• Science Fiction Short Story Junkie

    Sandkings book cover
    Credit: Cover by “Rowena” from Amazon.com

    I’m a science fiction junkie. I don’t remember the first science fiction book I ever read, but I do remember starting very young. My father gave me all his science fiction paperbacks, many bought during the 70s when he was on the road a lot for work. His collection included Heinlein, Simak, Clark, and tons of Asimov. As a teenager, I expanded that collection significantly by trading in my grandmother’s Harlequin Romance novels at the local used bookstore at increasingly outrageous exchange rates until they wouldn’t take any more. My choices often were anthologies. They had more pages and there seemed to be a ton of thick choices.

    I’m still a science fiction aficionado although I’ve “traded” in my paperback buying habits in favour of unabridged audiobooks and e-books. To that end, I ran across the following earlier this year and I thought I’d share: Free Science Fiction, Fantasy & Dystopian Classics on the Web: Huxley, Orwell, Asimov, Gaiman, and Beyond. This lists a variety of formats, including text and audio–alas, not for every book included. You might find it worthwhile to check out. Enjoy!

    As a self-confessed scifi short story junkie, the most vivid stories that have stuck with me have been short stories. For example, Sandkings by (surprising to me!) George R. R. Martin creeped me out immensely and I didn’t see the corresponding The Outer Limits episode. You’ve heard the aphorism that people resemble their pets? This story riffs on the reverse, showing what happens when our “pets”, insectoid aliens, caricaturize us, flaws and all. I wonder how much better we’d be as people if we all had our own Sandkings putting up an incontrovertible mirror?

    Which science fiction stories have most stuck in your mind?

  • [Fifty Books Finished in June]

    I finished my 50th book of the year, Moonraker (Ian Fleming), at the beginning of June, part of my Read 50 books in 2005 goal on 43 Things. I never had any doubts that I would be able to do 50 in a year, since I’m a big reader, using spare time in queues or on buses to read. Just in case you’re bored, here’s my list of 50:

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  • [Fifty Fabulous Book Binges]

    I’ve seen many people profess a goal this year to read at least 50 books. Given that I read incessantly, I don’t think I should have any trouble reading 50 books in 2005. Even discounting juvenile literature, which tends to be shorter and easier to digest, I still believe I’ll be able to make 50 books in the first six months.
    “How do I do it?”, you ask. I usually read an hour or so before going to sleep. Combining this with a high reading speed, you can knock through books at a good clip. I also like to read in the bathtub. I often take a book with me there and read for an hour, at least once a week. Finally, I have many books in electronic form, courtesy of Project Gutenberg and Baen’s WebScriptions project. This means I can carry many books easily with me on my handheld to read on planes, trains, and buses, and while waiting in line.
    Oh yes, I also listen to unabridged audio books. I belong to Audible and I download two unabridged books a month to listen to on my iPod. I find it very soothing to have someone read me to sleep (remember that from when you were very young?). I set the iPod to “sleep” in 30 minutes and pick up in an audio book at the point I last remember hearing. This is usually a very slow way to get through a book as I often fall asleep within five or ten minutes of starting.
    I plough through more of an audiobook while working on my 10 000 steps goal. I do 4- and 6-kilometre walks along the Brighton seaside. To do the 6-kilometre walk and return home gives me about 8500 steps and takes just over an hour. Many unabridged audio books I choose will fit into 8-12 hours. If I’m walking every day, like I should, in theory I can listen to one audiobook in under two weeks.
    Step up to the plate. See if you can make 50 books this year or match my list.

  • [Rapid Reading & Book Browsing]

    I’m still working on the The Deptford Trilogy. I had just started the second book Manticore in my last book posting and was somewhat hard-pressed to engross myself in the self-wallowing. I did, however, persevere and I’m probably about halfway through the second book, now sitting beside the bathtub.

    The Time Traveler’s Wife (I have trouble typing that without doubling the ell in traveller) is a great title for a book and, for a first book, it’s great. I’ve just finished off the unabridged Audible version and I can highly recommend it. The male/female dual narration is particularly compelling in the audio version. You can, by the way, purchase Audible books through the iTunes Music Store or through Audible on an individual basis. I think, for the most part, it’s cheaper per item to have a subscription if you’re going to regularly purchase audio books. Anyway, I highly encourage others to have a go at The Time Traveler’s Wife, in whatever format. It’s full of interesting ideas, but it’s not too fantastical or so far from reality that it’s hard to get into it.

    On my handheld, I’ve finished the Baen omnibus release of Andre Norton’s The Time Traders and then powered through Larry Niven’s Ringworld Engineers, the sequel to his well-known Ringworld (which I listened to via Audible, too!). The sequel has most of the original characters back visiting the Ringworld, but we don’t spend as much time in descriptive narration of their travels as in exploring some of the underlying physics that shape a world that large. Interesting for the engineers and hardcore sci-fi buffs amongst us, but we can probably live quite happily without it. Both of these books take place in Niven’s “Known Space” universe, populated by sentient plant-like beings, humans, and cat-like warriors.

    Also on my handheld, I’ve made the mistake of starting again on Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. This is a mistake because I always have a problem putting this book down. It kept me up until past three the other night when I had to finally reluctantly put it down because I was too tired to read anymore and I was only 30% through the book. If you haven’t read it before, it’s based around Arthurian legend, heavily interlaced with goddess worship and strong female characters, with the whole story mostly related from the viewpoint of a high priestess of the goddess. Maybe I’m just sucker for a book about mostly male things related mostly from a female point of view (like Anita Diamont’s The Red Tent). There is magic, but it’s mostly in the realm of practical rather fantastic magic, so if you’re not fantasy lover, you still might find the story appealing. I have about 30% left to go on my re-read. There are some sequels to it, written later, but I’ve never tried those. Some of her other books, like The Firebrand (with Cassandra of future prediction fame), are also based on myths/legends and are pretty good reads.

    Finally, from Audible, I’m listening to the unabridged version of Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. I’ve read the book many times before and, of course, seen the movie version. Perhaps if more people read books like this and paid attention to the themes running throughout, they’d have a stronger sense of personal responsibility in a democracy (or any other form of body politic). While you might not agree with some of Heinlein’s ideas, at least it gives you something to think about and fodder to compare your own beliefs and underlying rationale for them. The basic story follows the adventures of a young man, just come of age, who has used his first free, legal choice to enlist in military service. In his society, military service is one of (the only?) way to gain the right to become a voting citizen in the society. The society is currently at peace and many civilians, such as his father, see military service as being a parasite upon the blood of society, serving no useful purpose. Does violence in fact solve issues? What is the difference between a civilian and an enfranchised member of society? What is personal responsibility? All of these themes appear as war and death come to Johnny (our young man) and his companions from school.

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