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Topic: 2011 SF Challenge: SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER THREAD

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Subject: 2011 SF Challenge: SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER THREAD
Date Posted: 9/3/2011 10:52 AM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2006
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I thought I might set up this thread for two months right from the start.  Hope that's ok, Phoenix.

Eight months gone, four months left.  Are you approaching any goals?  Are any of the categories giving you trouble and you need suggestions?

-Tom Hl.



Last Edited on: 9/3/11 10:58 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 9/3/2011 12:38 PM ET
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Thanks Tom! Knew I was forgetting something at the beginning of the month. . . ;)

Alas, I'm barely past halfway on the Light version. . . too many books that don't count called my name this year. . .

Brad -
Date Posted: 9/7/2011 8:36 AM ET
Member Since: 1/27/2009
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Vurt by Jeff Noon:  This book was quite the trip.  It was thrilling all the way through.  A little crude, but most definitely worth the read.

Subject: my progress
Date Posted: 9/9/2011 5:55 PM ET
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I've finished two books since my last post.  They were:

  • Eon, by Greg Bear (****) for the Big Dumb Object category
  • WWW:Watch by Robert J. Sawyer (***) that could only be counted in categories I've already filled - so I've identified Robots/AI for one of my expanded challenge categories

This leaves me with five categories remaining in the regular challenge:

  • SF Romance
  • Work that has won the Prometheus Award
  • Work that is on the Banned Books list or that is on the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list
  • Themed anthology
  • Read a novel by an author known for his/her short stories

At this point, I have something in mind for everything except SF Romance.  Knowing the kind of sf I prefer - hard sf and/or literary sf - is there anything any of you would recommend?  Or is there just no overlap?

-Tom Hl.



Last Edited on: 9/16/11 11:54 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 9/15/2011 5:21 PM ET
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I've read a few novels recently. First was Clarke's Rendevous with Rama, which I (was rather surprised to discover) didn't really care for. His characters were very one dimensional; any personality they had was almost stuck to them like a "Hello my name is" tag. Rama itself was mildly interesting, but if you have any knowledge of physics some of the mystery could easily be guessed in advance.

Then I read Heinlein's Glory Road. Again, I didn't care for it. It reads like something Heinlein whipped up one night to entertain himself. While it is a fun read superficially, it's a straightforward quest plot that only gets duller when he tries to examine what happens to the hero when his glory days are over.

Lastly came Simak's Time is the Simplest Thing. I read this for the singularity category, based on the idea that science had failed to take humans to the stars, but had finally progressed enough to understand the potential of the mind. Despite gaining some very interesting abilities through science and a little help from a friendly alien, most of the story takes place on Earth and isn't spectacularly futuristic. It was still a good read and interesting to note that even in the 50's Simak was already thinking about what might happen in a future beyond science as we know it now.

I've just now started The Dogs of War themed anthology. The first short is not capturing my attention at all, but there's some big names in this one so I'll keep hoping for better. 

Subject: two closer to finishing the regular challenge
Date Posted: 9/18/2011 9:09 AM ET
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banned book category: A WRINKLE IN TIME, by Madeleine L'Engle (1962) ***

I first read this book in my childhood, about 4 or 5 years after it was written.  I was reminded what a unique book this is, making use of some scientific concepts while actually being fantasy. The term "science fantasy" was meant for exactly this. That said, it amazes me as much today as it did when I first read it how L'Engle really has no understanding of what a tesseract is. It's a finite chunk of 4-space with parallel edges, faces, and 3-space facets. Our human minds, evolved as they are for living in a three dimensional world, cannot visualize four orthogonal directions except through analogy. This should give you some kind of idea what kind of kid I was, as these thoughts were from my 11 year old self. What L'Engle uses in her story is more what we would call a wormhole today. So the book didn't click for me as a kid, except to make me ponder extra-dimensional geometry - which isn't really to the point the book makes about the power of love to triumph over evil.

This book appears on most lists of banned books. But with a quick internet search I wasn't able to find any instance of it actually being banned. Probably it would be more accurate to call it a challenged book - challenged primarily on religious grounds. I think that's ironic, as L'Engle's writings are light-handedly but clearly theistic. I guess conservative religionists must feel threatened by liberal religionists. What a world. Well, I for one, highly recommend the book to thinking young people and also to those of us who started that way.

novel by short story writer: BETWEEN THE STROKES OF NIGHT, by Charles Sheffield (2002) ****

Charles Sheffield is a new writer to me, in terms of novels. Judging by his award nominations, I think he is known primarily for hard sf short stories and science articles in Analog and similar publications.

There are two editions of the novel available. As originally published in 1987, the ending of the book was consistent with the big bang-big crunch model of the universe. After this was shown to be incorrect in the 1990s, Sheffield revised the novel, completely replacing the ending, and increasing the length by as much as 25%. I read the 2002 version.

The novel is episodic, set in four time periods of the future. Characters do persist across episodes, but the focus character does shift. There is a near-future projected from the Cold War period in which the book was originally written, with environmental degradation and superpower tensions. Then it jumps to an athletic/survival contest on a human settled world named Pentecost about 25000 years from now. The winners of the contest are drawn into an exploration of human existence of that time. Finally, and this is the section Sheffield re-wrote, there is the far future destiny of humankind.

Pentecost is a world in a system of two suns, and I think it's interesting that as I read this book, I learned about the first discovery of a planet that orbits two stars. (Kepler-16b, which orbits both a red and an orange star in the constellation Cygnus, is 200 light-years from Earth. The planet is most like Saturn in our own solar system — too cold for life as we know it, most likely with a thick, gassy atmosphere.)

There is very strong plot tension in most of the book, and it was difficult to put it down. Unfortunately, that tension withers somewhat in the last quarter of the book. I have to wonder if, even though the original ending was no longer scientifically valid, it it might have been a stronger plot. But it needed to be done, for the hard sf audience of this book, inaccurate science is a no-starter.

Thematically, the novel deals with the human drive towards immortality and the price we pay for that. Sheffield also gives his definition of the meaning of life - to learn the universe and solve big problems. As an engineer, I gotta love that.



Last Edited on: 9/18/11 9:21 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Brad -
Date Posted: 9/21/2011 8:21 AM ET
Member Since: 1/27/2009
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Two recent ones read:

Virtual Light by William Gibson:  Aurora Winner category.  I gave up on this one around 100 pages or so.  I just wasn't into the book.  To me it was confusing.

This Place Has No Atmosphere by Paula Danzinger:  Pulp category (not entirely sure that's correct).  Very quick, but decent read.  It's basically a teen romance SciFi;  teen gets forced by parents to move to the moon and hates it, but ends up being okay with it.

Subject: Only two categories left
Date Posted: 9/23/2011 3:03 PM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2006
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I read Little Brother by Cory Doctorow for the Prometheus Award category.  I felt the plot was really exciting and makes some important points about government and fear, but the tone of the writing ocassionally crossed over into lecturey - as in "Have you ever programmed a computer?  It's really cool.  You should!"  As for technical content, well, I'll just share that I was using the internet before Cory Doctorow.  Some of the stuff he talks about is buried under so many layers now that users don't even see it any more.

-Tom Hl.



Last Edited on: 9/28/11 5:33 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Brad -
Date Posted: 9/27/2011 3:19 PM ET
Member Since: 1/27/2009
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Done with the light challenge (have been for a little while).  Guessing I will be able to finish the regular challenge, although rght now reading two books that won't count on the challenge (I don't think anyhow).  Still hoping to finish the regular challenge, without using any double-counts.  I'm guessing the last category I'll get to is the non-fiction, since at least right now that sounds unappealing.

I should say be "done" I mean I've read something for that category;  I didn't necessarily finish the book.



Last Edited on: 9/27/11 3:24 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Subject: One category left
Date Posted: 10/1/2011 2:46 PM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2006
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You guys weren't much help with picking a book for the SF Romance category.  MrsTomHl who knows my taste in reading does not run in that direction, suggested that at least with Touched by an Alien, by Gini Koch, I might get some laughs.  Aside from a few trappings, this was not science fiction in any way I use that term.  The conceptualization of the aliens was complete hooey, along the lines of something like the movie Men In Black.  It's so far off, that the book is close to parody.  Not quite there though, as parody should take a no-holds-barred attittude, and this writing definitely protects the main character from any hint of criticism.  In fact, I think the term is "Mary Sue".  Sometimes I felt the overall function of the plot of this book might be just to deliver the reader to some extended erotic passages, whatever nonsense it took to get there.  So two stars only, and thanks to MrsTomHl who probably saved me from a one star read experience.  I did enjoy the smart mouth and sarcastic attitude of the main character.

And Brad - if I can finish this, I think you can go back and finish some of those unfinished books you are counting as "done".  wink

-Tom Hl.



Last Edited on: 10/1/11 2:49 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Brad -
Date Posted: 10/5/2011 7:53 AM ET
Member Since: 1/27/2009
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Diaspora by Greg Egan: This may have set a new (bad) record for me.  I gave up on the book after only 22 pages, it's rare that I'll give up before 70 pages or so but I decided to in this case.  It's an interesting plot, but Egan has way too much terminology in there for me.  Scanning ahead it looked like it didn't get much better.  I felt like I was reading a scientific journal; just not enjoyable reading, my time is too short and my reading list is too long to read something when it feels like I'm forcing myself.

That's true Tom.  :)



Last Edited on: 10/5/11 1:21 PM ET - Total times edited: 3
Brad -
Date Posted: 10/10/2011 1:57 PM ET
Member Since: 1/27/2009
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Recently discovered a wonderful book store here in Minneapolis:  Uncle Hugo's Sci-Fi bookstore.  Tons of selection.  I picked up John Varley's The Ophiuchi Hotline, Samuel Delany's Triton, and Paol Anderson's Virgin Planet for $8.  Used paperbacks are 1/2 off the price on the book ($2.50 minimum).  Their store is just bursting with SciFi books.

Subject: Uncle Hugo's
Date Posted: 10/10/2011 6:27 PM ET
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Heh heh.  You just discovered Uncle Hugo's?   I was in Minneapolis last year, and the discount on my one-time purchase there was big enough to justify an annual membership.  (And then MrsTomHl discovered Uncle Edgar's in the back.)

In the Milwaukee area, there is a really big used bookstore downtown named Renaissance with a branch at the airport terminal, and three good sized stores from the Half Price chain, all having substantial science fiction selection.  I buy almost everything at 50% one way or the other.   But no science-fiction-only bookstore.

Hey!  Next time you're at Uncle Hugo's please ask if they stock any German language Science Fiction and let me know.   In fact, that request goes to any of you out there.  The cost to ship a book from Germany itself is about ten Euros per book.

-Tom Hl.



Last Edited on: 10/10/11 6:29 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Brad -
Date Posted: 10/11/2011 8:02 AM ET
Member Since: 1/27/2009
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Yeah, I hadn't known about Uncle Hugo's.  A cousin of mine told me about them.  Before them I knew about Half-Price and our local bookstore Monkey See-Monkey Read which is nice, but they don't have much SciFi so sadly I can't buy much from them.

Sounds good, I'll ask them next time I'm there for you.

Date Posted: 10/12/2011 1:31 PM ET
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SCIENCE FICTION STORY-READER 19, Wolfgang Jeschke, 1983 (German language)

Finally, I have finished this anthology, the theme of which was short stories written in German or translated into German from Dutch, Romanian, English, Italian, and French.  This anthology was part of a long running series published twice per year in paperback book form by Heyne and edited by Wolfgang Jeschke.  Volume 19 is from the second half of 1983.  This was my second German language book this year, and my reading level is growing, but still I have a long way to go with that.  It was not a particularly easy choice for me, as I needed to build some start-up word recognition for each new writer on each story.  Maybe that's good for me in the long run though.  Anyway, a few of these stories are literary, and by that I mean that the narrative does not just describe what is happening and what is being said, but uses metaphors, non-human points of view, allegorical cultural concepts, sexual language, and even a little "New Wave" style.  Normally, I like that a lot, but when I'm coming with a 6th grade vocabulary, it can be overwhelming.  Except for the few English language writers, all these writers were new to me, and I think I especially enjoyed Vladimir Jakovlev, Lino Aldani, and Daniel Walther.  Another thing I liked was that the series contains sketch artwork similar to what is found inside sf magazines here in the US.  The poetry items were beyond my ability, but the story contents consist of:

  • Schöpferisches Spiel, von Manuel van Loggem (Niederlande)
  • Hattusás, von Gheorghe Săsărman (Rumänien)
  • Kreis der Zeit, von Vladimir Jakovlev (Deutschland)
  • Schwarz wie der Abgrund; von Pol zu Pol, von Steven Utley & Howard Waldrop (USA) - "Black as the Pit; from Pole to Pole"
  • Spielereien, von Imrtraud Kremp (Deutschland)
  • Das Licht, von Vittorio Curtoni (Italien)
  • Der Alte, von Hendrik Heimer (Deutschland)
  • Optimale Lebensformen, von David Chippers (Österreich)
  • Rotgewürfelt, von Lino Aldani (Italien)
  • Einen Tag nach dem Gestern, einen Tag vor dem Morgen, von Kai Riedemann (Deutschland)
  • Eine Welt für Roboter, von Gisela Bulla (Deutschland)
  • Im Schatten, von Christian Haderer (Deutschland)
  • Bin ich es, der Deinen Namen lästert, o Herr?, von Daniel Walther (Frankreich)
  • Dein Universum, von Arndt Ellmer (Deutschland)
  • Kleider machen Leute, von James White (Grossbritannien) - "Custom Fitting"
  • Das dunkle Schiff, von Martin Wambganss (Deutschland)
  • Krieg unterm Weihnachtsbaum, von Gene Wolf (USA) - "War Beneath the Tree"

I have not been able to find English versions of anything other than the three originally written in English, for which I have given the English titles above.

-Tom Hl.

Subject: finished the regular challenge
Date Posted: 10/12/2011 1:37 PM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2006
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By the way, that last book was in the Themed Anthology category, and completed the Regular Challenge for me.  With regard to the expanded challenge, I have so far chosen the Robots and Artificial Intelligence category for expansion into five books from five different decades.  Should be interesting.

-Tom Hl.

Date Posted: 10/14/2011 2:05 AM ET
Member Since: 12/14/2005
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I finished Dave Duncan's West of Janurary awhile ago. This book is an example of why I'm loving this challenge so much. The cover is really goofy, with a half naked guy riding a killer whale, and the back blurb makes the whole premise sound a bit out there, too. If I hadn't come across it via the Aurora Awards, I'm pretty sure I'd pass over it. I actally enjoyed it immensely. It's only scifi in the sense that it takes place on another planet; all the cultures are pretty primitive. But it's a very interesting planet! It's nearly, but not quite, tidally locked. The year takes so long to progress that people are forever migrating westward to stay ahead of summertime. Simplistically, West of Janurary is the story of one man as he travels around and visits the various cultures, but I was very impressed with how well Duncan managed to keep his plot tight and well defined while his character finds a quest, loses focus, gets sidetracked, picks up the quest again, loses hope, changes his mind, picks up a new quest...most stories with such a meandering character tend to meander themselves as well. If you're looking for a climate change novel this one would satisify, but it's really so much more than that. 

Brad -
Date Posted: 10/20/2011 2:03 PM ET
Member Since: 1/27/2009
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Really enjoyed Joe Haldeman's Camouflage (Ocean category for now).  Enjoyable read through the entire book and my interest in it never wained.  That makes 3 of his books that I've enjoyed, he's definitely at or near the top of my favorite authors.



Last Edited on: 10/20/11 2:04 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Subject: Joe Haldeman
Date Posted: 10/20/2011 11:28 PM ET
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If you picked up his Old Twentieth, you could go for 4. I just read that one for the robots/artificial intelligence category, and gave it ****. But you have to read the ending to get it!
Brad -
Date Posted: 10/21/2011 8:53 AM ET
Member Since: 1/27/2009
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I'll add that to my to-read list.  I've enjoyed him enough that I want to read his other works.  I'm already done with the robots category, I used I-Robot as both that and fix-up novel.

I have 5 categories left (second contact, Kurd Lasswitz Preis, Locus Reading List, Anthology, and non-fiction).  I have close to zero interest in the non-fiction category (although Ian Bank's Raw Spirit I'm somewhat interested in) and am only mildly interested in the anthology category.  I have the anthology penciled in for Wastelands, which I'm sort-of interested in, but maybe I'll try and find something else.

I found The Last Day of Creation from another library, so I'll use that as KLP category and extra credit, to remove the non-fiction category.



Last Edited on: 10/21/11 3:34 PM ET - Total times edited: 8
Subject: biopunk category
Date Posted: 10/29/2011 9:36 PM ET
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TREASON, by Orson Scott Card, 1988 ***

This book certainly started out strange. The teenaged male heir to the throne of Mueller has grown breasts. It seems the Muellers have the capability of rapid regeneration after physical injuries, but occasionally an individual develops a runaway condition where extra organs and limbs grow unexpectedly. The kingdom usually puts these people into pens and harvests from them for trade in iron. But in this case, the King chooses rather to exile his son. Thus begin the adventures of Lanik Mueller over the strange world of Treason. As the story progresses, I could find some concepts that also appear in Card's Seventh Son series, and his The Memory of Earth series.

As for the science of it, Card mentions the words "genetic engineering" and "physics" once or twice, but promptly moves into supernatural powers endowed by an earth that seems an extended allegory for God. Knowing that Orson Scott Card has evolved into pretty much a right-wing religious nutcase in the years after this was written (I invite you to read his blog sometime), probably led me to be looking for that sort of thing. But it is more than just coincidental, I'm sure.

I have little use for Orson Scott Card's more recent writing, but as an example of early Card, I found this novel interesting and thought provoking.

Subject: fix-up novel category
Date Posted: 10/31/2011 4:17 PM ET
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THE MAN WHO AWOKE, by Laurence Manning, 1933 ***

The five stories in this fix-up novel were first published in successive issues of Wonder Stories during 1933. Laurence Manning was a Canadian-born science fiction writer (1899-1972), who authored several series of stories for pulp magazines, and mostly gave up his writing career in 1935 to run a mail-order nursery business. In 1975, Ballantine published them together in paperback form for the first time.

The stories concern a man named Norman Winters, who puts himself into a state of suspended animation and wakes up successively in 5000AD, 10000AD, 15000AD, 20000AD, and 25000AD. Each awakening constituted one of the original stories, and portrays successive and varying visions of the future of humanity. At first, it was difficult to believe this was written almost 80 years ago, as Norman wakes up in a world whose oil and fossil fuel resources were depleted by a selfishly consumptive period of history called the 20th century. But then, in later stories, Manning's less prognostic forecasts of the power of the atom, and of biology are amusingly naive. And certain concepts (giant tripods, human evolution in the future) seem to have been inspired by H.G.Wells writings, which were only 40 years earlier. In the end, I found it interesting, mostly from a historical point of view.

Brad -
Date Posted: 11/2/2011 1:33 PM ET
Member Since: 1/27/2009
Posts: 200
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Tom -

Sent you a PM, made a trip to Hugo's today.

Brad -
Date Posted: 11/2/2011 3:24 PM ET
Member Since: 1/27/2009
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While at Uncle Hugo's I picked up a trio of books (2 used, 1 new).  Plus I got a $5 discount card, which give me 10% off for 90 days.  I'd guess I won't make my money back, but considering Uncle Hugo's is a independent, small bookstore I consider giving them the $5 to be a good investment.  I don't buy many books, but then again since I've discovered Hugo's I've bought more.