“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!


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!


May is Expanded Sci-Fi Fantasy Month- Read all the tie-in novels

The month of May is “Expanded Sci-Fi Fantasy Month”- a month dedicated to reading all the tie-in novels for science fiction and fantasy worlds you love! I got the idea from “Vintage Sci-Fi Month” run by Little Red Reviewer. I hoping you will join me in reading related works for your favorite sci-fi/fantasy worlds. Let me know here in the comments what you’re reading, and I will try to blog about some of my own reading throughout the month.

I personally love reading expanded/tie-in sci-fi/fantasy. I have read a huge number of Star Wars novels, along with plenty of Forgotten Realms (though almost exclusively R.A. Salvatore here), Battletech, Star Trek, and Warhammer 40k novels. I read a lot and am looking forward to finally getting through a lot of the “Expanded Universe” type works I have had sitting on my shelves for a while. I hope to add to my Star Wars: Expanded Universe read-through, the next book up is Children of the Jedi, which I remember being somewhat perplexed by as a kid when I read it the first time. I also have some more Star Trek: New Frontier waiting to be read–I love this new starship and its adventures. If I manage to get through a ton of those I have some Star Trek: DS9 to read, as well. Alongside those I have a shelf full of Warhammer 40k omnibus editions I need to work through, and the two Firefly collections of graphic novels.

In other words, I’m hoping for a really busy month, and I hope you will join me for Expaned sci-fi/Fantasy month! Let me know in the comments what you’re reading!

Reading the Classics: “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

The best on-screen adaptation

I have decided to mix in some classics with my constant reading of sci-fi/fantasy, philosophy, theology, and biographies. In order to pick which classics to read, I have largely crowdsourced recommendations of which classic literature they have enjoyed, combining this with lists of major classic works. So yeah, pretty subjective, but we can deal. As I read through the classics, there will be SPOILERS, because I want to actually talk about them. Maybe it will encourage you to read them, or, if you have read them already, you can join in a deeper discussion of these great works. Feel free to recommend your favorites, as well.

Pride and Prejudice is a longtime favorite of mine. I have read it maybe 3 times before, and loved both the recent movie adaptation and of course the most excellent BBC adaptation. For this reading, as I thought about “Reading the Classics,” I reflected on what made this such an excellent novel with a long staying power. And, when I say “reading,” I meant listening, because I listened to it on Audible. It made for a delightful experience.

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice is a longtime favorite of mine. I have read it maybe 3 times before, and loved both the recent movie adaptation and of course the most excellent BBC adaptation. For this reading as I thought about “Reading the Classics,” I thought about what made this such an excellent novel with a long staying power. And, when I say “reading,” I meant listening, because I listened to it on Audible. It made for a delightful experience.

There are, I think, two primary things that make Pride and Prejudice great. First is the enduring wit of Jane Austen. Her social commentary continues to amuse and remain relevant even more than a hundred years after her life. We can put ourselves in the shoes of the characters–not directly, perhaps, but we can imagine similar social situations. There will always be haughty men and women. There will always be awkward social situations, and family members overstepping their bounds or causing embarrassment. The way these things play out in Pride and Prejudice is part of its staying power. Austen captures those timeless things that can go wrong and intertwines them into a story of manners–good and bad.

The second thing that makes Pride and Prejudice great is not Mr. Collins, though I was quite tempted to say so, as I find him endlessly amusing. The second thing is actually Austen’s own outlook on the world seeping in at opportune moments. Whether it is her dry commentary on social norms or her subtle jabbing at clergy who are inept, she prods her readers to rethink expectations and consider what is the norm for their own society. One thing that strikes me on that score is that Austen tends to depict nearly any clergy throughout as lost, shallow, or impious. Some have suggested that is a comment from Austen on her own (lack of) faith, but from what I’ve read about Austen as well as my own reading of her, it seems more probable that Austen is in fact pointing out the systemic issues with having a state church and the way that leads to such inept, sometimes faithless people getting jobs as clergy. In other words, her barbs aimed at the clergy in the novels is a way to awaken readers, however subtly, to the need for reform.

Picking these two things as those which make the novel great is not, of course, to discount the many, many other things (like Mr. Collins) that make it so enjoyable. Yes, the dialogue is spot on. Yes, the central narrative is woven together in a satisfying and sometimes surprising way. Yes, Austen’s use of caricature for humor is excessively diverting. Did I mention I enjoy the English-isms? I do. But this read through, it seemed to me the two aforementioned things are what makes it so enduring, so perfect.

Should you read Pride and Prejudice? Yes, obviously. It’s got a 4.25/5 rating on Goodreads, a site not really known for generosity in its reviewers at all times. Looking at the long list of friends of mine who’ve rated it on Goodreads, I noticed that one of them gave it a 3-star rating and I’m tempted to unfriend them. But enough of that. This is a fantastic book, even if you’re not into this kind of book. I wasn’t, until I read 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!


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.”


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.


Re-Read of “The Legend of Drizzt” – The Dark Elf Trilogy

drizzt-IIt has been many years (13 or so) since I read the tales of the Legend of Drizzt Saga. For those who are familiar with this series, the name evokes memories of adventurous tales of grand action. For the uninitiated, these books are perhaps the definitive experience for those wanting to read fantasy works set in the universe of Dungeons and Dragons. Nerd hats on, everybody. I recently decided to re-read the adventure and picked up an omnibus edition labeled “I” for the Legend of Drizzt. Interestingly, they opted to put the prequel, “The Dark Elf Trilogy” first rather than putting them in published order. No matter! We begin our foray into the Drizzt saga with the Dark Elf Trilogy.

The Dark Elf Trilogy

I’m not going to summarize the plot (see summary here [click each book for more summary]), but the basics are that there is a Dark Elf (AKA Drow) named Drizzt Do’Urden growing up in one of the cities of the Drow, Menzoberranzan. He and his father, Zaknafein, do not conform to the moral corruptness and insatiable lust for power that perpetuates in Drow society. Because of this, Drizzt rejects his people and flees into the Underdark, where he meets some friends as he avoids encounters with his deadly family. Finally, he emerges on the surface.

I have to say I enjoyed re-reading the trilogy very much. The world is particularly well developed, with a true sense of vastness and complexity that makes readers excited to explore further. The story also has a pretty broad scope, stretching across years, conflicts, and realms in order to bring it to fruition. The setting is pretty phenomenal.

There is surprising depth to some of the moral issues raised in the book, despite having a fairly simplistic view of good and evil (see characters, below). Drizzt’s struggle to reconcile his moral compass with his upbringing is intriguing, and his father’s own struggles observing Drizzt is emotionally engaging. It’s pretty impressive that Salvatore included a decent depth of these issues in a series that is, at base, a tie-in for a role-playing game.

The action, when it happens, is always intense. Although the action scenes are perhaps not as well-executed as some other stories’, they are engaging and hard-hitting when they do happen. I was never bored or put off by them, which is sometimes hard to do. Too much action or poorly written action is worse than no action at all.

That said, there are some pretty big issues here. The most obvious one is there are major issues with pacing in these books, particularly in Exile. It felt like there were stretches of 50 or so pages in which almost nothing happened. Drizzt is in a tunnel. He is lonely. He encounters a beasty. He is sad. These sections drag on for seemingly interminable lengths and make reading the books at time feel like a chore. Thankfully, the style they’re written in makes them very quick reads, so it is easy to churn through these sections, but it remains a major difficulty with the trilogy.

Another issue is that most of the characters lack depth. There is little backstory or even hints of backstory to them. Characters are sorted into simplistic black-and-white good-and-evil categories that make it difficult to care much about what backstory there is at points. There are exceptions, like Zaknafein, but overall there just isn’t much to care about for the other characters.

Overall, “The Dark Elf Trilogy” is an enjoyable read that I’m glad I took the time to go back through. It’s been a long time since I’ve visited these books, and I’m intrigued about what will come next!

The Good

+Overarching plot very interesting
+The world of the Underdark is unique and well-developed
+Impressive scope
+Surprisingly deep looks at moral issues at points

The Bad

-Pacing issues abound
-Most side characters lack depth

The Verdict

Grade: B- “It drags at times, but ‘The Dark Elf’ Trilogy is an intriguing introduction to a fantasy legend.”

What do you think?


Star Wars Books Hub

courtship-leia-wolvertonI have read almost every book in the Star Wars Expanded Universe that takes place post-movies. With the sun setting on the EU and rising on a new series of “canon” novels, I’ve had a hankering to go back to the beginning (Princess Bride reference, anyone?) and re-read a number of the books in the series. So I’m going to. I think I’ll actually start with Darth Pelagius because it’s been recommended by a large number of people, and then dive in at the place I started so long ago: The Courtship of Princess Leia.

Yes, I will be writing reviews of each book along the way, so if you want to follow/read along, you’ll be able to. These posts won’t be going up at any specific or regular times so just be aware of that. I may or may not skip the X-Wing series because I don’t own them all.

Let me know what you think of this as a possibility and if there are any specific things you’d like to have me mention in a review. I want these to be fun and not just reviews, so categories like ‘Best Droid Moment’ might become a reality.

I’ve also recently edited this post to include official canon novels from the Disney launch of their own fictional Star Wars universe.

Expanded Universe Book Reviews

Standalone Books

Darth Plagueis by James Luceno– Recommended by numerous friends, I finally got around to reading this book on Palpatine’s past. Is it worth recommending?

The Courtship of Princess Leia by Dave Wolverton– The first Star Wars book I ever read. Does it hold up, or was nostalgia the only reason I enjoyed it?

Tales of the Bounty Hunters edited by Kevin J. Anderson– A collection of short stories about those bounty hunters encountered in The Empire Strikes Back.

Star Wars: Labyrinth of Evil by James Luceno– A prequel book to Episode III purports to fill in some blanks in how Anakin became Vader.

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover– the novelization of the film does some work in making the movie seem not so disappointing.

The Thrawn Trilogy


Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn– The Thrawn Trilogy gets underway. Is it deserving of its fame?

Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn– Book 2 of the Thrawn Trilogy. Does it continue to succeed?

The Last Command by Timothy Zahn– The conclusion of the Thrawn Trilogy. Will my fond childhood memories be shattered, or will the book hold up after 20 years?

The Han Solo Trilogy

The Paradise Snare by A.C. Crispin– The Han Solo Trilogy starts off with The Paradise Snare. Is it worth finding out Han Solo’s origins?

The Hutt Gambit by A.C. Crispin– The second book of the Han Solo Trilogy. How does the famous scoundrel hold up in this prequel book?

Rebel Dawn by A.C. Crispin– The Han Solo Trilogy concludes with a book that brings Han and Chewbacca all the way up to the events of “A New Hope.” Can it stand up to the rest of the trilogy?

The Darth Bane Trilogy

Darth Bane: Path of Destruction by Drew Karpyshyn- The Darth Bane trilogy came to me highly recommended. It deserves accolades.

Darth Bane: Rule of Two by Drew Karpyshyn– More exploration of the background of the Sith long before the Star Wars movies, and it’s well worth your time.

Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil by Drew Karpyshyn– The conclusion of the fantastic Darth Bane trilogy proves the whole series can stand on its own.

The Jedi Academy Trilogy

Jedi Search by Kevin J. Anderson– The first book in the Jedi Academy series seeks to establish some new enemies and main characters.

Dark Apprentice by Kevin J. Anderson– The second book in the Jedi Academy series–does it manage to cash in on the previous book’s promise?

Champions of the Force by Kevin J. Anderson– The conclusion of the Jedi Academy Trilogy seeks to wrap up a number of loose ends, but can it deliver a compelling finale?

The Bounty Hunter Wars Trilogy

The Mandalorian Armor by K.W. Jeter- A great first entry in a trilogy about one of the most enigmatic  and interesting side characters from the films.

Slave Ship by K.W. Jeter- Does middle book syndrome strike again? (It does.)

Hard Merchandise by K.W. Jeter- What will Fett do next? Can the strong start of the series be reflected in the concluding work?

Canon Book Reviews

Star Wars: A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller- this book kicks off the canon novels with a bang, introducing some fascinating characters and great plot to start the TV series.

Other Links Sci-Fi Hub– Check out this page for links to all my science fiction related posts, along with hubs for other things like Star Trek and Warhammer.