SF books are awesome!

I love these kinds of things. They help me think about what kind of books I like, and occasionally lead to the discovery of new things to enjoy. Once again, thanks to Kaedrin for bringing it to my attention.

My favorite alien invasion book or series is…? 

My favourite example is the rather genteel ‘invasion’ described in ‘The Midwich Cuckoos‘ by John Wyndham. Since every alien invasion scenario on TV or film seems to take place in a cosmopolitan city, it’s quite a nice change of pace to see one happen in the British countryside.

My favorite alternate history book or series is…?

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. Again, not a typical representative of the genre, but it certainly fits the criteria. About half the novel is set during WWII (and considering what a doorstop the whole book is, it more than qualifies in terms of length) and tells the behind-the-scenes story of allied soldiers breaking an axis code system (it also tells a bunch of other stories, concerning, among other things: Van Eck phreaking, deep sea diving, erotic properties of antique furniture, construction of underground tunnels and the post-war fate of the Philippines).

My favorite cyberpunk book or series is…? 

It has to be Snow Crash.

My favorite Dystopian book or series is…? 

I feel like I am being overly obvious with my answers, but I have to go for 1984 here. It established too many tropes of the genre not to mention and in addition, does all of them wonderfully well. I read this in my twenties, and the power of the imagery and the seemingly prescient plot left a deep impression. 

My favorite Golden-Age sf book or series is…? 

Wikipedia tells me that the golden age lasted 1938-1946. I can’t think of too many SF books from the period that I even read. However, I notice that one of my all time favourites came out in 1950 – I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. That will have to do…

My favorite hard sf book or series is…? 

Once again, I am a bit unsure over the exact boundaries of the genre. Let’s assume that Clarke’s ‘Rendezvous with Rama‘ or ‘The Fountains of Paradise’ (which primarily concern the technological and scientific details of the construction of a generation starship and a space elevator, respectively) are hard enough. I would go with the former if pressed, just avoid the somewhat dubious sequels.  

My favorite military sf book or series is…? 

Not my favourite sub-genre, but I think the definition will stretch enough to accommodate ‘Ender’s Game’ by Orson Scott Card. 

My favorite near-future book or series is…? 

Another sub-genre I could afford to delve into more deeply, as I find my knowledge of it somewhat lacking. Let’s say that my favourite is ‘Halting State’ by Charlie Stross, bearing in mind that it’s also one of the only near-future SF books I have read. 

My favorite post-apocalyptic book or series is…?

Aha, another quite genteel and very British selection here:The Day of the Triffids‘. Even though the future isn’t presented as bleak and horrible as possible (which is a condition of entry for this particular genre it seems), it does present a rather interesting dilemma, never too far from my mind: what if 99% of the people went blind overnight? And humanity then found they had to deal with carnivorous semi-sentient plants. Trust me, it’s way more intelligent than I am making it out to be.

My favorite robot/android book or series is…? 

I, Robot! You Robot. We all robot!

My favorite space opera book or series is…? 

Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga (handy chronology by Kaedrin at the link). A series of 15 superb books about the members of the Vorkosigan family. I started reading these in May of last year (on Kaedrin’s recommendation) and have just finished the newest one ‘Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance’ last month. It has been an incredibly compelling series, much better than I could have guessed when I started.

My favorite steampunk book or series is…? 

I really enjoy the visual aesthetics of steampunk, so I am going to go for a graphic novel here: ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen‘. And speaking of Alan Moore…

My favorite superhero book or series is…? 

Watchmen! Er, I mean, sorry, Watchmen.

My favorite time travel book or series is…? 

Surprisingly, drawing a blank here. Yep, I got nothin’. Moving on…

My favorite young adult sf book or series is…? 

Unlike the others, this isn’t really a sub-genre defined by theme or setting, but a somewhat arbitrary ‘intended audience’ subcategory. Therefore, I am going to be equally arbitrary and say The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov. What do you mean – it’s not really YASF? I read it when I was 14, so there.

My favorite zombie book or series is…? 

I must be coming across as some comic-book reading philistine here, but the best treatment of a zombie apocalypse in any media is the comic run of ‘The Walking Dead‘. Classic. Not entirely sure when zombies became a SF sub-genre though!

The 3 books at the top of my sf/f/h to-be-read pile are…? 

Currently, the next three would be: ‘Jack Glass’ by Adam Roberts, ‘The Lies of Locke Lamora’ by Scott Lynch and ‘Diamond Age’ by Neal Stephenson. This may change however…

Some thoughts for the end

Two things came to mind as I was going through that list. First, it’s really difficult to categorise books in this way. For instance, one of my (and everybody’s) favourite SF books is ‘Dune’ which doesn’t really fit into any of the above categories. Often, the best SF is just too original/bizarre/unique to be easily classified – e.g. Asimov’s ‘Gods Themselves’, anything by Philip K Dick or China Mieville… Admittedly, this may not the most original of observations!

Second, while I really enjoyed all the books I mentioned, I kept thinking that quite a few of them have been adapted for other media, often with dubious success – ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ being a particularly horrible example. However, more notably, it struck me at how often the adaptation differs in some fundamental way from the source material, even when the difference in quality isn’t as extreme. For example, ‘The Walking Dead’ now exists as a phenomenally successful TV series (and a superb computer game) but the tone of it is markedly changed. The Watchmen is a faithful film adaptation of the style of the original graphic novel, but lacking much of the nuance and depth. While this is probably true of all sorts of books, I think it may be particularly acute for SF – whose appeal (generalising outrageously) largely hinges on new and original ideas, rather than plot and character.

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