Monday, October 23, 2006

Wilson, Robert Charles. Spin. New York: Tor, 2006. 454pp.

Robert Charles Wilson's Spin is as good a science fiction novel as you will ever read. Period. It has it all: good science, good characters, mystery and a big dollop of Wilson's characteristic transcendance. I won't summarize the plot, as the Wikipedia entry does a great job of that.

I want to talk a little about what a thrill it is to read a good sf novel. It doesn't happen very often, but it's worth noting when it does. I've been lucky lately, the last really good sf novel I read was John Scalzi's Old Man's War, before that, a bit longer ago, when I finally got around to reading To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer last year around this time. What really signals that reading experience for me? Well, it's when the book stops me in my tracks while I'm reading it and makes me think very deeply about the characters and/or issues raised in the book. Spin is one of those books, that stopped me in my tracks. The characters, the transcendence, the aliens, the Martians, the decline and decay, this is a great book.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

Via BookSlut, my own little meme-y thing. Of the list of 1001, how many have I read?

104. Fugitive Pieces – Anne Michaels
109. Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood
167. Time’s Arrow – Martin Amis
174. Get Shorty – Elmore Leonard
197. London Fields – Martin Amis
210. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams
213. The Black Dahlia – James Ellroy
227. Watchmen – Alan Moore & David Gibbons
242. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
253. Empire of the Sun – J.G. Ballard
254. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
258. Neuromancer – William Gibson
288. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
301. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
320. Interview With the Vampire – Anne Rice
340. Breakfast of Champions – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
345. Crash – J.G. Ballard
375. Slaughterhouse-five – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
389. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clarke
390. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick
417. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater – Kurt Vonnegut
430. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold – John Le Carré
436. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
437. A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
439. The Drowned World – J.G. Ballard
444. Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert Heinlein
494. The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien
496. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
508. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
521. The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway
527. Foundation – Isaac Asimov
529. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
539. I, Robot – Isaac Asimov
547. Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
564. Animal Farm – George Orwell
599. The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
610. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
623. At the Mountains of Madness – H.P. Lovecraft
635. The Postman Always Rings Twice – James M. Cain
649. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
652. The Thin Man – Dashiell Hammett
660. The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett
736. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce
743. The Thirty-Nine Steps – John Buchan
790. The War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells
792. What Maisie Knew – Henry James
794. Dracula – Bram Stoker
796. The Island of Dr. Moreau – H.G. Wells
797. The Time Machine – H.G. Wells
804. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
808. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
814. The Master of Ballantrae – Robert Louis Stevenson
820. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson
846. Far from the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
848. Around the World in Eighty Days – Jules Verne
851. Erewhon – Samuel Butler
866. Journey to the Centre of the Earth – Jules Verne
867. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
871. Notes from the Underground – Fyodor Dostoevsk
876. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
883. A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
879. The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
911. The Pit and the Pendulum – Edgar Allan Poe
916. The Fall of the House of Usher – Edgar Allan Poe
931. Frankenstein – Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
938. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
983. Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift
987. Moll Flanders – Daniel Defoe
No bad, all things considered. Certainly lots of lit courses over my school career helped pad a lot of the numbers here. As expected, genre is very poorly served by this list, most of the selections are either obvious or token. Mystery-wise, James Lee Burke, John D Macdonald & Ross McDonald are key ommissions as are Harlan Ellison, Samuel R. Delany, Robert Silverberg, Frederik Pohl, Dan Simmons, Theodore Sturgeon, Fritz Leiber and countless others on the f/sf side. Taking the easy way out, the lister chooses too many items by the same famous authors, leaving less room for truly interesting selections. For example, we probably don't need 10 Dickens selections, 5 Hemingway or even all the Wells that was chosen.

Of course, there are also many books I do hope to read off the list by Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Martin & Kinsley Amis. Iain Banks, William Kotzwinkle, Angela Carter, John Le Carré, Raymond Chandler and many others.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The big list of books

Another meme from Andrew Wheeler.

The rules: books you've read are in bold, books you intend to read are in italics, and add three books at the end.
  • The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown (a good beach/vacation/train trip book)
  • The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy - Douglas Adams
  • The Great Gatsby - F.Scott Fitzgerald
  • To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
  • The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
  • His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Harry Potter 6) - J.K. Rowling
  • Life of Pi - Yann Martel
  • Animal Farm: A Fairy Story - George Orwell
  • Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
  • The Hobbit - J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
  • Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
  • 1984 - George Orwell
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Book 3) - J.K. Rowling
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4) - J.K. Rowling
  • The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
  • The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Harry Potter 5) - J.K. Rowling
  • Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Angels and Demons - Dan Brown
  • Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Book 1) - J.K. Rowling
  • Neuromancer - William Gibson
  • Cryptonomicon - Neal Stephenson
  • The Secret History - Donna Tartt
  • A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Book 2) - J.K. Rowling
  • Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
  • Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
  • American Gods - Neil Gaiman
  • Ender's Game (The Ender Saga) - Orson Scott Card
  • Snow Crash - Neal Stephenson
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis
  • Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
  • Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
  • The Lord of the Rings - J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
  • Good Omens - Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman (one of the funniest books of all time)
  • Atonement - Ian McEwan
  • The Shadow Of The Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway
  • The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
  • The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
  • Dune - Frank Herbert
  • The Unberable Lightness of Being - Milan Kundera
  • Hey Nostradamus! - Douglas Coupland
  • The Nature of Blood - Caryl Phillips
  • Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules - Ed. David Sedaris
  • Yarn Harlot - Stephanie Pearl-McPhee
  • Odd Thomas - Dean Koontz
  • Spook - Mary Roach
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell - Susanne Clarke
  • Marley and Me - John Grogan
  • Gone to the Dogs - Emily Carmichael
  • Book the 11th: The Grim Grotto: The Series of Unfortunate Events - Lemony Snicket
  • State of Fear - Michael Crichton
  • The Speed of Dark - Elizabeth Moon
  • Interview with the Vampire - Anne Rice
  • The Vampire Lestat - Anne Rice
  • The Snow Fox - Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
  • Anansi Boys - Neil Gaiman
  • The Princess Bride - William Goldman (An all time favourite)
  • Luck in the Shadows - Lynn Flewelling
  • Arthur & George - Julian Barnes
  • The Seven Dials Mystery - Agatha Christie
  • The Stupidest Angel - Christopher Moore
  • Sabine's Notebook - Nick Bantock
  • Strangers in the Night - Linda Howard
  • Night Tales (v.1) - Nora Roberts
  • Reunion - Nora Roberts
  • White Lies - Linda Howard
  • Fever Season (Merovingen Nights) - CJ Cherryh
  • Divine Rite (Merovingen Nights) - CJ Cherryh
  • Angel With a Sword (Merovingen Nights) - CJ Cherryh
  • Mount Dragon - Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child (Relic and it's sequels rock!)
  • Ella Enchanted - Gail Carson Levine
  • Settling Accounts: Return Engagement - Harry Turtledove (the next HT series I'll be tackling, I think)
  • In Cold Blood - Truman Capote
  • Cell - Stephen King (I guess, but I'm so far behind in my King reading)
  • Staying Dead - Laura Anne Gilman
  • Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers - Mary Roach
  • The Historian - Elizabeth Kostova
  • Star Trek: S.C.E. #66: Many Splendors - Keith R. A. DeCandido
  • The Crucible, Book Three: The Crippled Angel - Sara Douglass
  • Star Trek: Mere Anarchy, Book One: Things Fall Apart - Dayton Ward, Kevin Dilmore Dragonlance Chronicles, Book One: Dragons of Autumn Twilight - Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman
  • Star Trek: Mere Anarchy, Book Two: The Centre Cannot Hold - Mike W. Barr
  • Duty First: A year in the Life of West Point and the Making of American Leaders - Ed Ruggo
  • Hit Parade - Lawrence Block
  • Jpod - Douglas Coupland
  • Manhattan Transfer - John Dos Passos
  • The Neon Wilderness - Nelson Algren
  • The Bride Wore Black - Cornell Woolrich
  • Rain in the Doorway - Thorne Smith
  • City of Glass (graphic novel) - Paul Auster with Paul Karasik & David Mazzaucchelli
  • Star Wars: Republic Commando: Triple Zero - Karen Traviss
  • The Starslip Crisis Technical Manual - Kristofer Straub
  • Four Ways to Forgiveness - Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Reinventing Paul- John Gager
  • The Ghost Stories of M.R. James- selected by Michael Cox
  • La vita nuova- Dante
  • Star Trek: Crucible: McCoy: Provenance of Shadows- David R. George III
  • Dancing After Hours- Andre Dubus
  • Gun, with Occasional Music- Jonathan Lethem
  • Infinite Jest- David Foster Wallace
  • Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus - Mary Shelley
  • Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets - David Simon
  • Dancing on the Edge of the World - Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Time's Arrow - Martin Amis
  • The Book of the New Sun - Gene Wolfe
  • Titus Groan - Mervyn Peake
  • Davy - Edgar Pangborn
  • Black Cherry Blues - James Lee Burke
  • Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie

Unread books meme

Ok, another meme. This one via Andrew Wheeler.

Ten Books I Own and Want to Read But Haven't Gotten To Yet.

So, I own zillions of books that I haven't read yet. What's the use of owning zillions you have already read and will never read again? Therefore, most of my we're-running-out-of-space weeding efforts over the years have been focused on books I've already read. Here's a list of 10 books that I've got lying around the house and hope to read in the next 12 months. I'll do 5 fiction and 5 non-fiction, some I've had lying around a while and some that are fairly new.

  1. Anvil Chorus by Shane Stevens. Stevens wrote one of the seminal serial killer novels, By Reason of Insanity. This is one of his other novels and if it's as good as BRoI, I can't wait.
  2. Demons by John Shirley. I love a good horror novel and this one got great reviews when it came out.
  3. The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem. Another novel that got great reviews when it came out. I'm looking forward to this one in particular because of the comic book connection.
  4. Cool War by Frederik Pohl. Pohl has long been one of my favourite novelists, and this is one of the ones I've missed.
  5. Witness to Myself by Seymour Shubin. Hey, those Hard Case Crime books are always great...
  6. The Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney. A facinating and topical book, especially considering the new Conservative government in Canada.
  7. King of Infinite Space: Donald Coxeter, the Man Who Saved Geometry by Siobhan Roberts. Science biography is always one of my favourites and Coxeter has a lot of personal connections for me through my work and York U.
  8. Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science by Carl Sagan. Cool stuff by the master of popular science.
  9. James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips. More biography, this time of noted sf author James Tiptree.
  10. The David Suzuki Reader: A Lifetime of Ideas from a Leading Activist and Thinker by David Suzuki. An essay collection as a follow up to his recent memoirs that I enjoyed so much. I also want to read The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature but I haven't bought it yet.

Two other books that I'll be reading soon that I didn't want to waste list space for are The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2006 by Brian Greene and Tim Folger and The Best American Science Writing 2006 by Atul Gawande. I never miss the volumes in there series.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Park, Robert. Voodoo science: The road from foolishness to fraud. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. 230pp.

This year, during my sabbatical, I'm really trying to read a lot of science non-fiction, as opposed to my usual diet of science fiction. And so far, it's been great. Bryson, Suzuki and now Park have all given me both entertainment and information and perhaps even a little knowledge. Suzuki and Park, in particular, perhaps have even shared a bit of wisdom.

Both books, the Suzuki bio I finished a few weeks ago and this book, Voodoo Science by Robert Park, are about teaching the world to be a little more rational, a little more humane and a little less gullible.

So, Bob Park, physicist, author and debunker. The weekly dose of rationality in his What's New newsletter. Subscribe, you won't regret it. Every week is a few pointed notes about the world, a few skeptical take-downs of those who would cheat, coverup or manipulate science to their ends. That's what Voodoo Science is all about.

One by one, Park takes on various frauds and deceptions, both by those in the scientifif community and politicians, media or corporations, and debunks them. From homeopathy to the international space station, from perpetual motion machines to electromaganetic fields causing cancer, from Roswell & UFOs to abuses of quantum theory by Deepak Chopra and his ilk, Park is unafraid to tackle the big issues. And he always makes sure that the news media get the scorn they deserve for sloppy and ill-informed coverage.

A grim and depressing book in some ways? Sure. But Park always keeps the tone light and pace fast. A good and entertaining book, as well as an important one.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Suzuki, David. David Suzuki: An autobiobraphy. Vancouver: Greystone, 2006. 404pp.

We live in a time when the military, industry, and medicine are all applying scientific insights, with profound social, economic, and political consequences. As a result, ignoring scientific matters is very dangerous. It's not that I believe science will ultimately provide solutions to major problems we face; I think solutions to environmental issues are much more likely to result from political, social, and economic decisions than from scientific ones. but scientists can deliver best descriptions of the state of the climate, species, pollution, deforestation, and so on, and these should inform our political and economic actions. If we don't base our long-term actions on the best scientific knowledge, then I belive we are in a great danger of succumbing to the exigencies of politics and economics.

-David Suzuki.
An nice quote from noted Canadian scientist, broadcaster and environmental activist, David Suzuki. For me, this quote pretty well sums up this entire book, a strong call for rationality, for scientific literacy, and even stronger call to save the environment, to be active, to make a difference. These are certainly what Suzuki's life have been all about. By implication, by example, these are the things he calls on us to make part of our lives too.

This is a great book, moving and impassioned, and yet still very human. Suzuki is clearly not overly impressed with himself, not caught up with his own celebrity and this makes his memoirs so engaging. There's lots of gentle humour here, often at his own expense. He also balances the story of his public life with the story of his private life. He gives enough insight into his personal to give us a good feeling of who he is without so much that it feels intrusive or exploitative.

Following up his first volume of memoirs, Metamorphosis from 1986, Suzuki mostly picks up where that one leaves off. He gives us a brief summary of his childhood, education and early academic and broadcasting career in the first few chapters. Since it's been nearly 20 years since I read Metamorphosis, I really can't recall how much is rehashed and how much is new. The following chapters are mostly telling the story of his environmental activism along with some details about his family life. The story we get the most on is his involvement with First Nations communities, particularly in BC. Also, we get three strong chapters on his involvement with Amazon forestry issues. Also various environmental summits are covered, including the Rio Earth Summit and Kyoto.

But it's the last two chapters that I really loved, "Reflections on Science and Technology" and "A Culture of Celebrity." These are almost manifestos to pay attention to the planet, to learn about our place in the ecosystem and to value science -- he takes a few digs at Canadian culture for placing such a low value on science. He also muses a bit on the whole "Greatest Canadian" thing, and our insane celebrity culture in general. It's intersting to not that the poll placed him the highest of any living Canadian. David Suzuki -- greatest living Canadian. I can live with that.

I would be remiss if I did not give some important links: