Reading Through the [Alleged] Top 100 Science Fiction Novels- #96-100

I’m a huge science fiction fan, but realized I haven’t read a lot of those works considered classics or greats. I decided to remedy that, and found a list online of the Top 100 Science Fiction Books. The list is determined by vote from sci-fi fans online, so it may change over time. I am going off the order of the list as it was when I first saw it. Each book will receive a grade between F and A+ as well as very brief comments. I’m interested to read what you think about these books as well. There will be very minor spoilers in some of these.

96. VALIS by Philip K. Dick Grade: D-
“One thing I’ve discovered from reading through this list is that I pretty much detest novels that are just covers for the author to offer either autobiography or their own philosophical musings. This book is both. What’s most amusing about this is that I do truly love many novels which are full of philosophical musings. The problem is that VALIS is, at its core, just an excuse for Dick to philosophize at his readers. There’s not much of a plot to speak of. There isn’t character development. It’s just like reading about someone’s narration of a quasi-Gnostic religious experience. Oh wait, that’s basically what it is. How is this even considered science fiction? I don’t know.”

97. Xenocide by Orson Scott Card Grade: B
“Another excellent entry in the Ender series by Orson Scott Card, Xenocide picks up right where Speaker for the Dead left off. However, it isn’t as polished as the first two books in the series, and probably could be about 150 pages shorter while conveying all the same characterization and plot. There is a bit too much ‘what are we gonna do next’ happening here. That said, it is still quite enjoyable, and the continuation of the plot makes it a must read. Speculation about morality, religion, and more abound. It’s great science fiction.”

98. The Postman by David Brin Grade: C-
“I couldn’t help but feel a major amount of deja vu with this. It’s got scenes that feel incredibly similar to Chrysalids or Alas, Babylon in different ways. I’m not saying it’s copied–it clearly is not–but it has a sense of familiarity that simply should not exist in a post-apocalyptic novel. Perhaps that’s a mark of how many of these books I’ve read by now, but I think it is at least in part a function of the writing itself. Anyway, The Postman certainly isn’t bad, it just didn’t strike me as particularly excellent, either. The blurbs on the back seemed to focus on how it’s some kind of warning. But a warning of what? And why is it particularly poignant in regards to humanity’s plight? Frankly, compared to some other post-apocalyptic tales, this is rather tame.”

99. More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon Grade: B
“An emotional ride on what it feels like to be truly alone among all of humanity. That part is well done. Sturgeon’s characters are raw and real. However, there is very little science fiction in this one, and the ideas about male-female relations are straight out of the 1950s. There is also very little plot to speak of here.”

100. The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle Grade: B
“Many of these classic science fiction books are very worth reading. Doyle never quite reaches the transcendent heights of H.G. Wells or Jules Verne, but it’s an exciting read nonetheless. The idea of the undiscovered country on earth remains compelling, and the style was fun reading. It’s a fun, short jaunt.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books– Check out more posts in this series as I continue.

SDG.

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Reading the Horus Heresy, Book 4: “The Flight of the Eisenstein” by James Swallow

I know I’m late to the party, but I finally decided to start reading the “Horus Heresy,” a huge series of novels set in the universe of Warhammer 40,000 (though it is set much earlier than the year 40,000). I thought it would be awesome to blog the series as I go. With more than 50 novels and many, many short stories, there will be a lot of posts in this series (I doubt I’ll get to all the short stories). I’m reading the series in publication order unless otherwise noted. There will be SPOILERS from the books discussed as well as previous books in the series. Please DO NOT SPOIL later books in the series.

The Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow

Galaxy in Flames showed the true breakout of the Heresy and the violence that almost immediately ensued. Here, with Eisenstein, we find that the Heresy is truly breaking out and follow the path of this ship as we see whether the knowledge of the Heresy can get back to the Emperor in time.

The premise is really intense, as is the setup. Will the Eisenstein escape? What bigger ramifications will it have? The book weighs in at over 400 pages, so I went in expecting that we’d see the ship escape as well as some of the ripple effects of that. But a huge portion of the book is spent just on buildup to whether the Eisenstein will truly figure out what’s happening or not, and then on whether they get away. This leaves only the last small portion of the book to deal with any ramifications.

As I read this book, it felt very much like the first 300 pages could have just as easily been a short story. It reads as being very dragged out, with each scene dragging on longer than it needed to. The last 100 pages or so, though, were totally awesome. The building up of Garro as a character is really awesome, as were the scenes featuring the “Lord of the Flies.” The incredulity Garro and others had to face in the face of the Imperial authorities is believable, though I also wonder if there’s more going on behind the scenes than we get to find out in this book.

Really, what would have improved the book, in my opinion, would have been shaving off about 100 pages and increasing the action. Large portions of the book are spent with characters debating the next course of action, and that drags it down. The last section, though, made the book well-worth reading. I enjoyed it immensely at the end, and look forward to finding out what comes next.

Links

Reading the Horus Heresy– This will be a link for the series of posts as I continue to write them.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“The Genius Plague” by David Walton – math, cryptography, and thrilling adventures

One of my favorite sub-genres of science fiction is what I call “disaster” sci-fi (tell me if there’s a better name, please!), and I include things like cli-fi (climate based science fiction) and plagues of the future. Greg Bear is one who has written a lot in this area, and most of Michael Crichton’s novels fell into this general category as well. It tends to be a mashup of real science, math, and wild extrapolations. It’s a kind of offshoot of hard sci-fi that combines thrillers with science fiction.

David Walton, with The Genius Plague, has rocketed onto my radar as a truly gifted writer in this sub-genre. Look, if you’re one to avoid SPOILERS, as I am, don’t read on from here AND DON’T READ THE BLURB ON THE BOOK and go read it ASAP. Read on if you want a fuller picture or to talk about the book with me–please do!

I’m a sucker for mushrooms. No, I don’t like to eat them, but yes, they are fascinating. Diverse, hugely innovative, ancient, and creepy. They beg for science fiction novelists to write about them, and they’ve been successful in those novels I’ve read about them–The Girl With all the Gifts, for example: yes please! Walton starts off with a bang- a mycologist (scientist who studies mushrooms) in the Amazon gets ambushed for no apparent reason along with a woman. They’re both infected with a fungal lung thing and she dies but he survives–just changed. As his brother, who goes to work for the NSA, starts to crack some codes (with Walton mixing a small amount of math and cryptography in just for fun), the menace of this fungal plague grows exponentially.

There are many moving parts in this book: whether it’s Neil’s employment at the NSA and the linguistics, cryptography, and mathematics thrown together for that, or Paul’s interaction with the mushrooms, or international politics, it all moves swiftly. Sometimes, it moves a bit too quickly, and a bit of hand-waving is involved, particularly in the move from beginnings of infection to a seeming world threat. But generally, Walton balances the pace with characterization and fascinating set pieces. Though I wasn’t terribly surprised by any of the twists and turns, I loved the ride so much I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I found this book un-put-down-able, as one of the blurbs on the front cover also called it. I basically opened it yesterday and only stopped while caring for my kids. It was an absolute blast of a novel, and one that had a satisfying conclusion.

Another reason I loved this book is that the characters are fully formed and have unique feels to them. Also (and this is a big spoiler for some character development towards the VERY end, so don’t read it if you don’t want it spoiled), I liked that Neil and Shaunessy didn’t end up together and decided to be friends-ish. It was a kind of affirmation of male-female friendship that I truly appreciated. Well done, Walton! [/end big spoilers]

The Genius Plague has earned a place on my personal top 100 sci-fi novels list. It does have a few flaws, but those are overshadowed by a truly great novel that kept me turning the pages compulsively all day. Go read it!

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“Amazing Tales” – Review of a pencil & paper RPG for kids

I don’t really make it a secret: I’m a huge nerd. So is my wife. So when we found out we were having a child some years ago, one of the things that came to mind was how to pass on my love of tabletop RPGs to my kids. I even did some research early on. More recently, with my child growing older and another on the way, I got more serious about the search. Time and again, the book “Amazing Tales” was what was recommended to me. This past Easter, I finally got the book for my eldest and started to play it right away.

The game is a smash hit in our house, to say the least. My kid talks about it constantly and we have a ton of fun together. I’d like to offer my own little review here, so that others who may be interested can enjoy it as much as we are!

One of the best parts about Martin Lloyd’s system is that he basically has the different aspects that make games like Dungeons & Dragons great in this game, while making them much simpler- simple enough for a four year old to grasp it. There’s character creation–you pick a “class” that relates to the type of adventures you’re doing, with several suggestions in each world (eg. Robot for the sci-fi setting or a knight in a fantasy setting). Then, you pick 4 things that the character is good at. Some ideas are provided (eg. “being strong” or “making things”), but Lloyd encourages letting your kids run with it. For example, he writes about a game with one of his kids where the Pirate he made has a pet octopus and has a kind of “handle animal” as a skill that let him, in the adventure, use the octopus to do things for him. The character creation part lets your kids run wild, but Lloyd also offers suggestions to help make characters as broadly effective as they need to be. With 4 skills, you then ask the kids to pick which they’re best at, next best at, and so on. Then, these skills are assigned a D12 (best), D10 (next best), D8, and D6. Success for using the skill is 3 or higher, so the game is heavily weighted on letting kids run with their imagination while you guide the story along.

Lloyd has 4 settings, effectively following Fairies/talking animals, knights/magic, pirates, and sci-fi tropes. I have started a homebrew setting for my kid’s knights/magic kingdom. Lloyd provides tons of ideas for expanding the setting, integrating sounds/etc. into it, and the like. Then,  you just run with it. It’s a lot like the “Yes, and” type of improv comedy people do. Your child may say something that seems impossible, but instead of shooting it down, let their imagination guide you! In the sci-fi setting played, my child played an inventor who was good at building things, and when confronted by an asteroid threat to the planet, the solution was offered to build a dungeon for it to get stuck in. We did it, but then got stuck later in the same dungeon and had to escape! These kind of wrinkles allow a more complex and rewarding play experience.

The book itself is richly illustrated and full of ideas. It’s not going to tell you everything about how to run a game, but Lloyd gives many seeds for stories (and I love the “twists” he throws into them, letting you make an even deeper story for your kids). The ways to deal with repeated failures (eg. rolling 1-2 over and over) are interesting and helpful, and the book really gives a quick baseline for you to run with as a parent. Experienced role playing gamers will easily be able to pick it up and play, while newer gamers may need to teach themselves a little bit more. Overall, the ease of the system is a huge selling point. I read the book and within a few minutes was playing the game with my child, who adores it.

Amazing Tales is a really excellent resource as an introduction to role-playing games. It does it in a way that lays foundations for a long, illustrious, book-collecting, dice-rolling career as a gamer. I very highly recommend it.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Reading the Horus Heresy, Book 3: “Galaxy in Flames” by Ben Counter

I know I’m late to the party, but I finally decided to start reading the “Horus Heresy,” a huge series of novels set in the universe of Warhammer 40,000 (though it is set much earlier than the year 40,000). I thought it would be awesome to blog the series as I go. With more than 50 novels and many, many short stories, there will be a lot of posts in this series (I doubt I’ll get to all the short stories). I’m reading the series in publication order unless otherwise noted. There will be SPOILERS from the books discussed as well as previous books in the series. Please DO NOT SPOIL later books in the series.

Galaxy in Flames by Ben Counter

Ben Counter wrote some of my favorite WH40K fiction, and I know that some people who are really into the lore don’t like them, but that would be the Grey Knights series. Those books were some of the most metal science fiction I’ve ever read. Totally awesome. So I had high hopes for this book, and I was not disappointed.

Galaxy in Flames is surely a pivotal moment in the whole saga, as it shows that the heresy has now taken action. It is here that the traitor factions begin to attack and kill those loyal to the Emperor. Counter does a good job bringing characterization to many of the players, though at times it moves swiftly past these minor characters so the reader doesn’t get a good sense of some of them. However, the main players are of interest, and the action is spot-on as it has been in every Counter book I have read.

There was one scene in particular that I enjoyed, and that was the showdown in the Titan as different players joined either loyalist or traitor sides, then fought inside the titan. I have always enjoyed Warhammer fiction about Titans, and this brought some new dynamics I haven’t read before.

I think what has really made these books enjoyable, though, is the nods to my background knowledge of other lore and fiction I have read in the universe. Like the build up of the cult of the Emperor is fascinating, because it’s taken as such a given in the 40k part of the universe. I also think the questions about Chaos make it seem more dynamic than it is in 40K. That’s not to knock the 40K fiction I’ve read, which is mostly awesome–what I’m saying is that having characters struggle with what Chaos is and how it could be used or abused is a good way to bring interest to something that is mostly black and white in the farther future.

Galaxy in Flames is another fascinating entry in what is already turning out to be a great series. I look forward to diving into the next book in the massive series soon!

Links

Reading the Horus Heresy- This will be a link for the series of posts as I continue to write them.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Reading Through the [Alleged] Top 100 Science Fiction Novels: #91-95

I’m a huge science fiction fan, but realized I haven’t read a lot of those works considered classics or greats. I decided to remedy that, and found a list online of the Top 100 Science Fiction Books. The list is determined by vote from sci-fi fans online, so it may change over time. I am going off the order of the list as it was when I first saw it. Each book will receive a grade between F and A+ as well as very brief comments. I’m interested to read what you think about these books as well. There will be very minor spoilers in some of these.

91. The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem Grade: A+
“One of the joys of having read through this list is that I discovered I do, in fact, appreciate short stories. I never thought I liked them before. The Cyberiad is yet another collection that made me love short stories. It’s a slightly cohesive collection, with two characters recurring throughout. The brilliance of this collection, though, is not in the characters, but in the plots and writing. The first half of the collection is pure gold, with comedy intermingled with strokes of brilliance. The second half is great, but not quite as superb. Also, the translation work in this book (originally in Polish) is astounding. There are many poems, including poems with alliteration. They all come out quite well, and some are genius. A fantastic collection.”

92. Anathem by Neal Stephenson Grade: A
“A story of a monk in a future in which the intellectuals have fled from broader society so as not to lead to great wars. I enjoyed the look at the cloistered life, and though it was a slow burn, I felt the plot never really plodded along. The first and third thirds of the book are better than the middle third. The ideas contained in here, as usual with Stephenson’s fare, are exciting, different, strange, and alluring. It’s wacky and off-kilter, but the theme of the book reigns in Stephenson some so that it doesn’t ever feel as zany as, say, Snow Crash. Instead, there is a somberness here that makes the whole book seem even more intense and epic that it may have otherwise. There is a steep learning curve with all the evented lingo, but the payoff is immense. Stephenson delivers yet another work of stunning imaginative achievement.”

93. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson Grade: A-
“Yet another early science fiction work that stands up remarkably well. There is a sense of foreboding and strangeness throughout the whole book, even though I knew the plot already. It’s a fast read, and well worth the time. Plus, it clearly provides the basic outline of so many other ideas. A worthy classic.”

94. City by Clifford Simak Grade: B
“I honestly liked the editorial comments at the beginning of each chapter much more than I enjoyed the actual plotting of the novel. It was haunting and beautiful at times, but that was largely due to the fictional editors’ perspective rather than the story at hand. A good read, but it doesn’t reach the heights of some similar concepts like Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles.”

95. The Many-Colored Land by Julian May Grade: C
“I wanted so much to love this novel. High recommendations, great reviews, and the like all had me hyped for it. But this is almost 100% a set-up novel. It introduces many characters before it finally ties them all together by throwing them back through a one-way trip to the past. The characters are interesting, but because there are so many, there is little chance to really get into any of them. I read the book after this one, The Golden Torc, and wasn’t struck by it either. It’s an interesting, exciting setting, but overall seems to just be a huge amount of characters with little to tie them all together.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books– Check out more posts in this series as I continue.

SDG.

Learning about LGBT+ history- Everyone Should Do So

I’ve been trying to learn more and more about the history of the United States for a number of reasons (being more informed on the history of policies that are proposed; reflecting on the history of our country; seeing how current problems or triumphs are grounded in the past; etc.) and am reading Fault Lines: A History of the United States since 1974 by Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer.

I have to admit I was shocked, though I shouldn’t have been, by the history presented so far regarding our country’s treatment of marginalized groups.

I thought of myself as decently cognizant of the history of the United States, but in no history class I took was there even the briefest survey or mention that I can remember of some of the acts our country has taken against people identifying as LGBT+. It is important to be informed on the history so that you can approach the topic with a better understanding. I’m trying to do that for myself, and have a long ways to go. It’s clear that I’ve enjoyed the privilege of not having the stigma and hate that is directed at LGBT+ people, and that privilege has left me woefully ignorant. Here are just a few shocking things I learned (citations from the book mentioned above):

It was during World War II that the US Army psychiatrists identified gays and lesbians as “a personality type unfit for service” and discharged thousands of gay soldiers and sailors from the military with the label of “psycopathic undesirables” which led to serious difficulties in civilian life finding jobs and stability as well (80).

The FBI in the 1950s increased surveillance on gays and lesbians, leading to thousands of arrests. Philadelphia had more than 100 a month, while DC topped 1000 in a year. “Newspaper editors… often print[ed] the names, addresses, and places of employment of those arrested” (80), attaching increasing stigma, loss of jobs, and potential violence.

Executive order 10450 in 1953, issued by Dwight D. Eisenhower, expanded the potential for finding security risks in potential government employees and banned lesbian and gay applicants from federal employment while also leading to the termination of more than 5,000 federal employees under suspicion of being homosexual.

Anita Bryant, famous for her career as a singer, opposed recognition of civil rights for gay and lesbian people and called them “human garbage” (82). She led a charge to undo multiple ordinances that were put in place to protect LGBT people. Later, her name would be invoked when four straight men shouted things like “Here’s one for Anita!” as they stabbed Robert Hillsborough, a gay man, to death (85).

These are just a few examples, and I’m sure there are many more. What alarms me about this is how little we learn about it in our schools and how little it is discussed in public policy discussions today. I hope we can work to continue to ensure that these violations of life, dignity, and rights do not happen ever again in our country.

Fault Lines: A History of the United States since 1974 has been a fascinating read so far. I think everyone should read books that open their eyes to concerns of which they might not have been otherwise aware.

SDG.