January 25, 2010

Top SF/Fantasy works

Filed under: Books, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 17:21

Tyler Cowen linked to Alex Carnevale’s top 100 SF&F works, which has some odd choices (Jack Vance and Ursula K. LeGuin appear to have been the compiler’s favourite authors). In the comments to Tyler’s post, an alternate (unannotated) list by David Pringle was recommended. Pringle’s list doesn’t include Fantasy books, so there’s less overlap between the two than you might expect.

No list of this kind is, or can be, truly authoritative, but there are some common items on each list I can’t criticize as being in the top of the field:

  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert Heinlein. Carnevale has this at #2. Pringle doesn’t list it, but has several other (in my opinion, lesser) Heinlein works on his list. This is one of the best libertarian SF novels ever. Even if you’re not over-fond of his work, this short novel is well worth reading.
  • Frankenstein Mary Shelley. This book made #6 for Carnevale, but didn’t make Pringle’s list. I read this when I was 12, and it made quite an impression on me, although I have to admit I like it much more now than I did on first reading it.
  • Dune, Frank Herbert. Carnevale likes it much more than Pringle (#11 versus #48). I liked the original book, but lost interest sometime later in the series.
  • The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien. Not the original fantasy work, but probably the most common source for inspiration (and verging-on-outright-plagiarism) for an entire sub-field of Fantasy.
  • Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein. One of the most subversive books ever published, at least as far as the middle class of the 1960’s was concerned. On the surface, it’s the story of a Martian named Smith. It seems to be one of those books you either love or hate — not much middle ground here.
  • Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll. Pair this with Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass for the full effect. Another author whose work has been strip-mined for ideas by later writers.
  • 1984 by George Orwell. Pringle’s #1 pick and Carnevale’s #26. I’d certainly put it in my top ten.
  • Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury. This book made both lists (#8 for Pringle,#27 for Carnevale), but I’m afraid I’ve never read it (I tried a couple of Bradbury books when I was in my early teens, but never warmed to him as an author).
  • The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick. Another book that made both lists, but which I haven’t read, and for similar reasons. Early experiences with an author’s work can have long-lasting effects.
  • A Fire upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge. A book that appeals to both fans of the huge stage of deep space and aficionados of the early Internet.
  • Citizen of the Galaxy, Robert Heinlein. One of the very best “young adult” SF novels from before they called them that. Both a coming of age novel and a condemnation of slavery and hypocrisy. Powerful stuff for young minds.
  • Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein. Another great polarizer: it’s either the best military SF novel ever written or the worst piece of hyper-Fascist propaganda ever written. It’s interesting that Heinlein wrote this book at about the same time as he was working on Stranger. Readers who only knew about the one work might have suffered severe mental whiplash to find he’d written the other one, too. Either way, pretend that the film never happened (aside from the names, it doesn’t have much to do with the novel).
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams. You want whimsical? HHG took whimsy to a whole different level. What Terry Pratchett did with Fantasy, Adams did with SF.
  • Animal Farm, George Orwell. A book that suffers from being pushed on high school students as mandatory reading. The revolution on the farm, and the aftermath.
  • The Baroque Cycle, Neal Stephenson. A huge four-volume work that repays the effort to work through. Some authors work best at a certain length (short story, novella, novel, etc.). Stephenson seems to work best at the library-shelf level.
  • Ringworld, Larry Niven. I wouldn’t call this a top-ten, but the series of books in this series certainly belong in the top 100.
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller. Post-apocalyptic done well.
  • Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson. Certainly one of the most entertaining books I’ve ever read (it helped that I was working in the computer industry at the time). From Stephenson’s earlier less-than-library-shelf-length period.
  • The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham. A book I had to read in middle school, yet one I still recall with great affection. Few books can survive being forced down kids’ throats. This one can.
  • Memory, Mirror Dance, and A Civil Campaign, Lois McMaster Bujold. I had trouble stopping at just three of Bujold’s “Vorkosigan” series, as they’re all highly entertaining and deeply engaging. Some call it space opera, but it’s far more involved and well-executed than that easy label would indicate. One of the very best SF authors ever. Her more recent work is predominantly Fantasy, and while they’re very good, I’m more interested in her SF writing.
  • The Atrocity Archive and The Jennifer Morgue, Charles Stross. Imagine if the British secret service had an even more eldritch secret service component. But run strictly according to civil service rules.
  • Pyramids, Men at Arms, Interesting Times, and The Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett. Another author for whom it is difficult to select even a few examples (they’re all so good). His Discworld series started as a simple pastiche of typical swords-and-sorcery novels, but which quickly outgrew the confines of the first few books. The Wee Free Men is the first of a series of Young Adult novels for the Discworld (including A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith and the forthcoming I Shall Wear Midnight).
  • Old Man’s War, John Scalzi. Another military SF story, but so well thought-out and executed as to transcend the ordinary levels of the sub-genre. Follow-on works are equally good (The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, and Zoe’s Tale).
  • Island in the Sea of Time, S.M. Stirling. Another time-travel story, but avoiding the usual pitfalls of time travel story lines (the secret was to go back before written history…). This was the first book of a trilogy. Stirling is currently completing a related series of stories hinging on what happened to the world left behind in the original trilogy (starting with Dies the Fire).
  • The Probability Broach, L. Neil Smith. More interesting (and amusing) ideas per page than any other novel of its era. Another libertarian book, but don’t let the label scare you off: great reading.

What’s that? No Clarke? No Asimov? No Sturgeon? No Card? No Zelazny? No Brunner? Not in the top whatever-number-I-stopped-at. Each has strong fans, and some good work, but not top-rank in my view.

The Tiger Woods effect hits the PGA in the pocketbook

Filed under: Media, Sports — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:36

Tiger Woods may be invisible at the moment, but the public reaction to his troubles appears to be contributing to further financial trouble for the PGA:

The troubles facing the professional-golf tour without Tiger Woods will be on display when the annual tournament tees off at the Torrey Pines course in San Diego this week: Ticket sales are down, fewer hospitality tents have been sold, and the title sponsor had to be lured with a cut-rate price.

It is a harbinger of what the PGA Tour may be without its most popular player. Three of the Tour’s 46 tournaments scheduled for 2010 don’t have a lead corporate sponsor, nor do 13 of next year’s tournaments. Television viewership of the first two events of this year’s Tour tumbled.

In past years, Mr. Woods, the game’s most popular player, usually skipped the first three tournaments and began play on the San Diego tournament’s seaside course, perched on scenic cliffs overlooking the Pacific. As Mr. Woods’s opener, San Diego became one of the highest-profile early events of each PGA Tour season. This year, Mr. Woods, caught up in a sex scandal, is on leave from the game, with no word on when he will return. Without his unmatched star power, the value of Tour sponsorships, through which companies cover most tournament prizes, could be sharply lower. And without a rich flow of cash from those sponsorships, the PGA Tour’s economic model is cracked.

This shows the danger inherent in having a single, iconic representative. If the icon stumbles, it has a severe knock-on effect.

Vikings dominant in all categories, except the most important one

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:04

Minnesota looked great in the stat sheet: total yards — 475 yards to 257, passing — 310 yards to 189 and rushing 165 to the Saints’ 68. But there was one big number they couldn’t overcome: turnovers. It was as if someone had greased the football, with Adrian Peterson fumbling twice (once on the Saints’ goal line) and recovering a third. Even Percy Harvin let one get away from him, while Brett Favre was picked off twice (once to kill the Vikings’ best chance to win in regulation time). The Saints, by comparison, played almost turnover free, except for a bad decision on fielding a punt by Reggie Bush.

Brett Favre took a beating, as Saints defenders took every opportunity to hit him (only drawing a penalty once for a flagrant hit). Near the end of the third quarter, Favre was so slow getting up again that it appeared he’d be leaving the game. After having his ankle examined and re-taped, Favre re-entered the game on the next series. He must have been quite emphatic about it with the coaches, as backup Tarvaris Jackson didn’t even start warming up.

Chip Scoggins talked with Adrian Peterson after the game:

Adrian Peterson came out of the locker room — still dressed in full uniform — to watch the New Orleans Saints celebrate their first trip to the Super Bowl. As fans cheered, confetti fell and the Saints gathered on a stage at midfield, Peterson stood silent and watched the scene from the tunnel.

“It was painful,” he said. “Especially the way the game ended. Our guys fought hard and I honestly feel like we just gave the game away. Too many turnovers. It came back at the end to bite us.”
Peterson had a hand in that. Though he finally rushed for 100 yards and scored three touchdowns, Peterson also fumbled two times and took responsibility for the botched handoff at the end of the first half.

Peterson finished with 122 yards rushing on 25 carries, ending a streak of eight games without reaching the 100-yard mark. But his performance was marred by his fumbles and he admitted afterward that he started thinking too much about his mistakes.

“After the first one close to the goal line, I let it play in my head too much,” he said. “I came out the second half and was thinking about it too much. I had to get my mind back focused and not thinking about it when I was out there.”

Peterson’s fumbling problem became a major issue in his third season. He fumbled seven times, losing six of them in the regular season. He said he will spend the offseason trying to solve it.

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