My Favorite Books
by Paul Waldowski

I mostly concentrate on TV & movie sci-fi, but I've been known to read a book without pikchers from time to time. Here's a list of my favorite sf fiction.

The Forever War - Joe Haldeman

forever.jpgYou can never go home again -- especially if you're a soldier traveling at relativistic speeds and fighting a thousand-year war. This is not only one of the best sf books ever written, it's also one of the best war novels ever written. I'm not a fan of most military fiction, normal or sci-fi, because it usually focuses on the gee-whiz aspects of war: the toys and the tactics. No one ever focuses on what it really feels like, but Haldeman, himself a Viet Nam vet, captured the weird disconnect someone feels when they've not only been away from home for a long time, but they've participated in things that no one back home can relate to. Haldeman uses time dilation as a device to exaggerate the feeling, but it doesn't diminish its authenticity. The main character, Mandella, does what a lot of people who find that they no longer fit in with "the world" do: he re-ups and basically spends the remainder of his life fighting and living in an unchanging reality with the only other people he can relate to -- his fellow vets. The book also features a thread about the way military folk are often viewed and treated by the higher-ups: basically as pieces of expendable, thinking meat. If you've ever heard the phrase, "I need a body for (insert task)", then you'll get the mindset that Haldeman explores in the novel.

If you ever wanted to know what it feels like to go gallivanting off on a multi-year adventure in some far away place, do some really strange shit, then come back home, then read this book. But do yourself a favor and stay away from The Forever Peace. It blows goats.

The Foundation Series - Isaac Asimov

250px-Foundation_cover.jpgI have a soft spot for the Foundation series (yes, even the later ones). Asimov's great gift was his ability to tell large, complex stories in a simple (but not simplistic!) style. His writing is so clean and smooth that your eyes slip off the page. He never needlessly complicated the text by including archaic or obscure words, as some authors do to impress us with their ability to read a thesaurus. He also communicated great ideas with a great economy of text. Contrast this to modern authors, who feel that a thought is only as deep as the amount of verbiage used to express it. With Asimov, you never find yourself skipping page after page of filler to get back to the plot.

His Foundation series is one of the most influential and interesting sagas in sf. Its tale of a vast city-planet at the heart of a galactic empire not only inspired Star Wars, but the Aum Shinrikyo cult as well. Hey, who thought a ripping tale of a dying galactic empire and the plucky scientists who vow to shorten the ensuing dark age by preserving civilization would appeal to disaffected youth from Modesto to Tokyo? At any rate, the series introduced the concept of psychohistory, which was a fictional discipline involving the ability to mathematically predict humanity's actions, and thus its future. Its discoverer, Hari Seldon, sets the plot in motion by predicting the end of the thousand year galactic empire and the beginning of a new dark age. He figures he can shorten the interval between civilizations by preserving knowledge and technology on a small, forgotten planet and then applying little "tweaks" to the galaxy to move things along. The rest, as they say, is psychohistory.

Asimov eventually tied his Robot, Empire and Foundation series into one interconnected saga. Fortunately, Hollywood's only been able to bastardize two of Asimov's robot novels (I, Robot and Bicentennial Man) and not the Foundation series. I think Foundation should be left in the capable hands of the dreamers, religious terrorists, and disaffected yutes.

Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert Heinlein

I debated whether to include this novel, because it's the most egregious example of Heinlein's propensity towards wanking. In sf, there's a tendency by an author to include a character who serves as a mouthpiece for the author's beliefs. I call that character "The Author's Wank", because it's really just a ham-handed way for the author to pontificate instead of telling a story. The Author's Wank is normally an eccentric, oddball character who happens to be right about everything and to whom everyone listens. Why? Because it's the author's fantasy of how life would be if everyone just listened to them. They can't live that life, so they write themselves into their world and set-up shop as that world's resident genius.

With Stranger in a Strange Land, Heinlein doesn't merely limit his wanking to a secondary character, he goes full bore with his textual stand-in, Jubal Harshaw. The book screeches to a halt with the introduction of this character, who spends much of its bulk simply telling everyone what he believes about everything. Of course, he's always right, everyone always does what he tells them to, and no one seriously challenges him. The pages positively stick together from Heinlein's wanking.

Still, the tale of a Martian Mowgli applied to a future that looks remarkably like 1950's America is interesting, mostly for its ruminations on human society and taboos. You gotta love stories of the future that feature flying cars and videophones, yet completely fails to predict social change or progress. The book is a good read just for that anachronism alone.

Red Mars - Kim Stanley Robinson

RedMars.jpgRed Mars is the first in a trilogy describing human colonization and terraforming of Mars. Of the three, Red Mars is the best, mostly because of its realism and Robinson's ability to present different points of view equally well. There's none of Heinlein's wanking in these books, which are told from different points of view and represent what will likely be the debates surrounding the colonization of Mars. Some believe it should be kept in its pristine state while others encourage full-bore terraforming. Even though the mission calls for strict adherence to Earth's guidelines, the 100-person crew quickly fragments and starts doing their own thing. They eventually become the leaders of the various factions on Mars, and much of the rest of the book explores the consequences of the First Hundred's decisions. Some live, others die, but all are profoundly changed by the rapid colonization and terraforming of the planet, as well as an increasingly over-populated and creaking Earth.

Robinson captures the exhilaration of exploring new lands for the first time, as well as the frontier mentality that results as a new culture and new ways of thinking develop and grow on the planet. By the end of the book, you've been taken from the first tentative steps of colonization to the opening act of a Revolution. In between are falling space elevators, assassinations, massacres and long life courtesy of science and industry. The novel is an epic in every sense of the word. If you want to see the debates of tomorrow today, read this book. If you want to read about zero-g sex, read the first 50 pages of this book. If you want to see giant transforming robots destroying wee space probes, don't read this book.

Dune - Frank Herbert

dune.jpgDune's stock in SF circles goes up and down over the years, but it remains my favorite book to date. Forget the movies (but watch the mini-series, it's really rather good) and just read the book. Most SF tends to treat religion with contempt when it's not dismissing it out of hand, but Dune bucks that trend by making religion as important in his world as it is in ours. I'm not a religious person myself, but you'd be hard-pressed to find any human society devoid of religious or spiritual beliefs. It's utter nonsense to believe that humanity, barring radical genetic engineering, would simply cast-off or "outgrow" religion and embrace Reason wholesale. It seems more like wishful thinking on the part of authors than an honest assessment of the human condition. Luckily, Dune incorporates religion into the very fabric of society, which gives it a deep, earthy texture in a genre that's often cold and cerebral.

The rise of Paul Atreides as Messiah of Arrakis' (Dune's) Fremen is the heart of the story, but what really makes it great is the mix of politics and religion, manipulation (both religious and environmental), and oil's sf stand-in: Spice. It's got great bad guys in the Harkonnens, worm-riding, and words like Kwisatz Hadderach. What more could you want? A word of warning: don't buy the newer Dune books by Herbert's son and Kevin J. Anderson. Atrocious crap, those. They make the Honor Harrington series look like Shakespeare.

Anyway, those are my favorite SF books. If you have any, feel free to tell the rest of the class.

Paul believes that sometimes the best stories don't come on the teevee.



Snowcrash--by Neil Stephenson. Pizza franchises run by the mafia. Kickass motorcycles. Chicks with weird stuff in their vaginas that can kill your ass. Good stuff.

Harlan Ellison: Deathbird Stories.

Hands down, one of the greatest collection of sci fi and fantasy stories ever. Gargoyles impaling nuns on pikes from the cathedral. People killing each other in legal highway races. A unicorn and a ghost traveling the streets of New Orleans. The proposition that maybe the Devil isn't really the bad guy, it's just that God wrote the book and got all the good press. Very good stuff.


I loved Snow Crash but couldn't get into his other stuff.

Ender's Game is my favorite sci-fi novel. Loved the Martian Chronicles, too.

I don't know if this really qualifies as sci fi, but it about time travel - Time and Again by Jack Finney is one of the best books I ever read.


the giving tree

by shel silverstein

/sometimes i should just shut up


No Terry Pratchett?

Ya tasteless buggers.

Unless, of course, you're not grouping the Fantasy with the Sci-Fi.

I like too many authors to have a favorite book or even books, but I can certainly recommend a few.

The Martian Way by Isaac Asimov.

His short stories, in my humble opinion, flow better than his longer ones. The Martian Way not only shows a unique perspective on McCarthyism, but also ends with a first-class "Fuck You" by the would-be victims.

The Man Who Never Missed by Steve Perry.

Pulp, but really great pulp. This is the first of the Matadora series, and the best of the series, since the writing gets "Same-ish" as it goes on. Still a great read. Perry is the Louie L'amour of Sci-fi, if you know what I mean.

Ten Points For Style by Walter Jon Williams.

"To Catch A Thief" crossed with "Raffles" and set in the future with aliens. Texas has a King, Elvis is the state religion and Stealing is legal, provided that you do it with enough showmanship. Fun crazyness.

That should be enough to start with. Enjoy.

Remo Williams,
The Master of Sinanju.


Methinks turtle edited his post...

Time and Again was great michele. However, I read it right after finishing Time Traveler's Wife, which is one of my favorite novels of all time, and it didn't hold a candle to that. Still a fanstastic book--did you know there was a Broadway musical adaptation?


A musical of Time and Again? You've got to be shitting me....

I'm just reading the sequel now.


Check it:

Yeah, go ahead and copy and past. My HTML skills suck.


Well, I meant copy and pastE, although that was an apt typo, but now I see that tagging URLs isn't even necessary, so I'm just going to go get drunk.


Um ... Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

I haven't read Snowcrash, but I loved Cryptonomicon.


"I haven't read Snowcrash"



"Unless, of course, you're not grouping the Fantasy with the Sci-Fi."

I would never do that. Anything after Tolkien is pointless.

Snowcrash is okay. I have a soft spot for The Martian Chronicles, though. It was the first proper SF book I ever read. Fahrenheit 451 was second, but that's speculative fiction.

I should've mentioned A Canticle for Liebowitz. It's not a well-written story, but the idea is intriguing.


I'd have to agree that "Snowcrash" is okay, but that's just because I was such a big fan of Sterling and Gibson's early cyberpunk stuff...

I also love Ian McDonald...
Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone and Terminal Cafe are great examples of his work...


I once started to read Red Mars as I had heard many great things about it, but I didn't get into it. I don't think it was lack of interest, I think it was just one of those times I stopped reading for awhile and when I started back up, I didn't resume the book. Perhaps it's time to give it another shot.


It's definitely one of those books from the Clancy school of excruciating detail. That's one of the main drawbacks to the book: too much focus on soil density rather than character interaction or plot development.

I think he was trying to make the planet a character of its own or reveal facets of the human characters through their interactions with the planet, but a lot of it is just tedious and boring. I found my self skipping through a few pages of filler in that book.

Still, he wasn't that excessive about it, and the merits of the book outweigh the faults.


Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac is my favorite book.

Everything Douglas Adams wrote is right after that.


For Heinlein wanking you go with Jubal vs Lazarus? Really? Although, I did read Stranger before Time Enough for Love and when I was younger so it DID have a stronger impact.

And the Foundation series, especially the initial trilogy, should be required reading to graduate high school.


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