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Topic: SF Challenge DISCUSSION THREAD (2/10)

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Subject: SF Challenge DISCUSSION THREAD (2/10)
Date Posted: 2/1/2010 12:43 PM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2009
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Welcome to month #4!

My month went pretty well. . . still pretty much on track to finish on time (though I'm pretty sure I won't have time for any of the bonus challenges) and I got a nice surprise at the end of the month when I discovered that the next Kage Baker Company novel switched to a third-person omniscient viewpoint, so I could count it for my challenge! But I swear, that'll be the last one. . .

I also found my copy of The Silver Metal Lover last night -- somehow it had slipped behind my nightstand! -- so I'll be finishing that first for the challenge this month.

What do you all have up next?

Matt C. (mattc) - ,
Date Posted: 2/1/2010 6:26 PM ET
Member Since: 8/13/2008
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I am not sure what I'll be reading.  I am sidetracked by other challenge stuff at the moment, but since I just ordered the new Joe Haldeman book, Starbound, from Amazon, I'll probably start that when it gets here.

Subject: Work originally written in a language other than English
Date Posted: 2/1/2010 10:48 PM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2006
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THE FINAL CIRCLE OF PARADISE, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, 1965, translation from Russian by Leonid Renen, 1976

Ivan Zhilin, cosmonaut, has returned to Earth after years in space (in a previous novel), and settles in a generic Mediterranian resort city where he once fought the fascists.  Within a few pages, and then for the next ten chapters a tiresomely long sequence of unrelated, bizarre, and pointless events befall him.  Then in the last two chapters, the Strugatskys reveal their basic concept.  The goal of (Soviet) civilization has been to achieve material comfort for all, and now that the "boobs" have it, it has been squandered on hedonism and a powerful electronic drug called "slug".  I guess this is a criticism of shallow Soviet aims from the Brezhnev era, and I can only guess what little respect the Strugatskys would have given to Western materialism.  Unfortunately, this is not enough to make up for all the nonsense of the first ten chapters, and I have to give this a thumbs down.  A disappointment to me, since I have liked the past four Strugatsky novels I've read.



Last Edited on: 2/1/10 10:53 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Subject: half-way point
Date Posted: 2/1/2010 10:52 PM ET
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So, that was my 20th book in the challenge, and I might project completion in another three months.  Except that two of the sf novels sitting on the TBR shelf are over 1000 pages, and a third one is actually in German, and I am in parallel reading a textbook on the history of Cambodia.  Things are definitely going to slow down.

-Tom Hl.



Last Edited on: 2/1/10 10:53 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 2/1/2010 11:05 PM ET
Member Since: 9/3/2008
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Wow Tom-  You are cruising through this challenge. I slowed down a bit.   I'm reading The Years of Rice and Salt.  I'm not done yet.  It's really enjoyable but I'm not sure how I feel about the story teller interjecting comments in the narrative.  I hope there's a reason for it.   I'm not very far along.  I have Rainbow's End Verner Vinge, Blue Light Walter Moseley The Stars my Destination Alfred Bester and Fiasco by Lem up next.  I had a weak end to this month and I still haven't finished Homecoming by Card.  I'm letting my predjudices against the writer  (as a person) interfere with the reading I think.  And that annoys me!

Matt C. (mattc) - ,
Date Posted: 2/2/2010 3:39 PM ET
Member Since: 8/13/2008
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Ann - The Stars My Destination is in my top 10 SF books of all time!  I hope you like it.

Date Posted: 2/2/2010 4:16 PM ET
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Shhh Matt Phoenix might hear you... I don't know if I could come up with a top 10 of all time for a poll. I might be able to list top ten authors. Although it might be interesting to try to figure out my top 10 books.. I have been meaning to read Bester for years and then there it was -a pristine copy at the library for 50 cents-

Speaking of libraries -They have Neil Gaiman and Jasper Fforde in the contemporary literature section -not SF in my library. I wonder if they are starting to separate Fantasy & Science Fiction. It seems fantasy is becoming more socially acceptable. The science fiction section keeps getting smaller & smaller. The vampire sex books are in romance.

At the Border's near me the science fiction section is almost all vamipre sex (not in romance there) and urban fantasy now except for warcraft warhammer star trek type series. Barnes & Noble has so few science fiction/fantasy books it's not worth it to even go there.



Last Edited on: 2/2/10 4:17 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Matt C. (mattc) - ,
Date Posted: 2/2/2010 4:58 PM ET
Member Since: 8/13/2008
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Hmm.  Top 10 authors would be easier than books.  The problem with science fiction is that it's roots are more deeply in short fiction than novels, I think.  How about a ranking for best short stories?  Don't hold me to it, but here's a sample:

  1. "Dogwalker" by Orson Scott Card
  2. "The Giftie Gie Us" by Timothy Zahn
  3. "Solution Unsatisfactory" by Robert A. Heinlein
  4. "Press Enter" by John Varley
  5. "All Cats Are Gray" by Andre Norton
  6. "The Face of the Deep" by Fred Saberhagen
  7. "Too Soon to Die" by Tom Godwin
  8. "A Pail of Air" by Fritz Leiber
  9. "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag" by Robert A. Heinlein
  10. "A Separate War" by Joe Haldeman
Date Posted: 2/2/2010 8:24 PM ET
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I recognise most of them but I'm going to have to check on the others.  I don't always pay attention to the name of the short story I'm reading.  The authors all look good!  I do think The Women Men Don't See by Tiptree would be included in my list.  Thre's one by Asimov that I have to look up as well.  There's also one that's totally non PC that has a guy come out of suspended animation in the future -a yucky used car salesman type- There's been an over population of lower IQ people and the higher IQ people -who are very few- have to run the entire world.  This guy from the past gives them a remarkable way to reduce population (Let's go to VENUS) but they get tired of him too...   I think I have it around here somewhere and I think it's by a well known writer.   Regardless of all that you've got a good start.  I have to go look up "All Cats are Grey"  I did like Press Enter very much.

Matt C. (mattc) - ,
Date Posted: 2/2/2010 9:12 PM ET
Member Since: 8/13/2008
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Yeah, I often forget story titles, but I figure it means something if the title and plot remain in my head years later.  I can even provide background:

"Dogwalker" is the first cyberpunk story I remember reading, and is still my favorite.  It's the third story in Card's collection Flux, as well as Maps in a Mirror, which includes Flux in its entirity.

"The Giftie Gie Us" is the first story in Zahn's collection Cascade Point, and is a touching post-apocalyptic story. 

"Solution Unsatisfactory" is kind of strange, since it was written during WWII and provided a crushing end to the war and a Pax Americana...but as the title implies, the victory is bittersweet.  It could almost be considered alternate history at this point.  Actually, I was going to include another of Heinlein's short stories "No Bands Playing, No Flags Flying-" but it is not actually an SF story.  It's about courage in its different forms.  Both are in his collection Expanded Universe.

"Press Enter" is one I read so long ago I forget where.  Actually, I believe the official title has a block cursor after it, like there used to be on older computers (like the Commodore 64 I grew up with).  That's one thing that made it stick in my mind.

"All Cats Are Gray" is one of the stories in The SFWA Grand Masters Volume I.  I think Andre Norton was the second to receive the Grand Master award after Heinlein.  "A Pail of Air" by Leiber was in the same collection, though it's famous enough I've seen it elsewhere.

"The Face of the Deep" is the last story in Berserker, which is of course the first collection of Berserker stories by Fred Saberhagen.  In that story, the guy can tell the difference between humans and berserker droids by how they react to seeing an awe-inpiring view of the universe.

"Too Soon to Die" is in the massive anthology Science Fiction A to Z, which Asimov helped edit...I highly recommend this collection, by the way.  It really expanded my science fiction horizons as I looked up the various authors and topics in the book.

"The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag" might be considered a novella, but I figure it counts because it was never published separately as far as I know.  It os probably Heinlein's creepiest.  Now that I think of it, "All You Zombies" by Heinlein is also one of my favorites.  Time travel without paradoxes!  Both of these are in The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein.   

"A Separate War" is an in-between story about Marygay from The Forever War and Forever Free..actually, this one probably isn't even my favorite Haldeman story.  I've read all of Haldeman's collections, but I can't remember all the titles.  There's one about a guy who dreams of a weird figure approaching him to kill him every time he falls asleep, and it's been getting closer and closer for years... 

Date Posted: 2/2/2010 9:27 PM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2009
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Hehe, no worries, I have no plans for further polling after the top 10 of the 2000s concludes. . .

Is it sad that I don't know any of the short stories you (Matt) mentioned? I've only recently (as in over the last year) come to appreciate short fiction, which I think puts me at a significant disadvantage, because that's the sort of stuff that goes out of print and totally disappears unless it's a big enough author to warrant an author-only collection. So I've got the James Tiptree, Jr. collection on my shelf (got about halfway through but every story made me sob so I put it down for a bit); I've got a C.J. Cherryh collection on my shelf (read the stories about the cities of the future but didn't get any further); I've got a couple Connie Willis collections (which I've read in their entirety and loved, but I know it's not all her stories); and then I have a few random themed anthologies of really recent work. I'm sure I could find collections of short fiction from my favorite Golden Age authors (Asimov, Herbert, Bradbury, Dickson, etc.) but where would I encounter the story you (Matt) mention as your #7 pick when I've never even heard of Tom Godwin?

LOL, I suppose I just need to start grabbing all the back copies of Asimov's and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction I see at library sales. . . and I know there's always the yearly collections. . . it's just rather daunting!

Date Posted: 2/2/2010 9:34 PM ET
Member Since: 9/3/2008
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I may have read all of these -from your mini synopsis' I recognise all of them. (I think) except The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag.  I went through a heinlein phase in the early 80's  but I don't remember reading many short stories.  I have bunches of anthologies here I'm going to go check them out.

Date Posted: 2/3/2010 9:54 AM ET
Member Since: 9/3/2008
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Phoenix-  Just buy a couple of older used anthologies and stuff them in your backpack and/or car.  That's what I do then when you are stuck waiting at the dentist or something just grab one and read a story.   It's amazing how many anthologies you can read this way.  Unlike reading a novel at these places, when you get yanked back into reality there's no adjustment time or resentment because you are right at the exciting bit.    And you generally don't miss your subway stop reading short stories!  Yes I have missed my stop reading a novel...  Obviously I'm a big fan of short stories.

Date Posted: 2/3/2010 8:10 PM ET
Member Since: 6/26/2006
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Since I'm so behind on this challenge and everyone's talking about anthologies - I decided to read Joe Haldeman's short story collection None So Blind next. :)

Date Posted: 2/3/2010 10:35 PM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2009
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Well, just finished The Silver Metal Lover, by Tanith Lee. My impressions stayed the same all the way through: well crafted tale, strong characters, decent world, and if I had encountered it at age 13 I would have loved it. . . but encountering it half a lifetime later, I was left a little underwhelmed, simply because I lived the whole angsty teenage girl thing, and feel no need to revisit it in my reading. Still, I would wholeheartedly recommend it to someone looking for that. . . or any angsty teenage girl I find. ;)

However, I am getting very behind on my reviews! Damn jury duty. . .

Up next: probably Earthling, by Tony Daniel. I feel the need to go very abstract, to counteract all the sloppy emotions flying all over the place. . .

Subject: Recommended reading list from Locus
Date Posted: 2/10/2010 5:12 PM ET
Member Since: 7/26/2006
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It's out now. http://www.locusmag.com/Magazine/2010/Issue02_RecommendedReadingList.html

Subject: Random thoughts on the Locus recommended reading list
Date Posted: 2/11/2010 2:52 AM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2009
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Neat! There are actually a couple on there that I was planning on finding a way to read this year anyway. . . maybe I will be able to fill a bonus category or two! But other than that, I think I only know about a third of the novels listed here. . .Nice to see two Kage Baker novels on there (plus a novella). . . I'm still bummed about her death. And I didn't even know Jo Walton had a new book out. . . I'll have to find that. . . I've been picking up a lot of Subterranean Press books lately, and they seem nicely represented on this list for a publisher I hadn't heard of until a couple years ago. . .

Subject: Locus list thoughts
Date Posted: 2/11/2010 12:52 PM ET
Member Since: 7/26/2006
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Bah! I'm kinda irked that two of my fav books aren't even on the list (Time Travelers Never Die and WWW:Wake) Phffoeee!

Interesting, Charlie Stross' book The Revolution Business is under fantasy. Which I believe is in our category of SF disguised as fantasy / or is it fantasy disguised as SF - whatever.

And the book Green, also on the SFWA Nebula page (nominations to be announced shortly). Humph - Amazon reviews make me NOT want to read it.

Well, I've only read a few on the list, certainly is eclectic.

Subject: It was a dark and stormy night...
Date Posted: 2/13/2010 11:10 PM ET
Member Since: 9/3/2008
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Some times I have no sense at all. I read Ray Bradbury's book Something WIcked This Way Comes late at night this week all alone when we had 34 inches of snow on the ground and gusts of wind up to 35 mph. So it was dark, it was windy, the house was making all sorts of funny noises which I was really hoping weren't the roof jousts (or whatever supports the roof) creaking from the load of snow. Icesicles were shattering in the wind. And I sit down to read a really creepy story. I hadn't read it before. I'm not really into horror and I do think this qualifies. The books starts with a BIG WIND ahhhh... and LATE AT NIGHT ahhhh two young teenage boys sneak out and HEAR FUNNY NOISES. (yep pretty decent pattern)

I do like Ray Bradbury. I dont know why I hadn't read it before. It's a real novel -not like most of his books that are short stories that are tied together. Many of them are slightly creepy/disturbing too -actually. A very strange and dangerous carnival comes to town in late october. The boys figure it out as does one of the boy's dad. It is of course very unsettling It does have a happy ending of sorts. I guess a Ray Bradbury happy ending. I imagine this is a coming of age story in some ways -for the boys & the dad too. And no I didn't go to sleep that night. I turned on the TV and that really creepy twin peaks movie was on -so I just gave up.

Subject: It was a dark and stormy night
Date Posted: 2/17/2010 1:04 AM ET
Member Since: 7/26/2006
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A few years ago after my birthday (I got a Stephen King book and a mylar balloon among other things), well, it was a dark and stormy night. Unfortunately the helium had slowly leaked from my birthday balloon and was bobbing lower and lower. I was reading my scary Stephen King book when I heard something behind me on the couch. I turned around and saw a face right behind me andI screamed. Then had to restart my heart. Then feltfoolish as it was just the mirror shiny side of my birthday balloon reflecting my face.

That's my scary story reading a book.

Matt C. (mattc) - ,
Date Posted: 2/17/2010 5:12 AM ET
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If you want a scary book story...this might sound kind of lame, but I was young and impressionable. Anyway, I was sick and couldn't sleep, and I was up in the middle of the night reading Tunnel in the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein, where a group of young people (high school and college age) are accidentally marooned on a primitive planet. At one point, these little harmless-looking creaures start going crazy all in unison and ganging up to kill anything in thier path...it was creepy.

Subject: Earthling, by Tony Daniel
Date Posted: 2/17/2010 3:32 PM ET
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Well, I don't really have a scary book story. . . the only book I've ever read that scared me was Lost Boys, by Orson Scott Card, but all it did was make me totally paranoid while I shower to this day. . . and really, that only because I'm terrified of bugs.

Just finished #25: Work with a non-human viewpoint character for at least 50% of the text
Filled with: Earthling, by Tony Daniel

My capsule review: Three very loosely linked novellas spanning the next millennium of human existence on Earth; the first, "The Robot's Twilight Companion," is wonderful while the second two didn't work particularly well for me (though they may for other people). Interesting ideas, strong writing, but very uneven in tone. Still, recommended strongly.

My full review, not quite spoiler-free, but maybe helpful with the rough transitions between novellas, here: http://community.livejournal.com/sf_book_reviews/91789.html

Subject: Work that has won the Locus Award
Date Posted: 2/17/2010 10:23 PM ET
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ANATHEM, by Neal Stephenson, 2008.

For about the first 100 pages, I had to look up every other word in the glossary in the back, but after that I got the hang of it and only needed the single definitions that were inserted occasionally. For a person with a 60 hr/week job and a family life, reading a 980 page novel is a big deal, and not something I do often, which is probably why I've been neglecting Neal Stephenson. The only other book by him I've read is Snow Crash. Unfortunately for my spare time, the creative world-building of Anathem made this worth the big investment. A quick blurb like this cannot do justice to the scope of Anathem, and if I were to identify the sf concepts involved that would be a sort of spoiler because part of the suspense is the nature of those concepts. This book could probably fit into about dozen different subgenre of science fiction. All I can safetly say is that it is a Locus Award winner, which will reveal nothing, other than that the book is well recommended.

-Tom Hl.



Last Edited on: 2/19/10 12:30 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Subject: superhuman
Date Posted: 2/20/2010 11:57 PM ET
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There I was, wondering where in the world I was going to find a book with a superhuman concept, when I started reading...

GREEN EYES, by Lucius Shepard, 1984.

A reclusive research project is experimenting with a strain of bacteria that re-animates the recently dead. Each zombie is assigned a therapist, who is encouraged to use subtle sexual attraction to manipulate their subject to normal functionality. But zombie Donnell Harrison and his therapist Jocundra, disgusted by the behaviors of the sleazy researchers, slowly acknowledge the growth of a real relationship and escape to the nearby Louisiana bayou country. I don't read much horror, and am not sure how this book would stack up in that category, but I found Shepard's descriptions of the lush decadent plant life and people of that place to be evocative and chillingly creepy. They fall in with faith healers, and find Donnell has powers beyond human experience, except possibly in the traditions of Voudou. From the faith healers onward, their lives grow increasingly bizarre and grotesque.

I would be giving this book a high rating, for its narrative quality, but unfortunately Shepard stepped onto one of my personal landmines. I am a biomedical engineer working in design of applications of magnetic resonance imaging systems. My peeve is when a writer picks up a few random words and concepts of nuclear magnetic resonance, and proceeds to demonstrate that they totally do not understand it. While it is true that the broadcast of electromagnetic energy at the correct frequency will affect the spin of the nucleus of certain isotopes like Hydrogen-1, this does not cause whole cells or even molecules or atoms to move and align - just takes the nucleus to a higher energy state right where it is! It is a confusion of NMR with plain old-fashioned electromagnetism. And while we're at it, human illness cannot be cured by manipulating eddy currents in the Earth's magnetic field. I wish it could, because then we could treat people by just making them wear magnets in the right places. I know sf writers use scientific terminology to create suspension of disbelief; but it has to be done accurately or it is just techno-gibberish. Shepard would have been better off just sticking with his story.



Last Edited on: 2/20/10 11:59 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Subject: Witch World
Date Posted: 2/23/2010 12:00 AM ET
Member Since: 9/3/2008
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I had never read one of Andre Norton's Witchworld books. I finally decided to read The Year of the Unicorn. And it was then I remembered why I hadn't ever read any of this series. She writes in a totally different way for these. It might be that her other books are supposed to be juvenile fiction. I don't know. I do know that I got totally sidetracked looking at the sentences, rather than reading them, wondering how long they could go on without a period. I was practically gasping for breath reading her character's small remarks. (I don't know why I was holding my breath for each sentence...) But once I got over the fact that there would only be 2-3 incredibly descriptive sentences per page it went along nicely. It did bog down a bit at times when she got even more descriptive about settings but it was a good book. It's not the first witchworld so apparently order in these books is not critical. I do think if I had known anything about the witches it may have helped me understand some things. The girl in the story does not know whe is a witch and is sent to the were men as one of 13 brides. They go through a portal -but not before several interesting situations arise. Once everyone has arrived in the different world there's more trouble. It's a rather dreamy book and I'm sure that's what she intended. So I did end up liking it better that I expected.

So here's the question -Are Andre Norton's Witchworld books fantasy or science fiction? They do have some technology -portals to other worlds- but sorcery & witches & were people & especially illusion were the focus of this one.

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