Friday, November 02, 2007

Geek books revisited

Now I've had some time to think about this topic - probably too much! I've actually got my picks and it's similar in some ways to the one that set me thinking about this, but with differences due to what I've read and obviously my perspective. Some authors are doubtless unjustly neglected by the simple fact that I've not read them, though I am trying to get more time to read fiction now and hopefully will be able to revist this list in some time and see what I think deserves to be changed. I've restricted my list to 10 choices in no particular order as I think this post would have taken all eternity to finish otherwise.

  1. Cryptonomion by Neal Stephenson - not actually my favourite of his books, but probably the most geeky because of the sheer amount of research dumps into the text and the cryptographic themes. The Baroque trilogy also suffers a bit from the information dumps, which are more controlled in the earlier works like The Diamond Age and Snow Crash.

  2. The Stars my Destination by Alfred Bester. Largely here because Gully Foyle is one of my favourite characters from SF and I always enjoyed Bester's books.

  3. Neuromancer by William Gibson. For the opening line at least: "The sky over the port was the color of a television tuned to a dead channel". The visualisation of computer networks as the matrix in this was a real innovation at the time. The whole cyberpunk movement did help shake up science fiction in a way that was needed, but like most of these movements it turned into self parody after a while. The whole mirrorshades and leather trenchcoat, etc bit did make itself too obvious.

  4. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. The three laws of Robotics and the introduction of Susan Calvin with a much more positive view of robots than most 1950's fiction. This influenced a lot of subsequent fiction with ideas of how intelligent machines act, especially the three laws of robotics which frequently turn up in other authors work.

  5. The Shockwave Rider John Brunner. This is a book that I've only recently read and I'll have to look at Alvin Toffler's work that inspired it. It is in some ways prophetic of the current scenario of pervasive electronic communication and some of the ideas are still quite relevant. The basic idea of 'Future Shock' where people are unable to cope with the rate of technological and social change leaving them disorientated is increasingly relevant given the increasing pace of technological and social change in the developed world.

  6. Earth Abides George R. Stewart. This is one of my favourite books depicting a post apocolyptic society arising from the collapse of western civilization. Its plague destroying society scenario is not necessarily impossible and probably more plausible than the post nuclear war scenarios in some books. As an early entry in the genre it has less development of some themes that become common such as struggles for resources and emergence of armed groups, but is still a powerful novel. David Brin's The Postman has a similar reason for society collapsing except for the plague being released through military action rather than nature and it also shows a greater number of survivors, some of whom's actions help to precipitate the decline of society.

  7. Last and First Men Olaf Stapledon. This is included because of the sheer range of its subject with the continual evolution of new species of men. This was one of the books that I remember reading when I was a kid that really made me go wow in SF apart from the usual "its in space" bit.

  8. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams. This is included because of the sheer amount of influence that it has had over the field of SF and humour writing. The first two novels are brilliant, but after that I did feel that the quality started to drop off a bit and I felt that Adam's often was struggling with getting past writer's block and the desire to work on other projects rather than keep putting out more Hitchikers books for all that they would be guaranteed megasellers. I was a fan of H2G2 from the original radio broadcasts on wednesday nights on Radio 4 back in 1978 and still have my vinyl records with the first two parts on as well as the paperbacks of H2G2 and Resturant at the End of the Universe.

  9. Mort Terry Pratchett. The reason I've selected Mort out of the many Discworld books is because I think it is really the title that shows the tropes having really settled for many later books in the series unlike the Colour of Magic or the other early titles. Those characteristic tropes to me are the romance subplot between one of the main characters, who is a nebbish young male and a fairly independent young woman, the world being threatened by some form of device or main villain and the usual cameo appearances by a range of recurring characters. My actual favourites in this series are Small Gods, Nightwatch and Going Postal.

  10. The Lord of the Rings JRR Tolkien. Mainly selected for its influence on the development of the high fantasy novel than for any particular love for it on my behalf. Now I've got older and read more widely I should perhaps revisit it as like many other books it may well have differences in meaning now I've changed. Probably the last time I read this was as a teenager, so many years ago before I had the understanding of the world that I have now, probably I'd try reading it after reading Beowulf and some of the viking sagas to have an appropriate knowledge of the literary traditions that Tolkein was trying to work in.

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