Monday, November 13, 2017

2017 best reads

I read a lot: as research, to stay knowledgeable about the genre in which I write, and simply for enjoyment -- overlapping categories, to be sure. Once again continuing an annual tradition, I'm posting before the holiday shopping onslaught about the most notable books from my reading so far this year. When I mention a book, I really enjoyed it and/or found it very useful. Life's too short to carp about what I didn't find notable (much less the several books I elected not to finish).
 
Presuming that you visit SF and Nonsense because you appreciate my take on science or technology or fiction, you might find, in the post that follows, books you (and like-minded friends, relatives, etc.) will also enjoy. Unless otherwise indicated, the dates shown are for original publication. Each cover shown is an Amazon link, often to newer editions than the original publication (and to Kindle editions, where available).

What's made the cut so far in 2017? Read on ...

Science Fiction

The Quintaglio Ascension trilogy -- Far-Seer (1992), Fossil
http://amzn.to/2yNgG82
First book of the trilogy
Hunter (1993), Foreigner (1994), Robert J. Sawyer. The Quintaglio are not-quite dinosaurs, with a not-quite medieval civilization, living on an Earth-like moon. And -- entirely unknown to them, as the story opens -- confronting existential doom. Luckily for the Quintaglio -- if they can accommodate three separate scientific revolutions -- there are geniuses in their midst. And so, Far-Seer is the tale of a near-Galileo; Fossil Hunter, of a near-Darwin; and Foreigner, of a near-Freud. The story line is reason enough to enjoy these newly reissued titles from early in Sawyer's career. The exemplary alien- and world-building are a second.

http://amzn.to/2AunZPf
Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge (1994), Mike Resnick. This is a highly imaginative look at the rise and fall (and rebirth?) of intelligence on Earth, told as seven linked stories set in the legendary cradle of humanity's emergence. In its original release, this novella won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards. Very moving.

http://amzn.to/2ymIzj6Science Fiction for the Throne: One Sitting Reads (2017), Tom Easton and Judith K. Dial, editors. Forty short (most 2000 words or less) science-fiction stories. Some are poignant, some hilarious, others just quirky. The anthology has entries from a stellar cast of genre authors (including, full disclosure, a story of mine). Suggestive title and cover aside -- and anyway, isn't the cover a hoot? -- the book may be enjoyed in rooms with neither plumbing nor bodily-byproduct connotations. All in all, great fun.

http://amzn.to/2hXxr6c
Wake Up and Dream (2011), Ian R. McLeod. Imagine an alternate timeline in which Clark Gable washes out of Hollywood and becomes a private eye. Imagine Gable getting involved in the case of his life -- and fighting for his life -- in the run-up to World War II. If your imagination isn't quite this active, not to worry, because MacLeod's imagination is in this noir, Sideways Award-winning novel.

(Is alternate history SF or fantasy? Plenty of ink has been spilled on that question. Regardless, there is a definite SF element -- story dependence on a new technology -- within the alternate timeline. But if you're firmly on the "not" side, well, consider this book moved down the screen a tad, into the imminent "other fiction" section. In either category, I wholeheartedly recommend it.)

Other fiction

http://amzn.to/2ynHMi5
Conclusion of the trilogy
Dictator (2016), aka the conclusion of the Ancient Rome trilogy, Robert Harris. In my 2015 list, I enthusiastically recommended Conspirata and Imperium, Harris's earlier historical novels about the late Roman Republic and, more particularly, the amazing life story of Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Cicero, perhaps better known today as a philosopher and legendary orator (and if you are from Chicago, a heavily trafficked avenue), was among the leading politicians of his era: a contemporary of, and foil to, among others, Pompey the Great, Julius Caesar, and Octavian (later, Augustus Caesar). This trilogy brings ancient Rome to life in a way I have not experienced since Robert Graves's I, Claudius and Claudius the God. Highly recommended. (The Graves duology, as well, though those weren't a part of my reading this year.)

http://amzn.to/2iJI24c
3 by Finney (1987), Jack Finney. Finney is best known, IMO, for The Body Snatchers (or, in the two movie adaptations that I've seen, Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and Time and Again. In other words, for science fiction. But Finney also wrote in other genres, and this omnibus edition of three novels showcases those non-SF talents. The Woodrow Wilson Dime (1968) is fantasy (some might consider it borderline SF). Marion's Wall (1973) is a non-horror ghost story. The Night People (1977) is, for lack of a better term, modern-noir. All three novels collected in this volume -- as well as the better-known Finney titles earlier mentioned -- are excellent.

Nonfiction 

http://amzn.to/2ynlpJwBlack Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space (2016), Janna Levin. I've blogged several times about gravitational waves, and implications of astronomy's recent expansion into this whole new mode of observation. If you're interested in delving into the physics of gravitational waves, this isn't your book. But if you want to understand the human drama of a decades' long scientific pursuit, culminating in (after the book came out) 2017's Nobel prize for physics, you'll find this a fascinating read. I certainly did.

And my final two recommendations? Straight history. They have nothing to do with SF, science, or fiction. They aren't (as yet, anyway) related to any planned writing project. I include them merely because they were so gripping.

http://amzn.to/2ylnMwpThe Great Siege: Malta 1565 (1961), Ernie Bradford. An epic conflict, between the Ottoman Empire at a pinnacle of its power and the Knights of St. John (aka, the Knights Hospitaler), for control of Malta. That tiny archipelago, strategically located off the southern tip of Sicily, was arguably all that stood between Suleiman the Magnificent and dominance over the western Mediterranean Sea (the Ottomans already dominated the eastern portion). The Knights' resistance against overwhelming odds is heroic and astonishing.

http://amzn.to/2hovpivBerlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent (1941), William L. Shirer. Last, but certainly not least, we come to a legendary journalist's sobering, first-hand, on-the-site account of the rise of Nazism in Germany and the early days of World War II in Europe. Utterly fascinating -- and scary.

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