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.

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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.

 

 

Two “First Contact” series you should read (and probably haven’t)

Love the hair!

A.C. Crispin’s Starbridge Series

A.C. Crispin was best known for her writings in various expanded universe areas, like the Star Wars EU (including the fantastic Han Solo Trilogy, reviewed at links here), Star Trek novels, and many, many more. She also wrote her own original series, alongside several other authors. The “Starbridge” series is perhaps her magnum opus, and it shows. There are 7 books in the series, with looser and stronger ties to each other. I’d definitely read them in order, as some characters recur and some places show up again. Crispin offers her vision for humanity’s first contact with a number of species in this fascinating series.

There are many commendable aspects of Crispin’s series. First, her featuring of several other authors alongside her own writing. I love when industry greats pay it forward. Second, each book in the series presents many unique aspects. Third, it presents a future of cooperation with others rather than constant war. And it’s not a simplistic vision either: the future will take work. Fourth, they’re all available on Audible as audiobooks! This may not excite all readers, but I love me some audiobooks and it is the same narrator throughout, so no jarring changes in tone, etc.

I’ve read the whole series and each book is good in its own way. Perhaps the greatest highlight for me was Silent Dances, which features a main character who is Native American and deaf. She’s a human being through and through and is treated as such rather than as a foil or an “issue.” These books are truly so good. That’s the way it is throughout the series, though: each character is fully formed and believable. Some aggravate, some you’ll love. Motivations seem genuine. Crispin’s talent for realizing fictional people is dazzling to witness. The series is phenomenal. Read Starbridge ASAP if you like sci-fi and especially if you love First Contact novels

This cover is awesome.

James White’s Sector General Series

James White was a prolific author, and his Sector General series is evidence for how he maintained a level of popularity throughout. Now published in a series of omnibus collections (first one here), the Sector General series introduces readers to a space hospital where any and all who come are treated of whatever illness they have.

The premise is awesome, and the execution is great, too. Some of these read like TV episodes where the main character is trying to figure out what’s killing an uncommunicative alien before it’s too late. Others focus more on some drama within the hospital itself. But they’re all interesting, and the setting is fully fleshed out. There’s even a whole classification system for alien types to help both readers and doctors figure out what the heck is happening.

White’s vision of the future is, like Crispin’s, largely positive. His Sector General series effectively offers a pacifistic hope for our future where alien and human are treated with equal dignity. It’s a great take, and works well with the central premise of the hospital. Someone I met recommended the series to me but no one has yet taken claim to being the one to do so. Unknown person, I commend you! And to you, dear readers, check out the first omnibus if you want to take a dive into a fantastic world.

Links

“Space Unicorn Blues” and “The Stars Now Unclaimed” – Two Recent Debut Science Fiction Novels Worth Noting– Come read about two exciting science fiction debuts that couldn’t be more different. Space unicorn wha?

“Gate Crashers” and “Space Opera” – Two wild first contact novels– Do you like first contact sci-fi? Here are a couple novels to look at if you like a helping of humor to go alongside it.

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, Books 1 and 2: “Horus Rising” by Dan Abnett and “False Gods” by Graham McNeill

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.

Horus Rising by Dan Abnett

I read Horus Rising a year or so ago and I think I just read it at the wrong time for me. I just wasn’t really in the mood to read a novel about space marines that largely centered around them talking to each other and political intrigue. So I ended up skimming through large sections of the book and not really picking up much along the way. This time, I decided to really dig in because the hype that is surrounding the series finally coming to a conclusion made me desire to get into it at long last.

I’ll be honest, though, the second time through, I still found myself drowning a bit in a sea of names and places that I just didn’t really understand. The learning curve on this first novel is pretty high, and it seems to assume at least some prior knowledge of the universe going in. I had some, but still felt a lot of the references went right over my head. That said, the second read-through of this one gave a much better impression. I have greatly enjoyed other books by Abnett, particularly the Eisenhorn trilogy.

Here, we are introduced to Horus, the bane of humankind and a name that raises the notions of heresy for all those who know the Warhammer 40K universe. Here, he is certainly larger than life, honored by all who surround him as one who has fought the Crusade for the Emperor. But even this seems foggy after reading the book twice. There’s almost too much groundwork being laid here, so that the reader is jerked around from place to place and character to character without being able to stop long enough to focus on any one of them. Don’t get me wrong, Horus Rising is a good book. It just has way too much going on in it to feel cohesive enough of a narrative for someone who isn’t as familiar with the world as others might be. That said, if you’re discouraged, read on, because next we have…

False Gods by Graham McNeill

Okay, now this is what I’m talking about! False Gods is totally awesome. McNeill takes the worldbuilding and groundwork Dan Abnett did and runs with it, drawing out characters, ideas, and combat in page after page. The characters touched on in Horus Rising that seemed like a cacophony of names come into their own. Erebus’s insidious workings with chaos are painted in an almost reasonable light. The reader sympathizes with his apparently benevolent reasoning while also wondering about what it may mean going forward. As someone who has read some other 40K fiction, it was interesting to see how Chaos could start off as such an unknown and almost innocent thing.

Not only that, but the constant discussion of gods, the Emperor, and false gods was fascinating. As a Christian, I found it particularly interesting to see that it seemed that even in the grim dark future, humanity is seen to struggle with religion and though many main characters dismissed religion as false, others struggled to carve out meaning in a horrifying universe.

There are battles aplenty here as well, though the action is never as transcendent and awesomely metal as it is in some of the 40K novels I have read.

Seriously, this book single-handedly made me want to dive into more, so I rushed to get Galaxy in Flames and continue my read-through.

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 Sci-Fi Novels: #86-90

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.

86. Way Station by Clifford Simak Grade: A-
“I think the best word I can think of to describe this book is ‘quaint,’ but I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. It is quaint in the best way–it hearkens of a different time and different ideas. But that shouldn’t undermine the magisterial work Simak did here, because he was forward-thinking in many ways, including the awesome idea at the heart of the novel. The way he tied so many divergent threads back together was marvelous as well. It’s a great read that shows the huge promise early science fiction pointed towards. I’m being intentionally vague because to be anything but would ruin things.”

87. Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky Grade: B
“A haunting, thinly-veiled condemnation of the notion that all will be made happy through Soviet-style Communism. Yes, there is a lot more to this book than that, but the core message is there. The concept that some aliens might just be hopping around on a picnic and litter Earth without ever realizing the damage they were doing or possibly doing is pretty fun, if bleak. The notion that some technology could be so much higher than ours that we might glean uses out of it without ever actually knowing what they’re for is equally intriguing. I just don’t think the book itself ever quite hit on all cylinders at once. It’s an imaginative, foreboding work of the imagination.”

88. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin Grade: A-
“I thought the premise–a man whose dreams become reality–was a bit tacky, but Le Guin is a master of prose and makes it work as a compelling piece about humanity. Really, that seems to be what all I’ve read from her is about, at its core: human nature. What does it mean to be human? What kind of fears would guide us if we had such a power? Who might try to harness it and why? These are intriguing questions that are just lightly touched throughout the book. The characters, unfortunately, end up largely being stand-ins for various philosophies or ways to explore different ideas. That said, it’s a thoughtful work that I enjoyed greatly.”

89. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson Grade: D+
“Don’t kill me, but the movie was way better. The book lacked the bleakness I felt it should have had, though my perception may have been colored by the movie. I mean, the whole thing had a feeling of silliness throughout that I just couldn’t get over. The title of the story is so awesome, and the idea, while basic, is solid. The execution? Not so much.”

90. Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner Grade: B
“A phenomenally difficult and dense read. The style is particularly interesting, though I read that it was largely modeled after a work Brunner admired. Basically, some chapters are kind of info-dumps giving background on the setting, other chapters are more extensive background information, and still others follow a narrative. It makes the whole thing a bit of a chore to read through, and I can’t help but think that it seems a bit forced. However, the central narrative and the background context are each intriguing, and the dystopic future it envisions are, in some ways, chillingly accurate (though in others laughably quaint).”

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.

Star Wars: Expanded Universe Read-Through – “Children of the Jedi” by Barbara Hambly

I have embarked on a quest to read through the Star Wars Expanded Universe once more. Be sure to check the linked text there to see other posts in this series. Here, we look at Children of the Jedi, which is apparently the first in a trilogy about Callista, kind of. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Okay, I want to start with the good here. That cover is absolutely gorgeous. I can definitely see it being a kind of movie cover. It has the retro vibe down pat, and is definitely Star Wars all over it.

That’s the good. Look, I went through and purged my Star Wars collection a while back of the books I knew I didn’t really want to re-read because they weren’t great. There are some truly fantastic Star Wars novels out there–like the Darth Bane trilogy or the Thrawn Trilogy. But this is not one of them. The only reason I can think of for keeping it was because of the cover. Oh, and maybe I thought having Luke fall in love would be cool. I had vague memories.

Did I mention Luke fell in love with the recording of a woman Jedi’s consciousness on a machine and that she’d later take over the body of a traveling companion of Luke, Han, and Leia’s seemingly purely for the sake of plot? No? Oops. Well, that is what happens.

There are a lot of ways I could go in this review, but of all of them, I really want to focus on that aspect of it. First, let’s talk about how computers in Star Wars are either totally inept or completely advanced? Like, C-3PO is programmed with an AI basically, and can easily converse in many languages and even learn new ones on the fly occasionally, but they struggle to use their computers to even analyze what’s wrong with their spaceships. Someone needed to plan this better. But here, we’re supposed to believe that some Jedi magic managed to put a woman’s personality and being, apparently, into some computer system? No. Sorry, but no.

It might help if the conversations Luke and Callista had were interesting, but they’re not. They’re just… boring. And they aren’t written in any believable fashion whatsoever, either. Combine that with Luke, Han, and Leia all acting somewhat out of character and surprisingly nonchalant throughout the book and you’ve been delivered a Star Wars novel where even the favorite characters are out of sorts.

The whole book just feels uncomfortable. Not in a “good” way for fiction like being foreboding when appropriate or challenging your perspectives. No, it just reads like all the characters aren’t quite sure they should be acting how they are and as though they’ve forgotten how to have real motivations and dialogue.

I think I may just skip the rest of this trilogy. I think I got rid of Darksaber but kept the third book. Anyone have any thoughts on the rest of them?

The Good

+The cover is beautiful

The Bad

-Stilted dialogue
-Incredibly slow paced
-Suspension of disbelief is stretched beyond all bounds
-Characters are boring

Best Droid Moment

Basically any time they show up because at least they still add some comedic element occasionally.

Grade: F “It stretches suspension of disbelief beyond the limit on every level, is stilted and dry, and run through with pacing issues. I still might keep this one for the beautiful cover, though.”

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!

Reading through Star Wars: Expanded Universe– Here you can read other posts in this series (reviews of other EU books) and make suggestions about what I should include in my reviews.

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!

There are other posts on science fiction books to be found! Read them here.

SDG.

May is Expanded Sci-Fi Fantasy Month- Read all the tie-in novels

The month of May is “Expanded Sci-Fi Fantasy Month”- a month dedicated to reading all the tie-in novels for science fiction and fantasy worlds you love! I got the idea from “Vintage Sci-Fi Month” run by Little Red Reviewer. I hoping you will join me in reading related works for your favorite sci-fi/fantasy worlds. Let me know here in the comments what you’re reading, and I will try to blog about some of my own reading throughout the month.

I personally love reading expanded/tie-in sci-fi/fantasy. I have read a huge number of Star Wars novels, along with plenty of Forgotten Realms (though almost exclusively R.A. Salvatore here), Battletech, Star Trek, and Warhammer 40k novels. I read a lot and am looking forward to finally getting through a lot of the “Expanded Universe” type works I have had sitting on my shelves for a while. I hope to add to my Star Wars: Expanded Universe read-through, the next book up is Children of the Jedi, which I remember being somewhat perplexed by as a kid when I read it the first time. I also have some more Star Trek: New Frontier waiting to be read–I love this new starship and its adventures. If I manage to get through a ton of those I have some Star Trek: DS9 to read, as well. Alongside those I have a shelf full of Warhammer 40k omnibus editions I need to work through, and the two Firefly collections of graphic novels.

In other words, I’m hoping for a really busy month, and I hope you will join me for Expaned sci-fi/Fantasy month! Let me know in the comments what you’re reading!