The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa: 9781101911815 | PenguinRandomHouse.com:  Books

Consider an ordinary object lying around your house – for example, a marker. Now, imagine that object being completely erased from your life and the lives of every single person you know. Not only that, all memories of using a marker vanish from your consciousness. You haven’t a clue what a “marker” is, what it’s used for, how to pronounce it – “marker” has been completely eradicated from your vocabulary. Repeat this harrowing process ad infinitum, and you have the premise of The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa.

On an unnamed island, every inhabitant fears the brutal Memory Police, a secret task force committed to ensuring that objects that have disappeared remain forgotten by the population. However, there are those who are gifted (or cursed) with the ability to recall the disappeared items, and they are in danger of being “disappeared” themselves by the Memory Police.

When a young novelist who lives in this nightmarish world realizes that her editor, only referred to as “R,” is one of the few people who are able to recall vanished items, she makes a plan to hide him in a secret room beneath her floorboards. As time goes on, and more essential items begin to vanish, the inhabitants of the island begin to lose their sense of self, and the novelist and R cling to her writing as one last way to preserve the past. 

A hauntingly surreal portrayal of the importance of memory and the terrors of state surveillance, The Memory Police is a powerful dystopian novel involving the terrifying erasure of the past, the inability to distinguish an individual from the collective, and an overall feeling of horror that slowly descends upon both the island people and the reader. 

For fans of chilling Orwellian novels that make one consider the significance of the past as well as the present and future, The Memory Police is a fantastic novel that checks all of those boxes and more, and I would definitely recommend it to all.

-Mahak M.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World: Aldous Huxley: 9780060850524: Amazon.com: Books

One of the most prominent dystopian novels of all time, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World explores a horrifyingly relevant potential society in which all individuals are in a perpetual state of bliss and “innocence,” and are unaware of pain or unhappiness. However, like all seemingly utopian worlds, there is a dark side.

In the World State, people are no longer born – they are “decanted” and treated according to their predetermined place in the extremely rigid caste system, from the intelligent Alpha Pluses to the Epsilon Semi Morons who have their development stunted.

Rather than contemplate the morality of this, the citizens are brainwashed to not care through sleep hypnosis techniques, which convince each class that they are best suited for said caste, and that they should not challenge it, completely eliminating free will from a young age.

Additionally, to keep the citizens complacent with the control of the World State, they are encouraged to participate in activities that bring pleasure, while at the same time discouraged from getting pregnant or becoming parents (a slur in the World State). The people continue to be submissive through an excessive consumption of soma, a drug that induces feelings of happiness and bliss.

When Alpha Plus Bernard Marx and his date, Beta Plus Lenina Crowne, travel to a Native American reservation and meet John, a “savage” with connections to the World State, their lives are changed forever. John’s inability to reconcile his idealistic notions of love and life, obtained from old copies of Shakespearean works, and the reality of the World State causes conflict between himself and Lenina, who he loves.

All in all, Brave New World is a fascinating read, not only for those who enjoy dystopian fiction, but also as a warning for an overly mechanized future, in which individuals are not treated as such, and are instead manipulated into becoming perfect cogs in a reproductive machine.

-Mahak M.

A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game (1996? edition) | Open Library

In the world devised by Orson Scott Card in Ender’s Game, humanity has successfully achieved interstellar travel at the speed of light, and have been forced to foil two invasions of an insectoid alien species referred to as “buggers.” Anticipating the third invasion, the military has devised the Battle School, a program in which very young children of superior intellect are trained in battle strategies and other fighting maneuvers in order to protect humanity’s future. 

At Battle School, children are sorted into “armies” and forced to devise strategies and compete against each other in a mimicry of a real alien invasion. The protagonist of the novel, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, who was taken from his family at the age of 5, is praised for possessing an undeniably brilliant and strategic mind, perhaps the best in the entire academy. 

Quickly working his way up the “ladder,” Ender becomes the youngest leader of an army with a 100% success rate, but his status as the best of the best wins him as many enemies as it does allies. Eventually, Ender graduates and joins the space force to defend Earth from the third “bugger” invasion, but his strategies come at a cost not obvious at first glance. 

While it may not be as well known as some other sci-fi classics, Ender’s Game is intriguing in that it raises some interesting psychological questions regarding the morality of training and harming children for the sake of the greater good. Personally, Ender’s Game has always been one of my favorite novels, and I would definitely recommend it to all readers, especially if they are fans of the sci-fi adventure genre.

-Mahak M.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie

The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie

A confession from a dying woman to a Catholic priest may seem an ordinary occurrence, but when that same priest is struck dead in the fog not a few hours later, found with a list of names hidden in his shoe, a deep conspiracy involving families across the country is unveiled, all revolving around one place: the Pale Horse.

Mark Easterbrook, a young man and author, observes a fight between two young women, only to later discover that one of the opponents died of the flu a mere week later. When Mark later meets with his old friend, the police surgeon, the death becomes less clear when he observes that the woman’s name is on the list. After learning from a friend of the Pale Horse inn, a place that is rumoured to anonymously arrange deaths, a gruesome truth surrounding the list begins to emerge from the darkness.

With the help of fiery redhead Ginger Corrigan, a friend of Mark’s who lives near the Pale Horse, Mark must operate undercover in order to save the lives of possibly hundreds of people whose deaths are meticulously being planned by the most innocent seeming people.

As the clock ticks for Mark and Ginger, Agatha Christie continues to raise the stakes in The Pale Horse, and while it is not one of her more well known mysteries, its exciting plot and unforeseeable plot twist make it one novel that all mystery fans should read. 

-Mahak M.

The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

Angels & Demons: A Novel (Hardcover) | Tattered Cover Book Store

When CERN director Maximilian Kohler discovers the dead body of his top physicist, Leonardo Vetra, in his secure lab, branded with the dreadful Illuminati ambigram symbol, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon’s world is turned upside down. Traveling to Switzerland, Langdon realizes that the Illuminati, a secret society long thought disbanded, is actually alive and well, and have only one assignment to fulfill – the complete annihilation of the Catholic Church and Vatican City.

Together, Langdon and Vetra’s adopted daughter Vittoria must race to locate a deadly sample of antimatter taken from the late Vetra’s lab. To make matters worse, unless Langdon and Vittoria successfully track down the stolen antimatter, and Vetra’s killer, before the clock strikes midnight, not only will Vatican City explode, due to the recent death of the Pope, every major figure of the Catholic Church will perish along with the Vatican.

On a race against time, Langdon and Vittoria must follow the path laid by the ancient Illuminati members centuries ago, in the hopes of saving lives as they do it. However, the closer the two get to the final showdown, the higher the stakes are raised, and the more danger they find themselves embroiled in.

Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons is a definite read for fans of real historical facts interwoven with heart-racing action scenes and mystery theme elements. Fans of The Da Vinci Code will certainly enjoy the first chronicle of Langdon’s adventures.

-Mahak M.

Angels & Demons by Dan Brown is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

Amazon.com: I Am Number Four (Lorien Legacies, Book 1 ...

In a universe where extraterrestrial beings battle in a high-stakes war of life or death, nine aliens gifted with special abilities from the planet Lorien have come to Earth to hide from their otherworldly attackers, the evil Mogadorians. To protect them from being assassinated by the Mogadorians, the Loric receive a charm that places them in a numerical order, ensuring that they cannot be killed unless all that come before them have already been found. 

They caught and brutally murdered Number One in Malaysia, Number Two in England, and Number Three in Kenya. Now, Number Four must escape the deadly Mogadorian assassins that are tracking his every move.

Adopting the alias of John Smith, Four must masquerade as John Smith, a normal human teenager, in order to protect himself and the future of the Loric people. However, just as John is beginning to become accustomed to life in Paradise, Ohio, his abilities manifest, drawing attention to him and his new home. If he wants to save himself and those he loves, John must master his Legacies before it’s too late, and everyone and everything John holds dear is cruelly snatched from him.

Fast-paced and thrilling, I Am Number Four fantastically kicks off Pittacus Lore’s Lorien Legacies series, making this a novel (and a series) a must read for fans of superhero-esque action and adventure scenes.

-Mahak M.

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

Amazon.com: I, Robot (The Robot Series) eBook: Asimov, Isaac: Kindle Store

I, Robot, a collection of short stories by Isaac Asimov, tell the tales of artificially intelligent robots held in check by the Three Laws of Robotics, which are:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm;

2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; and

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

With these three simple directives in mind, Asimov successfully creates a world in which the behaviour of robots is governed, allowing the humans (and the reader) to watch as the robots evolve from their primitive origins to eventually reach ultimate perfection in a future where humanity is on the cusp of being rendered obsolete.

While not technically classified as a novel, the stories have been ordered in such a way as to preserve continuity. Within a frame narrative of an interview of a soon-to-be-retired division head of the U.S. Robot and Mechanical Men Corporation, “robopsychologist” Dr. Susan Calvin, stories are told depicting the key members involved in humanity’s development of a range of robots from infantile to hyper intelligent ones. An especially appealing part of the stories is that most of the characters are kept the same, and while it may seem dull to read about the same few people, the character development in each story produces well rounded characters that are interesting and realistic.

Of the 9 stories in I, Robot, my personal favorite was “Little Lost Robot,” in which Dr. Calvin and her associates lose a robot with a diminished First Law (meaning that it can harm humans), and they must find it again before it can escape to Earth and wreak havoc on the planet, resulting in a loss of support for the robot initiative. However, all the stories were definitely thought-provoking ones, and I would recommend the entire collection to all readers, sci-fi fans or otherwise.

-Mahak M.

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Thunderball by Ian Fleming

Thunderball (novel) - Wikipedia

There’s no rest for Agent James Bond, code-name 007, especially after taking down the Russian counter-intelligence agency SMERSH. It has only created a new power vacuum, one that an even more dangerous organization seeks to fill in Thunderball by Ian Fleming.

The Prime Minister of the UK and the President of the US both receive a secret message from SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion), detailing their latest plot. The agency, led by criminal mastermind Ernst Stavro Blofeld, has successfully hijacked a plane carrying two nuclear bombs, which it will use to destroy two major cities in the West unless an exorbitant ransom is paid.

To avoid this, the Americans and the British launch Operation Thunderball to retrieve the two weapons of mass destruction. M, however, decides to act on a hunch of his, and, believing that the SPECTRE operative is working from the Caribbean area, and thus sends his best operative, James Bond, to eliminate the threat.

Once at the Bahamas, Bond wastes no time integrating himself with the suspected SPECTRE agent Emilio Largo by seducing the beautiful Domino Vitali, Largo’s current mistress. However, alone in the Bahamas with a lone man for backup, Bond may find himself in over his head, with Largo proving to be a more powerful nemesis than any before him…

In Ian Fleming’s Thunderball, the reader is introduced to the newest set of Bond villains, as well as one of the best action sequences in the Bond storyline. Fans of Agent 007 should not miss the ninth installment in the tale of one of the most celebrated series in history.

-Mahak M.

Thunderball by Ian Fleming is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Return of the King - Wikipedia

After the previous installments in the classic Lord of the Rings trilogy, the last novel, The Return of the King, is not to be missed. In it, the fate of the both former Fellowship of the Ring and the quest of the Ringbearer are revealed in the same rich literature that is characteristic of J.R.R. Tolkien.

The war against Sauron the Dark Lord is not going well. The great city of Minas Tirith is already under siege by the great army of Mordor, and its allies in Gondor are nearing the same fate. The only hope for the armies of the West is if the Ringbearer, Frodo the hobbit, succeeds in his quest to destroy the One Ring, for then and only then can Sauron be defeated.

However, Frodo, too, has reached obstacles in his journey to Mount Doom. He and his companion Samwise must muster up the last reserves of their strength to take on the uphill battle that is the destruction of the One Ring, and face the unavoidable fact that, even if they should succeed, they will never return home to tell the tale.

In the exhilarating finale of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, danger is more present than ever, and the heroes must face the daunting task of saving Middle-Earth as they know it. The Return of the King is a fitting end to the incredible trilogy, and should not be missed for the world.

-Mahak M.

The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Cybersecurity Tips and Tricks

When the Internet was first made available to the public in the late 1960s, very few people would have even considered that it could become the global sensation that it is today. And yet, as of July 2020, 60 percent of the population is able to access the Internet, and this number is only increasing in recent months. 

While the Internet is undoubtedly a helpful and necessary part of our lives (case in point – the current pandemic, which would be making life much more difficult for many people without the Internet), the rising global dependency also makes it an enticing target for hackers, scammers, and other people with malicious intentions to take advantage of users. 

Because of this, it’s important to make sure that you’re protecting your information while browsing or posting on the Internet, so I’ve made a list of basic cybersecurity guidelines that all people should follow:

  1. You Are a Target to Hackers

Most people think that because of the vast number of people on the Internet, they won’t be targeted, but it’s actually the opposite. Most scammers go for ordinary people who, under the delusion that they wouldn’t be a victim, have been less than careful with the spread of their personal information. So, the first step is to recognize that you are a potential target and that you must protect your information.

  1. Passwords! Passwords Everywhere!

As I’m sure you know, passwords are a critical defense against hackers. However, choosing the right password makes all the difference. Many people set their password to “password” or “bluesky” or some other variation of an easy, dictionary level, all lowercase password. Unfortunately, passwords like these can be hacked in milliseconds.

Most sites have password requirements that prevent such simple passwords, but even they are not enough. When thinking for a password, try to make it at least 10 characters, with upper and lowercase letters, as well as numbers and symbols. For example, a secure password might be: WeAreTheChampions492!

One last thing – it’s important to keep your passwords random. For instance, don’t use FaceBookTime123! for a Facebook account. Instead, try to come up with unique base words, or, if you’re having trouble, find a random word generator online.

If you’re like me and have the memory of a goldfish, coming up with random passwords (and remembering them!) may seem daunting, but using secure password managers can help ease the burden on your memory.

  1. Always Think Before You Click

Phishing attacks are a constant threat; using various social engineering techniques, scammers will try and trick you into divulging your personal information. For example, in a scheme used to hack many politicians’ emails, you may receive a message stating that your password has been hacked and your account accessed, and that you must reset your password using a link provided.

Do not click the link unless you are 100 percent sure that it is genuine. Generally speaking, the rule of thumb for such emails is to go straight to the source and perform the action there. If your Amazon account was hacked, for example, go straight to Amazon’s web page and find the legitimate link there.

  1. Back Up Your Data

It’s important to keep your information secure, just like you would keep your valuables in a safe place. Some ransomware hackers encrypt your data and make it impossible to access it, and force you to pay a fee in order to have it returned to you. 

If you make sure to back up your data at least once a week, you can avoid having to pay the unreasonable sums of money presented to you by these ransomware attackers and be on your merry way.

  1. Declutter Your Digital Closet

Basically what’s on the tin – if you haven’t used an app or account for a large expanse of time (think 6 months to a year), you should probably get rid of it. This applies to social media apps, email accounts, etc. Doing this prevents hackers from exploiting old information or vulnerabilities.

Another way to harden your apps is by updating them, eliminating old vulnerabilities through new patches that can keep you and your information safe. Always make sure you have the most recently updated version of every app.

  1. The Ultimate Weapon: Common Sense

Obviously, this is a far from comprehensive list, but the overall most important tool when protecting your information from malicious presences is simple common sense. Whenever you receive a “friend” request from someone you don’t know, or an email that looks a bit fishy, ask yourself: Does it make sense?

Most of the time, this question results in an easy yes-or-no answer, but the rule I always follow in the situations where it isn’t so clear is any doubt, throw it out. After all, you can never be too careful! 🙂

Although this is a relatively short list, I hope it helps you guys better secure yourselves and your information from malicious attackers. Thanks for reading!

– Mahak M.