100: C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy

silent planet
Out of the Silent Planet: C.S. Lewis

A solid piece of work from a master of theological writings. Lewis’ spirituality doesn’t just creep into his Sci-Fi work, it pours in. This makes for a very interesting take on the Sci-Fi genre!

Of the trilogy Out of the Silent Planet is the strongest work. If you’re interested in checking it out but don’t want to read all three books you can safely read the first and never have to pick up the other two. The other two continue the story-line with the third bringing it to a close though. Silent Planet paints an interesting picture of a solar system teeming with life and Earth sequestered because of it’s sin issue. Perelandra paints a poignant picture of new life, a Garden of Eden scenario. That Hideous Strength brings everything to a close in a darker doomsday must be averted tale.

i really enjoyed the first book, i’d say Silent Planet gets a grade of A, Perelandra is a B/B-, and That Hideous Strength is a C.

Book Club of One Grade: B overall (see above for individual books though). i can’t stress how interesting Lewis’ theological bent makes the series to read. Silent Planet gets a solid recommendation for me, with an urge to press on if you find the opener compelling.

50: Contact -Carl Sagan

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i do love me some carl! The original Cosmos series being a cornerstone of young me’s love of all things science. i don’t know what i was expecting from Cosmos when i picked it up but what was between it’s covers felt very unexpected.

First, Sagan writes a very developed and compelling female protagonist. i really liked how complex a character she was. She really felt like a real person to me.

The first 80% of the book feel like fiction that’s about science. It shifts solidly into Sci-Fi territory in the end though. None of this is a complaint at all. It was super refreshing to get some serious scientific foundations built for a fine piece of Sci-Fi.

The pacing of Contact was slower than i’m normally drawn to but again, that’s not a complaint at all! The book had the perfect pacing for the story it was telling.

i feel like the aliens we eventually meet are exactly what you get if great minds of science dream about what could be out there! i’m very glad that Sagan turned his mega-brain to this piece of fiction.

He also raises and explores some interesting spiritual questions by the end of the book. Sagan, who is often painted as an Atheist by persons of faith is in fact more of an agnostic and that shines through in Contact.

Book Club of One Grade: A. A real solid A, i recommend this book without reservations,  just know going into it that it doesn’t have the “action-movie” pacing of many modern Sci-Fi works.

 

#61: The Mote in God’s Eye: Niven & Pournelle

The first time i read this book i was a sophomore in high school. It was the recommendation of a close friend of mine, who had it recommended to him by his father. i only mention this because his dad was one of the most interesting people i have ever known. He could cook like a chef, had an amazing library, told us the best dirty jokes, and had a scrap book filled with advertisements and articles with humorous misprints he’d accumulated and cataloged over the years. My favorite being a very old newspaper ad for a brassiere that should have read, “for a great Fit,” but instead read, “For a great Tit!” Needless to say, any book that this man recommended to our young and malleable minds was consumed post haste!

So, it was with a great amount of nostalgia that i picked up the book again. i remembered it being a well written work of science fiction, with a solid story-line, and an interesting take on a new alien race. Digging into the book i found that my nostalgic memory… was totally spot on! Which is a rare thing to happen in one’s life. Normally that thing we remember fondly isn’t nearly as good as we think it is. i recall sitting in an ER waiting room (i had driven an injured friend there) and the first Predator movie came on. A young rippling Arnold commanded a crack team of commandos, explosions, grenades, yelling, CHAIN-MACHINE-GUN!!!!!! i waited with anticipation for my first glimpse at the predator, remembering that magic moment when i was just a nerdy youth. i could not brace myself for the special effects disappointment i faced.  The memory my brain had woven of that cloaked predator running through the jungle made the actual footage just horrible by comparison…. But Mote In God’s Eye was not a cloaked predator event in my life.

A few things stand out about this book for me, 3 actually:

  1. The plot is very well written, the characters aren’t pools of depth, but most do have clear personalities. The overarching story is really really good. It’s got so much to say about it: There’s discovery, and science, and politics, and aliens that are really alien.
  2. Those alien aliens: Niven & Pournelle really built an alien race that is unlike humans. i’m a huge Star-Trek fan but my one gripe with the world of Trek is that everyone is just a human with a rubber thing on their head. Moties are NOT human, they have 3 arms, and a caste system, and they think differently. It’s nice that the aliens just aren’t re-skinned humans.
  3. The book was published in 1974, and as i’ve mentioned in reviewing other reads, i think reading Sci-Fi written in a different era shows us things about the era it was written in. Conventions on marriage and sexual relations resound with early 1970’s Americana thought processes.

i’m really glad that this book made NPR’s top 100 sci-fi/fantasy books of all time. This project meant that i picked up a book that i loved as an adolescent and i love it still today.

 

Book Club of One Grade: A. Mote gets a solid A from me. Pacing is brisk, story is good, aliens are amazing. If you love science fiction take the time to read this gem.

 

i’d like to devote this Book Club of One, NPRs top 100 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books review to John Philpot, the man who suggested this book to his son, and then his son suggested it to me. Your sense of humor, your intelligence, and the fact that you always made time to chat with us when we were 14 year old knot-heads had some lasting impact on my life! i hope that you’re somewhere in the ether telling somebody a really good risque joke right now!

The Orville

The Orville
The Orville

i just wrapped up season 1 of The Orville. i’m not a huge fan of McFarlane’s other work, particularly Family Guy. i appreciate some of the humor and i’m convinced that McFarlane is this generation’s Mel Brooks. He’s able to make jokes few others would get by with. There is just a sort of self-congradulatory feel to much of Family Guy that leaves me feeling like i’ve just had dinner with one of my ruder, more arrogant aquaintences.

So i rolled into The Orville with low expectations.

Maybe it was my lowered expectations, or the strong cast, or the money they clearly sank into the special effects… or a combination of all of those factors. i wrapped up season 1 pretty satisfied overall!

The Orville starts off as a parody of the much loved (by me and many, many others) Star Trek universe. Just a few episodes in it seems to switch gears from parody to tribute. The Orville uses it’s platform to address current social issues that our world is dealing with today, and it often does so with a great blend of tact, humor, and irreverance. It’s got a softer edge than some of McFarlane’s other work but it drives points home possibly even harder than they do.

i started watching The Orville because i’m a Trek fan, i wanted to see how bad a Family Guy version of Trek would be… and now:

i’m just waiting around for season two to drop!

 

83: Consider Phlebas -Ian M Banks

Large ring structures that spin in space.
Consider Phlebas: Orbital

Consider Phlebas is the opening novel in the Culture Series, written by Banks.  The series is most often branded as a Space-Opera and i think that fits it just fine. It’s fast moving, full of big spectacular sci-fi tech that would make for great visuals on a movie screen, and the characters are often fast-talkers who are entertaining to the reader.

The opener focuses on a “changer” named Horza. From a fading race of humanoids who are basically sci-fi doppelgangers (with a few extra bells and whistles, poison bells and whistles).  He’s the fastest talker of them all in the book and throughout his dialogue was probably my favorite thing in the book.

A little like Perdido Street Station the book reads like watching someone’s table-top RPG campaign, one with lots of charisma based checks in it. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they fail.

Book Club of One Score: B-; if you want a hefty book that’s still a fast-paced read and want your imagination to soar at the visuals then consider Consider Phlebas (see what i did there?).

#63: The Road-Cormac McCarthy

The Road
The Road -Cormac McCarthy

The Road is New-Moon midnight stroll dark… It’s dark roast coffee with no cream dark…. It’s vanta-black dark!

That’s just a friendly PSA for those of you who don’t like dark things. This book though… So good!

Set in an indeterminite dystopian future where the world lays in ash and waste with no foreseeable source of even food production in sight. The story follows the journey of a father and son as they head towards the coast and whatever hope that may offer.

The trials they encounter and navigate along the way are gut-wrenching. They both feel like real people who react to things and each other in realistic fashion. The dynamic between the two feels so real with the father often speaking harshly to the boy when he doesn’t react quickly enough in dangerous situations and then comforting him lovingly afterwards.

i really can’t put into words how much i like The Road. It’s hard to read, i had read it a few years back and re-read it for Book Club of One. Even on a re-read it was still as jarring as it was the first time through.

Book Club of One score: A+. Well written, solid characters with complex interactions. Dark and bitter. If you have a hankering for a story WITHOUT a happy ending, you certainly can’t go wrong with this masterpiece.

#74: Old Man’s War -John Scalazi

Old Man's War
Old Man’s War -John Scalzi

Old Man’s War is a seriously fun ride from start to finish.

It’s got some graphic violence, some thoughtful dialogue, heartfelt moments, irreverent moments, cool sci-fi tech, and low-fi likable characters.

The book follow the adventures of John Perry a 75 year old starting his career in the Colonial Defense Force as an infantryman. While set in the future humans haven’t achieved any extended longevity, so a 75 year old military recruit has the potential for some real entertainment value. What has the potential for even MORE entertainment value? A whole army of 75 year old military recruits! Ships and ships full of them!

Spoiler: they all get new, heavily modified and augmented, bodies. Scalazi does an interesting job digging into the what-ifs of 75 year old minds in super-human 20-something year old bodies. Perry’s brief moment with his old body (while in his new body) had me a lil’ misty!

While keeping a brisk pace that makes this book what i consider an “easy-read” Scalazi touches on themes like: Consciousness and identity, and the morality of war… you know the light fluffy stuff.

 

Book Club of One grade: A. Fun & Fast but with some meat on the bones here and there. Old Man’s War would make a great read to pack for a trip! If you want a the literary equivalent to a sci-fi Die Hard pick this book up! i liked Old Man’s War so much that when i found out it was a series i got genuinely excited! i fully plan to dip back into this world!

#78: The Dispossessed – Ursula Le Guinn

The Dispossessed
The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin

The Dispossessed is an engaging and intellectually stimulating trip into a Sci-Fi universe that’s well thought out and very interesting. The two main locations in the book are Urras a planet inhabited by humans who’s society very much so mirrors the society/societies found on Earth, and Anarres the moon of Urras. Anarres is a sort of Utopian society that is oft described as an anarchist utopia but to me it much more resembles an off-shoot of communism. There’s no money, everyone is provided housing and an allotment of food. There is an overarching body that gives people work assignments; these can be ignored but rarely are as there is some social pressure to accept them. Anarres is a society where everyone owns everything and nothing at the same time. Urras is a capitalist system that most of us are well acquainted with.

Shevek is the protagonist of the story, a physicist who’s theories hold the key to faster-than-light space travel. He’s committed to dispersing his theories to all societies simultaneously so none can use them to take advantage of other civilizations. He’s complex, imperfect, does some shady things, and some heroic things.

i like how Le Guinn uses the story to ask some questions that 40ish years after publication are still powerful: She looks at sexism in society; she questions both capitalism and (what i call) semi-communism; she probes at the basic nature of humans individually, collectively, and governmentally; and she leaves us thinking about how innovation is sometimes used as an aggressive tool politically.

 

Overall i’d give The Dispossessed a Book Club of One grade of C+: The concepts are great, the writing is solid, but for some reason i had to force myself to stay engaged with the book. It’s an intangible thing for me that i can’t put my finger on.  Pick it up if you’re looking for a Sci-Fi read with some heft to the story that could leave you thinking about bigger things.

#75 The Diamond Age -Neal Stephenson

The Diamond Age
The Diamond Age -Neal Stephenson

Let me kick off with this: Neal Stephenson is in serious danger of becoming one of my top Sci-fi authors ever. Granting this is only the second book by Stephenson that i’ve read. The first being Anathem. If i get nothing else out of reading NPR’s top 100 Sci-Fi and Fantasy books of all time i’ll at least have been introduced to this talented writer. The Diamond Age is so UNLIKE Anathem (which i loved you can find my Book Club of One review here: Anathem Review) and still just as masterfully done that i tip my virtual hat to the author.

The Diamond Age is set in the indeterminate future. Nano technology is ubiquitous in the sci-fi universe that Stephenson has painted but it’s not the Nano-tech that steals the show. The show stealer is a special book of sorts, a smart book: “A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer”. The Primer is a smart book that employs virtual actors to provide a sort of “Edutainment” to the reader of the book. A stolen copy of the primer winds up in the hands of an impoverished little girl and has a major effect on her life, an effect that is attempted to be replicated by others in the story but not to the same effect.

The Diamond Age begins by painting a picture of the value of education to affect and change a person’s life and guide their development. It ends with the revelation that education is not enough, that relationship, love and nurture are the real keys to creating a positive effect in the developing life. In a world where we leave the development of our children to their teachers and educators and we leave their entertainment to whatever screen is most accessible to us and them: The Diamond Age is timely message to any who are parents or mentors to young minds.

Book Club of One grade: A. Solid read! Stephenson has used the Sci-Fi genre to make a powerful point with this one.

#82 The Eyre Affair -Jasper Fforde

The Eyre Affair
The Eyre Affair -Jasper Fforde

Set in a alternate earth circa mid 1980’s The Eyre Affair is one of the funnest rides i’ve been on in a while. Packed with whimsy (where characters have names like “Tuesday Next” and “Jack Schitt”), a unique twist on fantasy (the lines between reality and literature are so thin they can be inadvertently crossed), and zany sci-fi elements (entertainingly often introduced by Tuesday’s uncle Mycroft)

Fforde cranks out a book that is equal parts fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, drama, & comedy. He manages to pull it off in a way that doesn’t feel like a jumbled mess either, but rather comes off as an engaging and entertaining read! If you ever feel like you’ve lost the thread of what’s going on in The Eyre Affair just hang on Fforde will bring all the threads back together again in such a rewarding way!

 

Book Club of One grade: rock solid B+. My only regret is that i didn’t save this one for a vacation read, it’s such fun that it would be a perfect fit for consumption during some down-time (if i see a vacation this year that is haha)