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.

 

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