Wednesday, December 31, 2003

2003: The Year in Books

(You guessed it: Previously posted!)

In 2002 I got through 62 books. This year I did not fare as well (and part of the problem is how to count a book that is an omnibus. Should you count it as one title? Or, should you count it as several titles?). For example, two of my books read this year were Lord Darcy (made up of three previously published books) and The Complete Compleat Enchanter (made up of several previously published books). Two or seven books read?

I also lost my job this year. Now, for some, this might mean more time for reading. For me, it actually meant less. The loss of a bus ride each day, to and from work, meant three less hours that I could do nothing but either read or sleep. Heck, the loss of the high-speed internet connection at work meant more time on the internet (just waiting for stuff to load at home). So, less time to read books all around.

For 2004, I'm hoping that we have better weather than 2003. More clear skies would mean less time to read, but more time observing!!!

So what did I read in 2003?

Anderson, Poul: The Vault of Ages. This was first published in the John C. Winston YA series (which ran from the 50's to the mid-60's). From the author information in the back, this was written quite early in Anderson's career. It a post-atomic war story, set in North America, pitting one group of feudal survivors vs. a more nomadic group of survivors. The story is pretty simple, but you can recognize a lot of themes that Anderson explored more fully in other books. Plus, it's got a wonderful 50's style dustjacket and wonderful 50's style art in the endpapers.

Appleton, Victor ("house name" for several authors): The Tom Swift Jr. Series. Specifically: Tom Swift and His Rocket Ship; Tom Swift and His Giant Robot; Tom Swift and His Atomic Earth Blaster; Tom Swift and His Outpost in Space; Tom Swift and His Diving Seacopter; Tom Swift and the Caves of Nuclear Fire. Now great SF these ain't. But like the John C. Winston series, or Tom Corbett, or Rick Blaine, or even the Chris Godfrey books of Hugh Walters, I'm enjoying collecting these books from my youth and reading them again.

Baxter, Stephen: Two books in the Manifold sequence--Manifold: Time and Manifold: Space. I'm also mostly done with Phase Space, which is a collection of stories, some of which are set in the same sequence and others of which are the genesis of several other books, or share the same themes as several of his other books. I liked both, but liked Space better than Time. And, in both, he continues his depressing trend of writing about a negative (in general) future. Baxter does a good job of showing you how insignificant humanity is. I'm not sure, however, how many more books like this I'll like. He's got to change his theme at some point! Good, solid books, though. My best recommendation by him: Voyage.

Bear, Greg: Blood Music. Expanded from a short story of the same name, I was leery of the book. I really enjoyed the short story, and could not see how it could be expanded. Bear did a good job of it, good story, good characters, a real "sense of wonder" here.

Brin, David: Brightness Reef. First volume of the "second" Uplift trilogy. It took me several tries to get into the book, but once I got past a few chapters, I was hooked and read the rest in a few days. 2004 should see me finish the other two books of this trilogy.

Brinley, Bertrand R.: The Mad Scientists' Club; The New Adventures of the Mad Scientists' Club. I first read these as a youth. Some of the stories were published in kids magazines. They are so corny, they are fresh. Imagine kids who use science--real science, not Disney science--to pull pranks, but also do good deeds. A third novel has recently been re-published, and a fourth is in the wings, so I'll be reading more about these folks.

Campbell, John W.: The Best of John W. Campbell (edited by Lester Del Rey). A good collection of stories, ranging from the early space opera style (but not the best representations of that period), through the moody, "Don A. Stuart" pseudonym period (excellent stories there) to an editorial in the pages of Astounding/Analog. 2004 hopefully will see me exploring Campbell's space opera again.

Carpenter, Humphrey: The Inklings. A book about the literary "club" (although it was never that formal) that J.R.R. Tolkien belonged to. Much of the book talks about Tolkien (but Carpenter does a better job in his biography of the author), C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams, as well as briefer mentions of other members (such as Lewis' brother). Good overview, but too brief to give you much detail.

Carroll, Lewis: The Annotated Alice. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, in a wonderful edition annotated by Martin Gardner. Highly, highly recommended!

Cherryh, C.J.: The Pride of Chanur. One of the five books that deal with the Hani portion of Cherryh's future history. Great stories, I feel that Cherryh really does a good job of depicting aliens that are more than just people in (in this case) cat suits. I'm about finished with the next book (Chanur's Venture) and expect to read many of the other books in the Union/Company Wars series and other portions of this future history in 2004.

Clarke, Arthur C.: Islands in the Sky. Another edition in the John C. Winston series. I hadn't read this in many years, and this re-read comes after a relatively recent re-read of Clarke's Sands of Mars. It was interesting to see that both are set in the same universe, with Islands being about 50 or so years later than Sands. It's the story of a young man who wins a contest that allows him to travel to any part of the Earth. A legal loophole allows him to travel to the Inner Station, a manned station a few hundred miles up. Definitely a 50's sense of wonder book, you hear about zero gravity and the like--old hat stuff to us now, maybe, but I still remember the thrill of reading about all this. Many elements in this book appear in Clarke's other stories--for example, space suits with no legs. One section of the book would make a fine short story of it's own--the story of a first landing on Mercury and what was found there. Again, a great cover on the dustjacket, wish I could find the art as a painting!

Clement, Hal: I started reading this one, Close to Critical, before his death. It is part of the wonderful NESFA Press Essential Hal Clement set of books, specifically, the first volume: Trio for Slide Rule & Typewriter (also contains Iceworld and Needle). Good Clement ultra-hard-SF book, set in the same universe as Mission of Gravity. I'm also working my way through volume 2 of the NESFA set (Music of Many Spheres, a short story collection) and volume 3 (Variations on a Theme by Sir Isaac Newton, being a collection of Mission of Gravity and the other novel in the series, plus short stories in the series, and a few essays on the Heavy Planet stories by Clement and others).

Clinton, Susan: Reading Between the Bones. A non-fiction book outlining some of the famous dinosaur hunters of the past.

De Camp, L. Sprague and Pratt, Fletcher: The Complete Compleat Enchanter. Contains The Roaring Trumpet, The Mathematics of Magic, The Castle of Iron, The Wall of Serpents and The Green Magician. These are wonderful fantasy stories (novels, for the most part, I think most were available as individual books) written originally for Campbell's Unknown magazine. Highly recommended. Join our heroes (and heroines) as they stumble from one fantasy universe to another, with many interesting consequences. Buy it, you won't regret it.

Durant, Michael: In the Company of Heroes. Michael Durant survived a crash of a Blackhawk helicopter (one of the many stories in the book and movie Blackhawk Down). It's a gripping, harrowing story. I read it in one day, excellent non-fiction book.

Friedman, Thomas: Longitudes and Attitudes. Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times. This is a collection of columns from immediately before 9/11 and for some weeks after, plus a diary of his experiences around that time. It varies in quality, like all of his books, but overall, I enjoyed it and found parts of it quite thought-provoking. But, like many other books written on 9/11, I find that there's a vast difference between the opinions of those who experienced it first hand (me for one) and those who saw it from afar.

Garrett, Randall: Lord Darcy. A Baen Books omnibus, made up of Lord Darcy Investigates, Murder and Magic and Too Many Magicians. Fun to read, an alternative universe where technology stopped developing because magic is real (yes, I know it's a bit more complicated than that...). Good characters, good stories. I read several of the short stories in Analog when they first appeared. I bought this edition even though I have the three individual titles (as those copies are falling apart from being loaned out).

Gibson, William: The three volumes of the loose trilogy including Virtual Light, Idoru and All Tomorrow's Parties plus the 2003 novel Pattern Recognition. The first time I read Light, I did not much care for it. A few years later, I re-read it and enjoyed it more. This was the first time through for me with Idoru and Parties, I enjoyed both. As for Pattern Recognition, I did not enthuse as much as some of the critics, but liked it overall. I'll probably re-read it in a few years, to see if I get any more out of it. I like Gibson a lot, but feel he is drifting away from SF.

Haldeman, Joe: The Forever War and Forever Free. This is the "director's cut" version of The Forever War, with all the stuff that was chopped out for Analog and the first hardcover and paperback editions put back in. I think I like the uncut version much, much, better than the previous (cut) versions. I've always liked this book and oddly enough, do not feel (like some) that it's anti-war, just more realistic than many other SF books with a war theme. Oh yes, I also feel that it is much closer in spirit with Heinlein's Starship Troopers than many seem to think. As for Forever Free, it just did not have the same "zing" as The Forever War. Definitely not anywhere near the same impact.

Hardy, David: Aurora. Hardy is a space artist, one of the longest-running in the field. This is his first attempt at writing SF. Overall, I enjoyed the book (and I'm not just saying that because he personally autographed my copy!), especially the parts set during the first expedition to Mars. A little rough around the edges, but I'm interested to see what else he comes up with.

Heinlein, Robert A.: Stranger in a Strange Land and For Us, The Living. I've read Stranger many times, this was the second time through for me with the "restored" edition. There's not much difference between the version that most of us read and this one, but a few scenes really are improved. Overall, a very good book. As for For Us, The Living, it's an interesting historical document, but not a very good novel. If you don't know the story, this was Heinlein's first novel, rejected by some publishers, and stuck in a trunk and presumed lost. You can find the germs of other stories and novels that he wrote in here. But, other than historical or research interests, I'd skip it. It's very talkative and very preachy (much more than any of his other books). I definitely like Heinlein post his J.W. Campbell Astounding education better than this, an example of Heinlein before he went through that education.

Horner, John R. & Lessem, Don: The Complete T-Rex. Hey, what can I say. We joined one museum (Natural History in NYC) and visited several others this year. My daughter is becoming a dinosaur nut. So Dad has to start refreshing his vague memories of the subject.

Levy, Steven: Crypto. A non-fiction book on the subject of codes, especially computer codes. I've enjoyed Levy's other books, and this was no exception. He has a knack of explaining rather difficult or obtuse subjects for us "laypeople".

Long, Duncan: Anti-Grav, Unlimited. If you want to read this, you'll have to go to the Baen site and download it. It's only available electronically (but in several formats). A fun read, probably a first novel by this author. I'd be interested in buying this in a "deadtree" edition, and I'd like to see more by him.

McCaffrey, Anne: Dragonflight. I first read this in the 70's (as well as earlier in Analog in a slightly different version). I recently got a good chunk of the books again, so I'll be working my way through them slowly. I'll give up when the series deteriorates, as I've heard it does.

McCarthy, Wil: Murder in the Solid State. McCarthy is one of the "new hot writers" (even though he's been around several years). This was the first book I read by him. I enjoyed it so much I bought several other SF books and one non-fiction book by him. Some of those should make it to the 2004 version of this list.

Moore, Patrick: 80 Not Out. Moore is a famous amateur astronomer who has written extensively on the moon, astronomical equipment and (sorry for the pun) more. Alas, this is not one of his better books. It's an autobiography, but a disappointment. For the American reader (me), there are several chapters about politics and sports that I found obtuse. A lot of what I was hoping for--his experiences as a amateur astronomer, other famous UK-based amateur astronomers, etc., are skipped over. There are some glaring typographical problems--doesn't anybody proofread books anymore? Oh well, he's got a lot of non-fiction I've enjoyed on astronomy that I can always re-read.

Morton, Oliver: Mapping Mars. Buy this book. Now. It was probably the best non-fiction book I read this year. Dealing with the planet Mars, you see how we observed the planet historically, how we dealt with it in fiction, and what we are learning and theorizing about it now. Morton will probably have to revise it in a few years when the results from Mars Express, (knock on wood) Beagle 2, and the two MER probes Spirit and Opportunity get into the act, but as the media focuses on Mars in the next few weeks, here's something you can read to get a good background. Did I mention that I thought it was the best non-fiction book I read this year?

Perry Rhodan: I'm (very slowly) re-reading this series. I got through the first two Ace editions--Mission Stardust and The Radiant Dome.

Pierce, Hayford: Chap Fooey Rider--Capitalist to the Stars. I read this in an electronic edition. I'm not sure if it is available in a "deadtree" edition, but if it is, I'm buying it. I first read most of these stories in Analog. They are very well written and very funny. Good stuff. Seek out the electronic edition, if nothing else.

Sheffield, Charles: Summertide (first volume of the Heritage Universe series). I'm also about halfway through the second book of the series and will read the others in 2004. Great space opera or hard SF, I started reading this to honor him after his death.

Simak, Clifford: Three books, The Trouble With Tycho, A Choice of Gods, and Mastadonia. I started re-reading Simak's books in 2001 as part of my personal healing process after the fun and games I experienced on 9/11. The process continues, with these, and with Way Station (which I'm almost done with). Simak is one of my all-time favorite SF authors, sadly neglected and ignored, for the most part, by current readers of SF (much to their great loss). Choice of Gods is one of my favorites. I would recommend City, The Werewolf Principle, Ring Around the Sun or The Goblin Reservation and many many others. A short story, "The Thing in the Stone" is one of my favorites by him. A wonderful author.

Smith, E.E. "Doc": I re-read Triplanetary, First Lensman and Galactic Patrol this year and will work on the rest of the Lensman books in 04 (I'm actually almost done with Grey Lensman). Great stories. Wonderful stuff. If you don't get a sense of wonder with Galactic Patrol, you're dead from the neck up.

Weber, David: I continued working my way through the Honor Harrington stories with the following: The Short Victorious War, Field of Dishonor, Flag in Exile, and Honor Among Enemies. Quick reads, don't leave much of an impression, but I'm enjoying them.

So there you have it. If you count it one way, 52 books; count it another (multiple titles in an omnibus), 60 books...Hope you enjoyed the descriptions, and if you'd like to know any more about any particular title, please let me know!

Sunday, November 02, 2003

John Varley

John Varley is one of my favorite SF authors. Unfortunately, he is also one of the least prolific, at least after a good burst of stories and a novel in the 70's (all set in his Eight Worlds universe). Things are looking up. First we had Red Thunder earlier in the year. Now he's got a website. Maybe next he'll bring us Irontown Blues, the last of the Metal Trilogy.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Monday, October 20, 2003

David Gerrold

Keeping on the science fiction theme (not much news to report in the world of space, so far today!), here's a link to the website of SF author David Gerrold.

Gerrold got his start as a write of short SF and screenplays for the original Star Trek series. He's also written a number of SF novels. One, The Man Who Folded Himself, is an interesting time travel/parallel universe novel. Another, When Harlie Was One, is one of the few SF novels dealing with the development of artificial intelligence where the AI doesn't go berserk and try to kill the human race (the other is Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress).

Gerrold was also instrumental in the development of Star Trek: The Next Generation. He even had to take a case to arbitration when it was alluded that he was not heavily involved, and was denied back pay (he won).

From his involvement in the original series came a novel Yesterday's Children. He had written a proposal for a script about the Enterprise finding a multi-generation starship. Eventually that book was written as The Galactic Whirlpool, while Yesterday's Children was re-written as Star Hunt.

The introduction to the 1995 edition of Star Hunt has an amusing chronology of the series of books and proposed movies and/or television series based on this story. There have been a number of failed attempts to get the story told on the big and little screen, one even involved another Star Trek veteran (D.C. Fontana).

Gerrold's older stuff has been picked up by BenBella Books, publishers of an excellent reissue of John Brunner's The Sheep Look Up.

They already have a new edition of The Man Who Folded Himself, and are now reissuing the Star Wolf books. They have The Voyage of the Star Wolf out as well as The Middle of Nowhere. No mention of Star Hunt, which shares some of the same characters as the others (and was written first), but appears to be orphaned from the others in this publishing effort.

There is mention of another book in the series, Blood and Fire. From some of the text in other sources, it appears to be a reworking of a story for Star Trek: The Next Generation that did not pan out. I'll be interested in seeing what he's come up with.
Science Fiction and the Post-Apollo Blues

Here's a talk that Terry Bisson gave in 1993. Good stuff here about and for those of us who grew up with Willey Ley, Apollo, the promise of the shuttle and more.

Oh yes, and a bit about the state of science fiction in 1993 that certainly still applies to the state of science fiction in 2003.
Space Opera Redefined

Here's an article that appeared in SFRevu by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer. If you don't know who they are, seek out any one of the books that they have edited or co-edited for Tor Books. Among the excellent titles that I own are The Ascent of Wonder and The Hard SF Renaissance.

I hope this article is an indication that they are working on another massive tome, this time dedicated to the subject of space opera.

Addendum (May 23, 2007): Yep it was. Yep they did. Eventually, as we wind our way through my archives, there will be more on the Really Big Book of Space Operas. See this for more information.
The Lensmen Meet the Skylark

E.E. "Doc" Smith is one of my all-time favorite authors in the science fiction sub-genre of "space opera". Very few could do it as well or better--John W. Campbell, Jr., Edmond "World Wrecker" Hamilton and Jack Williamson among a scant few others.

There have been a few folks who have tried to write sequels to the original stories. More are but pale imitations (and forget about that horrid Japanese anime version!). Here is some "fan fiction" set in "Doc's" universe: Doomed Lensman (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and the unwritten sequel!)!!!

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Rosh Hashanah Sermon

FOR THEIR SAKE by Rabbi Debra R.Hachen (based on similar Jewish stories)

September 18, 2001 (1 Tishri, 5762)

God sat shocked on the throne in heaven. God couldn't believe what had just happened down on earth. It was September 11 and God saw it all as it unfolded. God couldn't find words to speak, and tears started to form in God's eyes.

Then the accusing angel approached, the one who was always trying to get people into trouble with God. He was the same angel who suggested that God test Abraham's faith by asking him to sacrifice Isaac. He was the same angel who told God that Job only did righteousness because God was good to him--and that if God took away Job's family and health, Job would lose his faith. Well, Abraham and Job had both survived those tests of faith. But Satan was still on the lookout for ways to trip up humankind and get God to give up on mankind once and for all.

So, when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and into the countryside outside Pittsburgh--Satan thought he had found his moment. As God was sitting there stunned and shocked, Satan slipped up beside God.

"O Eternal-One, Master of All, Judge of all Truth: here it is just a week before the holiest days of the year--the days when you open the Book of Life and examine the deeds of each human being. And what will you find this year? Just when people should be starting to think about repentance, prayer and charity, you will find that almost twenty sinful people committed a terrible crime--and took the lives of 5,000 people in one day--in one morning! And, once again, O Master of All, they said they did it in Your name. Now is the time," said Satan, "to get rid of humankind once and for all. It was a hopeless experiment, and it's not going to yield any good results."

God now started to weep in earnest. "Oh, my children, my children, what have you done! Why do you use hatred and violence to solve your problems! Why don't you listen to my Torah, or the other holy teachings I sent to the religions of the world? Justice, peace, compassion--these are the ways to serve me--not death and destruction."

"O Eternal One"; Satan spoke in a consoling whisper. "Just give me the word. I will take care of it all. We'll destroy this world and start over again. We angels will help you build a better version."

Now God sat up and started to pay attention. "Wait!" said the Eternal One, "You may be right. Perhaps there is no future for humanity. Perhaps it's time to give up. But I must be certain. I must send three of my loyal and faithful angels to check it out and see if there is any reason to save this world."

So God called three angels, the same three that had been sent so long ago to visit with Abraham in the desert, and gave them their instructions. "Each of you search high and low, and bring back to me any evidence that humankind is still worth saving and helping. Return by nightfall, and I will make my decision."

So the angels went down to earth and began to look through the rubble at each site. They saw the pain of those who were wounded, they knew that under the collapsed buildings there were thousands who had died. But they split up and began to search further for any evidence that man, in spite of all this evil, was worth saving.

The first angel came across two men covered in dust. They were embracing and shaking, so he stopped and overheard them talking to a firefighter.

"We were on the 68th floor", they said, "when we realized we had to evacuate quickly or we would die. But there was a woman in our office who was in a wheelchair--and the elevators weren't working. We found the emergency wheelchair and moved her over, so we could carry her down the stairs. It was hard work--coming down all 68 floors. Others told us to leave her and run--that the firemen would bring her later. But, we couldn't desert her. We passed the firemen on their way up to help others, and we kept going. We got her out, and an ambulance whisked her away immediately. Just as the ambulance pulled away, the building collapsed. We ducked under a van, and now we are just grateful to be alive. Another minute, and all three of us would have died in that building."

Ahhh...thought the angel. The courage of the firefighters who entered the dangerous building to save lives, the compassion these two ordinary men showed for a woman in need, and their gratitude for being alive, surely God will want to save the world for their sake. And so he gently, almost invisibly scraped some of the dust that had fallen from the buildings off of their faces, and flew up to heaven and presented it to God.

The second angel went to Pennsylvania, but all on the plane had perished. He could sense the spirits of those who died--could almost feel how they were still linked to their loved ones back home.

So, following the trail of connection, he found himself in a home where a wife stood trying to explain what happened to her neighbors. Tears were rolling down her face. "He called me on the cell phone", she said. "He told me how much he loved me, and then he said that he and four other passengers were going to rush the hijackers and try to stop them. After that, I never heard from him again. But now the authorities are telling me that the plane was headed for D.C. to crash and kill hundreds or thousands of people. I lost my husband today, but I know that he saved the lives of others by his actions."

Ahhh....thought the second angel. The love of this man for his wife, and the courage these men showed in the face of evil, surely God will want to save the world for their sake. And so he gently, almost invisibly, lifted one tear from her cheek and flew up to heaven and presented it to God.

The third angel went to D.C. He too saw fire and smoke and death and rescuers hard at work. Then he started searching through the city to see how the rest of the people were reacting. Most were in their cars or on the streets heading home. They were in shock and disbelief. But he watched as one woman, a Christian minister, drove past a mosque, made a u-turn, and came back again. She parked and got out of her car and walked up to three Muslim women standing outside the mosque.

"My friends", she said, "what can I do to help?"--for there on the building were scrawled ugly words of hate, spray painted by those who blamed all Muslims for the attacks that morning. The women embraced and cried together, and the Muslim women thanked the stranger for her kindness and caring. She promised to return and bring others to stand with the women in solidarity against hatred and prejudice.

Ahhh...thought the third angel. The way this woman reached out to those who are scapegoated and wrongly accused, surely God will want to save the world for her sake. And so gently, almost invisibly, he captured the words "What can I do to help?" and flew up to heaven and presented the words to God.

Just then, Satan appeared before God to announce that he was ready to carry out the mission of wiping out humanity and that he had the plans already in hand to start over on another world. " All you have to do is give the command," said Satan, "and I'll see it is obeyed immediately."

"Wait!" cried God."You are right that humanity is capable of much evil. And you are right that from time to time it looks as if hatred has won out over love. But I have evidence that we cannot give up on the people down below us.

"My angels have brought me proof that there is hope for my creation: here is the dust to remind me how compassionate human beings can be--and how much they treasure life. For compassion's sake I will save the world.

"And here is a tear, a remembrance of the love shared between husband and wife, and a reminder of one who gave his life to protect others from harm. For the sake of selflessness and love, I will not destroy the world.

"And lastly, here is the voice of a woman who saw wrong doing and did not turn away. She was willing to stand up for what was just and right, and to get involved. For the sake of justice and righteousness, I will not destroy the world, for they will in the end redeem this world."

Satan's face fell, and he knew he had lost again. "But God," he asked, "how many times will you give them another chance? Take a look at history--how many wars and genocides will it take before you change your mind?"

"Oh, Satan" said God, rising up from the throne. "You don't understand. I also hate the suffering and pain. But as long as I can still see the goodness and mercy and love in the hearts of my children on earth, I must have hope that the pain will one day end."

And God sat back down on the throne to begin hearing the prayers of those who were calling out from earth, and to record again the deeds of humankind in the Book of Life for the year 5762.