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.

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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.

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books – #31-35

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.

31. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick Grade: B-
“I still can’t figure out the ending, but it was an enjoyable book. Very little here to count as science fiction, and I’ve read some other great alternative history that imagines the same scenario. Dick’s strength is in the way he conveys a mix of humor and horror. Since reading the book, I’ve watched the first two seasons of the TV show, which is pretty fantastic and shows directions Dick could have gone to make the book even better. I liked the book, but wish it had been more.”

32. The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov Grade: A
“Turns out Asimov is capable of writing characters. This science fiction/mystery mashup was magnificent. Asimov showed here the diversity of science fiction as a genre. It’s full of exiting ideas and memorable scenes, and twists that don’t feel manufactured. Though I eventually predicted some parts of the case, I found enough here to throw me off the scent. I enjoyed it immensely.”

33. Gateway by Frederick Pohl Grade: A
“I found this to be a supremely interesting story with a number of intriguing elements. The reports, classifieds, and the like found throughout fleshed out the world. The interplay of the pseudo-archaeology, pseudo-adventure story with a [robot] psychiatrist’s office was amusing, thought not always in a good way. It makes the book feel quite dated at points, with its clear dependence on what was then cutting-edge psychiatry making for some laughable scenes. Ultimately, though, the story is a heart-rending, get-you-in-the-feels tale that has me mourning it days later. Maybe I should read the rest of the series to find out what happens next.”

34. Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny Grade: A+
“Astonishing. It’s part retelling of Hindu Scripture, part origin story of Buddhism from Hinduism, part interplay between psuedo-imparialist Christianity and other faiths, and all beautiful. I’ve never read Zelazny before but I eagerly look forward to reading more. This book was made of myth and legend in the best possible sense. It’s immersive, exciting, and exotic in a way few science fiction books are. Superb.”

35. Solaris by Stanislaw Lem Grade: B-
“The idea of an ocean that is possibly (?) sentient and beyond anything we can imagine is utterly fascinating. The descriptions of the study of that ocean planet are compelling. Unfortunately, Lem spent much more time with the human predicament and questioning humanity. I admit I wanted this to be a very different book than it turned out to be. It wasn’t bad, by any stretch, but it felt throughout like I never got to ‘see’ the parts of the story I wanted to. I was stuck on the space station rather than enjoying the scenery. What could have been amazing turned out to be barely above average.”

 

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 “Labyrinth of Evil” by James Luceno

Broody Anakin is broody.

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 Labyrinth of Evil , the beginning of The Dark Lord Trilogy, which tells the story of the rise of Darth Vader. There will be SPOILERS in what follows. Please do not SPOIL later books in the comments.

Labyrinth of Evil

Labyrinth of Evil  came to me highly recommended as part of another trilogy which, like the Darth Bane trilogy, showed the dark side of the Force in an interesting way. I had been looking forward to reading it for a while and finally picked up the book from the library.

One thing I’ll immediately say in its favor is that it presents a broader picture of how Anakin Skywalker went from a hero to a Sith Lord. There are more gaps filled in about how his reasoning behind several decisions made sense at the time, as well as his growing frustration with his position within the Jedi. It makes Episode III seem more plausible in the fall of Vader. I also quite enjoyed the development of Count Dooku, who I believe could have been a much bigger deal in the movies than he was. Plus, he has the coolest lightsaber, so there’s that. Anyway, the book makes him seem more of an interesting character than a man who was just easily duped by the Emperor.

There are a number of problems with the book, however. For one, Obi-Wan Kenobi is portrayed as very whiny. Rather than guiding Anakin, it seems he’s always just complaining about things he does–many times without merit. Perhaps this is a stylistic way to show Anakin’s perspective on how Obi-Wan is obnoxious, but it struck me as pretty out of character. Of course, Kenobi is also portrayed in a similar fashion in the Clone Wars TV show, which is apparently canon, so maybe it’s just my feelings about what Kenobi should be played like that I’m going by. Still, it annoyed me. The dialogue is part of the problem, and that persists throughout the book for all the characters. Conversations seem stilted and forced. Another problem is that the galaxy is made, again, to be too small. When there are so many people and droids in the universe, how is it that the same 10 people keep making everything happen? It seems to stretch credulity and make Star Wars seem much smaller than it should.

Labyrinth of Evil  shows Anakin as a selfish, increasingly insular individual and makes the fall he experiences in Episode III feel more plausible than it does with just the film. However, it suffers from some of the same difficulties the entire prequel trilogy suffered from. It’s a decent read, but not a fantastic one.

The Good

+Provides background for the fall of Anakin Skywalker
+Some good development of Count Dooku

The Bad

-Obi-Wan Kenobi is incredibly obnoxious, which seems pretty out of character
-The dialogue is not great
-Many key points seem rushed
-Again makes the galaxy seem tiny

Best Droid Moment

When Anakin decides that he could have done whatever he wanted because he thinks of C-3PO and his construction of that protocol droid. Kind of a strange aside but it shows Anakin’s arrogance.

Grade: C+ “It sets the table to understand more of the fall of Anakin Skywalker, though it doesn’t do so in a particularly compelling or unexpected way.”

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] Best 100 Science Fiction Books- #26-30 scores and comments

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.

26. The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle Grade: A
“The authors created a unique first-contact story that I enjoyed immensely. Plenty of twists and strangeness mixed in. It conveys a sense of the strangeness of the alien that isn’t always found in first contact books. They truly do feel ‘other’ in a way that authors don’t always manage to capture with aliens. The central conflict surrounding how to deal with the different alien types and the revelations that come with that are intriguing. Quite well done.”

27. Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card Grade: A+
“Orson Scott Card once again proves that he is a master of the character. The way he writes people is so very real, so intense, that it is difficult to come back to reality after reading one of his novels. Ender’s Shadow is another phenomenal tale of the human conscience set alongside the struggles of a street urchin who is raised above any position he would have dreamed of. It demands its place among the best ever.”

28. Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card Grade: A+
“Certainly one of the best novels ever written, Speaker for the Dead is endlessly amazing. Full of rich characters, mystery, strangeness, and beauty, it is a book that has stuck with me for years and only improved upon re-reading it. It is hard to describe just how intensely full of emotion and drama this book is. It features some of the most raw and true-feeling human characters I’ve ever read, while also having some of the most interesting aliens. The plot is beautiful and encourages readers to think about their own humanity in a way only the best science fiction accomplishes. It’s utterly compelling and fascinating.”

29. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton Grade: A
“Dinosaurs and people don’t mix. Such is the lesson I got from Jurassic Park. It’s a different picture than is painted in James Gurney’s Dinotopia, itself a masterpiece. Crichton is a master of suspense, and this vivid novel combines thought-provoking ethical discussion with intense action… and dinosaurs. You can’t really go wrong. It’s not necessarily an original plotline, but the ideas in it felt fresh and still serve as a warning today. How far can we push the world before it pushes back?”

30. The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester Grade: B-
“I enjoyed it but it seemed to be very condensed, despite dragging at points. It was as though Bester was simultaneously reluctant to describe any details while also belaboring some fairly minor points. I still don’t know entirely what I think of it. I thought the beginning was quite good, but it never seemed to fully pay off on the potential. It’s not a disappointing book, but not among the true greats.”

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.

Time Travel in Science Fiction

Now that I’ve read an enormous amount of sci-fi I think it’s safe to say my least favorite sub-genre is time travel.

There are, of course, great time travel novels (Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, for example), but in general I think the idea is overdone and the novels that use it don’t show a ton of variety in them. In many cases if they go to the future they may as well have just written a sci-fi novel about that future. If they go to the past they may as well have written historical fiction. The problem is in very few of them is there any particular reason for the story to be science fiction.

I think the way to do it is to establish the character(s) who is traveling and give them a reason for being interesting and important in whatever temporal situation they are placed within. That’s what Doomsday Book did right, though even Doomsday Book had the problem of not having the “present” time being very compelling or interesting. It’s not done enough. Too often, time travel books have fairly flat main characters who serve almost entirely as a vehicle to get the reader to whatever time and place the author desires.

Just as important, there must be interesting characters in whatever time the travelers get to. Too often in time travel books, the characters in the future or past are little more than vehicles for showing how strange or different that time period/place is. That’s not enough.

Another difficulty with time travel books is that they often feel more like gimmicks than like serious science fiction. That is okay in some cases–Callahan’s Crosstime Salloon, for example, is a quite fun romp that doesn’t take the time-travel aspect at all seriously–but in others it makes the whole thing seem contrived. On the opposite end of the spectrum from turning the time travel into a gimmick is making the time travel itself, and its mechanics, the center of the work and the primary driving factor. That gets old pretty fast. There are only so many times and ways I can deal with reading about possible paradoxes of time travel and whether they make time travel impossible and for the sake of this novel this is why it really is possible after all… etc. I really don’t like pointing to this one because it was clearly such a labor of love, but Stephen Baxter’s Time Ships gets caught up in this big time. It’s a rather fun tribute to H.G. Wells’ time travel novel contained in a massive tome of scientific and philosophical contemplation on quantum theory and the like.

I end my extended rant by once again affirming that there are time travel novels I enjoy, but overall the sub-genre has too little going on in it to make me enjoy it consistently.

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- #21-25 scores and comments

snow-crashI’m a huge science fiction fan, but realize 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.

21. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells Grade: A
“A classic that remains as powerful and terrifying as ever, The War of the Worlds is phenomenal. Wells also gives much to reflect upon throughout the book through integration of various ideas, and a speculative ending that will have readers searching the skies long after. It also has surprisingly strong characters compared to much early science fiction. It’s a masterwork.”

22. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury Grade: A
“Bradbury’s vision of Mars and our future is haunting. Filled with cynicism and almost relentlessly bleak, there is but little light offered to readers. It’s got the feel of ‘The Twilight Zone’ as well as the thrills. Each individual story left me with a feeling of almost awesome dread. A fantastic book, but not uplifting.”

23. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut F
I read this one in high school and hated it. I figured I should re-read it since I didn’t remember it at all, and–let’s be honest–I was a bit a of an idiot in high school. That was a severe mistake. Vonnegut’s humor is barely 4th grade level, including lines that I think are supposed to be funny like ‘The old man was in agony because of gas. He farted tremendously, and then he belched.’ Yes, this is apparently a classic. The plot is also completely incoherent, effectively set up so that the author could draw an amateurish picture of a necklace dangling between a woman’s breasts. How mature. Slaughterhouse Five is the worst book I’ve ever read.”

24. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin A-
“Le Guin created a world that feels strangely familiar, while remaining radically different. It makes you think about life and the struggles we face. The overarching plot wasn’t terribly strong, but the character-driven nature of it made that not matter very much. It’s an extremely personal novel. I enjoyed it quite a bit.”

25. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson A
“A pulse-pounding, mind-bending ride that I didn’t really want to end. The plot is somewhat hard to follow, but remains enjoyable throughout. The seamless integration of so many ideas is impressive and exciting. I particularly enjoyed the interweaving of Ancient Near Eastern culture with high-tech societies and the subtleties Stephenson introduced that way. Plus, there’s a delivery samurai guy. What can you complain about there? I discovered Stephenson with this book and I’m sure I’ll read more, especially because he has more books on this list.”

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.