a scandalous history.
I could dedicate an entire blogpost as to why I love Lucien so much as a character — he is always quick with a comeback, shamelessly arrogant, and chronically overdressed. Set in a Victorian London where magic is so prevalent, there is plenty of fantasy to compliment the romance. When you combine that with characters you can’t help but love, you have yourselves a fantastic little novel that is perfect for binge-reading.
2 "The Girls at the Kingfisher Club" by Genevieve Valentine
I’ve already sung my praises of my colleague Meredith’s book suggestions in a previous post. Thanks to her, I discovered this absolute gem of a book, a retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," set in NYC in the 1920s.
This is one of my "you had me at hello” type of books where the setting and the plot are so unbelievably wonderful, I immediately knew it would be an all-time favorite. This is mostly due to Valentine’s lovely, gorgeous prose. A wistful exploration of sisterhood and responsibility, female friendship and the lengths that people go through to be truly considered free, this book gives me all of the warm and fuzzies.
3 "Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners" by Therese O’Neill
Last, and definitely not least, is a new favorite. I read this at the tail end of 2016 and I’ve been wanting to read it again ever since. Of all of the nonfiction titles I have read and enjoyed, this is the one that I recommend to others the most because it’s just so darn funny. Therese O’Neill takes an overly romanticized time period like the Victorian era and gives a realistic portrayal of what it was actually like to live during that time.
The author sets the book up as if the reader is a time traveler, going back to the 19th century. She is a perfect tour guide — quick to inform and educate, personable and hilarious. There are some humorous books that make you smile, some that make you laugh out loud, and then there are those that make you laugh so hard, you nearly wet yourself. This book falls into the latter category.
I’m currently re-reading "I’ll Meet You There" by Heather Demetrios, which is another book I really liked. After that, who knows? Will I be in the mood for fantasy or nonfiction? Some more romance, perhaps? There is nothing that brings me more joy than to flip through pages and go to a place I’ve already explored, just so I can spend a few more moments there. I strongly suggest you do that same, whenever you are able.
— Kimberly Lopez is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
Whatever happened to steampunk? According to some sources, this subgenre of science fiction that incorporates industrial steam-powered machinery from the 19th century in alternative histories was “over” in 2010. Others might say last year.
In this YA Backlist post, I’m taking a look back at Scott Westerfeld's young adult contribution to steampunk, "Leviathan." To be honest, this was one of three or so steampunk novels I read — but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the subgenre or Westerfeld’s novel. I do always find something fascinating about a “what if” premise.
Westerfeld reimagines World War I with steam-powered iron walkers and genetically altered animals. Caught in the middle of the global conflict are Aleksander Ferdinand, orphaned prince of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and Deryn Sharp, a girl who disguises herself as a boy so she can serve in the British Air Service.
Alek doesn't know who to trust when he's told the news of his parents' death. His mother having been of common blood, many see him as unfit to rule and even a threat to the empire, so he must flee in a Cyklop Stormwalker with his “mechanicks” master and fencing instructor. However, they don’t make it far before they have to test the defenses of the armored, steam-powered walker.
Meanwhile, Deryn, going by Dylan, manages to prove herself capable through a freak incident involving a Huxley — a jellyfish-like creature that flies by filling itself with hydrogen. She winds up on the Leviathan, a gigantic living ecosystem that doubles as a military aircraft, where she must continue to prove her usefulness on top of keeping up her disguise. When the Leviathan must make a crash landing in the neutral Swedish territory, Alek's and Daryn's paths cross, which only leads them to further adventure.
"Leviathan" is a fast-paced, adventurous novel. It’s a great introduction to the steampunk genre and an intriguing look at what World War I would have been like with steam-powered machinery and advanced biogenetics. In addition to the author's writing, illustrations by Keith Thompson throughout the pages help bring the images and scenes of the story to life. I encourage you to give it a try.
— William Ottens is the cataloging and collection development coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library.