The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin
Given science fiction’s near infinite palette of available colors, it was bound to happen one day. Thankfully, Ursula Le Guin was the one. The idea: androgynous humans. Winner of several awards, the social significance of science fiction has never had a stronger proponent than The Left Hand of Darkness, the meaning of gender never so relevant to mankind.
Genly Ai is an envoy sent to the planet Gethen to convince the nation of Karrhide to join Earth’s Ekumen (a politically neutral organization supporting the dissemination of knowledge, culture, and commerce). What he encounters are the native Gethens, an androgynous people who go into kemmer once a month, physically adapting to the features of any mate they encounter during that time. Mixed up in the local politics is Estraven, a Gethen Genly meets as part of his inter-planetary task, and the two sub... Read More
Jesse HudsonGUEST REVIEWER
After learning his letters from the names stamped on the old woodstove parked in the kitchen, Jesse Hudson’s love of the written word was born. He can still recall scouring library shelves for that HARDY BOYS he hadn’t read yet, tucking fingers between pages trying to find the longest storyline in CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE books, and of course, that first time he read the literally moth-eaten copy of his mother’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS.
Not a “sci-fi or die” kind of guy, Jesse reads in most fields. He proclaims a good novel is a good novel based on theme, story, and style and dislikes matrices of genre (though he admits it’s very useful wandering a bookstore). Mysteriously yet to be explained, there remains a numinous force that has drawn him to the more imaginative side of literature the past two years. Ursula Le Guin, Stanislaw Lem, China Miéville, Gene Wolfe, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, and several others have all made a strong impression with their ability to unearth the root of humanity — quality prose and imaginative story their spade and bucket.
Jesse currently lives in Poland where he works for a big corporation by day and escapes into reading by night. He posts a blog which acts as a healthy vent for not only his bibliophilia, but also his love of culture and travel: Speculiction.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin
Pyramids by Terry Pratchett
It seems there is no subject too big or too small, too esoteric or too familiar, that Terry Pratchett won’t tackle in DISCWORLD. His 1989 Pyramids, seventh in the series, sees the author exploring Egypt and just entering the groove that would become more than forty novels in the DISCWORLD setting. The humor in Pyramids is some of Pratchett’s best, but the book still leaves something to be desired for plot. As such, I’m guessing it won the 1989 British Science Fiction Award for historical grounding, wordplay, stabs at theme, and accomplishments to date, rather than consistent storytelling or characterization.
Pyramids is the tale of Teppic, son of Teppicymon XXVII who is king of the desert land Djelibeybi. Teppic was sent to the Assassin’s Guild in Ankh-Morpork for grooming into an “e... Read More
Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett
Thief of Time is Terry Pratchett’s 26th official entry into the DISCWORLD series. Published roughly six months after The Truth and six months before The Last Hero, Thief of Time finds Pratchett in good form, extemporizing on the scientific quest to put time in a bottle versus more transcendental ideologies revolving around passive regard to the great clock of life (pun intended for those who’ve read the book!).
Thief of Time opens ... Read More
The Centauri Device by M. John Harrison
M. John Harrison’s 1975 The Centauri Device is a rare beast in science fiction. Short (200 pages), prosaic (the language is at most times brilliant), and with literary aims, it is sure to draw the disapproval of any genre fans expecting the easy-to-digest hero’s story typical of space opera. Harrison’s offering to the sci-fi world is instead one for connoisseurs who appreciate well-written stories with a driving — though it at times seeming fantastical and obtuse — purpose.
The Centauri Device is on the surface a rather simplistic story. John Truck, belying his name, is an average Joe living the life of a loser space trucker, hauling freight, legitimate and otherwise, planet to planet whenever contracts arise. He lives on Earth while the universe around him is at war. On one side are the IWG, ... Read More
Earthlight by Arthur C. Clarke
Arthur C. Clarke is one of the most influential writers of science fiction. His quiet optimism, faith in science, and ability to tell straightforward but intriguing tales endeared him to a generation of fans that continues to this day. Earthlight, his sixth published novel, follows directly on the heels of his successful Childhood’s End, and though rather simplistic in presentation, adheres to the author’s style in perfect fashion.
Earthlightis the story of Bertram Sadler, an undercover agent for the CIA sent to the moon to ferret out a suspected spy. Though dependent on Earth for all of their metals, several of the solar system’s planets have been inhabited and are united under the banner of The Federation. Tungsten, uranium, and the like are all in short supply and prices on Earth determine much of the... Read More
Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
Kim Stanley Robinson’s MARS trilogy is one of the grandest thought experiments in literature, let alone science fiction. While Red Mars sets into motion mankind’s inhabitation of the red planet, and Green Mars delves into terraforming and social and political aspects of the inhabitation, it remains for Blue Mars to make the final statement regarding man’s potential on Mars. Blue Mars continues evolving the series’ main ideas, bringing our own society into sharper focus by comparison. Fully contextualizing life on Earth, Blue Mars expands to solar system size, and is thus a grand finale in more than just story.
Wasting no time, Blue Mars picks up events precisely where Gr... Read More
Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars was a big, bold thought experiment on the environmental, political, and social aspects of colonizing Mars. Perhaps the most in-depth look at the topic (a sci-fi one if there ever was) to date, the novel was only the beginning. The story of the First Hundred and those who survived the revolution of 2061 continues in Green Mars, where Robinson examines terraforming and social evolution in even greater depth.
Green Mars begins with the introduction of two new main characters. The first is one of Hiroko’s many love children, Nirgal, who lives in hiding with the other rebels under the polar ice cap because the Underground is still being hunted by the Transnationals. The second is a businessman named Art Randolph, who begins the story on Earth. Working for the most moderate and progressive of the Transnationals, a business entity called ... Read More
The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett
Given the light-hearted yet poignant nature of Terry Pratchett’s DISCWORLD, it is surprising that so few of the dozens of books in the series are Young Adult oriented. One of these is The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, and it can readily be enjoyed by adults, as well.
Playing with the legend of the Pied Piper, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents is the story of Maurice the cat, his band of talking rats, and the teenager Keith with whom they travel city to city. Running a scam, the preening, egotistical Maurice works as a middle man for Keith and the rats, the former earning money by playing the pipe to eliminate the rats who have made themselves a nuisance under Maurice’s guidance, the group sharing in the spoils.
Coming to the city of Bad Blintz in Uberwald, however, their plan runs afoul when they encount... Read More
Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
Mars has been a subject of science fiction since its earliest days: Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, Philip K. Dick’s The Martian Time-slip, Edgar Rice Burrough’s The Princess of Mars series, Arthur C. Clarke’s The Sands of Mars, C.S. Lewis’s SPACEtrilogy, Ben Bova's Mars, and many others have in one way or another imagined what life might be like on our neighboring globe. Representing ... Read More
Idoru by William Gibson
Idoru, William Gibson’s 1997 middle entry into the BRIDGE trilogy, takes the baton of Virtual Light’s conclusion and runs with it. Celebrity worship, pop culture, media influence, and the futuristic tangents advanced technology offers these take-it-or-leave-it facets of modern existence are the centerpiece. Less standard noir than Virtual Light, Idoru expands the themes into an imaginative, singular story that develops the series positively.
Like Virtual Light, Idoru features a young woman and man as main characters. Chia MacKenzie is a fourteen year old member of the Seattle chapter of the Lo/Rez fan club who has been asked to go to Tokyo to investigate wh... Read More
Virtual Light by William Gibson
William Gibson’s SPRAWL, as seminal a trilogy of books if ever there were in modern science fiction, is a tough act to follow, let alone by the man who wrote the books. But if the series can be considered raw steel, then the follow up has to be considered the bare blade. Honing in on the present, Gibson shows no shortage of the futurological imagination and wordsmithing that made him famous. 1993’s Virtual Light, the first book in the BRIDGE series, is every bit as genius.
Virtual Light, and th... Read More
Terminal Café (Necroville in the UK) by Ian McDonald
“’Am I a ghost in a meat machine, am I God’s little seed stored in heaven for all eternity and glued one day on to a blastocyst in Mama Columbar’s womb; has this me been recycled through countless previous bodies, previous worlds, universes?’ He pressed his finger between Trinidad’s eyes… ‘This is the final frontier. Here. This curve of bone is the edge of the universe.’”
Existentialism is a main theme of Ian Mcdonald’s brilliant 1994 Terminal Café(published in the UK as Necroville). Pyrotechnic poetry blasting from the pages, the possibilities of nanotechnology have never been related in such vivid profundity. In southern California of 2063, the dead live again in this flames-and-leather cyberpunk exploration of the meaning of life and death in a world gone mad with possibility.... Read More
The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson
In fantasy today it’s not uncommon to hear the words “dark” and “gritty” applied to such writers as David Gemmell, Paul Kearney, Joe Abercrombie, George R.R. Martin, or Brian Ruckley. Each is willing to kill favorite characters, portray morally ambiguous heroes, and elucidate more than one gory scene, and readers have taken a shine to their rather anti-Tolkien view. But these writers’ stories are still not as dark as Poul Anderson’s 1954 classic The Broken Sword. Bleak in outcome and tone, Anderson’s short epic makes... Read More
Griffin’s Egg by Michael Swanwick
Michael Swanwick’s Griffin’s Egg tries as much to be retro sci-fi as it does to push the limits of the genre — or at least the limits when the novella was published in 1991. The story of a industrial worker on the moon who must deal with the spillover of violence from Earth to the point of post-humanism, Swanwick’s effort succeeds as much as it could be improved, making Griffin’s Egg at least marginally effective.
Gunther Weil is an employee of G5, one of the biggest industries mining the moon for metals and raw materials. Though working on a voluntary contract, he holds no place in his heart for the rote and plethora of bureaucracy, the rubbish strewn about th... Read More
Startide Rising by David Brin
I had never read a David Brin book before reading Startide Rising. Hearing his background was in math, physics, astronomy, etc., I went about buying one of his books with trepidation. Isaac Asimov, Vernor Vinge, Alastair Reynolds, and other popular science fiction authors may be good scientists, but they lack the touch and feel of an inborn writer and the style of their novels suffers. Though it’s prose is not glorious, Startide Rising was nevertheless a pleasant surprise.
A fun mix of hard SF and space opera, Startide Rising is a unique story that sets itself apart from derivative SF for its premise. A dolphin and human... Read More