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Subject: 2011 SF Challenge: NOVEMBER/DECEMBER THREAD
Date Posted: 11/3/2011 2:34 AM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2009
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Previous, related posts:

2011 SF Challenge -- LISTS ONLY THREAD









Well, the year's winding down. . . how many books do you have left to read? Do you think you'll make it? And what are your thouhts/ideas for next year's challenge?

Last Edited on: 12/2/11 1:21 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 11/3/2011 2:35 AM ET
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A note: I'm willing to create another challenge. . . but if someone else is itching to take the reins I won't stand in the way.

And I have seven more titles to go. . . which should be doable, though NaNoWriMo will make this month's total lower than I would like.

Brad -
Date Posted: 11/3/2011 8:15 AM ET
Member Since: 1/27/2009
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I have 3 left to "complete" (complete meaning read something in the category, not necessarily completely read the book) the regular challenge.  I've been going back and forth whether I want to complete the challenge or just move on and read books I've been wanting to read.

For next year's challenge I guess I'd like to see the format of last year's, since I discovered the challenge too late for it, although it doesn't matter that much to me though whether it's this year's format, last year's format, or something else.


Subject: Tom is in Expanded Challenge
Date Posted: 11/4/2011 2:00 PM ET
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I'm now in the Expanded Challenge, and have finished three books for each selected category in each part.  In other words, two books to go in each selected category.  Should be no problem.

  • Biopunk
  • Robots / Artificial Intelligence
  • Runner-Up for Hugo
  • Fix-Up Novel

I'm finding the decade distribution rule to be somewhat challenging.  After I go through the process of selecting a book, I sometimes discover I already have one from that decade.   And I had to decide how to define a "decade" because there are two different ways.  And what is the year for a fix-up anyway? - book publication or original publication?.  

I've set aside the no re-read rule for this part of the challenge, so that I can pull in some foundational classics like Frankenstein, The Island of Dr. Moreau, RUR or I, Robot.

I think I am going to just read books that fit the category description and then fill in more later if they aren't distributed as needed.

Last Edited on: 11/4/11 6:00 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Subject: Argh
Date Posted: 11/11/2011 2:20 PM ET
Member Since: 7/26/2006
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Haven't been reading my challenge books 'cause other stuff interests me more.


New books: McDevitt, Firebird, Priest, Hellbent and Rusch, City of Ruins

Also was recommended Felix Castor series (very good)

Jack London - The Red One: A Science Fiction

And, since Kindle now gives you access to many public library books (thank you King County Library) I've got several books from my requested list I gotta get read before time runs out. (Jack Reacher series, Iron Druid series, and Robopocalypse)

Argh - not enough time!!!!  But this isn't really a complaint.............. indecision

Subject: recommended for bio-punk category
Date Posted: 11/12/2011 10:50 AM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2006
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THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, by H.G.Wells, 1896

I found the science of this 1896 novel - physical transformation of animals into men through vivisection and mental transformation through hypnosis, and Wells' idea that the only thing preventing speech by animals to be the absence of a physiologically developed larynx - to be quaint. But this is not hard sf, it is social sf.

On the one level this is an effective horror/thriller written in the context of the Victorian England. But I feel the parallels of the Beast Men's Law to human religion is more than just a convenient cultural reference. Wells at one point states that religion is an expression of repressed human sexuality. Near the end, in an attempt to save himself, Prendick calls on a translation of Moreau's reign of terror over the Beast Men into a supernatural omniscience. Even after rescue and return to England, Prendick continues to see the Beast in his fellow Man, only kept in check through social code.

Not to go on all-Fours; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
Not to suck up drink; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
Not to eat Flesh nor Fish; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
Not to claw Bark of Trees; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
Not to chase other Men; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

Moreau himself has broken the code imposed by the religion he created to control the Beast Men, and is consumed by the consequences of his own actions. Are we not Men?

Subject: next year
Date Posted: 11/12/2011 1:11 PM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2006
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As for next year, I feel somewhat tired of the challenge structure we've used for the last two years.  Not to say I couldn't become excited when looking at a concrete proposal.  But how would others feel about four quarterly 3-or-5-or-10 book topical challenges?  We could choose a major subgenre or category each quarter, and then detail ten sub-categories.  There would be light options (any 3 or any 5 of the 10), and a regular option (all 10), and an expanded option (whatever you want).  For example, just suppose we picked "time travel", then ten categories could be something like:

  • history is changeable
  • history is unchangeable
  • an organization of time travel agents
  • storyline includes a cross-time romance
  • main character visits him/herself
  • written before 1900
  • written within the past 24 months
  • originally written in a language other than English
  • young adult
  • themed anthology or collection

What do you think of the idea (not necessary the time travel example)?

-Tom Hl.

Last Edited on: 11/24/11 8:33 AM ET - Total times edited: 5
Subject: topic challenges
Date Posted: 11/12/2011 11:20 PM ET
Member Since: 7/26/2006
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I like the idea.  From my own reading habits, many times I've been interested in a book which leads to some other book that leads to some other book, etc.  All kinda inter-related. 

Would the categories change from topic to topic? indecision  Oh, I guess you answered that (detailed categories).

You'd need fairly broad topics. 

Definitely worth thinking about.

Last Edited on: 11/12/11 11:22 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 11/13/2011 1:06 AM ET
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I think I'd struggle with that sort of challenge. . . unless the categories were REALLY broad (broader than the time travel example). I tend to like to mix up my subgenres! But going deep instead of broad would definitely be a change of pace, and this year's discussions have been a lot quieter than last year's. . .

Were you thinking that we'd have a nomination and voting period each quarter to choose the category? Or would you want to get it all laid out before the start of the year?

OR we could do something like come up with 6-8 categories and their sub-categories before the start of the year, then the challenge would be for everyone to do four of the available options. . . that would make the challenge a little freer (so nobody's trapped reading a bunch of books in a subgenre they hate, for example) but it would make the discussions less focused, maybe. . . though maybe not, because we could just set up threads at the beginning of the year for each category instead of doing monthly threads. . .


Brad -
Date Posted: 11/14/2011 8:08 AM ET
Member Since: 1/27/2009
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Not sure what to think of Tom's idea.  Phoenix's point about having broad categories seems would be more my taste.  Like the idea of 6-8 categories/sub-categories idea to free things a little; although the only categories I didn't like this year were anthologies and non-fiction.

Subject: another biopunk
Date Posted: 11/17/2011 2:13 PM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2006
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Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro (2005) ***


I'm a reader of science fiction, and while in some circles this book is considered expository, I am sorry to report to them that the social impacts of cloning humans for organs was worked to death in science fiction about 30 to 40 years ago. I recognized the whole situation by about page five. So I'm looking at this as a primarily a novel of characters.

At the onset, Ishiguro rambles around the tiny social life of a girl in a boarding school. Reading from the point of view of the emotionally overloaded childhood of this girl made me glad I grew up as a boy. When she reaches teen years and then moves out to the Cottages, however, my interest picked up. In the innocent grappling of these young people with the meaning of life and death, I saw deliberate parallels to our own grappling with full-length, and yet finite lives. How ephemeral are things like keeping lists of the books we read or drawing in sketchbooks - is it just to distract us from reality?

Unfortunately, in the end, Ishiguro returns to a theme of the inhumanity of cloning, rather than sticking with the allegory to our own lifespans. Kathy's life is merely tragic rather than a metaphor to the reader. This novel could have been so much better!

-Tom Hl.

Subject: more detail on the proposal for quarterly challenges
Date Posted: 11/18/2011 3:57 PM ET
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My original idea was to pick one topic each quarter, as we go, and then participants all read within the same topic.  This would lead to people actually reading the same books as each other more frequently, which I think would be fun.  On the other hand, I can see value in the "Dabler" approach too - maybe that would be one of the candidate broad categories for any given quarter.  Here's a timeline for creating a quarterly challenge, during the 30 days before a quarter starts...

30days before - new thread
Moderator proposes three broad topics - example: 1) Time Travel, 2) Apocalypse/post-Apocalypse, 3) Aliens and Alien Life
Open for discussion and additional topic proposals

25days before
Moderator posts a ballot of all proposed topics
Individuals discuss and vote for any they think they would participate in

20days before - new thread
highest participation topic is selected
Moderator proposes ten categories within the topic
Open for discussion and additional category proposals
You can join in, even if you did not vote for the topic

15days before
Moderator posts a ballot of all proposed categories
Individuals discuss and vote for half of however many there are

10days before - new thread
ten winning categories are selected
moderator creates a tracking thread
participants create their tracking posts
OK to pre-populate your selections and check them off, or to record as you go.

0 day
moderator creates a discussion thread (monthly?)
Books should not be started until the official start date
Post reviews, questions, commentary on the discussion thread

60days after - preparation cycle for next challenge starts

90days after - challenge is completed; next challenge launches

Last Edited on: 11/24/11 8:46 AM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 11/20/2011 2:44 PM ET
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That's more work than I could commit to. . . as you saw this year, I wasn't even 100% on getting the monthly threads up on time! Were you also volunteering to administer, Tom, if people want that sort of challenge?

Also, where're the rest of the people?!? Anybody else want to weigh in?

Last Edited on: 11/20/11 2:44 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Subject: Bio-Punk
Date Posted: 11/20/2011 8:15 PM ET
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FRANKENSTEIN: OR, A MODERN PROMETHEUS, by Mary Shelley (1816) *****

This novel, written by 19-year-old Mary Shelley in 1816, is foundational to science fiction. As well, it has become a cultural icon through movies, books, and other forms of entertainment. Unfortunately, those translations have played up the horror aspect at the expense of the original plot, to the extent that most people falsely believe Frankenstein is the name of the Monster. But, even after nearly 200 years, this novel remains readable and I highly recommend it. This is in my mind, simply a must-read for English speakers.

The form of the novel is a story-within-a-story-within-a-story. An arctic explorer writes his sister back in London of a man he encounters crossing the arctic ice. That man tells his story of his experiments in natural philosophy and creation of a Monster. In that story, the Monster tells his own story to his creator.  In that story, the Monster relates the story of a Parisian family that has found refuge in a German forest.

The deliberate references to Prometheus and Adam are pretty obvious. And if I am to believe the notes in the Afterword, that the characters of Viktor Frankenstein and his Monster represent two aspects of the self, would have been a commonplace of English literature of that time. No doubt, this novel has been dissected by literary experts, but I prefer to find what I can as a modern reader without further research.

One surprise to me was that Viktor and his family all hoped for him to marry his adopted sister Elizabeth. As a parent of both biological and adopted children, I found this truly weird. But Shelly does not present this provocatively, so apparently it would be no big deal in that time and place.

I should mention that I recently read a sequel to Frankenstein - a novella "Schwarz wie der Abgrund, von Pol zu Pol" by Steven Utley and Howard Waldrop.


This  concludes my expanded challenge dive into Bio-Punk, which I have taken to include any biological speculation, from engineered viruses to cloning to cryogenics to human experimentation.  I did meet the decade distribution requirement with five reads not double-counted, but if I pull in double-counts and recent re-reads, I can come up with 10 books in the category.

  • Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley (1816) - finished 11/20/11 *****
  • The Island of Dr. Moreau, by H.G. Wells (1896) - finished 11/12/11 ****
  • Treason, by Orson Scott Card (1979/1988) - finished 10/29/11 ***
  • Giant's Star, by James P. Hogan (1981) - finished 1/15/11 **
  • Quarantine, by Greg Egan (1992) - finished 2/7/11 ****
  • Tech-Heaven, by Linda Nagata (1995) - finished 7/14/11 ***
  • Teranesia, by Greg Egan (1999) - finished 2/22/11 ****
  • Air: or, Have Not Have, by Geoff Ryman (2004) - finished 3/26/11 *****
  • Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro (2005) - finished 11/16/11 ***
  • Dust, by Elizabeth Bear (2007) - finished 5/20/11 ***

This has been a lot of fun, for me.  And just by making this list, I noticed the similarity in title between Air and Frankenstein.  Coincidence or homage?   Next up I am expanding the Robots/Artificial Intelligence category.

-Tom Hl.

Last Edited on: 11/20/11 8:27 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Subject: next year
Date Posted: 11/20/2011 8:25 PM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2006
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Yes, I would be willing to be the moderator for all or some of four quarterly challenges during 2012 - if that's what people would like to see.  After that, I think it would be time to totally reconsider what to do next.

But given the low number of comment-makers (4 of us), I am wondering whether we should have a challenge at all

-Tom Hl.

Brad -
Date Posted: 11/21/2011 7:54 AM ET
Member Since: 1/27/2009
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That might be interesting, but it does sound pretty involved.  It maybe would get people discussing the books more though.

I've kind of been wondering that since the E-books are appearently hugely popular these days (I'm somewhere between not-interested and flat out being against e-readers), if the number of PBS members has gone down.  I started in the PBS discussion forums on 2009, no idea what "normal" is for the SF discussion forums.

Last Edited on: 11/21/11 2:25 PM ET - Total times edited: 3
Date Posted: 11/22/2011 8:23 PM ET
Member Since: 12/14/2005
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I'm not going to finish both the sci-fi and fantasy regular challenges in time, so I think I'll just focus on the sci-fi challenge since I'm a little closer to that goal. I'm definitely in for a challenge next year, in whatever form that might take.

I recently finished Bruce Sterling's Distraction. I must be getting a little burned out by the poli/sci/bio-punk genre, because I didn't enjoy it as much as I think I should have. Even so, it's not one of the best the genre has to offer. 

Last night I started and finished Lois Lowry's The Giver for the Banned Books challenge. I read a lot of Lowry as a kid but *somehow* compelety managed to miss the fact this book even existed. Heavy stuff and powerfully written, as usual for Lowry.  I'm not at all surprised I never found this one sitting on any library's shelf. Kind of ironic, too. Maybe we should all just pretend things like death and pain don't exist, eh? ;-)  I'm sorry a missed it as a kid, but glad I caught it now.

Subject: My 2-cents on this year's and next year's challenge
Date Posted: 11/23/2011 6:02 PM ET
Member Since: 3/21/2008
Posts: 59
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I've really enjoyed this year's challenge. I've told a lot of people about it and hopefully stirred interest for next year. I completed the SF Light Challenge on 10/18/11 and turned my attention to finishing the Fantasy Light Challenge (still 1 to go) as well as a Personal Challenge (40 books) I created for myself.

The reason I haven't done a lot of posting on these threads is two-fold. First is shyness, I suppose. And when I did post no-one took much interest, so the shyness kicked in and I just stopped posting. Second, it seemed that the books I was reading or mentioning didn't carry as much interest with others. And conversely, I didn't really read a lot of the same titles that others were reading.

Never-the-less, my lack of posting shouldn't insinuate a non-interest in the challenge. I loved it! I also really enjoyed the way it was set up. In fact, I'm excited about next year and started searching to see if Phoenix has started setting up the 2012 challenge. That's when I found this thread.

Tom, your suggestion sounds interesting but I'm concerned that I'd be able to find books that would fit. In a few sections that was hard enough to do for the current challenge.

Also, I liked having the whole challenge for the year set in advance. Depending on what was interesting to me at the time I could skip around.

I look forward to what you'all decide! Thanks!

Date Posted: 11/23/2011 8:01 PM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2009
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Well, it sounds to me like there's enough interest for some sort of challenge. . . shall we have a vote at least on the form it'll take? Who wants the challenge set up for the whole year in advance, with some different options, and who wants to decide quarterly on a theme so that we're all reading more of the same books?

Subject: tomhl's vote
Date Posted: 11/24/2011 9:49 AM ET
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Well, I vote for the quarterly broad topic.  But I intend to participate either way.

-Tom Hl.

Subject: either or
Date Posted: 11/24/2011 11:47 AM ET
Member Since: 7/26/2006
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I'm thinking that a quarterly challenge would keep the interest level up.  But I do agree that it might be hard to find books, especially if you're not really interested in the topic.  (hence the "challenge")  - well, I'll vote for the quarterly challenge.  If you don't like the topic you can just wait a few months and get in on the next one.


First is shyness, I suppose. And when I did post no-one took much interest, so the shyness kicked in and I just stopped posting. Second, it seemed that the books I was reading or mentioning didn't carry as much interest with others. 

Really?  First, I always read what people have to say about a book.  Second, I can't comment about what I don't know.  Third, lack of a counter-comment  doesn't mean board readers aren't interested.

And conversely, I didn't really read a lot of the same titles that others were reading .

All the more reason to post please.


Date Posted: 11/24/2011 8:22 PM ET
Member Since: 3/21/2008
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I vote for the same style we had this year.

Date Posted: 11/24/2011 9:32 PM ET
Member Since: 1/29/2009
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I'd like to see the entire year set out. In fact, I think the 2012 challenge should be made up of the most popular categories from 2010 and 2011.

Date Posted: 11/25/2011 10:09 AM ET
Member Since: 1/14/2009
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I still intend to try the 2012 challenge, whatever form it takes, but I've failed miserably in completing the challenges for the past two years, so I don't really have any input to offer.

Brad -
Date Posted: 11/25/2011 10:53 AM ET
Member Since: 1/27/2009
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Doesn't matter that much to me.  A broad quarterly is fine or the whole year laid out.

Last Edited on: 11/25/11 12:08 PM ET - Total times edited: 2