A literary post: I can do reading me

Yes, it may shock you to realise I am in fact literate and that movies are not my sole source of entertainment 😛 I am in fact an avid reader, and so I feel it is time for a post regarding this.

First off, some very sad news: Ian M. Banks has been diagnosed with gall bladder cancer! It is heartbreaking that anyone should suffer this disease, and the possible loss to the science fiction genre (I never really read his mainstream novels) is also concerning. Obviously though if he were to recover and not write another book I would still be overjoyed. But Ian M. Banks, the man responsible for The Culture novels, is a great asset to my favourite genre and my prayers are with him.

Consider Phlebas and Look to Windward

My two favourites: Consider Phlebas and Look to Windward

Onto more cheerful news, I have recently had what can only be described as the privilege of reading the two latest books from Ken Follet: Fall of Giants and The Winter of the World. This man is a literary genius I tell you. He’s responsible for the two critically acclaimed novels Pillars of the Earth and World Without End.

Fall of Giants cover

Fall of Giants cover

Both books form part of The Century trilogy, which is based around the 20th century and the wars fought during it. It’s historical fiction, which means that the main characters are fictitious, but the events they witnessed are real and accurately portrayed. The first one is based around WWI and the second around WWII. The books follow families dragged into the war on both sides, and the books follow the same families and the new generations born into each.

Both are incredibly well written books. They have romance, action, historical facts interestingly told, as well as drama, intrigue and excellent character development. And both being around 800 pages long will keep you busy for a while…and books of that length make you look all intelligent-like! 😛

So yes, in conclusion I would definitely recommend the books to anyone for they really are superb.

Jeremy

Science Fiction follow up: Recommendations

Okay, so my previous post about science fiction sparked an interest in a multitude of the kind people who read my blog, so I thought I’d write a follow up with my recommendations 🙂

Dragon's egg cover

Dragon’s egg cover (1st UK edition)

Robert L. Forward’s Dragon’s Egg: As I mentioned previously, the late Mr Forward was an aerospace engineer, and a great science fiction writer of scientifically accurate and plausible books (no hyperspace here). The novel my dad recommended I read to get started in his work was Dragon’s Egg. It’s a story involving a human expedition to a “nearby” neutron star called Dragon’s Egg. A neutron star is a star that has collapsed upon itself, making it incredibly dense meaning it has far greater gravity than Earth (Dragon’s Egg’s gravity is 67 BILLION times greater than Earth’s). Living on this neutron star the humans encounter alien life that lives at a much greater speed than us (to them it’s normal; time is relative, as gravity affects time. Ask Mr Einstein about it). His description of how the humans survive in the greater gravity is actually extremely fascinating. So if you’re technically minded, or interested in hard science, this is for you.

Stranger in a strange lan cover

A cult classic: Stranger in a Strange Land

Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land: Now, this one’s good. And pretty controversial. Heck, it was banned in South Africa during apartheid by the small minded, bigoted government of the time. But that’s not saying much: Black Beauty was banned because of its title! Anyhoo, the story is about a child born to the first human expedition to Mars that ends up being raised there by Martians. Eventually Valentine Michael Smith is brought back to Earth by another expedition. Now, Michael (as he is called ) was raised by aliens, and so can do a great number of things impossible for humans. He can hold his breath indefinitely by slowing his body’s processes to almost nothing. He can move objects with his mind. He can cause a singularity and make objects disappear forever to outside of the existing universe…and he also has no knowledge of human behaviour. The story centres around Michael coming to grips with life on Earth. This book doesn’t have much science fiction technology per se, so if you’re interested in character development this is a good place to start getting into science fiction.

Sector General cover

A hospital in space: Sector General

James White’s Sector General series: Scrubs in space! Okay, now that I’ve got your attention with that, it’s not quite like Scrubs in space, but it’s still an entertaining series which I thoroughly enjoyed. The story is about an intergalactic hospital in space called Sector General. It treats members of all species, and it’s a blast reading about the interaction between all the different staff members and patients (some of which can be dangerous!). An amusing point is raised, as every species calls itself human in its own language, so whenever a new patient is brought in and asked what species it belongs to, it always answers and gets told off for that (translation allowing of course). Now, the series has quite of lot of sci-fi tech and scenarios, but it also makes its characters endearing. A good place to start.

Mortal Engines!!

Not a cover, but still epic: airships escape a caught Traction City

Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines quartet: One of my favourite book series ever. While not a conventional science fiction series, it still enthralls me every time I read it. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, entire towns and cities have been mobilised onto huge tracks, creating a system called Municipal Darwinism; where cities consume the smaller ones for fuel and resources. It’s almost a steam-punk vibe, but I’d still recommend the series to anyone. It may also warm you into more traditional science fiction.

Shards of honour cover

The first book in the core Vorkosigan Saga: Shards of Honor

Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga: This is a very good science fiction series. It’s got all the  tech including anti-gravity, plasma weapons and gravitational imploder lances, it’s got romance (of the good sort; think entertaining chick flick, not Jane Austen), its action scenes are exciting, its main character is crazy badass (but not in a conventional sense), and it’s easily accessible. It is set in a universe where humans have colonised thousands of planets, many of them on the other side of wormholes. The “good” guys in the story, Barrayar, broke their wormhole jump connection accidentally or something (it’s never really explained), and entered a “dark age” (horseback combat etc.) before they are rediscovered. The re-discoverers try and invade but the Barrayarans are a tough bunch and using guerrilla tactics kick ass and fight off the technologically superior enemy. Barrayar then becomes a galactic super power of sorts, building up an advanced and efficient military. But being the good guys they don’t go out and conquer everyone. The main character in the story is Miles Vorkosigan, an incredibly smart but crippled member of the Barrayaran nobility who gets in all sorts of trouble. This is probably the best all round sci-fi series, and is a good place to start for people new to the genre.

Consider Phlebas and Look to Windward

My two favourites: Consider Phlebas and Look to Windward

Ian M. Banks’ Culture novels: I also mentioned Ian Banks (he writes normal fiction under Ian Banks, and sci-fi under Ian M. Banks) in my previous post. I’m currently reading his novels, and I find them rather entertaining. I must warn you before hand that I wouldn’t recommend his books for people starting off in science fiction, but he’s still worth a look. He has all amazing future tech, his books contain quite a bit of humour, his action scenes are well written, and  his characters are interesting. But his stories can sometimes be bit strange. Not taboo weird or anything like that, I just mean they’re not your conventional story lines. There’s also a bit of sex and swearing (nothing R18, but not family reading either). The stories generally revolve around the Culture, the dominate civilisation in the galaxy. They are generally technologically superior to the other races and cultures, and only really meet their match in the Elder Races who crop up from time to time. The Culture is run by Minds (extremely advanced beings, whose ancestors would be AI to us). The main characters in the stories are often Special Circumstances agents (the Culture’s way of keeping everything in the galaxy under control without appearing to do so), mercenaries or other more “human” (interesting) people than the Minds. I’d recommend starting with either Consider Phlebas or Look to Windward.  They’re two of his more straight forward stories, and have quite neat twists at the end.

Whew, that was a post and a half to write. The books mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg however. There is Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. But I haven’t read it so I wouldn’t be able to recommend it in good conscience (although everyone loves it, including my dad). If none of the above appeal (or you’e looking for new literature), there are loads of old school sci-fi authors out there (I’ve read quite a few, but there are always more), and of course there are always new additions. Another option, something that I do often, is just go to your local book store and browse the science fiction section for something you find interesting, and if it’s not too costly buy it. It’s always a nice surprise if it’s good 🙂

I hope you enjoyed the post, and as usual, if I forgot something please post a comment 🙂

Jeremy

Science-y stuff: Science fiction

This isn’t a scientific inaccuracy post, but it’s still about science, sort of.

Science fiction. The only genre of books worth reading (only sometimes do I think that). Ever since I saw Star Wars as a kid I’ve dreamed of going into space. Imagine seeing exotic worlds and suns in different solar systems all in the same day? I fell in love with FTL (faster than light) travel from an early age. But the top scientist chaps today reckon that any travel faster than light is impossible (I disagree, but I’m not nearly smart enough to prove them wrong). This leads me to talk about just how scientific a sci-fi novel actually is. I’m sure you’ve all heard about Ian M. Banks (if you haven’t he’s a Scottish author). He’s quite a popular author, and I quit enjoy him. He writes well, his characters are entertaining, his action scenes are actually enthralling…and his science is a bit iffy. He uses FTL travel. He uses evolving true AI (artificial intelligence). And a whole other bunch of stuff that seems impossible. Yet I thoroughly enjoy his stories. I don’t care if we think FTL is impossible now, it makes the future seem so much more interesting!

On the other side of the coin you get authors like Robert L. Forward. Don’t get me wrong. This man was a very good writer. He was incredibly smart (he was a legit aerospace engineer). His books were 100% plausible (hard science fiction it’s called). But his stories just quite aren’t as entertaining as Ian M. Banks. His character development isn’t as strong, and his action scenes are over a bit too quickly.

I read both hard and soft science fiction. If it’s in space I read it. The point I’m trying to get across is that the sci-fi snobs who think science fiction must be 100% plausible need to live a little. They need to open their minds to the wondrous imaginative journeys they can take if they ignore Albert Einstein’s rules and regs for just a while (and I like to think Al would agree. He strikes me as the kind of guy to enjoy a good soft sci-fi book).

Heck, I’m trying my hand at writing a short story, and I’m not nearly entertaining enough for soft, nor smart enough for hard. But I’m trying, just to get my imagination down on paper.

I apologise  that this post rambled a lot. It’s not my greatest, but I still hope someone will enjoy it 🙂

Jeremy