Half Price Books' free calendar has 12 lists of books in it, but except for the "classics" list they consist almost entirely of books I have not read, will not read, or have not even heard of. Jesse of the Speculiction blog, in the comments to my post about the 10 book classics list, points out a full 100 book list of science fiction and fantasy books from my buddies at Half Price Books. It actually is a pretty good list; I have read at least some of 30 of them, and have inchoate opinions on many of the others based on prejudices, hunches, knowledge of the author's other work, and augury.
Today I will tackle just 25 of these, which were apparently chosen by a panel of "3,000 bibliomaniacs."
1) Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
This is one of those books I haven't read but feel like I know because everyone is always talking about it. The plot seems good, and isn't it a riff on a one page scene from a Heinlein novel, maybe Space Cadet, in which a young person sits in a simulator and has to plot the defense of the Earth as part of the entrance exam or assessment when he joins the Space Patrol? As a kid I loved that scene, and had elaborate day dreams about playing that kind of video game.
Card is an important SF writer and very popular, and also controversial because of his political and religious beliefs, so I should probably read some of his work, but for whatever reason I have only read one story by him, "Eumenides in the Fourth Floor Lavatory." I remember thinking it was good, both horrible and thought-provoking.
We were supposed to read Wyrms in the Science Fiction course I took at Rutgers, but we didn't get to it. The prof, who was a young guy and tried to include jokes in his lectures, told us his one word review of Wyrms was "Ewwww...."
Maybe someday I'll read Ender's Game. First I will probably hunt down some of Card's short fiction.
2) Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
I haven't read this, and haven't even really considered reading it. I played Dungeons and Dragons like a fiend as a kid, and enjoy many sword fighting fantasy stories, like Howard's Conan, Lieber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, and Hugh Cook's Chronicles of an Age of Darkness, but somehow this hasn't appealed to me. For one thing, I like stories about individuals, stories with a singular point of view, and I generally don't like those sagas in which there are twenty different characters from eight different families snubbing each other at parties and stabbing each other in the back, and my spider sense tells me these Game of Thrones books are likely to fall into the latter category.
I have a funny story about Game of Thrones, however. One day my sister-in-law came over and said to my wife and me, "I started watching 'Crown of Thorns.'" We asked her how she liked it, and were amazed when she started talking about it, because we had thought she must have been talking about a documentary about Jesus Christ which we had never heard of.
3) Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
I read this in my youth and as an adult a second time, and it is a very good novel, and a very good science fiction novel, because it tries to create a future society based on various premises and more or less succeeds. Part of its fame rests on the fact that it endorses values that we are all expected to embrace, opposition to censorship and advocacy of free speech, but the book is also provocative: the censorship in the book is a government response to the demands of minority interest groups. Also provocative are Bradbury's attack on television and his idea that an atomic war could actually make way for a rebirth of a better society. Fahrenheit 451 doesn't just comfort the reader by agreeing with him that censorship is wrong, it challenges and surprises the reader.
4, 5, 6 & 7) The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkein
I have read this twice, as a kid and as an adult, and liked it. It is full of striking images and it actually does affect the reader on an emotional level, at least it did me; I had tears in my eyes in the end when the elves and one of the hobbits goes off to wherever it is they go off to, the moon or something? Tolkein's old-fashioned conservatism, all that jazz about who has the blood and how factories are disgusting, and his celebration of feudal relationships like that between Sam and Frodo, is an interesting contrast to the modern middle-class "conservatism" that embraces individualism and capitalism.
The world Tolkien creates is vivid, but it is also odd in that it almost totally neglects some of the things that really matter in our lives, like sex, money, and religion. Robert Howard's Conan stories and Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser tales, like our real lives, are full of merchants, gods and priests, and sexual relationships, and the characters, like people in real life, are driven by desire for money and/or sex, or by religious motives. One could argue that leaving out sex, money and religion is a weakness of Lord of the Rings, but it must have been a conscious artistic choice of Tolkein's, and since the story works so well the choice cannot have been a bad one. Tolkein's treatment of war, friendship, and politics is quite good, and perhaps throwing in more topics would just have been distracting.
8) Neuromancer by William Gibson
I doubt I'll ever read this; I'm not that interested in computers or "cyberpunk." I think "steampunk" is a sexy and interesting aesthetic, but I'm not interested in reading a book about it. I don't really like punk rock, though I do like those early Cure albums and outtakes like "I Want to Be Old" and "I Just Need Myself." I never watched the version of "Candid Camera" called "Punked." I didn't watch "Punky Brewster," either.
Did I say I haven't read Neuromancer?
9) Hyperion by Dan Simmons
I savaged this in an Amazon review years ago for being too full of references and allusions to mainstream and genre literature, and being too histrionic in general. I actually like much of Simmons's source material and the classics he name checks, like Jack Vance and the Fitzgerald translation of The Aeneid, but I couldn't take this novel.
10) Dune by Frank Herbert
I tried to read this as a kid and gave up on it quickly. Maybe I should try it again. Based on the David Lynch movie, which I saw in the theater as a kid, the plot and its various elements seem good.
Jack Vance trivia: Vance and Herbert were friends, but Vance didn't like Herbert's work, as it contained too much mysticism.
11) The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
Is this really a novel? Looking at Wikipedia, I'm surprised at how many different versions the book and the stories which make it up have gone through.
I've never actually sat down and read this collection, but I have read versions of many of the component stories, and thought them all worthwhile. "The Silent Towns" is a great misogynist story about how the last human male on Mars is repelled by the last human female on Mars, and is the one I read most recently. I also read "The Wilderness" (women are about to move to Mars to meet husbands, like 19th century women on the American frontier) relatively recently. Many of the stories, like "Ylla," "Mars is Heaven!" "There Will Come Soft Rains," and "Million Year Picnic" are famous classics which I have experienced in TV or comic book form.
12) Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
I am a Heinlein fan, but I started this one as a kid and gave up pretty quickly. I was pretty fickle as a kid. Probably I should read it. Is this the one in which there is a painter who takes photos and then paints over the photo? For some reason that has stuck in my mind.
13) 1984 by George Orwell
Orwell has a very good writing style and this is a great novel, very immersive and effective.
14) Ubik by Philip K. Dick
I haven't read this, in fact, I think I have only read one Dick book, and I can't quite recall which one. The way people talk about Dick's work doesn't make it sound very appealing to me.
15) Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin
16) The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
As with The Martian Chronicles, I have read a bunch of these stories over the years in various places. For the most part I like them.
I always think "The Veldt" is a little overrated. I can't quite suspend my disbelief enough; the TV animals come to life and kill the parents? "The Rocket" is too sappy for me. "Kaleidoscope," "Zero Hour," "The Visitor," "The Long Rain," and "The City" I have fond memories of.
17) "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell
I have read two novels about space war by famous SF editor Campbell, Ultimate Weapon and Invaders from the Infinite, and was not particularly impressed. I've read one or two of his short stories, but can't recall anything about them. I should read more of his short fiction; maybe someday. I also haven't seen either of the movies based on this story.
These 3,000 bibliomaniacs must really be into esoterica if they put this above anything by Asimov, Gaiman and LeGuin. Was there a surplus of these on the remainder pile?
18) The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Never heard of it.
19) The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein
I read this as a kid and liked it. One day at the Rutgers library I looked at Alexei Panshin's book of criticism of Heinlein. Panshin leveled a number of very effective criticisms at The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and for decades now I have been thinking I should reread the book and reassess both the Heinlein novel and Panshin's criticism. I should also reread this because as a kid I knew absolutely zero about history or politics or sex, and many things probably flew right by me. I think the thing I liked about it as a kid was Heinlein's style, and the idea of making friends with a computer. I don't really find computers very interesting, but the friendship between the narrator and Mike the computer, somehow, touched me. I was a lonely kid.
As an adult I was thrilled when I first read the passages in the second volume of Proust in which Proust tells us friendship is a load of crap. It's not just me, I realized.
20) The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
Never heard of it. I also haven't read Jane Eyre.
A name that starts with two consonants is sexy, though. Two consonants in the middle of a name, like "Ylla," is also sexy. Two consonants at the end is useless, though. Sorry to all you Jeffs and Bills out there. I also think it is sexy when you can call a woman by a traditionally male name, like calling a Roberta "Bob" or a Mikella "Mike." It's like women in men's clothes, like those famous Dietrich photos or Ingrid Bergman decked out in armor in Joan of Arc. Jasper can be a man's name or a woman's name, can't it?
Anyway, Jasper Fforde has the best name on this list. Congrats to him or her.
21) A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle
I read this in 6th grade. Or maybe just the start of it. Fickle, fickle. Is this the one in which an Arab and/or Muslim dictator has an atomic bomb, and some kid decides to say "Fewmets" instead of "shit?" That's all I remember.
I remember what grade I read (part?) of A Wrinkle in Time in because I remember the particular teacher who loaned it to me, the specialist that ran the "Gifted and Talented" program at my grammar school, a program which, I know not how, I was included in. When I was a kid people thought I was going somewhere in life. Joke's on them.
22) The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
I never read these. (I read Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet and didn't like it very much.) Tilda Swinton looked pretty good in the movie, though. Just imagine if her name was Ttilda Swintton. Hubba hubba.
23 & 24) The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle and Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
I've heard of these. That is all.
25) Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
I think a lot of kids read this when I was in grammar school, but I haven't read it. Was there a TV version or something that was pushing sales?
I like Bradbury, but it is a little funny the way he criticized TV in Fahrenheit 451 (and I guess in "The Veldt") but embraced TV as part of his career.
Tomorrow I will assault 25 more of the SF books on Half Price Book's list. Stay tuned for more trivia about my early life and clues as to which actresses I think are pretty.