Rick's Recommended Books

I love to read non-technical books to relax when I am on the road. This page has the Science Fiction books that I have enjoyed.  Some of these were recommended by science fiction magazines that I subscribe to. These include Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov's Science Fiction and Interzone.

If you want more of the story line for some of these books, check out my reading lists at Amazon. I often use Amazon's readers' reviews to decide which books to purchase. Of course, I have read some highly recommended books below that I don't care for. I have those reviews at Amazon too.

Click here for the other books, some courtesy of the now defunct Oprah Winfrey book club.

Here is a NPR's flowchart of 100 Great Fantasy and Science Fiction books. I have read a lot of these books.

Name

Notes
Ventus
by Karl Schroeder
ISBN 0-812-57635-7

A*

In a class of its own, and an amazing first novel by Schroeder. A fascinating, beautiful story about terraforming and nanotechnology. 

NOTE - the most recent books I have read are listed near the top of each section below.

The January Dancer
by Michael Flynn
ISBN 978-0-7653-181-7
A+ This is a novel about a stone that shifts its shape, which is called the January Dancer. It is rumored to give its owner special powers, and there are numerous groups traversing the galaxy vying to own the January Dancer.

The novel is written with very elegant prose, in a rather dense style. There are multiple plot lines which can be a bit challenging. In the end, the effort is quite worthwhile. After reading this book and The Wreck of the River of Stars, I now hold Michael Flynn in the highest regard.

Pushing Ice
by Alastair Reynolds
ISBN 978-0-441-01502-3
A+ A moon of Saturn "wakes up" and departs the solar system. This story focuses on the crew of an asteroid mining ship who are ordered to follow and observe. There are lots of human conflicts that develop, which result in quite a struggle to survive.

This is another great "space opera" from Alastair Reynolds. It kept me enthralled.

House of Suns
by Alastair Reynolds
ISBN 0-441-01064-4
A+ This is another great space opera by Alastair Reynolds. This is another sci fi murder mystery, and it is very well told. The story focuses on Campion and Purslane, two members of the Gentian Line. The members of the line gather for a reunion once every 200,000 years to share memories and experiences.

This is another VERY BIG novel with tons of VERY BIG ideas. Suffice it to say that this is very well done, and everything is tied up at the end very neatly.

Anathem
by Neal Stephenson
ISBN 978-0-061-69494-3
A+ This novel is a detailed study of a civilization that is structured quite differently than ours. There are groups of people like monks who live in walled fortresses, and rarely intermix with the "normal" population outside those walls.

Some groups of "monks" remain isolated for 10 years at a time, and others go for 100 or 1,000 years at a time. Then the interior walls open, and the different groups intermingle. At certain times, they also mix with those outside the walls.

This is a very long book, and parts of it can seem rather slow. There are Socratic arguments, some logical / mathematical proofs, and a VERY lengthy Glossary at the end of the book. I found myself making numerous trips back there to understand what the characters were talking about.

It was a very interesting read, and I found the resolution at the end quite satisfying. After the disaster of trying to read the Baroque Cycle (which I hated), I simply loved Anathem.

Blindsight
by Peter Watts
ISBN 978-0-7653-1964-7
A+ This is a first contact story, and one of the deepest I have read. 65,536 probes appear around the Earth, take a picture, and send a message to deep space. Then, "something" travels into the solar system.

This book focuses on the crew of the ship traveling to intercept. Each member of the crew is fascinating. The main character has the ability to read people's expressions, similar to, but much more developed than empathy. Some of the story is told in this character's flashbacks.

The captain of the crew is a vampire - really! Well, the actual captain of the ship is an AI, but it communicates directly with the vampire. Things really get interesting when the aliens start communicating.

This story is simply packed with information - I haven't even gotten to the various conflicts with the aliens. This is one of the best hard SF stories I have read in years. It has a lengthy bibliography with notes and references!

Against a Dark Background
by Ian M. Banks
ISBN 0-553-29225-0
A+

This novel is another example of why I love Ian M. Banks. It is comparable to more modern "space operas" such as works by Alastair Reynolds.

This story revolves around a fabled weapon called the Lazy Gun, and the battles between two factions to gain control over it. The story has lots of action sequences, which are described in great detail. I found the ending especially well written.

Spin
by Robert Charles Wilson
ISBN 978-0-7653-4825-8
A+

This novel won the Hugo award, and it really is quite impressive. An alien race places a shield around the earth, which slows the passage of time on Earth relative to the rest of the galaxy. The story chronicles the lives of three people, two of whom are intimately involved in the struggle to overcome the effects of the shield.

The story has two main threads, which alternate between "now" and 4x109 AD. This is primarily a story of individual people overcoming adversity. There are some great ideas here, and they are neatly pulled together at the end.

Consider Phlebas
by Ian M. Banks
ISBN 1-85723-138-4
A+

This novel (written in 1987) is quite impressive. It is comparable to more modern "space operas" such as works by Alastair Reynolds.

The story has lots of action sequences, which are described in great detail. I look forward to reading more of Banks' work.

River of Gods
by Ian McDonald
ISBN 1-591-02436-6
A+

This novel describes a future India. It is a very scary place, mostly due to a proliferation of rogue AI. The story has some very graphic sequences, which made it more real to me.

There are about 10 main characters, and the story is told using first person plural. This makes the book challenging to read, but I found it well worth the effort. It is more difficult if you don't read the glossary of Indian words at the end of the book!

This is chock full of BIG ideas, and is another example of Ian McDonald's best work.

Hyperion
by Dan Simmons
ISBN 0-553-28368-5
A+

The key figure of the novel is the Shrike, a mythical / mystical creature on the planet Hyperion. Seven individuals have all been chosen to make a pilgrimage to Hyperion. The novel covers the short period of time during which the seven make their pilgrimage.

The majority of the novel has each pilgrim telling their life story to the others, in the hope their inter-relationships will be clarified. The stories are really interesting, and each pilgrim reveals their dark secrets.

This book is worth reading just for the first of the seven stories. It runs about 90 pages, and it covers several fascinating ideas. Most of the other stories are also really good.

Chasm City
by Alastair Reynolds
ISBN 0-441-01064-4
A+ This is a sci-fi murder mystery, told in a compelling fashion. There are stories of two characters interwoven here, who are a century apart. One is Tanner Mirabel, who is trying to exact revenge on Argent Reivich. The other is Sky Hausmann, who is a mythic figure who is revered by many on the planet where Tanner is currently stationed.

In the end, the various threads of this story converge to a satisfying conclusion. With this novel, I have become an ardent admirer of Alastair Reynolds.

Hatrack River
by Orson Scott Card
ISBN 1-568-65989-X

A+

This book is more fantasy than science fiction. For me, it firmly established Orson Scott Card as a great writer. There are three novels contained in the book: Seventh Son, Red Prophet and Prentice Alvin.

The story is about early American history, and the relationship between the white men and the native Indians. The key character is Alvin, who is the seventh son of a seventh son. He is a Maker, who has nearly magical powers.

The most impressive part of this collection of three novels is the second one, Red Prophet. It retells some events from the point of view of an Indian who also has magical powers. Many times I was quite literally blown away by what the retelling revealed.

Perdido Street Station
by China Miéville

ISBN 0-345-45940-7
A+ This is set on a world with multiple races. Some are human, others birdlike, and others totally alien. I was really impressed by the author's ability to communicate just how alien some of these races are.

This is a complex story with lots of interconnecting threads. The character development and writing are both quite well done.

The Diamond Age, or A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer
by Neal Stephenson
ISBN 0-553-38096-6
A+ This novel has nanotechnology as its central theme. There are many related threads which are brought together with great skill. I was truly impressed by the depth and elegance of the prose! 
Terminal Cafe
by Ian McDonald
ISBN 0-553-37416-8
A+ This is the BEST of several books I have read on this idea - What happens when immortality is available to almost everyone? Wars tend to stretch out over centuries, and require really long range planning.

Everyone who dies becomes a second class citizen. They have to work a long time to pay off the cost of their resurrection. All of the dead have no rights, and must spend each night in a compound.

The prose in this book is beautiful, and the ideas are simply amazing. I think it is Ian McDonald's best work.

The Great Wheel
by Ian R MacLeod
ISBN 0-15-100293-2
A+ This is another dark vision of a future earth. There are two races coexisting: the Borderers, and the Europeans. The Borderers all carry a disease which is fatal to the Europeans. The Borderers are the "have-nots" of the world, while the Europeans have advanced medical technology.

This tells the story of a European priest / doctor who tries to solve a mystery related to the Borderers. The prose is extremely well written. It gives a clear picture of the very different lives of the Borderers, and the Europeans. 

Schismatrix Plus
Bruce Sterling
ISBN 0-441-00370-2
A+ This is collection that includes the novel Schismatrix, as well as several related stories that Sterling wrote before the novel was published.

The basic story covers the conflict between the Shapers (psychological warfare) and the Mechanists (high tech hardware). These stories span over 100 years, so there is plenty of time for various ideas to develop.   

Gravity's Angels
by Michael Swanwick
ISBN 1-58394-029-4
A+ This is a short story collection, dating back to the mid 1980's. It is one of the most impressive collections I have ever read. I was simply blown away by half of these stories - I had to sit and think a while after reading them!
Gun, with Occasional Music
by Jonathan Lethem
ISBN 0-312-85878-7

A+

Science fiction murder mystery in an interesting future world. Written in the "film noir" style of Raymond Chandler.
Altered Carbon
by Richard K. Morgan
ISBN 0-345-45768-4

A+

This is essentially a murder mystery, but it is surprisingly well written. I have rarely seen such depth of writing in any science fiction books.  

The key idea is that "real death" has been conquered - people can have their memories and persona implanted into new bodies. This book is full of other great ideas, which makes it really fascinating.
WARNING - this novel has numerous scenes of  EXTREME VIOLENCE. Not for the faint of heart! 

Futureland
by Walter Mosley
ISBN 0-446-52954-0

A+

This book contains nine interlocking stories that weave a dark vision of the future. The stories are excellent, and the entire novel is told from a black man's point of view.
Cryptonomicon
by Neal Stephenson
ISBN 0-380-97346-4
A+ This novel follows two plot lines through history, and it includes cryptography and computers prominently in both. There is also a bit of "altered history" involving World War II.
Bones of the Earth
by Michael Swanwick
ISBN 0-380-97836-9
A+ This book successfully mixes dinosaurs and time travel paradoxes. I have enjoyed past novels such as Stations of the Tide, but this one really amazed me. The character development is excellent.
Burning Chrome
by William Gibson
A+ This is a collection of short stories, which was my first introduction to William Gibson. My favorites are Johnny Mnemonic, Dogfight, and Burning Chrome.
I used to like Gibson's novels a lot, but his material has gotten weak recently.

NOTE - the most recent books I have read are listed near the top of each section below.

One Million A.D.
edited by Gardner Dozois
ISBN 978-0-739-46273-7
A This is a collection of REALLY FAR future (1,000,000 A.D.) science fiction stories. There are six novellas, about 60-80 pages each. Some are really great stories, and all are quite interesting.
Wireless
by Charles Stross
ISBN 978-0-441-01719-5
A This is a collection of short stories and two novellas. There is quite a variety of story types, including some trademark Charles Stross humor (Trunk and Disorderly). Many of these cross over from science fiction to horror.

There are two really frightening / unsettling (good) stories in here: Missile Gap (novella) and A Colder War. This was quite entertaining reading, and a nice introduction to one of my favorite authors.

Cyderabad Days
by Ian McDonald
ISBN 978-1-59102-699-0
A This book is a collection of short stories. It is based on the same world as River of Gods, which is one of my favorite books by this author. These stories are equally good, and highly recommended.
The Guild of Xenolinguists
by Sheila Finch
ISBN 978-1-930-84648-7
A The idea is that there is a Guild that trains its members to interface with alien cultures, and to understand different languages. But this is not a simple undertaking, and the interface with aliens often requires use of dangerous and disorienting drugs.

I read the final Xenolinguists short story in one of my science fiction monthly magazines. Somehow I had completely missed reading anything by this author. I am glad I got the rest of the stories - light reading, lots of interesting characters and pretty entertaining.

Air
by Geoff Ryman
ISBN 978-0-312-26121-4
A This novel is primarily about people in a small village and how their lives are intertwined. The "Air" of the title refers to a new technology that allows everyone to connect to the internet without the use of computers.

This advanced technology has quite an impact on a remote village that is quite backward. The story focuses mostly on the individual members of the village, and their plight. It is very well written.

Implied Spaces
by Walter Jon Williams
ISBN 978-1-59780-125-6
A This novel is about someone who is really pissed off, and wants to bring about the end of civilization. This is a far future civilization, composed of multiple pocket universes. The main protagonist moves freely between these alternate realities, and eventually tracks down the culprit. It takes quite a few battles to finally get things under control.

This is more of a sci-fi adventure novel, with swashbucking action and romance. I enjoyed it a lot.

Rollback
by Robert J. Sawyer
ISBN 978-0-7653-4974-3
A Rollback refers to a rejuvenation process. This is the story of a married couple who undergo the process. Sarah (the wife) is a famous scientist who worked many years earlier to decode a message from another race.

The Rollback is paid for by a benefactor, who hopes Sarah lives long enough to decode another message. Unfortunately, the process works for her husband but fails for Sarah. There is not much else in the way of science fiction here, but this is a touching story of how the couple deal with the aftermath.

Desolation Road
by Ian McDonald
ISBN 0-553-27057-5-395
A This is an early novel written back in 1988. It is about a city named Desolation Road, built from nothing, at the edge of nowhere. The first third keeps adding characters to the city until it becomes hard to keep track of them all. The middle third spins a fairly complex set of relationships between these characters. The last third concerns the resolution of several conflicts, some spanning a generation or more. It builds to an impressive climax.

This is another example of why I love Ian McDonald's work. This was a fun read, even if it had a few TOO many characters for me.

Grey
by Jon Armstrong
ISBN 978-1-59780-065-5
A This novel is like a psychedelic dream of a bizarre future where everyone is obsessed about music, fashion and celebrities. The key conflict is between two rival corporations, and the protagonist is being groomed to take over one of them. After an attempt is made on his life, the rest of the story is about how he unravels the web of intrigue to discover who tried to kill him.

This is one of the more "WAY out there" books I have read in the last ten years. It is very well written and I enjoyed the trip immensely.

Galactic North
by Alastair Reynolds
ISBN 978-0-441-01600-6
A This takes place in the same universe as his prior books (Chasm City, Revelation Space, Redemption Ark). You do NOT need to be familiar with the earlier books to enjoy this one.

This is a collection of stories which fill in some of the gaps between the prior books. These are quite enjoyable, but I think Reynolds' novels are more satisfying.

The Prefect
by Alastair Reynolds
ISBN 978-0-441-01722-5
A This takes place in the same universe as his prior books (Chasm City, Revelation Space, Redemption Ark). You do NOT need to be familiar with the earlier books to enjoy this one.

We are now many years in the future, and the story concerns the inhabitants of the Glitter Band. The Panoply is responsible for maintaining the security for all inhabitants of the Glitter Band.

This book proceeds at a breakneck pace, and is very carefully plotted. I read it over two days, and it was very hard to put down. This is another great work by Alastair Reynolds, and I look forward to reading more!

Eifelheim
by Michael Flynn
ISBN 978-0-7653-1910-4
A This is a novel about the town of Eifelheim during 1348 and 1349. An alien craft appears, and the inhabitants are stranded on earth.

The novel has two main parts. One occurs in present day, and constitutes about 1/4 of the novel. It involves a theoretical physicist and a cliologist.

The other part occurs in the past, and constitutes about 3/4 of the novel. It describes how the aliens become part of the culture of Eifelheim. This part is very finely written, and has an impressive feel of veracity about it.

Old Man's War
by John Scalzi
ISBN 978-0-765-34827-2
A This is John Scalzi's first book of many about an alternate universe. Here humanity is one of a multitude of races competing for breathing space on habitable planets around the galaxy. There are numerous wars going on, and not nearly enough soldiers to fight. The title refers to the solution to this problem. People are given the option to sign up for the Colonial Defense Forces. The twist is that they can do it at any age, and they have ten years before they start their tour of duty.

I liked the writing style here. The author keeps taking things one step further, and shows good creativity. This was well written, and I really enjoyed reading it.

Halting State
by Charles Stross
ISBN 978-0-441-01498-9
A Charles Stross is one of my favorites. This novel starts with a silly premise, where a bank heist occurs inside a MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game). In spite of that, I found this a fascinating read. It is written in first person plural, with each chapter from a different character's point of view.

There are plenty of BIG ideas scattered throughout. One is that the police use a virtual reality based system called CopSpace to keep track of everything. Everything they see, hear and do is recorded through video feeds transmitted via their headsets.

Accelerando
by Charles Stross
ISBN 978-0-441-01415-6
A Charles Stross is one of my favorites. This novel is a series of stories about what happens AFTER the Singularity, which occurs when computers attain consciousness. I read most of them when they were published in Isaac Asimov's science fiction magazine.

It is hard to describe the sheer scope of what happens. You start with a couple, and they have a child named Amber. Amber leaves the solar system in a tiny spaceship, and her descendants eventually return. In between are several encounters with alien races. I can't quite describe the effect of this book, so I'll steal a quote from an Amazon review:
"Cory Doctorow said it best when he said something like 'makes hallucinogens obsolete'. This book is brain meltingly lovely."

Seeker
by Jack McDevitt
ISBN 0-441-01329-5
A Like most of McDevitt's novels, this is a story about alien artifacts on several worlds. This is a science fiction novel about an archeological mystery.

Even though this sounds a lot like other McDevitt novels, I found it quite entertaining.

The Wave
by Walter Mosley
ISBN 0-446-53363-7

A

This book is difficult to categorize. It starts off rather offbeat, as someone gets telephone calls from their supposedly long-dead father. Eventually they get involved in a grand conspiracy involving the government, and a new life form: "The Wave". This novel shows more of Mosley's creativity - I really liked it!
Idoru
by William Gibson
ISBN 0-425-15864-0
A This is one of Gibson's better works. It is a bit hard to describe, or summarize. The main character is Rei Toei - a cybernetic media star. This is essentially a love story, not something I normally read. I found this quite an interesting read.
The Engines of God
by Jack McDevitt
ISBN 0-441-00284-6
A This is a story about alien artifacts on several worlds. It is a science fiction novel about an archeological mystery (!)

There are four major sections to the novel, and each is nicely crafted. The character development is really well done.

A Mouthful of Tongues
by Paul di Filippo
ISBN
1-587-15507-9
A

WARNING -  EXTREME EXPLICIT SEX
Not for the faint of heart! 

This is probably the only science fiction / erotica / pr0n novel I have ever read. The main female character is taken advantage of by some male characters at the beginning of the story. Her response is to become something not quite human.

The novel traces her path from civilization to a life in the jungle. Most of the story takes place in this setting. It is extremely well written, and amazingly inventive.

Towards the end, I began to wonder where this was all going to end. Not to worry, the author ties things up VERY neatly.

Strange Trades
by Paul di Filippo
ISBN
1-930-84605-3
A This is a collection of short stories, most of which are based on the theme of work and business, workers and society.

It is hard to categorize most of these stories. Based on this collection, I look forward to reading much more of his work.

Crystal Express
by Bruce Sterling
ISBN
0-441-12423-2
A This is a collection of his early short stories, some of which are based on the Shaper / Mechanist story line in Schismatrix. I usually think of Bruce Sterling as a great novelist, but this collection shows that he also does a great job on short pieces.
The Golden Globe
by John Varley
ISBN 0-441-00643-4
A This is a story about the life of a stage actor named Kevin 'Sparky' Valentine, and his father John Valentine. This alternates between segments on the present day Kevin Valentine, and his life as a child star named Sparky. I found the story of Sparky's life up to age 30 to be more interesting than the present day stuff.

The character development is excellent. Some plot pieces seem a bit forced, but this was REALLY  fun to read.

This Alien Shore
by C. S. Friedman
ISBN 0-88677-799-2
A This is a story about a young woman who has some extra hardware in her head. As a result, she is constantly pursued by various factions. From this clichéd beginning, the author creates quite an interesting story, which involves interstellar travel, and several alien races.

The character development is excellent. I thought the portrayal of the alien races were very convincing.

Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days
by Alastair Reynolds
ISBN 0-575-07526-0
A This consists of two novellas, which are situated in the Revelation Space universe. You can read this as a stand-alone novel. It is not as deep as his other novels.

Diamond Dogs is about The Spire, which is a large artifact on an alien world. and the attempt by a group of people to unlock its mystery. The Spire is malevolent, and eventually tries to kill anyone who enters.

Turquoise Days is about the Pattern Jugglers, who inhabit the ocean on the planet Turquoise. Simply learning about them is quite interesting. Then a ship from another world arrives, and things get complicated.

The Scar
by China Miéville

ISBN 0-345-44438-8
A This is the author's second novel set on a world with multiple races. The good news is that it is NOT part of a trilogy - you can read this without having read the earlier novel.

This is a slightly less complex story than Perdido Street Station. The character development and writing are both quite well done.

The Sparrow
by Mary Doria Russell
ISBN 0-449-91255-8
A

This story is about the Jesuits and first contact with aliens on another planet. The story spans 40 years, and at the outset, you are told there was only one survivor. The result is that the story reads like a Greek tragedy - you know what the outcome will be.

The character development is really well done. It made it rather painful to know there is only one survivor. This was very well written, and I really enjoyed reading it.

Jennifer Government
by Max Barry
ISBN 1-4000-3092-7
A This is tongue-in-cheek novel of a future earth where marketing and corporate identity are all-important. If you have a cynical view of marketing today, you'll enjoy this a lot.

There is not a lot of hard science fiction in here. It is more of about the sociology of marketing. There are quite a few characters, and the story jumps between them rapidly. This was cleverly done, and a lot of fun to read.

Fairyland
by Paul McAuley
ISBN 0-380-97344-8
A This is another dark vision of a future earth. The human race has created a race of "dolls" for unskilled labor, and other unsavory uses. Over time, the "dolls" are modified into competitors of the human race. 

The ending did not completely satisfy me. I felt there were certain major issues left unresolved. 

Snow Crash
by Neal Stephenson
ISBN 0-553-38095-8
A This is an amazing novel, with lots of great ideas. I enjoyed it a lot. WARNING - EXTREMELY VIOLENT. Not for the faint of heart! 
Revelation Space
by Alastair Reynolds
ISBN 0-441-00942-5
A This is a true classic "space opera", which covers quite a long time span. There are so many ideas here, there is enough for 3 or 4 novels. My only quibble is that the ending wasn't entirely satisfying.
Redemption Ark
by Alastair Reynolds
ISBN 0-441-01173-X
A This is the sequel to Revelation Space. This sequel DOES justify the ending in Revelation Space. It continues the story line and the characters.

You may feel lost if you haven't read the prior novel. This novel also continues the story line of Chasm City, so you should also read that before starting on this one. Once again, there are lots of fascinating ideas and characters, which are developed extremely well.

Girl in Landscape
by Jonathan Lethem
ISBN 0-375-70391-8

A

An unusual story about the relationships between several different species, on an ancient planet. It is quite interesting, but with a more somber undertone than some of Lethem's other books.
The Engines of Dawn
by Paul Cook
ISBN 0-451-45736-6
A Interesting story on the relationships between several alien races and humanity. 
Distress
by Greg Egan
ISBN 0-06-105727-4
A Another book that centers around physics, specifically the "Theory of Everything". It tends toward "more talk, less action". There are some great arguments here about the need for some groups to actively seek, promote, and disseminate non-rational thought.
Slippage
by Harlan Ellison
ISBN 0-395-92482-0
A Harlan Ellison has always been a favorite author. This has mostly short stories, with two teleplays. A mix of horror, fantasy and science fiction.
Darwin's Radio
by Greg Bear
ISBN 0-345-42333-X
A Bear is one of my favorite authors. The story centers on the idea of genetic traits that have been passed down from prehistoric times via the inactive areas of our DNA.  

NOTE - the most recent books I have read are listed near the top of each section below.

The Dervish House
by Ian McDonald
ISBN 978-1-616-14204-9
A- As with most of Ian McDonald's other books, this is very detailed, and succeeds in transporting you to the locale (Istanbul, Turkey).

I found the story quite enjoyable, and intricately plotted. It makes more sense if you know a bit about the geography and history of Istanbul.

It was good, but not quite his best work. Some of the final resolution seems a bit TOOO easy.
Little Brother
by Cory Doctorow
ISBN 978-0-765-31985-2
A- This is a "young adult" novel. In this alternate future, everyone is subject to heightened surveillance. The police are much like the Gestapo, and the TSA has become a little too powerful.

The novel focuses on the plight of a teenager who is wrongly accused of being a terrorist (along with MANY others). He is computer-savvy, and figures out a way to use his Xbox to create a secure network to communicate over the internet without having his communication intercepted by the bad guys. In spite of the "young adult" orientation, this is a pretty interesting read.

Watermind
by M.M. Buckner
ISBN 978-0-7653-2024-7
A- This novel is about what could happen if we continue to dump toxins into lakes and rivers. this is written like a murder mystery thriller. There is lots of action, with constant changing viewpoints between multiple characters. It is interesting, and moves very quickly.

I found this really easy read. Maybe a bit too easy - many of the chapters are only two pages long. In the end, I really enjoyed it.

The Broken Land
by Ian McDonald
ISBN 0-553-37054-5
A- As with most of Ian McDonald's other books, this is very detailed, and succeeds in transporting you to a different world. Not exactly sure where to (this time) - might be a far future India.

This was written in 1992, and somewhat comparable to Desolation Road. It is a bit TOO dense for my taste, compared to his more modern work. in spite of that quibble, it was quite an interesting read.
Cowboy Angels
by Paul McAuley
ISBN 978-0-575-08223-6
A- This novel is about parallel universes, and some "special agents" who try to keep things under control - the Cowboy Angels of the title. It is essentially a murder mystery, and was pretty interesting, up to a point.

I felt a bit disappointed in the resolution of this book. In addition, it did not have the breadth of vision of McAuley's other works.

The Wreck of the River of Stars
by Michael Flynn
ISBN 978-0-7653-4033-7
A- This is novel is primarily about people and their motivations. It is not typical of the type of science fiction I like to read. In spite of that, I loved this book because it is SO well written.

The novel discusses the lives, thoughts and motivations of fifteen people on the starship "The River of Stars". It is told in first person plural, which is a challenge to read. With that many characters, it can be hard to keep the relationships straight.

My level of interest in this book was very high in the middle - but it definitely went down towards the end. I just got bored with the endless internal dialogs of the various characters.

Singularity's Ring
by Paul Melko
ISBN 978-0-7653-5702-1
A- This is a "young adult" novel. In this alternate future, groups of children are genetically altered to become a composite individual. A typical pod may consist of three to five individuals. Each individual has different skills, and the pod communicates via pheromones.

The novel focuses on the pod as they train to become pilot of a starship. One of the key ideas is that "accidents happen", and the story focuses on changes that occur within a pod to adapt to the death of any individual member.

This novel tries to cover a bit too much ground. At times, there are fast paced action sequences, mixed in with some slow stretches of time. All in all, it was an interesting read. I enjoyed the entire concept of the "pod composite".

The Holy Machine
by Chris Beckett
ISBN 978-0-8439-6204-8
A- This is about a dystopia where the internet has migrated to become a full scale alternate reality. In some countries, households employed robots, and in other countries they were outlawed. Some robots start becoming self-aware, and this book traces some of this process for one particular robot. I felt the book lost steam towards the end but it was still an interesting read.
The Android's Dream
by John Scalzi
ISBN 978-0-7653-4828-9
A- This is something completely different than Scalzi's series of novels that started with Old Man's War. This is set in a slightly less hostile universe, and has a nice humorous touch.

The focus of the novel is diplomacy between Earth and aliens, and trying to prevent the aliens from enslaving the human race. As usual, the real danger is not the aliens - it is the humans who sympathize with the aliens! Scalzi has quite a few interesting ideas here, but this is mostly just for fun.

Zoe's tale
by John Scalzi
ISBN 978-0-7653-5619-2
A- This is something quite similar to Scalzi's The Last Colony. This is essentially the same story, but told from the point of view of his daughter Zoe. I found it fairly well written, and a bit more interesting than The Last Colony.
The Jennifer Morgue
by Charles Stross
ISBN 978-0-441-01671-6
A- This is the second book about Bob Howard. This time around, he is working with an operative from another agency (from the United States). And they are not exactly human, either. Both groups are trying to prevent an alien race from taking over the earth.

This book is a bit more clever than The Atrocity Archives. It is definitely tongue in cheek, and another good example of Stross' wide range of writing skills.

The Atrocity Archives
by Charles Stross
ISBN 978-0-441-01668-6
A- This is the first of 2 books about Bob Howard. He works in a group related the the British Secret Service. This group is responsible for keeping track of supernatural horrors, and keeping them from taking over our world. Along with that awesome responsibility, he has to deal with omnipresent office politics, and some not quite human coworkers.

This sounds pretty silly, but it is quite well done. It is definitely tongue in cheek, and another good example of Stross' wide range of writing skills.

The Last Colony
by John Scalzi
ISBN 978-0-765-31697-4
A- This is something quite similar to Scalzi's Old Man's War and Ghost Brigades. This is designed to be the last in this series of books. It seemed a bit less interesting than the prior two books
The God Engines
by John Scalzi
ISBN 978-1-59606-2299-3
A- This is something completely different than Scalzi's other novels. This is a very short novel about a universe where Gods really are the engines for space ships.

There are some really interesting ideas here, but it develops rather slowly. I was actually disappointed when I got to the end - it felt a bit anti-climactic.

GlassHouse
by Charles Stross
ISBN 978-0-441-01508-5
A- Charles Stross is one of my favorites. This novel is rather hard to describe. It takes place in a far flung future, after there have been various cyber wars. Different segments of the population have become isolated in various ways - geographically, philosophically and morally.

People have the ability to forget their past completely, restart new lives, change their physical appearance and their sex. In order to escape their past misdeeds, the main character joins an experiment where a bunch of people live in a society with strongly enforced rules. Of course, the people running the experiment do NOT have their subjects' best interests at heart ...

I found this an interesting read, but time seemed to drag by slowly. I really did want to know how everything tied together, and I was satisfied with the wrap-up at the end.

The SFWA European Hall of Fame
edited by James Morrow and Kathryn Morrow
ISBN 0-7653-1537-8
A- This is a collection of stories written by European authors, which have been translated into English. I was not too impressed by this collection. I enjoyed about 1/3 of the stories. The rest simply did not seem to say much - as if something had been lost in translation.
Excession
by Ian M. Banks
ISBN 0-553-57537-6
A-

This novel is not as good as others by this author. There are two parts to this story, one of which concerns a diplomat in Special Circumstances. This part of the novel is well done.

The other part involves numerous conversations between multiple AIs who inhabit various spacecraft. I found this part of the story rather confusing, and eventually, too tedious.

Hominids
by Robert J. Sawyer
ISBN 978-0-765-34500-4
A- This is the first part of a trilogy ... yes, I usually avoid reading the beginning of ANY trilogy, because I am easily disappointed.

But this is an interesting story, with just a few major characters. I really enjoyed the detailed discussion / analysis of the society of the Hominids.

The Ghost Brigades
by John Scalzi
ISBN 978-0-7653-5406-8
A- This is John Scalzi's sequel to Old Man's War. Of course it is set in the same alternate universe as the prior novel. Most of this one revolves around a traitor working with an alien race against the humans. There are two main characters here: Janet Sagan is a veteran CDF soldier, and a member of the Ghost Brigades. She is responsible for helping Jared Dirac (a new CDF recruit) find and defeat the traitor.

The writing for about the first 50 pages of this book lacks the deft touch that Scalzi has - it seems as if someone else wrote it! Overall, this book was well written, but a bit less impressive than the first book.

Approaching Omega
by Eric Brown
ISBN
1-903889-98-7
A- This is a novella (117 small pages)  based on a familiar plot idea. A few thousand brave humans set out on a 1,500 year journey to find a new habitable planet. But something goes wrong ...

Yes, it is a bit too familiar. It is fairly well done, and an entertaining read.

Lady of Mazes
by Karl Schroeder
ISBN 0-765-35078-5

A-

This starts off with a bang, and instantly immerses you in a world of multiple parallel civilizations. You may find it quite challenging to wrap your head around everything that happens in the first few chapters.

This book is chock full of really BIG ideas. I did not find it as compelling as his other work. The story slowed down a lot in the middle, but it did improve towards the end.

Fledgling
by Octavia Butler
ISBN
1-58322-690-7
A- This is an interesting vampire story. This time around, the human hosts derive pleasure from the vampires, as well as improved health and increased life span.

I felt the story could have been better. It seems overly constrained since the entire story takes place within two weeks.

Neutrino Drag
by Paul di Filippo
ISBN
1-56858-300-1
A- This is a collection of humorous short stories. Some of them are sexy too. I liked quite a few of them, but some of them were too silly for me.
Ancient Shores
by Jack McDevitt
ISBN 0-06-105426-7
A- This is a story about several alien artifacts that are unearthed. The majority of the story consists of unearthing and then analyzing one artifact. I was disappointed that, after such a long buildup, so little actually happened in the novel
State of Fear
by Michael Crichton
ISBN 0-7394-5453-6
A- This is a fast paced story about global warming. Yes, that is an oxymoron! It is a very quick read, and educational as well. The footnotes and references in the book are authentic. Michael Crichton is one of my favorite authors.
As She Climbed Across the Table
by Jonathan Lethem
ISBN 0-375-70012-9

A-

A story about the lover of a physicist. The physicist falls in love with "Lack", which is a void created by a physics experiment. This book has a very whimsical style, with some well drawn characters. This is even more "far out" than some of Lethem's other books!
Iron Council
by China Miéville

ISBN 0-345-46402-8
A- This is the author's third novel set on a world with multiple races. The good news is that it is NOT a trilogy - you can read this without having read the earlier two novels.

This is a less complex story than Perdido Street Station. The character development and writing are both quite well done. I found the conclusion to be a bit illogical, but it was still a fascinating story.

Digital Fortress
by Dan Brown
ISBN 0-312-99542-3
A- This is the first novel he wrote, before he became famous for The Da Vinci Code, and Angels and Demons.

The story is about data encryption, cryptographers and the NSA. The Digital Fortress refers to an unbreakable encryption scheme. I found this an interesting (and quick) read. The characters are quite entertaining.

Shadow Hunter
by Will Baker
ISBN 0-671-79046-3
A- This could have been at the top of this list. The character development is excellent, and the book develops some fascinating ideas. The reason it got a slightly lower rating is that the conclusion is unsatisfying. But the first 300+ pages are top rate! 

NOTE - the most recent books I have read are listed near the top of each section below.

Zodiac
by Neal Stephenson
ISBN 978-0-8021-4315-0
B This is probably Neal Stephenson's first work, BUT it is not quite science fiction. It reads like the diary of a militant mad scientist who is working for GreenPeace.

I bought this on a whim, but I should not have. It barely held my interest.

Harm
by Brain W. Aldiss
ISBN 978-0-345-49671-3
B This is rather strange book. There are two interwoven stories, one of which is about a man being tortured for writing a satire that discusses assassination of the prime minister.

The other story is about the survivors of an expedition from Earth to the planet Stygia. I found this story to be far more interesting than the first one!

Neurogenesis
by Helen Collins
ISBN 0-978-52321-4-5
B This is pretty strange book. It is also pretty annoying, because it contains a large number of typographical errors. It appears to be self-published, and someone forgot to pay for an editor to review it carefully.

The story is about a group of people who embark on a trip to a destination many light years away. They find a planet where different bird-like species are the primary life forms. The majority of the story covers details of the interactions between various crew members. A lot of this is pretty strange stuff ...

Somehow the people on the ship survive the trip, and return to their home planet. In spite of traveling many light years, they find that the people they once knew are still alive. Apparently their ship has the ability to travel faster than light, but this is only an assumption - it is not explained.

The Fall of Hyperion
by Dan Simmons
ISBN 0-553-28820-2
B

This novel continues the trilogy which started with Hyperion. It attempts to tie together the stories of the Shrike pilgrims.

At the beginning, it was fairly interesting. But about halfway through, I found it fairly unsatisfying. Some of the ideas were interesting, but the whole conclusion seemed rather forced and implausible. Maybe I just didn't get it.

Oh well, this once again proves the adage that trilogies are rarely as good as the first novel in the trilogy.

Absolution Gap
by Alastair Reynolds
ISBN 0-441-01291-4
B This is the sequel to Revelation Ark, and its part of the trilogy that includes Revelation Space.

I don't feel that this third part was up to the standards of the earlier two novels. About half of the novel is interesting, but things tend to drag in the middle of the book. I also did not like the way some of the plot points were resolved - they seemed especially contrived.

The Transmigration of Souls
by William Barton
ISBN 0-446-60167-5
B This is quite an interesting book. There are lots of neat ideas here, and it could have been really GREAT ... but it seems to run out of steam about 3/4 of the way to the end. The fact that everyone is nude for the last half of the book seemed quite contrived.
Broken Angels
by Richard K. Morgan
ISBN 0-345-45771-4
B See my review at Amazon

WARNING -  EXTREME VIOLENCE.
Not for the faint of heart! 

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
by Cory Doctorow
ISBN 0-765-30436-8
B A light read about an interesting alternate future. I would have given it higher marks if the conclusion was a bit more believable. I found the main character's motivation quite illogical.
Prey
by Michael Crichton
ISBN 0-06-621412-2
B This is a fast paced story of nanotechnology going out of control. It is a very quick read (took me less than 1 day). Michael Crichton is one of my favorite authors.
Einstein's Bridge
by John Cramer
ISBN 0-380-78831-4
B The title refers to a bridge between two universes. The novel describes a world where the Superconducting Super Collider project was NOT cancelled. This has a lot of action, but is light on character development.
Bug Park
by James P. Hogan
ISBN 0-671-87874-3
B An interesting story about the use of remote controlled robots. It is a fun read, not too deep. This has a lot of action, but is light on character development.
Standing Wave
by Howard V. Hendrix
ISBN 0-441-00553-5
B This is a fascinating, wide ranging story about the conflicts between several segments of society. There are lots of neat ideas here, and it could have been really GREAT ... but it seems to run out of steam about halfway through.
NOT RECOMMENDED !!!! NOT RECOMMENDED
Inversions
by Ian M. Banks
ISBN 978-1-4165-8378-3
  This is one of the rare Ian M. Banks books that I found boring. After reading the reviews at Amazon, I can see why.

This one is so subtle that it seems uninteresting. It is supposedly a Culture novel, but told from the point of view of the less developed race. Various events happen, but are never explained beyond some "implied magic".

The Elementary Particles
by Michel Houllebecq
ISBN 0-375-72701-9
  See my review at Amazon

 

All Tomorrow's Parties
by William Gibson
ISBN 0-441-00755-4
  See my review at Amazon

 

King Rat
by China Mieville
ISBN
0-312-89072-9
  See my review at Amazon

 

Quicksilver
(The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1)

by Neal Stephenson
ISBN 0-380-97742-7
  See my review at Amazon
The Golden Age
by John C. Wright
ISBN 0-812-57984-4
  See my review at Amazon
Solaris
by Stanislaw Lem
ISBN
0-156-02760-7
See my review at Amazon
Teranesia
by Greg Egan
See my review at Amazon

Last modified: April 07, 2014

 

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