Archive for May 2005

Book recommendations: Science Fiction (mostly)

23 May 2005
Categories: From the armchair

For those new to the genre of Science Fiction, I cordially recommend to do as I did when I wanted to expand my sci-fi horizons, and look up the lists of Hugo Award and Nebula Award winners. These awards are (with rare exception) given to the very best of the best, and one could do a lot worse than to pick any of those books at random. What follows are some of my personal favourites, several of which have earned one or both awards.

coverThe Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
Quite simply, a classic. Read it.

coverThe Forever War by Joe Haldeman
Up there with Ender’s Game as one of the best sci-fi warfare books I have ever read. Haldeman was in Vietnam, and his first-hand understanding of the infantryman’s role in war makes Heinlein’s Starship Troopers look like some kind of gung-ho ivory tower diatribe. Which perhaps it always was, even before its Hollywood evisceration, but it took this book to drive that point home for me. In short, The Forever War kicks ass.

covercovercoverThe Baroque Cycle (QuicksilverThe ConfusionThe System of the World) by Neal Stephenson
Here’s a book report.

coverSnow Crash by Neal Stephenson
Here’s a book report.

coverThe Diamond Age: or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson
Here’s a book report.

coverCryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
Here’s a book reportShut List nominee.

coverZodiac: The Eco-Thriller by Neal Stephenson
Here’s a book reportShut List nominee.

coverHeaven’s Reach by David Brin
Final installment in Brin’s second Uplift trilogy. Uplift, the central social structure of Brin’s “Five Galaxies,” consists of the idea that pre-sentient races may be “uplifted” to sentience by elder races, thus forming a patron-client relationship. Species and their clans gain eminence by tracing their patronage back over billions of years. Humans, having no known patrons of their own, are considered a “wolfling” race; and since they uplifted chimpanzees and dolphins prior to interstellar contact, are patrons in their own right—the sole fact that keeps older, more powerful, and potentially malevolent clans from declaring patronage over the races of Earth and co-opting their genetic makeup to suit the elder clan’s tastes.

Into this delicate balance comes Streaker, the first dolphin-crewed and -commanded spaceship, which stumbles across ancient artifacts that threaten to destroy fundamental beliefs throughout the Five Galaxies. Suddenly everyone wants to get their hands (or tentacles, or pseudopods) on the ship, Streaker is on the lam, and civilization—as well as the fabric of the known universe—begins to dissolve.

A fascinating series. Brin is an expert at creating sentient races that go far beyond, say, the typical crinkly-headed and pointy-eared humanoids of Star Trek; for example, a tree-like traeki is a stack of independent and specialized toroids, mentating and communicating with each other via scents and wax drippings, and choosing courses of action for the “whole” via consensus. Brin’s neo-chimps and neo-dolphins are most interesting, showing thought patterns molded by their human patrons but with deep-seated traces of their own pre-Uplift social structures and languages. Both trilogies are excellent, though I enjoyed the first a bit more. (SundiverStartide RisingThe Uplift War / / Brightness ReefInfinity’s ShoreHeaven’s Reach)