Science Fiction and Fantasy Finalists

EDIT: This list was originally published on 23 May, 2013. At that time, I had ready 30/237 of these entries. Now, a mere five years later, that number has grown to 48/237. That’s pretty neat!

NPR did a Science Fiction and Fantasy vote way back in the bygone days of 2011. Of course, late to the party as ever, I’m only just hearing about it!

But it makes for a good challenge if anyone is interested in reading highly esteemed Science Fiction and Fantasy books!

(I’ve been trying to catch up on SF&F classics for a few months now, so I’ve taken the liberty of bolding those works that I’ve read so far.)

  • 1632, by Eric Flint
  • 1984, by George Orwell
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
  • 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne
  • The Acts Of Caine Series, by Matthew Woodring Stover
  • The Algebraist, by Iain M. Banks
  • Altered Carbon, by Richard K. Morgan
  • American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
  • Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman
  • Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
  • Animal Farm, by George Orwell
  • The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers
  • Armor, by John Steakley
  • The Baroque Cycle, by Neal Stephenson
  • Battlefield Earth, by L. Ron Hubbard
  • Beggars In Spain, by Nancy Kress
  • The Belgariad, by David Eddings
  • The Black Company Series, by Glen Cook
  • The Black Jewels Series, by Anne Bishop
  • The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
  • Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
  • Bridge Of Birds, by Barry Hughart
  • The Callahan’s Series, by Spider Robinson
  • A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller
  • The Cat Who Walked Through Walls, by Robert Heinlein
  • Cat’s Cradle , by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov
  • The Change Series, by S.M. Stirling
  • Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke
  • Children Of God, by Mary Doria Russell
  • The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny
  • The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson
  • The City And The City, by China Mieville
  • City And The Stars, by Arthur C. Clarke
  • A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
  • The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher
  • The Coldfire Trilogy, by C.S. Friedman
  • The Commonwealth Saga, by Peter F. Hamilton
  • The Company Wars, by C.J. Cherryh
  • The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard
  • Contact, by Carl Sagan
  • Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
  • The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
  • The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks
  • The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King
  • The Day of Triffids, by John Wyndham
  • Deathbird Stories, by Harlan Ellison
  • The Deed of Paksennarion Trilogy, by Elizabeth Moon
  • The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester
  • The Deverry Cycle, by Katharine Kerr
  • Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany
  • The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson
  • The Difference Engine, by William Gibson & Bruce Sterling
  • The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
  • Don’t Bite The Sun, by Tanith Lee
  • Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
  • Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
  • Dreamsnake, by Vonda McIntyre
  • The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert
  • Earth, by David Brin
  • Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart
  • The Eisenhorn Omnibus, by Dan Abnett
  • The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock
  • Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
  • Eon, by Greg Bear
  • The Eyes Of The Dragon, by Stephen King
  • The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
  • The Faded Sun Trilogy, by C.J. Cherryh
  • Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser Series, by Fritz Leiber
  • Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
  • The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
  • The Female Man, by Joanna Russ
  • The Fionavar Tapestry Trilogy, by Guy Gavriel Kay
  • A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge
  • The First Law Trilogy, by Joe Abercrombie
  • Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys
  • The Foreigner Series, by C.J. Cherryh
  • The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
  • The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov
  • Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
  • The Gaea Trilogy, by John Varley
  • The Gap Series, by Stephen R. Donaldson
  • The Gate To Women’s Country, by Sheri S. Tepper
  • Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett
  • The Gone-Away World, by Nick Harkaway
  • The Gormenghast Triology, by Mervyn Peake
  • Grass, by Sheri S. Tepper
  • Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
  • Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End of The World, by Haruki Murakami
  • The Heechee Saga, by Frederik Pohl
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
  • The Hollows Series, by Kim Harrison
  • House Of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski
  • The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
  • I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
  • I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
  • The Illuminatus! Trilogy, by Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson
  • The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
  • The Incarnations Of Immortality Series, by Piers Anthony
  • The Inheritance Trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
  • A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne
  • Kindred, by Octavia Butler
  • The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss
  • Kraken, by China Mieville
  • The Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey
  • Last Call, by Tim Powers
  • The Last Coin, by James P. Blaylock
  • The Last Herald Mage Trilogy, by Mercedes Lackey
  • The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
  • The Lathe Of Heaven, by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore
  • The Lensman Series, by E.E. Smith
  • The Liaden Universe Series, by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
  • The Lies Of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch
  • Lilith’s Brood, by Octavia Butler
  • Little, Big, by John Crowley
  • The Liveship Traders Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
  • Lord Of Light, by Roger Zelazny
  • The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Lord Valentine’s Castle, by Robert Silverberg
  • Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
  • Lud-in-the-Mist, by Hope Mirrlees
  • The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
  • The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson
  • The Man In The High Castle, by Philip K. Dick
  • The Manifold Trilogy, by Stephen Baxter
  • The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
  • Memory And Dream, by Charles de Lint
  • Memory, Sorrow, And Thorn Trilogy, by Tad Williams
  • Mindkiller, by Spider Robinson
  • The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein
  • Mordant’s Need, by Stephen Donaldson
  • More Than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon
  • The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
  • The Naked Sun, by Isaac Asimov
  • The Neanderthal Parallax Trilogy, by Robert J. Sawyer
  • Neuromancer, by William Gibson
  • Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
  • The Newsflesh Triology, by Mira Grant
  • The Night’s Dawn Trilogy, by Peter F. Hamilton
  • Norstrilia, by Cordwainer Smith
  • Novels Of The Company, by Kage Baker
  • The Number Of The Beast, by Robert Heinlein
  • Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi
  • On Basilisk Station, by David Weber
  • The Once And Future King, by T.H. White
  • Oryx And Crake, by Margaret Atwood
  • The Otherland Tetralogy, by Tad Williams
  • The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan
  • Parable Of The Sower, by Octavia Butler
  • The Passage, by Justin Cronin
  • Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson
  • Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville
  • The Prestige, by Christopher Priest
  • The Pride Of Chanur, by C.J. Cherryh
  • The Prince Of Nothing Trilogy, by R. Scott Bakker
  • The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
  • Rainbows End, by Vernor Vinge
  • Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke
  • Replay, by Ken Grimwood
  • Revelation Space, by Alistair Reynolds
  • Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban
  • The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist
  • Ringworld, by Larry Niven
  • The Riverworld Series, by Philip Jose Farmer
  • The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
  • The Saga Of Pliocene Exile, by Julian May
  • The Saga Of Recluce, by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
  • The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman
  • The Sarantine Mosaic Series, by Guy Gavriel Kay
  • A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick
  • The Scar, by China Mieville
  • The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks
  • The Shattered Chain Trilogy, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Sirens Of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
  • Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
  • The Snow Queen, by Joan D. Vinge
  • Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
  • Song for the Basilisk, by Patricia McKillip
  • A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
  • The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis
  • The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell
  • The Stainless Steel Rat Books, by Harry Harrison
  • Stand On Zanzibar, by John Brunner
  • The Stand, by Stephen King
  • Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
  • The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester
  • Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
  • Stations Of The Tide, by Michael Swanwick
  • Steel Beach, by John Varley
  • Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
  • Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
  • The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind
  • The Swordspoint Trilogy, by Ellen Kushner
  • The Tales of Alvin Maker, by Orson Scott Card
  • The Temeraire Series, by Naomi Novik
  • The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn
  • Tigana , by Guy Gavriel Kay
  • Time Enough For Love, by Robert Heinlein
  • The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
  • To Say Nothing Of The Dog, by Connie Willis
  • The Troy Trilogy, by David Gemmell
  • Ubik, by Philip K. Dick
  • The Uplift Saga, by David Brin
  • The Valdemar Series, by Mercedes Lackey
  • VALIS, by Philip K. Dick
  • Venus On The Half-Shell, by Kilgore Trout/Philip Jose Farmer
  • The Vlad Taltos Series, by Steven Brust
  • The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • The Vurt Trilogy, by Jeff Noon
  • The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells
  • Watchmen, by Alan Moore
  • Watership Down, by Richard Adams
  • The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
  • Way Station, by Clifford D. Simak
  • We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin
  • The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan
  • When Gravity Fails, by George Alec Effinger
  • Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
  • Wild Seed, by Octavia Butler
  • The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • World War Z, by Max Brooks
  • The Worm Ouroboros, by E.R. Eddison
  • The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony
  • The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon

10 Novels Every Sci-Fi Fan Should Read

A little while ago, EpicStream published its list of 10 Novels Every Sci-Fi Fan Should Read. It’s in a listicle format, so I’ll reproduce it here:

#10: Dune by Frank Herbert
#9: I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
#8: Contact by Carl Sagan
#7: 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clark
#6: The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
#5: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
#4: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
#3: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
#2: 1984 by George Orwell
#1: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

This list has the benefit of being entirely composed of books I’ve read, but notice anything strange about it?

Yeah…

Aside from the obvious problem that 1984 barely qualifies as science fiction, this list doesn’t even include Ursula LeGuin or Octavia Butler – who are the usual go-to “diversity” entries for lists written by people who don’t read diversely.

So I thought I’d come up with an alternate list. So here are my 10 Novels Every Sci-Fi Fan Should Read, in no particular order:

  • A Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski
  • A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin
  • Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
  • Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler
  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
  • Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh

With honourable mentions:

  • Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
  • Grass by Sheri S. Tepper

These days, there simply is no excuse to come up with such a ridiculously narrow list. Novels from people of all sorts of different backgrounds and perspectives are more accessible than ever, and a great many of them are good. We don’t need to be reading the same stuffy handful with the okay writing style and the few thought-provoking ideas, because we are living in a buyer’s market. We can demand excellence, we can demand creativity, and we can demand different.

And little makes me quite so angry as a list, written in this scifi golden age, that trots out the same old slogs all over again. Particularly when the newest blood it sees fit to include is Ready Player One, of all books!

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

Read: 10 September, 2016

After Wang Miao is recruited by the Beijing police to infiltrate a secret cabal of scientists, he finds himself on the brink of madness.

The Three-Body Problem is a fascinating book. It’s a lot more “hard” scifi than I’m used to, and a lot less narrative. The characters spend a fair bit of their time simply sitting around a room explaining scientific concepts to each other.

Yet, somehow, the plot manages to seep through and it’s fantastic. It’s a personal story of grief and revenge, it’s a secret society conspiracy story, it’s an alien invasion story, all pulled off in a compelling way.

The writing style is quite unusual. Ken Liu, the translator, has done an amazing job of preserving “an echo of another language’s rhythms and cadences” (his words, from the translator’s postscript).

The main character, Wang, is a little flat. He has details added – a wife, a child, a photography hobby – but these only come up when necessary to the plot. Most of the time, he’s reactive, following along as other characters take him on a journey. But those other characters are so expressive and memorable that Wang’s comparative blandness doesn’t detract. Rather, he serves as a fantastic reader insert as we get to meet all these different interesting people and try to solve the great mystery.

I did feel like the third act was on the weaker side. The climax itself was great, but the reveal at the end where all the remaining plot lines are tied together felt forced and rather info-dumpy. This style had been used before, primarily in the sections where Ye Wenjie’s history is revealed. The difference there, though, is that Ye is a very interesting character. Whereas in the final portion, we’re with the aliens – characters we haven’t gotten to know and are explicitly meant to feel alienated (see what I did there?) from. Each character therefore serves only as a role needed to expose the plot, and it doesn’t work anymore. I have to admit, the final 40 or so pages took me about two days to get through. That said, it’s only 40 pages out of an otherwise fantastic 400.

There are apparently two sequels available. But for those of you suffering from Serial Burnout, don’t worry. The Three-Body Problem has a very satisfying end. It’s open, but it’s not a cliff-hanger.

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Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse, edited by John Joseph Adams

Read: 21 October, 2014

The End of the Whole Mess by Stephen King

Howard Fornoy sets out to tell the story of what happened to the world – and the Messiah – in the little time he has left. I’ve only read a few of King’s works, but his voice is unmissable in this story. He sets it up early, complaining that the story deserves “thousands of pages,” but will get only a handful. As a result, much of the story is only hinted at. It was interesting and tantalizing, but I don’t think that it would have held my attention for much longer. I’m sure he would have done something interesting with more pages, but I quite appreciated that so much was left for me to fill in for myself.

Salvage by Orson Scott Card

Following a rumour of gold in the old Mormon temple, Deaver ropes his friends into helping him explore the flooded ruins. I have rather serious reservations about Card as a person, and was pretty wary of story of his putting Mormonism so front and centre. Despite this, I found it a pleasant read, and surprisingly non-preachy. Sure, Deaver is exposed to a lesson in respecting the beliefs of others (whether he learns it or not is another matter), but it worked, and it could easily have been the written from the perspective of any other faith system.

The People of Sand and Slag by Paolo Bacigalupi

A somewhat surreal story in which humanity has been so changed by technology that they’re no longer recognizably people any more. The world is a much changed place, inhospitable to life, yet humanity has survived by changing itself. I found the story a little difficult to get into, perhaps because the people were so alien in many ways that it took me a while to figure out what was going on. Once I did, however, I really appreciated the snapshot of possible future humanity, and what it says about us.

Bread and Bombs by M. Rickert

An interesting little piece about some of the less savoury tactics used in war, and the guilt/fear reactions to refugees. It was a little more abstract than most of the other stories, and perhaps harder to see its place in the anthology, but it was well written and interesting.

How We Got In Town and Out Again by Jonathan Lethem

Two young people join a virtual reality stamina competition – the goal, as I gathered it, was to be the last person “standing.” For some reason, in this future world, it’s more entertaining for spectators to watch other people play games than to play games themselves. This seems rather odd, and especially fanciful when the author’s biography reads that this story is part of a larger series “railing against virtual reality technologies.” The characterization of the main character was quite interesting, and fairly complex for a short story, but it didn’t carry the story. Perhaps being a gamer coloured my reading, but the premise just seemed to absurd for me to take the story seriously.

Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels by George R. R. Martin

A familiar enough story where off-world humans return to a destroyed earth to find a very different sort of human – in this case a subterranean one. Martin’s writing style gives this overdone plot a bit of new life, though the end twist should surprise no one familiar with his work. The story was entertaining, even if it wasn’t particularly thought-provoking.

Waiting for the Zephyr by Tobias S. Buckell

Mara waits for a land-ship to take her away from an abusive home life. The story was sad, but ended on a (not uncomplicated) note of hope. I felt like there was so much more to tell, though, and it was frustrating to have the story end just as it should have begun. This felt like a kernel, perhaps an experimental hashing out of ideas meant to be used in earnest later on.

Never Despair by Jack McDevit

Chaka searches through the ruins of earth for an explanation of what was. Like Waiting for the Zephyr, the story felt like a brainstorm for a bigger piece, but, also like Zephyr, the ideas it presents carry it. It was significantly less polished than Buckell’s piece, though, as there were many questions that begged answers – how is the holograph (?) still running? Why doesn’t Chaka mine it for information when information is what she’s after?

When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth by Cory Doctorow

Personally, I found this to be one of the most entertaining works in the anthology. Felix maintains the internet in Toronto, and it’s a late night emergency that saves him from dying along with his wife, child, and the rest of the city when the apocalypse hits. It’s a terribly sad story as Felix roots around for ways to process the loss of his family, set against the backdrop of a bunch of techies trying to decide if the apocalypse is a time for hope or for despair. On a more personal note, I particularly enjoyed the characterization of Felix, the way he processes the changing situation. Being something of an “android” myself, and having most of my social circle comprised of Aspie STEM people, it was a joy to see such familiar thought patterns in a fictional character.

The Last of the O-Forms by James Van Pelt

A somewhat interesting “behind the scenes at the travelling zoo” story with an entertaining (and appropriate) twist ending. While not spectacular, the story was a solid inclusion.

Still Life with Apocalypse by Richard Kadrey

I’ve mentioned that a few of these stories felt more like brainstorming notes than fully fleshed out stories, and it doesn’t get more true than for this one. Still Life isn’t even a story so much as a collection of thoughts about the apocalypse strung together without narrative coherence or internal logic. There’s an image of a horse being dragged out of a pit, a brief history of the main character’s post-apocalyptic career, and a description of his living situation. That’s it. At least at barely two pages, it didn’t take up too much of my time.

Artie’s Angels by Catherine Wells

In this story, Arthurian legend is tied into a post-apocalyptic scene. The main character, Faye, is finally admitted to what appears to be a city in a biosphere, sheltered from the radiation of the world outside. There, she meets Artie, a charismatic boy who forms a sort of courier service bicycle cult around a moral code. I thought the story itself was interesting, and weaving it together with the story of King Arthur made it even more so. Even better, there was a commentary there on the role of stories in the creation of social movements that really made this story stand out.

Judgement Passed by Jerry Oltion

Astronauts return to earth to find it empty, completely empty of people, after Christ’s return. Having been left behind, the astronauts must figure out what to do in a post-Judgement Day world, all without Nicolas Cage to guide them.The story was interesting, though the repetition of the word “agnostic” got a little grating (not to mention that the characters never define the term and don’t use it in a sense I’m familiar with).

Mute by Gene Wolfe

Jill and Jimmy are on a bus that takes them home, but no one is there for them when they arrive. This story threw me off a bit because of its inclusion in this collection. I kept expecting to understand what the apocalypse was and trying to beat off the rather obvious hints that the children are dead and in the afterlife (I mean, come on, they try to leave the house only go pass through the gate and end up back on the inside – if that’s not “endless fog,” I don’t know my horror tropes!). I enjoyed the story – it had a lovely creepy tone – but I’m not sure why it was included in this anthology, except perhaps because of its “empty world” aspect. But I did find that my expectations of what the story was going to be about lessened my enjoyment of what it actually was.

Inertia by Nancy Kress

A disfiguring plague leads to modern leper colonies – largely abandoned and forced into self-sufficiency. But one doctor believes that the disease may have another symptom, a beneficial one. I really enjoyed this story about minds and how our behaviour can be shaped by factors like disease. The cutesy twist gave me a chuckle.

And the Deep Blue Sea by Elizabeth Bear

A courier must travel through a wasteland to deliver her package. On the way, she meets Nick at a crossroads. The post-apocalyptic setting seemed rather tangential to what was really a story about dealing with the devil and redemption. The story didn’t wow me, but it was decent filler.

Speech Sounds by Octavia E. Butler

A disease that induces stroke-like symptoms has overrun the world, leaving many “impaired.” Rye can still speak, but she’s lost the ability to read and write. And when jealousy over lost abilities leads people to kill, she cannot even speak for fear of her life. I found this to be an interesting story about the importance of communication, the choice many people make not to communicate even when they can, and the need for human contact.

Killers by Carol Emshwiller

A community of women has survived the war that ended civilization alone, their men all gone to fight. Some men return, but they are different, savage. Then, one night, one man comes home. Killers is a short, brutal story with a rather bludegeony political message. Though it was interesting and the ending certainly fit, I felt that the twist came too fast, as though the author had gotten bored and just wanted to finish it already.

Ginny Sweethips’ Flying Circus by Near Barrett, Jr.

This story didn’t wow me. I felt like a bunch of concepts were being thrown at me (androids! virtual sex! insurance sales! animal hybrids! tacos!), but the short story format didn’t allow any of it to go anywhere. It all just happened and then it was over and I never felt like I had been made to care about any of it. Perhaps because the characters were so neglected in the effort to pack the setting.

The End of the World as We Know It by Dale Bailey

An interesting piece about the powerlessness of losing a loved one. This was a different approach to the other stories in the collection, and a little more meta. It also worked well as an allegory for loss in a general sense.

A Song Before Sunset by David Grigg

A musician just wants to play the piano. This was an interesting piece, though perhaps not particularly memorable. I think the author was trying to tackle the civilization/culture relationship, and the ending fit well into that discussion. It was certainly solid filler material, just not one of the stories that will stay with me in the long term.

Episode Seven: Last Stand Against the Pack in the Kingdom of the Purple Flowers by John Langan

Jackie is eight months pregnant and running for her life with Wayne, a comic book enthusiast who seems almost to revel in the apocalypse. There was a lot going on here that was never explained – where did the flowers come from? What is Wayne’s shadow? But it was an extremely compelling story. I was on the edge of my seat, and I found Jackie’s internal struggle very interesting. The only flaw with the story was the awkward format – particularly the use of mega, multi-page paragraphs that made reading extremely difficult (especially with a child, where I’m frequently being interrupted – finding my place again in a wall of text is an exercise in futility). The weird use of bolded lines and dashes took a while to get used to, but I found that they worked well with the pace of the writing.

Overall, I found this to be a very solid anthology. There were stories that I slogged through, and there were some that were clearly filler material (though at least solid filler), and plenty of gems. I had to keep stopping as I read because I was inspired to write another short story of my own, or I needed to stop and mull over a theme.

I’m not a terribly huge fan of the short story form, mostly because it takes me some time to ease into a world. As a result, reading short stories often feels like I’m just forced to go through that awkward, confused, unpleasant stage over and over again and, as soon as I’m comfortably settled in and ready to enjoy the ride, it ends. Despite this, I really enjoyed this anthology, and I think the selections were well chosen.

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Divergent Trilogy #2: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Read: 11 August, 2014

In the second installment of the Divergent trilogy, we find Tris on the run from Erudite. As she travels through the factions and the factionless areas of future-Chicago, she seeks both revenge and to understand why Erudite attacked Abnegation.

As I read the series, it keeps occurring to me that Divergent is really just a speculative fiction version of The Breakfast Club. Everyone has partitioned off into little cliques that rarely mix, each has its own narratives, it’s own traditions, and each has its own (false) beliefs about the types of people in the others. Then something happens and members of each clique are forced to spend time together, and to recognize their shared humanity. Sounds familiar?

Then I was describing the plot to my darling gentleman friend and, when I got to the part about choosing factions, he asks, “did they wear a special hat?” That’s when I realized just how much of Harry Potter is in here, too. I don’t think I even need to bother talking about The Hunger Games, ’cause, yeah. That one is a little too obvious.

And that’s all okay. Divergent isn’t great literature. I’m borrowing the books form the library and I won’t be bothering to buy copies of my own because I doubt that I will want to reread or reference or just build book forts out of again once I’m done with the series. And that’s all okay. It’s proving to be a fun read, if cringe-worthy at times.

It’s the kind of serious I like to refer to as “filler.” It’s a series you read between two amazing, impactful books when you just need to give your brain and your emotions a little rest.

As a side note, here is a hilarious Honest Trailers about the first movie:

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Divergent Trilogy #1: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Read: 17 March, 2014

Sixteen-year-old Beatrice must make a choice that will shape the rest of her life – she must choose her faction. Though she grew up in Abnegation, she simply cannot see herself living as Abnegation for the rest of her life. Yet choosing a different faction means betraying her family and losing everything she’s ever known.

I quite enjoyed Divergent. The premise is a little brow-beaty, but it worked once I settled myself into a solid state of suspension of disbelief. I also felt that the ending was rather rushed. There’s a slow exposition process, a mystery, a number of characters working on solving the mystery, and then the Big Bad just starts cackling and reveals the whole plan. The turn around from plotline to resolution felt too quick, too brutal (in a literary sense though, of course, it’s brutal within the story as well).

All in all, I felt that the book would have benefited from another draft, but it was still a good bit of fun. I’ll definitely be grabbing the next book in the series.

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Series: Saga by Brian K. Vaughan (illustrated by Fiona Staples)

I was recommended this series a little while ago and finally got around to reading it. I was instantly addicted, only to then find out that there’s only two volumes out with a publishing rate that looks to be about one per year. It’s like A Song of Ice and Fire all over again…

The storyline is quite interesting – it’s a Romeo and Juliet story between two aliens from planets (well, one planet and one moon) at war, told from the perspective of their daughter. The characters are interesting and amusing, and the plot compelling.

The artwork is absolutely gorgeous. My only caveat is that if you borrow these books from the library, you should try not to read them in the children’s books section while waiting for your toddler to select his books. The giant with the massive scrotum was, in retrospect, a little inappropriate.

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10 Great Banned Science Fiction Books

  1. Shade’s Children by Garth Nix
  2. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  3. The His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman
  4. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
  5. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
  6. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  7. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
  8. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  9. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  10. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Go read through the whole article for a summary of each book and the reason for its banning.

How many of these have you read? Did you read them in school or on your own?

The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction by Philip Athans

Read: 28 July, 2013

I enjoy reading “how to write” guides because I find them so informative – not in my own writing, but more in my reading. For some reason, they seem to speak to me more than the “how to read” guides I’ve tried.

These sorts of guides highlight things that writers should be paying attention to, and that translates well into what readers should be paying attention to. I feel that it gives me some insight into thought and planning that may have gone into whatever book I happen to be reading.

The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction is quite a good book, presenting six steps (each broken down into a number of smaller considerations). Of course, following the steps won’t produce a good book, but they do highlight the things that a writer will need to think about to write in the genre.

I found it interesting, and I think that it does have some use for both writers and readers. And, while geared specifically towards fantasy and science fiction, plenty of the advice is applicable toward other genres.

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The 5 Most Unjustly Overshadowed Sci-Fi Classics

I posted a little while ago asking for science fiction recommendations, and someone sent me this Cracked article: The 5 Most Overshadowed Sci-Fi Classics.

Here’s the list:

  • Idoru by William Gibson
  • The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
  • Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
  • The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
  • Kalki by Gore Vidal

Head on over to Cracked to read the full article.

So, have you read these books? What did you think of them?