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NPR's Top 100 Science-Fiction & Fantasy Books - How many have you read?

Only 59%! A sad showing for me, but this is a mixed SF & F list, and I've never been as strong a fantasy fan as SF. On the other hand, you couldn't force me to read some of the ones I've missed on this list, e.g. the Xanth series or CS Lewis' Space trilogy. (I tried to read Out of the Silent Planet in my teens, after the Narnia series, but I found it a hard slog, and gave up very quickly. As for Piers Anthony....)
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In Charlie Stross's Laundry books, the Earth is heading towards a region of space where multiple branes are colliding*, weakening the structure of space-time such that practicing higher mathematics can actually manipulate reality directly, aka magic.

Now, while the Sun is moving towards Lambda Herculis at 20 kilometers per second at about 26° to the ecliptic, the Earth is also moving around the Sun at 30 km/s.

This means that at times the Earth will be moving towards the thin space at around 50 km/s, and six months later will be moving away at around 10 km/s, so the wave of magical effect will ebb and rise on an annual basis, until CASE NIGHTMARE RAINBOW reaches its peak. (I think that the fastest rise is around April or May, and the ebb is in October-November, if I'm reading this star chart and visualising the situation properly.)

* Or maybe there's a concentration of dark matter or something.
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Jim Burns

Arthur C. Clarke's short story, Summertime on Icarus given a fine dramatic reading by Tim Piggot-Smith on BBC Radio 4extra.
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A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury. Stream available until midnight Saturday.

A dramatization of Bradbury's seminal time travel story. It's a long time since I last read the story, but I think the adaptation hits all the salient points. I suspect that the American accents may be slightly off; I don't know if it's enough to bother American listeners. The introducing and closing narration is by that guy who sounds like Orson Welles, "Paul Fries", I think?

There's a brief outro by Bradbury's biographer Sam Weller.

Understand by Ted Chiang. Stream available until 00:30 Saturday.

A reading of a Ted Chiang story. Second part of four. The first part's not available now, and the second will evaporate when the third part appears. In the first part, Leon is given a drug to restore brain cells lost by oxygen starvation from drowning, and finds himself becoming more intelligent than before.

The parallel with Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon is clear, but the set-up is accelerated, and the story goes in a somewhat different direction in episode 2. I haven't read the story, so I don't know if it ends up in the similar place to FFA after the CIA shenanigans.

At the Mountains of Madness by HP Lovecraft. Stream available until 00:30 Monday.

A reading (abridged?) of the classic HP Lovecraft story of unearthly archaeology in five parts. Transmitting every night this week. I listened to this earlier in the year, and I have to say that to me, Lovecraft appears to be even harder to listen to than to read. Such amaranthine, violaceous, heliotropic, perse prose!

Burning Chrome by William Gibson. Stream available until 00:30 Monday.

"It was hot, the night we burned Chrome." A reading in two parts of Gibson's first cyberpunk story, in which the word cyberspace was first coined. Bobby Quine and Automatic Jack hack a local gangsters' banker's system, for the sake of a girl. Bobby and Jack fall out, and there are consequences. Luminous, hallucinogenic early Gibson.

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The Long Result:
The Long Result is a 1965 British science fiction novel, by John Brunner in which difficult problems are solved by clever people working hard and sensibly, with the violent approach revealed as an aberration, and with a halogen-breathing deus-ex-machina largely leaving people to solve people problems.

Random idea

Jun. 2nd, 2012 06:08 pm
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This needs to be written by somebody with more knowledge of poetry than me: The lensman series, by ee doc cummings.

Book Meme

Aug. 14th, 2011 09:48 pm
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Rememed from jeffreyab. The NPR SF list meme: Bold if you've read, italicize ones you fully intend to read, underline if it's a series you've read part but not all of.

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams*
3. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert

5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
6. 1984, by George Orwell
7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury**
8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov
9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman**
12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan
13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson
15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore
16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein

18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss
19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
22. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
23. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood

24. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King
25. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
26. The Stand, by Stephen King
27. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson

28. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury**
29. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
30. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman
31. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess**
32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams
32. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein
35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller

36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne
38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys
39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells
40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny

41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings
42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson
44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven.
45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien

47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White
48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
49. Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke
50. Contact, by Carl Sagan
51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson

54. World War Z, by Max Brooks
55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett

58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson
59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett
61. The Mote In God's Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind
63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist
67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks
68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard
69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
70. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne**
73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore
74. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi
75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson
76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke

77. The Kushiel's Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey
78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury**
80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson
82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks
84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher
87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn
89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan
90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock
91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury**
92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley**
93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge
94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov
95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson
96. Lucifer's Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville

99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony
100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

*Haven't read the latest one, but that wasn't writ by Douglas Adams
**Seen the movie

I have a vague recollection of trying to read Out of the Silent Planet 35-ish years ago, but don't actually recall anything about it. I read the first Dark Tower book, but wasn't impressed enough to continue. I read the first Thomas Covenent trilogy, and that was enough.

The School

Jun. 27th, 2011 12:18 pm
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Humans are the best possible life form and white humans are the best possible humans and, also, we have a manifest destiny and the universe is our heritage.

This is known as the John W. Campbell Axiom.

Go read it.
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GoogleLabs' Books Ngram Viewer, searching for instances of the words cyborg & android:

Interesting rise in cyborg in the '90s. Dunno what that's down to: people getting chips implanted into themselves for artistic reasons, real experimental surgery?
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Playing with GoogleLabs' Book Ngram Viewer, searching for subspace, hyperspace:

I'm surprised; I'd've thought that hyperspace would've been more popular.
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I think I've decided to go to Novacon 40. Friday night, anyway. Maybe they'll have figured out the programme for the rest of the weekend by then.

Iain Banks will be there, with his M, along with a bunch of other fabulous sci-fi peeps, so I guess the other days will be worth going to, even if they just pile everybody together in one room and don't let them out.
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At the Cheltenham Lit Festival today, someone on the How to Read Science Fiction panel: "What The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy is about is being English in space."

Or maybe it was Iain (M) Banks explaining why he hadn't read Niven & Pournelle's Inferno yet, despite it having some relationship to the plot of his latest: "However much I might like a writer, there's only so much being shouted at by Libertarians I can take."

No, actually it was Banks again: "You don't write space opera in a vacuum!"

Dishonourable mention goes to the lit crit in debate with China Miéville -- about the ghetto-ization of genre work in general and the lack of genre books in the Man-Booker Prize long list in particular -- who felt himself surrounded by an unsympathetic audience1 and fell back on what I felt were somewhat clichéd critical tropes but wound up saying that the main problem with 'sci-fi' is that it's "filled with explanation", as though this was something weird and only something that a writer of JK Rowling's lack of calibre would commit to paper. He wouldn't accept that skill with explanation or exposition might be anywhere near equal in value to a writer as characterisation.

I'm awarding myself a no-prize for coming to the front of the sizeable Iain Banks signing queue besides the frankly enormous Gok Wan queue and emitting this: "You look very different on television, Mr Wan."

1: Perhaps he just felt that an audience that was split fifty-fifty between SF geeks and lit-fic geeks was unfairly biased.
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Re-memed from nwhyte.

Ian Sales' list of British sf masterworks
Usual procedure for book memes: bold if I've read it, italics if I've started but haven't finished it, struck through if I couldn't stand it. Discussion welcome here but probably better directed to Ian Sales' post here (revised from his original list). Writers are listed from 1 to 55 but there are in fact 77 distinct works. Only six women out of 55, three writers from Northern Ireland, no books post-1995 (I suppose to be a 'masterwork' you need to have demonstrated longevity).

List behind the cut )

I don't have anything against Constantine's Wraethththu as such, it's just that I've read the review of the Wraethththu RPG on, which has — possibly unfairly — set me up to dislike it in advance. I'll give it another decade or so.

I will read Desolation Road at some point, it's on my to-read pile.

Books I should read at some point: Pavane, A Clockwork Orange, The Alteration, SS-GB, Vurt.
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Long list here.


  • Best Novel: TIE: The City & The City, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan UK); The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade)
  • Best Novella: “Palimpsest”, Charles Stross (Wireless; Ace, Orbit)
  • Best Novelette: “The Island”, Peter Watts (The New Space Opera 2; Eos)
  • Best Graphic Story: Girl Genius, Volume 9: Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm Written by Kaja and Phil Foglio; Art by Phil Foglio; Colours by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Moon Screenplay by Nathan Parker; Story by Duncan Jones; Directed by Duncan Jones (Liberty Films)
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: Doctor Who: “The Waters of Mars” Written by Russell T Davies & Phil Ford; Directed by Graeme Harper (BBC Wales)
  • Best Fan Writer: Frederik Pohl
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A list of the 100 best SF movies.

Ones I've watched in italics:

1) Blade Runner (1982)
2) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
3) Star Wars (1977)
4) Alien (1979)
5) Metropolis (1927)
6) The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
7) The Terminator (1984)
8) Planet of the Apes (1968)
9) E.T. (1982)
10) Solaris (1972)
11) Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
12) Forbidden Planet (1956)
13) The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
14) A Trip to the Moon (1902)
15) Aliens (1986)
16) Silent Running (1972)
17) Brazil (1985)
18) Akira (1988)
19) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
20) Total Recall (1990)
21) The Matrix (1999)
22) Tron (1982)
23) The Thing (1982)
24) RoboCop (1987)
25) Jurassic Park (1993)
26) Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
27) A Clockwork Orange (1971)
28) The Fifth Element (1997)

29) La Jetée (1962)
30) Sleeper (1973)
31) The Fly (1986)
32) Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
33) Westworld (1973)
34) Mad Max 2 (aka The Road Warrior) (1981)
35) Return of the Jedi (1983)
36) Back to the Future (1985)
37) WALL-E (2008)

38) The Fantastic Planet (1973)
39) The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
40) Things to Come (1936)
41) 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)
42) The Abyss (1989)
43) Quatermass 2 (1957)
44) This Island Earth (1955)
45) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
46) Delicatessen (1991)
47) Dark Star (1974)
48) The Andromeda Strain (1971)
49) The Omega Man (1971)

50) Stalker (1979)
51) Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)
52) Escape from New York (1981)
53) The Invisible Man (1933)
54) It Came From Outer Space (1953)
55) Godzilla (1954)
56) Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
57) Minority Report (2002)

58) Alphaville (1965)
59) Gattaca (1997)
60) The Fountain (2006)
61) Them! (1954)
62) Videodrome (1983)

63) Logan’s Run (1976)
64) Ghost in the Shell (1995)
65) Repo Man (1984)
66) Children of Men (2006)
67) Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
68) Outland (1981)
69) A Boy and his Dog (1975)
70) Mad Max (1979)
71) Donnie Darko (2001)
72) Soylent Green (1973)

73) Cube (1997)
74) Moon (2009)
75) Dark City (1998)
76) Starship Troopers (1997)
77) A Scanner Darkly (2006)

78) The Quiet Earth (1985)
79) Invaders From Mars (1953)
80) Fantastic Voyage (1966)
81) Barbarella (1968)
82) Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
83) Twelve Monkeys (1995)
84) Event Horizon (1997)
85) Independence Day (1996)
86) Altered States (1980)
87) The Stepford Wives (1975)
88) Serenity (2005)
89) Dune (1984)

90) Primer (2004)
91) Explorers (1985)
92) THX 1138 (1971)
93) Star Trek (2009)
94) Flash Gordon (1980)
95) Galaxy Quest (1999)
96) Cocoon (1985)
97) Stargate (1994)
98) Predator (1987)

99) Trancers (1985)
100) Rollerball (1975)

Eighty-seven out of 100. Yes, I watch too many movies. Or is that, I haven't watched enough? Films I got to watch sometime: La Jetée, The Fantastic Planet, Alphaville, Logan's Run, Cube. Yeah, and Ghost in the Shell, I got that on DVD somewhere.

(Meme caught from ffutures.)
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I scanned this illustration of Tabitha Jute — illustrated here by Jim Burns for the Plenty novels by Colin Greenland — for no particularly good reason.

Medium-sized scan after the break )
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My friend S no longer likes science fiction. I think he's forgotten how to read the stuff. I don't know whether to give up on getting him hooked again. Maybe I should just let him go, but he seems to feel the loss.

Books S has read in the last couple of years, but given up on:

Diamond Age: "Thermodynamically impossible."

Use of Weapons: "Nobody has conversations like that."

Halting State: "Suits."

Media S has liked:

The Aubrey & Maturin books: he rereads the whole series semi-continuously.

Avatar: "Absolutely incredible."

I was going to try him on Saturn's Children, but I'm inclined to give up and let him simmer in his own mundane juices. Or maybe I'll give him some Murakami, confident that he'll hate it.

PS Maybe Rainbows End? Trouble is, as a programming professional he's likely to latch on to something in it as being impossible to implement and just grind to halt on it.
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From Boingboing:

[..] sf writer Peter Watts was beaten without provocation and arrested by US border guards on Tuesday. I heard about it early Wednesday morning in London and called Cindy Cohn, the legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She worked her contacts to get in touch with civil rights lawyers in Michigan, and we mobilized with Caitlin Sweet (Peter's partner) and David Nickle (Peter's friend) and Peter was arraigned and bailed out later that day.

But now Peter faces a felony rap for "assaulting a federal officer" (Peter and the witness in the car say he didn't do a thing, and I believe them). Defending this charge will cost a fortune, and an inadequate defense could cost Peter his home, his livelihood and his liberty.
[..] Here's the link to the backlist page on Peter's website,, or you can just send a PayPal donation to

Book Covers

Nov. 7th, 2009 10:40 pm
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A couple of scans I did tonight. Two classic Penguin SF covers by Alfred Chesterman: The Demolished Man and Tiger! Tiger! (aka. The Stars My Destination)

Tiger! Tiger!,The Stars My Destination,Alfred Bester,cover

The Demolished Man,Alred Bester,cover,Adrian Chesterman
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So, over in, in a thread about making Firefly's astrography sensible, or at least playable in an RPG, a sub-thread broke out about whether faster-than-light communications were canon or not. They certainly appear to be, since there's no time-lag apparent in the Serenity movie where one might expect there to be. Whether it was intended, or was just a slip, is another matter.

But an argument was made that though the comms were shown with no time-lag, this was just a cinematic convention, since it isn't possible to write a scene showing speed-of-light communications over inter-planetary or greater distances without losing the audience.

I thought this was rubbish and wrote the following particles (can't really call them vignettes). A couple of posters liked them (The word "Awesome" was used once or twice :) ), so I thought I'd repost them here:

Here are some relatively painless ways to show speed-of-light communications:

Episode X: Mal says "Wash, how far away is our oh-so-respectable-and-solvent client? Ninety light minutes? Send him a message asking why the guay his money transfer hasn't come through yet! Me and Kaylee are going out to work on the stabilizer vane again. I feel a powerful urge to hit something with a hammer for three hours. Call me if you get his reply before we're finished."

Episode Y: Mal receives a desperate call from an old acquaintance on one of the Rim Worlds. "Well, they're a light-month away, no need to rush off unprepared. Either it's already happened, or it can wait a while longer while we divert to pick up some heavy equipment of the breaking things variety. Jayne, I want to borrow one of your catalogs, and not the ladies' lingerie one."

Episode Z: Mal has been woken up to answer a call. He's wearing his pyjamas, has bedroom hair and looks half-asleep. His interlocutor introduces himself and asks if Firefly is available for hire. Mal replies that it certainly is, reels off his standard rates and asks what the client has in mind. Jump-cut to the client who says that it's a simple job needing no more than a few resources, and not much time, so a cheap rate would be appropriate. Jump-cut to:

Mal is now dressed, shaven, hair combed and is holding a glass of synthetic OJ and a piece of toast. He asks for a few more details, such as the location of the job. The client names a Border World. Jump-cut to:

Mal is now wearing overalls, his sleeves are rolled up, his hands covered with grease and he's fiddling with a doohickey. He points out to the client that that planet has been under Alliance interdiction since they broke the planet's terraforming in the war, and quotes Serenity's "Sneaking past Alliance frigates and landing in blizzards" rate. The client demurs, and suggests a much lower rate while forwarding a guaranteed reliable fake science mission transponder code. Jump-cut to:

Mal has a distinct five o'clock shadow and is looking even greasier than before, except for his hands, which are relatively clean. He picks at his bowl of noodles while he speaks, suggesting that the transponder code won't be much help with landing in a world-wide snowstorm, and quotes a rate half-way between the previous figures. The client sighs and gives in, telling Mal where to find and where to deliver the McGuffin. Jump-cut to:

Mal is clean again, though damp, and is wearing a bathrobe. He tells the client that it's a deal, sends Serenity's account number for the transfer of the first half of the fee, confirms a date to drop off the McGuffin and signs off. "Jian gui! I do hate these long, drawn-out negotiations with a passion. Kaylee! Can't you make something to make the radio work faster?" "Oh, I'll just rewrite the laws of physics: it'll be easier!"

For extra comedic effect, the client is conservatively dressed in a business suit, immaculately groomed and manicured, and sitting behind an empty desk in every shot of him. The only thing that subtley changes in his office between shots is the ambient lighting as the day passes.

Doing it this way is no more painful than any other piece of exposition, and it would establish the principle of SOL comms in a way never before seen in a sci-fi show. And seeing things I've never seen before is an important feature of watching sci-fi shows for me. It really isn't a difficult thing to keep communications time-lag in mind while working out a plot; no more so than the thousands of other things a writer has to bear in mind.

I've also had the "It can't be written or filmed any other way" argument when the subject comes up of space warfare in movies looking like WWII or Napoleonic naval warfare. But I've yet to write a counter to one of those.


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