SF Book Bonanza – Getcher Meme On!

NPR has released its Top 100 SF books list. Some damned good stuff on here! Also some things I tried to read and decided after a few pages were not worth continuing *coughswordofshananacough*. I felt the overwhelming need to go through and put the one’s I’ve read in bold. It’s a meme sorta thing – wanna do the same? Grab the list off NPR and go! Bung a link in the comments so we can all peruse.

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
3. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert
5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
6. 1984, by George Orwell
7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov
9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan
13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson
15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore
16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss
19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
22. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King
24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
25. The Stand, by Stephen King
26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
28. Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman
30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams
33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein
35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller
36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne
38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys
39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells
40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny
41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings
42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson
44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven
45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien
47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White
48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
49. Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke
50. Contact, by Carl Sagan
51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
54. World War Z, by Max Brooks
55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson
59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett
61. The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind
63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist
67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks
68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard
69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
70. The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne
73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore
74. Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi
75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson
76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke
77. The Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey
78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson
82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks
84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher
87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn
89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan
90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock
91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge
94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov
95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson
96. Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville
99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony
100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

This they whittled down from a list of 237 finalists. As some of my favorite books are on that Finalist list, but didn’t make the magic 100, I shall include them here:

Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman
The Baroque Cycle, by Neal Stephenson
Bridge Of Birds, by Barry Hughart
The Coldfire Trilogy, by C.S. Friedman
The Eyes Of The Dragon, by Stephen King
The Incarnations Of Immortality Series, by Piers Anthony
Memory And Dream, by Charles de Lint
The Sarantine Mosaic Series, by Guy Gavriel Kay
Song for the Basilisk, by Patricia McKillip
Tigana , by Guy Gavriel Kay
To Say Nothing Of The Dog, by Connie Willis
Wild Seed, by Octavia Butler

Some of those books really deserve more recognition than they got. But then, I’m pretty partial.

Subterranean Homesick Blues, Here I Come!

I just got my package of books from Wayne Ranney.  (Actually, I probably got them a week ago, but I’ve only just now checked the mail.)  You know what this means, don’t you?

Pain, that’s what.

You see, Wayne’s a wonderful writer, and he’s got all of Arizona’s delicious geology to go play in, and these books will be filled with all of the places I used to ramble through for the first three decades of my life.  I shall love them.  But you can expect the occasional sentimental post arising from them, because they’ll remind me how much I miss ye olde home state (although not its government).  We’ll be taking some rambles through Arizona’s spectacular landforms, guided by Wayne and a few others, in the months to come.

While you’re waiting for me to get round to it, you can go visit Wayne’s blog, where he has a spectacular post up on the Esplanade Platform:

Far away from the main tourist areas in Grand Canyon lies a huge wilderness of stone and space. It is silent beyond belief and seldom visited. Within this huge expanse lies the Esplanade Platform, a stunning landscape feature that is found only in the central and western portions of the canyon. The Esplanade forms a broad terrace positioned about a fourth of the way down in the canyon, where the Hermit Formation overlies the Esplanade Sandstone. The Esplanade thus creates a canyon within a canyon. Geologists have long been intrigued by the presence of the Esplanade Platform in Grand Canyon and many theories have been proposed to explain its origin. Did the Colorado River carve it during a period of erosional quiescence, as some say? Or did it form in response to the canyon’s variable stratigraphy? I explored these questions on a recent trip to the Esplanade. From February 10 to 16 I was privileged to backpack with two other friends here. This is our story.

And it’s illustrated.  Lavishly.  So get thee to Wayne’s place and enjoy.

Why I Won’t Own a Kindle

No matter what my stepmother says about how awesome it is, a Kindle will not darken my door until certain issues are resolved.  Namely (h/t):

Having learned all this, I went along and had a closer look at the current Kindle License Agreement. There is some simply petrifying stuff on there. For starters, you don’t “own” Kindle books, you’re basically renting them.

Unless otherwise specified, Digital Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider.

They can change the software on you whenever they like:

Automatic Updates. In order to keep your Software up-to-date, Amazon may automatically provide your Kindle or Other Device with updates/upgrades to the Software.

That is how a totalitarian state would go about confiscating books, if they wanted to. There is nothing in this agreement to stop Amazon from modifying the Kindle software to make it impossible for you to read any of your own files on the device. Such a step is not actually forbidden to them by this agreement; they are under no obligation to protect any data you might be storing on there. That’s not to say that there aren’t laws at least in some states that might allow you to sue for damages; I’m just saying, there isn’t any promise made by Amazon to protect your data or preserve its readability.
They can also change the terms of the deal or simply shut down Kindle service entirely, anytime they like:

Changes to Service. We may modify, suspend, or discontinue the Service, in whole or in part, at any time.

Or they might decide to shut your account down:

Termination. Your rights under this Agreement will automatically terminate if you fail to comply with any term of this Agreement. In case of such termination, you must cease all use of the Software, and Amazon may immediately revoke your access to the Service or to Digital Content without refund of any fees. Amazon’s failure to insist upon or enforce your strict compliance with this Agreement will not constitute a waiver of any of its rights.

Keep in mind these are your books that you bought or collected. Can you imagine a bookseller or publisher asserting rights over the contents of your bookshelves in your house? That’s basically what we’re talking about, here. 

There’s much more at the link.  Sticking with paper, thank you so very much, at least until giving money to an enterprise for a book means I get to keep the damned thing no matter what.

Sometimes, To Read is To Write

When it’s research, it counts, damn it.  And I’m counting Written in Stone as research.  It’s got bits on equine evolution I’ve needed for years

It’s mine.  My own.  My precious Written in Stone.  And I’m going to spend the next two nights reading it, damn it.

Good thing for you lot that I had a few posts ready to go, then, isn’t it?  😉

Give Someone a Good Scare

So, Neil Gaiman’s started a new Halloween tradition I can definitely get behind: All Hallow’s Read.  Give someone a scary book today.

Look, I know it’s already Halloween.  That’s no excuse.  The bookstores are open.  You’ve got five minutes.  Just do it.

Now to think up something scary to give.  Romance novel?  Something from the self-help section?  Glenn Beck’s latest – ah, no, I want my friends to survive the fright, and preferably without projectile vomiting.  But maybe a little something by …. Richard Simmons.

Mwa-ha ha!

In Which I Tell You About That Time I Read the Koran

George has this habit of making me think.  Last night, he voiced every thought I wish I had the eloquence to voice on the whole Koran-burning-pastor kerfluffle.  If you haven’t read it, go now and do so.

Sums it up rather wonderfully.  And then, there’s his promised response, Protesting Xenophobic Ignorance.   Yes!  That’s how it’s done!  Counterpoint to useless drivel, beautifully-delivered, and without hyperventilation.  Now, if only the religious folk would learn how to react so productively, we might have a dialogue going, and might even enjoy doing it – even when we point and laugh at each other.  Far better than overheated threats of violence and/or howls of “Help!  Help!  I’m being repressed because these people don’t agree with me!”

So, that, together with PZ’s take, pretty much sums up my feelings on the matter.  Besides, if the First Amendment’s to mean anything, some outrageous idiot has the perfect right to burn mass-produced copies of a book on their own property.  Hell, Christians do it to Harry Potter all the time, and I sincerely hope they’ll do me the same favor.  Might I suggest marshmallows with that religious frenzy?  Seems a waste of a good fire otherwise.

Anyway.  Due to the fact I had to be at work for twelve fucking hours today, I missed the whole Koran-reading thing.  That’s not to say I haven’t read many bits of the Koran, and actually appreciated several.  I’ll cannibalize anything for inspiration, thee knows.  Back in the days when I had a desk, I used to have the self-same edition George was reading sitting by the computer.  When I got blocked, I’d have a good flip through its pages until something caught my eye.  And I thought I’d share some of those moments for Day-After-Read-a-Koran Day.

Wanna know how an atheist finds inspiration in religious literature?  Then read on.  There’s even some religious conflict!

Ah, good, the gang’s all here.  Shall try not to bore you.

I have one completed novel under my belt, written when I was mightily annoyed at the soggy knights-in-tarnished-armor being trotted out as antiheroes at the time.  Alas, it’s set close to the end of the series I intend to write, so its dawn upon the world stage shall have to wait.  In medias res is one thing, but that would be taking the concept a bit far.  Because I write horribly out-of-sequence, and furthermore needed to know where things ended up in order to know where they should begin, I jumped to events arising out of that novel, and ran into two characters I’m going to enjoy foisting upon the literary stage someday.  One is the main evil human dude, and then there’s his accomplice, who practically worships him.  Worships for a good reason, as this passage from the Koran so eloquently captures:

From Daylight:

By the light of day, and by the dark of night, your Lord has not forsaken you, nor does He abhor you.

The life to come holds a richer prize for you than this present life.  You shall be gratified by what your Lord will give you.

Did He not find you an orphan and give you shelter?
Did He not find you in error and guide you?
Did He not find you poor and enrich you?

When I stumbled upon that, it led to much fruitful exploring of the relationship between these two characters, and the conflicts and plot twists that arise from it.  And yes, our poor dear worshiper was literally plucked from an orphanage by a lord – in this case, a Duke – which is why that passage caught my eye.

I have a short story collection planned, to be entitled Cautionary Tales.  The stories span the time and space of my story universe, which is a lot of territory.  What binds them together is the theme of mistakes, hence the title.  And wouldn’t you know it?  The Koran has the perfect title quote:

Cautionary tales, profound in wisdom, have been narrated to them: but warnings are unavailing.

I’ll take it!

There’s some fantastic end-of-days-doom-and-destruction bits in the Koran, ripe pickings for the dire stuff.  I have an entire sequence built around three quotes:

The Cessation

When the heavens shall be stripped bare, when Hell shall be set blazing, when Paradise shall be brought near; then each soul shall know what it has done.


…each soul shall know what it has done and what it has failed to do.


Whither then are you going?

Now, you’ll just have to trust me that these fragments work wonderfully well in context, because right now the context is in dire need of a good revision.  But the three perfectly capture a person balanced on the edge of a critical decision, and I love them for that.

I’ve noticed that most religious texts have bits and pieces which, when polished and placed in a new setting, sparkle very prettily.  And in historical context, some of the less-beautiful bits can shine as well.  Take this one:

When the sun shall be darkened,
When the stars shall be thrown down,
When the mountains shall be set moving,
When the pregnant camels shall be neglected,
When the savage beasts shall be mustered,
When the seas shall be set alight,
When the infant girl buried alive shall be asked
for what crime she has been slain,
When the records of men’s deeds shall be laid open,
When the heavens shall be stripped bare,
When Hell shall be set blazing,
When paradise shall be brought near,
Then each soul shall know what it has done.

My Islamic Civ professor noted that in ancient Arabia, it was terribly common for female infants to be exposed.  No value in a girl.  Mohammed frowned on that practice.  She explained that, as repressive as the Koran seems toward women, it was actually a vast improvement over how women were treated in those days.  She also taught Women’s Issues, so although I haven’t fully explored the context myself and a quick read through Wikipedia’s entry suggests a mixed bag, I’ll provisionally take her word for it.  That’s not to say Islam hasn’t stagnated and even backslid in the women’s rights department – it has, and rather severely.  But at least the Koran advised that murdering babies just because they’re not your preferred gender isn’t a righteous practice.  I’ll grant it that.

(Not surprising that Mohammed showed a wee bit more respect toward women than the culture at large tended to at the time.  His first wife was a businesswoman, and one gets the impression she wouldn’t take any shit.  He certainly didn’t risk having multiple wives until she was safely dead.  From what I’ve read of her, I wouldn’t have fucked with her, either.)

The above-quoted passage led to the religious conflict I enticed you with.  A long, long time ago in a workplace far, far away, I’d gone a bit wild with my new color printer and made up a couple of pages to hang at my desk.  One contained that passage; another contained a few quotes from the Tao Te Ching (chapters 2 and 14, if you’re interested), and a third a poem by Neil Gaiman .  During a hiring frenzy, before they ordered new cubicles, it came to pass that we had to share desks: one early and one late person per desk.  And a mystery materialized: when I came in every afternoon, my lovely little hangings were all crooked, and they were developing new tack holes in their corners.  ZOMG WTF??

A coworker explained that when my deskmate came in, she’d spend the first few minutes of her shift busily removing the art from my half of the desk, and the last bit of her shift putting it back up willy-nilly.  So I left her a note: please stop doing that.  Next thing I know, I’m in a conference room with the call center director, my supervisor, and the deskmate, who is slathered in crosses.  She’d called the meeting because she just couldn’t take it anymore.  Those icky horrid quotes from other religions threatened her Christian faith.  She babbled on and on about how very scared they made her.

Oh, yes, you may laugh.  I couldn’t.  I was staring down the barrel of some serious management-power.  After a few moments of stunned silence, in which my supervisor watched me with attentive interest, the call center director looked vaguely worried, and the deskmate looked like she was about to shit herself in fear (sheet-white and shaking she was), I finally said, “So why don’t you just bring in your own poster to cover them up?  You can even use magnets.  There’s a metal strip up there.”

My supervisor nearly passed out.  She’d been holding her breath, you see, because if she’d breathed, she would’ve been screaming with laughter.

The next day, I came in to an enormous, gawdawful Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul poem dangling over my offending art.  Management pulled me in later to advise just how very grown up and diplomatic I was, and thanked me for finding an equitable solution for all.  And yes, we all giggled a bit.  Well, the whole situation had been patently ridiculous.

To this day, if there was one text I would gladly burn, it would be that horrific offense against poetry.  But as I hadn’t bought the poster myself, I refrained from taking it outside for a smoke, though every literature-appreciating coworker begged me to.  That thing caused more angst in the call center than my little bits ever had.  If I ever run across a copy of it for sale, it is Bonfire Day at the Hunter household. 

Bring marshmallows.  I’ll pony up the chocolate and graham crackers.  For it is written, “When life hands you mass-produced ‘literature’ actually worth burning, make s’mores.”

*Update: See this post on Mohammed and Women’s Rights for a good discussion as to why historical context doesn’t mean jack diddly in the modern context.

The Poetry and Prose of Ellen Morris Bishop

One of my favorite science writers is Ellen Morris Bishop.  She wrote In Search of Ancient Oregon, which I’ve lavished much-deserved praise on here and cannot recommend highly enough.  If I could personally grab each of you by the lapels, give you a good shake, and scream “Buy this book!” in your faces, I’d do it.  You’ll also need a copy of Hiking Oregon’s Geology, dog owners need Best Hikes with Dogs: Oregon, and she’s got a Field Guide to Pacific Northwest Geology on the way.

She doesn’t update her blog often, alas – in fact, last I’d checked, there’d been no activity since 2008.  Silly me, I assumed that was that.  But I dropped by there the other night on the off chance that maybe, possibly, things might have changed, and there are two new posts!  Well, posts from summer 2010, anyway.  New enough, damn it!

I wish I’d known about “Energy and Entropy” when the BP oil spill was still leading the news, but better late than never, especially when a scientist takes on the laws of thermodynamics to explain why we need to get serious about green energy.  Here’s a taste:

We can re-order things now by plugging the well. Period. And we can continue the rest of the system pretty much as-is. Not a lot of energy. Not much change. But also, according to thermodynamics, it will take a minimal amount of energy dysfunction to once again slip into chaos. If we continue offshore drilling without re-ordering our processes and priorities, if we invest minimal political and physical energy in fixing the system, then we will live with chaos on our doorstep. That’s not my opinion. It’s thermodynamics.

Or we can truly change the system. Energize a whole new order to energy and our use of it. It is in these convective overturns of an existing system where new orders are established and, for a time, entropy is driven back. This is an opportune moment to demonstrate mastery of the Second Law.

Once you’re done with that, there’s a poem for ye.   It’s one of those poems that makes a person pause and consider.  And if by some bizarre circumstance I ever end up dying as a soldier, I want it read at my grave.

Now, my darlings, go pester Ellen.  The geoblogosphere needz moar Ellen!  Only, of course, not so much that it slows down the delivery of her books to our shelves.

Ogods, Decisions – Geologists in the Audience, Halp!

It’s that time again – got me bonus, must stimulate the economy.  I already have me music picked out, but ye olde book list is gargantuan.  So what do I do?  Make it bigger!

Need moar geology.  So all you geologists and geology-enthusiasts in the audience, this is your chance to influence the composition of my science shelves.  What shall I get?  What tomes on geology can I not do without?

And if you know of good books on the geology of the Mediterranean, now is the time to mention them.  For some reason, those are hard to track down on Amazon.

Non-geologist?  No problem!  Put in your recommendations for books you think I should own.  I’m not looking exclusively for geology, thee knows.

Extra bonus points to the readers who puzzle out this picture.

Plastic is for Grocery Bags

Our own George W. has a thought-provoking post up pitting paper against plastic – in books.  Now seems like as good a time as any to take a stand I’ll possibly end up backing away from someday.

My stepmother, who recently sold me out for one o’ them new-fangled handheld-computers-that-can-sometimes-make-phone-calls contraptions, has also been extolling the virtues of her Kindle.  I think she’s trying to drag me kicking and screaming into the electronics age.  I’ve dug in my heels.  Yes, I swore I would never ever download music, and didn’t so much break that vow as blow it to smithereens.  But books are a different matter.  It’s going to take a hell of a lot of persuasion to wean me off of good old-fashioned dead-tree books.

I have my reasons.  For one thing, when I purchase a book, I like it to stay purchased.  There’s no guarantee of that on a Kindle.

You can’t dog-ear pages on an e-book reader.  And no, electronically bookmarking bits isn’t the same.

You can’t tell which bits you’ve read over and over by letting a book fall open on a reader.

Unless you’ve got the money for dozens of Kindles, you can’t sit in the middle of a pile of books while doing research.

Kindles don’t insulate your walls.

It’s harder for visitors to browse your shelves when your library’s on a Kindle.

Books are all one size on a reader, rather than a variety of shapes and sizes.

You can’t trade in your used books.

If the power goes out and your batteries are low, you can still read a paper book by candlelight.

And there are plenty of other reasons, all coming down to the fact that I like having actual, physical, individual, substantive texts around me.

Now, there are things that work better electronically.  George is right: technical manuals and encyclopedias are perfect candidates for electronic media.  So are things like phone books, reference books, anything that depends on being up-to-the-minute and is obsolete nearly as soon as you get a copy.  Since I got plugged into the magic of the intertoobz, haven’t needed those books of facts, atlases, or other things like that.  This leaves me more cold hard cash for the kind of books that keep for years, that deserve a life of their own and an individual place on my shelves. 

Paper, please!