July 21, 2013: A 17 (actually, 21) Question Science Fiction Book Meme!

The gang at http://www.sfsignal.com/ have launched another one of those irresistible SF-themed memes, what they’re calling a ” 17-question science fiction book meme for a lazy Sunday”.  I wrestled over a few of my responses, struggling with the relative worthiness of some of the titles, and finally decided to solve the problem by adding four extra questions to the meme (17 to 20) to round it out to an even twenty.  Er, plus one.

What follows are my responses.  Answer as many of the following as you can, in the comments section of this blog and over here: http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2013/07/a-17-question-science-fiction-book-meme/#more-79721.  They’d love to read your feeback!

1. My favorite alien invasion book or series is…?


The Ophiuchi Hotline by John Varley

It’s not an alien invasion story in the traditional sense of the term but an alien invasion does precipitate the events leading up to another (indirect) alien invasion in this thoroughly engaging novel about cloning, restored memories, and a mysterious radio signal from distant space.

2. My favorite alternate history book or series is…?


Watchmen by Alan Moore.

To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of Alt. History scifi and yet, Alan Moore’s non-linear, iconoclastic take on the superhero genre stands out as one of my favorite works crossing several genres.

3. My favorite cyberpunk book or series is…?


Glasshouse by Charles Stross

Okay, it includes enough cyberpunk elements for me to make it my selection in this category.  A twisty, turny, scifi thriller with plenty of humor and suspense.

4. My favorite Dystopian book or series is…?


Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower.

Unrelentingly grim yet possessed of a spirit and hope embodied by its determined protagonist.  I’d recommend it over the similar-themed, better-known The Road.

5. My favorite Golden-Age sf book or series is…?


Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

When I was a kid, my mother encouraged me to read by buying me a bunch of classic SF – Asimov, Ellison, Niven – but my favorite was Arthur C. Clarke,  and Childhood’s End is my favorite Arthur C. Clarke book.  A race of mysterious extraterrestrials visit Earth.  They bring an end to war, poverty, disease, and help usher in a golden age of peace and prosperity.  But what future plans do these alien, dubbed The Overlords, have for humanity?

6. My favorite hard sf book or series is…?


House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

I could have just as easily placed this novel in the space opera category and Iain M. Banks’s Culture series here as the works of both authors share common elements: breathtaking narratives spanning the universe peopled with colorful characters, fantastic alien races,  and mind-bending technologies. Big, brilliant ideas.

7. My favorite military sf book or series is…?


Old Man’s War by John Scalzi.

Not only my favorite military SF book or one of my favorite SF books in general but one of my very favorite books.  Period.  Every person I’ve recommended this novel to has become a John Scalzi fan.

8. My favorite near-future book or series is…?


The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon.

Maybe a bit of a cheat in that it may not have enough scifi elements to please the average SF enthusiast, but it’s got enough – the near future setting and medical breakthroughs – for me to include this poignant, inspiring, beautifully written novel here.

9. My favorite post-apocalyptic book or series is…?


The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

A “far down the road” post-apocalyptic science fiction novel in the guise of a fantasy novel chock full of allegory, literary allusions, and elusive subtext.  A challenging read, but well worth the time and effort.

10. My favorite robot/android book or series is…?


In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker.

Not robot or androids per se but immortal cyborgs, employees of The Company, charged with the task of traveling back in time in order to locate and safeguard (read: hide) artifacts and valuable items for sale in the 24th century (when/where they will be discovered). Complications arise when our heroine, Mendoza, falls in love with a 16th century Englishman.  And mortal no less!

11. My favorite space opera book or series is…


Iain M Banks’ Culture series.

Grand, brilliant, staggeringly inventive and, yes, operatic, the Culture Series stands out as a marvelous literary accomplishment.

12. My favorite steampunk book or series is…?

1The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

A washed-up illusionist and his imposing assistant battle to save London from dark forces in Jonathan Barnes’ witty, macabre, and all-out-bizarre novel.  There are surprises a plenty in a book in which no one can be trusted, least of all our narrator.

13. My favorite superhero book or series is…?

1The Superior Foes of Spiderman by Nick Spencer

Hmmm.  Though.  This changes week to week but, right now, coming off a highly entertaining first issue, this is the series I’m most excited about.

14. My favorite time travel book or series is…?


The Forever War by Joe Haldeman.

An exceptional treatment of time dilation makes this one the runaway winner in this category.

15. My favorite young adult sf book or series is…?


Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

A seminal work of science fiction whose appeal extends well beyond young adult readers, this coming-of-age tale is set at a Battle School where, amid the training, the games, and the youthful interrelations, not all is as it seems…

16. My favorite zombie book or series is…?


Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead.

Before The Walking Dead television series became a breakout hit, there was the comic book series – smarter, grimmer and far more character-driven than the show.

17. My favorite ship-based sf book or series is…?


The Dark Beyond the Stars by Frank M. Robinson

Having grown up on ship-based science fiction (and worked on a ship-based SF series for two years), I couldn’t help but include this category – and this delightfully engaging novel centered on a shocking shipboard mystery.

18. My favorite New Wave sf book or series is…?


Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch

If we’re going to have a Golden Age category, I only think it fair we include a New Wave category as well and, as much as I loved Flowers for Algernon, Camp Concentration gets the nod here.  His refusal to enlist in military service lands our protagonist, a poet and pacifist, in a prison whose inmates are subjected to bizarre, brain-altering experiments.

19. My favorite Future Tech sf book or series is…?


Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover

Science fiction AND fantasy.  Heroes Die offers the best of both worlds in a rip-roaring adventure that explores the effects of developed entertainment technology on eager consumers – and, in turn, the media conglomerates calling the shots.

20. My favorite Otherworldly sf book or series is…?


Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

By “otherworldly”, I mean a story that takes place on a planet other than Earth – like, for instance, the colony world setting of this novel that gets taken over by the power mad former crew of a spaceship who use technological and physical enhancements to transform themselves into gods.  Fans of Stargate, take note!

21. The 3 books at the top of my sf/f/h to-be-read pile are…?

Okay.  One of each…


The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang

One of my favorite SF writers.  He’s not all that prolific but his work is consistently great.

1Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

If you like your fantasy dark, darkly humorous, and action-packed, then look no further than the works of Joe Abercrombie.

1A Terror by Jeffrey Ford.

A new release by one of the most wildly imaginative authors writing today.

Okay, those were my answers.  Let’s see yours!

October 4, 2008: September’s Top Reads, Following Through on Your Recommendations, and The Return of the Mailbag

My September Picks
My September Picks
And some of your recommendations
And some of your recommendations

With the month of September behind us, it’s time for me to look back over my recent reads and pick my favorite titles of the past month. It was a pretty good crop but, of the bunch I did read (and not including the book of the month club selections) the, following were my favorites:

Fast Forward 2, edited by Lou Anders

Long-time visitors to this blog are no doubt familiar with editor Lou Anders through his (all-too) infrequent visits here, and his previous SF collection, Fast Forward: Future Fiction From the Cutting Edge, which was a past book of the month club selection. Well, in Fast Forward 2, Lou has assembled a nice group of stories form the likes of Jack McDevitt, Nancy Kress, and Dr. Who’s Paul Cornell. As is the case with most anthologies, I didn’t like everything. But most of what I did like, I liked a lot. Stand-outs for me included Paolo Bacigalupi’s powerfully dead-on commentary on the challenges of maintaining journalistic integrity in a market increasingly driven by hits and eyeballs (“The Gambler”), Ian McDonald’s delightful tale of a young man in future India who relies on an Hindu A.I. to give him game (“An Eligible Boy“), Mike Resnick and Pat Cadigan’s trippy account of a world in which the borders between dream and reality blur (“Not Quite Alone in the Dream Quarter“), and Jack McDevitt’s amusing and ultimately heartfelt tale of a reluctant A.I. named George.  Special mention should also be made of the book’s cover compliments of our pal John Picacio.

The Shadow Year, by Jeffrey Ford

Jeffrey Ford is another familiar name to blog regulars, particularly those of you who read his superlative collection The Empire of Ice Cream back when it was a fantasy book of the month club selection. Since then, I’ve read a number of his other works and I can honestly say I’ve yet to be disappointed. The Shadow Year follows a young boy, growing up in 1960’s Long Island, through a particularly memorable summer marked by adolescent intrigue, hilarious familial interactions, and the mysterious disappearance of a fellow classmate. Ford is particularly effective in in his ability to spin a tale that perfectly captures the reminiscences of childhood – the sights, smells, and sounds of a bygone time when even the most innocent-looking details seemed to belie dark tidings: a missing neighbor, the new school janitor, Mr. Softee the neighborhood ice cream man. This novel was based on an earlier novella by the same name and, I have to admit that, at the end of the day, as much as I enjoyed this more substantive version, I preferred the original and its ability to walk that fine line between juvenile imaginings and the supernatural without committing to either. A great book nevertheless.

Inversions, by Iain. M. Banks

Hey, speaking of authors who have yet to disappointment, I’m sure most of you are familiar with Iain M. Banks. He is, without a doubt, one of the most imaginative and engaging SF writers out there and his Culture novels rank as some of the very best of the genre. His Consider Phlebas and The Player of Games make my SciFi Top 10. Make it a Top 25 and you can include Use of Weapons as well. Despite appearances, Inversions is another Culture novel that alternates between two seemingly unrelated stories. The first focuses on Vosil, a female physician from a distant land, whose appointment as personal physician to the king of Haspide, is met with suspicion and derision from the rest of the royal court. The story is told from the point of view of Oelph, Vosill’s assistant, who is under secret orders to spy on his mistress. As the novel progresses, despite his increasing suspicions, Oelph falls in love with the good doctor who may well be much more than she appears. The second story focuses on DeWar, bodyguard to General UrLeyn, the Prime Protector of the Tassasen Protectorate, and his endeavor to safeguard the life of an increasingly unpopular ruler. Is there a connection between the two stories? You bet, but you’ll have to pay close attention in order to piece together the clues. What at first seems a departure for Banks turns into a delightfully subtle addition to the Culture canon.

Rendezvous with Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke

There’s not finer example of the Golden Age of SF than this novel by the great Arthur C. Clarke. No raging space battles, predatory aliens, or genetically engineered space marines. This is a story of science and discovery. When a thirty mile long space ship enters our solar system, Earth dispatches a team of explorers to investigate. They gain entrance to the enormous cylindrical vessel and, over the course of their scientific survey, encounter surprises from both within and without their object of study. A masterpiece of Hard SF.

Hey, look at what I picked up the other days. More books! And not just more books. More books that you guys have recommended. I’ve taken your names down and, in the coming months, I’ll either be thanking you or requesting you reimburse me for the cost of my various purchases.

Hey, whatever happened to the mailbag?

Ykickamoocow writes: “Your idea for the season 6 episode “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow” sounds brilliant to me. Is there any chance of that idea being turned into a Atlantis movie?”

Answer: Highly unlikely. Truth be told, the story was originally pitched as an SG-1 episode. If you’re interested (and nice) I might even post the original color-coded outline for you.

Narelle from Aus writes: “It was strange seeing Christopher Heyerdahl in his original non-Wraithy role. How tall is he?!! “

Answer: Very.

Narelle from Aus also writes: “He has such a great screen presence, especially when he is Todd. And where do they get all of their leather for those coats? Space cows?”

Answer: Let’s just say that no part of the human is wasted.

Jenny R. writes: “I’ve been wondering this for awhile now… do you have a stage 1?”

Answer: We used to, but gave it up once we scaled back to only one production.

Jean writes: “Out of curiosity, I’ve checked out the previews AFTER I’ve watched the episodes, and I have to say that in general the ones from MGM are not terrible, but the ones from SciFi are either downright misleading (Tracker – “One will live, one will die”??!!?)…”

Answer: Yeah, Carl came into my office and showed me the SciFi promo for Tracker. “One will live, one will die!”. Carl threw me a puzzled look: “Who dies?” “Maybe they’re referring to the wraith,”I suggested. Probably, that’s it.

Paul William Tenny writes: “In Beachhead, objects forming the Ori supergate come out of a normal sized stargate making them roughly the size of Puddle Jumpers. A few shots later you see they are perhaps 1.5 times as long as Vala’s cargo ship and definitely wider meaning they’d have never fit through the gate unless those elements were actually made up of even smaller parts, but that was never shown and isn’t consistent visually with what came later.”

Answer: Great question. File it away for now because Brad Wright (coincidentally the writer/producer of Beachhead) has promised to do a guest Q&A on this blog in the very near future…

Jenny Robin writes: “I just posted Part I of my Texas State Fair Food Foray to my blog. Anyone who wishes to view fried fair food in all its glory, feel free to forage there.”

Answer: I share your disappointment in the chicken fried bacon.

Pl writes: “How is the Physics of Superheroes so far? I’ve considered buying it before, but it costs money.”

Answer: Informative and entertaining. And the author is an admitted comic book fan which makes the book all that more enjoyable. Recommended!

Delynn writes: “So are you writing pilots for new shows you are pitching now that SGA’s run is done???”

Answer: I’m banking pilots so that when the time comes, I can go out and pitch some new shows. As things stands, however, we’re in the midst of SGU discussions, so it’s too early to tell how things will play out next year.

Shirt ‘n Tie writes: “I’m curious, I remember this time last year you said that you had a few ideas for pilots if there hadn’t been a SGA Season 5 pick-up, I am assuming they are the 4 pilots you have written…Are they Sci Fi based or drama or what?”

Answer: One scifi, one horror, one drama, and one blue comedy.

AussieSGFan writes: “And another question (though I’n not sure if you’re the right person to ask), about the Wraith. They have a sould right? So if they weren’t so aggressive by nature and all, would it be possible for them to ascend too?”

Answer: Like dogs and other adorable family pets, wraith do have souls. Whether they can ascend is debatable however.

Terry writes: “How did you get the four dogs to sit for that picture?”

Answer: I didn’t. They naturally congregate in the sunny spots.