Once upon a time, I asked you goodly people to recommend some science-fiction books to me to read. And so you did! And there was a nice little conversation about science-fiction (and fantasy) books in the comments.
Well, I read some of those books, and didn’t read some others, and I read some other books that I saw listed on “science-fiction novels that are super awesome” kinds of lists. I didn’t bother writing “short reviews” for most of them here because most of them bored me, but I’d like to get an updated picture of what sci-fi is supposed to be worth reading, and Amazon’s recommendation system turns out to be kind of sucky. So, I thought I might check back in to let you know how my recent reading has gone, and see if you have any other novels you’d recommend to me, to each other, or to the world in general. I also welcome you to use this opportunity to tell me I have crappy taste in literature, as I suspect that is what many of you may feel after reading this post.
Books That Bored Me to Varying Degrees
Glasshouse: Charles Strossâ€”recommended by friends and authors I respectâ€”pens a tale of intrigue, identity confusion, and murder in the far-flung future. I actually liked it quite a bit for much of it, but I was really geared up to read about the freaking future, and this book abandons that to a large extent to focus on living in a simulated 20th-century environment. Okay, our arbitrary gender roles and frozen food products would seem weird and alien to people in the future! I get it! Move on! But actually, this was the most interesting book for me in this “books that bored me” category, so I gave another Stross book a chanceâ€¦
Halting State: Charles Strossâ€”who I still want to likeâ€”writes a novel about a heist that takes place in an MMO? That sounds awesome! Turns out that it doesn’t really go anywhere, though, and the characters are kind of dull people. Great setting, but I’d rather see how somebody else populates it.
Newton’s Wake: Ken MacLeod thanks Charles Stross right on the first page, which I guess should’ve been a tip as to what would come. Again, I really wanted to like this book, but I just felt like it went nowhere and presented characters with boring personalities and/or unclear motivations. Maybe I’m also just bored of the idea of “The Singularity,” too. (Though I enjoy the term “The Hard Rapture” for when everybody gets sucked into computers against their will.)
Consider Phlebas: Yeah, didn’t do it for me. I may check out A Player of Games based on friends’ recommendations, but it’s not high on my list now.
Perdido Street Station: I haven’t finished this book yet because I find it boring and overwrought. People keep saying that Chine Mieville is really weird, but I’m just not getting it. To me, the truly “weird” is that which prods at you, uncomfortably deep within your mind, like that itchy feeling Haruki Murakami tends to leave on the roof of your mouth. “Weird,” for me, is not just an unlikely blend of dissimilar elements, like a peanut butter and ringworm sandwich (or, in this case, sex between a fat guy and a woman with a bug for a head). I’ll probably get back to this later because I actually paid for it, but this is the book that finally got me to get a new library card.
The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three: Probably the Dark Tower series gets more interesting as you get further into it, but the second book just left me cold, and I can’t help feeling like these ideas would have seemed way cooler to me if I’d read them when I was closer in age to how old Stephen King was when he wrote them.
Dune: I started reading this in 8th grade, got bored, and quit. I just got it out of the library and read through it pretty quickly. Parts of it were interesting to me (like the integration with the Fremen), and I think I can see why it was very influential (blending of science/religion, basis of a large “world” before everybody and her brother had their own sci-fi franchise planned out). I kind of wanted to just be done with it for large parts, though, and adding it to my Amazon wish list brought all kinds of recommendations for books I don’t want to read (again), like all kinds of stuff by Asimov and Clark. If I’m going to read more of the “classics,” I’d rather pick from the lesser-known ones that I might not have gotten to already.
Books I Liked Quite a Bit
A Fire Upon the Deep: I liked this quite a bit. I usually try to mix up which authors I’m reading, but I’ve disliked so much of the sci-fi I’ve been reading lately that I may just go hunt down more “Zones of Thought” books.
A Game of Thrones: Still working on this one. I am usually hesitant about starting a series that hasn’t been finished yet (a lesson learned the hard way by Robert Jordan fans), but it looked interesting and relatively cheap, so I bought it. And I like it a lot! I’m not really big into fantasy literature, and the conventions of the genre are kind of grating for me even here, but I’m willing to overlook that for interesting characters and character dynamics, a compelling mystery in the plot, and the promise of an even greater struggle to come.
Despite what this short list at the end might suggest, having multiple, parallel story lines and protagonists is not a make-or-break factor for me. Mostly I just want a book that has an interesting, identifiable plot, and characters who seem like they could be actual people. I feel like too much of what I’ve tried reading has been about cool ideas, but an idea isn’t enough to make me want to finish a whole book.