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Posts Tagged ‘Book Reviews’


Kurt Vonnegut Jr. born November 11, 1922
Indianapolis, Indiana and died April 11, 2007 (aged 84), was one of the most brilliant Science Fiction authors in history.

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One of the most popular and successful of his works, Slaughterhouse-Five is widely considered one of the greatest American novels.

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Vonnegut’s work is so insightful, humanist, and thought-provoking that he is probably the most read Sci-Fi Author outside of the genre, in fact he blends science fiction themes into his stories so effortlessly that it disappears into the story, and it can often be easy to forget you are reading Sci-Fi.

In his book Slaughterhouse-Five, one of the central characters Billy Pilgrim has become un-stuck in time and experiences and re-experiences pivotal moments in his life and the life of others. He experiences moments in the firebombing of Dresden (a somewhat autobiographical account of Vonnegut’s own experience as a POW in the Battle of the Bulge) and finds a relatively peaceful existence as a Zoo Exhibit on the Planet Tralfamador, where he is mated with a Porn Star, an event that all the Tralfamadorians routinely tune in to watch with great scientific interest. The book has a powerful anti-war theme, as would be expected from a Freethinker and Humanist. The theme of Time Shifting here foreshadows Vonnegut’s future work, the very excellent Timequake,

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in which an unknown celestial event causes a ripple in space-time snapping everyone in the world (universe?) back in time ten years, but not their consciousness, so free will is temporarily revoked, and everyone must watch passively in horror as the universe replays itself, fully aware of the future they already knew, but trapped, unable to change the past, until they reach the moment of the original time-quake. The ten-year prison sentence affects people terribly, destroying their awareness of free-will to the point that when the universe snaps back into normal time it doesn’t make much difference, until the ever-present and un-affected character Kilgore Trout (who appears in many of Vonnegut’s novels and is an alternate persona of the author) re-awakens the world with his mantra “You were sick, but now you are well again. And there’s work to be done.”

A mantra that works well in life even if their hasn’t been a celestial event.

I don’t know a single person who regretted reading a Vonnegut novel, pick up and read either slaughterhouse-Five, Cat’s Cradle, or Timequake, I can promise you won’t regret it.

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Harry Norman Turtledove, born June 14, 1949, is a brilliant writer, who has done work in the genres of historical fiction, alternate histories, and Sci-Fi.

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He is a Historian, and has a PhD in Byzantine history.  He has been dubbed “The Master of Alternate History”, and has strong elements of Military Sci-Fi as well in many of his novels.

I personally found his series “WoldWar | Colonization” to be entertaining and fascinating. It takes a special kind of genius to do an alternate history universe where an Alien Invasion happens in the middle of World War II.

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I highly recommend you pick up this series and read. If you are like me and are also a history buff, you would enjoy many of his other series, which include a series in which the Byzantine Empire rose to world dominance. Fascinating reading!!

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Neal Stephenson is an excellent Sci-Fi, Cyberpunk and Historical Fiction Author who has met with extraordinary success in the past few decades.

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His book Snowcrash was a game changer for the Sci-Fi world. He is widely regarded as being a major contributor to Cyberpunk, but not content with that fictional genre he continues to push the envelope into what could be considered “Steampunk” with his series “The Baroque Cycle” , although he travels so far back into history and the very origins of Science that it might be better termed “Horsepunk”.

His books are extremely entertaining, virtually all of them are a good read (You might want to skip his earliest works such as “The Big U” and “Zodiac”).

My favorite book of his that is in the Sci-Fi genre was “The Diamond Age”  or by it’s full title “The Diamond Age: or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer” which takes place in a future where humanity has mastered nano-technology, and much of the worlds goods are supplied by “Matter Compilers” very much like computer compilers. The book has several fascinating characters, such as a  very poor and disadvantaged young girl named Nell, who comes into possession of a book, which is actually one of the most advanced computers of its age, designed not only to educate a young person, but to transform them into a leader, which is an education that necessarily includes some very rebellious ideas.  It’s a very fascinating notion, and not only did I fall in love with the Princess Nell character, but really wanted to get my hands on that book.

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The book also includes a very fascinating character that Stephenson admits is based on the 18th century detective novel series hero  “Judge Dee“, which are quite good stories in their own right and the books have a fascinating origin.

This is one of my all time favorite books, and highly recommend you give it a read, after this alphabet series is finished I will be posting a list of my “Top 25 Favorite Sci-Fi Books of All Time” and this book is on that list.

I actually met Neal Stephenson at a book signing when I was and undergrad at Berkeley, at the time he had a pony tail and long leather trench-coat, and had never heard of him nor read his work, and he seemed pretty impressed with himself, I almost wanted to dismiss him out of hand for his obvious arrogance, however, I have to hand it to him, he is a very talented and imaginative writer and was quickly hooked on his work. I might not invite him to go fishing, but I always eagerly await his next book.

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Rudolf Von Bitter Rucker, is a Mathematician, a computer Scientist, and a Sci-Fi Visionary.

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One of my favorite works of his was his Ware Tetralogy (comprised of the very excellent Sci-Fi Books; Software, Wetware, Freeware, Realware)

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and for a while I was under the impression that those were the first books of his I had ever read, until I later realized that I had read one of his mathematical texts, the very interesting Geometry, Relativity and the Fourth Dimension from Dover

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while I was an undergrad Math Major at U.C. Berkeley.

Rudy writes about Sci-Fi in such an original and unique manner, the way that only a Mathematician and Computer Scientist could, his characters are extremely likable,  usually being very intelligent vagabonds, hipsters, hackers and surfers, sometimes even mathematicians, who often times find themselves in extra-dimensional circumstances.

Rucker is also the editor of the online Sci-Fi magazine FLURB, which I highly suggest you read.

In his book Software, he explores what happens when mankind has to share the playing field with AI’s that have free will, a race of Robots known as the “Boppers” that have colonized the Moon. In the books a virtually homeless man winds up becoming President of Earth, Florida has seceded from the union to become it’s own bad-land territory populated by the elderly, people try to steal your brain from out of your skull, and it just gets weirder and more entertaining from there on as the series goes on.

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One of my favorite books of his is Jim and the Flims, a kind of Sci-Fi re-telling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice  where the hero, Jim, must travel to alternate dimensions to regain his lost love, in the process he uncovers a huge inter-dimensional conspiracy to steal life-force and does his part to help over-throw the forces of darkness. Rucker is an excellent writer, and I would lay out good money in the bet that you can’t find quirkier or more lovable characters in any other Sci-Fi world, if I had to make a prediction, I think Rucker’s work is going to become the next big thing in Sci-Fi. I highly recommend you pick up a copy of the Ware Tetralogy, and just enjoy the ride.

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Haruki Murakami, born January 12th 1949 is a Japanese novelist and writer.

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His work and writing style is so unusual, and unique, that it is difficult to classify into a certain genre, but he makes such casual and clever use of dimensional doorways, time travel, alternate lives and selves, that I say he belongs deep in the domain of Sci-Fi.

One of the first books of his I ever read was “Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World” which was a brilliant novel in so many ways, and I was so glad that I live in a world with a strange and wonderful mind that could create something like that, and that it was my first book of his.

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It is almost impossible to describe and explain about this book, without sounding completely crazy. Suffice it to say it is rich and complex book that has a “hard-boiled” detective type character who underwent advanced neurosurgery to become a human code breaking machine, there is a beautiful and slender female character who had a sort of dimensional dilation surgery so that she can eat and eat without ever getting full or fat, there is a journey through a secret underground cave system below Tokyo that is filled with monsters, and perhaps the best feature of the book, a fascinating and mysterious alternate universe called “The End of the World” where in order to gain entrance you have to go through shadow removal surgery.

Another excellent book of his is 1Q84, the Q is actually meant to symbolize “?” , the question mark symbol, which is meant to symbolize the quandary that two of the central characters struggle with, they know they have undergone some kind of time travel, they are in some sort of parallel universe that reminds them of the year 1984 in their own world, but some things are so different they cant call it “1984”. One of the central characters is an extremely fit female assassin named “Aomame”, which translates from Japanese as “Green Peas”, a writer and judo expert named Tengo, and their struggle against a mysterious cult that worships “the little people”, who unfortunately turn out to be very real, very powerful, and very vengeful.

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As I said, there is no convincing way to describe Murakami’s characters and plots without sounding crazy, which is what makes his work so brilliant, it has a quality that makes you feel as if you are experiencing a waking dream. I highly recommend reading his works.

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Stephen Edwin King, who requires no introduction is typically associated with Horror, but many people overlook his Science Fiction works mainly because he focuses on terror and fear in those instances.

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He has published several works that belong squarely in the realm of Sci-Fi, such as “The Mist” (which was an excellent short story, and I maintain that it should be spelled “The Myst”), “Tommyknockers“, “Dreamcatcher“, “11/22/63“, “Cell“, “Under the Dome“, “The Langoliers“, and “The Regulators” written under his pseudonym of Richard Bachman.

I have to admit, that like other Sci-Fi fans on the net who are a bit leery of praising King, I was tempted to qualify this post in the usual SF nerd way by saying “I don’t typically like horror, and have nothing against Stephen King but…..” and when I was younger I went through a phase where I did in fact believe that if something was popular it was by definition not good. Stephen King helped me to get over that misconception, yes he is tremendously popular, and perhaps at times those who profit from him squeezed a little too hard instead of letting his ideas coalesce, but I maintain that his Sci-Fi works are solid examples of good and influential SF.

I remember when I was a teenager, and was out of things to read, and my aunt suggested I read her Stephen King book “Skeleton Crew”, I was not at all enchanted with the idea of reading something my aunt thought was great, but out of desperation I started leafing through it, and came across “The Mist” and was thoroughly sucked in, I realized I was reading Sci-Fi, and actually finished the story wanting more (the rest of the book didn’t deliver for me the way that story did) and I realized that the story had come across to me in a way that other Sci-Fi typically didn’t do, somehow the character registered in my brain as ‘more real’, and started to wonder why other Sci-Fi characters seemed more cerebral, and not quite as down to earth as in this story. Perhaps horror in Sci-Fi needs to be explored more.

His book “Dreamcatcher” has always been close to my heart, it was clever, scary, managed to have an Alien reference (they called the disease “The Ripley” in reference to Sigourney Weaver’s archetypal character), had cool aliens, psychic powers etc, and was heart warming, I also suspect that I was strongly attracted to the closeness of the central male characters in the book and movie, perhaps because I am a gay man.

Cell, was a very thrilling and interesting book based on a brilliant idea. The basic idea of the story is that one day, a celestial event of some kind, perhaps an accident, perhaps an attack, known as “the Pulse” hits the Earth, and everyone who was on their cell phone at that instant has their brain wiped, leaving behind only reptilian primal impulses, turning them into vicious zombies, and worse, these vicious zombies start to develop a hive mind, and mental powers such as flight and telepathy. I don’t particularly know why, but the fact that the zombies loved certain songs, like Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” gave me a creepy apprehension about these creatures. It’s up to a small group of un-affected humans to try to survive. At least one thing I find really cool about this story, is that no matter how outlandish it seems, King made zombies scary in a fresh and new way (Hierarchy of zombies: Slow Romero Zombies, Fast running Zombies, Flying Telepathic Zombies) and the story was a very good read (altough the writing style seems a little unusual for King, perhaps ghost-written) and I do recommend the above works as good Sci-Fi.

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I had something of a strange childhood, like many other kids who grew up in my situation, I was not very well off financially, hyper-active imagination, possible mild autism, smarter than the average bear and socially awkward. Unlike many kids, I loved school, I loved PBS (especially Saturday nights when they showed British stuff like Monty Python, Faulty Towers, and my all time favorite Dr. Who) and most of all I loved the Library and BOOKS. I would go to the Library every chance I got, several times I pestered the school Principle to unlock the school library for me during summer (which he was happy to do) and there were times in High School when I skipped school and went to the Library instead…it seems funny now.  I became permanently warped  one day when I was about twelve years old and I picked up a book called “The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams

The book was nothing like I expected, it was an adventure, it was FUNNY, it was wickedly clever, and it made me happy. It made me break out in hysterical laughter, I read it all in one day, and went back to the Library on the first bus the next day to get the others, I read them all except for “Mostly Harmless” which they didn’t have, but have now decided to save that one for when I am an old man, to preserve a little of that happiness and wonder in my older self.

This book was not only the book that got me hooked on reading, but because of it I was hooked on Science Fiction forever after.

Of course eventually I read many other books from many other branches of the literary tree, but nothing ever brings me joy like a good Sci-Fi. If I have cold, I am on the couch, with a blanket, cup of tea, and re-reading Dune, or A Canticle for Leibowitz, Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles,  Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, anything by Stanislaw Lem and, well… the list just goes on and on.

Hence this blog!!!

I have three reviews backed up for the dangerously fun giant monsters in the “Daikaiju” collections of short stories volumes 1,2 and 3. Soon to be followed by my reviews of my all time favorite Sci-Fi Saga Dune, both the originals by Frank Herbert and the follow ups by his son Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, but first comes a series I call “The Science Fiction Alphabet”, and yes, “A is for Asimov” 🙂

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