Reading Through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books – #56-60

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.

56. The Reality Dysfunction by Peter F. Hamilton Grade: C-
“I wanted to like this one a lot more than I did. Hamilton seemed more focused on describing details of sex than upon advancing the plot. It’s another overly long space opera that makes length key to a good science fiction epic as opposed to substance. It was chock-full of cool ideas, though, so it gets a passing grade for that. I definitely see why others would love this one a lot. It just wasn’t for me. It’s also possible it hit me at the wrong time. I thought some of the discussion of worldview was offputting as well.”

57. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson Grade: B
“It never quite reached the heights of Snow Crash, and it seemed a bit too wordy, but it was still pretty thrilling. The interplay of the two (plus!) plots that were all woven together made it an interesting read just to see how it was written. Stephenson also does a tremendous job writing cyberpunk, though I guess it is technically postcyberpunk, based on a perusal of articles based on the book. It was intense at times, but also went down too many rabbit holes. A good, not great book.”

58. A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick Grade: C+
“It’s only barely science fiction, which was disappointing. It’s basically a pseudo-autobiographical account of Dick’s own life in drug culture and the startling toll that culture makes its adherents pay. The characters aren’t much to write home about, but they get the job done. At times it shines through with the radical strangeness that makes Dick interesting to read, but I really don’t understand how it made this to 100 list, to be honest. It didn’t capture me at all through characters or plot.”

59. Startide Rising by David Brin Grade: C+
“I wanted to like this one so much. It started off with so many cool concepts–humanity helping along other species on earth to achieve space flight, among other things; a lost, ancient fleet discovered and all the promise there; some neat (and nefarious) aliens–but it never fully cashed in on any one of them. The scope of the plot was quite narrow, which made it even more difficult to swallow the somewhat plodding pace and lack of real development of characters. The other books in the series were better, but again felt more like ideas than fleshed out narratives.”

60. The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut Grade: F
“Not quite the disaster that is ‘Slaughterhouse Five,’ but it has become clear after reading 3 Vonnegut books on this list that he is just not for me. Yes, I do see the moments of comic genius. However, those very brief and rare moments do not make up for hundreds of pages of jokes that fall flat, terrible pacing, boring (at best) characters, and stunted attacks on religion. It’s just not good. This is basically another iteration of the other two Vonnegut books on the list, just rinse and repeat. Plot that goes all over the place with little cohesion? Check. Characters full of themselves and writing that displays more pomp than content? Check. Inane references to aliens that are never fleshed out? Check. Asinine comments about religion that sound like a whining child? Check. Down the garbage disposal, for me. Glad I got these from the library.”

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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My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1953

First Edition Cover By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9110826

I’ve almost completed my read-through of the top science fiction books of all time and was casting about for something else to do. I decided that reading through the list of Hugo award winners and nominees wasn’t a bad way to spend my time. I start here, at the beginning, with the first Hugo Award Winner for Best Novel. Each year, I’ll read all the books nominated and pick my own winner, while also noting which novel won the award that year.

The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester (winner/my winner)
Grade: A-
I thought I had the whole book figured out fairly early on, but Bester got me big on this one at a number of points. I didn’t figure out the ‘truth’ at the center of the novel until the very last pages. I am the kind of person who doesn’t really try to figure things out because I enjoy the development, so that doesn’t necessarily mean it was a masterful manipulation of the plot, but I think it speaks well of the strength of Bester’s storytelling. Does he rely on some pretty outdated psychology? Absolutely, but that doesn’t take much away from the overall enjoyment of the work. As this is the only book nominated this year, it makes my own choice of winner quite simple.

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 through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction books- #51-55

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.

51. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley Grade: A-
“It’s not really like any film version I’ve seen. The book was intriguing, historically grounded, and foreboding in a very different way than a green man with screws in his head. Not only is it a rather good novel, but it also helped me to see one of the biggest themes in science fiction playing out at a more removed time: that of writing in fear of that which is new. Many novels coming out are centered around dystopic scenarios based on things like social media, nanotech, and the like. Frankenstein is about electricity and it helps convey the sheer joy and utter terror that such a discovery would have conveyed to those who first encountered it. It’s truly moving in that regard. I enjoyed it immensely, and certainly much more than I thought I would.”

52. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes Grade: A
“Heart-rending and poignant, Keyes has created an enduring masterpiece. Yes, some aspects of it haven’t aged well (such as outdated psychological theories), but it’s the kind of science fiction that could be set in the past as something that has happened, so that doesn’t matter. It’s got one of the best aspects of science fiction storytelling, namely that it asks us to look at ourselves as humans and see what we are more fully. I readily admit I did not think I’d enjoy this one going in. It had all the makings of one of those books that is more literary than it is plot, but it is not that at all. I wept bitterly at more than one point in this haunting work. It’s a beautiful book.”

53. Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard Grade: D
“Utterly bloated and in dire need of editing, Battlefield Earth is like a pulp science fiction novel gone wrong. The whole concept of pulpy sci-fi demands episodic structure with plenty of action. Though there is a lot of action here, it is annoyingly repetitive, and if I have to read about the need for ‘leverage’ one more time I’m going to go insane. But I must write about leverage: having an alien who is so concerned with self-interest was intriguing, but like basically every other idea in this novel, it was never developed beyond the surface level, at best. It’s like Hubbard thought ‘Hey, self-interested alien… that’d be a cool way to drive the plot.’ But then, instead of developing further, he just decided to write about ‘leverage’ every single time that alien showed up. Where’s my leverage. I must have leverage. Leverage! We get it, Hubbard. We get it. The book also spends about 150 pages at the beginning with an alien trying to figure out what to feed a human. Not a joke. Well, let’s just say I am not impressed by this one.”

54. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne Grade: B-
“It was a wonderful adventure full of imagination. Verne was far ahead of his time, and his novels, like those of Wells’, make you really appreciate the ‘speculative’ aspect of speculative fiction. However, it never felt like we got to fully cash in on the strangeness of the world. Simply having a premordial sea in which dinosaurs and ancient creatures move about was not as cool as it could have been. It’s clearly good, but dated.”

55. To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer Grade: C-
“Farmer had all of humanity to choose from for his characters, and he chose some truly awesome figures. The problem is that he never gave any one character the time or space to develop properly and show the unique personality of each. The characters should surely speak in radically different voices, have conflicting concerns, and even see the world in quite diverse ways. But instead, each character was a fairly standard science fiction trope with a historical figure’s name slapped onto him or her. Their voices all sounded the same to me on almost every page. The book came very highly recommended from a number of sources. I’m pretty disappointed, to be honest.”

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.

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books- #46-50

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.

46. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson Grade: B-
“It reads a little like a poor folk’s Ben Bova. The trappings of hard science fiction are all present, but it never quite hits its stride with characterization, nor does it quite live up to its own lofty scope. At times, it is amazing. At others, it is bogged down with ever-increasing broadening of scope. I think the main problem here is that the book feels like an attempt to combine space opera and hard science fiction, and while I’ve enjoyed such a combination, it does not work as well here. But it has enough going for it to make it worth the read, regardless.”

47. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess Grade: C-
“Do you mind trying to figure out slang? If so, don’t read this. At first it is very difficult to get into due to the word-swapping that is used throughout the book, but it eases up as you begin to understand what’s happening. It is relentlessly violent and dark, with very little hope until the very last chapter. Even there, though, it’s hardly enough. The whole thing seems kind of pointless after a while, to be honest. It’s not bad, but it’s not very good either.”

48. Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein Grade: F
“What the hell did I just read? Heinlein went off the deep end. Basically he just wanted to write an attack on religious sexual mores, but he did so in a way that seemed to combine crudeness, disgust, and a kind of remarkably naive misogyny into one confused, awful mess. Indeed, he basically admits that the book is an attack on any kind of sexual code as he, through the main character, writes that ”’incest” was a religious concept, not a scientific one… the last twenty years had washed away in his mind almost the last trace of his tribal taboo.’ Sin is similarly chalked up not as wrongdoing or evil but as a tired, backward way of looking at the world. Yep, incest is a-ok in Heinlein’s book, or at least that of his protagonist. Not only that, but those silly religious people and their ideas of not having sexual thoughts about very young minors, not sleeping with your sibling/parent, etc. Oh yeah, but let’s not forget that this is all couched in decidedly 1940s/50s concepts of male-female relations, such that it is accompanied by a not-so-subtle male-dominance matrix.  Forward thinking? not so much. Terrible, terrible book.”

49. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin Grade: A-
“Ever read a book that makes you think… a lot? No? Well, pick this one up. Ursula K. Le Guin sketches out a remarkably detailed anarchist society, while pitting its pseudo-utopian problems alongside problems with capitalism and socialism. It’s really well done and incredibly deep. She also explores the question of how much our upbringing can cloud our thoughts regarding being self-critical and analyzing our own views. Why not the highest possible score? Because other than the main character, an intriguing scientist with a good amount of depth, every other character is exactly what you might expect. They’re created purely for the sake of the plot. A great book, but not totally transcendent.”

50. The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov Grade: C-
“Asimov again shows that he is more interested in ideas than execution. The novel spends almost as much time talking about scientific theory as it does giving readers a sense of the world around themselves. Like each Asimov book I’ve read on this list so far, I see the sparks that would make many readers fall in love, but as someone who enjoys well-written characters, the paper-thin motivation used throughout this novel falls flat. It’s as much a treatise as a novel, but not in a good way.”

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.

Reading Through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books- #41-45

cflI’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.

41. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle Grade: A
“Theology, technology, and imagination are intertwined in surprising ways in L’Engle’s classic. It’s scary and delightful all at once. So many elements are here that it becomes increasingly surprising that they manage to stay together without bursting apart at the seams. It’s a remarkable book on many levels.”

42. The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov Grade: B
“Another proof that Asimov is capable of at least somewhat interesting characters. The first part of the story is the most compelling, as an apparently free source of energy is revealed to have dire consequences and pretty much nobody cares. Free energy is free, right? So who cares if everyone will die billions of years in the future? It’s the exact kind of reasoning that would probably be used, to the end of us all. But that dire feeling is mostly lost at the end of the book as Asimov changes its tone into a kind of future look at human colonization of the moon and the problems that might face. Yes, there are still references to the earlier portions of the book, and the solutions offered are interesting, but it lost something of the truly bleak and all-too-reasonable feel of the beginning chapters.”

43. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham Grade: B
“There is a lot going on in this book, and some of it stretches credulity a bit, but it is the kind of campy science fiction that makes you not mind so much. I mean really, plants that can’t see but sense people’s eyes as the weakest points on humans? Sure, yeah, why not? But the campiness also hides layers of complexity that aren’t immediately apparent. This is a pretty thoughtful book, though it is never quite clear what it is thinking about. I still haven’t figured out exactly what the message is that Wyndham is trying to get across here. It is also plagued a bit by outdated views of women. A good book with a few problems.”

44. A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge Grade: A
“It’s as majestic as it is personal, alternating between intimate portrayals of human-alien relations and massive, sweeping conflict. It’s exciting and breathtaking. The only strikes against it are that in a few places it does drag and that it is occasionally so big that I as a reader lost track of all the events happening at once. A phenomenal read overall that will leave you thinking long after completing it.”

45. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller 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.”

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.

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books – #36-40

With a classic book like this it was difficult to find a book cover. I use this under fair use.

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.

36. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne Grade: A-
“At times it is a little wordy, but this classic has all the trappings needed for an adventure to the depths that remains as enthralling now as I suspect it was then. Quite different from popular portrayals in a few key ways, it is exciting as a stage-setter. The characters are stronger than in Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, and this, I think, should be known as his masterwork.”

37. The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton Grade: B+
“It lacks that certain something that the greatest science fiction has–whether it be a stunning way to look at the world, a stirring vision of humanity, or something else–but is nevertheless a thrilling ride all the way through. Crichton is a master at using believable science to create cutting-edge science fiction, and The Andromeda Strain is no different. It gives a warning, once again, about the dangers of the unknown, a recurring theme in Crichton.”

38. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut Grade: D+
“It is difficult for me to process this as a novel. Like ‘Slaughterhouse Five,’ this book has as bare-bones a plot and characters as are as thin as possible. Unlike that horrendous nightmare, here Vonnegut manages to grab some interest by making up a kind of Gnostic vision of religion. It’s certainly not a good book, by any stretch, but it isn’t as abysmal as that most hated book. The primary difficulty is that, once again, Vonnegut apparently felt the need to couch his political and metaphysical commentary in what some people take to be a novel. But really, this is just a series of barely connected vignettes written in a kind of vomiting of consciousness. It would be like me writing down every thought I had on religion, politics, and the like all day and then inserting those thoughts into the mouths of poorly-constructed characters to push my ideas onto you. It doesn’t qualify for a good read, in my opinion, but at least I see where some pleasure might be derived from his work.”

39. Ubik by Philip K. Dick Grade: B
“It’s a kind of surreal, science fiction horror story where you’re never totally sure what is going on. It reads quite a bit like an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone.’ I enjoyed it, though it never quite reached top-tier level of excellence. A fast, thrilling read.”

40. Contact by Carl Sagan Grade: C+
“Here’s the concept: SETI, the search for extraterrestrial life, actually finds something! I really liked the idea of this book. The problem was that Sagan did too, so instead of actually writing the novel, he spent about 60% of it telling me about the idea. Thus, as a reader, you must slog through pages upon pages of background explanation for why SETI matters, what kind of cool things might be found, whether or not there might be intelligence ‘out there’ or ‘behind it all’, etc. The somewhat tired and oft-violated maxim ‘show, don’t tell’ shouldn’t be a rule at all times for all places, but it is a ‘rule’ for good reason. Sagan flaunts it throughout this novel, which could easily have been a novella.”

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 “Revenge of the Sith” by Matthew Stover

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 Revenge of the Sith, the adaptation of the film of the same name and book 2 in the Dark Lord Trilogy. It’s a surprise, I’ll give it that. There will be SPOILERS in what follows. Please do not SPOIL later books in the comments.

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

Matthew Stover has done something with this book that I did not believe possible. Namely, he made the film “Revenge of the Sith” seem not so terrible. Yes, it’s still full of atrocious dialogue and gaping plot holes and random jerking around of character’s emotions and reactions to events, but somehow Stover manages to make some of this not stupid.

The way Stover accomplishes this nearly miraculous feat is by taking advantage of the written format. So, for example, when Anakin Skywalker is about to deliver some horrendously awful line of dialogue that Stover is forced to use because he’s adapting the film into a book format, he can massage the text to make it somewhat reasonable for Anakin to sound like an idiot. He does this by providing reasoning behind what the characters do and say throughout the book in a great many instances. There’s constantly internal dialogue (the kind of dialogue that should have been in the movie) explaining why the characters react the way they do or speak like they’re being controlled by three-year-olds. It’s frankly remarkable, and for that alone I want to give Stover a high five.

But Stover goes beyond that Herculean task and also gives more flesh to the story and the characters more generally. I admit, I was really skeptical about reading this Star Wars novel, but I saw time and again people citing it as a great one. Stover delivered, big time. There is a much greater sense of foreboding and inevitability in the novel than the film ever had. Scenery is built up and integrated into the story. Planets feel like more than simple set pieces for fights; there’s a reason that people would go to an absolutely hellish planet. Motivations for characters are interesting. It’s all superbly done.

All of this said, I know the film is bad, but because I love Star Wars I almost can’t help but like it. Thank you, Stover, for making that not seem so foolish. I’d give this book an A+ for effort, really, but the dialogue from the movie is still there, and it can’t be avoided, so it, unfortunately, must be bumped down a bit because of that. But seriously, read this book and you may be able to sit back and think, “Maybe that movie wasn’t so bad.” And that, my friends, is a delightful thing indeed. Pick up Revenge of the Sith and read it. I bet you’ll be surprised.

The Good

+Massively approves upon the movie
+Provides background explanations for strange character actions and reactions
+Makes up for shoddy dialogue by exploring why characters sound juvenile
+Makes the film a tad bit more bearable

The Bad

-Dialogue from the movie still must be included

Best Droid Moment

I don’t know. Maybe when they weren’t delivering awful dialogue alongside everyone else. They’re forgiven, because they’re droids.

Grade: A- “The source material drags this down, but Matthew Stover does a phenomenal job working with what he’s got.”

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.