Friday, June 05, 2009

Librams and Novels and Tomes, Oh My!

Once again, that Naughty Monkey has inspired me to blog-theft. Fortunately this one isn't a lengthy survey, just one quick question:

“This can be a quick one. Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.”

Time: 6:25am

1.Stranger in a Strange Land: Robert Heinlein

2.Friday: Robert Heinlein

3.Dune: Frank Herbert

4.Rendezvous with Rama: Arthur C. Clarke

5.2001: A Space Odyssey: Arthur C. Clarke

6.Hyperion: Dan Simmons

7.A Brief History of Time: Stephen Hawking

8.Good Omens: Niel Gaimon and Terry Pratchett

9.The War of the Worlds: H. G. Wells

10.The Chronicles of Amber: Roger Zelazny

11.The Foundation Trilogy: Issac Asimov

12.The Minervan Experiment: James P. Hogan

13.A Short History of Nearly Everything: Bill Bryson

14.Inside Star Trek: The Real Story: Herb Solow and Bob Justman

15.National Lampoon's Doon: Ellis Weiner

Time: 6:34

And now, at a more leisurely pace, some commentary on why the above librams are notable.

1. Stranger in a Strange Land is, and rightfully so, Heinlein's most famous work. It is a commentary on society, morals, religion, gender relations, hypocrisy, and love all wrapped up in a compelling tale of a human, raised by Martians and then returned to Earth to become a not-so reluctant messiah. I would love to live in Heinlein's world.

2. Friday was the first book in which I fell in love with a fictional character. Friday is a beautiful but deadly government courier who's adventures are as sexy as they are disturbing. One of Heinlein's greatest strengths was his ability to write characters who were the epitome of their genders. His men are masculine, powerful, and protective without being domineering or condescending, and his women are feminine, motherly, yet totally empowered and self assured. The actual story may be a bit weak, but the people in this book are so real that I re-read it every few years because I miss them.

3. Dune. What can I say about what is, quite possibly, the greatest Science Fiction novel ever written? Frank Herbert spent most of his books analyzing and commenting on the stratification of society, but never with more finesse and intrigue than in Dune. If you have only seen the movie or TV adaptations then you have not seen even the faintest glimmer of the depth of the tale of Paul Muad'Dib. The Lisan Al Gaib has much to show you about what happens when politics and religion get too close.

4. As a lad I only read Star Trek books, then my friend Joe told me about Arthur C. Clarke, and loaned me Rendezvous with Rama. This short novel about an alien cylinder that passes through our solar system in the not-too distant future is an amazing exercise in understated wonder. Clarke masterfully takes his time revealing the interior of Rama, as the invader is dubbed, keeping the tension of discovery at an electric high until the final pages. Many years later he wrote sequels that, I felt, were even better, but the original is an excellent doorway into the works of this literary giant.

5. If you were puzzled by the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey read the book. It actually makes sense.

6. Dan Simmons is the Shakespeare of Horror/Science Fiction. Hyperion is the Canterbury Tales set on a distant planet, and haunted by the most terrifying creature ever written. Simmons makes poetry out of fear and pain, and weaves a tale of sorrow and triumph, with just a hint of time manipulation, that lasts for six novels. If Stephen King is a blunt instrument, Dan Simmons is a scalpel.

7. Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time is an accessible, understandable, and fun overview of the universe as we know it. If you want to have an understanding of words like 'quantum mechanics' or 'particle physics' or even just a basic knowledge of what the theory of relativity is, read this book.

8. Neil Gaimon and Terry Pratchett are two authors who need no introductions. Their solo works have garnered them fame, fortune, and instant recognition, but in Good Omens they teamed up to create a view of Armageddon that is both hilarious and thought provoking. Imagine an angel and a demon who live cushy lives on Earth until the word comes up that the Antichrist is to be born. Realizing that their posh lifestyles will be ended by this they team up to prevent the end of the world. And that's just the surface story.

9. H. G. Wells was one of the greatest forefathers of Science Fiction, and The War of the Worlds captures that greatness like a jewel in amber. His eighteenth century prose fills the mind with such vivid imagery that you can feel the thump of the Martian war machines as they destroy London, or hear the terrible noises as they herd humanity to its doom, or smell the horrid black smoke that kills all in its path. This is a tale that has been told and retold over the years, but the original never fails to satisfy.

10. What if there was only one real world in the multiverse, and all other worlds, including our own Earth, were but shadows of it? That is the basis for the Chronicles of Amber. Zelazy creates a world at the center of reality called Amber, and it is run by a family of near-immortals who's intrigues and schemes would make Machiavelli blush. It is a tale of magic and mystery; of love and betrayal, of swords and guns and fists and monsters interwoven with an easy style of storytelling that makes for a very fast, very fun read.

11. While Clarke delights in showing us how small we are in the universe, Asimov's Foundation books take place in a distant future where man has dominated our galaxy. The Galactic Empire spans tens of thousands of worlds and considers itself to be eternal. But one man, Hari Seldon, dares to challenge that assumption, realizing that the Empire is crumbling under its own weight, and so he sets out to create a foundation that will preserve humanity in the dark times to come. This is the story of that foundation.

12. It's not that unusual for a society that has had permanent bases on the moon for many years to find a dead astronaut out in the lunar wilds. But when that astronaut is wearing a spacesuit of unfamiliar design, with artifacts inscribed with a language no one on Earth has ever seen, and who is tens of thousands of years old, that tends to cause a bit of a stir. A stir that last three books and goes places you would never guess. The Minervan Experiment is a fascinating story of discovery and enlightenment that rocks the very foundations of our beliefs of where we came from.

13. Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything takes Hawking a bit further in that Bryson's book chronicles the development of Science itself from the earliest Greeks measuring the circumference of the Earth(yes, they knew we lived on a ball) with astonishing accuracy, to the ephemeral precepts of modern String theory, and does so in a way that is very entertaining.

14. There have been many 'tell all' books about the making of Star Trek, but few of them written by two of the most powerful of the insiders. Herb Solow and Bob Justman were executive producers of the show and they grew weary of all the hearsay and half-truths they kept reading, so finally they wrote their own book. Backed up with copious documentation this is as close to the real story as anyone is likely to get. Just beware, while these men considered Gene Roddenberry to be a friend, they also pull no punches in showing that the Great Bird of the Galaxy indeed had feet of clay.

15. National Lampoon's Doon is a parody of Dune, and the absolute funniest book I've ever read. This brilliant satire not only spoofs the story of Dune, but beautifully skewers Herbert's writing style as well. I have read this book at least once a year for the past two decades, and it still makes me laugh. It is, alas, out of print, but if you ever encounter a copy at a used book store or yard sale, and you are a fan of Dune, pick it up. You won't regret it.

OK, tag! You're it!


Anonymous said...

I am so glad you did this. These posts are so fun to read!

flurrious said...

I love the story of the Orson Welles radio broadcast of the The War of the Worlds (and the corresponding blind panic, which is always fun), but it occurs to me that I've never read the story itself. I should probably remedy that. I think I'll add Good Omens to my reading list as well.