Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Look Out! It's a Book Meme!

Below is Time's (EDIT: Niall points out that this is not a Time list at all, but a Science Fiction Book Club list) most significant SF novels between 1953-2006.

The meme part of this works like so: Bold the ones you have read, strike through the ones you read and hated, italicize those you started but never finished and put a star next to the ones you love.

NOTE FROM ME THAT IS NOT PART OF THE MEME: It's very fashionable to diss on lists like this, sometimes for legitimate reasons (the decided lack of books by non-white males, for instance), but I actually take them kinda seriously. I mean, books are my job. For real, now. Of the books I haven't read below (only about a third if I'm counting right), I own copies of some and plan to at least attempt the rest. Also, since I can't bear to present a list without editorial comment, I am presenting the list WITH editorial comment. Lo, I am wily.

1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien* - Aside from the John Christopher books and some fairy tale books here and there, this was probably the first genre book I read. Between the ages of 12 and 14 I'm sure I read the whole thing about a dozen times.
2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov - I'm leery of Asimov, 'cause from what I've read of him is mostly distinguished by the wooden prose.
3. Dune, Frank Herbert - The mistake was in reading on. The books get steadily worse as the series continues.
4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein - Did you know that the Police did a song based on this book? It's one of Andy Summers' pieces, only released as a B-side (and in the box set). Andy sings "I likes to eat my friends, I make no bones about it." It's kind of brilliant in a deeply weird way.
5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin* - I know that people talk about these books as kids/YA books, but I'm pretty sure I didn't grok much of this trilogy when I was fourteen. I guess some kids are smarter.
6. Neuromancer, William Gibson* - I don't remember a thing about this book except that occasionally I would read a sentence and have to put the book down because I couldn't believe he used words like that. He's sort of the anti-Dick, in a way.
7. Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke - I know that I read 2001 and 2010 both, and they were two of the most forgettable books ever.
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick* - That scene where he finds the parallel police precinct? BLEW MY MIND COMPLETELY OUT OF MY HEAD.
9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley - Part of the problem with motivating myself with this one is that I've felt for a while that I never need to read or see anything about the Arthur legends again, ever.
10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury - It's good. But the short stories are better.
11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe - I thought this was a really lovely and original series. In the end, though, I don't think I understood it, and emotionally there wasn't much to connect with.
12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.* - Gotta love it. Has anyone read the sequel that Terry Bisson helped polish off? I'm curious.
13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov - See #2.
14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras - Huh. I don't believe I've ever heard of this book.
15. Cities in Flight, James Blish - I have yet to read anything by Blish.
16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett - The only Pratchett I've ever read.
17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison - Not as dangerous now as it was then (I guess?), but some great stories.
18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison - Ellison is many things. Among them, occasionally, is a great writer.
19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester - It's good, but not his best. See #45.
20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany - Of the unread ones on this list, the one I'm most eager to read.
21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey - In junior high I was also a McCaffrey fanatic. Into high school, as well; I probably read all of the Pern books, and most of the others, up through Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern.
22. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card - I've talked about this elsewhere, but I found this book deeply disturbing. See also John Kessel's essay, because I agree with every word.
23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson* - Amazing, amazing books. At least, they were when I read them, which was many years hence. Depressing as all hell, but formative.
24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman - My friend Lynda has raved about this one. The only Haldeman I've read was his stories in the first Thieves' World anthology.
25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl - Pohl is another one whom I have yet to read at all.
26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling - Don't listen to the haters. This first book is, in some ways, the best, it's true. But despite her debt to Roald Dahl and a slight tendency to overwrite, Rowling knows what she's doing.
27. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams* - I once had this book taken away from me because I was reading it in math class. Ah, humiliation, my old friend.
28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson - I've heard good things. My vamp fatigue is not as extreme as my Arthur fatigue, so this one will probably be sooner rather than later.
29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice - I didn't cross this one out, although I really wasn't all that impressed by it; I did like Lestat, though, so I think I've since forgiven this book.
30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin - Not my fave LeGuin, to be honest, but it's good.
31. Little, Big, John Crowley* - Required reading.
32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny - People who like Zelazny seem to REALLY like Zelazny.
33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick - Pretty tame as Dick goes.
34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement - I had Hal as an instructor at Odyssey. He talked to us about worldbuilding. That was good, but the sample short story we read before he came was . . . anyway. I'll give this one a shot.
35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon* - I hadn't read Sturgeon at all before this one. I was, I must admit, a bit shocked to discover how good he was.
36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith* - A while ago I started referring to Smith as the Lord Dunsany as SF. I'm no longer exactly sure what I mean by that, but it sounds good and he's a genius, so I'll probably keep saying it.
37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute - Another one I haven't heard of. Huh.
38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke - This one sounds pretty cool. A generation starship, right?
39. Ringworld, Larry Niven - Contains the dumbest fake swear word ever: TANJ.
40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys - For a while in the '90s the magazine I most subbed to was Tomorrow Speculative Fiction, which Budrys edited. He never bought anything of mine, but he usually had some kind of encouraging or constructive comment on his rejections.
41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien - Yeah. I know some Tolkien partisans say this is his best book, but I only made it through it once and that was because I was too young to know better. Read the Eddas instead.
42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut* - Vonnegut is one of my signposts. Love that man.
43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson* - I had a HUGE crush on Y.T. I guess I'm probably not the only one.
44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner - Another one that's somewhere on the shelves or in the boxes, waiting to be read.
45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester* - So very fitting that it won the first Hugo, except that it may have set the bar too high. Wonderful, wonderful book.
46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein - I really need to read this one, so I can participate in those interminable arguments over whether Heinlein was a fascist or not. Hm. On second thought . . .
47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock* - I don't think I really understood the whole anti-hero thing when I was reading these books. But they were awesome anyway, and I should read them again.
48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks - I know, it should be crossed out, but when I read it I really didn't know any better. I am perplexed at how some people will say that at 12 they were rejecting books because of their inelegant prose and derivative storylines. Perhaps I was a dumb twelve-year-old.
49. Timescape, Gregory Benford - Haven't read Benford. Are we seeing a trend? Not so much for the hard SF, me.
50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer - Lots of naked people.

Via athene-632* and various Australians.

*Who is not an Australian.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Celeste Simon's Window

Celeste Simon's Window
Originally uploaded by Snurri.
"One of those displaced was the Swiss diva Celeste Simon, who was in the city for a four-week engagement of 'Il Seraglio.' Her handlers made several increasingly desperate attempts to find a way out of the city, but were no more successful than any of those innocents whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time . . . . In the end one of the Lumina Opera board members installed her in a second-floor apartment at 2477 West Cagliari Street, near the Farmer's Market. For months she hardly stirred, wearing a housecoat over a silk nightgown given to her by her lover, who had left just two days before the Banishing to prepare her Alpine chalet. . . . As life within the city began to normalize, the opera board began to entreat Simon to become a permanent part of the company, but she declined. They persisted, and on May 15, 1968 the entire board assembled at the Cagliari Street location to confront her. Celeste's odor was profound, and her hair lay matted to the sides of her head in great bales. Her housecoat and gown were stained with sweat and grime. She said nothing as the board's spokesman pleaded with her, not failing to point out that her very lodgings were a result of their generosity. For answer, Celeste, still in her housecoat, stormed to the window and threw it open. She took up a lamp and knocked out the screen. . . . The board members were certain she was about to hurl herself out, but instead she leaned out above the market crowd and launched into Orpheus' aria from Orpheus and Eurydice, "Che farò senza Euridice?" Every face in the crowd looked up at her. Traffic stopped. When she finished, there was no one in earshot who was not in tears. . . . From that day Celeste sang every morning, regardless of weather or other circumstances. These free concerts endeared her to the public, most of whom had never seen an opera, but all of whom were willing captives to the magic of her voice. They would gather at dawn in order to find a place outside her window, and when she completed her daily concerts they lauded her with such genuine emotion that Celeste could not help but be moved in turn. Over time she began to take better care of herself, addressing her hygiene and dressing with her formerly accustomed elegance. . . . The opera board desisted in their threats of eviction. They still entreated her to appear in their productions, but she refused. . . . On May 5, 1981, Celeste failed to appear at her window as she had for nearly thirteen years. She had died in her sleep. Her funeral was attended by an estimated 800,000 citizens; her grave, at Buchanan Cemetery, is still visited daily. . . . Today her apartments are occupied by a well-regarded voice coach, although her window is rarely opened." (p.414)


The truth is that aside from, say, M&Ms and Dr. Pepper, I'm not much for sweets in most cases.* (You may hate me now if that is your way.) When I was a kid it was different. No disrespect to Mom, who makes some great cookies, but it was Grandma Burros that spoiled me. I used to bogart her brownies when we visited. They were a compulsion, like you get from those guys with the spiral hypno-wheels on their hats. (I run into those guys all the time. Sorry about the sugar in your gas tank, BTW. I WAS HYPNOTIZED!!) But the best, the best ever, were the donuts. Grandma made these insane cake donuts that were dense with super-goodness. They were tasty and filling but not overly sweet. She used to save bread bags and fill them with donuts, send them with my uncles when they went deer hunting (my uncles have been known to hunt via the pickup method, which involves them driving around on the property in their trucks, stopping when they meet each other to ask each other if they've seen anything. Authorities please note that they would of course never shoot at a deer from inside the car, as that would be quite illegal) and with us when we went home after a visit. Mm, those donuts. No one else does them quite as good, although Lane's Bakery in Madison comes closest.

Anyway, because the perfect cake donut is a lost artifact of the past, I'm not much of a donut guy. Krispy Kreme is just Not Right. I mean, what is that? Some kind of Wonder donut? Once in a while, though--and I'm talking every 4-6 months--I get a craving for a Bavarian Creme from Dunkin' Donuts. It satisfies some primal semi-annual need. For a couple of weeks now I've been trying, unsuccessfully, to buy one. (Yeah, just one. The counter person always looks so sad when I tell them this.) The problem is I don't want donuts in the morning. That's not the way to start out the day, with a big ol' sugar bomb. And every afternoon I stop by one of the three-count-'em-three Dunkin' Donuts franchises between the office and the train station (Chicago, fat? That's unpossible!) to ask for a Bavarian Creme. The counter person smiles and says Of course and looks in the trays, which are empty of Bavarian Cremes. Sometimes they wander in back, I guess to see if the Bavarians have left for the day. Every time I have been left bereft.

Dramatic sigh.

It's all about the quest, though. I will, before long, be satisfied in my search. And then, in 4 to 6 months, I will take it up again. This is my story.

Have you slipped into a sugar coma yet? If not, here's a video of elephants swimming. I kind of wish those guys would get off their backs, though.

*There is also the bread pudding which I make every year for Christmas Eve, which is now a controlled substance in several Minnesota counties.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Yo, Scarecrow, Want a Smoke?

Things that bug me: people who blow their smoke at me. I love smokers as I love all god's creatures, but WTF? Plus it seems like a lot more people are smoking in the mornings. I like my mornings. I like to go and get tea and breakfast and take the leisurely train ride/walk to work. I don't like standing at an intersection waiting for a Walk light while the guy next to me is exhaling cancer at me. Grumble. I suppose I should be grateful I'm no longer bartending. The worst was when a pack of lawyers--it was always lawyers--would buy up a few of the ratty old cigars we had and light up. Thanks, guys. Why not just SET MY NOSTRIL HAIRS ON FIRE while you're at it.

Things that are good: I watched "The Wizard of Oz" over the weekend, 'cause TBS ran it like eight times. (I also read "The Baum Plan for Financial Independence" last night. Also good.) I only watched it 2 1/2 times. Well, 1 and 2/2. I saw chunks of it, is what I'm saying. I guess it's been a while, because I'd forgotten all about the Professor Marvel bit in the beginning, and the little sketches of the farmhands that foreshadow their turns as the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion. Speaking of, holy crap does Ray Bolger commit to being the Scarecrow. I wonder how many times he hurt himself on set throwing himself around like that. That is awesome. WIZARD OF OZ QUIZ: Which is creepier, the Lullaby League or the Lollipop Guild? When I was little I'd have said Lollipop Guild, because their voices were scary, but now I'm thinking the Lullaby League is just eerie and wrong. My personal fave Munchkin is the dude who pops out of the manhole with the stogie in his mouth when Glinda the Smug Witch tells them all that it's safe because the Wicked Witch with the oddly bending legs is dead. He's all like, "Thank god the fascist dictator is gone so I can smoke out in the open again." (Yes, we have come full circle. I contradict myself. I oughta write a poem.) I'm guessing that he probably crawled back in the manhole when the singing and dancing got all out of hand, though.