Books

Science Fiction Fantasy General Fiction Nonfiction Religion and Atheism
As far as I’m concerned, books are one of the great pleasures in life. Here’s a list of some of what I enjoy reading. For a list of what I’ve been reading lately, see my reading list. Also see my links page for links to online books.

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Science Fiction

I’ve read a lot of science fiction over the years, since I was a teenager. I still feel as though there are lots of authors I haven’t even sampled, but here are some of the books I’ve enjoyed:

Neal Stephenson

My favourite author. In chronological order, he wrote The Big U, Zodiac, Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon (Cryptonomicon web site), the Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World), Anathem, and REAMDE. He also wrote The Cobweb and Interface with his uncle under the name Stephen Bury.

Some stories and articles around:
Mother Earth Mother Board,” an article he wrote for Wired about undersea cable laying.

Here’s an older article (1994) about China: “In the Kingdom of Mao Bell.” Now I know when he did his research for Diamond Age.

“In the Beginning was the Command Line”. An excellent essay about operating systems and more. Available in hard copy or distributed for free as a text file at Cryptonomicon.com. A nice html version.

Jipi and the Paranoid Chip” (Or “Jipi’s Day at the Office”) This was posted on Forbes.com. I can no longer find it there and since I don’t think it’s in print or available anywhere else, I’m going to keep my copy of the story publicly available here as long as I don’t get any complaints from the holders of the rights.
The Great Simoleon Caper
The Spew
Smiley’s people
Dreams & Nightmares of the Digital Age
Mark Hughes’s Hiro worship page

Robert Heinlein

There was a time when I was a big fan, and I’ll still read anything by him once. Highlights: Stranger in a Strange Land, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Starship Troopers.

 

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

Time Enough For Love

A couple of fan pages:
Nitrosyncretic press
wegrokit.com has number of articles.
The Notebooks of Lazarus Long”: I don’t know if these are the complete notebooks as they appear in Time Enough For Love, but it looks fairly complete.

Spider Robinson

Favourites: the Callahan’s books and Mindkiller. He writes a good story, but I guess what keeps me coming back is the attention that he pays to explaining the story and perspective of each character.

Lois McMaster Bujold

She writes both science fiction and fantasy. All of her books are at least ok, but the ones I love are the books of the Vorkosigan saga. The books span quite a long time, from before the main character’s birth until his adulthood. Although I’m always pushing these books on people, I’m never sure where to tell them to start. Should they be read in the order in which they were written, or in the order of the storyline? I still don’t know. I myself read The Vor Game first, and that almost put me off the series because it’s not really one of the stronger books. Memory is my absolute favourite, but it wouldn’t have the impact that it does if you didn’t know the full history of Miles’s life.

Baen Books has released all of Vorkosigan Saga as free ebooks! You can also download the iso image of the cd to read offline. See the Baen Free Library as well. The books and stories have been repackaged under different titles, but I think they’re all there except my favourite, Memory.

Orson Scott Card

Ender’s Game is on my must-read list. I also enjoyed the sequels and prequels. He also writes some more fantasy-type books that I’ve never read.

Anne McCaffrey

The dragonriders of Pern books are something of a guilty pleasure of mine. I can still re-read Dragonsong and Dragonsinger and enjoy them because it’s a compelling story. I also enjoyed Crystal Singer.

Roger Zelazny

The more I read him, the better I like him. Favourites: A Night in the Lonesome October, Lord of Light, the Amber series, Isle of the Dead.

Steve Aylett

I have Toxicology, a collection of short stories by him. It doesn’t entirely work for me, but I do really like a few of the stories in it. My favourite story is “Jawbreaker”, from which the following:
“Yanda,” . . . “Listen. I’m not really in any hurry to be illuminated. Heaven doesn’t tolerate cunning or wit. This grub in the head’s an inconvenience, I realise that, and I should probably say I’m sorry, though that’s just a guess on my part. But I want you to know. Despite your sentences being a barricade to the truth. Despite your approval existing only for trifles. Despite your gargantuan efforts to bury yourself, deny your mind and cremate your courage. Despite your attempt to remove all distinguishing marks. I see you. You’re an angel, babe. Mad, soft around the edges, scared, and trying your damnedest with what you have. I love you down to the deepest atom. What do you say to that?”

John Varley

I just recently read my first book by him: Steel Beach, and it was excellent. I then went on to read Titan, Wizard and Demon which are also highly recommended, and also Mammoth and The Golden Globe, which were okay, but not in the same league as the others.

Ray Bradbury

I liked The Martian Chronicles, but I think my favourite book of his might be Something Wicked This Way Comes. I liked Dandelion Wine a lot when I first read it, but when I look back on it now, I wonder. Too sentimental?

William Gibson

I liked Neuromancer a lot and the books that came after, and I really like his short story collection Burning Chrome. I also liked Pattern Recognition and Zero History very much.

Arthur C. Clarke

I read a lot of his books a long time ago, probably when I was about 12. Of the bunch, Childhood’s End and Rendezvous with Rama stand out the most.

Larry Niven

Ringworld is really good. The sequels less so. I’ve read some short story collections (The Long Arm of Gil Hamilton). I also read The Mote in God’s Eye by Niven and Jerry Pournelle and thought it was very good. I recently read Inferno—not bad, and then the beginning of Lucifer’s Hammer. Once the comet had hit I wasn’t interested enough to keep reading about how the various characters fared in the breakdown of civilization.

My must-read science fiction list:

Other science fiction I’ve enjoyed

Dan Simmons: Hyperion and Ilium
Carl Sagan: Contact
Vernor Vinge: A Deepness in the Sky
Philip K. Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Isaac Asimov: Robots of Dawn and following

Fantasy

I’m not fond of high fantasy and sword and sorcery, but I quite like some other types of fantasy, like the Harry Potter series, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, and I love the Discworld books. I’ve read a selection of sword and sorcery books, including various books by David Eddings, Robert Jordan, Tad Williams, Lloyd Alexander, Terry Brooks and who knows what-all else, and I really haven’t loved any of them. Ditto for Lord of the Rings.

Sandman—Death: The High Cost of Living

Neil Gaiman

I’ll read everything he writes, and although I’m not usually a big fan of short stories, I like his quite a lot.

Highlights: the Sandman series, his short story collections, especially Smoke and Mirrors, and his novels Neverwhere and American Gods.

Piece of script from The Kindly Ones, one of the Sandman series.
Piece of annotation from Season of Mists.
A companion for American Gods: here is someone who’s filled in some background information about the gods mentioned in the book (possible spoiler content), with some pictures of the House on the Rock.

Terry Pratchett

A little silly sometimes, but funny and wise. He’s got a very wide following: every once in a while I’ll be talking to someone and something will come up about oograh, or dwarf bread, or sapient pearwood, or the inner life of camels, and I’ll know that I’ve met another fan. His best-known books are the Discworld series, of which my favourites are the ones about the witches.

Pratchett fans are many and they’re on the web:
Check out some quotes

William Goldman—The Princess Bride

Very enjoyable. Make sure you read the introduction. Good movie too.

Quotes
Part of the script

General Fiction

Dorothy Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey books

I love these books. The more I read them the better I like them. My favourites are Murder Must Advertise, Strong Poison, and Gaudy Night.

Dick Francis

I read a lot of these at one time and I remember some of the best ones being The Danger, Banker, Slay Ride, and Reflex.

Robertson Davies

I’ve read the Deptford trilogy: Fifth Business, World of Wonders and The Manticore, and also the Cornish trilogy: The Rebel Angels, What’s Bred in the Bone, and The Lyre of Orpheus. All good, although I enjoyed the first series more.

Mikhail Bulgakov—The Master and Margarita

“Don’t be silly. Manuscripts don’t burn.” Pretty much all I got out of a Russian literature class (I took a variety of courses in first year). Check out this great web site for pictures (Behemoth) as well as history and background information.

P.G. Wodehouse

He created the famous fictional butler Jeeves with his master Bertie Wooster. Very fun books.

Tim Tomlinson

All I know is that he wrote a killer story for Libido magazine. I just really like the rhythm of his writing in this story but I guess what also appeals to me is the theme I see in it of the conflict between a person’s animal nature and rational nature, between what he wants to be like and what he is like: “It’s myself I’m in disagreement with, but I’m still myself.”

Nonfiction

David Foster Wallace

Writes both fiction (I’ve just read Infinite Jest) and nonfiction. I’ve got A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again and Consider the Lobster, both collections of articles. My favourite story is a very funny article about going on a cruise in the first collection.

Infinite Jest is a book that I may have to buy again. And I may have to read it again, although that’s a daunting prospect. It was an impressive book: crazy, funny, painful, strange. It’s been strangely memorable too, and when I think that I don’t know anyone else who’s read it, I feel slightly lonely.

Guns, Germs, and Steel—Jared Diamond

This book explores the general question of why some cultures have dominated over others, and concludes that it has a lot to do with the plants and animals that each culture had to work with, as that determined whether they could develop agriculture, which would then result in higher population densities and the development of government, technology, and epidemic disease. In the epilogue the central question of the book is carried into more modern times to ask why some countries dominate over others:
“Obviously, part of the answer depends on differences in human institutions. The clearest evidence for this view comes from pairs of countries that divide essentially the same environment but have very different institutions and, associated with those institutions, different per-capita GNPs. Four flagrant examples are the comparison of South Korea with North Korea, the former West Germany with the former East Germany, the Dominican Republic with Haiti, and Israel with its Arab neighbors. Among the many ‘good institutions’ often invoked to explain the greater wealth of the first-named country of each of these pairs are effective rule of law, enforcement of contracts, protection of private property rights, lack of corruption, low frequency of assassinations, openness to trade and to flow of capital, incentives for investment, and so on.”
He goes on to say though, that good institutions are not something that just happen to arise in one place and not the other, and he brings up what he calls “the effect of history”, by which he means that these institutions arise out of a long chain of events that originate in the past geographical causes (back to the domesticable animals, climate, etc.). To illustrate, he quotes some economics papers that explore the correlation between modern GNP and a country’s history:
“It turns out that countries in regions with long histories of state societies or agriculture have higher per-capita GNP than countries with short histories, even after other variables have been controlled. The effect explains a large fraction of the variance in GNP. Even just among countries with still-low or recently low GNPs, countries in regions with long histories of state societies or agriculture, like South Korea, Japan, and China, have higher growth rates than countries with short histories, such as New Guinea and the Philippines, even though some of the countries with short histories are much richer in natural resources.”

John Preston—My Life as a Pornographer

Essays about being a writer of porn (and what it’s like to be confused with your fictional heroes), but also about gay culture in general: S/M as a manhood ritual and how this used to be enacted at the Mineshaft club, what gay men need out of safe sex education and what they’re not getting, what pride events are about for him, porn photo models, and the erotic potential of men’s underwear. He often talks about trends he’s observing and describes the roots behind them. These essays were mostly written in the late eighties and early nineties. He was HIV positive during the time that he wrote at least some of these articles, and has since died.

Gerald Durrell

He wrote to make money for his real passion which was to preserve endangered species, by raising awareness and trying to presenve habitat and so forth, but also by captive breeding programs which is what he did at his zoo. My favourite book is his first book: My Family and Other Animals, a very funny account of his childhood in Greece. It’s online here.

Hunter S. Thompson

Very funny, crazy, honest and surprisingly compassionate. I like his collections of articles best, starting with The Great Shark Hunt, but I will read anything he wrote.

Some of my favourite essays are “Song of the Sausage Creature” (“There are some things nobody needs in this world, and a bright-red, hunch-back, warp-speed 900cc cafe racer is one of them—but I want one anyway, and on some days I actually believe I need one. That is why they are dangerous.”) and “Midnight on the Coast Highway” (The Edge).

 

“Have you ever put a brick through a big plate-glass window, Ralph? It makes a wonderful goddamn noise, and the people inside run around like rats in a firestorm. It’s fun, Ralph, and a bargain at any price.”

“The Pro-Flogging View”

On the web: “Fear and Loathing in Elko”

Books about Sport

The Rider—Tim Krabbé (Dutch: De Renner) A great book about bicycle racing.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running—Haruki Murakami

Religion and Atheism

The God Delusion—Richard Dawkins

The End of Faith—Sam Harris

Letter to a Christian Nation—Sam Harris

A nice, short little read. From a footnote:
“While many people of faith seem convinced that prayer can heal a wide variety of illnesses (despite what the best scientific research indicates), it is curious that prayer is only ever believed to work for illnesses and injuries that can be self-limiting. No one, for instance, ever seriously expects that prayer will cause an amputee to regrow a missing limb. Why not? Salamanders manage this routinely, presumably without prayer. If God answers prayers—ever—why wouldn’t he occasionally heal a deserving amputee?”

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything—Christopher Hitchens

Infidel—Ayaan Hirsi Ali

This book is the memoir of a Somalian woman who grew up in Somalia, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, and Ethiopia before fleeing to Holland. It’s very interesting to read about her experiences living in those countries and her changing perspective on Islam. As an adult she became a member of parliament in Holland and making a ten-minute movie criticizing Islam and its treatment of women in particular. The Dutch filmmaker who directed the movie was murdered over it and she has been forced to live under very tight security ever since.

Breaking the Spell—Daniel Dennett

Probably my favourite. He takes quite a patient and non-adversarial tone, and simply suggests that we examine the phenomenon of religion in a scientific light. He’s preaching to the converted in me, but still, somewhere during the book I felt something in my mind go ping! when I really thought about the absurdity of taking one religion more seriously than another.

The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God—Carl Sagan

This is a transcript of a series of lectures that Carl Sagan gave as the 1985 Gifford Lectures on Natural Theology at the University of Glasgow. Here’s an interesting passage:
“And there’s an extremely interesting statistical study by the American social scientist James Prescott, in which he has looked at the compilation by Stanford anthropologist Robert Textor of hundreds of different societies, not all of them still extant . . . It is Prescott’s view that there are causal relations. That, in fact, in his view the key distinction has to do with whether cultures hug their children and whether they permit premarital sexual activity among adolescents. In his view those are the keys. And he concludes that all cultures in which the children are hugged and the teenagers can have sex wind up without powerful social hierarchies and everybody’s happy. And those cultures in which the children are not permitted to be hugged because of some social ban and a premarital adolescent sexual taboo is strictly enforced wind up killing, hating, and having powerful dominance hierarchies.”

The World’s Religions—Huston Smith

Previously released as The Religions of Man, this is a really well-written and interesting book describing the main points of the major world religions. Covered are Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and a final chapter on what he calls the “primal religions”. For each religion, he explains the history and the main points of thought.

The Bible

Just for my education. I’ve read the first five books of the Old Testament, the four gospels of the New Testament, and then some highlights: Job, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Psalms, and Revelations. I’ll never read the whole thing, but maybe there’s a greatest hits list somewhere.

I’m reading the New International Version, just because that’s what was being handed out for free at the University clubs day. I’m pretty happy with it, but it uses a few colloquialisms, such as “sleep with” and “stiff-necked” that I have trouble accepting as the best possible translation. The ideal Bible translation for me would be in modern language, but as faithful as possible to the original text, without modern colloquialisms or changes to gender-neutral language, and using readings from the Dead Sea scrolls where appropriate.

The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Their Significance for Understanding the Bible, Judaism, Jesus, and Christianity—James VanderKam and Peter Flint

I didn’t read the whole thing as this book gets a little dry in places, but I skimmmed through the discovery etc, and then paid more attention to the “Dead Sea Scrolls and Scripture” section. There’s a very informative discussion there about the various sources used to compile the modern versions of the Bible. Let’s see if I can provide a summary (all quotations are from VanderKam and Flint):

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