Thursday, December 31, 2009

Books That Stick With You


Back at the beginning of April, I got an e-mail from a friend (former college classmate, occasional drinking buddy, constant book recommendation swapper, co-blogger), Steve Hart. He "tagged" me with a meme, challenging me to pick Fifteen Big Ones.

Let me tell you, this was a difficult one to work on. Not the re-reading old friends. Not the riffling (mentally and physically) through the book collection. But the limitations. "Fifteen books!" he said, "Keep it to fifteen, or I'll tell everybody about the time in college when..."

Threats. Lots of threats.

I tried and I tried. I've come up with fifteen...but there are runner-ups. I just can't help it, sometimes I strongly associate one book with two or three or more other books. So, I've got my big fifteen, but I've got the others that go with them as well.

Edwin A. Abbott: Flatland (annotated edition, introduction and notes by Ian Stewart, Perseus, 2002) (tie in Travis S. Taylor and Lewis Carroll).

The link above will lead you to an online version of the book, if you have never encountered it, I recommend it strongly. Why do I mark this as an essential? Well, before I read this book, I hated mathematics. This was due to a series of classes that did nothing to interest me, plus being caught in a couple of changes in the way mathematics was taught.

I can't recall where I came across Flatland, but it was a pretty amazing read. A door opened up: how to look at not only one and two dimensional objects, but how to look beyond the third dimension. Pretty soon I was having fun in geometry and even read some basic books on things like tesseracts.

Alas, the love of mathematics that started in middle school and expanded into high school was squashed pretty firmly during college when I was exposed to the dreaded lecture hall and the dreaded teaching assistant. While I have done reading, on and off, since then, I sometimes wonder what might have been.

Poul Anderson: The Enemy Stars (Lippincott, 1958) (tie in Clifford D. Simak, Spider Robinson).

I first read this in the mid-1960's when I discovered Poul Anderson courtesy of a couple of battered Ace edition paperbacks and a battered SFBC copy of this volume. The paperbacks were a couple of general collections plus one entry in Anderson's long future history, specifically Trader to the Stars, several stories about his roguish Nicolas Van Rijn.

Thinking that The Enemy Stars was going to be something similar, I opened it only to find a gut-wrenching tale of survival in a dying starship. Later, I came across the original story; if anything, the impact was greater even though the story was shorter. Anderson added some fluff to the original core to make it novel-length. Both versions are good, the original just a tad better because the impact of what happens is greater.

J.D. Bernal: The World, The Flesh and The Devil (Indiana University Press, 1969) (infuences on Arthur C. Clarke, Olaf Stapledon, Gerard K. O'Neill, George Zebrowski).

This is a very, very slim book. I've linked to one online version, above; it'll take you a day, at most to read it.

Slim is deceptive though: the impact that this book has had on me is vast. And not just me: look at the names I list above.

Bernal deals with very grand themes in his book, how the limitations of our planetary resources, our bodies, etc., hold back humanity and some of the things that the future might bring to break those bonds. You can see the influences that this book had on many generations of scientists and science fiction writers. Gerard K. O'Neill's space settlements including a "construction shack" that was called a Bernal Sphere. Olaf Stapledon mentions Bernal and his book in the introduction to his classic work of science fiction, The Star Maker (the friendly link will bring you to downloadable and online versions of this book). Arthur C. Clarke, George Zebrowski and others show signs of having read the book, given their cosmic visions and grand scale stories.

Mark Bowden: Blackhawk Down: A Story of Modern War (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1999) (tie in Coyle, Drake, Haldeman)

Arthur C. Clarke: 2001: A Space Odyssey (NAL, 1968) Connections: The Planet Strappers, also Simak, Stapledon, Sagan, Zebrowski.

Hal Clement (Harry C. Stubbs): Mission of Gravity (found in The Essential Hal Clement, Volume III: Variations on a Theme by Sir Isaac Newton, NESFA Press, 2000)

Justus Dahinden: Urban Structures of the Future (Praeger, 1972)

Raymond Z. Gallun: The Planet Strappers (Pyramid, 1961)

Rudyard Kipling: Barrack Room Ballads & Departmental Ditties (Grosset & Dunlap, 1920)

Fritz Leiber: Ill Met in Lankhmar (White Wolf Publishing, 1995) (Swords and Deviltry and Swords Against Death)

Walter M. Miller, Jr.: A Canticle for Leibowitz (review here) ().

Patrick O'Brian: Master & Commander (the whole series, for all love!) (W.W. Norton, 1970)

Leslie Peltier: Starlit Nights (Harper & Row, 1965; Sky Publishing Corporation, 1999)

Carl Sagan: The Cosmic Connection (Anchor Books, 1973)

Michael Shaara: The Killer Angels (Random House, 1974). Roll in Blackhawk Down, Charles MacDonald. Forever War.

E.E. "Doc" Smith: Spacehounds of the IPC (Fantasy Press, 1949; Pyramid, 1973) (tie in Ringo and Taylor, Chalker, Vinge)

Olaf Stapledon: Star Maker (Gollancz, 1999) (tie in Bernal and Clarke, Zebrowski, Cordwainer Smith)

Freeman Dyson

Dyson Sphere


Jack L. Chalker: Midnight at the Well of Souls (Del Rey, 1977), Web of the Chozen (Del Rey, 1978)

Harold Coyle: Team Yankee (Presidio Press, 1987)

Michael Crichton: Eaters of the Dead (Bantam, 1977)

Samuel R. Delany: Nova (Bantam, 1975; Vintage, 2002)

Arthur Conan Doyle: The Complete Sherlock Holmes (preferably annotated) (general list of works)

David Drake: Rolling Hot (Baen, 1989), Paying the Piper (Baen, 2002)

Harlan Ellison: Deathbird Stories (Collier, 1990)

Richard P. Feynman: Six Easy Pieces--Essentials of Physics Explained by its Most Brilliant Teacher (Helix Books, 1995)
Six Not So Easy Pieces: Einstein's Relativity, Symmetry, and Space-Time (Helix Books, 1997)
Feynman's Lost Lecture: The Motion of Planets Around the Sun (W.W. Norton, 1996)

William Gibson: Burning Chrome (Ace, 1987) Neuromancer (Ace, 1986), Count Zero (Ace, 1987), Mona Lisa Overdrive (Bantam-Spectra, 1989)

Joe Haldeman: The Forever War (Thomas Dunn Books, 2009)

Frank Herbert: The Dragon in the Sea (Doubleday, 1956); Under Pressure (Ballantine, 1976)

Thor Heyerdahl: Kon-Tiki (Rand McNally & Co., 1950)

Charles B. MacDonald: Company Commander (Bantam, 1982); A Time for Trumpets: The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge (Bantam, 1985)

R.A. MacAvoy: Tea with the Black Dragon (Bantam, 1983)

John McPhee: Annals of the Former World (Farrar, Staus & Giroux, 1998)

Gerard K. O'Neill: The High Frontier (Morrow, 1976)

Frederik Pohl: The Heechee Series: Gateway (St. Martin's Press, 1977), Beyond the Blue Event Horizon (Del Rey, 1980), Heechee Rendezvous (Del Rey, 1984), Annals of the Heechee (Del Rey, 1987), The Gateway Trip (Del Rey, 1990)

Tim Powers: The Annubis Gates (Ace, 1983)

Steven Pressfield: Gates of Fire (Bantam, 1999)

John Ringo: Into the Looking Glass (Baen Books, 2005)

Spider Robinson: Callahan's Crosstime Saloon (Ace, 1977), Time Traveler's Strictly Cash (Ace, 1981), Callahan's Secret (Berkley, 1986)

Clifford D. Simak: City (Old Earth Books 2004), The Goblin Reservation (PUtnam, 1968)

Cordwainer Smith (Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger): The Rediscovery of Mankind (NESFA Press, 1994) and Norstrilia (NESFA Press, 1994)

Travis S. Taylor: Warp Speed (Baen Books, 2004)

Unknown: The Psalms (commentary by Kathleen Norris) (Riverhead Books, 1997)

Jack Vance: The Compleat Dying Earth (SFBC, 1998)

John Varley: The Ophiuchi Hotline (The Dial Press, 1977)

Vernor Vinge: A Fire Upon the Deep (Tor, 1992), A Deepness in the Sky (Tor, 1999)

Jack Williamson: The Legion of Space (Fantasy Press, 1947)

George Zebrowski: Macro-Life (Haper & Row, 1979)

Roger Zelazny: Doorways in the Sand (Harper, 1976)

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