Today, Janelle Monáe’s collaborative anthology The Librarian of Memory and Other Dirty Computer Stories versions. Set in the elaborate world built through Monáe’s albums (but especially her 2018 album dirty computer), the work of Afrofuturism reflects the power of art, memory, storytelling and community. These components return to the theme (and some functions) of libraries.
To celebrate this release, I want to share eight more science fiction and fantasy (SFF) novels that explore these themes and ideas using libraries. Libraries perform many other functions in addition to containing book-related spaces and programs. Even for readers, they can be not only a place to pick up books, but also a safe space to reflect and explore. Some of the libraries on this list travel and some are stationary in hell, but all contain books and stories that have the power to change the world.
A discovery of witches by Deborah E. Harkness
What list of SFF and speculative fiction libraries would be complete without at least one book on the occult and witches? As a young scholar and descendant of witches, Diana Bishop comes across an enchanted manuscript deep in the Bodleian Library in Oxford (at Yale). She meets a vampire geneticist, and a whole dual world opens up upon finding these texts. A discovery of witches is the first book of the All Souls Trilogy.
The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow
This First Contact story is set two years after a misunderstanding with aliens, the Ilori, resulted in the death of a third of Earth’s population. Despite the ban on creative expression in her Ilori-controlled NYC, seventeen-year-old Ellie maintains a secret library. This executionable crime is uncovered by an Ilori commander, but his fascination with music and literature makes him wonder if exposing Ellie is the right move.
The library of legends by Janie Chang
As Japanese bombs began to rain down on the city of Nanjing, leaders sent Hu Lian and other college classmates to China’s western provinces in 1937 for security reasons. Lian and others must leave not only for their safety, but also to preserve the 500-year-old collection of myths and historical artifacts known as the Library of Legends. Lian’s complex and dangerous journey to keep the documents safe begins to mirror stories within the library, and the immortals yearn to be freed from the pages.
The library of the unwritten by AJ Hackwith
This fantasy action-adventure book follows the Librarians of the Unwritten in Hell. Their job is to fix and maintain the unfinished stories while ensuring that the characters don’t materialize and successfully escape the library. Things take a turn for the worse when an angelic figure stops the librarian in her so-called routine search and informs her that she holds an upsetting book called the Devil’s Bible. The library of the unwritten is the first book in the Hell’s Library series.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
In this time travel adventure, Nora Seed arrives at an enchanted library that gives readers a chance to see themselves in different lives. They can travel back in time to make one particular decision, make another, and see how their life went. They can ponder and reflect on whether their main story was right for them. Some have described The Midnight Library more negatively as a “Hallmark book”, but I’ve included it anyway because it might be a great springboard title for those who don’t read much science fiction. Plus, the stories served to reflect on our decisions and to wonder “what if,” so that’s a fascinating premise.
The strange library by Haruki Murakami, translated by Ted Goossen
The strange library follows a boy visiting his local library after school. After asking about a book, a staff member directs him to room 107 and the child embarks on a disturbing hike through the stacks of the library. First published in 1983, Knopf released an English edition of this magical realism, a Japanese short story (by literary giant Haruki Murakami) in 2014. Opt for a physical copy if possible, as the 94-page book is heavily illustrated by Chip and Kidd help set the tone for the story.
Ex Libris: Stories of Librarians, Libraries and Traditions edited by Paula Guran
This anthology features short stories and reprinted short stories from 24 authors known for their work in science fiction and fantasy. Each unique story takes a different aspect or element of different types of libraries and the different people (who run them like librarians, curators, archivists and support staff), and uses them as the basis for stories that inspire, delight and terrify.
Writers include Paula Guran, Ellen Klages, Kage Baker, Esther M. Friesner, Elizabeth Bear, Richard Bowes, Ruthanna Emrys, Norman Partridge, Ray Bradbury, Holly Black, Ken Liu, Kelly Link, Sarah Monette, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, AC Wise , Tansy Rayner Roberts, E. Saxey, Amal El-Mohtar, Scott Lynch, Robert Reed, Xia Jia, Gregory Benford, Jack McDevitt and Edoardo Albert.
(photo: Knopf Publishing Group, Inkyard Press and Ace Books)
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