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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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.

Reading Through the [Alleged] Top 100 Science Fiction Novels- #81-85

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.

81. Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle Grade: C-
“The premise is pretty neat: scattershot a bunch of characters as they face the possibility of a major asteroid strike, then follow those who survive after the strike. The buildup isn’t bad either. It’s interesting to see how the varied characters who are either ‘in the know’ or not deal with the possibility, whether they immediately start stocking up stores or wait till the last day. But there’s something just ‘off’ about a lot of the novel–and part of it is how it treats women. There’s a very dated view of women, as if they automatically need to be protected when society collapses because they’re helpless. Sure, not all of them are portrayed as helpless, but men take charge anyway. I also thought the creepy storyline with the voyeur man was unnecessary and, again, degraded women by effectively treating women as sex objects exclusively. The other problem is that the last third of the book is kind of ho-hum. It’s like a survival novel but there’s not much in the way of environmental hazards after the initial disaster strikes. I felt there should be a lot more tension and chaos, but there wasn’t. Merely okay.”

82. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham Grade: A
“A haunting sense of foreboding similar to that of The Giver fills the first several chapters, followed up with a riveting story of flight from pursuers. The action is good, not great, but the central message: that we should not denigrate/hate/fear those who are different from ourselves is beautifully and subtly conveyed. For that message alone, it was getting high marks, but the intensity of the whole work–the feeling it gives that somehow, something is quite wrong about everything–pushes it even higher. An excellent, pithy read.”

83. Have Space-Suit – Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein Grade: C-
“The beginning of this book excited me. Yes, it was cheesy and very 1950s, but it was also sort of delightful: a young boy wants to go to the moon so he spends a bunch of time composing jingles for a soap company contest. Nice. I also thought the descriptions of ‘dad’ were great–he’s crazy, but not bad crazy. Just peculiar. But then aliens and weirdness and the book went off the rails of what I expected to happen entirely. Sometimes that’s good. Here it just seemed sort of silly. Great first 80 pages or so. After that, it just goes downhill.”

84. Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott Grade: B+
“It’s fascinating as a work of conceptualizing worlds starkly different from our own. Moreover, it pushes readers to think about our own assumptions about reality and how they might constrain our vision both literally and figuratively. It lacks much by way of character development, but makes up for it by being so unique that I didn’t mind. A fascinating, surprising read.”

85. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins Grade: A
“There’s a reason so many people are cashing in on YA Dystopic novels. Collins created a surprising, but familiar world that forces readers to question everything. More importantly, she made endearing and enduring characters with realistic motivations and heart-capturing moments. It’s full of action, strife, and big ideas, just like the best science fiction. What’s more, Katniss Everdeen feels as real as the people you talk to every day. She is fully fleshed out in a manner not typical for some science fiction. Really, this is a superb book.”

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.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1961

I’m a huge science fiction fan, and, having read a list of what are alleged to be the top 200 science fiction novels, I decided to next tackle a read-through of all the Hugo Awared winners and nominees for best novel. Let me know your thoughts and favorites.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (Winner, My Winner) Grade: A
It’s basically a thoroughly Roman Catholic ‘Mad Max.’ Is it even possible to not like that as a concept for a novel? Effectively three short-stories tied together, this novel tells of a dystopian future at three stages. A Roman Catholic order of monks, those who follow Leibowitz, have preserved human knowledge after major nuclear war and pushback against learning and science have set humanity back centuries. It’s a haunting, beautiful novel with character and delight to spare. Fantastic.

The High Crusade by Poul Anderson Grade: B-
Ever wanted to know what would happen if you had Medieval Knights running around in space? If your answer was yes, then this is the novel for you. But really, that’s… basically what this is. Your visceral reaction to the concept question that I started with will probably be a great guideline for your level of enjoyment of the novel. It’s campy, it’s weird, it’s a bit dragged out, but it also has a weird kind of classic feel to it that makes it read almost like a weird sci-fi Once and Future King. It is definitely not as good as that masterpiece of literature, but it captures that feel occasionally, and that makes it worth a read as well. I realize I’ve written this much and barely talked about the novel itself, but it would be pretty spoilerish for this one to say almost anything about the plot, so here we are. Read it if what I’ve said appeals.

Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys Grade: C-
It’s hard to hate on this novel as much as I wanted to at times. Yes, it reads rather choppily. Yes, its characters suffer from early sci-fi tropes and lack of characterization. Yes, it feels somewhat like a hack job. But it also manages to highlight so many of the things that make later hard sci-fi so great. Budrys here gives us a prototype for so much other hard sci-fi that would come later, and he fits it together with a kind of fun-house horror that somehow is not as terrible as it really ought to be. By no means is this an excellent work–it should be read largely for historical value–but it’s not awful, which is about as good an endorsement as I can give it.

Deathworld by Harry Harrison Grade: A-
I think this book benefited some from blowing my expectations out of the water. After reading The Stainless Steel Rat, I was pretty sure what to expect here. But instead of something that was pure action, Harrison delivered a remarkably thoughtful mystery of what is happening on a deadly world. The humanity with which it was delivered was also somewhat surprising, given the rough-and-tumble attitude he seems to have in his writings. Harrison’s view of women reflected his own (backward) perspectives of the time, but he did, to his credit, include one female character who was actually more three dimensional than many other characters, including males, in the book. I enjoyed this one quite a bit, but was somewhat disappointed with the next two. They were okay, this one was great.

Venus Plus X by Theodore Sturgeon Grade: C+
Sturgeon wrote here an interesting experimental novel. What if gender norms and sexes were totally irrelevant? What would society look like? That’s the question he asks with this set piece novel. Much of it is spent on exposition, to the point where it starts to lose interest at points. The answers Sturgeon provides to some questions that naturally arise at times seem dated and even quaint, but this was clearly ahead of its time when it was written. Not a bad read, and short enough that it doesn’t outlive its stay.

Links

My Read-Through of the Hugos– Read more posts in this series and follow me on the journey! Let me know your own thoughts on the books.

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.