Friday, July 24, 2015

Book reviews - The Sequel!

A job description of a bookseller might include something like the following: ‘someone who gets excited about books you’re going to want to read’. We often see a new book and think “that would be perfect for...” or “we must show that to...”

But what also gets us excited is when a favourite author comes up with his or her next novel. Sometimes it's a sequel, sometimes another stand-alone. There’s obviously trepidation (what if it’s not as good as the first?). But follow-up novels are a chance it’s a chance to introduce you to a new author – and seeing an author grow and develop is definitely one of the joys of this job.

So today we’re going to tell you about some sequels that have come into the shop this week from authors who’s first books we absolutely loved (appropriate given that ‘Go Set A Watchman’ is still generating plenty of debate...). Here are some of our favourite picks:

We loved Benjamin Wood’s debut novel ‘The Bellwether Revivals’, one of the most impressive debuts of recent years. Whilst that book was a gripping exploration of the line between genius and madness, Wood’s latest book ‘The Ecliptic’ is set in an artist’s community off the coast of Istanbul, and examines the sources of – and prices paid for – artistic creativity. Woods own special genius is to blend exceptional writing, imagery and characters with a plot that grips. The story of Elspeth ‘Knell’ Conroy, her struggle to produce a masterpiece and what happens when a teenager – Fullerton – arrives on the island will suck you in and grab hold of you – much like ‘The Bellwether Revivals’ did.

We have also enjoyed recommending Ernest Cline’s ‘Ready Player One’ over the past few years. This dystopian novel, set in an environmentally-degraded future, is largely a treasure hunt set in an 80s-themed virtual reality world. Cline’s new novel ‘Armada’ is easily Julia’s favourite book of the year so far, and here’s what she says about it:

“Another amazing novel from the author of 'Ready Player One', it tells the Story of Zack whose father died and left behind a small notebook in which he outlines his theory that computer games and sci-fi films are the governments way of preparing us for an alien invasion. With strong comparisons to The Last Starfighter and Ender's Game, this enthralling read has the same unique blend of lyrical storytelling merged with other eighties culture that fans of Cline's writing style will really love.”

If you have any children going for the Summer Reading Challenge – we recommend Jennifer Gray’s follow-up to ‘Chicken Mission’ (illustrated by Hannah George). The first book was a fun, frantic adventure story involving Amy Cluckbucket, inducted into the Kung Foo School for Poultry in Tibet under the tutelage of Professor Rooster and involving hapless duck spy James Pond. The sequel ‘The Curse of Fogsham Farm’ sees Amy and her elite chicken squad go up against a vampire mink and an army of zombie chickens...imaginative fun with bags of appeal for boys and girls 7-10.

We also recommend taking a look at ‘Violet and the Hidden Treasure’ by Harriet Whitehorn (beautifully illustrated by Becka Moor). It’s the follow up to ‘Violet and the Pearl of the Orient’ and is a gorgeously illustrated, gripping mystery which should appeal to ‘Goth Girl’ fans. Involving Indian Maharajahs, a missing fortune and an unusual cockatoo, it’s quirky and brilliant. As her godmother Celeste says “Sherlock better watch out, ‘cos Violet’s about!”

There's loads more in the shop - come in for a recommendation...

Friday, July 10, 2015

IBW2015: the slingshot effect, or how to get to Pluto using only books

This post is a biggie. It will take us deep into the world of books and independent bookshops. It will also take us to the very edge of the solar system.

Hold on to your hats...

The last few weeks have been *busy* for us - the end of June means the end of term, and that means prizes and school gifts, the start of lots of visitors visiting the beautiful town of Abingdon (from all over the world) and the Summer reading season. And nice weather just means there are more folks out on the street...

In recent years this heady mix has also included Independent Bookshop Week, a chance to celebrate the passion, expertise, quirkiness and general wonderfulness that is the world of independent bookshops.

In recent years we have taken advantage of the tremendous support of publishers and authors to put on events and set up promotions. This year has been no different.

Bookshops have a love/hate relationship with events. Good events are some of the best experiences we have, and create real magic in the shop and around the community. But the sheer range of events that we put on - bookgroups, children's activities, author readings, signings, not to mention all the online activities - mean that it's tricky to get the balance right. Too few of the right events and customers won't come. Worse, if you do too many, you risk collapsing with exhaustion, or just distracting yourself from the basics - being a great bookshop.

Given our enthusiasm for all things space at the moment we are going to share with you what we did during IBW2015, and share with you our theory of bookshop events. It's called 'the slingshot effect' and it has everything to do with a journey that reaches its climax next Tuesday, as a small, fragile satellite bristling with technology whizzes past the dwarf planet Pluto.

We want you to think of that satellite as an independent bookshop. The story of how it got there remarkable, and stories are what we are all about...

First up for us was the annual Carnegie Shadowing event at Abingdon's Guildhall. Six secondary schools, over 100 pupils, get together, are mixed up into different groups, and spend a day preparing and then 'pitching' short performances about each of the shortlisted books. We're extremely proud to be one of the sponsors of the event - and we also sit on the panel of judges, reviewing and awarding prizes to the best reviews.

The amount of energy generated - and the sheer enthusiasm about reading and reviewing often challenging new books - is infectious and hugely enjoyable. As in previous years, some of the shortlisted titles generated a lot of controversy. But, as in previous year, the children involved proved themselves resilient, open-minded and mature in the way they considered the books.

As one young reviewer said of 'Buffalo Soldier', the eventual winner, "It captures your heart in a stunning way by really highlighting the travesty of war. It lingers on how you can't wash away blood, no matter how hard you scrub".

A big annual event with a halo of good stuff surrounding it. This event is a bit like Saturn.

Then Independent Bookshop Week began in earnest. We had shop visits by school groups from three separate schools. We were able to talk to them and get them excited about books - as in previous years, some of the children had never visited a bookshop before. Even our customers got involved at one point, becoming ad hoc reviewers amongst the bubble of enthusiasm and new titles from newly-discovered authors.

Chaotic. Intense. The readers of the future. And given that at least one of our year 10s chose 'The Martian' - Mars seems very appropriate.

On the Thursday evening everyone was utterly charmed by Laura Barnett, author of one of the hottest debuts of the year 'The Versions of Us'. 

On a sultry Summer's evening in a packed courtyard garden, Laura described her writing journey and the themes of her book - which takes three characters on their own journey through three different versions of their lives.

We love doing events with authors at the very start of the literary journey, and Laura is destined to go far. An evening star, with exquisite and beautiful prose, we have to compare her and the event to Venus!

We had plenty of other things going on during IBW2015 - storytimes, promotions - and of course plenty of new titles to recommend to those people coming in to show support.

But on the final Saturday we had a very special event indeed to coincide with the meeting of our YA bookgroup. We had invited Sally Nicholls along to talk to the group - the challenged and delighted of writing for children, and her own journey as a writer - and we were utterly thrilled to learn that Sally's book 'An Island of Our Own' had won the IBW2015 Children's Book Award.

So we were proud to present Sally with her award, welcome some important visitors to the shop, and listen to her talk to the group in the blistering sun of the courtyard garden.

In terms of the temperature, and excitement, this was hot. Sally's fleetness of foot, and her delivery of some very good news means we have to choose Mercury.

(There was also an abortive attempt to appear on BBC Radio Oxford during the week - mission scrubbed due to traffic - 'space is hard' as they say...)

We told you to think about that tiny satellite. In order to get 'New Horizons' out to Pluto quickly, it had to be looped around at least five of the other planets, exactly as if you were using a slingshot and a tiny pebble.

We believe the 'slingshot' approach to independent bookselling is a great one for scheduling events. Some events are big, some are small, all change your trajectory and endeavour to propel you faster towards your distant goal.

And what is that goal? An excited community. A widening readership. Serendipity and discoverability. And the continued existence of a diverse bookselling world.

In short - the very best of what independent bookshops can be.

As you may know, Mostly Books is about to embark on a slightly new direction and the next stage of its journey. To everyone who supported - and continues to support - us, and all the other wonderful independent bookshops out there, thank you!

Friday, July 03, 2015

Happy Birthday Alice - origins, inspiration and timelessness

One of John Tenniel's
original illustrations
‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ is 150 years old in 2015 and to celebrate there will be lots of Alice-themed events happening at Mostly Books over the Summer.

But how did such a timeless classic begin?

It’s a fascinating story and one we thought you might be interested in...

The river outing of maths lecturer, Charles Dodgson, with the Liddell family on 4 July 1862, from Folly Bridge to Godstow, is now famous for the fact that the Alice story was told and Alice Liddell asked for the story to be written down.

It took him more than two years to finish, but it was a success from the moment it was published, with Queen Victoria and Oscar Wilde among early fans.

Political cartoonist John Tenniel, was asked to do illustrations (and has been cited by new children’s laureate, Chris Riddell as a huge influence) and not only brought the story to life, but created pictures which have become part of the public consciousness.

You can read the full story on Macmillan's rather wonderful Alice150 website.

Particularly intriguing is the influence of the restrictions of colour printing on the colour of Alice’s dress. For example, did you know that originally Alice’s dress was red – and in one edition, yellow.

The book has never been out of print, but changed in its early years.

Not long after Carroll’s death in 1898, a new edition was planned and as Tenniel’s eyesight was fading. Harry G. Theaker was commissioned to colour sixteen plates of the Tenniel illustrations for a one volume edition of Alice and Through the Looking Glass published in 1911.

The blue that he used for colouring Alice’s dress, together with the white apron and blue striped stockings, established the iconic dress colour that has remained in the Macmillan editions ever since. It was later adopted by Walt Disney for their 1951 film.

After a couple of alternative titles for Carroll’s story were rejected - Alice Among the Fairies and Alice’s Golden Hour - the book was published by Macmillan in 1865 as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

There are editions now for all ages, from gift versions to picture book retellings, but our current favourite is the Little Folks Edition. It is a charming miniature edition of Lewis Carroll's classic tale which is specially abridged for younger readers. A sixth of the length of the original 1865 edition, it features 32 brightly coloured illustrations by Sir John Tenniel, uniquely featuring Alice in a red dress and faithfully reproduced from a rare archive copy, this unique little book retains all the charm of the historic original.

Celebrate 150 years of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland with a pocket-sized piece of history!

Of course, Alice in Wonderland has inspired all kinds of other books and creative works, from Damon Albarn's musical to The Matrix.

Some of the themes familiar from ‘Alice in Wonderland’ take on a nightmarish tone in Cathy Cassidy’s ‘The Looking-Glass Girl,’ written in celebration of 150 years of Lewis Carroll’s timeless book and brings many of the themes to a modern audience.

Cathy Cassidy is one of our best-loved authors, cherished for her family stories of friendship and early teen romantic fiction (and we were very pleased to be involved with her at a recent event at Didcot Girls School). So it’s a departure and a move into new territory that ‘The Looking-Glass Girl’ takes on a thriller tone right from the start.

Alice has been increasingly isolated since her best-friends from primary have moved into a much ‘cooler’ set at secondary school. So when she gets invited to a sleepover with them she is not sure whether to be pleased or concerned – a feeling many girls of this age will easily relate to. 
What does the night have in store? Is there some other motivation for inviting her along? What will they being doing and will she be ‘cool’ and grown-up enough?

From when she arrives at the Wonderland-themed party, everything from costumes and the painted faces of the other guests is unsettling. The drink is served in a teapot that Alice suspects is spiked with alcohol, Alice knows she is out of her depth, but desperate to be included.

She has to tread as carefully as her namesake to work out friend from foe, but it all goes horribly wrong.

We know from the opening of the story Alice will end up in a coma, with everyone lying and covering up exactly what went on.

The tension is cranked up from unexpected arrivals at the party and a few games where Alice feels she is less of a guest, more of bait. 

The arrival of a boy Alice likes ratchets up the tension as she can see clearly that one of the other girls likes him too . . .

Taut plotting means the story of what actually happened that night and what is really going on among Alice’s ‘friends’ is revealed only slowly, partly through confessions at her hospital bedside and her nightmarish dreams as she tries to find her way back from unconsciousness to the real world.

Tweens and early teens will love this fresh tale with more than a hint of threat and danger in amongst this tale of friendship and early romance. A total triumph and really true to the original tale, while being really fresh and different.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Independent Bookshop Week 2015 - Laura Barnett, Sally Nicholls, Father's Day and Bookgroups

You know the one about the Texan who goes into the airport, right?

"Give me a ticket!" he demands.
"Where to?" answers the agent.
"Anywhere, I've got business all over!"

Well, that's how we feel during #IBW2015 - so much love around for indies, so many opportunities, authors, events and offers - and all in celebration of the wonderful, the quirky, the unique and diverse world that is independent bookshops.

We've got a whole heap of things going on this week that should give just a glimmer of the amazing range of activities that keeps us viable, relevant and part of our community. But ultimately we couldn't do any of it without your support - so this is also our chance to say THANK YOU for coming to us and entrusting us with choosing those books that will amaze, enthuse and delight.

It's a big responsibility - and we don't take it lightly...

On Saturday, June 20 we have a special Father's Day Storytime taking place - and we'll be unveiling a few surprises as well. Join Nicki and Maddy at 2pm - no need to book, just drop in (and bring little ones!).

We have a rather impressive display of Father's Day book recommendations as part of our 'Buy Dad A Real Book' campaign now in its fifth year. Find out about our dozen choices here.

Who hasn’t wondered ‘What if?’ about their own life? What if you’d taken a particular job, taken that path instead of this one, or that one chance – said ‘yes’ one time instead of ‘no’? The random nature of chance is the subject of Laura Barnett’s ‘The Versions of Us’ – a thought-provoking story about the complexities of human nature and the essentially random nature of life. Laura will be at Mostly Books on Thursday, June 25 at 7.30pm - learn more about this appealing, surprising and fabulously written exploration of fate and destiny here.

(And listen to Laura interviewed on this week's Open Book here)

On Tuesday morning, we have a local school bringing students in to choose prizes - and we'll be on hand to advise and choose the perfect book. This is the first in a series of schools visiting - and is something that creates a fantastic buzz in the shop (in past year, other customers have got themselves involved in some ad hoc recommending!)

Bookgroups are a hugely important part of the bookshop scene, and on Wednesday, the morning bookgroup will be meeting to discuss 'I Let You Go' by Clare Mackintosh. Recent books discussed have included 'All My Puny Sorrows' by Miriam Toews at the Wednesday evening bookgroup (which Nicki describes as 'A small miracle of a book') and 'The Children Act' by Ian McEwan at the Thursday evening bookgroup. Sign up to our newsletter (right hand side of this blog) to find out when spaces become available on any of our groups...

This year, Mostly Books bookseller (and young bookseller of the year shortlistee!) Imogen Hargreaves founded a brand new bookgroup, the YA bookgroup - and on June 27 we are holding a taster session for anyone wanting to come along and discover more about it.

Imogen is keen to make it much more than just a read-and-discuss group - we're choosing the newest and best YA fiction to discuss - but on June 27, we are very excited to be welcoming award-winning author Sally Nicholls, who is coming along to the group to talk about her books, why and how she writes - and what exactly books for teens are.

Sally is the winner of the #IBW2015 Children's Book Award for her latest book 'An Island of Our Own' - so it's doubly fitting that she will be coming along - and as she has offered to even serve behind the till, we are encouraging as many people as possible to come along and meet her!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Father's Day Books 2015: Fleming's Jamaica, Engel's England and the Tsunami Terror's Hollywood...

It's now five years since we launched our 'Buy Dad a Real Book' campaign back in 2011, and this year we're back with our Father's Day XII. All of us in the shop have picked, lobbied, argued and helped put together our list of Father's Day books for 2015.

As always, we've tried to come up with different books - and also a few children's books as we encourage Dads everywhere to start a Family Reading Group at home.

As always, our suggestions are to give you some inspiration and whet your appetite, but we're ready and raring to recommend the perfect book if you are looking for a special gift with extra Dad-appeal. Just pop into the shop.

Nothing says Father's Day like James Bond, and in 'Goldeneye', author (and Bond fanatic) Matthew Parker has written the story of Fleming and his relationship with the island of Jamaica, which infuses almost all of Fleming's books.

Starting with Fleming's arrival on the Island in 1943 (ostensibly to investigate a sinister Nazi establishing a secret U-Boat base in the Caribbean - sound familiar?) it tells the story of the intelligence officer-turned author, the twilight of the British Empire, and the home he built for himself on the island: Goldeneye.

If reading about Fleming's exploits in Jamaica makes you want to rush back to England, then we heartily recommend 'Engel's England'. Humorous writing about England - mixing anecdote, fact and impression - is a tough act to follow after writers as legendary as Bill Bryson, Harry Mount and even Alan Titchmarsh.

Author, newspaper columnist and former Wisden editor Matthew Engel decided to do things properly and spent three years travelling around England's historic counties (and its 41 cathedrals incidentally). They appear in Engel's England in the order in which they were visited. There is a real talent to the writing: you feel that you know each county and with a deceptively easy to read prose, it is a great book for a train journey or to keep by the bed.

In a world of increasing information, the ability to select (or curate) is becoming increasingly more valuable, but if you had to pick the most important ideas and events from the entire 20th century, could you do it?

Inspirational Boston University Professor Jonathan Reynolds has pulled off this feat in the mind-boggling brilliant '30-Second Twentieth Century' (in which 50 of the finest events and ideas are presented in digestible chunks that form a whistlestop tour through the most bloody yet brilliant century in human history. Covering everything from The Theory of Relativity to the devastating consequences caused by the bombing of Hiroshima and the art of Pablo Picasso to the fall of the Berlin Wall, this is a fantastic gift for anyone interested in world events.

Author don't come more heavyweight than Antony Beevor - his histories of key moments and battles of the Second World War, including Stalingrad and Berlin - and are some of the most critically-acclaimed history books that we have of any era.

In 'Ardennes 1944: Hitler's Last Gamble' he examines the Ardennes offensive, which caught the Americans by surprise, and was - at least for a time - as savage and desperate as the battles on the Eastern front. Beevor's background as a soldier gives him an uncanny ability to empathise with soldiers on both sides of the war as he tells the story of the battle that broke the Wehrmacht.

"You know how, because of the Internet, you can't say 'You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet' because everyone's seen everything by, like, age 12?"

Meet Aldo: philosopher, misanthrope, serial (failed) entrepreneur and unluckiest man alive. Now meet his long-suffering friend (and failed writer) Liam. He decides that writing about Aldo and his breathtakingly disastrous life will be his route to his writing salvation. It's a match made in hell, so what can possibly go wrong?

Very dark, very funny, this book from Booker-shortlistee Steve Toltz examines the flipside of friendship, and explores some very dark corners of life in the 21st century.

There's a lot going on in the world of space at the moment - and if Dad fancies himself as an astronaut then we have two books to recommend to him. Usborne's Astronaut Handbook should tell him everything he needs to know about life in space, and Neal Stephenson's 'Seveneves' is epic science fiction at its most world-ending best, as humanity scramble to turn the ISS into a lifeboat to escape a dying Earth. That should get any work-related worries into perspective. Go see our blog post from a few weeks ago to get your space reading fix.

(And if there is anyone out there who we haven't yet recommended 'The Martian' by Andy Weir to - read it before the film comes out this Autumn!) 

We've two excellent children's books to recommend as well - each with a novel twist on the 'my dad is a hero' theme. The first is 'Superhero Dad' by Timothy Knapman and Joe Berger. It's is all about the way a son sees his father. No matter what it is, from telling a joke to scaring the monsters under his bad, the father is a superhero. But what about what the child is in the fathers eyes? A great fun, heartwarming books for Dads to share with their children (to remind them how all Dads are heroes!)

For Jake Biggs, his Dad George is a genuine superhero - well, of the wrestling type anyway. George Biggs demolishes buildings by day, but by night he dons his spandex (and knee supports) and becomes...'Demolition Dad', the master of disaster. But when Jake enters his Dad secretly into a competition to take on the 'Tsunami Terror' in Hollywood, disaster might really be the outcome. Author Phil Earle is one of our most talented storytellers, and Phil has channelled the memory of Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and Kendo Nagasaki in reliving the glory days of British wrestling. This is top fun for bedtime reading.

'Mr Holmes' by Mitch Cullin (originally published as 'A Slight Trick of the Mind') imagines Holmes, in extreme old age, as witness to the birth of our own era.

Three stories, intertwined: Holmes begins to develop a close relationship with a young man who assists him with his bees, his memories of a visit to postwar Japan, including Hiroshima and the elaborate lie he told to a man who thinks the detective may know the truth about his missing father. To be released as a film next week starring Ian McKellen.

If it's a twisty, turny whodunit that Dad is after, we recommend 'The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair' by Joël Dicker, which features a young novelist as the main protagonist.

When acclaimed writer Marcus Goldman’s old friend and mentor is arrested for murder, Goldman is the only one who believes in his innocence. Can he clear his friend's name, save his reputation in the small town where he has lived - and possibly write his greatest ever book? This is a book that truly gets under your skin, and we defy anyone to guess the ending...

Is Dad normal? Difficult questions to ask perhaps, but in 'How to be Normal' writer Guy Browning (author of 'Never Hit A Jellyfish with a Spade') provides a comprehensive guide to the perplexed.

Packed full of impractical advice, from how to spectate at sports events, to the correct etiquette for pushing a supermarket trolley around a supermarket, a book definitely not to be read in public places, particularly if you are not normal in any way.

And finally - we definitely had to find a cycling book to place on our recommendations. In 'The Monuments' by Peter Cossins is an epic look at those cycling events that endure, that bring out the most heroic efforts from the greatest cyclists in history.

These events are known in the cycling community as 'The Monuments' and include the spine-shattering Paris-Roubaix and the aristocractic Tour of Lombardy. Packed full of facts, anecdotes and stories this is a book to inspire - even on the commute to work.

We appreciate not everyone has a Dad to buy for, and sometimes this is for sad reasons. So we'll just pass on a suggestion made by a customer last year (who we won't name) but who always reads a favourite book that her father used to enjoy. We think that's a lovely idea...

Friday, June 05, 2015

The Versions of Us: An Evening with Laura Barnett

One of the hottest debut novelists of the year, Laura Barnett, will be coming to Mostly Books on Thurs June 25, when she will be talking about her hugely anticipated debut novel that poses the question ‘what if?’ in a truly original way.

Laura Barnett’s ‘The Versions of Us’ presents us with three people, and three different scenarios. Creative yet sensible Eva either meets troubled, artistic Jim – or doesn’t. Or possibly they meet, but Eva is already involved with rising actor, David.

Three scenarios. Three strands. Three versions of life. Each version plays out, keeping everyone guessing as to which will leave our protagonists leading happy and fulfilled lives. Or will any of them?

It's anything but a straightforward study of relationships as the book follows Eva, Jim and David from their first meeting at Cambridge, throughout their lives, forever in a dance whether they are aware of each other or not.

The subtlety of how the characters change, yet remain true, is one of the many skills of the author. No matter which of their alternative lives they are living, it’s a playful book, but also a thought-provoking one.

It’s been compared with David Nicholls’ ‘One Day,’ asking questions such as: How much does marrying the right person first time around affect everything else in our lives? And if a quirk of fate means we miss that chance – if the connection is strong enough, will we get that chance again?

Tickets are £5, to include wine, and redeemable against a purchase of the book on the night. Come along and meet Laura – and learn more about the authors and 'The Versions of Us' here.

Friday, May 22, 2015

3-4-Friday Out Of This Word: Exploding Moons, Astronaut handbooks and post-apocalyptic Shakespeare

(c) Daniel Bursch / NASA
"The dinosaurs became extinct because they didn't have a space program" - Larry Niven

Abingdon sits at the heart of a lot of science - and increasingly that includes Space Exploration. Whether it's next generation spaceplanes at Culham, space test facilities at the Rutherford Appleton Labs or the new European Centre for Space Applications at Harwell, it seems like dozens of new space organisations and companies are springing up all over the place.

So no apologies if today’s 3-4-Friday has a slightly out-of-this-word, sorry, world feel to it.

This November, astronaut Tim Peake will be the first British astronaut to be launched into space on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS), and he’s written the forward for Louie Stowell's ‘The Usborne Official Astronaut's Handbook’. It's a funny and fascinating how-to guide for budding astronauts, and Usborne says it provides a 'crash course' on what it takes to travel into space (but hopefully not that sort of crash).

Given that it costs about £300 million per ISS mission, we reckon £6.99 is a highly cost-effective way of learning how to train for, get to and live in space for kids – without actually going there.

Of course, if we don’t learn how to live in space, we’re sitting ducks for any rogue asteroid, nearby supernova explosion – or just wandering exo-planet that might stray too close. And that is the starting point for Neal Stephenson’s epic new science fiction novel ‘Seveneves’, published yesterday. 

When something (or someone) blows up the Moon, humans are forced to evacuate the Earth – and we follow the survivors over the next several hundred years as they evolve in space. As with all Stephenson’s novels, the science is merciless, the scale is epic, and you have to be up for the ride. But the result is a blistering, catch-your-breath, against-the-odds tale that might just serve as an emergency handbook in case we ever have to leave Earth in a hurry.

And if you’ve ever wondered what a post-apocalyptic life on Earth might actually be like, then ‘Station Eleven’ by Emily St John Mandel won this year’s Arthur C Clarke award for the best science fiction novel of the year (it was also longlisted for the Bailey’s Prize for women’s fiction).

It’s the elegiac story of Kirsten, who, part of a touring theatre group, performs Shakespeare to settlements that have grown up in the aftermath of society’s collapse. Haunting, yet strangely reassuring, it reminds us of what we can be thankful about in the absence of flu epidemics (or any other world-ending scenario).

For whilst we may strive to go off into space, we can't ignore what we have to protect here on Earth. If only there were a way of linking the two?