Archive for the 'science fiction' category

Geek Book Gift Guide

Although it is perilously close to way too late, but you do have time to rush down to an actual, honest-to-goodness bookstore (or perhaps get an ebook from an estore) and maybe pick up one of these titanic suggestions from Ethan Gilsdorf on All great stuff for the geek in your life.

Hint, hint.

Anyways, here's what Gilsdorg suggests with his descriptions at the original post:

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Best Science Books 2010: BoingBoing

Dec 21 2010 Published by under best science books 2010, science fiction

Another list for your reading, gift giving and collection development pleasure. The list is a compilation of selections from all the different BB editors. I'm also only selecting 2010 books from their lists.

  • How to Teach Physics to Your Dog by Chad Orzel
  • Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age by Clay Shirky
  • The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home by Dan Ariely
  • Invent Your Own Computer Games with Python by Al Sweigart
  • Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks by Ben Goldacre
  • Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson
  • What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly
  • The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires by Tim Wu
  • Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach
  • Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food by Jeff Potter
  • Eating Animals by Jonathan Foer
  • Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature by Brian Switek
  • Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA by Maryn McKenna
  • Brain Cuttings by Carl Zimmer
  • The Matchbox That Ate a Forty-Ton Truck: What Everyday Things Tell Us About the Universe by Marcus Chown
  • Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynes
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (here only)

I'm always looking for recommendations and notifications of book lists as they appear in various media outlets. If you see one that I haven't covered, please let me know at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or in the comments.

I am picking up a lot of lists from Largehearted Boy.

Earlier entries in this year's list of lists can be found here and the 2009 summary post here.

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Sunday Halloween Fun: 10 chillers to tingle your spine

Oct 31 2010 Published by under friday fun, science fiction

Canadian horror/dark fantasy writer Kelley Armstrong has a nice list of 10 favourite horror novels in a recent issue of the Globe and Mail.

Here it is:

Armstrong talks about the entries in the original article.

I've read half of them, with a couple more on my to-be-read list. How about you?

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Friday Fun: Growing up a horror fan

Oct 29 2010 Published by under friday fun, personal, science fiction

A second Halloween-related post, with the happy day coming up this weekend. My "give a scary book" post came on Monday.

Anyways, a recent post on really resonated with me: Growing up as a horror fan. Mostly because I too grew up a huge horror fan, mostly watching cheesy old Hammer films on tv, the Dracula and Frankenstein ones having particularly strong memories for me. To this day, I'm a huge fan of some of their main actors such as Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Island of Terror is non-Hammer film that I have vivid memories of watching when I was a kid -- as is Quatermass and the Pit and a million more.

As far as horror fiction is concerned, HP Lovecraft was probably my first love. But I also got into a lot of horror comics and other stuff too. TV shows like Dark Shadows and Night Gallery and Night Stalker (movies and tv show, my all-time fave!) are vivid memories.

So, like I said, this post has a huge resonance.

Our different and unique experiences have molded us into the horror fanatics that we are today.

I was born on December 25th, 1970 ( yeah, I know ), so my earliest memories of horror movies probably started somewhere in the mid- 1970′s through the early 1980′s. Those are the years in my life that I'm going to explore to try to answer my own question.


There's more. I mentioned Frankenstein and I'll mention him again. During those crucial horror fan building years, it was Frankenstein who was my favorite monster. I mean, not any more really. You grow up and you find new horror monsters to idolize, but back then, man o man, he was the cat's meow. Of course, a take off on Frankenstein was Herman Munster. The Addams Family and The Munsters, both played significant roles in me becoming Joyhorror. The specific episode that I remember liking a ton was when Herman was singing that song, "My foot bone connected to my leg bone, my leg bone connected to my hip bone". You remember, the song might not have went exactly like that but you know what I'm talking about. I used to go around the house singing that song as a kid.

And more. It's a great post, well worth reading the whole thing.

What are your horror memories?

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Friday Fun: A syllabus and book list for novice students of science fiction literature

Sep 24 2010 Published by under friday fun, science fiction

I'm a life-long fan of science fiction, mostly as a reader but occasionally as a book reviewer. Way back, when dinosaurs walked the earth, I even took a couple of science fiction literature classes.

And, as readers of this blog well know, I love nothing better than a good list of books.

So combining all those passions is a big win for me.

Take a look at this, from io9, A syllabus and book list for novice students of science fiction literature.

I'll list the books here, but please head over to the io9 post for the rationales for chosing each book.


There are a few things to keep in mind about this syllabus for SF 101: Introduction to Literature.

It is not comprehensive. It is intended to introduce the novice student of SF literature to the major themes in the genre, as well as books and authors who are representative of different eras in SF lit (including the present day). So you'll find a mix of old and new here, as well as fan favorites tucked in among more literary authors.

Back in the mists of time, I used to teach literature and American Studies at UC Berkeley, so I have some experience putting together course materials for university classes very much like one. (In fact, there are a few books on here that I used to teach.) What educators aim to do in overview courses is expose students to the broadest possible set of examples of a genre, not just the "canon." It is in this spirit that I chose the books on this list.

The original list is divided up into themes/sections, but I'm just doing a raw listing here. Another reason to head over to io9!

  • Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  • The Time Machine, H. G. Wells
  • A Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • "At the Mountains of Madness," H.P. Lovecraft
  • Herland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
  • 1984, George Orwell
  • The Man In the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
  • The Female Man, Joanna Russ
  • I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
  • Neuromancer, by William Gibson
  • Saturn's Children, by Charles Stross
  • "Who Goes There," John W. Campbell
  • Lilith's Brood, by Octavia Butler
  • The Secret City, by Carol Emschwiller
  • Triplanetary, E.E. "Doc" Smith
  • Downbelow Station, C.J. Cherryh
  • The Sparrow, Maria Doria Russell
  • Consider Phlebas, Iain M. Banks
  • Orlando, Virgina Woolf
  • Stranger In A Strange Land, Robert Heinlein
  • Dhalgren, Samuel Delaney
  • The Dispossessed, Ursula LeGuin
  • Anathem, Neal Stephenson

I've read 16/24. How about you?

Also, really do check out the comments on the post -- any list like this is sure to generate some debate and this one is no exception.

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Reading Diary: Sawyer, Turtledove, Bacigalupi and more

Aug 24 2010 Published by under book review, reading diary, science fiction

I'm just finishing four weeks of vacation, a nice break from the regular routine. No, I don't get the whole summer off because I work at a university. I do get four weeks of vacation every year and when you work at a university it just makes sense to take it all in the summer.

Anyways, we didn't really go anywhere this year, for a variety of reasons. And hence, no summer blogging break, only perhaps a tendency to slightly lighter, summery blogging topics. And since we didn't spend much time at a secluded cottage with nothing to do but read, well, I didn't quite read as much as in previous years.

But I did read quite a bit just before and during my vacation. Here's the list, with a few comments after each one.

Burns, Charles. Black Hole. New York: Pantheon, 2008. 368pp.

A very cool and very amazing science fiction graphic novel. I've often though that we haven't seen that much really good original science fiction done in graphic novel form. Somehow horror and fantasy seem to work better, especially if you consider most superhero stuff science fantasy rather than true sf. But Charles Burns' Black Hole is a very good example of sf.

Basically, back in the 1970 a strange sexually transmitted plague descends on some Seattle suburbs causing strange mutations to most of the teenagers in that town. Seen through the reactions and adaptations of four of the teens, it's strange and fantasmagorical in spades, a very alienated and transformative view of the adolescent experience. Recommended.

Klages, Ellen. White Sands, Red Menace New York: Viking Juvenile, 2008. 352pp.

This is the sequel to Klages earlier novel The Green Glass Sea. That novel was set in Los Alamos towards the end of World War II and followed the daughter of one of the scientists working on the Manhattan Project. It was a terrific exploration of the time period, touching on the issues surrounding the creation of the atomic bomb. But, given that the novel was aimed at young adults, it took a more plot-oriented approach, keeping the story the main focus rather than the issue. It was a mature and moving work, to say the least.

White Sands, Red Menace picks up after the war is over and explores life in the southwestern USA during the late 1940s, a kind of lost era in North American history. It explores the lives of two early teen girls and their experiences growing up and navigating the shifting realities of the post-war era. The "adult issue" that this YA novel touches on is the anti-nuclear weapons movement, mostly in a non-obtrusive way. Just like it's predecessor, it concentrates on the story rather than the "issue."

Both of these books are very fine. The are recommended for boys and girls in the 12-15 age range as well as any one looking for a good story. These can be completely read as adult novels.

Turtledove, Harry. The Man with the Iron Heart. New York: Del Rey, 2009. 560pp.

This one's a fairly typical Harry Turtledove alternate history novel. Take an interesting premise, add a large cast of viewpoint characters, mix in a meandering and somewhat formulaic plot structure and spice with a bit of political commentary. What you get is a pretty good summer read.

Which is what I've been doing with Turtledove for years, reading his latest alternate history potboiler while on vacation.

The setting for this one is a world where the assassination attempt on Nazi SS governor of Czechoslovakia Reinhard Heydrich failed. Ultimately, Heydrich was able to convince the Nazi high command to prepare for mounting a strong resistance movement after he realized the war was lost. With a couple of years to prepare, the Nazi were able to create and sustain very significant insurgencies in all the allied occupation zones, causing a lot of damage and casualties.

Yes, Turtledove does want us to see Germany in 1946 as Iraq and Afganistan in 2008. And he mostly pulls it off. The resistance is effectively and realistically portrayed as is te various Allied reactions.

Maberry, Jonathan. The Dragon Factory. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2010. 496pp.

Not zombies this time -- not at all like the first book in the Joe Ledger series, Patient Zero. This book is not quite as violent or over the top, not quite as breakneck or fast-paced, not quite as many violent blood soaked set pieces. Not quite, but still enough to satisfy my desire for a great horror/sf thriller.

This time around, Ledger and his merry band of government operatives battle, believe it or not, Nazis in a race to end the world and implement a kind of final solution from the grave.

Really cool book, by the way. In the end, slowing it down a bit made the book even better than the first.

Bacigalupi, Paolo. Ship Breaker New York: Little Brown, 2010. 336pp.

A seriously terrific young adult novel by up-and-coming new writer Paolo Bacigalupi. The setting is vivid: in a post-climate meltdown future, water levels are much higher on the gulf coast of the USA, leaving much of it submerged, including New Orleans. Further up the coast, hardscrabble crews of men, women and children work at breaking down old oil tankers for salvage. One of the kids is the teen protagonist, Nailer. One day after a huge storm, he and a friend wander off quite a distance and discover a newly wrecked vessel. On board is a teenaged girl, claiming to be the daughter of a wealthy family who would pay for her return.

A great setup for a great novel. There's lots of action and daring do with engaging characters. Nailer in particular is very likeable in a tough and no-nonsense way, a kid who's grown up in the school of hard knocks. Don't worry that the book will feel too much like a kids book for an adult to enjoy -- it is a truly a book that will appeal to anyone from early- to mid-teens onwards to adults.

Sawyer, Robert J. WWW: Wake. Toronto: Penguin, 2009. 332pp.

It's not often you read a book while sitting on a plane with the author. As it happens, both Rob and I were invited to the recent Science Foo camp organized by Google, Nature and O'Reilly. We both flew to San Francisco on the Friday and flew back the following Monday. So, I though it would be cool to read the book while on the same plane as the author. I started it on the trip out and finished it on the flight back. Now, think of the possibilities. I'm reading, a part of the book sucks, and I stand in the plane, point at Rob sitting a few rows behind me and shout, "That man over there is the famous science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer and his latest paperback book SUCKS." Kind of pulling a Slater for the literary set.

As it happened, no such dramatic display was necessary. Wake is excellent.

It follows the story of teenage girl Caitlin Decter, an American living in Waterloo, Ontario with her family. She's blind, and it seems that a researcher in Japan may just have developed a cure for her rather rare condition and restore her sight. The operation is a success. after taking a while to calibrate the Internet-enabled implant that helps her brain process visual signals properly. Well, of course, this means that everything Caitlin sees is essentially streamed out into the Internet...what happens if the Internet is somehow aware and starts noticing...

Anyways, I won't give away any more. I'll only say that this first entry in the WWW trilogy is well worth reading and I anxiously await diving into the next two.

It's worth noting that both of the YA books I review in this post are also perfectly enjoyable by adults with no feeling that they are "dumbed down" for the teen audience. Wake is the corollary in a way, a book aimed at the adult market that would be enjoyed by any of the same teen audience that would enjoy Ship Breaker or White Sands, Red Menace. Buy it for yourself, share it with the kids in your life. I know I did.

Popoff, Martin. Contents Under Pressure: 30 Years of Rush at Home and Away. Toronto: ECW, 2004. 236pp.

Not much to say about this one -- it's a very fine documentary history of the
Canadian progressive hard rock band Rush right from the beginning of their career in the suburbs of Toronto up until their 30th anniversary tour in 2004. It takes an album-by-album approach. There's lots of interviews with the band and people around them to bring an intimate feel to the book.

If you like Rush, you'll like this book. If you don't care too much for them but are interested in learning more, it's a good place to start as it gives a good feeling for their appeal. One thing I would have appreciated is a discography with track titles at the end. It was a bit confusing at times not to have any track listings to refer to.

I also watched the Rush documentary during my vacation -- Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage -- which was also excellent.

Interestingly, I didn't finish any science or technology non-fiction books during my holiday, which is unusual. I usually read one or two information or science books while I off. I did have one going before I started but it's just not grabbing me that much. It's also interesting that I didn't read much, graphic novel-wise. I was sort of expecting to read quite a few but aside from the Burns and another I didn't enjoy much at all (so I'm not bothering to mention), I didn't really feel like it. I have about 8 collections of Walking Dead lined up, so I'm seeing a fair bit of that in the next little while, though.

As far as DVD viewing goes for the vacation period, we gorged on Six Feet Under watching seasons 4 and 5. It's an absolutely classic series, but a little on the depressing side taken in very large doses. We essentially watched all five seasons over the course of about 6 weeks. On a frothier note, we also watched the first season of Six Feet Under producer Alan Ball's new series, True Blood. We watched a bit of X-Files season one, but the very early episodes are a bit hard to get into.

(For those of you who care, this more or less marks my integration of my mostly defunct Reading Diary of John Dupuis into this blog. I'm not sure how much posting I'll be doing along those lines, but it's got to be more that I was doing on the other blog. Reading-wise, you can also keep up with what I'm doing on GoodReads.)

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Friday Fun: 7 Scientific Reasons a Zombie Outbreak Would Fail (Quickly)

Aug 20 2010 Published by under friday fun, science fiction

Ah, zombies. I found myself feeling a certain, ah, nostalgia for the good old days when I used to post non-stop about shambling dead, decaying wrecks. The good old days, way back at the beginning of July and even earlier.

I seem to be obsessed.

So, from Cracked: 7 Scientific Reasons a Zombie Outbreak Would Fail (Quickly):

  • They Have Too Many Natural Predators
  • They Can't Take the Heat
  • They Can't Handle the Cold
  • Biting is a Terrible Way to Spread a Disease
  • They Can't Heal from Day to Day Damage
  • The Landscape is Full of Zombie-Proof Barriers
  • Weapons and the People Who Use Them. As we touched on briefly above, if Homo sapiens are good at one thing, it's killing other things. We're so good at it that we've made entire other species cease to exist without even trying. Add to the mix the sheer number of armed rednecks and hunters out there, and the zombies don't even stand a chance. There were over 14 million people hunting with a license in the U.S. in 2004. At a minimum, that's like an armed force the size of the great Los Angeles area.

This article actually makes me feel a lot better about the odds of humanity beating back the hoards and preventing a zombie apocalypse. Phew.

Anyways, here's a list of some of my earlier excursions into zombiemania. I really must be obsessed.

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Review of: Makers by Cory Doctorow

I actually read the freely downloadable version of Cory Doctorow's novel Makers on my Kobo ereader, even though I did buy the hardcover when it came out last year. Mostly, I wanted to check out the experience of reading a long text on my reader. Overall, the Kobo reading experience was terrific, not much different from reading a paper book. I tried it on both long inter-city bus rides and my regular commute as well as just sitting around the house. The Kobo is pretty bare bones, as these readers go, but it was good enough to consume fairly simple text. The Makers text was in epub format and that worked out pretty well. I've tried other texts in PDF format on the Kobo and the experience there is actually quite poor as it doesn't reflow the PDFs, requiring a lot of "pan & scan." I still haven't figured out what price I'm willing to pay in real money for a digital text I can't lend, resell, donate or share within my family. I'm still thinking it's not very much. As such, I haven't explored the Kobo store yet.

As for the Makers itself, I'll admit to rather enjoying it. Doctorow tells a cracking good story, fast-paced and exciting with reasonably good characters. If you're interested in a kind of near-future, post-scarcity view of what the capitalist and consumerist economy might evolve into in a 10-20 year time-frame, this is the book for you. Doctorow imagines a world of near-ubiquitous 3D printers and crumbling social structures with big corporations struggling to maintain their economic and political hegemonies. It's also a kind of geeky bromance/buddy picture/Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid vibe to it that's feels both incredibly compelling and a bit odd. It's like Judd Apatow grew up and made a movie out of Das Kapital.

On the other hand, I tend to see the "hand of the author" in the story a bit too much. Doctorow has a definite world view, a world view that revolves around openness and sharing and a radical transformation of what work and production are becoming. His world view has black hats and white hats, good guys and bad guys. It's possible for characters to grow, to show shades of grey, to be something other than perfect exemplars for one or the other side in his world view set piece, but it's rare. Because, really, his novels are just parables set in his world view. And really, that's ok. I share a fair number of principles with Doctorow but sometimes I just wish his novels weren't "just so." The plot follows too strongly from the world view.

In his Little Brother, a book explicitly aimed at young adults, the coincidence-driven, gosh-wow, good guys vs. bad guys shtick seems to go down easier. It's also his best book, where audience expectations seem to meet the structure of the work. And frankly, Makers mostly reads like a YA novel too, except for a few obviously R-rated scenes.

And there are a lot of similarities between the two books: eeeevillll apparatchiks, stout-hearted friends who stick by their pals no matter what, even the hero gets pretty well the same fire-breathing, ass-kicking, touch-chick girlfriend in pretty well the same way. Both heroes in Makers, actually, when I think about it.

Anyways, read the damn book. You won't be disappointed -- but you will be challenged.

Doctorow, Cory. Makers. New York: Tor, 2009. 416pp.

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Monday Zombie Fun: My favourite zombie novels

Jul 05 2010 Published by under friday fun, science fiction

Ok, ok, this is the last zombie post, I promise.

Here are some exmples of my favourite OTT, badass, crazy zombie fiction!

  • The Book of the Dead is a classic collection of short stories that's well worth reading.
  • Monster Island: A Zombie Novel is the first in a trilogy. It's one of those trilogies with significantly diminishing returns as it goes on, but the first book is great.
  • The Rising is well done and creepy.
  • Patient Zero: A Joe Ledger Novel by Jonathan Maberry is top notch, the best horror/sf/technothriller I've read in a long time.
  • Pet Sematary is one of Stephen King's best novels, excruciatingly painful and raw.
  • Berserk by Brit Tim Lebbon is a military technothriller vampire zombie apocalypse that reads more like a supernatural novel in a lot of ways

And since I'm a librarian, I thought I'd include a couple of lists of zombie novels:

My next zombie reading adventure will be shambling through the Robert Kirkman graphic novel series, The Walking Dead, which is now up to 12 collections and 73 issues. We have 8 or 9 of the collections scattered around the house already -- I just have to get my two sons to find them! The first collection is here.

I also want to get a hold of The Mammoth Book of Zombie Comics and read that too.

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Friday Fun: Why Zombies?

Jul 02 2010 Published by under friday fun, science fiction

Noted zombie novelist Jonathan Maberry as a two part post on his blog, Why Zombies? and Why Zombies? - Part 2.

The second post, btw, has one of the classic blog sentences of all time: "When I reached out to the zombie community to ask 'WHY ZOMBIES?' I got so many terrific responses that I broke the blog into two parts." Zombie community. Only on the internet!

Anyways, I digress. Maberry's researches with the zombie community include short bits from a ton of zombie novel authors.

Here's his initial question:

We kick off our rolling series of ZOMBIE PANEL DISCUSSIONS by addressing the fundamental question: Why zombies?

Here are a couple of responses, taken from the two posts:

DAVID WELLINGTON: I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, where George Romero made his zombie films. They would be shown uncut in prime time on the local television stations back then so they were among the first horror movies I ever really saw. Before I read Dracula for the first time, before I read Stephen King, I knew all about zombies. It was only after the remake of Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later that I even thought I could write something about zombies myself.

ROBERT KIRKMAN: Why not zombies? They're a mighty easy way to get things good and fucked up in a fictional world, and that leaves for some pretty interesting character development. So...yeah. Zombies.

TIM LONG: Because vampires just aren't dead enough. When you are dealing with the classic monsters, nothing is newer than or as popular as zombies are right now. Sure they have a long history in myth but only the last 40 years have seen them rise and lurch toward us like a tidal wave. They are everywhere, movies, books, comics, even the ad you see before a movie which tells you to turn off your cell phone. Zombies are scary because they are us. They are our neighbors, our friends and co-workers. They give us the opportunity to show how the worst in people can come out, in both survivors and the dead ... and how to take an ax to their heads.

In any case, there's tons of cool stuff in the two posts. Enjoy!

(BTW, I think I have one more zombie post in me -- my own favourite zombie novels!)

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