Some books I have enjoyed recently. I have always been a big fan of Douglas Adams and Isaac Asimov, but have more recently have enjoyed discovering Jasper Fforde, Tom Holt, Robert Rankin, Robert Heinlein and Terry Pratchett.
Listed in roughly reverse chronological order with most recent reads being added to the top.
Quozl by Alan Dean Foster (56 books read in 2015)
The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson (55)
Inked by Eric Smith
Time is the Simplest Thing by Clifford D. Simak
Turquoise Lament by John D. MacDonald (50!)
Charmed Particles by Chrissy Kolaya
The Cassandra Project by Jack McDevitt and Mike Resnick
Dead Cat Bounce by Damien Owens
Ballroom of the Skies by John D. MacDonald
The Martian by Andy Weir
The Dreadful Lemon Sky: A Travis McGee Novel by John D. Macdonald (26)
Futures Imperfect by Connie Willis – Includes Uncharted Territory, Remake and Bellwether
Wine of The Dreamers by John Macdonald (15)
The Magician’s Land: A Novel (The Magicians Book 3) by Lev Grosman
All Tomorrow’s Parties by William Gibson
Blue Champagne by John Varley (10)
Icarus; an anthology of the Poetry of Flight. 1938 by R de la Bere [editor]:
-2014- 34 books read
Monarch of the Glen by Neil Gaiman (10)
Fool Me Twice by Paul Levine
Homeland by Cory Doctorow
The Rock Rats (Asteroid Wars) by Bova
Wyrd Sisters (Discworld) by Pratchett, Terry
Equal Rites (Discworld) by Pratchett, Terry
The Precipice (Asteroid Wars) by Bova, Ben
The Cyberiad by Lem, Stanislaw
-2013 (below) – 39 books
The Door Through Space by Bradley, Marion Zimmer (39)
Let’Em Breathe Space! by Lester Del Rey
Security by Poul Anderson
The Cosmic Computer by H. Beam Piper (35)
Red Mars (Mars Trilogy) by Robinson, Kim Stanley
Sucker Bet by Swain, James
Sick Puppy by Hiaasen, Carl (30)
Goodbye for Now by Frankel, Laurie
Mort: A Novel of Discworld by Pratchett, Terry
Mathematicians in Love by Rucker, Rudy
The Icarus Hunt by Timothy Zahn
Tunnel In The Sky by Robert Heinlein
Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi
Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
-2012 (below) – 51 books –
Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow (50! Goal met!) – I enjoy Doctorow’s writing. This one is a good story with a strong message, but at some points the story was a bit too thin and the message was a bit too heavy, coming across as a little preachy. While I agree with it overall, this is a very one sided take on a complicated issue.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente – A fun, if frivolous, fantasy adventure
The Well at the World’s End by William Morris
Off the Grid (A Monkeewrench Novel) by P. J. Tracy
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – An intriguing modern fantasy. I felt it was longer than necessary in places, but overall an enjoyable read that gave me a lot to think about.
Jingo by Terry Pratchett
The Heart of the Serpent: Soviet Science Fiction by Ivan Yefremov and Strugatsky Arkady
Clockwork Fagin (Free Preview of a story from Steampunk!) by Cory Doctorow
Life on Mars: Tales from the New Frontier by Jonathan Strahan
Empty Copper Sea by John MacDonald
Shannons Law by Cory Doctorow
Scimitar Moon – by Chris A Jackson
-2010 (Below) – (37 Books)
Project Eden – by William Coffin
Throne of Jade (Temeraire, Book 2) by Naomi Novik
I Shall Wear Midnight – Hardcover (Sept. 28, 2010) by Terry Pratchett
Saturn: A Novel of the Ringed Planet by Ben Bova (25)
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
-2009- (below) (26 books)
The Golden Helix: Ten Superb Stories by Theodore Sturgeon
There Will Be Time by Poul Anderson
The Sheriff of Yrnameer by Michael Robins
From Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon by Jules Verne
Getting back to the classics. Writing style sometimes hard, but a good story and fascinating look at an author that obviously influenced Heinlein.
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
An amazing adult level mix of Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia.
Infernal Devices (The Hungry City Chronicles) by Philip Reeve
Predator’s Gold (The Hungry City Chronicles) by Philip Reeve
Mortal Engines (The Hungry City Chronicles) by Philip Reeve
The Last Hero: A Discworld Fable by Terry Pratchett and Paul Kidby
Mothstorm: The Horror from Beyond Uranus Georgium Sidus! by Philip Reeve
Starcross by Philip Reeve
“A Stirring Adventure of Spies, Time Travel and Curious Hats.” Second book in the Larklight series.
Larklight by Philip Reeve “A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space”
I shared this book with my B and we both enjoyed it. It is the middle of the 19th century and Sir Isaac Newton has not only figured out the properties of gravity, but has also used alchemy to discover the secret of the “chemical wedding” in an alembic chamber that can be used to power ships to other planets. Now the British Empire rules not only the Earth, but the other planets in the solar system as well. Art and his sister Myrtle are forced to flee their home, “Larklight”, in orbit of the moon when they are invaded by giant space spiders. They embark on a grand adventure, teaming up with a young space pirate Jack Havock and his band of alien misfits, to not only fight the spiders, but also save the planet earth and in the process learn great secrets about the origins of our solar system.
I though this was going to be an “alternative history” type of story with the main pretense being that space travel was invented during the Victorian era, but it turned out to have a twist in that line as it is written from a sensibility of that time period as well. The ships, which resemble wooden sailing ships more than rockets (and use canvas wings along with their engines), do not travel in “space” but in the “aether” where the “air is thin” and numerous forms of wildlife, including space fish (or Ichthyomorphs), whales and giant squid roam. There are mushroom people and giant moths on the moon and, of course, canals on Mars. The combination of advanced technology in a victorian setting can not help but have a bit of “steampunk” feel to it, but I would not really apply that overused term to this book.
A fun romp for 11-15 year-olds, or adults with a sense of whimsy looking for a light read.
The Worlds of Theodore Sturgeon by Theodore Sturgeon
I was completely unaware of Theodore Sturgeon when I came across this paperback collection of short stories at a used book sale and decided to give it a try. The first few stories were a bit on the short and simple side, basic “what if? scenarios which were amusing but not overly exciting (some brought The Worlds of Clifford Simak to mind). The stories soon grew longer and more complex and I began to become more impressed with Sturgeons writing. This is not your average “space travel and aliens” science fiction (though there are some of both), many of the stories are about very real human earth bound affairs. To me, Sturgeons real strength shines in creating deep, complex characters studies. Real humans with complex feelings, weaknesses and motivations. I picked up several other Sturgeon books at the same sale and look forward to reading them soon.
Spell of Intrigue (Dance of the Gods) by Mayer Alan Brenner
The second installment of the Dance of the Gods series is indeed heavy on the intrigue, sometimes at the expense of keeping the storyline moving along, but the characters are still interesting and the intrigue keeps you guessing. Still a lot of twists and turns of gods, magic and science to unravel in the upcoming books.
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
I suppose you could say this is a book about life, love, family and overcoming hardships and surviving to see better times. Frankly I do not usually enjoy books about heartbreaking family struggles, but this one had two very interesting features that made it quite enjoyable to read. First, the entire story-line is framed around professional race car driving. Using the challenge of completing a difficult race both as a metaphor for making it through life’s troubles, and as a real and practical connection between how the skills and strategies one uses to be a successful race car driver can be applied to the rest of their life. Also included are some wonderful emotive descriptions of the thrill of high speed track driving that should connect with anyone with even a mild love of driving. The second interesting feature of this book is that it is told entirely from the point of view of a dog named Enzo (as in Ferrari). A smart and aware dog that observes and understands what is going on around him (sometimes better than his human counterparts) but is hindered by his frustrating lack of the power to speak (and lack of thumbs), which prevents him from sharing his insights and guidance with his people. Even though Enzo’s intelligence may (or may not) be unrealistically high for a dog, the character is still very much a real dog, and not anthropomorphized into being too human, as some children’s books might do. Like all of us, even the dog in this story has life lessons to learn, as he prepares himself for what he is sure will be his eventual reincarnation into a man. The author does an excellent job of using Enzo as an outside observer to present commentary on the events of the story, while offering some wonderful philosophy of life from a dog’s eye view.
“Gestures are all I have; sometimes they must be grand in nature. And while I occasionally step over the line and into the world of the melodramatic, it is what I must do in order to communicate clearly and effectively. In order to make my point understood without question. I have no words I can rely on because, much to my dismay, my tongue was designed long and flat and loose, and therefore, is a horribly ineffective tool for pushing food around my mouth while chewing, and an even less effective tool for making clever and complicated polysyllabic sounds that can be linked together to form sentences.”
Getting to go a drive on the track:
“One bark means slower, two means faster, got it?”
I barked twice, and that surprised him and Pat and Jim, who were both leaning in the passenger window. “He wants to go faster already,” Jim said. “You’ve got yourself a good dog there.”
“You okay?” he asked, looking at me as we sped nearly one hundred twenty miles per hour down the back straight’
I barked twice.
“I’m gonna use up my tires if you keep me out here,” he said. “One more lap.”
Yes, one more lap. One more lap. Forever, one more lap. I live my life for one more lap. I give my life for one more lap! Please, God, please give me one more lap!
And that lap was spectacular…
A little philosophy on attitude:
“That which is around me does not affect my mood; my mood affects that which is around me.”
Spook Country by William Gibson
A modern high tech spy thriller which shares some characters with Pattern Recognition, which I also enjoyed. This book had a lot of fascinating details, characters and color, but the overall storyline was not satisfying in the end.
Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars by Daniel Pinkwater
Spell of Catastrophe (Catastrophes Spell) by Mayer Alan Brenner
The first book in the Dance of The Gods tetrology, this is a fun adventurous romp in magic, sorcery, Gods, Deaths and insurance. I like how the magic users approach their art with true scientific methodology.
Sherlock Holmes: In Search of the Source by Jeff Falkingham
Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow
A strange and wonderful book about two men trying to create a network of free wireless internet access across the city using found electronics. Only one of the men has a father who is a mountain and a mother who is a washing machine. “My father kept a roof over our head, and my mother kept our clothes clean”. One of his brothers is an island, while three others are Russian nesting dolls, and yet another can see the future. Perhaps all an elaborate strange metaphor about family history and family dynamics, it is also about trying to fit in the world when you leave home, while dealing with the family baggage you carry with you. Manages to nail that strange conflict of forces in an outsider who looks down with disdain on society, while at the same time wishing they just knew how to fit in.
An excellent, compelling, and sometimes a bit disturbing read which left me with a lot to think about.
I read 30 books in 2008. Best discovery: John Varley
Mau left his home island to undergo a rite of passage to manhood. His child soul would remain behind on the other island, and his manhood soul was waiting for him at home. But on his return, the world is changed. A giant tsunami wave washes away his people and he is left, the soul survivor of his nation, somewhere between boyhood and manhood, without a soul, to try and rebuild. To succeed he will have to rely on ancient customs and beliefs, while at the same time learning to challenge the past, and question the superstitions that have guided his people. He rises to the amazing challenge. With the help of Daphne, a girl from across the world who is the soul survivor of a ship wreck left on his island, he overcomes the challenges and discovers a truth about his people which turns the world upside down.
I greatly enjoyed this book and found it left me with a positive uplifting mood when I read it. The character in the book faces a great and terrible challenge when his world is washed away, and even though he loses sight of his path to the future, he never stops moving forward, becoming the person he needs to be to face whatever comes. In addition to the challenges of surviving in his new surroundings, he also faces a personal inner struggle to reconcile the beliefs and superstitions of his people with the tragedy that befell them. How could the Gods they honor and offer food sacrifices to, make this wave? He refuses to feel “grateful” for being spared when everyone was not and holds his ancestors and Gods accountable for the tragedy. This story offers a wonderful challenge to religion. It recognizes the importance of belief and ritual in helping someone deal with troubled times, and notes the practical benefits also. Properly disposing of your dead, and certain food prep rituals can prevent disease as well as provide emotional comfort. At the same time, it sharply points out the importance of continuing to learn and grow and challenge the world around you. A society deeply mired in the past and beholden to ancient ritual and superstition can stagnate and fail to advance in learning and technology, or even regress.
Terry Pratchett diverges from his Discworld series on this one, but manages to weave a compelling tale of adventure, survival and mystery. Add some philosophy, ghosts, cannibals, buried treasure, mutineers, sharks and beer you have a truly enjoyable read for Young Adults and Adults alike.
“The capacity for time travel has made human history a fragile thing. To protect the continuity of that history and guard humanity’s mysterious destiny, the men and woman of our own future have established the Time patrol, a far-flung organization dedicated to preserving the time lines and foiling the attempts of those who change history to suit their own purposes.”
This book is actually of collection of several shorter Time Patrol Stories combined with “Star of the Sea”, the first full-length novel of Manse Edward and the Time Patrol. These stories are all very rich with a lot of historical details and color, and copious amounts of historical “what-if” speculation. What if that civilization had not rose to power, or if that leader can been killed before that great battle, or if that religion had taken hold and spread instead of the other one? I can not personally evaluate the accuracy of the historical details so generously offered in this book, but they seemed to be reasonable and were presented in a believable way. I would think that someone who was better versed in the historical details of ancient civilizations may be able to enjoy this book on another level. The premise is that the time line is somewhat elastic and will tend to recover or “snap back” from small changes (like one man’s death) but there are key individuals and moments in history that can shape many generations to come. Criminals from the future must be kept from influencing these key moments. The Time Patrol recruits suitable individuals from throughout time to study and maintain the time line.
Unfortunately the first few shorter stories seemed to be a bit repetitive and follow a clear pattern. First the agents travel back to a distant place and time, described with generous historical color and details, then a crisis unfolds which will mean the death of an agent or their loved ones. The only solutions to the crisis would involve breaking the Time Patrols strict rules, the biggest one being: an individual can not go back to change their own past. No jumping back a week to warn yourself not to open that door. Then the long buildup is quickly and neatly wrapped up by finding a way to bend (or break – just this once – wink) the rules. Luckily further in to the book the story lines grow longer and more complicated and involved.
Although a bit laborious at times wading through all the historical “what-ifs” while the characters try to identify the key moments of the time line that led to their own future which they must protect, this book is a good read and may be particularly interesting to students of history, ancient cultures or sociology.
Futuretrack 5 by Robert Westall
I picked up this book on a whim from a library sale table for my 10 year old son to read. He enjoyed it and recommended to me, so I read it also. I was overall quite impressed. Reading reviews on Amazon it appears to be somewhat of an overlooked young adult classic. Not so many people have heard of it, but those who have read it, loved it.
Part Mad Max, part THX1138, and many parts all its own, this book takes place in a future England (it ends in 2012) where society is strictly divided into different classes. There are the Ests, these are the rich, elite educated class who enjoy comfortable homes in fancy estates, leisure time recreation and travel. Then there are the Unems who live in poverty and squalor in a violent urban society. Birth rates among the Unems are low, and death rates are high. The Ests suffer from birth rates higher than their system can maintain, so at the age of 21 all Ests are required to take E-level exams. Those scoring too low are cast out (through the “wire”) to become Unems. Those scoring high enough remain Ests, and those scoring perfect are destined to become Techs, a secret class of engineers and technicians that create and maintain all the advanced technologies that keep the society running. Although violence and death is a regular part of everyday life for the Unems, there are still laws and rules and those found breaking them are immediately whisked away by Paramils to a “lobo farm” where they are reduced to passive house servants for the Ests. The title refers to “Futuretracks” or job paths that some of the Unems take, including entertainment, competitive pinball, prostitution or deadly motorcycle racing (Futuretrack 5). The main character, Henry Kitson, is born an Est, but scores 100% on his E levels and becomes a Tech and begins to learn the secrets of how things are run, but there is one big secret he can not find out concerning a mysterious Scott-Astbury and his “big mistake”. Bright, clever, strong and resourceful, Henry is not satisfied to babysit the main computer, “Laura” and her senile creator and decides to leave the system and find out what is really going on. He adventures outside of “the wire” with his Unem companion Keri and, showing his abilities to adapt and succeed at whatever challenges face him, discovers an entire world outside his previous life and teachings. His discoveries, and his subsequent decision to try to change the world for the better left me with a lot to think about, and sparked some interesting discussions in our household on the role of government and the merits of free will in society. The ending is far from black and white and could be considered happy, sad or somewhere in between based on your personal interpretation, which I guess is a testament to the depth of this book.
Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
In this book we follow the exploits of an angel (with a little mischief in him) and a demon (with a little good in him) as they disobey orders from their respective superiors and work together to try to delay the apocalypse (which would bring to an end the lifestyles they have come to enjoy on earth). We also meet a professional Witchhunter, a young witch who possesses the one truly accurate book of prophecies, and the “Adversary, Destroyer of Kings, Angel of the Bottomless Pit, Great Beast that is called the Dragon, Prince of This World, Father of Lies, Spawn of Satan, and Lord of Darkness” who otherwise appears to a be normal, mischievous English boy who happens to able to instantly master any computer game he tries and doesn’t particularly want to bring about the end of the world.
Published 1655, Agnes Nutter’s book of prophecies, although accurate and correct, was not always as useful as one might hope:
It was obvious that Agnes had a line to the Future, but it was an unusually narrow and specific line. In other words. almost totally useless.
“She managed to come up with the kind of predictions that you can only understand after the thing has happened, like ‘Do Notte Buye Betamacks.’ That was a prediction for 1972.
“Most of the time she comes up with such an oblique reference that you can’t work it out until it’s gone past, and then it all slots into place. And she didn’t know what was going to be important or not, so it’s all a bit hit and miss. Her prediction for November 22, 1963 was about a house falling down in King’s Lynn.”
“Oh?” Newt looked politely blank.
“President Kennedy was assassinated, ” said Anathema helpfully. “but Dallas didn’t exist then, you see. Whereas King’s Lynn was quite important.”
There is also an important lesson on the hazards of burning someone with future sight at the stake for being a witch:
“Thirty seconds later an explosion took out the village green, scythed the valley clean of every living thing, and was seen as far away as Halifax.
There was much subsequent debate as to whether this had been sent by God or by Satan, but a note later found in Agnes Nutter’s cottage indicated that any divine or devilish intervention had been materially helped by the contents of Agnes’s petticoats, wherein she had with some foresight concealed eighty pounds of gunpowder and forty pounds of roofing nails.”
I got a good chuckle at the demon Crowley’s vintage Bentley in which any cassette tape left for more than a fortnight metamorphose into Best of Queen albums:
“Ah, this is more like it. Tchaikovsky,” said Aziraphale, opening a case and slotting it into the Blaupunkt.
“You won’t enjoy it,” sighed Crowley. “It’s been in the car for more than a fortnight.” A heavy bass beat began to thump through the Bentley as they sped past Heathrow. Asiraphale’s brow furrowed.
“I Don’t recognize this, “he said. “What is it?”
“It’s Tchaikovsky’s ‘Another One Bites the Dust’,” said Crowley […]
They also listened to William Byrd’s “We Are the Champions” and Beethoven’s “I Want to Break Free.” Neither were as good as Vaughan Williams’s “Fat-Bottomed Girls.”
I have read quite a bit of Terry Pratchett, including many of his Discworld books, but I had not yet had a chance to read Neil Gaiman so I am not able to judge his influence on this book. I did see a lot of Pratchett in this book and, although this is certainly not a Discworld book, the presence of the DEATH character (and the other horsemen of the apocalypse) and the descriptions of witches make it feel closely related. To me it felt like a cross between Discworld and Only Human by Tom Holt. An enjoyable irreverent romp, well worth the read.
Sherlock Holmes and the Rune Stone Mystery by Larry Millett
I have just finished reading another “Sherlock Holmes comes to Minnesota” book for our local library book group. In this story Holmes is called to Minnesota in 1899 to help investigate the mystery of the Kensington Runestone. For those who have not heard of it, this a real unsolved mystery from Western Minnesota. In 1898 a Swedish American farmer claimed to have discovered a stone tablet tangled in the roots of a tree. On the tablet were rune carvings which tell of a Viking exploration party exploring the area in 1362. If true, this would mean that Viking explorers ventured far further into North America than ever previously thought. Experts on both sides still debate whether the tablet is a hoax or real.
In this book the author takes some liberties with the story of the discovery of the Runestone, turning it into a murder mystery. Larry Millett does a fairly good job of creating a somewhat traditional Sherlock Holmes mystery story in the style of Arthur Conan Doyle, although in our book group discussion we noted how in this case Holmes was surrounded by several other extremely bright and competent individuals who were able to match wits with the great Holmes, perhaps more than usually occurred in traditional Holmes novels. The author also seems to delight in describing the flavors of rural Western Minnesota including the landscape, the cold and the taciturn Swedish demeanor of its residents. I enjoyed the descriptions on other-worldy flat landscape of the Red River valley, and the factoids about the heavy wall construction of grain bins designed to support the outward pressure of the grain which flows like a liquid. This was a fun book which should appeal to Sherlock Holmes fans and Western Minnesota natives alike.
Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett
Baked out of red earthen clay, a Golem is brought to life with ancient magic text written on a piece of paper and placed inside their head. They are large and very strong and dutifully follow the instructions of their owner. A Golem will tirelessly perform the nasty, dirty jobs that no one else wants to do. Day in and day out for years on end without a rest they can handle molten iron, shovel animal guts in slaughter house, or stand in the cold, wet, dark bottom of a mine shaft turning a pump for decades.
But what might come of a Golem created by other Golems? In this installment of Terry Pratchett’s ever lovable Discworld series, Commander Samuel Vimes of the Watch struggles to solve a series of strange murders, while at the same time trying to figure out how the Patrician, Lord Vetinari is being slowly poisoned. Having read a number of the books out of order (which is not a problem with Discworld) this book gave me a lot of interesting background on a number of the Watch’s more interesting personalities including a werewolf struggling to control her instincts and female Dwarf (Cheery Littlebottom) who, despite her usual long beard, experiments with exposing her true gender with lipstick and skirts. We also see the start of a new age for the Golems when someone gives one ownership of itself by placing its paper of ownership inside its head. If you have somehow resisted entering the wonderful otherworld of Discworld, I encourage you to dive in, it is an amazing place that mirrors our own world, but with just enough differences to draw attention to our own crazy social institutions which we take for granted.
…and please someone tell me, is Wee Mad Arthur a Mac Nac Feegle?
Steel Beach by John Varley
When a vastly superior alien force comes to earth they walk over mankind with the same lack of interest as a human walks over an ant hill. Millions are killed, but many are able to escape to space to establish colonies on the earths moon, mars and other moons and planets. In John Varley’s Eight Worlds books hundreds of years have passed since mankind has set foot on earth. The population of Luna enjoys a comfortable life with advanced medical procedures ensuring healthy life spans of hundreds of years and allows people to alter their physical appearance, age and even gender with little to no difficulty. Although there are still careers available to those who wish to work, everyone is provided a basic, comfortable standard of living. Everything in this futuristic society is controlled and maintained by a massive Central Computer which has the ability to deal with law enforcement, medicine, economics and running huge environmentally controlled domes while at the same time being a personal companion to every individual, appearing as a voice in their head. In this story we follow a star journalist for the Daily Nipple electronic news pad named Hildy. He / She finds herself at the focal point of a series of massive career making news events, and wrestles with her own reporter instinct verse the personal knowledge of the predatory nature of the lightning fast daily electronic news cycle. As she struggles to cope with her own personal demons she also struggles to understand the nature of personal happiness in a society that provides for all your needs, and to unravel the mystery of some strange behavior by the Central Computer.
This book was a long and twisted journey. About half way through it seemed as though it had reached a logical ending point, but of course there was much more to come. Varley (like Heinlein) paints an enjoyable and believable version of mankinds future and the characters are complex and interesting. At some points I did struggle a little bit to decide if the slow progressive change in the storyline, main character and even writing style throughout this book was a brilliant masterwork, or more of a confusing ramble. I have read the Varley likes to write his books in a somewhat linear fashion from beginning to end, and then will only do minor editing and think that might be the cause of my feelings that the end of this story felt like a completely different book than the beginning. Overall that change did not lessen my enjoyment of this excellent book and its underlying high quality story.
Sherlock Holmes and the County Courthouse Caper
I admit I only read this book because it was the featured book of our local library’s newly formed book club. The author describes it as a “history book disguised as a murder mystery” and that is really what it is. The pretense is that Sherlock Holmes arrives in western Minnesota in the 1880’s seeking the true source of the Mississippi river and is caught up in a local murder mystery and political battle over the location of the county seat. While I have to admit that as a murder mystery it is a little but light (admittedly it is aimed at 5th – 6th grade readers) but it does manage to work in a lot of local historical information about the Brown’s Valley area of West central Minnesota and the mystery keeps it all fun enough to keep reading. It is certainly worth a read to anyone interested in the history of the upper midwest, and makes an excellent educational resource for teachers in Minnesota. The author has generously dedicated the limited second edition printing to the victims of a 2007 flood in Brown’s Valley Minnesota. He has arranged for all proceeds (both his, his publishers and even book sellers) to go directly to the flood recovery fund.
Learn more and order your copy at his web site.
The Worlds of Clifford Simak
I was introduced to Clifford Simak by the folks over at Dusty Loft, and after reading The Goblin Reservation I was looking for something else by him to read, and this is what I found first. It is collection of shorter stories gathered together in one book. I think that that often short story collections by science fiction writers are a way for them to do something with interesting pretenses that they have not quite developed into a full book. This book fits that pattern as a lot of the stories are not fully realized to their full potential, but are quite fun and thought provoking none the less. He seems to have a penchant for characters that are of the “simple country folk” variety. The inside front cover teases:
In the Worlds of Clifford Simak you will meet: Stinky, the beguiling, purring, tail-waving skunk who was a mechanical genius.
Lulu the lovelorn robot.
The Fivers, who turned war into a fun game in which no one gets hurt.
Captain, who thought he had no scruples but surprised himself with his own code of ethics.
Hiram Taine, whose back door suddenly opens to another planet.
And a host of attractive extra-terrestrials, aliens and just ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances.
A nice collection of good, fun “what if?” science fiction short stories.
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
As a regular reader of BoingBoing, I can not help but be a bit of a Cory Doctorow fan, but until now I had not read any of his works of fiction. This excellent book was a nice diversion from all the space science fiction I have been reading lately. W1n5t0n (Winston) is a cocky 17 year old who empowers himself with technology to overcome his schools surveillance systems. He thinks he has the system beat until he and his friends are caught in the wrong place at the wrong time immediately after a terrorist bomb attack in San Francisco. He quickly learns that the Department of Homeland Security is not like the police and don’t trouble themselves with the rules of the American justice system. Even though he knows it is crazy to fight such a large and corrupt system, he can’t seem to help himself and must take a stand for what he knows is right. With a lot a tech savvy and some creativity he decides fight back.
“My technology was working for me, serving me, protecting me. It wasn’t spying on me. This is why I loved technology: if you used it right, it could give you power and privacy.”
A wonderful tech geek adventure that hooked me from the first page with good characters, compelling story line and lots of techy goodness. You will learn a bit about internet protocols, cryptography and electronic security as well as a bit about what freedom and privacy is really about (wanting privacy doesn’t mean you are a criminal and treating everyone as a suspect doesn’t keep you safer). It is a well written, enjoyable read that I think is also, at the risk of sounding cliche, an “important read”.
Demon by John Varley
After her fallout with Gaia, Cirroco has gone from being the Wizard to the Demon. With a whole race defendant on her survival, she spends her life alone, running, hiding, surviving. When Robin returns with her daughter Nova, and new son Adam, the time has come for Cirroco to step up and take action against Gaia, who now seems to be losing her grip on her sanity. While Gaia wallows in her self indulgent love of old earth movies and begins grooming her new Wizard, Cirroco Jones begins her transformation of human society on Gaia, and starts raising an army to try to put an end to Gaia’s rule once and for all.
Another great epic that, although slow at a few points, kept me eagerly turning pages to see where the story would lead.
Wizard by John Varley
In this second book in the Gaia trilogy it is now many years after the Ringmaster first visited and Gaia has established a relationship with earth, joined the UN and allowed tourists to come and visit. She has also realized to protect her future she must make herself needed by earth and so she has begun offering miracles. Only 40 people per year are granted an audience with her, and those select few quickly learn that her miraculous cures to whatever ails them do not come without a price. Cirroco has found her long standing role as Wizard of Gaia to have its own heavy price that she did not fully understand when she accepted the job. We follow the adventures of two young pilgrims who come to Gaia seeking a cure for their diseases and soon find themselves trying to prove themselves on a grand adventure with Cirroco and Gaby trying to circumnavigate the ring of Gaia. The trip has a higher purpose than two pilgrims proving themselves. Not everyone will survive the experience, (though on Gaia that does not mean the end of their story) but those who do must face their own demons and learn to grow and change.
This is another gripping epic from Varley. Though in some ways very different than the first Gaia book, Titan, it nevertheless certainly has no trouble standing on its own as a great read.
Titan by John Varley
This is the first book in John Varley’s Gaia trilogy. This book was a real epic tale of adventure, peril and discovery. The space ship Ringmaster has been sent to investigate the rings of Saturn, but upon their arrival they discover something new and unexpected in orbit. It is some kind of giant hexagon shaped wheel structure, but is it a space station, or space ship? And who could have built such a massive (1300km across) thing? When they move closer to investigate and look for a place to dock, the ship is grabbed and they are thrown into an adventure and struggle for survival that will drastically change each member of the crew in their own personal and different way. They must learn to survive in a massive, strange alien environment inside the space station, complete with rivers, mountains, trees and a variety of alien creatures, some of which are friendly, some of which are not. I do not want to give away to much here because I think it is always better to discover the details of a story as it unfolds, but the cover does give one big hint – the whole station itself is an alien. I was concerned when the jacket proclaimed it “the greatest adventure since Dune” as I fell on the “hate” side of the love/hate dichotomy of Dune readers. Titan was much more enjoyable and even included a nice map and a number of diagrams and illustrations to help visualize the world they were in. I found these very helpful as some of long detailed descriptions of the physical layout lost me a bit. Like a great Tolkien adventure, by the end I felt as if I had been along on the epic journey with the main characters, learning and growing with them as they discovered their surroundings. I am already beginning the next book in the series, Wizard.
The Goblin Reservation by Clifford D. Simak
Peter Maxwell, Professor of Supernatural Studies at Time University, takes a transport beam to another planet to try to investigate reports of a dragon, but he never arrives where he was going. Instead he is diverted to a strange crystal planet by some alien intelligence. When he finally returns home he is rather surprised to learn that a copy of himself did make it to his original destination and returned home to earth a month earlier, and was then killed in an accident under suspicious circumstances. His finds his belongings have been disposed of, his apartment rented to a new tenant and his position at the university filled by a new employee. He has little time to deal with these personal problems though as a mystery involving his trip and a strange prehistoric artifact being kept by the department of Time quickly develops. Accompanied by the woman now living in his apartment, her pet biomech saber tooth tiger, his Neanderthal friend Oop and their friend Ghost he sets out to unravel the mystery. Throw in William Shakespeare, aliens with wheels, a few goblins and trolls, and a time traveling painter, and the adventure takes off.
This a was a fast easy read, but still had an interesting story line worthy of some thought, and some fun characters and pretenses. Since this book lacks the ever present steamy sex scenes in all the John Varley books I have been reading lately, I was able to let my 10 year old son read and enjoy this book also, instead of just sharing the highlights as I have been with Varley. I decided to read this after after reading a good review on Dustyloft and I will keep my eyes open for more Simak books, although every time I say his name I think of some tall silver robed Star Trek alien. “I am am Simak! You have entered our space and we will now take your ship!”
The John Varley Reader by John Varley
This one took me a while to finish, through not fault of the book. I have just been busy, and it contains so much. Having only recently discovered author John Varley, (through his Red Thunder trilogy) this collection of short stories exposed me to a much greater cross section of his works. It also introduced me to his Eight Worlds theme which is carried in many of his books. In some unspecified time in the future aliens invade the earth and the human race is forced to leave the planet and move to colonies on other worlds in the solar system. The stories in this book vary greatly in their theme, tone and length. I of course enjoyed some more than others, but overall it was journey (and that’s what it felt like) worth taking. It also offers an interesting insight into John Varley the man, as each story is preceded by a personal introduction where he shares some background about how the story came to be, or about what was happening in his life when he wrote it. It is interesting to connect his young adulthood in the 60’s alternative lifestyle scene in California as an influence on his vision of the future. Like Heinlein he envisions (or perhaps hopes for) a future where people have overcome many of the social taboos about nudity, love and sex. If you want to learn more about John Varley and be exposed to a nice cross section of his work, this book is worth a read.
Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code by Eoin Colfer
My son first read the Artemis Fowl books and enjoyed them, so I started getting them on CD to listen to on long drives and I have found them thoroughly enjoyable. Although they may be considered “children’s literature”, they are well written, creative stories that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. This is book three in the series. Artemis is a rich boy genius who masterminds grand plans of international crime and intrigue. He manages to discover “the people”, magical fairies and goblins who live deep under the earth’s surface. At first they are mortal enemies, but as the stories continue they gain mutual respect for each other and learn to work together against common enemies.
Making Money by Terry Pratchett
Another excellent installment from Terry Pratchett’s world of Discworld. This book follows the continuing exploits of Moist Von Lipwig whom we got to know in Going Postal. Having successfully reinventing Ankh Morpork’s utterly failed postal system, he is now maneuvered in to overhauling their failing banking system. It is always a pleasant surprise to me how Pratchett can produce so many Discworld books without ever becoming at all boring or repetitive. I find Moist Von Lipwig to be one of my favorite Discworld characters, the gentleman con artist led by instinct and wit, relieving greedy people of their money.
Saint Vidicon to the Rescue by Christopher Stasheff
I am sorry to admit I only made it through the first half of this book. I hate to give up on a book without finishing it, but I found I just didn’t have the patience to wade through this shallow repetitive story while I had so many other great books waiting in my to-read list. I found the writing style to be simple and uninspired and the overall plot to be a tedious, long, drawn out hashing of a simple pretense. I can see it was trying to mix the holy texts of the Catholic cult with a modern computer tech culture, but it just didn’t click. It could have been a fun short story, but there just wasn’t enough meat for a novel. When I come across a book like this it always makes me further appreciate the true talents of writers like Tom Holt, Robert Rankin, Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett who have mastered the “wacky fantasy” genre without becoming tedious.
The Robots of Dawn by Isaac Asimov.
This is the third book in his robot trilogy and is again a great combination of the science fiction and mystery genres. The main character, Elijah Baley, whom we got to know in the first two books is off into space again to solve another murder mystery, this time to the planet Aurora. Aurora lies somewhere between Earth and Solaris on the sociological spectrum. It combines the lower population density and ample use of robots of Solaris, with the social interactions and personal relationships of earth. The victim is a robot, which makes the crime not technically a murder, but the circumstances are entwined with global and galactic politics. Baley is summoned to duty and given no choice but to accept, and the future of not only his career but of earth itself rests on his success. Baley gets to team up with his old partner R. Daneel Olivaw, and must use every bit of his cleverness to unwrap the mystery. Similar to the last book, The Naked Sun, he is presented with only one suspect who could have committed the crime, and the assertion that that suspect could not have committed the crime. He has been conditioning himself to face the Outside and is not as crippled by his agoraphobia, but faces a new personal challenge when faced with his first experience with being outside during a thunderstorm.
When I started this series I commented on the apparent differences between Asimov and Heinlein’s writing style, but I found this book to actually be much more similar to Heinlein’s style than either of the other two books in the series had been. The Robots of Dawn was actually written 30 some years after The Naked Sun and it is apparent that Asimov’s style changed over that time. The text is full of long intricate conversations between sharp individuals engaging in a kind verbal fencing to outmaneuver each other, which is a style I had previously associated more with Heinlein. While the intriguing mystery held my attention, the long-winded dialog did get a little tiresome at points. Overall, I am very glad I finally got around to reading this classic trilogy and get to know Elijah Baley and the esteemed R. Daneel Olivaw.
The Naked Sun by Issac Asimov
Elijah Baley is off on another murder investigation involving robots. This time he has to leave earth and head to the planet Solaris, where through generations of isolation and social conditioning human nature has been turned on its head (compared to earth). Where, on earth modern people live in dense population centers in close quarters to other people and never ever venture outside, most having never seen the sun or open sky, on Solaris, the population size is strictly regulated and people live on huge individual estates in isolation from others. Through use of 3D tele-viewing systems people never have to actually be in the physical presence of another and have grown to be terrified of actually seeing each other in person. Also, unlike the earth population which has shunned the use of robots in jobs involving humans, the Solarians each employ dozens of personal servant robots to meet their every need. Elijah is forced to reconcile these great differences as he struggles with his own debilitating discomfort of being outdoors, and the Solarians’ great anxiety of seeing him in person. This book is a both a murder mystery and sociological study of human nature (and nurture). I noticed that the Elijah Baley character seems to have matured some from the first book, Caves of Steel, and frequently seems to be more in charge of his behavior. After finishing this, I am jumping right in to the third book of the trilogy, Robots of Dawn.
Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov. I decided to read this book after a friendly commenter suggested the addition of R. Daneel Olivaw to my list of favorite robots. As with most of Asimov’s works this is a well written fiction that takes place in earth’s future. It is a murder mystery as well as science fiction. The main character, Elijah Baley, is a plain-clothed detective in New York city assigned to solve the politically charged murder of a top robotics expert in “Space City”, where the only inhabitants are humans from other worlds, and robots. After earth colonized other planets, the inhabitants of those colonies decided to become separate and independent of earth and over time evolved into a very different society where populations are low, the use of robots is embraced and a lack of natural immunity to disease makes them fear earth people and their germs. While robots are used on earth for mining and farming, their use in the city around people is slow to be accepted with many people distrustful and angry about people losing their jobs to robots. With the earth’s population topping 8 billion, cities have become massive enclosed population centers with strict rationing and social ranking. Most people have never been outdoors and seen the natural sky, sunlight or non-airconditioned air and are naturally somewhat agoraphobic, a lifestyle eluded to in the title. The countryside between cities is occupied only by robots who work the farms and mines. Not an attractive future in my opinion. Like Asimov’s I Robot stories which came before, this book deals a lot with human robot interaction issues and Asimov’s three laws of robotoics.
I think I may have the tendency to mix up Asimov’s writing with that of Robert Heinlein in my head sometimes due to the similar time periods they wrote, and the similar reality based, future earth, science fiction style they used. Having read of a lot of Heinlein recently some of the differences stood out while reading this book. Even though Asimov is also known for writing science non-fiction works, I find his fiction contains less of the science lesson factoids so common with Heinlein. I also notice that Asimov’s characters are often more fallible and human, as opposed to Heinlein’s tendency to depict highly effective, rational and clever characters. Elijah Baley is frequently very emotional and makes some irrational decisions based on those emotions, but in the end puts the pieces together cleverly to solve the mystery. I would guess his emotional behavior serves to accentuate the contrast of his emotionless and logical partner, Robot Daneel Olivaw. One similarity to Heinlein is his believable descriptions of future advancements in engineering and technology. I particularly liked his transport system which involved rows of moving conveyor belts, each row moving slightly faster than the next. In the center is a continuously moving transport vehicle. People can easily step onto the outer slowest belt, then work their way inward accelerating more at each level until they are moving at 60mph, the same as the transport vehicles, and can step into the vehicle easily. For shorter distances they can just choose a middle speed belt and ride it to their destination. Reminds me of the moving belts used at Disneyland to allow people to step onto ride cars without the ride having to stop.
Overall I enjoyed this book quite a bit, and by the time I have gotten around to writing this, I am already half way through The Naked Sun, the next book in the robot trilogy.
Rainbow Mars by Larry Niven.
It is the year 1108 AE (Atomic Era, starting in 1945 with the first atomic explosion). In this post industrial age almost all plant and animal life has been driven to extinction by the poisons of industry in the air and water, leaving only the humans who were able to adapt to the pollution, and the farmed yeast they live on. Waldemar the Eleventh is the new Secretary-General, the latest in the line of monarchy of leaders of the United Nations. Waldemar the Tenth liked extinct animals, Waldemar the Eleventh likes planets and the stars, and they say he is not a mental deficient (unlike Waldemar the Tenth who was 26, but whose inbred family had left him with the intelligence of a 6 year old). Hanille Svetz, an agent for the Institute of Temporal Research, no longer being sent into the past to find extinct animals, is now assigned to travel to Mars’ past, when canals were observed on the planets surface, and find Martian life. They find much more life than they expected, including a giant tree extending from the planet’s surface into space. As usual, the mission does not end up going the way it was planned. They end up in earth’s own past struggling to make it back to the present, and then to restore the time line they knew.
This book was a little hard for me to get in to at first, as the writing style is so drastically different than the Heinlein and Varley I have been reading recently. It seemed somewhat less smooth, and the temporal jumps and paradoxes left me struggling to follow it at times, but the overall premise was interesting enough to keep me going. They use ‘extension cages’ to travel in time. The cage itself is just the vehicle attached to the time machine which stays in the present time. The arm between the two “fades off in a direction the human eye can’t follow”. Time travel is still somewhat difficult and very expensive and is reserved for satisfying the whims of the current leader. Post industrial humans have evolved to breath the polluted atmosphere, and now cannot breathe pre-industrial air as it does not have enough carbon dioxide in it to trigger their body’s autonomic breathing mechanism and they just forget to breathe. They use a filter hood over their head which passes the needed gases in the needed ratios for them to breath in the past, or in a martian atmosphere.
After the main story ends, this books includes several stand alone chapters covering the earlier exploits of Svetz, which were eluded to in the main story line. With tidbits of incomplete information from ancient children’s books, he goes to recover extinct animals from the past, often ending up with something which was not exactly what he went looking for. These actually helped fill in a lot details for me and in some ways I enjoyed them as much if not more than the rest of the book, or at least they increased my enjoyment of the main story. I am not sure, but I almost think these should have come first.
Even though I was not so sure in the beginning, by the end I ended up enjoying this book quite a bit, although I am not going to run out and find more books by Larry Niven to read. I think he might be best known for his Ringworld series.
Rolling Thunder by John Varley
As I finished the third Varley book in the Red Thunder, Red Lightening, Rolling Thunder Trilogy I was wishing there was a fourth. His writing is intelligent and his characters are complex and interesting. This one picks up with the daughter, Podkayne, of Ray from Red Lightening, and the granddaughter of Manny from Red Thunder. It follows her adventures in the Martian Navy Music Corps as she get caught up in new dangers unfolding on Europa. The comparison to Robert Heinlein is just as valid in this book as the previous. Like some of Heinlein’s works this book has large sections with very little story developments and instead just shares the thoughts and feelings of the main character while educating the reader about planets, gravity and space travel trivia. At times all the factoids can come across as the author showing off his knowledge (or research more likely) but overall it works well and when the story does pick up it goes in a major way. Also like Heinlein, Varley can’t resist a few good jabs at organized religion, making fun of the rapurists who pop up every time there is a major disaster. I also got a good chuckle out of Podkayne’s take on intelligent design while explaining why she doesn’t want to have kids with an imaginary conversation with her vagina:
ME: Babies are so cute!
MS V: Honey, you need to get a tape measure. Measure me, then measure a baby’s head. Then … you do the math
Not a pretty picture. In Homeland America there is an accepted church dogma called “intelligent design”. […] And if you need another example, tell me why a human baby should be expected to emerge from an opening that can’t accommodate a lemon without discomfort. Design maybe, but not intelligent. If that was God’s intent, then God is a dunce.
This book didn’t wrap up nice and neat, as the main character even admits many stories do, but is still satisfying in it’s conclusion. There is definitely lots and lots of open doors for a next book.
Rocket Ship Galileo by Robert Heinlein
I decided to return to the source while waiting for the next Varley book to come in interlibrary loan. This was a fun read, but seemed to lack in some depth and complexity after the excellent Varley books. I can certainly see the great similarities that lead people to comment that Red Thunder inspired by this book. Although even with Heinlein excellent science content in his science fiction, it seems to be showing its age.
Red Lightning by John Varley
This was an excellent sequel to Red Thunder, picking up the story with the main characters son, now a resident of Mars. This one really pulled me in quick and held me. His descriptions of a tsunami ravaged Florida was gripping and utterly believable in the context of Katrina ravaged New Orleans. It was one of those fun reads that left me wishing their was more when I reached the end. Again, his vision of the near future technology and politics is compelling and believable, complete with low gravity sex and drugs.
Red Thunder by John Varley
I had not yet discovered John Varley when I came across his name on BoingBoing where they called his new books “tributes to the golden age of Heinlein’s juvenile sf novels.” Being a fan of Heinlein’s work I gave Red Thunder a try and was not disappointed. It does read a lot like Heinlein with lots good science and tech details and some good believable near future inventions. Even though it may be like Heinlein’s “juvenile” sf books, and my 9 year old son read and enjoyed Have Space Suit Will Travel, I decided that this book contains just a little too much sex and violence for him to read. Overall I recommend the book and have requested the next in the series from the library and I have also dug up a copy of Rocket Ship Galileo to read soon.
Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams
My son is reading this series and when he brought up details I had forgotten I realized how very long it had been since I had read them. Always worth another read.
Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett
There is a curse. They say: May you live in interesting times. Poor Rincewind the ‘Wizzard’ just wants to be left alone and live a quiet life, but adventure always seems to find him. Once again he is called upon to be the unwilling hero.
Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett
“Even with nougat, you can have the perfect moment”. And of course, never forget Rule Number One!
2007 was a pretty good year for me in terms of books. I discovered some great old Robert Heinlein and finally cracked the discworld nut (tip – don’t worry about trying to read them in order). I read 22 novels, while keeping up with several magazines (Popular Science , Discover , Smithsonian, SERVO and Funny Times) and 5 or 6 very active blogs. Not setting any records, I know. I am sure my nine year old son has read much more, but still pretty good for me and certainly more books than I have read in some other years of my life.
Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
Another excellent discworld novel. This one is perhaps notable as the only one (that I am aware of) that has been adapted into a (rather well done) movie (The Hogfather). A satire on Christmas and other folk traditions and beliefs like the tooth fairy. It was interesting to me how it portrayed DEATH as such a sympathetic character.
Where Is Joe Merchant? A Novel Tale by Jimmy Buffett
This is a somewhat fun action / mystery story by the popular singer Jimmy Buffett. I particularly enjoyed the heavy aviation and Caribbean lifestyle themes. I recognized a lot of the island names and foods and music referenced in the text. At first I found the prose a little bit forced, almost sounded like reading lyrics at some points, but as I went on and the complexity of the story continued to increase I found myself really enjoying it. It is one of those novels that jumps around between different characters in different places and eventually pulls you in to the suspense of how all the different story lines will converge in the end. Overall a fun enjoyable read.
I sought out this book after watching the movie The Last Mimzy and I wanted to read the original story it was based on and others by the same author, Henry Kuttner. The original story is actually called “Mimzy were the Borogroves” and I think it is kind of unfortunate that they named this collection the same as the movie to capitalize on the name recognition, it actually made it harder to find the book since the movie kept coming up in my library searches. These are some interesting science fiction stories, some of which are kind of dark in nature, and many of which share very similar themes of some other-worldly / future influence changing peoples life, and the friend psychologist who offers his expert opinions on human nature. A definite read for someone who wants to understand the important influences on many modern science fiction writers, but a bit dreary and repetitive if considered on its own merit.
The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett
We learn about Dwarvin culture and heritage as Vimes heads to Uberwald on a diplomatic mission.
The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett
This one was a bit slower, lot of narrative description and less action, but still overall another good discworld book. Loved the druidic stone computer.
Thursday Next: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde
Thursday is back for more adventures! This one is a little different, being about the ‘real’ Thursday Next about which all the previous books were written. She was not happy with how she was portrayed at times, and has to deal with trouble from her fictional self.
Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett
More fun adventures with Tiffany Aching and the Nac Mac Feegles
The Cat Who Walks Through Walls by Robert Heinlein
I enjoyed this book more than “Sail Beyond Sunset”, the previous Heinlien book I read, even though it was similar in a lot of ways. It had the same main character, but had more of a plot driven story line and only occasionally lapsed into the lists of family names and relations that got so boring to read.
by Terry Pratchett
To Sail Beyond Sunset by Robert Heinlein
This one was a bit of a challenge for me to read all the way through. Although it starts with action, in the future, it quickly becomes a memoir of the main characters life through the 20th century. It often becomes rather slow and tedious with lots of names, dates and places that I could not always keep track of. It does have some of Heinleins telling social commentary, and eventually gets more interesting. It should also be noted that it contains an unusually large amount of discussions of the characters sexual activity. No real steamy stuff, but everything from innocent teen exploration through marital bliss and on to adultery and incest is discussed repeatedly. Surprisingly it just got a little old after a while. Random Numbers is a great name for a cat though.
A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett
The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
The mac nac feegles and Tiffany Aching are some of my favorite discworld characters.
Going Postal by Terry Pratchett. while I have always been a little wary of the rabid fan base of Discworld books, I have to admit I am starting to warm up to them. Pratchett does a good job creating an “other world” which is almost, but not quite our world. Just familiar enough to be comfortable, just different enough to be interesting.
by Douglas Coupland. Interesting to read something so new, really grabbed it somewhat randomly of the shelf after the lego figures on the cover caught my eye. Quite a bit of techno geek lingo and cubicle culture stuff. Most the tech stuff makes sense, some of it is complete nonsense. Also includes quite a bit of gratuitous filler pages with long lists of numbers, random tech jargon and stuff. Story was interesting, funny how the author included himself in the storyline. He seems a bit over pleased with his cleverness at times, but overall a fun read.
Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul by Douglas Adams
Douglas Adams is of course one of the best humor science fiction writers of our times, but if you have not read any of his books outside of the Hitchhikers Guide series (namely Dirk Gently books), then you are missing some really good stuff.
“… once she had recovered from the shock of discovering that virtually everything the human race had ever chosen to believe in was true. Or that it continued to be true long after the human race particularly need it to be true any more.”
“Immortals are what you wanted,” said Thor in low, quiet voice. “Immortals are what you got. It is a little hard on us. You wanted us to be forever, so we are forever. Then you forget about us. But we are still forever. Now at last, many are dead, many dying,” he then added in a quiet voice, “but it takes a special effort.”
Easy Travel To Other Planets – by Ted Mooney
Not about traveling to other planets. May be about breaking the communication barrier between humans and dolphins, a new “information sickness” disease, and the dawn of a new emotion on mankind. More surely about people, relationships, learning to accept the past and coming to grips with your future. “I’ve tried and tried and tried to understand, but sometimes a person just never comes back.”
Snuff Fiction – by Robert Rankin
Snow White and the Seven Samurai by Tom Holt
Revolt in 2100 & Methuselah’s Children by Robert A. Heinlein
This book impressed me more with Heinleins genius than anything of his I have read before. I did not know when I started this book (which contains the 2 separate books in one) that it is actually the third volume in his “Future History” series, but it stood well on its own. He has written many stories that take place in different times and places with different characters, but which all share the same future historical time line of major historical figures and events. I thought this book did a great job of combining the insightful social commentary of (the sometimes slow) “Stranger in Strange Land” with the basic plot driven storyline of (the sometimes simple) “Have Spacesuit Will Travel”. He examines a future America which has turned into a dictatorship theocracy, and the growing revolution to overthrow it. Two favorite quotes:
I believe very strongly in freedom of religion – but I think that freedom is best expressed as freedom to keep quiet. From my point of view a great deal of openly expressed piety is insufferable conceit.
“I began to sense faintly that secrecy is the keystone of all tyranny. Not force but secrecy… Censorship. When any government, or any church for that matter undertakes to say to its subjects, “this you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know”, the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, no the rack, not fission bombs, not anything – you can’t conquer a free man, the most you can do is kill him.”
I Know You Got Soul by Jeremy Clarkson
A fun little read read from the Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear fame. In this book Clarkson gives a subjective, somewhat self indulgent treatise on certain machines through history that he feels have “soul”. His choices range from steam ships to the space shuttle and often include choices which he admits have many flaws, but it is often those flaws which add to their unique character. Includes a lot of interesting historical factoids.
Only Human by Tom Holt
Another irreverent wild romp by Tom Holt. When God and his son J get away for a little fishing trip, his other lesser known son Kevin decides to have a go at Mainframe, the computer which God uses to run the world. He soon finds him self in over his head on a system designed only to be used by omnipotent users; with a unlabeled keyboard and an instruction manual that would not presume to tell such a user what to do. We follow several separate story lines of characters whose lives have suddenly changed for some unknown reason, as the souls of people, machines, animals and even a painting exchange places with each other. This continues to get stranger as the story progresses and the story lines merge. A crazy fun read.
Have Spacesuit-Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein
I thought I would try another Heinlein. This one was lighter and easier to read than Stranger in a Strange Land, more plot driven with a good story line that moves along quickly. At times it seems like a “young adult” book, maybe because the main character is a teenager. Written in 1958, it is not clear when it is supposed to take place and offers a kind of “future is not what it used to be” take on science and engineering – they have a moon colony, but use slide rules (trusty “slip stick”) and the main character works as a soda jerk. Fun read overall.
The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse by Robert Rankin
This book is quite a bit different from Rankin’s Brentford stories and I found it to be one of his best I have read so far. The quirky nursery rhyme connections reminded me a lot of Jasper Fford’s stuff, although his treatment was handled differently. Good stuff all around!
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
A science fiction classic which I for some reason only recently discovered. Although I found the slow progression of the story line frustrating at times, I can see why this was a cult hit. The examination of big government, organized religion, free love and the mankind’s failure to live up to his potential is compelling stuff.
Snow Blind by P. J. Tracy
The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde
Fairy Brewhaha At The Lucky Nickel Saloon by Ken Rand
A fun pretense which would have been better as short story. Definitely got tedious at times. Made me appreciate even more the true skill of Rankin and Holt in writing not repetitive wacky prose.
A Shortcut in Time by Charles Dickinson
A very enjoyable story. What if key moments in your life happened differently, how would your life have turned out – somethings worse, but maybe somethings better.
The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents By Terry Pratchett
Only You Can Save Mankind (Johnny Maxwell Trilogy, 1.) by Terry Pratchett
Pattern Recognition by William Gibson
by Robert Rankin
by Robert Rankin
by Robert Rankin
Sprouts of Wrath (F) by Rankin and Robert Rankin
by Robert Rankin
Expecting Someone Taller by Tom Holt
Flying Dutch (A Thomas Dunne Book) by Tom Holt
Ye Gods — by Tom Holt
Monkeewrench by P. J. Tracy
A fun high tech thriller – mystery set in Minnesota.
Live Bait — by P. J. Tracy
Dead Run by P. J. Tracy
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Happened upon this one by accident on the library new books shelf. I enjoyed it immensely. Henry De Tamble is a Chicago librarian with “Chrono Displacement” disorder which causes him to time travel spontaneously, involuntary at random moments, leading to intriguing paradoxes. Only his body travels though, leaving him naked and penniless wherever he arrives. A science fiction story, a love story, a character study.
“He first met his wife, Clare, when he was 28 and she was 20. She ran up to him exclaiming that she’d known him all her life. He, however, had never seen her before. But when he reaches his 40s, already married to Clare, he suddenly finds himself time travelling to Clare’s childhood and meeting her as a 6-year-old”
The Eyre Affair — by Jasper Fforde
Lost in a Good Book (Thursday Next Novels) by Jasper Fforde
The Well of Lost Plots (Thursday Next Series) by Jasper Fforde
Something Rotten (Thursday Next Novels) by Jasper Fforde
The Big Over Easy : A Nursery Crime — by Jasper Fforde
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel by Susanna Clarke
Sometimes billed as Harry Potter for adults this book was deep, enthralling and amazing. A group of high society English gentlemen who study “magic” as a hobby discover that is all very real. A wonderful read that left me peeking out the corner of my eye for bits of magic around me in the real world.
Monsieur Pamplemousse : A Gastronomic Mystery by Michael Bond
The Pamplemousse books are fun mysteries packed with appreciation for fine french cuisine. Even though I do not consider myself a “foodie” I found these all very enjoyable, and I think they would be an extra treat for the kind of person who can’t walk past a restaurant window without peaking at the menu in the window.
Monsieur Pamplemousse & the Secret Mission by Michael Bond
Monsieur Pamplemousse Takes the Cure by Michael Bond
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
Douglas Adams at his finest. If you have only read his Hitchhikers guide books, give yourself a treat and check out the Dirk Gently books.
Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
Nine tomorrows;: Tales of the near future by Isaac Asimov
Banquets of the Black Widowers by Isaac Asimov
The Year Before Yesterday: A Novel in Three Acts by Brian Wilson Aldiss
MILLENNIUM by Ben Bova