Famous Towers in SF

Famous Towers of Science Fiction

I periodically draw inspiration from The Fantasy Review Barn, especially when Nathan posts his weekly Tours through Fantasy Land. The most recent post, about towers, piqued my interest. Towers are ubiquitous throughout fantasy; it seemed like there should be a few in SF as well. I’m probably forgetting many hugely obvious examples, since the finer details of most books have long since faded from memory, but here’s a small assortment. Maybe someone else will add to the list in a post of their own.

Blade RunnerThe Tyrell Corporation Tower. Looming above the Osaka-inspired cityscape is the double pyramid of the replicant creators, Tyrell Corp. This is fairly typical of SF towers: parts of vast cities rather than wizard’s towers alone in the forest. I probably don’t need to say anything else about Blade Runner, its urban aesthetic, or the effects it has had on subsequent SF.

Diamond Dogs (Alastair Reynolds) – The Blood Spire. Reynolds borrows from Algis Budrys’ classic Rogue Moon, and 95% of the D&D plots out there, as a party of characters, who may or may not have met in a tavern somewhere, try to solve the puzzles in a mysterious tower of unknown origin. Reynolds lets his trademark macabre imagination go wild as the puzzles and people twist themselves into creepier and more bizarre situations.

1633 (Eric Flint and David Weber) – The Tower of London. I suppose this may be cheating, since it’s the Tower of London and all, but Flint’s 1632 should count as SF. Alt history is SF, right? Even if Oliver Cromwell is involved?

California Voodoo Game (Larry Niven and Steven Barnes) – A defunct arcology. A reasonable SF analog to towers might be arcologies. In some ways, these can act as a future substitute for castles, though only as population centers. Niven has played with arcologies in a few different books, as have others, but this Dream Park novel is one of the few where the building itself is as important as many of the characters.

Terminal World (Alastair Reynolds) – Spearpoint. Reynolds again, with another diabolical tower. Spearpoint is tall enough that I can’t remember how tall it is, with multiple levels of habitation. Each level has its own technology level, strictly enforced through a mysterious mechanism, which takes the story through high tech SF, steampunk, horses, and a bathhouse owning gangster hooked up to a calliope.

Fountains of Paradise (Arthur C. Clarke) – The space elevator. We’re creeping further and further away from actual towers, but surely a space elevator counts. After all, it’s very tall, and has, er, elevators. Multiple prizes for this book, though the story itself is pretty low on plot and high on white men building large things.

What have I forgotten?

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Most Read Authors

Most Read Authors

Excellent blogger and FOTD (Friend of Two Dudes) Lynn recently posted a list of of the top ten authors by book count in her personal library. I wanted to do the same, but realized that my library is a collection of randomly purchased used books (often by the pound), grad school textbooks, and the occasional ARC. As such, it is an abysmal reflection of what I am actually reading and instead merely an indication of what one might find at local thrift stores. My list has to be a little bit different. I decided to parse my database of finished books from the last eight or nine years (has it been that long???) and write down the authors I’ve read the most of.

The usual caveat applies here: this only counts the books I have read since restarting my personal SFF craze, not everything I read as a dewy-eyed youth. That list would include a lot of Isaac Asimov, Poul Anderson, David Eddings, and (gasp) the Dragonlance crew. I kept no records then, so I will just disqualify it all and hope that I one day reread the best of it.

7-10 Books Read
Poul Anderson
Iain M. Banks
David Brin
CJ Cherryh
Glen Cook
Jack McDevitt
Jerry Pournelle
Alastair Reynolds
David Weber
Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman

10-15 Books Read
David Drake

15+ Books Read
Eric Flint
Larry Niven

I’m not sure what the above says about me, other than I am an unapologetic Larry Niven fan, have read far too many entries in Flint’s 1632 shared universe, and relied heavily for several years in Japan on the Baen Free Library. Plenty of big names not on the list now that will be within a few months (Karl Schroeder, Neal Stephenson, Charlie Stross, Greg Benford, many others), plenty of deserving names that I am excluding because I read everything they wrote back in 90s. (William Gibson is the biggest omission.) Otherwise, this is a pretty accurate reflection of what I like.

SF Villains

SF Villains

With Nathan over at Fantasy Review Barn whipping out Dark Lords for last week’s grand tour of Fantasyland, it seemed appropriate to revisit a few favorite villains of science fiction. The Dark Lord trick doesn’t work as well for SF, especially Hard SF, but there are still a few memorable Bad Guys (or groups of Guys) out there. List making is complicated by a broad tendency in SF, or at least the SF that I enjoy, to either substitute some sort of exploration, puzzle solving, or engineering conundrum for a Bad Guy, or to present things in a hazily defined, opposing force but not really evil kind of characterization. Further, while a few entries here fit with the Dark Lord theme, SF much prefers the Alien Invasion to a single evil entity. Thus, this list covers a bit of both. If anyone else out there wants to make a similar list, I’d love to see it.

Darth Vader (Star Wars) – If I made this list without Lord Vader, they’d be coming for me with torches and pitchforks. Deservedly so, as he pretty much owns the original trilogy, mowing down admirals and tossing Emperors like rag dolls. Vader scared the crap out of childhood me and remains compelling, even in spite of the prequels.

The Shrike (Hyperion Cantos – Dan Simmons) – Only slightly less terrifying is Simmons’ Shrike, a spiked, inexplicable death machine that impales people on its infinite variety of sharpened body parts and leaves them alive and hanging. With Darth Vader, at least we know where we stand. The Shrike is a total mystery.

Jesus of Nazareth(10 Billion Days & 100 Billion Nights – Mitsuse Ryu) Other than, “He is a cyborg assassin,” it is really hard to describe Mitsuse’s Jesus of Nazareth to anyone who hasn’t read the book. I will just leave this quote without comment: “Siddhartha was acutely aware that as long as Jesus of Nazareth was alive, this could be a trap.

MorningLightMountain (The Commonwealth Saga – Peter F. Hamilton) – This is a transitional figure, as we move into alien invaders. MorningLightMountain is both a Dark Lord (of sorts) and an alien invasion, rolled into one. Whatever the other faults of the series, Hamilton’s choice for a villain is not one of them. At the moment, I prefer it to the ravening hordes in The Night’s Dawn trilogy, if only because it is a unique and distinctive alien creation.

Berserkers (Fred Saberhagen) – I’ve only read one Berserker novel, but will eventually get to more of a definitive “over matched humanity barely hangs on against xenocidal forces” saga.

The Inhibitors (Revelation Space series – Alastair Reynolds) – The whole universe Reynolds creates is one of my favorites in SF, what with the Glitter Band, Chasm City, Lighthuggers, and all the rest, but looming over it all are the Inhibitors. The scariest parts are when Reynolds switches to an Inhibitor viewpoint, as it casually and logically calculates the most efficient way to wipe out a solar system. (This may include dismantling gas giants to build a death ray that causes supernovae, just for maximum overkill.)

Kzin / Thrint (Known Space – Larry Niven) – So many Niven aliens, so little time. The Kzin are the basis for at least two other cat-like invaders, notably Wing Commander’s Kilrathi, The Thrint ruled the galaxy with psychic domination until finally overthrown in a rebellion that may have involved death ray shooting sunflowers and/or Bandersnatchi.

Thebans (Crusade – David Weber and Steve White) – While the baby-eating space bugs from sequel In Death Ground are suitably horrible, I can’t shake a fond attraction for the plucky Thebans. After all, hostile, sentient arachnids are a dime a dozen, but how often to we see an invasion from a bunch of fundamentalist turtles out to reclaim humanity’s soul? High drama for everyone.

Romans / The Hive (The Myriad – RM Meluch) – If we’re looking for the weirdest of the weird though, nothing I have read compares with the perils faced by Meluch’s good ship Merrimack. Not only are the American (!) Marines in space feuding with the simpering, Euro-socialist weenies of the League of Earth Nations, but both are opposed by a new, space-based Roman Empire. Yes, those Romans. Apparently they were in hiding all those millenia, just waiting for a chance to escape the shackles of Earth and re-establish their supremacy. But wait, there’s more! Now space bugs are invading, too! And, inexplicably, they can only be killed by swords during boarding operations. Add it all up and we have Marines and Romans, in space, wielding cutlasses to fight off ravening insects.

Ur-Quan (Star Control 2) – Saving the best for last here, the emotional core of arguably the best computer game ever rests with the Ur-Quan. Twisted by the self-induced pain required to throw off the rule of their own enslavers, the Ur-Quan become the very evil that they vanquished. For a game that wins so much acclaim for the humor (the Spathi!), the tragic arc of the villainous invaders lands a heavy punch. Fortunately for the world, an open source revision of the original game is available as The Ur-Quan Masters. No self respecting gamer should be without it.

2014 Reading List

Top 20 Books to Finish in 2014

After much delay, much waffling, and a final burst of determined discipline, I have birthed this year’s reading list. I figure I’ll read 80-90 books this year (I’m at 17 but have hit a slowdown), of which many will be non-fiction, randomly chosen, or taken from an increasing pile of ARCs. I have the requisite disorganized TBR mountain and many ambitious plans to conquer it. Realistically though, the following is probably the best I can hope for.

This list represents my highest priorities for the year, culled from a number of TBR lists and series in progress. They are presented without comment, save for the following. First, there are only a few 2014 releases on here and they are all sequels or conclusions. I’m sure other new stuff is very exciting, but that’s really a list for another time. Second, I am aware that this is Anglo-Saxon men on parade. I will chalk that up to my attempts to wrap up reading projects that stretch back into my insensitive, uncaring days. Please be aware that I have the usual Japanese entries coming down the pipe and am conscious of equality efforts in my other reading. In fact, I’ve been doing pretty well this year, both in completed books and in articles published. (Alternately, readers who are needlessly offended by gender- and ethnic-equality efforts can just skip that last paragraph. Thanks, and enjoy your white, male fiction.)

Finally, if this matches up with anyone else, I’d love to jump on another read along. Or a series completion project. Or a read along of something not listed at all. Or pretty much anything, since this game is much more fun when we’re all playing it. Have a good 2014, everyone.

Cibola Burn – James S.A. Corey

An Autumn War – Daniel Abraham

On the Steel Breeze – Alastair Reynolds

Shipstar – Greg Benford and Larry Niven

The Bonehunters – Steven Erikson

Manifold: Space – Steven Baxter

The Confusion – Neal Stephenson

The Straits of Galahesh – Bradley Beaulieu

David Falkayn: Star Trader – Poul Anderson

The Quiet War – Paul McAuley

The Hostile Takeover Trilogy – Andrew Swann

Prince of Thorns – Mark Lawrence

Rimrunners – C.J. Cherryh

Inversions – Iain M. Banks

Crucible – Nancy Kress

Jhereg – Steven Brust

The Neutronium Alchemist – Peter F. Hamilton

Brain Thief – Alexander Jablokov

Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie

The Towers of Sunset – L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

Best of 2013

Best of 2013

In the midst of several other writing projects, I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize some stand outs from the last year. Unlike 2012, I didn’t keep close tabs on new releases. To be honest, 2012 was a bit of an aberration, as I normally spend more time digging through archives than staying current. Add to that a dearth (to me at least) of high profile SF publications, and I find myself unable to even make a page worth of 2013 reviews. So in this, the third annual wrap up on Two Dudes, we will switch format yet again and present randomly titled awards to deserving books, in reverse chronological order (because that’s how I pulled the titles off of Goodreads).

Ultimate in Tall, Dark, and Handsome Award: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin
Explanatory post is forthcoming, even though the read-along ended sometime before Christmas.

Inexplicably Still Going Strong, Even After 3000 Pages Award: Midnight Tides by Steven Erikson
I really should write a review for something in the Malazan series, but where to start? I’m now five books in and, while I’ve heard things start to peter out towards the end, Midnight Tides is still part of a remarkable run as a standard bearer for epic fantasy.

Dual Mention for Best Debut and Best SF of 2013 Award: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Great stuff here, one of the most talked about books of the year. Not everyone liked it, but it’s probably my favorite book from last year.

Omigosh Where Have You Been All My Life Award: The Anvil of the World by Kage Baker
Why didn’t I read Kage Baker sooner? I have no idea.

Seriously Intimidating But Basically Everything SF Aspires to Be Award: Cyteen by CJ Cherryh
Cyteen is as dense and claustrophobic as anything Cherryh has ever written, which says a lot, but is the Platonic form of SF. Not only is she digging deeper than almost any other SF writer out there, but the very science fictional-ness of the book allows her to take on subjects that mainstream literature can barely touch. Must read for anyone serious about the genre.

Simultaneously Mind Blowing, Creepily Perverse, Too Long, and Thoroughly Literate Award: 1Q84 by Murakami Haruki
Many deep thoughts about this covered here.

Onward Comrade! To the Taiga! Award: The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley Beaulieu
Action-packed, raucous, Russian-esque fun. Also earned me a nod on the author’s homepage for a gamboling pandas joke.

Best Plug for Two Dudes Award: Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck
A throw-away, grossly stereotypical gag about Swedes landed me a coveted blurb here, right underneath names like “Le Guin” and “Mieville.” (!!!) I still can’t get over this one. (Also, this is a remarkable book of stories and should be read by all.)

Our Man in Havana Memorial Award: Trafalgar by Angelica Gorodischer
Gorodischer is actually from Argentina, but I prefer the movie in the award name to Evita.

Not a Great Book but Really Fun to Review Award: Parasite Eve by Sena Hideaki
Marauding, sentient lady bits? Check. Pederasty? Check. Mitochondria plotting to take over the world? Check. Must come from Japan.

Unjustly Overlooked, Hidden Gem From the Past Award: Carve the Sky by Alexander Jablokov
I am now a huge Jablokov fan and looking forward to reading and reviewing more of his books this year. This guy deserves a Scalzi-like following.

Holy Cats There Are Awesome People All Around Us Award: All of the new friends I met in the past year. This whole project is much more worthwhile because of all of you. Thank you!

2013 Reading List Results

2013 Reading List Results

My reading is pretty much charted out for the balance of the year and various holiday stresses are preventing any sort of serious book writeup, so it is time to assess my 2013 Reading List. Below are quotes from the original Reading List, followed by my updates. I will include links where available, though I only reviewed about half of what I read this year. Maybe less.

Tad Williams – Memory, Sorrow and Thorn
Got to this one early in the year. The round-up, with links to individual posts, is here.

Peter F. Hamilton – Night’s Dawn Trilogy
Sorry Peter, this is too much to handle for more than one volume at a time. I reviewed the first here, and will get to the next book sometime soon.

Iain M. Banks – At least one novel, probably Excession.
Excession was the one. I am now debating whether to plow through his other books as quickly as possible, or draw it out over many years. A tough choice, now that there won’t be any more.

Steven Erikson – Whatever is next in the Malazan books.
That would be Midnight Tides, which I read just before Thanksgiving. One of these days I will write about Malazan, but it’s hard to start now that I’m halfway done.

Eric Brown – Anything
I ended up reading Bengal Station over the summer and totally meaning to review it. I also picked up Helix at a book sale, so now debating whether to read that or the Bengal Station sequel.

Bradley Beaulieu – The Winds of Khalakovo
Here. Not only that, but I have ebooks of the next two that I will start up any day now.

CJ Cherryh – Finish Cyteen. Probably read something else.
Cyteen complete! That took a long time, but was fun to write about. I also read Merchanter’s Luck and will start the Morgaine Saga next.

Haruki Murakami – IQ84
This turned into an epic read-a-thon. A round-up of posts from me and this is how she fight start is here.

Charlie Stross – Iron Sunrise, Rapture of the Nerds
Read the first, not the second.

China Mieville – The next Bas Lag books.
The Scar is here. For now, one Mieville tome per year is about right.

Something by Walter Jon Williams.
I read Aristoi last month. It was engaging and challenging, but unfortunately got lost in a mess of really great stuff and no time to write.

More LE Modesitt Jr., Stephen Baxter
I did manage Archform: Beauty but didn’t get to any Baxter.

Something in Japanese.
I read two after posting the list, but will save details for a separate article.

Mike Resnick – I should really finish the Starship series.
Struck out on this one.

Some classics.
Hmm. I read a couple, but not what I was planning on and not very many. There may be a redemption effort during Little Red Reviewer’s Vintage SF Month.

Ten Books that Stay With Me

Ten Books That Have Stayed With Me

I was recently tagged in a Facebook post that seems to be going around, inviting me to record ten books that have “stayed with me.” Beyond that vague parameter, the only direction was to “not think too hard about it.” The impossibility of constructing such an obtusely described selection led me to blow it off, until the tagging friend claimed to be “dying to see your list.” I can’t say no to that, but I have failed utterly to “not think too hard.” This blog has been filled with lists and other miscellany lately, so I feel bad posting yet another one. On the other hand, just putting the list up on Facebook without lengthy explanations and excuses is thoroughly distasteful. After all, I’m going to bare my soul a bit here; I need a chance to defend it.

A few things this list is not: it is not a list of favorite books, nor is it the best that I have read. It is not necessarily SFF. It is not balanced in any way, by any metric. It is not a list of recommended reading. It is merely the titles of books that, for one reason or another, have exercised undue influence on me, or that I find myself going back to when thinking about things. They are what bubbled to the surface with a minimum of thinking too hard. They may be good or bad, may be distasteful to some, and may very well be by a bunch of white dudes. I may not be proud of some of them. Ten years from now, I expect a healthy amount of turnover and I hope that it is not so aggressively patriarchal and Anglo-Saxon. For now, this is what I have, in no particular order.

1. The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien
My parents started reading Tolkien aloud to me when I was, I think, three. I took down the whole trilogy on my own, plus The Hobbit, in either third or fourth grade, likely understanding almost none of it. These books got me in the door and remain, flaws and all, the most reread and most important in my bookish development.

2. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
I’m not going to say that Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect changed my life or anything, but it must mean something that I still remember all of the gags, lo these many years later. I will also confess to trying very hard for many years to cop Adams’ writing style.

3. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Pirsig
Not sure what to say about this that hasn’t already been said. I’m sure it helps that much of the book takes place not far from my home town, while also going on at length about aesthetics and philosophy. (Not things one normally associates with the state of Montana.)

4. Reflections of a Scientist – Henry Eyring
5. Dialogues With Myself: Personal Essays on Mormon Experience – Eugene England
Though I am neither devout nor orthodox, my upbringing in the Mormon Church forms a huge part of my identity. These two books remain foundational to my (thorny) relationship with my religion. Why and how is beyond the scope of this post (and really of this blog), but I am willing to engage the curious.

6. The Dragonlance Chronicles – Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman
Tolkien got me in the door, but Dragonlance slammed it shut behind me. (Larry Niven turned the lock.) I, uh, kind of wish that I could forget how thoroughly this series dominated my early adolescence, but I guess we all have dark secrets. David Eddings is also on this list. We should probably just move on before I say anything to embarrass myself further.

7. The Hyperion Cantos – Dan Simmons
Now we are back on firmer ground. I won’t say that this is one of the “best” SF series, but it leaves an impact crater. There are some scenes I will never forget.

8. 2312 Kim Stanley Robinson
Last year’s Nebula winner might be the most complete extrapolation of our semi-near future that I have ever read. Robinson covers everything from the expansion into space, environmental degradation on Earth, and politico-economic development to the future of music, gender, and human evolution. This stands out as everything science fiction is supposed to be and is very near the top of my Best Ever list.

9. 3.11: Disaster and Change in Japan – Richard Samuels
The 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Northern Japan is a charged and emotional event for me. It’s probably better to just read my post about it, since pithy summation escapes me.

10. Japan – Lonely Planet
As a young missionary in the smelly fish port of Ishinomaki, I somehow acquired a a mid-90s edition of Lonely Planet’s Japan travel guide. For several years, this was my primary source for information on Japan’s geography, demographics, food, and culture. I suppose there are worse places to learn this sort of thing.