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    BEST OF 2016: Kevin Clark, Reference Department

    Our “Best Of 2016” series will be a bit different than most. Rather than having the staff write about things released this year, we’ve elected to allow anything they’ve listened to/played/read/watched this year that they’ve enjoyed. Favorite programs we’ve hosted also might make lists as well. Our second installment comes to us from Kevin Clark of our Reference Department.

    • Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
    We are a product of our choices. Every time you make a choice a new version of you is created. And another version of you exists somewhere who made the opposite choice. This is the core idea of Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter. Jason Dessen is a family man and physics professor at a middling Chicago college, and by his own admission he’s essentially happy where he is. But after a startling abduction and drugging he finds himself in a world he doesn’t recognize. No longer married to his wife, his son nowhere to be found, surrounded by people whom he doesn’t recognize but who clearly know him. What’s happened? The story of Dark Matter begins, and it dynamically spirals down the rabbit hole of string theory. Jason must discover, first what’s happened to him, second how to get back to the life he knows, and finally how to move forward knowing what he now knows. From page one Crouch infuses this story with urgency and momentum that carries the reader though an exciting and mind bending adventure with the highest stakes. Crouch does a great job of explaining some pretty heady scientific concepts in a way that clarifies without bogging the story down with too much hard science. He’s also created an interesting and rounded character in Jason Dessen who we can see ourselves in and root for. Dark Matter is an epic adventure tale on the scale (perhaps larger) of The Odyssey that science fiction fans will enjoy. It’ll leave you wondering where you’d be had your choices been different.

    • Nod by Adrian Barnes
    Without sleep the human mind will lapse into psychosis within six days. After four weeks the body begins to shut down. What if the people of the world suddenly lost the ability to sleep? What if everyone were slowly losing their minds except a lucky few who could still sleep? What would the world become? That’s Adrian Barnes’ Nod. Paul and Tanya live in Vancouver when the sleeplessness inexplicably hits. An uncomfortable curiosity quickly turns to distressing panic when it’s realized not only are most people not sleeping, but what might happen if it continues. Paul is one of the lucky few still able to sleep. At night he dreams of a euphoric bright light, while during the day he watches Tanya slowly disintegrate into a grotesque version of her former self. As the larger world spins out of control Paul must figure out how to navigate this new world while keeping himself and those he cares for safe. This engrossing tale written in vibrant prose is a short list nominee for the Arthur C. Clark award. It’s a quick and entertaining read that just might keep you up at night.

    • Underground Airlines by Ben Winters
    Speculative Fiction novel Underground Airlines is not quite a masterpiece, but it definitely kept me thinking for a while after reading. The world of Underground Airlines is not like our own. In this world there was no Emancipation Proclamation and slavery was never completely abolished. The states still employing slavery are known as the Hard Four and they are places hard to reconcile with our modern thinking. The larger world is, at times seemingly no different than our own, while at other times startlingly foreign. Protagonist, Victor, is a young black US Marshall tasked with tracking down and returning runaway slaves. While pursuing a man named Jackdaw Victor’s feelings for his job become increasingly complicated as his past begins to mingle with his present. Ben Winters has created a story that is engaging and exciting, and through the use of Victor’s struggle to square himself with his job and his world actually makes a commentary on our current world. This book may be a bit of a challenge for some readers, but those who see it through will undoubtedly get something out of it.

    • The Fireman by Joe Hill
    Joe Hill may use a different name, but he has no qualms embracing his dear old dad Stephen King’s legacy. In The Fireman Hill simultaneously maintains that legacy while completely standing on his own as a great fiction writer. In The Fireman Hill imagines a world ravaged by a plague called Dragonscale. The infected are traced with black and gold markings along their skin and distress and anxiety eventually cause them to burst into flames. Harper is a nurse during the onset of the Dragonscale outbreak and quickly finds herself not only infected, but also pregnant. Her fight to keep herself and her unborn child safe takes her to some terrifying and also surprising places. Harper soon learns that what she thought was a death sentence may actually be a great strength. I cannot say much more without spoiling the reveals that Hill sprinkles throughout the story. Hill is a master of defying expectations and changes the trajectory of the story multiple times with dizzying and exciting effect. Stephen King fans may also notice a few references that create connective tissue between the works of father and son. I was constantly surprised by this book and I highly recommend it.

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