…and now, for a change of pace. Y’all know how much I enjoy sharing with you what I’ve been reading…but since the last time I wrote one of these was at the end of last year, it’s gonna be a long list. This last isn’t helped by the fact that I now have a regular job, and since I take the train to said job, I have a good hour or so every day to read; I do very much enjoy this. So, without further ado, here’s the list in (mostly) chronological order.

Starship Troopers; Robert Heinlein – As I’ve probably mentioned already, I make a habit of reading this book once per year; I read this at the end of last year (2011) while I was visiting my folks in Virginia.

A Christmas Carol; Charles Dickens – Also a yearly tradition for me…read, well. If you can’t guess when I read this story, I really can’t help you.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court; Mark Twain – Yes, I finally got around to reading Twain; as y’all may already suspect, it was, of course, bitingly satirical, and also rather interesting as a time-travel story that was written just as the genre of science fiction was in its infancy. This latter aspect is one of the reasons I selected this book over some of Twain’s more well-known books.

The Hunt for Red October; Tom Clancy – Back in the day (and I mean, really, really far back in the day…think high school), I was an avid reader of Clancy’s fiction. Most of y’all are probably more familiar with the film version of this story (which also stands out as probably the best adaptation of Clancy’s works), but the novel itself, as per usual with book vs. film adaptations, contains far more detail than the film could possibly convey. This also stands out as a rather odd re-read on my part, as I started re-reading my Mom’s copy of the book while I was visiting at Christmas (I had brought two books with me, but ended up finishing both too quickly – a common problem when I read – and needed something else to occupy my time), but didn’t finish. So, once I got back to Chicago, I dug up my old copy (that I’ve had since way back in high school) and finished reading it here.

Live Free or Die; John Ringo – The first novel in Ringo’s Troy Rising series. The story concerns the delivery of an interstellar FTL portal in Earth orbit, the aliens who decide to conquer Earth for our resources (mostly rare-earth metals…sound familiar?) and the ways that humans fight back…including the construction of a (privately-funded!) several-kilometers-diameter battlestation built from a hollowed-out and inflated (yes, inflated) asteroid. As with most of Ringo’s works, it was quite an entertaining read, though much different than his traditional military SF novels, in that it focuses far less on well, military matters.

The Three Musketeers; Alexandre Dumas – One of the most well-known adventure novels…and it doesn’t disappoint. From a historical perspective, no…it doesn’t work so well…but where’s the fun in thinking too much about that? As with a number of other literary titles, I selected this book more for the fact that I’ve never read it and figured I should, rather than because I had any strong interest in the subject. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth reading, mind you.

Eye of the Storm; John Ringo – Currently the last novel in his Posleen War series (though apparently, he’s working on more…which is good, since this book ended on a cliffhanger of sorts). The story pretty much concludes the Posleen War aspects and introduces a new enemy, the Hedren…who are arguably just as bad (or worse) than the Posleen; while the latter were more or less instinctively and genetically predisposed towards planet looting, the former are quite well cognizant of what they’re doing…and willingly enslave and / or exterminate entire sentient species and worlds. Good stuff, that. I’m curious to see where Ringo takes the series after this, but he’s been a bit distracted by his newer Troy Rising series, it appears.

Red Storm Rising; Tom Clancy – As I previously mentioned, I read a number of Clancy’s books when I was younger…unfortunately, I also didn’t pay particularly close attention to what I was reading at the time, so I barely remember these books. As such, I decided to re-read this one, which is a story about a conventional (i.e. non-nuclear) World War III scenario involving a Soviet invasion of Europe, Iceland (it makes sense in context), and massive submarine and surface fleet forays into the Atlantic…mostly as a diversion, if you can believe it. Some of the tech on display in the novel is a bit dated now, given that the novel was written a little over 20 years ago, but otherwise, it’s an interesting read…and let’s face it…the book has an awesome title!

Citadel; John Ringo – The second novel in Ringo’s Troy Rising series…which pretty much picks up where the previous one left off (actually, somewhat in the middle, as it starts off during the climactic battle of the previous story, but told from a different perspective). Some of the highlights: humans have been building more Troy-class battlestations, and Troy itself has been made mobile thanks to a recently-installed Orion drive. It turns out that the aliens who previously enslaved Earth were just the galactic equivalent of a gang of thugs, and a rather more powerful race has taken interest in humanity’s rapid defeat of their previous alien overlords…and they’re none too thrilled about this.

Rendezvous With Rama; Arthur C. Clarke – Clarke, it seems, had a bit of a fetish for writing about Big Dumb Objects; the titular Rama is one such object: it is clearly artificial, but its purpose, age, destination, etc., are all mysterious both before and after the human mission to the ship arrive, enter, and explore it. Later novels explored these aspects of the ship (and eventually answered many of the questions surrounding them), though whether or not this is a good thing has been much debated. In some ways, I think the narrative is more interesting as a mystery than having everything revealed about it. Arguably, if we ever are visited by aliens (or discover them in our own travels), it is possible – even likely – that we will barely be able to comprehend them and their ways – if at all.

The Martian Chronicles; Ray Bradbury – On the occasion of Bradbury’s death earlier this year, I decided to try re-reading this story; I had once tried to read it many years ago, but only got a few dozen pages into it, and couldn’t finish. I got about halfway through this time, but I still couldn’t finish it. I give up.

The Chronoliths; Robert Charles Wilson – My brother suggested this book to me many years ago, and I read it at that time. I remember it being an interesting story, but didn’t remember it so well (yes, this is a common problem for me…possibly because I read so damn much, I can’t possibly remember it all), so I decided to re-read it. The story involves exotic matter monuments to military conquests being sent back in time. Yes, you read that right. It’s as much a detective and adventure story as it is a straight-up SF tale, but it was, I think, all the better for it.

The Cardinal of the Kremlin; Tom Clancy – This one, I didn’t actually read back when I was reading Clancy’s novels, so I decided to remedy that oversight. This one ends up being a bit more science-fiction than most of Clancy’s works, since the “star wars” (laser-based anti ballistic missile defense systems) were never implemented on the scale that Clancy depicts in the story (and, for that matter, were never as successful as he depicts, either). Doesn’t stop the book from being an entertaining read.

The War of the Worlds; H. G. Wells – One of the many, many books that I’ve previously read and decided to re-read. Pretty much the original example of an alien invasion of Earth. Fun stuff, that.

Fuzzy Nation; John Scalzi – This novel is a re-imagining of H. Beam Piper’s novel, Little Fuzzy; given that I haven’t read the original, I can’t say how closely Scalzi keeps to the original, but for the most part that doesn’t matter to me. As with Scalzi’s other works, this one was funny, sometimes absurd (seriously, having the narrator “interpret” his dog’s actions as though the dog were actually speaking to him – I know, like we all haven’t done that), and downright compelling all at once. I sometimes wish Scalzi were a bit more prolific with his novels, but hey. Beggars can’t be choosers, right?

Birth of Fire & King David’s Spaceship; Jerry Pournelle – Both of these novels were collected into a single volume, Fires of Freedom, published by Baen. The former deals with an uprising on Mars against the large multinational corporations that run the planet, while the latter deals with the efforts of a “backwater” planet to build a spaceship (but clearly not a starship) so as to illustrate that they are a high-tech planet at the point when they’re about to be inducted into an interstellar empire. BoF has numerous similarities to The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein (not that that’s a bad thing, mind you); KDS is interesting in that the empire depicted in the story is considered rather bad by the inhabitants of King David’s world, but if you’ve read The Mote In God’s Eye and Pournelle’s own Prince of Sparta series, you’ll know that the empire is actually not that bad…and is by far preferable to interstellar anarchy that would result from the lack of a unified system of government (somewhat similar to Hobbes’ view in The Leviathan, FWIW).

The Beautiful and the Damned; F. Scott Fitzgerald – Yes, I’m still reading Fitzgerald. The story starts off somewhat tragic and continues downhill for most of the narrative; the ending, however, is rather anti-climactic and rather unexpected, given the tone of the rest of the story. I won’t spoil it further than that, of course, but as with all of Fitzgerald’s works, the novel does do an excellent job of capturing the tone of the era in which Fitzgerald lived.

The Legacy of Heorot; Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, & Steven Barnes – This novel starts out as a fairly straightforward tale about humans first attempts as extra-solar colonization…and turns into something of surrealistic nightmare when the colonists encounter a native reptilian creature about the size and ferocity of a crocodile…that also happens to have evolved a natural blood-borne “super-oxidizer” chemical that allows them to move faster than a cheetah for short stretches of time (at the expense of potentially cooking themselves in their own waste heat). The life cycle of the creatures plays a central role in the narrative, for which the authors consulted with a reproduction and fertility expert. In keeping with the theme of the title, the creatures are aptly-named Grendels. Again, I read this book several years ago, but since it’s been a while, I decided to re-read it.

Into the Looking Glass; John Ringo – This is the first in Ringo’s Looking Glass series; the story revolves around a boson experiment gone horribly wrong when the experiment produces an unexplained anomaly that starts spitting out bosons that function as interplanetary portals, most of which are inactive, but some of which start spewing out hordes of hostile aliens that bear some superficial resemblance to the Zerg of Starcraft fame. It is also notable for featuring a protagonist based on real-life scientist / author / etc. Dr. Travis S. Taylor…who himself became a co-author for later books in the series. This story plays out much closer to Ringo’s other military SF stories in the description of the fighting against the alien invasion; it’s also notable in that the series seems to suggest that Ringo has some interest in Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories – all the titles in the series are based on things found in Carroll’s work.

Fahrenheit 451; Ray Bradbury – Having felt a little disappointed that I couldn’t slog through The Martian Chronicles, I decided to re-read this book, instead. This one is as good as I remember it.

The Hot Gate; John Ringo – The third story in Ringo’s Troy Rising series; this story features a rather impressive escalation in the hostilities between the humans and the Rangora (the aliens who supersede the original alien overlords from Live Free or Die). The climactic battle of the story involves several tens of thousands of missiles being thrown by both sides…among other rather impressive matters. Pretty much what one could expect from a slightly less soft-SF version of Star Wars (though still not particularly hard-SF, either)…except in this case, the Death Star is on the side of the good guys! And yes, it IS loosely analogous to the Death Star, in that the Troy-class battlestations each feature laser systems whose output is measured in petawatts (that’s one quadrillion – as in 1,000 trillion – watts…the prefix is rarely used because, well…we don’t really have that many things on Earth that require its use)…not enough to destroy a planet, but these lasers (and yes, they are lasers, and not some sort of funky visible particle beams) can easily punch through the armor and shields (I mentioned it’s not a full-on hard-SF story, right?) of a warship…and through the rest of the ship, as well and exit the other side…

The Death of Ivan Ilych and Other Stories; Leo Tolstoy – A collection of four short stories by Tolstoy, Family Happiness, The Death of Ivan Ilych, The Kreutzer Sonata, and Master & Man; I’ve been considering for some time that I should probably read War and Peace, but not having the courage to start that just yet, I found this collection and decided to read it, instead. Turns out, Tolstoy isn’t much harder to read that Dostoevsky, so I suppose I’ll be able to get through War and Peace…eventually. (Yeah…watch: next year, when I write up another reading list, it’ll just be War and Peace, and nothing else!) The stories themselves are pretty much what one might expect from 19C Russian literature; I’m not sure how to describe it, but they just seem…Russian.

Vorpal Blade; John Ringo & Travis S. Taylor – The second in Ringo & Taylor’s Looking Glass series; this novel takes a bit of a detour away from Ringo’s more traditional military SF and goes into more straight-up Star Trek type space exploration…albeit with a bit more “realistic” elements (for values of realistic, anyways…who knows if they’re truly realistic given what little we know of extra-solar locations in our galaxy). As with most of Ringo’s stories, the titular spaceship (the Vorpal Blade – see, I did mention something about Ringo being a fan of Carroll, right?) starts out fairly realistic (being an modification of a U.S. Ballistic missile submarine into a spaceship), but then goes a bit off the rails with the imported alien tech that powers and propels it (necessary, of course, as we clearly don’t have the tech to do it ourselves – yet). Oh, and it also features space chinchillas. No, seriously. Ringo also obviously has a bit of fun in his afterword by addressing potential criticisms of the novel’s protagonist as being unlikely by providing an excerpt from Dr. Taylor’s own resume…

A Fire Upon the Deep; Vernor Vinge – Space opera in all its awe-inspiring glory…and Vinge does an excellent job of telling it. I could go into details, but if you’re at all a fan of space opera, just go out and buy a copy and read it for yourself. It’s a bit of a doorstopper, but trust me…it’s worth reading. Bonus points for the author’s name…I mean, come on. Vernor Vinge? It just sounds awesome saying it!

The Tuloriad; John Ringo & Tom Kratman – This is more of a spin-off from the main Posleen War series than a true novel from the series; it follows the few Posleen who do survive the war and their interstellar quest for discovering their origins (being primarily composed of semi-sentient idiots, their race isn’t particularly keen on writing things down – or recalling their history in any great detail…for the most part), and concurrently, a human expedition that follows them in the hopes of bringing religion to their masses. No, really.

The Eternal Husband & Other Stories; Fyodor Dostoevsky – Like the Tolstoy collection above, only this one is a collection of Dostoevsky’s stories; this particular volume contains the following stories: A Nasty Anecdote, The Eternal Husband, Bobok, The Meek One, and The Dream of a Ridiculous Man. Also similar to the Tolstoy collection above, there’s just something…Russian about these stories. I really don’t know how else to describe it.

The Call of the Wild; Jack London – Notable for being a novel told from the perspective of a dog…and doing a fairly convincing job of it. (Note: this one is not in chronological order, as I forgot when I read it)

The Collected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald – This collection contains two previously-published anthologies of Fitzgerald’s short stories, Flappers and Philosophers and Tales of the Jazz Age. If you have any interest at all in Fitzgerald’s work, these stories are also worth reading. (Note: this one is also not in chronological order)

…and that’s it for the year so far. Yes, I know…haven’t I read enough already? Well, apparently not, since the following are on my to-do reading list:

The Last Day of a Condemned Man; Victor Hugo (surreal note: this book is referenced in The Meek One, from the Dostoevsky collection above; I bought this book recently while I was still reading that collection, but I had not yet gotten to The Meek One…I didn’t read this short story until after I had bought TLDOACM with the intention of reading it after the Dostoevsky collection).

Poor People; Fyodor Dostoevsky

1984; George Orwell (I read this once a year)

Starship Troopers; Robert Heinlein (as mentioned above, I also read this book once a year)

Given how much I read, I’m fair sure there will be more on this list, but I haven’t figured out what else I’ll be reading yet.

Enjoy.

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Long-time readers here will probably recall that every so often, I regale you with tales of the various books I’ve read in the recent past. I had intended to write this post back in July, but well. Yeah, I know…I’m so damn lazy, I procrastinate on stuff that isn’t even that important! Anyways, without further ado, here’s the list since January; likely, I won’t write up another one of these til sometime next year – not likely to get many more books read by the end of the year. Please note, these will not be in any sort of order, as I’ve mostly forgotten said order.

Worldwar: Upsetting the Balance & Worldwar: Striking the Balance; Harry Turtledove – the conclusion to Turtledove’s alternate history of World War II where aliens invade sometime in 1942. Interestingly enough, the conclusion mirrors (sorta) the real conclusion of WWII with the detonation of the two atomic bombs over Japan; in this case, however, the nuclear arms race gets a jumpstart from refined plutonium recovered from a number of destroyed alien weapons (for those of y’all who only know about nukes from Hollywood, these bombs actually don’t detonate when they’re damaged – most of the time, anyways), and the major powers all attempt to create (and, in most cases succeed) nuclear weapons and deploy them against the aliens, who enjoy a rather substantial technological advantage over us puny humans.

The Idiot; Fyodor Dostoyevsky – I will freely admit, I felt like an idiot after reading this book (the title actually refers to an outdated term for epileptics)…really, though…I didn’t have too much trouble reading Crime and Punishment or Notes from Underground last year, but this one stumped me. I still have no idea what the point of the story was…if there even was a point. I’m not going to say it was a pointless endeavor (Dostoyevsky’s psychological insights, as always, are quite…interesting), but I doubt I’ll be repeating the experience. OTOH, my Mom has been suggesting (for over 10 years now) that I should read War and Peace, so maybe I’ll switch up Russian writers next time.

The Songs of Distant Earth; Arthur C. Clarke – As always, Clarke’s story skews towards the “hard” side of the SF scale – there are interstellar human colonies (created by robotic seed ships carrying frozen embryos), and there is no faster-than-light (FTL) travel. In this case, the Sun (and, by extension, Earth) is imperiled by (at the time unresolved) Solar neutrino problem, which eventually led to the Sun exploding in 3400 CE (as opposed to dying a slow death 5 billion years from now); as such, humanity sent out as many ships as possible to escape the end (which, of course, was only a small fraction of the population). The bulk of the story is concerned with the culture shock that results from the meeting of one of Earth’s earlier far-flung colonies (none of whose inhabitants knows about Earth as anything more than ancient history) and the last “ark” to leave the planet before the end. It’s an interesting story, to say the least.

This Side of Paradise & The Great Gatsby; F. Scott Fitzgerald – One of my friends had mentioned that she had started reading The Great Gatsby (actually a few years back – it takes a while for books to filter through my queue), and I recalled at the time that I had read the book in high school, but had no recollection of what it was about. As such, I decided that it would be a good idea to re-read the book (hey, it’s short, so it wans’t that difficult). Turns out that I do enjoy Fitzgerald’s writing, as it quite adequately captures the “feel” of the times during which he wrote (the 20s and 30s, in case you didn’t already know). I read This Side of Paradise because, well. I just wanted some more. I also have a compilation of some of his short stories that is on my future reading list.

A Journey to the Center of the Earth; Jules Verne – A number of years ago, I resolved to read some of Verne’s novels…I have always been interested in SF, but had never read Verne in my childhood (yeah, I know…it’s shocking, I tell ya – but then again, I’m not real crazy about what passes for “literature” in school classes these days), so I read some of the more well-known titles. AJTTCOTE was the last one I chose to read, but I never finished it. Fast forward several years, and I figured I should finish it, but had to restart it, since I had no recollection of the parts I did read. It’s interesting now mostly for the sense of wonder that pervaded early SF stories; most of the ideas are now generally considered outdated (at best), but if one remembers what was (and, more importantly, wasn’t) known at the time, it makes the glaring scientific inaccuracies a little more interesting.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass; Lewis Carroll – This is one that I’m just shocked that I never read as a child. Hell, the story was originally a children’s story! Okay, okay…there are also a number of satirical elements that criticize various aspects of Victorian society (most of which nobody knows anymore), but at its core, it’s a tale of whimsy. And seriously…Jabberwocky is just awesome.

The Time Ships; Stephen Baxter – This book is an authorized sequel to H.G. Wells’ novel, The Time Machine; oddly enough, the titular ships play a relatively small role in the overall narrative. In the course of the (long) narrative, the story touches on human evolution, time travel, and alternate universes, among other things. It also pre-dates the new TV show that depicts a human colony during the age of the dinosaurs by over ten years – and from what little I’ve seen of said show, I think this book did a better job.

Small Miracles; Edward M. Lerner – This story explores some of the possible problems that could arise with human-implanted nanotechnology, in particular, tech that’s designed to operate with greater efficiency / computing power with greater numbers of individuals in a confined space. I’m not entirely sure how convincing it is, though, as I really don’t know how the tech is supposed to have mind-controlled various individuals; OTOH, ignoring that little issue makes the story a little more frightening.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich; Alexander Solzhenitsyn – I found a well-worn copy of this book when I was packing up stuff last year after my Mom sold her house, so I took it with me. The story paints a slightly fictional account of what sorts of things took place in the Soviet gulags during the height of the Communist regime. It’s about as much fun as it sounds.

Von Neumann’s War; John Ringo & Travis S. Taylor – This story depicts what might happen if Earth were in the path of a Von Neumann Probe gone horribly awry; for those of y’all who don’t know, a Von Neumann Probe is a concept for a robotic, self-replicating probe that could be used for automated exploration (i.e. without the need for humans to be along for a slower-than-light trip to another star system), and named for physicist and mathematician John von Neumann, who studied self-replicating machines. Of course, in theory, the machines wouldn’t be programmed to replicate indefinitely, but where would the fun be in that, right?

Nightfall; Isaac Asimov & Robert Silverberg – Yes, I’ve read this book before, but it’s been a while, so I figured I’d revisit it. The story is based on an older short story Asimov wrote that depicts what would happen to a civilization that exists on a planet that orbits a stellar system that has six stars and, as a result, never knows night…except for every 2,000 years when another planet in the system on a long, highly elliptical orbit eclipses the smallest star in the system on a day when only that small star is in the sky. While “night” may be a bit of misnomer (compared to our situation), it does capture the feel of the concern that the civilization feels when they finally reach the awful conclusion that night will, indeed, arrive and drive the majority of the population insane. Asimov definitely deserves credit for describing a civilization that comes across as believably alien – and deathly afraid of the dark.

The Hammer of God; Arthur C. Clarke – Clarke’s take on what might happen when a planet-killing asteroid is discovered heading towards Earth, and our response to it. From a literary standpoint, it’s a better story than the two competing asteroid impact movies of the late ’90s (Armageddon and Deep Impact), but it did also suffer from a very obvious lack of explosions and other action sequences. The book also has a fairly slow pace, so it didn’t keep my interest very long; OTOH, I hate not finishing books (see A Journey to the Center of the Earth above), so I slogged through it.

Agent to the Stars; John Scalzi – Most SF fans probably recognize Scalzi’s name from his Old Man’s War series of novels, but this was his first one, written many years before, and published online. The book explores (in inimitable Scalzi fashion) what would happen if Earth’s first contact with aliens involved a race of beings whose base form is essentially the Gelatinous Cube from D&D and smell like rotting fish…and are also shapeshifters. Despite these potentially paranoia-inducing qualities, they are quite friendly, so they hire a Hollywood agent to represent them and figure out a way to smoothly introduce them to humanity. It was, as with most of Scalzi’s work, quite amusing and fun to read.

Reliquary; Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child – This is the sequel to Preston & Child’s book, The Relic, which I read last year. As mentioned before, the book formed the basis for the 90s movie of the same name, though the sequel has not (thus far) been made into one. The story is notable for its very in-depth exploration of New York City’s underground world – which is, apparently, quite heavily stratified and features its own culture that operates mostly independently of the surface world. The story also features more examples of the monster that figured prominently in the previous story, so that part was both chilling and fun.

Fahrenheit 451; Ray Bradbury – Another story that I’ve previously read. I hadn’t read it in several years, so again, I figured it was time to refresh my memory. While the story is commonly cited as a cautionary tale about censorship, Bradbury generally claims now that it is more about the ways in which media (other than books, that is) can lead to the degeneration of society. I think the book is a little less clear in either regard, so there seems to be ample support for either argument to be made. Regardless of the cause, I would be rather annoyed if someone forcibly removed my books – laziness has led to most of my stuff still being in boxes and only unpacked when needed (apart from items of a sentimental nature, which tend to be kept boxed up except for the few occasions in any given year when I’m feeling nostalgic); the bulk of the items that I did unpack is comprised of lots and lots (and lots and lots and lots) of books. If you’re even thinking about taking my books from me, just kill me – if you can.

The Alien Years; Robert Silverberg – This story was notable for being a fairly reaslistic take on the standard SF trope of alien invasions – throughout the course of the story, humanity (and, oddly enough, us as the readers) never learns where the aliens come from or what they want. I call this “realistic” because when it comes to alien intelligences, it is very possible that even if they aren’t malevolent, we just won’t be able to understand each other. It also meant that the story was a bit less than satisfying, since I really was curious about the details behind the alien civilization.

Footfall; Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle – Yes, yes…yet another book I’ve previously read. OTOH, it was much more satisfying a read than the previous entry. I’m torn between this one and The Mote In God’s Eye (which I also need to re-read) as being Niven & Pournelle’s best work. Perhaps the best part is the climax of the narrative that involves a human-designed and -built spacecraft featuring nuclear-pulse propulsion (known to SF and space travel fans as Project Orion – a design study funded by DARPA back in the day), and cobbled together from, among other things, surplus Space Shuttles and the main armament from the various Iowa-class battleships (yes, the 16″ / 5o caliber guns). One of the best aspects: the ship is named Michael – yes, after the archangel who cast Satan out of Heaven. And yes, it is as awesome as it sounds. Not to be outdone on the hard-SF scale, the aliens arrive at Earth using a Bussard ramjet. In case you’re wondering, yes…Niven and Pournelle do tend to enjoy infusing their stories with a number of real-world (or close to it) technologies. They’re generally pretty good about making said integration exciting.

Great Expectations; Charles Dickens – In general, I wasn’t all that impressed with Dickens when I read his work back in school. Lately, though, I’m a little less annoyed with him – though I’m still fair sure I won’t be re-reading David Copperfield. Ever.

The Colour Out of Space & The Whisperer in the Darkness; H. P. Lovecraft – Last year, I started reading Lovecraft stories around Halloween, and I decided to carry on the tradition this year. As I’ve probably mentioned before, Lovecraft’s stories are generally more disturbing not for what is actually depicted, but for what the narratives imply (but don’t state). The Colour Out of Space, for example, involves what modern readers would likely characterize as an energy being and its detrimental effects on a rural New England family – what is left unsaid, though, is whether or not this effect is intentional or accidental, or even whether or not the “colour” accidentally or intentionally crashed on Earth in the form of a meteor.

And yes, I know…I’m pretty well admitting to being a massive nerd…I’ve read this many books in one year, but I haven’t been on a date in several years.

As for what’s on my future reading list, well. I have a number of books stacked up on the “to-read” pile, but I’m not entirely sure which ones I really want to tackle first – I may just pick a random one off the pile. I am about 70% of the way through The Bhagavad Gita, so I suppose I should finish that one, first. As for the rest of the year, I’m fair sure I’ll re-read both 1984 and Starship Troopers – both have evolved into yearly traditions for me, so I would hate to forego either one this year. And as for what’s randomly at the top of the “to-read” pile, here are a handful of titles:

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court; Mark Twain (believe it or not, I’ve never read Twain – I need to fix that)
The Martian Chronicles; Ray Bradbury (I tried to read it way back in high school, but didn’t have the patience for it)
The Three Musketeers; Alexandre Dumas
The Mote in God’s Eye; Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle (re-read)
Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, & Antigone; Sophicles (re-read)
The War of the Worlds; H. G. Wells (re-read)
The Call of the Wild & White Fang; Jack London

And that’s about it for now. Enjoy.

While I was putting away some of the books I’ve read over the past year, I stumbled upon some others that I had read and forgotten to include in my previous reading list post. I wrote that post while I was visiting my family for Christmas, so I didn’t have access to all of my books, just what I could remember from memory. Seeing as how I left out a half dozen books, it would appear that if I were responsible for drawing up a map of the world, I’d probably forget to include half of western Europe, and not notice the problem until someone pointed out the gaping hole where those countries should be. So, here are the additions.

Dragon’s Egg; Robert L. Forward – This novel is generally considered to be a masterpiece of “hard” SF, and rightly so: being a physicist, Dr. Forward was quite knowledgeable regarding the physical implications of life evolving on the surface of a neutron star (the titular Dragon’s Egg). The novel provides a unique thought experiment, and much of the narrative involves different stages in the development of the civilization on the neutron star; interspersed with this narrative is a description of a human expedition to document the neutron star from a relatively close distance (the star is a rogue that passes through our solar system). Given Dr. Forward’s background, there are extensive descriptions of the neutron star, the physics involved, the biology and physiology of the Cheela (the name of the alien race that lives on the star), etc. Forward himself once described the novel as “a textbook on neutron star physics disguised as a novel.” I enjoyed reading it, but I will also freely admit that there’s quite a bit of writing in there that I didn’t really understand. [1]

Inferno; Escape From Hell; Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle – Niven & Pournelle have had a very productive collaboration over the past couple decades; I’ve read many of their novels, and enjoyed all of them. These two are a loose re-imagining [2] of Dante’s Inferno, set in the modern day (or close to it) and populated by similarly updated characters. I’m actually not terribly fond of these two books (I much prefer their earlier Footfall [3] and The Mote In God’s Eye), but they were fun and easy to read.

The Demolished Man; Alfred Bester – The narrative of this story revolves around a murder and the consequences of that crime in a setting where telepathy is common (though not universal), and wherein the use of telepaths to “peep” into the motives of suspected criminals and stop them before they act. [4][5] The narrative is broadly similar to that in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, though Bester’s villain protagonist is being more actively sought by the police, while Dostoevsky’s is haunted more by his own mind than the machinations of the police. I have to admit, I’m not terribly fond of the idea of telepaths, and Bester’s novel does an admirable job of portraying the sorts of problems that might arise in a situation wherein telepaths exist, but the majority of the society is non-telepathic.

Flashforward; Robert J. Sawyer – This story focuses on time displacement, though in this case it only involves the consciousness of each individual of the human race, rather than physical displacement, and it is both accidental and maddeningly brief for all involved. The story delves rather deeply into the clash between theories of determinism and free will, and seems to come down slightly in favor of the latter. For a near-future narrative (the novel was published in 1999 and depicted the world of 2009), it was interesting (and sometimes amusing) to see how Sawyer had envisioned the directions technology might take compared to how they actually developed. [6][7] Also, I should mention that the events of the story are kicked off by an experiment at the European Large Hadron Collider (LHC), and that said experiment was designed to prove the existence of the Higgs Boson…

Relic; Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child – This book was the inspiration behind the 1997 movie, The Relic, and since I enjoyed the latter, I figured I might also enjoy the book. I wasn’t disappointed. Actually, in some ways, I’m a little disappointed with the movie now that I’ve seen the source. Of course, I understand that some “threads” need to be cut to compress the story into something that can be portrayed in a reasonable amount of screen time, and this didn’t bother me much. [8] It has more to do with differences in direction from the novel to the movie, and let’s face it…while I loved the creature effects for the movie, [9] having read the book, I really do want to see that monster now.

I also need to issue a retraction from my previous post: one of the four people who actually read my posts pointed out that my comments regarding the relationship between the Babylon 5 episode, The Deconstruction of Falling Stars and Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Liebowitz were incorrect. Straczynski clearly states that he was not influenced by Miller’s novel, so this is more of a case of similar logic and conclusions, rather than inspiration / homage. That being said, one could argue that Straczynski was just trying to make it sound like he was being more original than he claimed, but whether or not you believe that is your business. I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, as I do enjoy the show immensely.

And that’s about it for now.

Notes:

[1]: In fact, this is pretty much the same thing that happened to me when I read A Brief History of Time by Dr. Stephen Hawking. Of course, seeing as how that was mostly about quantum physics, and Hawking is pretty much the smartest man on the planet, this isn’t surprising to me…

[2]: Yeah, I know…this term was popularized by the recent (and thankfully, terminated) Battlestar Galactica TV series, and I’m not at all a fan of the show. I’m also not really a fan of this word, either, but it has its uses, so at least in that sense, it is more worthwhile than the TV series that popularized its use.

[3]: Which reminds me…I really should re-read Footfall sometime soon. And, for that matter, The Mote in God’s Eye.

[4]: This is also somewhat similar to Philip K. Dick’s short story, The Minority Report, which, sadly, I haven’t read (yet). The two stories differ in the particulars, however; Bester’s story involves telepathic police officers, while Dick’s story involves precognitive individuals who could see the particulars of a future crime before the events transpire.

[5]: Fans of the TV show Babylon 5 will likely recognize the name of this author. Series writer / producer / Great Maker J. Michael Straczynski has acknowledged that the Al Bester in the show is named in honor of the real-life Alfred Bester (see the “JMS Speaks” segment of the link). It should be noted, however, that B5’s portrayal of telepaths and the PsiCorps (the organization that controls and nurtures all human telepaths – at least, during the show itself) is much different than Bester’s. That being said, there are some similarities between the (hidden) goals of the Esper Guild in Bester’s story (basically, to eventually mold humanity into an entirely telepathic species) and those of some of the telepath factions in B5. Also, the “death of personality” punishment in the show (the show’s equivalent of the death penalty – without the physical death) is very similar to the titular “demolition” of the novel, wherein a criminal’s personality is “demolished” so that it can be rebuilt into something more productive for society.

[6]: Of course, by now Sawyer’s narrative is technically alternate history, since 2009 has already happened.

[7]: The cover of the edition I own makes reference to a TV series produced by ABC…I must confess that I’ve never heard of this series. Of course, I’m more amused by the fact that the blurb is misspelled on the cover – unless “inspriation” is the correct spelling of that word…

[8]: This also doesn’t much surprise me, as I rarely consider a movie adaptation to be superior to the original source novel. This is not to say that such movies can’t be good stories in their own right, simply that I don’t think they compare favorably to the stories upon which they are based. In fact, I can’t currently think of any movie adaptation that surpassed the original source, though I’m also not really thinking about it all that hard.

[9]: Created by the legendary (late) Stan Winston – who wouldn’t like his work?

Realizing that I haven’t written one of these in over a year, I figured I should write a little about what I’ve read over the past year. Because I’m sure y’all really, really want to know.

Note: I don’t necessarily remember everything I’ve read over the past year, so this may not be a comprehensive list. Also, since I started this year with three jobs, I didn’t do much reading for the first six months of the year, and have done quite a bit in the latter six months. This will probably mitigate the first caveat I listed. Probably. Finally, due to my chronically poor memory (and rather impulsive interests), I’ll try to list everything in chronological order, but again…well. It’ll be as close as I can get, given my shortcomings. Finally, since the last one of these I wrote was in early fall of last year, some of the books I’ll list here are actually from the tail end of last year.

And so, without further ado, here goes.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress; Robert Heinlein – One of my favorites from Heinlein, this book tells the story of the Lunar colonies and their fight for independence from Earth – in this setting, we have many colonies on the Moon. As usual for Heinlein, the story also provides a convenient vehicle for him to expound on his political and social views – since I tend to agree with many of his views, this doesn’t bother me all that much. At the very least, Heinlein greatly values independence and self-sufficiency (to the greatest extent possible for one’s individual abilities, that is), and that’s certainly an admirable thing (again, I think so; YMMV).

Days of Infamy; End of the Beginning; Harry Turtledove – Turtledove’s alternate history of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. In this case, instead of concluding the attack in the manner they did historically, the Japanese successfully invade Oahu, which delays the historical events of World War II in the Pacific by several months as the United States fights to retake Hawaii. Understandable, given that using Hawaii as a forward base of operations was a sine qua non for the rest of the Pacific campaign. There are some interesting situations described in the narrative, though I’m not entirely sure how “important” this sort of event would’ve been in history; sure, it means that the USA would’ve been delayed by several months in starting their island hopping campaign in the Pacific, but there is little indication that Japan could’ve capitalized on their position at Hawaii to, say, mount a major campaign against the West Coast.

Hyperion; The Fall of Hyperion; Endymion; The Rise of Endymion; Dan Simmons – The former two books and the latter two books can be considered as complete stories, as the first leads directly to the second, and the second completes the story of the first. The two pairs can be read mostly independent of each other. All four incorporate many common SF tropes, though Simmons also plays around a bit with them, and also includes some rather metaphysical aspects in the second pair. Simmons also drops many, many literary references into his narratives, along with a great many references to The Wizard of Oz. An interesting example of space opera, though a bit light on “hard” SF concepts. Overall, I enjoyed reading them – else, I wouldn’t’ve read all four books, now would I?

Superman: Red Son; Mark Millar – Okay, okay, not strictly speaking “literature,” but it does pose an interesting premise: What if Superman had been raised in the Soviet Union, rather than the United States? As per usual in alternate history narratives, [1] the narrative unfolds across a number of different time periods, the first being at the start of the Cold War, when Superman is unveiled by the Soviets, the second being in the late 70s or early 80s, and the third being roughly around modern times. The narrative also presents an epilogue that covers a much longer period of time, but in a condensed form.

A Canticle for Liebowitz; Walter Miller – Considered a classic of post-apocalyptic narrative (and rightly so), this is an interesting, if somewhat depressing, story. In some ways, Miller’s narrative mirrors historical events, particularly in the portrayal of religious organizations as guardians of knowledge and technology – which certainly happened after the fall of the Roman Empire. [2]

The Years of Rice and Salt; Kim Stanley Robinson – This is an alternate history wherein the Black Death effectively kills off the population of Europe, leading to a world that is dominated by Muslims and the Chinese in Eurasia, and by the Native American tribes in the Americas. Many of the developments Robinson describes are very similar to what actually happened in history, with the primary differences being sociological due to the different viewpoints of the cultures involved. Not surprising, though, given that if it did happen in history, it is likely that it would happen in an alternate version of history, just in a somewhat different way than it did in our world. [3]

The Peshawar Lancers; S.M. Stirling – Another alternate history; in this case, the point of departure from our own history is during the late 19C when a large comet breaks apart in our atmosphere and “sprays” most of the Northern Hemisphere with fragments. The resulting climate disruptions makes the locations of most of the major powers at the time (Continental Europe, North America, and northern Asia) uninhabitable within a year or two of the impacts, leading to either the relocation of collapse of said powers. England and France manage to relocate to India and Northern Africa, respectively, while the United States collapses entirely, and most of Russia resorts to cannibalism. The story takes place in the 21st Century, but is a mostly conventional adventure story that happens to take place in an alternate timeline. That said, it’s a fun read, so I enjoyed it.

A Hymn Before Battle; Gust Front; When the Devil Dances; Hell’s Faire; John Ringo – Also collectively known as the Posleen War novels, these stories are generally considered military SF, but Ringo tends to focus a bit more on the military end of matters than on the SF end. Admittedly, much of the strategy involved in the narratives are heavily influenced by the technology the human soldiers use, and Ringo is very consistent in his descriptions of said technology, but some of it does come off as magical, rather than technological. [4] Fast-paced stories though, and easy to read, so they were fun.

The Last Question; Isaac Asimov – My favorite short story by Asimov. I had been discussing the ultimate fate of the universe with one of my buddies, and when we got to discussing entropy, I was reminded of this story. For those of you who don’t know, the titular “last question” is (roughly), “Can the overall entropy in the universe be reversed?” Asimov’s resolution to the question is…interesting, to say the least. [5]

The Star; Arthur C. Clarke – A short story about a space expedition to a supernova remnant, and what the crew of the expedition comes to realize about the historical significance on Earth of this particular supernova. [5]

1984; George Orwell – My favorite dystopian novel, and classic of the genre. This is the third or fourth time I’ve read the book, but it continues to disturb me whenever I do. Also important is the appendix to the story, The Principles of Newspeak, which expounds on Orwell’s theory (touched upon somewhat in the narrative itself) that our language shapes what abstract concepts we can understand. Big Brother generally gets the most attention, but the rampant manipulation of language in the narrative is probably the most important form of control exerted by The Party in the story.

Crime and Punishment; Fyodor Dostoevsky – One of the classics of 19C literature, and quite a bit less inaccessable than I had originally thought prior to reading it. Dostoevsky is quite a “psychological” writer in that he spends a great deal of time analyzing the psychological motivations of his characters. This could be a bit off-putting, depending on your perspective, but it’s also an interesting style of writing – and quite detailed. Of course, given that the protagonist of the story is likely insane, the narrative can also be difficult, again, depending on your perspective.

Worldwar: In the Balance; Worldwar: Tilting the Balance; Harry Turtledove – Parts 1 and 2 of Turtledove’s four-part alternate history of World War II wherein aliens invade sometime during 1942. Both were quite fun to read, though Turtledove does seem prone to repeating himself on occasion – your reaction to this may depend on how fast you read the books, though. I tend to read rather swiftly, so when I do notice a phrase or description that is repeated from earlier in the narrative, it’s a bit more glaring than had I read the book slower. As usual, though, Turtledove tends to do a pretty good job of conveying the feel of the time period, along with the prevalent attitudes and biases of said period – as jarring as they may be to modern readers.

A Christmas Carol; Charles Dickens – Yes, that famous short story by Dickens. I’ve made a tradition of reading it once a year on or around – you guessed it – Christmas. Seems appropriate, if you ask me. [6][7]

Starship Troopers; Robert Heinlein – If I were asked to name my favorite Heinlein story, it would be a tie between this one and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress – and I would be unable to put one before the other. This story tends to get a bad rep due to it being seen as jingoistic and unfairly biased in favor of military – as opposed to civilian – values. Dig a little deeper, though, and the views Heinlein expresses regarding civic responsibility, honor, and morality are well worth considering, if only as a starting point for an honest discussion of said values. [8]

Notes From Underground; Fyodor Dostoevsky – This is what I’m currently reading. Widely regarded to be one of the first (if not the first) novel expounding upon existential viewpoints in a fictional setting.

As for where I’m going from here, I do already have a bit of a list assembled for that, as well. I’m not sure in what order I’ll read these, though.

Worldwar: Striking the Balance; Worldwar: Upsetting the Balance; Harry Turtledove
This Side of Paradise; F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Hammer of God; Arthur C. Clarke
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court; Mark Twain
The Idiot; Fyodor Dostoevsky
Von Neumann’s War; John Ringo

And I think that’s about it for now.

Notes:

[1]: This is probably a sine qua non for alternate history stories, since it is important to show the differences in history across, well, history itself – which can involve hundreds (if not thousands) of years, depending on the starting point of divergence with our own history.

[2]: Those of y’all who are fans of Babylon 5 might already know that fourth “chapter” of the fourth season finale, The Deconstruction of Falling Stars, is a direct homage to Miller’s renowned novel. Quite a good one, at that.

[3]: Robinson includes episodes that take place in the “afterlife” as part of each segment of the narrative; while I sorta understand the rationale here, I’m not entirely sure that the story is much enhanced by these episodes. I eventually ended up skipping the last few of them.

[4]: OTOH, as Arthur C. Clarke famously stated, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

[5]: Both of these stories are contained in an anthology called The Ascent of Wonder, which includes a number of selections of hard SF short stories.

[6]: This being a Dickensian “short” story, it works out to be roughly the length of an actual novel…

[7]: There is a made-for-TV movie of this story from several years back that stars Patrick Stewart as Scrooge. Well worth watching, both for the quality of the production and acting, but also because it is quite faithful to the original story. That, and seriously…Patrick Stewart as Ebeneezer Scrooge…how could that possibly be a bad thing?

[8]: If you do decide to read this book, do yourself a favor and try to ignore the fact that there are a few (rather poor quality) movies out there emblazoned with this title. These movies have little to no relationship to the book itself.

Like many of those of my gender, one of the many reasons I look forward to the summer is that there are often a slate of movies released during the season, often of a particular style. You know the ones – some city/country/planet is imperiled by some nefarious types, and it is up to the hero/heroine/ensemble of heroic types to save the day. If you’re at all familiar with this type of movie, you’ve also just read the sum total of the plot of such movies. This summer, of course, is no exception, with at least two major releases falling into this category, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. [1] I will also freely admit that I watched both movies and enjoyed both, with some qualifications that I’ll explain later.

Almost invariably, movies of this type are reviled by the cinematic critical establishment; I’m sure we’re all familiar with the complaints, many of them, admittedly, legitimate. Plotlines in such movies tend to be simple and predictable. Characters, even the main ones, are often framed in rudimentary terms, at best, and often lean more towards caricature than realism. Dialogue, what little of it exists, is also quite simple and, more often than not, banal and/or silly. Pacing tends to be frenetic, with little chance for even a brief respite from the action. Even so, I submit that these are not the reasons that people want to watch such movies.

People watch these movies for one simple reason: they’re fun. No, they’re not the most intellectually stimulating fodder, but that’s just not the point; for that matter, they they were never intended to be such. Honestly, if you’re venturing to the theaters to watch one of these movies, and you think you’ll be sitting through a riveting, dramatic, culturally significant event, well, what planet do you come from? Why would you have such expectations in the first place? Silly you. You really shouldn’t be expecting such things. While I understand the criticisms of such movies, I’m also not convinced that they should really matter, either. One wonders why the film critics so often appear surprised that these movies don’t live up to their haughty standards. At the same time, it is not surprising that people often perceive an intellectual bias on the part of those who espouse such perspectives; why else would one evince such contempt for the filmmakers who bother cobbling together such drivel, when they could be pursuing nobler goals? Indeed, it is for such reasons as this that common folks often disparage the elitist tendencies of those whose lofty expectations are clearly not out of step with the reality of that with which the latter are presented. One wonders why such individuals expect every film to be an intellectual masterpiece of the medium, even though it is plainly obvious from past experience that it is unnecessary for films to be formatted thusly to be both popular and financially successful. [2]

Don’t get me wrong; I am not an anti-intellectual by any stretch of the imagination. I enjoy plenty of intellectually stimulating pursuits (even if my puny brain gets hurt in the process); I am proud of having read the books that I have, visited and appreciated art collections, played a musical instrument, [3] etc., etc. That said, I also enjoy shutting off my brain for awhile, and engaging in far simpler pursuits. Like watching movies that have almost no plotline, but involve lots of explosions and wanton destruction. Sometimes, it is useful to have that “break” from more serious pursuits. After all, the Roman intelligentsia often watched the various public games, and while most of them decried the spectacle, I would wager that some of them probably did enjoy watching, regardless. [4] In many ways, I enjoy such movies far more so than those that pretend to be more intellectual than they truly are; [5] at least the former are more honest about themselves. Mind you, I also enjoy movies that are both fun and smart; I just don’t expect that every film I see will live up to this standard, nor do I often care if the movie does not do so. Very often, I enjoy watching a given movie because I get to see exactly what I expected to see; simply put, I tailor my expectations to what the film is likely to offer, rather than expecting the movie to offer something that it clearly will not. As such, I am not often disappointed.

So, do yourselves a favor: ignore those silly talking-head critics (I almost always do), turn off your brain, and relax. Not every activity in which you engage needs to be intellectually stimulating. No, you won’t be getting any smarter by watching such movies as these, but unless you’re really trying to use your brain during them, I doubt you’ll be getting any dumber, either.

Notes:

[1]: Regardless of the merits of these movies, I find the use of the colons in these titles rather amusing. Oh sure, I understand the marketing aspect involved (both are based on toylines), but still.

[2]: Such as in the case of the G.I. Joe movie, which raked in somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 million USD on its worldwide opening weekend. I wonder how many of those viewers went into the movie expecting it to be the most intellectually substantial film of the year…

[3]: Piano, if you must know, though I wasn’t particularly good at it. I’m not even sure I enjoyed it all that much. On the other hand, I also learned decent hand-eye coordination from doing so, and the ability to read sheet music is actually applicable outside of the musical field, albeit in the abstract, so it was useful.

[4]: To be fair, those that did enjoy watching the games probably did feel guilty afterwards. I suppose this is fitting.

[5]: At least two come to mind, The Day After Tomorrow, and The Core; both because they took their underlying concepts and wrapped them in layers of pseudoscience to make them seem “plausible” and serious, even though said basic concepts were laughably foolish. Okay, okay, anthropogenic global warming might be happening, but it is thus far unproven; as for us inadvertently stopping the core of the Earth from spinning, there’s just too much garbage here to even try untangling it. I should also point out that I do own a DVD copy of The Core, though its not because I find the movie compelling on any level; rather, I have said copy because I found the scientific idiocy of the movie so extraordinary as to actually be funny. Yes, you read that right. Don’t look at me like that; you know you’ve got your own guilty pleasures.

Yes, I know…how could I, right? Well, sometimes memes are fun. And besides which, this one involves literature, and that can’t be a bad thing. That, and I haven’t written a literary post in a quite a while, and much as I want to write up a reading list for SF, well. Brain just won’t let me do that right now. In any event, on with the survey.

[Survey text follows]
The BBC believes most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here. How do your reading habits stack up?

Instructions:
Copy this into your NOTES. Look at the list and put an ‘x’ after those you have read. (Note that since I’m posting this in WordPress and having Facebook auto-import the post, I’ll be identifying the books I’ve read in italics. Fancy, right?)

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The Bible [1]
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

Total: 5.5

11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare [2]
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot

Total: 2.5

21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

Total: 2

31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis –
34 Emma-Jane Austen
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hossein
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne

Total: 1

41 Animal Farm – George Orwell 
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan

Total: 2

51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel
52 Dune – Frank Herbert [3]
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night – Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Total: 3

61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville

Total: 2

71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses – James Joyce
76 The Inferno – Dante [4]
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray

Total: 2

80 Possession – AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton

Total: 1

91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Total: 3

Grand Total: 24

[Survey ends]

Now, I have a few critiques of this particular list. Certainly, I would not have included Dan Brown on any such list of worthwhile reading materials. And seriously, only one SF novel (and a bit of a snoozer, at that)? Why aren’t any of Verne’s or Wells’ novels included, if only one of each? [5] Being something of an SF connoisseur, I can also name several books in that genre that deserve mention in any such list, especially when said list contains multiple novels by individual authors (which, to my mind, is a bit redundant). Additionally, where are the Greco-Roman classics? I realize, of course, that few people read them anymore, but considering that these works form a substantial part of the foundation of Western literature, do they not merit inclusion, if for no other reason than to make each respondent feel guilty for not having read them? [6] Also, a minor quibble: I would’ve axed Dracula (much as I enjoyed that book), and substituted Frankenstein, instead; I consider the latter to be the more significant of the two works. All of this being said, at the very least, I did beat the projected typical case of having only read six of the aforementioned books, so, go me! I’ll also point out that if I include all of the SF novels I’ve read, as well as the various books I’ve read in my multi-year, self-paced, independent study course in political science and philosophy, not to mention books I consider significant that are not included on the above list, then I can probably get pretty close to 100 “significant” books read. But that’s really neither here nor there, for now. Regardless, I think I’ll stick to my own reading lists, thank you very much. Most of the books on this list, well. They just don’t interest me in the least; as with all subjective matters, however, YMMV.

Notes:

[1]: I’m only claiming half credit for the Bible. I’ve probably read the majority of the books contained therein, but I don’t remember much of it.

[2]: Similar to the Bible, I’m only claiming half credit here; I’ve read about a dozen of Shakespeare’s plays (including some of the most obscure ones), but I have not read them all.

[3]: I’m seriously tempted to claim more credit here, since I have read all six of Herbert’s Dune novels, but I’ll play nice.

[4]: If it helps, I’m also slogging through Purgatorio at the moment, which could be considered an apt comparison to the current state of my life in general, but let’s not go there, okay?

[5]: And if you can’t name the two books I’m thinking of, well. Granted, not so many people have actually read either book, but most are familiar with them in passing, or the titles, at the very least. [*]

[6]: In all fairness, I’m also being a bit of a snob here, since I’ve read both The Illiad and The Odessey, and translated parts of The Aeneid from the original Latin (I took three years of Latin in high school…one cannot engage in such study and not encounter Vergil’s immortal work). I’ve also read some of the works of Cicero, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius…

[*]: Seriously, if you’re stumped, here are the titles I had in mind (you’ll probably kick yourself for not figuring this out on your own): 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, and War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells.

There were three great dystopian novels written in the 20C. All of them, in my opinion, are worth reading, although they are, naturally, quite depressing. The three novels most often cited are the following:

  • 1984, by George Orwell (probably the most well known)
  • Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
  • We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin (note: sometimes, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is cited in place of Zamyatin’s novel, as the latter is relatively obscure due to having been originally written and published in Russian)

Each of these novels take place in fictional worlds that, to an outside observer (i.e. the reader), are clearly not utopian visions of society; on the other hand, the majority of the inhabitants of each society view their world as ideal. Each novel features a handful of individuals who slowly discover the shocking truth behind the idyllic facades presented to them by their societies, and attempt to rebel against the status quo. Each society, in turn, maintains its respective facade through various means, and in detail, these are different from one story to the next.

The underlying theme in each society, however, is fundamentally the same. Each society maintains order through coerced conformity, and they generally take extensive measures to ensure this conformity. In the case of 1984, this takes the form of the infamous Big Brother, manifested through the use of extensive surveillance and the manipulation of language and perception. [1] In the case of Brave New World, this is accomplished by ruthless selective breeding, extensive hypnotic indoctrination, and consumption of psychoactive drugs. In the case of We, conformity is enforced by rigid adherence to schedules and efficiency, and the suppression of any expression of individualism (e.g. each individual has no name, only an alphanumeric identity, roughly analagous to identifying ourselves solely via our Social Security Numbers). Regardless of the methods involved, the overall effect is the same: enforced conformity.

Herein lies the basis for the warning alluded to in the title. Rigid adherence to any idea, agenda, belief, etc., has the potential to suppress our capacity for critical thought, and without this ability, we will eventually be unable to notice when the blinders are lowered over our eyes. Critical thought is of vital importance to a free society, as it not only allows us to challenge a proposition that could prove to be deleterious to our society, but also provides us the wherewithal to make that determination, after considering the merits of the idea. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, what worries me in contemporary “debates” about the future of our society is the tendancy for each side to villify its opponents and dismiss the positions of the latter with only cursory consideration (if any consideration is even attempted). Civil opposition is not an evil thing. At worst, it is a source of delay and aggravation; at best, it affords us the opportunity to analyze our own position, and determine its merits in the face of challenge. This does not strike me as an unhealthy behavior for us, as citizens of a rational society.

There are also a few other titles that are worth mentioning:

  • Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury; in this case, societal control is established through the suppression of knowledge. This suppression is achieved by burning any and all books, and making reading itself illegal. Fewer rigid controls exist in Bradbury’s society than those in other dystopian societies, but one could also argue that without the proper knowledge, critical thought is practically impossible.
  • Anthem, by Ayn Rand; Rand’s society enforces conformity through the suppression of individualism. One could argue that this is a similar theme as Orwell’s Newspeak, as the individuals in Rand’s society lack the basic vocabulary to describe themselves in individual terms, and think only in collective terms. Like Zamyatin’s novel, individuals are also identified by combinations of random words and numbers, instead of names, again, in an effort to suppress individualist ideation. [2]
  • The Man In the High Castle & Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, [3] both by Philip K. Dick; both of these novels are not quite dystopian in the same sense as 1984, Brave New World, and the like. Rather than depicting totalitarian societies, the societies depicted are more like “anti-utopian” in that they are not ideal visions of society. The former depicts life in a post WWII America wherein the Allies lost to the Axis powers, and consequently, the American continents are splie between Germany and Japan. The latter depicts a post-apocalyptic society that is not so much dystopian as it is simply not ideal, as the surface of the planet has been ravaged by a world war.
  • If This Goes On…, by Robert Heinlein (short story); this story depicts an American theocratic society. While the religion in question is fictional, the story does provide a useful parallel for contemporary Islamist groups who work towards subjugating the entire world under their draconian interpretions of sharia, and the importance of vigorously opposing any such efforts. [2]
  • Dune (and its five sequels), by Frank Herbert; this one can actually go either way, depending on your interpretation of the society presented in the novels. There are strong aspects of feudalism, eugenics, repression, imperialism, and a host of other negative institutions evident in the society that Herbert describes in the series. In some cases, the forces behind these institutions are motivated solely by power and greed; in other cases, there are more altruistic motives involved. One important aspect to note is that Herbert quite admirably presents the complexities inherent in society, and, as often happens in real life, situations cannot easily be differentiated as purely good or evil, but fall somewhere in between.

And that’s all for now. I promise, the next reading list will be substantially more upbeat than this one.

Notes:

[1]: One of the main reasons that I think everyone should read Orwell’s two essays, Politics and the English Language, and The Principles of Newspeak (which is, in point of fact, the appendix to 1984), is that Orwell makes a compelling argument regarding the consequences of manipulated language. Most notably, he argues that language forms the basis of one’s perceptions, and that without the proper words to describe a concept (or using the wrong words to describe it), on cannot even think of the concept, let alone put it into practice. Eventually, I plan on devoting a post to this topic.

[2]: If you’re looking for optimism, these two stories have relatively happy endings (though I won’t detail their resolutions), unlike most of the other dystopian novels.

[3]: Most of you will probably recognize this story from the movie adaptation that was made from the story, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

This is one of those (many) surveys floating around on Facebook, but this one isn’t quite as onerous or vacuous as most of the others I’ve seen, so I don’t mind filling it out. Since my posts here are cross-linked with my Facebook profile, I figured it would make sense to write it here, and let Facebook do the dirty work of importing it into my profile. Efficient, right? Ain’t I clever?

Survey follows:

Literature survey:

[Note: I’m removing the silly instruction list that comes with the Facebook survey; I don’t much care if anyone else fills out this survey after I do]

01: What author do you own the most books by?
Robert Heinlein

02: What book do you own the most copies of?
No individual book, but I do own multiple copies of the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence in multiple formats.

03: Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
Not in this case; the alternative grammatical construct necessary to remove the trailing prepositions would have been so contorted and clumsy that the trailing preposition is the lesser of two evils.

04: What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
None.

05: What book have you read the most times in your life (excluding picture books read to children; i.e., Goodnight Moon does not count)?
Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein (3x); I also refer to the various chapters of The Federalist Papers often.

06: What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
Don’t remember, but I suspect something by Dr. Seuss.

07: What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?
The Other End of Time, by Frederick Pohl. 

08: What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?
Tie between The Federalist Papers by Madison, Hamilton, & Jay, and Paradise Lost by John Milton.

09: If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?
Moby Dick

10: Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature?
No idea. I don’t keep up with modern writers much, anyways. 

11: What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
The Encyclopedia Britannica

12: What book would you least like to see made into a movie?
Any.

13: Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
I don’t remember my dreams.

14″ What is the most lowbrow book you’ve read as an adult?
Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. It was horrible.

15: What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?
Tie between Moby Dick, Paradise Lost, and A Brief History of Time.

16: What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you’ve seen?
Never seen one.

17: Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
Neither

18: Roth or Updike?
I don’t recognize either of these authors, so I have no idea.

19: David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?
See answer to question 18.

20: Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?
All three.

21: Austen or Eliot?
I’ve only read one book by Austen, and none by Eliot, so I can’t answer this question.

22: What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
Walk into any bookstore and look around; about 90% of whats available, I haven’t read.

23: What is your favorite novel?
Tie between The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Starship Troopers, both by Robert Heinlein. 

24: Play?
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller.

25: Poem?
Tie between The Illiad & The Odyssey by Homer, and Paradise Lost by John Milton.

26; Essay?
Politics and the English Language & The Principles of Newspeak, both by George Orwell.

27: Short story?
Tie between The Last Question & Nightfall, both by Isaac Asimov

28: Work of nonfiction?
The Federalist Papers, by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay.

29: Who is your favorite writer?
Robert Heinlein & Jerry Pournelle (SF); Victor Hugo (19C Literature); Friedrich Nietzsche (Existentialism); Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Jean Jacques Rousseau, & Niccolo Machiavelli (Political Theory); John Milton & Dante Alghieri (Poetry) 

30: Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
Probably all of them.

31: What is your desert island book?
Green Eggs & Ham

32: And… what are you reading right now?
The Comunist Manifesto, Marx & Engels; A Discourse on Inequality, Jean Jacques Rousseau; Beyond This Horizon, Robert Heinlein

Enjoy.

The Leviathan

2009/03/24

I have referred to Thomas Hobbes’ The Leviathan a couple of times in the past, and I will likely do so again. There is good reason why I have done and will continue to do this. Hobbes devotes the entire first part of The Leviathan to an analysis of human nature and its motivations, and uses this information as the basis for his argument that the best means of preventing the collapse of human civilization is by having a strong, centralized government. In his particular case, Hobbes is an apologist for a sole, absolute soverign authority (basically monarchy), but his analysis of human nature and its faults is made no less valid by this conclusion. Since it is likely that I will refer to certain passages of The Leviathan again, I have decided to post some relevent exerpts from the text. I find the text to be mostly self-explanatory, but please do let me know if any particular part appears confusing, and I will attempt to explicate it.

Original text from The Leviathan follows:

Nature has made men so equal in the faculties of body and mind, as that though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body, or of a quicker mind than another, yet when all is reckoned together, the difference between man and man is not so considerable, as that one man can thereupon claim to himself any benefit to which another may not pretend, as well as he. For as to the strength of the body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination, or by confederacy with others that are in the same danger with himself…[1]

From this equality of ability arises equality of hope in attaining our ends. And therefore, if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies, and in the way to their end, which is principally their own conservation and sometimes their delectation only, endeavor to destroy, or subdue, one another. And from hence, it comes to pass that where an invader has no more to fear than another man’s single power, if one plant, sow, build, or possess a convenient seat, others will probably be expected to come prepared with forces united to dispossess and deprive him, not only of the fruit of his labor, but also of his life or liberty. And the invader, again, is in the like danger of another. [2]

Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them in awe, they are in that condition which is called War; and such a war as is of every man against every man. For War consists not in Battle only, or in the act of fighting; but in a tract of time wherein the will to contend is sufficiently
known: and therefore the nothion of Time is to be considered in the nature of War, as it is in the nature of Weather. For as the nature of Foul weather lies not in a shower of two of rain, but in an inclination thereto of many days together, so that nature of War consists not in actual fighting, but in the known disposition thereto,
during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is Peace.

Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of War, where every man is Enemy to every man, the same is consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth, no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building, no Instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no Knowledge of the face of the Earth, no account of Time, no Arts, no Letters, no Society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. [Emphasis added]

It may seem strange to some man that has not well weighted these things, that Nature should thus dissociate, and render men apt to invade and destroy one another: and he may, therefore, not trusting to this Inference, made from the Passions, desire perhaps to have the same confirmed by Experience. Let him, therefore, consider with himself, when taking a journey, he arms himself and seeks to go well accompanied; when going to sleep, he locks his doors; when even in his house he locks his chests; and this when he knows there be Laws and public Officers, armed, to revenge all injuries shall be done him; what opinion he has of his fellow subjects, when he rides armed; of his fellow Citizens, when he locks his doors; and of his children and servants, when he locks his chests. Does he not there as much accuse mankind by his actions as I do by my words? But neither of us accuse man’s nature in it. The Desires and other Passions of man are in themselves no Sin. No more are the Actions that proceed from those Passions, till they know a Law forbids them: which, until Laws be made they cannot know…[3]

To this War of every man against every man, this also is consequent: that nothing can be Unjust. The notions of Right and Wrong, Justice and Injustice have there no place. Where there is no common Power, there is no Law: where no Law, no Injustice. Force and Fraud are in war the two cardinal virtues. Justice and Injustice are none of the faculties neither of the Body nor the Mind. If they were, they might be in a man that were alone in the world, as well as his Senses, and Passions.They are qualities that relate to men in Society, not in Solitude. It is consequent also to the same condition, that there be no Propriety, no Dominion, no Mine and Thine distinct, but only that to be every man’s that he can get, and for so long as he can keep it…[4]

And because the condition of Man is a condition of War of every one against every one, in which case everyone is governed by his own Reason, and there is nothing he can make use of that may not be a help unto him in preserving his life against his enemies. It follows that in such a condition, every man has a Right to everything, even to another’s body. And therefore, as long as this natural Right of every man endures, there can be no security to any man, however strong or wise he is, of living out the time which Nature oridinarily allows men to live. And consequently, it is a precept, or general rule of Reason, that every man ought to endeavor Peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it, and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek, and use, all helps and advantages of War…[that is] by all means we can, to defend ourselves. [5]

These passages were copied from the text of The Leviathan that I own (Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan, Prometheus Books (Pub.), ISBN 0-87975-445-1); the text is written in the original dialect of English that Hobbes used, but I have modified the text to read in modern English (or a near approximation thereof). Mostly, this amounts to editing the spelling of certain words but, for the most part, the grammar remains the same as that which is found in the original source.

Notes:

[1]: Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan, Chapter XIII, Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerns their Felicity and Misery; Paragraph 1

[2]: Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan, Chapter XIII, Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerns their Felicity and Misery; Paragraph 3

[3]: Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan, Chapter XIII, Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerns their Felicity and Misery; Paragraphs 8, 9, & 10

[4]: Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan, Chapter XIII, Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerns their Felicity and Misery; Paragraph 13

[5]: Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan, Chapter XIV, Of the First and Second Natural Laws; Paragraph 4

My brother pointed out the other day that I’m a fairly well-read individual. Though I don’t like tooting my own horn, I have to grudgingly agree with said assessment; I am entirely unapologetic when it comes to owning and acquiring books – even when I’m poor, unemployed, etc (granted, I don’t buy as much under the latter situations, but I still do). Hey, I’ve got no social life (at least, I’m unaware of it, if it does exist), and well, I need something to do, right?

So, here are some suggested titles. Given that read a great deal, and have some fairly diverse interests, this list will only cover a limited selection of topics and titles. Since my post earlier today related to political issues, I’ll start there. Other lists will follow…eventually. Titles will be followed by a (relatively) short description of why I think its important, and such thoughts.

  • The Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, & John Jay. There is no finer means of interpreting the Federal Constitution than this (IMHO). As anyone who’s read the Constitution can tell you, it does not explain itself, it merely states its provisions, and leaves it at that. The Federalist fills that void, and has the added benefit of having been written by three of the members of the convention that wrote the Constitution. It also provides commentary, historical perspectives, and comparison to the Articles of Confederation that preceeded the Constitution. Most editions also include a full text of the Constitution, and sometimes, the Articles of Confederation (which is useful for comparison, since some of the provisions of the Constitution were constructed in direct response to deficiencies in the AoC).
  • The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli. Contrary to popular conception, Machiavelli generally did not advocate the draconian measures he describes and analyzes in this work. He does admit that there are often situations where such deplorable measures are necessary, but he is also quick to point out that said measures should be employed sparingly, if at all possible. One of his reasons for suggesting so is that his assessment of human nature is rather less generous than idealists would like, but depressing as that may be, it is realistic, and Machiavelli was nothing if not practical when he was writing this treatise.
  • The Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes spends almost half of this treatise analyzing human nature and its strengths and weaknesses, and the rest describing various forms of government. If you ever thought that anarchy would be preferable to government, read his thoughts on man in his natural state. Chilling stuff.
  • The Social Contract, Jean Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau outlines here the reciprocal nature of representative government, and the duties that exist between the body politic (I think Rousseau coined this phrase) and the government. He also analyzes various forms of government, and the role that each side plays in said governmental systems.
  • Vom Krieg (On War), Karl von Clausewitz. Not technically politics as we generally understand it today, but Clausewitz points out that war is, in fact, a political act, “a mere continuation of policy by other means.” Fundamentally, war is an act carried out between nations where one nation attempts to coerce another nation to conform to the former’s will. Note, though, that I have not finished reading this book yet, so I may have further thoughts regarding it in the future.
  • Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Karl Marx & Frederick Engels. Because it is important to know and understand one’s enemies (Clausewitz makes a strong case for this in Vom Krieg). Okay, to be fair, Marxisim is only the enemy in my little world; if you prefer this sort of thing to guaranteed civil liberties such as we currently enjoy, then please disregard my adversarial statements.
  • Utopia, Thomas More. This is worth reading simply because of what it is. I’ll have to re-read it to comment specifically about its pertinence to current political trends, however, as I last read this several years ago and don’t remember it as well as I should.
  • 1984, George Orwell. If you’re worried that our government is going the totalitarian route, read this to find out how wrong (mostly) you are. It is also helpful as a means of understanding and identifying the warning signs in case our government really is going this route. An often-overlooked aspect of this book is its appendix, “The Principles of Newspeak.” I highly recommend reading this along with the next item on the list; I’ll explain in a moment.
  • Politics and the English Language, George Orwell. Not actually a book, but an essay. This essay, along with the appendix to 1984, shows how pliable language really is, and how easily it can be manipulated to forward political goals (obfuscation in the case of PatEL, and eradication of critical thought in the case of Newspeak). These two essays are especially amusing (and depressing) when used to analyze modern political speeches, even those by the more well-meaning of our elected officials. Orwell is probably rolling in his grave even now.
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein. This is nominally an SF novel, but Heinlein made no secret of his political leanings in his writings; Heinlein was a libertarian (small ‘l’), but whether or not you agree with his politics, he makes some valid points WRT government in general. Food for thought, anyways, and if nothing else, its a great read wholly apart from its politics, and it involves planetary bombardment for added goodness. Heinlein is also one of those rare breeds of SF writers whose science (even when superseded by more recent discoveries) actually makes sense.

Books that I have not yet read, but intend to…eventually (in case you want to follow along) – note that these are not necessarily listed in the order that I will (eventually) read them:

  • Two Treatises of Government, John Locke. Locke’s writings are part of the inspiration behind our system of government as outlined in the Constitution, so it makes sense to read these.
  • The Rights of Man & The Age of Reason, Thomas Paine. I remember reading Part I of The American Crisis many moons ago (“These are the times that try men’s souls…”), and Paine’s writings were also very influential on early American political discourse.
  • A Discourse on Inequality, Jean Jacques Rousseau. Apparently, this is an analysis of the inequalities of wealth, power, and stature in modern society…how could I refuse?
  • On Liberty, John Stuart Mill. This should be self-explanatory. Especially when you realize that I’m an existentialist, on top of being a libertarian.
  • On Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville. I’ve heard that this is an excellent analysis of our system of government (even though its from a French source), and also includes an analysis of the “tyranny of the majority.” Its translated from French, so I’ll probably have to suffer through this one (and no, this isn’t a jab at the French; translations from foreign languages tend to be hit-or-miss, with some being very easy to read, and others being downright painful).

And that should do it for this round. More will (inevitably) follow, though I’ll move on to other topics for a little while. Like religion. Everybody loves discussing religion, right? Heh.