Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

Gatehouse moonlit

When you read his work, there is always some poetry and magic in his writing. And then you come across a passage that hits you in the heart and the head at the same time, evoking feelings and images as none other can.

From Banshee (1984)-

”She had a face of snow, cut from that same white cool marble that makes the finest Irish women; a long swan neck, a generous if quivering mouth, and eyes a soft and luminous green. So beautiful were those eyes and her profile against the blown tree branches, that something in me turned, agonized, and died. I felt that killing wrench men feel when beauty passes and will not pass again. You want to cry out: Stay, I love you. But you do not speak. And the summer walks away in her flesh, never to return”

“I tried to look through her eyes and thought: my God, has it always been this way, forever some man in that house, forty, eighty, a hundred years ago! Not the same man, no, but all dark twins, and this girl lost on the road, with snow in her arms for love, and frost in her heart for comfort, and nothing to do but whisper and croon and mourn and sob until the sound of her weeping stilled at sunrise but to start again with the rising of the moon.”

From The Toynbee Convector (1988)-

“Stiles touched another button and the machine lit up like a cavern of spider webs. It breathed in years and whispered forth remembrance. Ghosts were in its crystal veins. A great god spider had woven its tapestries in a single night. It was haunted and it was alive. Unseen tides came and went in its machinery. Suns burned and moons hid their seasons in it. Here, an autumn blew away in tatters; there, winters arrived in snows that drifted in spring blossoms to fall on summer fields.”

One of these stories shows how a lie can be salvation itself.


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 Gone to the Dogs recently showed a meme on literature that she received from Mumbling Monkey. I thought it was kind of cool, and tried it on my own. Then I thought of a small variation. Some of my best friends like fantasy and science fiction, and I’m also somewhat fond of it. This list is from the Science Fiction Books Club.

Bold the ones you’ve read, strike-out the ones you hated, italicize those you started but never finished and put asterisks beside the ones you loved (the more asterisks, the more you liked it).

The Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years, 1953-2002

  1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien*****
  2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov*****
  3. Dune, Frank Herbert*****
  4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein****
  5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin****
  6. Neuromancer, William Gibson*****
  7. Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke*****
  8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick****
  9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley***
  10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury****
  11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe**
  12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.*****
  13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov****
  14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
  15. Cities in Flight, James Blish****
  16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
  17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison****
  18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison*****
  19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester***
  20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
  21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
  22. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card*****
  23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
  24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman*****
  25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl***
  26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling**
  27. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams*****
  28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
  29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice*
  30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin**
  31. Little, Big, John Crowley
  32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny***
  33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick****
  34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement*
  35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon**
  36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
  37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute**
  38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke****
  39. Ringworld, Larry Niven*****
  40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys*
  41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien****
  42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut*****
  43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
  44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner**
  45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester*
  46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein*****
  47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock*
  48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
  49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
  50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer****

I’ve read 42 of the above, and of the remaining 8 there are 3 waiting on my shelves. From the list it seems my interests and likes are fairly broadly ranging, and I like hard SF and Fantasy about equally well.

Among those I like, one highly under-rated book is A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. He only wrote a couple of books in his life, and this one has been in continuous publication for about 50 years. I first read it when I was 14. It is about the rebuilding of civilization from a nuclear holocaust, and discusses among other things the nature of humanity and its ability to learn from past mistakes. Parts of it are searing, and its take on how people react morally feels extremely real and insightful.  Finally, I guarantee you will be questioning some of your own views and beliefs before it is over.

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Last night I saw this new movie, based upon a novel by the great crime and mystery writer P.D. James. I came away moved, disturbed, and somewhat in awe. There was a lot to think about, and strong feeling were stirred and still need to be shaken out. Finally, this movie should be shortlisted for at least a few Oscars (and no, I’m not going to say which ones).

I don’t want to give too much away, and I personally think that many of the reviews I checked after watching Children of Men did just that. Here are a few comments that shouldn’t interfere with appreciating the movie.

P.D. James usually write mysteries and thrillers, and her characterization and dialogue are particularly noteworthy; of course, as a premiere mystery writer she is also good at plot elements, flow and suspense. In Children of Men she has shifted track significantly; the novel is science fiction of the near future, in which all women have become sterile, and the last child was born before 2010. It is “now” 2027, the world has gone to hell, and most people have lost hope for the future. As is usual in these situations, they don’t react well. Theo, played by Clive Owen, is a man who used to be politically active but who has lost all hope. He is then asked by an old friend to try and get someone out of Britain…

I’m not going to give any more details, but I will say that it moved me as strongly as, or more strongly than, movies like Schindler’s List or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It is not to be taken likely, and parts are searing in their intensity; but it is great on more than one level. When I get up the courage, I’m going to see it again.

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I just received three packages from Amazon.com and Amazon.ca today. The strange thing is that I ordered the Canadian and the American books on the same day, and they arrived simultaneously (I guess it is still easy for books to cross the border). Among the loot were three books that I am trying not to drool over or on.

  1. Inside Job by Connie Willis: First, Connie Willis is one of my favourite authors, especially for such great work as The Doomsday Book (a Hugo and Nebula winner), Fire Watch (ditto and ditto), The Last of the Winnebagos (trio and trio?), Passages, and Lincoln's Dreams (a wonderful love story). In this short novella, she follows a pair trying to investigate and debunk some spiritualists. The reviews are great, and the story looks like a lot of fun.
  2. The Essential Ellison by Harlan Ellison: This man is one of the best short story writers in science fiction and fantasy in the late great twentieth century. He has won more major awards than I can count, has done amazing scripts for major TV series, and has screamed to high heaven when they don't get it right. He wrote "The City on the Edge of Forever", considered by many, including me, to be the best original Star Trek episode. He was a major contributor to the Babylon 5 series, one of the most innovative and best TV series in the history of science fiction. finally, he created and edited "Dangerous Visions", possibly the best collection of truly artistic science fiction in memory. Back to the book: this 1250 page tome includes much of his best work over the last 50 years, including his short fiction, essays, scripts, diatribes, and personal thoughts. One interesting aspect of Ellison is his social responsibility and his ability to hold his own against anyone in iambic pentameter, and this comes out very well in this book. I've only skimmed it, but I am really looking forward to re-reading
    • Life Hutch
    • I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream (a lifetime favourite)
    • The Whimper of Whipped Dogs
    • The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World
    • Shattered Like a Glass Goblin
    • "Repent, Harlequin!", said the Ticktockman
    • A Boy and his Dog
    • The Man Who Was Heavily Into Revenge
    • The Deathbird
  3. Manna from Heaven by Roger Zelazny: Like Ellison, Zelazny is a great short story writer. Neil Gaiman considers him to be one of the major influences in his writing style. Unlike Ellison, he also likes to write the occasional novel, and he's almost as good at this. His most famous series of novels are the Amber books, which posit our world and an infinity of others as distant distorted reflections of the true existence in Amber. His writing is thoughtful, spare, with as much being implied as said. There is also a feeling of poetry and fantasy in all of his works. Some of his better short story collections include Four for Tomorrow, The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth And Other Stories, Unicorn Variations, and The Last Defender of Camelot. A favourite novella is Damnation Alley (Hollywood made a really crappy movie based on this great work which addresses personal responsibility and integrity versus character). The collection Manna From Heaven includes 5 Amber short stories and 16 others, including 6 that have never been collected before. I'm looking forward to it and I will let you know.

More books to put into Librarything. 😦 😎

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Just some notes on my progress so far. Starting with a few numbers (I like math, so sue me), I have recorded 1508 books, of which 1319 are fiction, 1143 are science fiction, 698 are fantasy, and 56 are history. My best estimate is that I am half done, and the second half will be more work.

  1. Despite my infinite spare time, fooling around with Librarything has monopolised my other extracurricular activities (cycling, reading, taking pictures, sleeping).
  2. I'm almost finished with my SF&F. Using the rest of the members as (hopefully) a representative statistical universe for reading geeks, I have reached the following operating hypotheses:
    • I have a fair number of Science Fiction books. This is based on the fact that there is one other person in the group with more books tagged "science fiction". Given that about half my books were destroyed by another's neglect, it is possible that I have more science fiction books than most science fiction geeks.
    • Regarding fantasy books, I am more mediocre, being in tenth position.
  3. In my collection so far there are 72 books that no other member has. While not surprised in general, there were some books that I thought would have been more popular. Here are some of the more obvious examples.
    • Machiavelli's The Prince. No one wants to be a ruthless leader any more?
    • The Corvette Navy, by Lamb. In the 80's it was fairly popular in Canada.
    • My childhood collection of Lord of the Rings. I'm surprised that any version of these books is not represented on the site (whoops, I guess it is now).
    • Ann and Seamus by Kevin Major. Fairly popular and new in Newfoundland and the Maritime Provinces.
    • There were also a few science fiction novels that surprised me a little, but less so than the above.
  4. The routine of looking at all my old fictional friends makes me feel like Smaug checking out his hoard. While I have been filing I've also been putting aside old favourites for re-reading. I've kept the list to less than a hundred, I think.
  5. Some of my old friends are aging badly. I'll probably replace some of the best ones, but there are too many good books out there, and re-reading too much is a waste of lifespan.
  6. In many cases the book covers in Librarything don't match my older books, which is totally understandable. To compensate I have contributed more than 400 covers to the site.

Now to pick another subject to file. Let's see, fantasy and science fiction art books, Irish and Celtic folklore and art, history books, my problem solving books, general fiction, knots, …

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