Saturday, December 24, 2011

Category 2: Fantasy

I was raised on Science Fiction; Star Trek on TV, Jack Williamson/John Carter of Mars/Robert Heinlein's juveniles, and the very first Star Wars movie released the year (almost to the day actually) I graduated from high school. And I've never ceased and never will, to love, respect, read, and admire the genre...

but something happened while I was at university
  • I discovered and read The Lord of the Rings.
  • As a somewhat introverted freshman at a university where I didn't really know anybody, I wandered into an alternative bookstore in Columbia Missouri (Rock Bottom Books & Comics... still there happily) and discovered the boxed 3-booklet set of the Original Dungeons & Dragons. Wow, how I wish I still had that set!
  • I answered an ad in the university newspaper 'The Maneater' looking for game players to meet in the basement of Brady Commons... showed up, met a peer group of science fiction and fantasy nerds much like me... and learned how to play D&D, along with Traveller, and many other games whose names I can't remember.
And my love of fantasy fiction was established.

I was one of those forty-something year old men who took their families to a jammed theater to see the Fellowship of the Ring on the opening weekend... and had tears streaming down my face as Gandalf thundered YOU SHALL NOT PASS! And then sobbed (literally) as the balrog dragged him into the abyss.. I wasn't alone... there was a lot of it going on in the movie theater...

and I was that forty-something year old man who waited with his kids at the midnight bookstore premiere for each succeeding Harry Potter novel.

So...that means I've read a lot of fantasy, and will likely continue to read fantasy so long as I am able to read.

The genre has evolved over the years. It's sometimes really hard to tell what is actually 'fantasy'. We have all the vampire novels (Twilight, Sookie Stackhouse), urban fantasy (Jim Butcher/Harry Dresden), apocalyptic fantasy (S.M. Stirling), fantasy historical romance (Diana Gabaldan/Outlander)... and of course the traditional good old swords and sorcery fantasy... Brandon Sanderson, Brett Weeks, Peter Brett, Glen Cook are all current popular authors that I have on my 2012 list. 36 books may not be enough to sample everything... but I'm going to try!

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Science Fiction List for 2012

This is a list of potential stories to read to fulfill my science fiction category challenge. I may add or subtract or change as the year progresses...
  1. Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  2. Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov
  3. Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  4. Foundation's Edge by Isaac Asimov
  5. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
  6. 2010: Odyssey 2 by Arthur C. Clarke
  7. 2061: Odyssey 3 by Arthur C. Clarke
  8. 3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
  9. Revelation Space by Alistair Reynolds
  10. Chasm City by Alistair Reynolds
  11. Judas Unchained by Peter Hamilton
  12. River of Gods by Ian McDonald
  13. The Dervish House by Ian McDonald
  14. Desolation Road by Ian McDonald
  15. Cyberabad Days (short stories) by Ian McDonald
  16. Sundiver by David Brin
  17. Startide Rising
  18. The Uplift War
  19. Brightness Reef
  20. Old Man's War by John Scalzi
  21. The Ghost Brigade by John Scalzi
  22. The Last Colony by John Scalzi
  23. Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi
  24. QuickSilver; Neal Stephenson
  25. The Confusion; Neal Stephenson
  26. Snow Crash; Neal Stephenson
  27. Reamde; Neal Stephenson
  28. Cryptonomicon; Neal Stephenson
  29. A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
  30. Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge
  31. Halting State by Charles Stross
  32. Rule 34 by Charles Stross
  33. The January Dancer by Michael Flynn
  34. Up Jim River by Michael Flynn

    Tuesday, December 20, 2011

    Ah yes... the CATEGORIES!

    Category 1: SCIENCE FICTION

    I started reading science fiction at a very young age, maybe 8 or 9 and I'm pretty sure that the first true science fiction book I read was Red Planet by Robert Heinlein, followed closely by The Legion of Space by Jack Williamson, and the whole John Carter of Mars series, and then... well, needless to say I was hooked at a young age on the genre. The cover at right is the first edition cover published, I believe, in 1949. Heinlein had all kinds of squabbles with his publishers... he wanted more sex and politics, his publishers were after 'the story' and money.

    After this excellent introduction, I went on to read all of Heinlein's 'juveniles', discovered the pulps with Edmond Hamilton's excellent Captain Future series, Frank Herbert's Dune... and have never looked back.

    So here I stand some 40 years later, wondering (like we all do) where the time went, and looking around the science fiction landscape... and there's still lots of really good old stuff that I haven't read that I've always meant to... Philip Dick, C.J. Cherryh, David Drake; and of course loads of brilliant authors writing stuff today that I absolutely must read! Like Alistair Reynolds, Peter Hamilton, Neil Gaiman, Neal Stephenson, China Mieville, and on and on.

    So .. on to the 2012 reading plan. 36 SF books won't go far (but I expect to have some room in my other categories, so...). I'm starting with a reread of Isaac Asimov's Foundation series up to Foundation's Edge (which I'm pretty sure I've never read); along with Arthur C. Clarke's Space Odyssey series (which, since I know how it ends, I MUST have read at some point... but for the life of me, as I read through the first two books, I DON'T remember any of the details...). I have Ian McDonald's Dervish House, Desolation Road, and River of Gods; Alistair Reynold's first two Revelation Space books, and Peter Hamilton's sequel to the excellent (and read in 2011) Pandora's Star, Judas Unchained. After that I will see what and where the SF trail leads me... Neal Stephenson looks excellent, Dan Simmons, C.J. Cherryh... lots of directions to go.

    Sunday, November 27, 2011

    A long holiday weekend

    The long holiday weekend comes in handy as I look back over my year of reading... and plan next years lists. Favorites from 2011 include:
    • The Contract Surgeon and The Indian Agent by Dan O'Brien
    • Doc by Mary Doria Russell
    • Blackout by Connie Willis
    • Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi
    • old favorites reread, and a number of new series started
    But generally I notice that my reading was sort of random, wandering, and included a lot of fluff (crap is a better word maybe). A large part of that is due to the availability of free fluff (crap) for the kindle... something I intend to discontinue in 2012.

    2012 is going to be the year I get back to the genres that turned me into a reader in the first place; Science Fiction and Fantasy (two separate genres...not one as so many stores mistakenly assume). My overall goal is to read 12 squared books (144) in 2012, separated into 4 categories. You can go here to see the descriptions and a record of my reading throughout the year. Here's a short list:
    • Science Fiction (36 titles, includes some real chunks... heavy reading, but important books that I've wanted to read)
    • Fantasy (36 titles, again with the heavy books, several rereads of old favorites)
    • Military (36 titles, fiction & non-fiction... )
    • Collections/Mysteries/Group Reads (36 titles, I must have 100 short story collections in my library, mysteries need to be included somewhere and I'm determined to participate in some group reads in 2012)
    As I've reached my goals for 2011 (to read 100 books, I'm currently at 119), I've decided to abandon most of the partially completed books lying around and start counting for 2012 on December 1st (actually I'm starting today, but I won't record anything til Dec. 1) with the new reading lists and goals.  Future posts will include more detail and lists of books for each category.

    This is a hefty reading challenge I've set for myself. I look forward to a long year of reading some good stuff...

    Thursday, June 9, 2011

    Teaching Zoology

    This coming school year, I will be teaching a high school Zoology class for the third year in a row. That may not seem significant, but if you knew how unstable our science curriculum has been over the last decade... Anyway the class is a semester long survey course. I focus mainly on the large groups of organisms and the progression through time and complexity. We do a number of survey labs where the student examines and answers questions about multiple specimens from a phylum, and we do a series of dissection labs where the students look more closely at a single specimen.

    Students are expected to become familiar with the Linnaean classification system, and this generally provides a bit of angst when a student is faced with the following power-point slide:

    Phylum Coelenterata: Coelenterata is an obsolete long term encompassing two animal phyla, the Ctenophora (comb jellies) and the Cnidaria (coral animals, true jellies, sea anemones, sea pens, and their allies). The name comes from the Greek "koilos" ("full bellied"), referring to the hollow body cavity common to these two phyla. They have very simple tissue organization, with only two layers of cells, external and internal.

    This is of course followed by a discussion of what these things are (jellyfish and corals), lots of pictures,  and a rudimentary classification system where the student is faced with:
    Anthozoa—corals and sea anemones 
    Cubozoa—box jellyfish, sea wasps
    Hydrozoa—hydroids, hydra-like animals
    Scyphozoa—true jellyfish
    Staurozoa—stalked jellyfish
    * bolded words are the only ones they HAVE to know for quiz/test

    After reviewing the phylum, the students then get to, in the laboratory, examine actual preserved specimens. Some of these are cool, some are gross, some are blah...


    Saturday, February 26, 2011

    Operation Mincemeat

    My middle name is Clifton. I've often wondered what prompted my parents to pick that name (my mother told me I was named after my paternal grandfather... but his name was actually Clifford...??). I may have inadvertently found the answer... and if not, it still makes a good story.

    My father is a big fan of spy novels. John le CarrĂ© is his favorite author (sadly, I've never been a fan of le CarrĂ©... although I'm willing to give him another go). My father also served in the US Navy (from the mid forties through the mid fifties). His rate was Electrician's Mate and he worked in communications, somewhat peripherally connected to intelligence (at least that's my impression from the few conversations we've had about it).

    What does this have to do with my middle name, Operation Mincemeat, etc? I recently purchased a book about Operation Mincemeat (downloaded to Audible actually) and was reading about the event on Wikipedia. Wiki listed a movie, made in 1956, titled The Man Who Never Was, depicting the events of Operation Mincemeat. The starring actor was Clifton Webb.

    See?? Chain of events... father works in intelligence--> big fan of spy novels (mostly concerning Europe)--> sees movie released in 1956 about espionage operation during WWII in Europe--> admires the leading actor in movie--> has male child in 1959--> casts about for meaningful name --> ...

    Well... who knows. I'll ask him, of course, but at this point in our lives (he is 80 years old after all) I suspect I'll get a standard disavowal of any remembrance or knowledge of why they picked that name for me.

    Still, it makes a good story...

    Friday, February 25, 2011

    A little late... who am I kidding, a LOT late. Anyway, here it is...

    My best reads of 2010:

    1. Easily topping the list are the three books comprising the Millennium trilogy

    The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
    The Girl Who Played With Fire
    The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

    The movies are also very good (the last two only recently became available for the US). They are Swedish and thus subtitled for us English speaking folk... but that wasn't a distraction for me, and added to their authenticity.

    2. Best non-fiction

    The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan

    3. Best science fiction: this is a tie between

    the Dread Empire's Fall trilogy by Walter Jon Williams
    and Player of Games by Iain Banks

    4. Honorable mention goes to

    Pharoah's Army by Tobias Wolff
    Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonsen
    The Deliverance of Physick Dane by Katherine Howe

    A complete list (along with commentary) of the books I read in 2010 can be found here.