Sep. 1st, 2012

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A couple of nonfiction books slowed me down this month, but reading Delany's scholarly stuff was definitely worth the time.

08/03/2012    Dennis Wilson: The Real Beach Boy by Jon Stebbins
08/04/2012    Will-o-the-Wisp by Thomas Burnett Swann
08/07/2012    Starboard Wine: More Notes on the Language of Science Fiction (Revised Edition) by Samuel R. Delany
08/09/2012    Ringworld’s Children (audiobook) by Larry Niven
08/10/2012    The Not-World by Thomas Burnett Swann
08/13/2012    Revolt in 2100 by Robert A. Heinlein
08/17/2012    The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (audiobook) by Richard Dawkins
08/19/2012    The Goat Without Horns by Thomas Burnett Swann
08/24/2012    Doctor Who: Shada (audiobook) by Gareth Roberts based on a screenplay by Douglas Adams
08/26/2012    Why is the Penis Shaped Like That? ...and Other Reflections on Being Human by Jesse Bering
08/30/2012    Fate of Worlds:Return from the Ringworld (audiobook) by Larry Niven & Edward M. Lerner

I finished my three-month reading program of Thomas Burnett Swann in August -- apart from the three volumes in the "Minotaur Trilogy," I read all the fiction Swann ever published in June, July and August. (I read the MInotaur Trilogy perhaps a decade ago, and wasn't ready for a re-read quite yet.) I really enjoyed spending time in Swann's Not-World. Great stuff.

I slotted in Heinlein's Revolt in 2100 because I kept seeing references to Nehemiah Scudder (usually in articles about "Mittens" Romney) and wanted to get an idea what it was all about. After reading Revolt in 2100 (and Heinlein's notes about "stories not written" that would have chronicled Scudder's rise to power) I recalled reading some of this when I was in junior high (side note -- I pulled out my old Heinlein paperbacks, and found that the bookmark I was using was a note excusing me from class to go to the orthodontist to get my braces adjusted. When I was 13 or 14. So I abandoned reading that particular book almost 40 years ago... How time flies!) Back then, I thought the notion of America falling into a religious dictatorship was ludicrous. How naive I was!

Reading about Dennis Wilson's life and death was just sad. What a waste! Listen to his brilliant solo album Pacific Ocean Blue and weep for the loss of a great talent. POB unquestionably rates as the best record to come out of the Beach Boys camp since Pet Sounds -- and better than anything since, including Brian's stuff, with the possible exception of SMiLE.

Ringworld's Children and Fate of Worlds were much better than the preceeding couple of Ringworld books, but not quite as enjoyable as the Fleet of Worlds quartet. But Fate of Worlds provides a nice capstone to Niven's Known Space series, and if he never gets back around to it, this is a good ending.

Gareth Roberts's novelization of the legendary lost Douglas Adams Doctor Who serial Shada was an enjoyable listen -- perhaps more for Lalla Ward's excellent reading than for the somewhat ponderous and overpadded novelization itself. Seriously, stretching 6 half-hour episodes into a 400+ page novel was occasionally tedious. But great fun! It was nice seeing Dr. Chronotis again (Adams salvaged the character for Dirk Gently) and the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker), the Second Romana (Lalla Ward) and even K-9.

Dawkins is awesome. I loved Greatest Show on Earth. It was interesting listening to that, surrounded by Niven's books which maintain that humans are descended from aliens transplanted from another world. I wonder how badly Niven wishes he's never come up with that conceit, because it's utterly untenable in light of what we know today -- and probably even knew when he came up with the Pak. That's the danger with writing "Hard" science fiction -- science doesn't stop discovering more about the universe, rendering story ideas ludicrous or worse.

Jesse Bering's collection of "popular" science essays was entertaining, but perhaps better read as occasional articles than straight through. And his explanation for why the human penis is shaped as it is is kind of gross, but convincing.

Delany's Starboard Wine, originally published in 1984, is largely aimed at showing why all those "Science Fiction as Literature" courses that were popping up in the '70's and '80's were wrong-headed. He convincingly argues that "science fiction" is a way of reading (and a corpus of texts meant to be read that way.) "Literary" fiction is read differently that science fiction, and to read SF as lterature is to read it wrong -- or, at least, read it less effectively. The best way to read SF is to read it AS SF. I'm good with that.


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November 2012

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