Reading through the [Alleged] Top 100 Science Fiction Books- #71-75

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.

71. The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks (1988) Grade: A+
“Banks is a marvelous writer with stylistic flair and skill that is nearly unmatched. This story of a man who really just wants to play games develops as a slow burn, but touches on questions and ideas that are rarely even considered in science fiction. It is nearly impossible to describe how stunningly unique some of Banks’ ideas are. I mean this truly: there are ideas in this book which take a page or so to describe and are never touched again (i.e. they are used as ‘flavor’ for the universe) that could easily make a series of novels well-worth reading. Sure, there might be one point in this book that makes it difficult to believe a character would act the way that character does, but that small flaw does not keep this form being among the greatest science fiction novels of all time.”

72. A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1912) Grade: A
“It’s campy, classic, and fun. Burroughs created a world in which a cowboy can rule Mars. This is a classic for good reason. It has tremendous action and adventure all the way through, with just the barest nods to how silly it can be at times. More importantly, Burroughs managed to combine that action with a pretty interesting overarching narrative that continues through the series. The core of the story is obvious, but the window dressing is superb. It’s the kind of book that is fun to read all the way through. It’s excellent.”

73. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (1992) Grade: A
“Sometimes a book’s plot and characters are so raw, so emotionally captivating, that you’re willing to look past even major flaws. Doomsday Book was such a book for me. There are some big problems here, such as the fact that the first 300 pages or so of the ‘future’ time period is taken up with people running around trying to get a hold of others on landline phones or passing out just before they convey some absolutely essential piece of information. A couple times? Not too bad. Constantly? It starts to get old. But throughout this first section and through the end of the book, the story of a lone historian, Kivrin Engle, is utterly enthralling. She finds herself trapped in the midst of untold suffering of the Black Death in England, sees the struggles of the everyday people in the 14th Century, witnesses genuine faith, feels complete hopelessness, and more. Throughout it all, I could not put it down. It was so emotionally rich that it felt like I must race to the conclusion lest I lose myself utterly. It’s a fabulous story that transcends whatever flaws accompany it.”

74. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006) Grade: B+
“I truly do not understand why there is so little punctuation in this book. For that, it gets knocked down a few notches. I read about how ‘concise’ and ‘clean’ this type of prose is, but I think that if something is written such that I would have received an ‘F’ on it in English class, there’s a problem. That said, McCarthy’s take on the post-disaster genre is interesting, mostly for its incredibly narrow focus on two characters who have apparently no impact on any wider events. It’s unrelenting in its bleakness, and I love me some bleakness. It’s dreadfully sorrow-filled, but ultimately offers the barest glimpses of hope throughout. Disturbing, but beautiful. I enjoyed it, even though I was really annoyed when there weren’t quotation marks.”

75. Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert A. Heinlein (1957) Grade: C
“I thought the start was promising regarding the characters, but it didn’t develop much of a plot. Yes, things happen, but despite some rather world-shaking revelations, all of it is delivered in a rather mundane style that makes it difficult to connect to the wider events. It’s an interesting story, overall, but one that wasn’t executed as well as it could have been.”

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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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.