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.

A Stunning Epic – “Empire of Silence” by Christopher Ruocchio

A friend recommended I read Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio. I’m a sucker for science fiction, and I knew this friend had great taste, so I went and got it almost immediately. I was blown away as I devoured it over the next four days. I’ll avoid SPOILERS in what follows, because I just want to encourage you, dear readers, to go grab this book ASAP and read it.

The novel is told by Hadrian Marlowe looking back on his own life. It’s a kind of memoir/autobiographical storytelling style that I personally find captivating. It goes beyond a simple first person perspective by inserting “historical” notes into the text as you’re reading, casually dropping bits of world-building and storytelling into the main narrative. In this regard it reminds me of Fitzpatrick’s War by Theodore Judson, though that overlooked masterpiece probably won’t ring many bells. Anyway, the first person style is usually offputting to me, though I have enjoyed my share of first person perspective novels. For those who enjoy their sci-fi/fantasy in epic style, the first person narrative here doesn’t take away from that in any way.

Again, I’m really hesitant to spoil anything, so to introduce the plot I’ll just tell you what Hadrian himself tells you at the beginning. Hadrian is a man that would be reviled for killing a sun, and all those around it. He is writing from a point well in the future of where this novel begins, telling we readers the “real story” of what actually happened to get him to the reviled hero he is. Along the way, we learn much of Hadrian’s life, motivations, and meet many, many characters, each with unique personalities and contributions to Hadrian’s capacities and actions.

There’s a wealth of sci-fi greats I could see as inspiring Ruocchio’s book. The world building and writing style made me think of Iain M. Banks. The epic scale of the universe could only recall Dune. There’s a splash of Star Wars there, too, though only in the sense of the rise of a hero (anti-hero?) character. I’d be remiss to mention some aspects of the film Gladiator getting mixed in, too. And, for what it’s worth, I really got strong vibes from Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series mixed in, too.

If this seems like a grab-bag of awesome things, I’d like to downplay that a bit. Ruocchio has undoubtedly created his own style and carved out his section of the sci-fi universe. If it is reminiscent of all of these other awesome novels, that’s not because it is derivative. The richness of the narrative cannot really be overstated here. There are times the scale seems incredibly huge, but the reader is never left adrift because the narrative ties us down to Hadrian’s life and perspective, giving us a way to navigate the huge universe. As even more elements pile onto the plot–notably linguistics and archaeology coming into play–Ruocchio manages to balance all these elements and weave them into a deeply personal narrative that turns Hadrian into a fascinating, real character.

Perhaps most importantly for a novel like this–a near 600 page epic–is that although it is part of a larger series (according to a Tweet from the author after I asked him, it will span 4 books along with potential side stories), it has a satisfying ending. Readers won’t feel cheated or baited by the end. Instead, they’ll be lining up to get the next book, knowing how excellent this one was. Hadrian’s concluding lines in the book help to make it feel, truly, like the first volume of an immense memoir.

Without a doubt, Christopher Ruocchio has created a fantastic universe to explore. Empire of Silence is a superb space opera on an epic scale. I recommend it very, very highly. What we are seeing with this book is, I think–as does my friend who recommend it–the rise of a new genre master.

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 through the [Alleged] Top 100 Science Fiction Books- #61-66

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.

61. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood Grade: A
“It’s difficult to say that I ‘enjoyed’ this book, because I really did not. It is not the kind of book to enjoy. It makes you uncomfortable, it challenges you, and it challenges some deeply held ideas. But this lack of enjoyment is, I think, the point. We don’t like to confront sexism and other issues that are systematically enforced in our society. But Atwood here forces readers to confront such issues in a very up-front way. It’s a good story, yes, but it is also a warning and a plea.”

62. Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks Grade: A
“It’s not as transcendent as The Player of Games, but what it lacks in the sheer volume of ideas in that latter volume, it makes up for in strong characterization and a sense of overall mystery that pervades the book. Stylistically, Banks continues to flash his brilliance. It would be hard to complain much about the structure of the plot and how it gets revealed. Banks is one of the few science fiction authors I’ve encountered who manages to make both the characters and the overall plot utterly compelling without sacrificing anything. No matter what length his books are, they seem to have an intimacy that cannot be ignored. He’s created an amazing future.”

63. Eon by Greg Bear Grade: B
“My favorite scene in this book occurs within the first 20 pages, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. Revealing that favorite scene might spoil something so I’ll leave it there. Anyway, reading this list has made me feel a bit jaded about the ‘alien artifact’ selection within science fiction. Some of it is done incredibly well (see Revelation Space) while other attempts are kind of dull. It is clearly a topic that science fiction authors return to again and again. Bear manages to give a twist in this one by incorporating multiple sci-fi tropes in alongside the core ‘artifact’ idea, including time travel and Red Scare. I enjoyed it, though it felt a bit bloated at points. Ultimately, a satisfying read.”

64. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi Grade: A
“Scalzi has created a novel that borrows from the same well as Starship Troopers and The Forever War while, in some ways, transcending its influences. At first it seems a fairly standard space marine-type novel, but the unexpectedness of the alien races, the (ultimate) thoughtfulness of the main character, and the twists that are thrown into the mix make it easily one of the best of the bunch. I particularly enjoyed all the ideas Scalzi threw out there for aliens and our interactions with them. The sense of humor that is fairly consistent throughout the novel is also excellent. Top-notch science fiction.”

65. The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke Grade: A
“I thought the beginning was utterly enthralling, with its portrayal of a strange post-human (?) city that had stood almost unchanged for countless eons. Injecting something ‘unique’ into such a city was captivating and exciting. The middle bogged down quite a bit, and it made it feel as though the book didn’t ever quite reach the stunning heights that I expected after the first few chapters. That said, I think it is an achievement of the imagination, and one with scenes that grabbed my imagination as few books have before.”

66. Sphere by Michael Crichton Grade: C-
“It’s not nearly as polished as The Andromeda Strain, and its core premise isn’t as strong as Jurassic Park‘s. What’s left is an interesting idea that seemed to me to get less and less entertaining as it went along. I had higher hopes for this one, to be honest. The payoff at the end is fairly low compared to Crichton’s other works, and because of this some of the flaws in his writing style are more distracting. Let’s not forget an over-defensive caricature of a female scientist, which may have been a rather poor attempt at introducing a pro-woman narrative into the plot (it didn’t work out). The biggest problem with the book is that it seems to get progressively less wonder-filled and devolve into a rather simple thriller. Not what I have come to expect from Crichton.”

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.