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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

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

SDG.

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

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

The Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

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

SDG.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

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

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

Galaxy in Flames by Ben Counter

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

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

SDG.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

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

SDG.

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.