Category Archives: books

Science Fiction Novels

As I may have written here before (I honestly can’t remember and don’t feel like looking) for the last several years I’ve been going back and reading science fiction novels from the 70s and 80s. Typically I’ve been reading standalone novels, not series.

Those novels tend to be a bit simpler in form. When I get off work I’m tired, and I don’t need a novel to be that much an intellectual effort to understand. Some of my favorite novels, like William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy, require that you really immerse yourself in the novel. That’s great, but when I’m tired sometimes I just want the author to tell me what happened.

That being said, read the Sprawl trilogy.

I discovered Robert Silverberg in the Infinite Stars anthology of space opera. His tale “the Iron Star” was brilliant, and I became an instant fan. I’ve read three or four of his other novels since then. They are great stuff. The Iron Star offered an ethical conundrum, and I was just blown away.

I feel like as you go back through the decades the SF gets a bit more basic, and not as well written, but Silverberg is really good. I read a few H. Beam Piper novels (not the Little Fuzzy books), including the Cosmic Computer and the unfortunately-titled “Space Viking“.  They were fun reads, though every time I read the term Space Viking I rolled my eyes. Great fodder for my Traveller science fiction game campaign. It was funny knowing that Piper was an early libertarian going into these novels (thank you Wikipedia), and then seeing his political leanings in the novels.  I do like to read a bit about the authors I’m reading, and sorta know where they are coming from, and where the novels fall in their careers.

I mentioned Traveller. One of the primary influences on the Traveller RPG were the Dumarest of Terra novels, by English author E.C. Tubb. These are what I’d call “pulp” style SF adventures. Space Opera for sure. Short novels, formulaic in many respects. There are about 32 in the series, and I’m currently reading #17. Now, my intro to science fiction was Doc Savage. As a young teen I read about 70 of those. I have to say, while the Dumarest novels are not the most sophisticated SF you will find, Tubb can write a proper sentence. They are pretty well written, and they are fun. Now, they are novels of their time.  The hero, Earl Dumarest, is a typical hero of the era, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a female character of any real consequence. They all tend to be Earl’s love interest, which means they will be dead soon. Overall, I would say the novels exhibit the chauvinism of their time, but I’ve not seen them go into straight-up misogyny. Which is nice, because I’d stop reading them. Would they be better if there some female characters to be reckoned with? Yes. No doubt.

Which brings me to my most recent reads, Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion, by Dan Simmons. Not simple. Not short.

Now people love to go on and on about how great Dune is. I enjoy the Dune novels. They are deep and they are good. I enjoyed these two Hyperion novels more. If it means anything to you, these novels are Dune-level good.  They are deep and multilayered. There’s a lot going on. There’s stuff in them, and they were written in the late 80s/early 90s, that is way ahead of their time. They are long. Each is over 500 pages. I’m a slow reader, so that is a time investment for me. Totally worth it. Great stuff. After reading each one I listened to them on audio books to enhance the experience. So, so good.

I’ve got a good stack of books to read, and a good virtual stack on my Kindle. More later.

 

Toxicity

A few months ago we listened to this audiobook – The Man They Wanted Me To Be – by Jared Yates Sexton . It’s a memoir of Yates’ experience with his father and an examination of the role of toxic masculinity in his life and beyond. If you are a man reading this post and just thought “Toxic masculinity is a bullshit concept and everyone needs to just man-up and get on with things” then you probably need to read the book. The book is especially timely now, as the White House is currently occupied by one of the world’s greatest exemplars and advocates of toxic masculinity.

I’m not going to do a review of the book here,except to say it’s worth reading or hearing. Henry Rollins did this very solid article about it, so you can start reading it here.

What you should know going into the book, I think, is that it isn’t about scolding anyone for how they are. It’s about a man seeking to understand himself and the cultural norms that have been ingrained in him. It’s not a self-help book, but reading it might help you. Compared to a lot of men I feel like I got a light dose of this from my dad, and I’m lucky for that, but the truth is I still got it.

If you are a woman, reading it might help you understand the programming the men in your life have likely received.

 

Robert Silverberg

Last month I finished reading an anthology of science fiction short stories called Infinite Stars. One of the best was a story by Robert Silverberg. He’s widely regarded as one of the greats of the genre, yet I’d never read any of his work. It seems like he doesn’t have any single work that really gained any pop culture notoriety or even kind of a “super hit” in the world of SF. Most readers of SF can easily rattle off a list of books by Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, Clarke, etc. I certainly could. But until now Silverberg was not on my radar at all.

Soooooooo…after a bit of research I decided to read his novel Downward to the Earth. It appeared to be of the same bent as the short story I’d read. I must say it was quite good. I work as a librarian. I keep track of the new science fiction that comes in. It’s rare to find a new SF novel that is less than about 400 pages. It seems that everyone ones to get some of that Game of Thrones TV series type money, so nearly everything is a series as well. So it was really cool to read a novel with big ideas, communicated with style and efficiency, that was only about 250 pages long. For me that’s a 2-day read (if I’m sick, which I am right now, so I’m just laying around all day reading, suffering, or both).

Now, Downward to the Earth is very much of a book of its time. Published in 1970, you are not going to find much in the way of female characters with much to say. I’ve noticed that in more recent SF, that female part of the human race is much better represented. When you go back and read this old science fiction it’s hard not to notice this. This isn’t really a criticism of the work. Just something I thought I’d mention. Having read a bit of Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and the others, I would almost say the male characters are usually kind of secondary as well. The ideas presented in these old SF novels always seem like the stars of the show. The characters are just their to explore them.

Strangely, I find that the more inclusive recent SF seems a bit devoid of interesting ideas. But maybe I’m just looking at the flashy books that show up in the library. I think that Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang, might prove me wrong. A general rule might be “if there are spaceships on the cover, don’t expect your mind to be blown, but you might enjoy it anyway.”

Anyway, back to Silverberg. I’ll probably read a bit more of his work after researching it a bit and deciding what to read.

Sprawl

I finished rereading William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy today. Read it back in the 90s, or at least the first two. Never read the third one, Mona Lisa Overdrive. I enjoyed the trilogy a lot. You can’t rush through ’em. You gotta read them with a good, relaxed rhythm, and really imagine the scenes. You can’t worry too much about not totally understanding what’s going on. It will become clearer the more you read.

Just started reading Virtual Light, first book of his next series, the Bridge trilogy. Digging it thus far.

Post 665

Oh yeah, next post will be #666, so I’d better make it a lot better than this one.

I just wanted to write a little note about Haymarket Books, and how a lot of the time if you buy an actual physical book from them they make an eBook available to your for download also. I think this is really, really cool. I love it. I read better, faster, and with less eye strain on my Kindle, but I still like to have the book in physical form too. I think all books should be this way. It’s rad.