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Notes on SciFi

This is just a general repository for me to keep track of books that I've read over the years.

2018

  • The Dosadi Experiment (1977), Frank Herbert
  • Snow Crash (1992), Neil Stephenson; This was a doozie. Excellent read.

2017

  • Devil in the White City (2003), Erik Larson
  • 6000 Years of Bread: Its Holy and Unholy History (1943), H.E. Jacob*
  • Wyrms (1987), Orson Scott Card
  • Treasure Box (1996), Orson Scott Card
  • Rainbow Mars (1999), Larry Niven
  • Archilles Choice (1991), Larry Niven and Steven Barnes
  • Flight of the Horse (1973), Larry Niven
  • Small Gods (1992), Terry Pratchett
  • I Shall Wear Midnight (2010), Terry Pratchett
  • The Currents of Space (1952), Isaac Asimov
  • Pebble in the Sky (1950), Isaac Asimov (first published novel)
  • Terenesia (1999), Greg Egan
  • Murder at the ABA (1976), Isaac Asimov
  • Pyramids (1989), Terry Pratchett
  • The Santaroga Barrier (1968), Frank Herbert
  • The Graveyard Book (2008), Neil Gaiman
  • Soul Catcher (1972), Frank Herbert

Year End Summary

In 2017 I accomplished my goal of "Reading More". Made some progress towards reading some of my backlog, and a few newer books as well. Got into a nice rhythm. I focused on several authors: Orson Scott Card, Larry Niven, Terry Pratchett, Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, and two new authors: Neil Gaiman and Erik Larson (with a second appearance by Greg Egan, after finally coming across one of his book at Uncle Hugo's in Minneapolis).

Devil in the White City was a nice easy read to start the year, and I appreciated the historical fiction. It's a fascinating look at Chicago in the 1890s, which hits a lot of buttons for me (familiar city, turn of the century America, post industrial revolution, historical fiction, minutia of old timey things like transportation, finances, culture, immigration, etc).

Early in the year I was able to work through my backlog of Orson Scott Card books. I picked up Wyrms and Treasure Box, hoping for an experience similar to Ender's Game. The books were good, and I'm glad I read them, but they kind of burned me out on Card. The ideas were interesting and dark. Both books featured a young female characters (protaganist and antagonist) and had strong sexual themes, which left me feeling a bit uncomfortable. As all of Scott's books, the story moved quickly and the Universe was well developed. Treasure Box was technically a "horror" book.

I enjoyed reading the Larry Niven books after coming out of 2016 (which I spent re-reading several old classics from Asimov and Niven). Rainbow Mars, Achilles Choice, and Flight of the Horse were all entertaining, although nothing was too mind blowing. I really enjoyed the third story in Flight of the Horse, which followed a group of characters who were living like 10,000 years ago in the time of magic (which has all since disappeared after being used up as a natural resource).

Small Gods was a ridiculously good entrance to the Terry Pratchett universe. I regrettably sold it back to the bookstore, but should have given it away. I bought a copy for my brother too. I Shall Wear Midnight and Pyramids were also entertaining and fun. Pyramids in particular was one of my favorites (after Small Gods). At the time I didnt realize I Shall Wear Midnight was part of another storyline, so I missed a few references here and there.

I read my second book by Greg Egan, which ended up being a fun adventure about evolution and biology. Had a bit of mystery to it. Not quite as impactful for me as Permutation City, but definitely a fun read.

The three Asimov books were a nice compliment as well. I read 2 of the 3 original novels published in the 1950s, both of which were quick and entertaining reads. It is always great to see how Asimov's early ideas were brewing before he wrote The Foundation. Murder at the ABBA was a unique experience, which was the first non-hard-scifi book I've read of Asimov's. It's his only "mystery" book, and is told as a kind of screenplay with 65 or so "scenes" unfolding a mystery, including quirky self aware footnotes and fictional representations of the author in third person.

The Graveyard Book was picked up on our way to Milwaukee for a concert. I read it in just a couple days and returned it to Nick Weisser's sister, Jenna. In all honestly I saw it on a bookshelf and drunkenly thought it was a Neil Stephenson book (haha), but got confused. Turns out it was a great mistake, because a bit later I came across American Gods on a reddit book exchange (which recently became a movie, and is probably partof why I recognized the author's name). It was a fast read, and technically a children's book. Kind of spooky. Looking forward to more work from the Author.

Finally, 2017 was the year that turned me fully back on to Frank Herbert. I had originally read his harder scifi, including Dune, The Jesus Experiment, and Destination Void. However The Santaroga Barrier and Soul Catcher were both very impactful. Absolutely a highlight of the year. Both feature "alternative" current events, which take place at the time of writing - 1970s USA. I gave both of these books to Eddie/Max to read, and he enjoyed them as well. I've since picked up several Frank Herbert books and really look forward to reading them in 2018.

2016

  • The Farm (2014), Tom Rob Smith
  • Dark Matter (2016), Blake Crouch
  • The Jesus Incident (1979), Frank Herbert
  • Permutation City (1994), Greg Egan
  • The White Plague (1982), Frank Herbert
  • The Time Machine (1895), HG Wells
  • The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), HG Wells
  • Foundation (1951), Isaac Asimov (re-read)
  • Foundation and Empire (1952), Isaac Asimov (reread)
  • Second Foundation (1953), Isaac Asimov (reread)
  • Prelude to Foundation (1988), Isaac Asimov
  • Foundation's Fear (1997), Gregory Benford
  • Fallen Angels (1991), Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Michael Flynn
  • The Gripping Hand (1993), Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle

2015 (incomplete)

  • Destination: Void (1965), Frank Herbert
  • The End of Eternity (1955), Isaac Asimov
  • The Man Who Sold The Moon (1950), Robert A. Heinlein
  • Red Planet (1949), Robert A. Heinlein
  • Lucifer's Hammer (1977), Frank Herbert
  • Atlas Shrugged (1957), Ayn Rand*
  • A Fire Upon The Deep (1992), Vernor Vinge
  • The Memory of Earth (1992), Orson Scott Card
  • The Martian (2014), Andy Weir

Older

  • Armor (1984), John Steakley
  • Hyperion (1989), Dan Simmons
  • The Mote in God's Eye (1974), Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle
  • The Gods Themselves (1972), Isaac Asimov
  • The City and the Stars (1956), Arthur C. Clarke
  • Dune (1965), Frank Herbert (read 3x)
  • Ringworld (1970), Larry Niven
  • The Ringworld Engineers (1980), Larry Niven
  • The Integral Trees (1984), Larry Niven
  • Ender's Game (1985), Orson Scott Card
  • Speaker for the Dead (1986), Orson Scott Card
  • Xenocide (1991), Orson Scott Card
  • Children of the Mind (1996), Orson Scott Card
  • Ender's Shadow (1999), Orson Scott Card
  • Seventh Son (1987), Orson Scott Card
  • Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus (1996), Orson Scott Card
  • Foundation (1951), Isaac Asimov
  • Foundation and Empire (1952), Isaac Asimov
  • Second Foundation (1953), Isaac Asimov
  • Foundation's Edge (1982), Isaac Asimov
  • Foundation and Earth (1986), Isaac Asimov
  • Nemesis (1989), Isaac Asimov
  • Nightfall (1941 short story/1990 novel), Isaac Asimov
  • The Ugly Little Boy (1958 short story/1992 novel), Isaac Asimov

Thoughts on old scifi

The Time Machine (1895) -- HG Wells

There are a few things that are interesting about this piece. First, it's that the concept of "Time Travel" is assumed to be very new to the reader. The actual story doesn't come in until the third chapter. The first chapter sets up an explanation of the concepts of three dimensional space, and Time as a fourth dimension, including a small experiment that acts as a platform for discussion what it would look like if an object moved through time. The second chapter takes place at a Dinner table, where our main character arrives late and in tattered clothes. He's been gone for 8 days, traveling through time. After gaining strength (from eating "bite of meat"), they retire to the "smoking room" so that he can tell his story. He asks that there be no interruptions or arguments until the end.

What is also interesting, as with all scifi, is how the projections of the time of writing are used. It is also surprising to me (in 2015) what technologies do exist in 1894, that I would not have suspected. For example, electricity and sanitation were both just coming in vogue, so they are mentioned briefly (but lighting is still driven by 'lamps', inferred to be kerosene or gas). Also, there is the mention of "in the future they must not have heard of cloth brushes", which I think is a way of cleaning your clothing in between a full wash.

There are also direct quotes from Charles Darwin, who at the time of writing would have just died and would have been very fresh on the minds of young scientists. Figuring out (and projecting) the details of the theory of evolution is certainly a theme in the book. There are also a monologue about the inevitable collapse of society as the "high class, educated folk further refine their tastes", to the point of expanding the land to be mostly private, driving the "working poor" underground, literally, where they live their lives mostly disconnected from modern society above ground.

It is also interesting that in their discussion of the fourth dimension, they note that Man simply cannot move upwards in the third dimension! Except maybe by means of a balloon! (Hot air balloon). It isn't even 8 years later that the Wright Brothers succeed in their first flight, another 6 years for the first commercial flight, followed by mature rockets a decade later, and of course space travel within a few more decades.

Some technologies of note: casual mentions of subways, trains, and electricity. There's even a moment where our hero finds himself in an underground tunnel, and remarks "I wish I had thought to bring a Kodak! I could use the flash to momentarily see, and examine the results at my leisure".

It's also interesting to note the language of writing. I don't quite know how to describe it, but compared to modern hard science fiction (or at least to Isaac Asimov), the language walks a line between clean storytelling, and technical description. But the technical description, while useful, lacks some elemental frameworks that I'm used to, making it somewhat more difficult to picture the concepts in the framing that the author intends them to be. Not a bad thing, for sure, but interesting. I immediately thought of how we take for granted the language used to describe in a common framework concepts that have matured over the last 100 years, and how difficult it would have been to describe when the common canon of labels and scientific nouns had not yet been established at wide.

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