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!

January 5, 2011: My Top 10 2010 Reads!

What follows is a list of My Top 10 Reads of 2010.  These were books not necessarily published in 2010, but books I actually sat down and read between January 1st and December 31st of last year (excluding Book of the Month Club picks).   My faves…

The Heroes, by Joe Abercrombie

I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy of Joe Abercrombie’s latest foray into nihilistic fantasy and, damn is it great. Set in the same world as his First Law Trilogy, The Heroes charts the progress of several campaigns in the war between the North and the Union.  Epic in scope yet delightfully detailed in its tracking of the various players involved, it delivers what we’ve come to expect from Abercrombie: dark humor, multi-faceted characters, blood and battle. The dizzying cast requires careful attention be paid, but patience is rewarded in the form of some beautifully drawn personalities and relationships on both sides of the conflict.

The 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.

The Death of Grass, by John Christopher

This dystopian classic chronicles the disintegration of order in the wake of a global blight as seen through the eyes of a handful of desperate individuals.  Harrowing and shockingly brutal in its depiction of life after the fall and the lengths some people will go to in order to survive.

The Forest of Time and Other Stories, by Michael Flynn

I consider Michael Flynn one of the most underappreciated SF authors writing today.  I read and loved two of his novels, The Wreck of the River of Stars and Eifelheim, so took a chance on this collection of short stories and was rewarded with some terrific, thought-provoking tales. One of my favorites involves a doctor who believes he may have found the key to saving his ailing daughter (stricken with accelerated aging) in the form of an elderly woman who may – or may not – be 200 years old.  Each entry is followed by a short, insightful afterword that not only sheds light on his writing process, but offers up some great recommendations for further informative, non-fiction reading.

Misery, by Stephen King

My favorite Stephen King book. Taut, suspenseful, and thoroughly engaging, one of those novels it actually pains you to set aside.  It’s no surprise that this one speaks to me.  Having dealt with Stargate fandom over the course of my many years with the franchise, I’ve come across my fair share of cockadoodie Annie Wilkes types.  Scary as hell.  And one of those rare instances where the movie adaptation rocked as well.

Fool, by Christopher Moore.

In 2010, I finally discovered Christopher Moore.  What took me so long?!  Well, Fool was the perfect book to get me started.  It’s a ribald retelling of King Lear from the point of view of the court jester, an incorrigible rogue who proves endearing to some and positively infuriating to others as he navigates the salty, stormy seas of palace intrigue.  The funniest book I read last year.

Fear and Trembling, by Amelie Nothomb

This one came recommended to me by my old Tokyo travel buddy, Stefan, and I can see why it would have appealed to him.  The daughter of former ambassadors to Japan, Amelie returns to the country of her childhood to take a job at the prestigious Yumimoto company.  Unfortunately for Amelie, those fond childhood memories are in sharp contrast to her awkward, amusing, occasionally nightmarish lesson in Japanese corporate culture.  The fact that it’s an autobiographic experience makes it all the more effective.

Revelation Space, by Alastair Reynolds

Reynolds packs this novel with so many big, mind-boggling, uber-cool ideas that you almost feel the need to come up for air every thirty pages or so.  I never understood the attraction of space opera until I read this novel.  Brilliant.

Maus, by Art Spiegelman

Spiegelman interviewed his father, Vladek, a Holocaust survivor, then told his story in graphic novel form.  It’s a harrowing, heart-rending tale possessed of warmth and occasional humor that conveys so much in so many surprising ways.

The Third Bear, by Jeff Vandermeer

Vandermeer, one of the pioneers of New Weird fiction, doesn’t pull any narrative punches here.  The Third Bear delivers a selection of short stories sure to enthrall, entertain, and engender all sorts of nightmares long after these outrageously inventive tales have been read.

Hmmmm.  Someone I know may be looking for a good home for their french bulldog.  I know, I know.  I’ve got my hands full.  Still, I do have the room and I hate the thought of that poor little guy ending up who-knows-where.  I know at least one pug who’d love the company…

For about an hour anyway.

Well, can’t say I’m feeling better today.  Just – different.  My stomach issues have subsided, I’ve more or less conquered my insomnia, and while those seemed allergy symptoms haven’t disappeared, they have lessened somewhat.  Now, I’ve moved on to my next mystery ailment = slight dizziness.  Yes, doctor’s appointment tomorrow!

March 6, 2010: Actor Jamil Walker Smith wants to hear from YOU! My February Top Reads! And a surprise in the mail!

Yes, you read correctly.  Actor Jamil Walker Smith, Stargate: Universe’s explosive Master Sergeant Ronald Greer, has kindly agreed to swing by the blog and field your questions – in exchange for my recommending him a couple of good local French restaurants with the understanding that if they fail to impress, he plans to call me out during his Q&A.

Stargate: Universe, Air III (photo courtesy MGM Televsion).

I’ll be gathering questions for Jamil over the next few days and plan to send him the batch sometime next week so that he’ll have something to do…besides learning his lines.  Oh, and acting!

For a while there, I lost my reading mojo – and just when it seemed like it was gone for good came a succession of pretty damn fine books that restored my mojo AND ensured many more nights would be spent finishing “just one more chapter” instead of getting some much-needed sleep.  So what follows are my stand-out reads of the past month (excluding Book of the Month Club picks I’ve already covered), titles I would STRONGLY recommend to all you avid readers out there…

The Somnambulist, by Jonathan Barnes

One of the things that makes SFSignal.com such a terrific site is that it is entertaining yet informative across a broad spectrum of genres and works, offering everything from articles dealing in science fact to feature op. ed.’s from some of the most fascinating people working in SF, Fantasy, and Horror today.  One of the latter – specifically, SFSignal’s ongoing Mind Meld – is a terrific source for book recommendations, like Jonathan Barnes’ The Somnambulist which would have never made my reading radar had it not been suggested by Eos‘s Executive Editor Diana Gill.

Edward Moon, a former grand illusionist suffering through the ignoble tail-end of his career, is enlisted by dark forces in London’s shadow authority to investigate a conspiracy hatched by even darker forces in London’s underbelly.  With the help of his hairless, seemingly indestructible stage assistant, The Somnambulist, Moon must save the city from a nefarious plot that threatens to overturn established society and usher in a horrific new order.

At turns macabre, bizarre, thrilling, and hilarious, Jonathan Barnes’ first book is a superb read.  It’s weird yet wonderful, one of those books that’s so much fun it keeps you up into the wee hours of the early morning.  The unique nature of the narrative makes for some surprising and rewarding developments although, ultimately, the unreliable narrator also yields some unsatisfying returns.  Still, a book head and shoulders above most first-time novels.  Devilishly witty.

Just After Sunset, by Stephen King

In my opinion, Stephen King is under-appreciated.  “What’s that?”you say.  “Under-appreciated?!”  Yes, under-appreciated because despite the innumerable awards and the 350 million + books sold worldwide, I still run into people who dismiss him as a hack for no other reason than the fact that the man is prolific.  I say “no other reason” because if anyone has ever read Stephen King, they’d be hard-pressed to deny he is an incredibly talented writer.  Granted, his work may not be to everyone’s tastes (I, for one, didn’t like his Dark Tower series), but you’ve got to give credit where credit is due and King deserves credit for crafting some of the best fiction being written today.

Just Before Sunset is a change of pace for King, his first collection of short stories since 2002’s Everything’s Eventual.  Surprisingly, the first tale off the top, Willa, is the weakest of the bunch, but the ensuing stories go from strength to strength.  The Gingerbread Girl focuses on a woman’s harrowing encounter with a potential serial killer.  Harvey’s Dream is a disquieting peek at one family’s potentially prophetic experience.  The Things They Left Behind is a touching story that focuses on a survivor of the 9/11 attacks who must come to terms with the haunting memories of his deceased former colleagues while, in a similar thematic vein, The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates tells the tale of a recent widow who receives a phone call from beyond the grave.  Capping the collection is my favorite of the bunch, A Very Tight Place, that delivers a terrifying account of the ordeal suffered by a man trapped in a toppled outhouse.  Not for the faint of heart!

A marvelous collection.  The Death of Grass, by John Christopher

Probably the most frightening dystopian novel I’ve ever read owing not so much to the hardships faced by the survivors of a global catastrophe but the lengths these people will go to in order to survive, sacrificing their very humanity to ensure the safety of their loved ones.  Published back in 1956, the book paints a scenario so deeply unsettling that it rivals any contemporary work of apocalyptic fiction.

A virus has wiped out grass and crops in Asia leading to mass starvation and civil unrest, but the English authorities appear to have things under control, assuring the populace that they are close to perfecting a counter-virus that will leave them unscathed.  But when those best-laid plans come for naught, panic sets in.  As the government wrestles with the ethical dilemma of bombing major cities in order to pare down the population and ensure food and social order for the survivors, a desperate group, tipped off to the looming danger, escape London in a bid to reach a distant farm in a remote, defensible valley.


This morning, I swung by the post office to pick up a package.  I was surprised to discover that it was from my friend and former house-guest Akemi (presently in Perth studying English), then even more surprised to discover the contents: a very heartfelt card thanking me for being such a wonderful host and – these…

Teddy Bear cufflinks!

I love ’em!

The package also contained business cards for the Hotel Okura – conveniently enough located in Akemi’s hometown of Osaka, should I just happen to find my way to Japan later this year.  I’d say chances are good.

What a sweetheart!