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.

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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.

Upcoming Events

Upcoming Events

There are several blogosphere events coming up that Two Dudes will be joining, so it seems like a good time to warn all uninvolved readers of the posts ahead. Many regulars are probably already aware of these, since we’re all part of the same wide circle of geekdom, but for those who aren’t, here is the lowdown. These events are a great time to meet new people, learn about new books, and maybe even influence the opinions of others.

The 2014 Sci-Fi Experience – Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings runs this giant SF event each year. He’s starting a month early this time around, so it will run from Dec. 1 through the end of Jan. Carl’s Experience brings together a gaggle of book fans, with blogs covering the whole spectrum of literary entertainment. This is a great chance to get to know writers and readers from all genres, as we jointly celebrate SF in all its finery.

Vintage Science Fiction Month – Little Red Reviewer hosts this annual extravaganza every January. All and sundry investigate pre-1979 SF and write about it. There will be all sorts of Easter eggs on this one, and it looks like I will be writing a guest post. (Of course there will be articles here and elsewhere about the era.) Notable this year is the announcement of a retro Hugo award for 1938, so intrepid readers will be digging into whatever came out then as well.

The Book of Apex Blog Tour – No page yet for this, but Little Red is also producing a blog tour for the soon-to-be-released 4th volume of Apex Magazine short stories. These are award winning stories from an award winning magazine and Two Dudes is one of the lucky participants. More details will follow.

N.K. Jemisin Read Along – A read along of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms appears to kick off this week as well. It’s being hosted across several blogs. I am knee-deep in other stuff at the moment, but may be able to jump in towards the end. I had planned on checking out Jemisin sometime anyway. (I may not make it though, with a pile of hefty non-fiction in the pipeline, as well as advanced reading for Vintage SF breathing down my neck. We shall see.)

All of this comes just as Rinn Reads SF Month has ended. I was too late to join in on this one, and too busy to appreciate it while it was on, but I have met some charming people and had fun discussions. I have also left many parties aghast with my utter Dr. Who ignorance. Something like 50 blogs were involved, so the archives are a treasure trove of SF writing. Highly recommended.

Finally, with the end of the year coming, people are going to start up their annual round ups. Those more current than I will pick their best books of the year. Others will dig into their reading choices and assess the gender and/or ethnic balance. I will put up few lists and statistics, possibly even a chart or two, and a look back at the 2013 Must Read list. My Published-in-2013 reads are a bit scarce, but I am looking forward to crunching numbers on everything else. I’ll push these posts out once I set the remaining book schedules in stone.

Moms in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Moms in Science Fiction and Fantasy

I took a random and perfunctory look at lists of mothers in SFF, what with today being Ma Day and all. (My grandma’s term for the holiday.) Below are the three that I found. I even dove into the comments sections, hoping to avoid the usual twits and get some more ideas, but there were more of the former than the latter. Unfortunately, most of the lists start with Star Trek and end with Harry Potter, usually with a stop in between at Sarah Connor and/or Eleanor Ripley. Not a lot beyond a very superficial and commercial collection. I will give credit for those that suggest Lady Atreides (Dune) and the Wired list that includes Cordelia Naismith (The Vorkosigan series).

This got me to thinking, “What other moms are there worth mentioning?” I couldn’t think of very many. This may be a reflection of my reading habits, or it may be that SFF is low on moms. I have a lurking suspicion that fantasy might have more than science fiction, especially the Hard SF and space opera that I favor. It may just be that the sorts of epic adventures SFF tends to focus on are generally undertaken by those without a reason to stay at home. Perhaps I can revisit this question on Ma Day 2014 and see if my list has expanded. For now:

1) Hiroko in Robinson’s Mars Trilogy – While there were plenty of moms in that one, Hiroko and her brood may have had the greatest influence.

2) Eunice Akinya in Reynolds’ Blue Remembered Earth – Technically a grandma by the time of the book, Eunice overhauled science, built a commercial empire, and made at least two or three of the biggest discoveries of that book’s era.

3) Chrisjen Avasarala in Corey’s Caliban’s War – Another grandma here, but grandmas were moms once too! Avasarala is a foul-mouthed, high-ranking UN officer from South Asia who holds the fate of billions in her hand, but is also a very nice grandma.

4) Several characters in Aliette de Bodard’s short stories – a number of these count, so I recommend picking up pretty much anything out there. Any Nebula nominee list from the last couple years will have a few.

So there’s an assortment of mothers that stood out in my recent reading. I’ll have to think more deeply about this next year, as I’m sure there’s an actual worthwhile post buried in here somewhere. Finally, the other lists I found:

http://www.wired.com/geekdad/2012/05/top-10-mothers-in-science-fiction-and-fantasy-wayback/

http://buzzymag.com/top-10-sci-fi-moms/

http://www.lbgale.com/2012/01/20/best-science-fiction-fantasy-mothers-not-defined-by-motherhood/

 

Books of 2012

Books of 2012

I think 2012 will go down as a major year in science fiction. Unlike 2011, when only a few books stood out to me, the last twelve months have been a gold rush. Past masters like David Brin and M. John Harrison released new books, high profile writers of the current generation like Alastair Reynolds and John Scalzi published eagerly awaited novels, big time collaborations like Stephenson – Bear, Stross – Doctorow, Baxter – Pratchett, and Benford – Niven caused heart palpitations throughout nerd-dom, and follow ups to some of 2011’s best kept interest at a fever pitch. I’m sure my greater engagement and awareness this year added to the euphoria, but I still think that the 2012 haul of SF is one of the best in recent memory.

The following list is everything I read in the last year, with links where applicable, so it leaves out several prominent books that I just haven’t gotten to yet. I will probably add some later edits as I finally read things, but for now I can only guarantee completeness on my own terms. Also, this is almost entirely SF; I know there have been lots of heavyweight fantasy books published this year, but I’m either too far behind in the series (Erikson), ignorant of, or apathetic about (Wheel of Time) to read. Apologies for my limitations, but I hope this is still somewhat entertaining or informative. Titles are listed in the order I read them, not by an arbitrary ranking.

The Navidad Incident Ikezawa Natsuki
This was published in the early 1990s in Japan, but finally saw an English translation this year. One of the best books of the year, though more fantastic realism than speculative fiction. Difficult to condense into a four sentence blurb, but this is a unique portrait of the world, and especially Japan, at the end of the Cold War.

Death Sentences – Kawamata Chiaki
Another older Japanese book, Kawamata wrote this in the mid 1980s, with the University of Minnesota Press finishing the translation this year. Kind of a Phil Dick meets The Ring, Death Sentences is another essential Japanese SF novel.

Redshirts – John Scalzi
Scalzi is a science fiction rock star, so there isn’t much about Redshirts that hasn’t been hashed out already. Anytime someone as popular as Scalzi takes on Star Trek, The World will take notice. I will hopefully get a review of this up soon, since it’s definitely a book worth talking about, a must read for anyone trying to stay current in SF.

Armored – ed. John Joseph Adams
I don’t read a lot of short fiction, but as a long time Battletech fan and recent convert to Japanese giant fighting robot anime, I couldn’t miss this collection. Lots of interesting and varied takes on power armor from a mix a rising stars and old timers.

2312 – Kim Stanley Robinson
My vote for the best novel of the year goes to 2312.

Caliban’s War – James S.A. Corey
This is Corey’s follow up to 2011’s Leviathan Wakes, a well regarded, throwback space extravaganza. Caliban’s War largely escapes middle book syndrome, despite the fact that most of what happens is just laying the ground work for the next book. Very enjoyable, if less ambitious than Robinson and Brin.

The Mongoliad Book One and Two – Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, et al
The Subutai collective published the first two volumes of their alternate history retelling of the Mongol invasions this year. There is much background on both the story and the mechanics of writing it that are almost as interesting as the tale itself. I am interested to see how everything wraps up in Book Three, as well as what else they have in mind for this alternate Earth.

Existence – David Brin
In the absence of 2312, this would get the nod for the best of the year. Between the two of them, Robinson and Brin accounted for an estimated 78% of the amazing ideas, 56% of net coolness, and 83% of the thinking immediately applicable to our time. I may or may not have just made all that up, but if someone were to read just two SF novels this year, they should be Existence and 2312.

Bowl of Heaven – Gregory Benford and Larry Niven
Benford and Niven was the most anticipated collaboration of the year for me. Bowl lacks some of the Right Now relevance of other novels published this year, but did more to revive Big Mysterious Object stories circa 1972 than any other book. Unrelenting fun for Hard SF fans.

Ashes of Candesce Karl Schroeder
And if someone were to read just three novels this year, Ashes of Candesce should be the third. This is the final volume of Schroeder’s Virga series, which I wish more people were talking about. I am encouraging all and sundry to check this out so I have someone to natter with.

The Fractal Prince Hannu Rajaniemi
Pretty much what I expected: mind-altering, half incomprehensible Hard SF. Not necessarily for the casual fan, but a grognard like myself will savor this like a plate of Godiva chocolate. (Preferably paid for by others.)

Blue Remembered Earth – Alastair Reynolds
The quality one expects from Reynolds with a more down to earth setting. 2012 was truly the Year of the Solar System. Blue Remembered Earth joins the top four or five list for the year.

NPR Top 100 SFF

NPR’s Top 100 SFF

First of all, click here to check out the Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books, according to a poll conducted by NPR. I looked at it today and had some strong reactions. First of all, the big caveat is that NPR didn’t make the selections, they merely accepted nominations and conducted the voting. Nobody claims that these are the “best,” “most influential,” or have “literary merit.” These are just whatever people tossed out there, which for many no doubt means, “whatever NYT best-selling fantasy doorstop was last in my bathroom.” All I can say is, at least Twilight was excluded.

NPR’s blog does their own analysis of the list, so I won’t belabor the points made there. After all, those people are much more well-read than I am, and probably real live literary scholars or something. Instead, I’ll just give my reactions to the list: things I liked, things that caused me to spray my Talking Rain fizzy water on my screen, and things I think were unfairly left out. As an overall reflection, I get the feeling that SF voters tended towards lifetime achievement medals and an appreciation for their forbears, while Fantasy voters went with The Tome of the Month and gave little thought to what came before and what may follow. More on these as my rant goes on.

Let’s begin with the Yes, Yes, a Thousand Times Yes Division. That has to start with #1, a very deserving J.R.R. Tolkien. According to NPR, LOTR didn’t just take first place, it crushed all comers. I think any way we look at it, nobody can deny Frodo & Co. their place at the head of the line. Dune is also well deserving of its place, though I would have it even higher. I think it is admirable that Orwell, Bradbury, Verne, Shelley, Wells and Huxley are all present, though I wonder if these authors are mentioned because the books are genuine favorites, or because well-informed SF readers know what a debt we owe to the writers. Likewise with the Big Three (Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein) and other prominent writers (Niven, etc.). Some of the selections may have got in based on name recognition rather than quality. For example, Ringworld is Niven’s best known work, but possibly not his best. I need to reread Foundation (among others) to see if it is really the 8th best series ever. Stranger in a Strange Land gets the nod of course, even though I prefer others from Heinlein. I’m glad that people remembered A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Forever War, and Hyperion, though again, Dan Simmons should be in at least the top 20. Finally, Robinson’s Mars Trilogy is a worthy addition. Readers of Two Dudes will know how I feel about those books.

Now for the AAAUGH Fer Ignert! Division, which is more fun. My first thought when reading this list was, “When did Neil Gaiman take over the world?” I’ve read one of his books, and it was alright, but the man is holding even with legends like Asimov, Niven, and Vonnegut. I guess I should pick up American Gods so I too can fall in line. My next thought was, “Fantasy types, I know you are weird, but this is too much, even for you.” I will say nothing of George R.R. Martin, since I didn’t finish Game of Thrones and probably never will. But Patrick Rothfuss in the Top 20? Ahead of Malazan, Phillip K. Dick, Zelazny, and LeGuin? Good heck, people. And who is this Brandon Sanderson, and why is he out-polling The Book of the New Sun? There is no accounting for taste.  (To be fair, I haven’t read Sanderson, and he may be amazing. But I doubt he’s Gene Wolfe amazing.) Oh, and did I mention Robert Jordan? At #12? Aaaaarrrrghghghgh. I’m not going to comment on Xanth or Shannara, but I will mention in passing that any list where Drizzt books top Rendevous with Rama and Iain M. Banks is not one to take to the bank.

In a category all itself, what to do with #2? I love Douglas Adams books. Zaphod and Marvin have been heroes to me for decades. But I suspect that Adams himself would be puzzled to find himself the second best SFF (and first best SF) writer of all time.

And now for those left home, alone, on Prom Night. I’m not going to create my own Top 100, because it would take a long time and accomplish nothing, but there are several authors that I think should be on there. They should be far ahead of anything mentioned in the last paragraph, though I suppose I risk the wrath of Wheel of Time disciples everywhere. (We live on the edge here at Two Dudes in an Attic!) In (mostly) alphabetical order, here are some Better Than Terry Goodkind Winners. How about Poul Anderson? I’m less a fan than in the past, but surely he’s worth a mention? Or Greg Bear! Blood Music and The Forge of God are pretty good. Alfred Bester anyone? He won the first Hugo. I seriously can’t believe that Brin’s Uplift isn’t on there. Chalker’s Midnight at the Well of Souls and Cook’s Black Company are better than most of the fantasy on the list. CJ Cherryh? David Drake might deserve a spot, though he may be more divisive. I wonder if Andre Norton was relegated to the YA list. Speaking of fantasy, Patricia McKillup (especially The Riddle Master books) and Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast are better than The Sword of Truth. Frederick Pohl! They passed up Pohl for Terry Pratchett? Alastair Reynolds may only be my favorite, but surely Tad Williams deserves to have a doorstop on the list? I’m starting to froth.

To sum up, this is a puzzling list. I alternately nod my head in wise agreement, then frantically try to prevent that same head from exploding. The contrast between SF, where Jules Verne and H.G. Wells hold prominent positions at the expense of younger writers, and Fantasy, where pioneers like Fritz Leiber and Fred Saberhagen are tossed off a cliff in favor of (teeth gnashing) Robert Jordan, is telling. Are fantasy readers that ignorant or apathetic about their heritage? Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser will abide long after The (Weapon) of (Noble Quality) has passed into obscurity. Oh well. I will now invoke several spells of protection around the house, lest it be burned to the ground by furious Wheel of Time acolytes.

Rating: Wayne Rooney. There’s some great stuff going on, but R.A. Salvatore’s books and a string of World Cup red card inducing frothy outbursts go hand in hand.