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This page last updated on or around 4-3-2002
The Ringworld is part of Niven's "known space" reality, which also includes other stories, most of which are to be found in collections of shorts. Some of these books include A Gift From Earth, World of Ptavvs, and Neutron Star.
The Integral Trees and the Smoke Ring tell the story of a wholly different and exotic world from the above: A great doughnut shaped region of breathable air and micro-gravity about a faraway star where flying beasties move between floating spherical ponds of water, round clumps of jungle, and gigantic trees shaped like the mathematical integral sign. These trees are so huge villages can be built at either end and the inhabitants never ever meet each other in a lifetime. With the micro-gravity of the place if you accidentally come loose from your tree or other home you might be forever stranded in mid-air, and die of thirst or hunger, or else become dinner for a flying nasty. A group of human colonists get stranded in this place, and the books cover the saga of those colonists' descendents. In my opinion these books are even better than Niven's Ringworld series.
N Space is sort of a catchall of fiction and non-fiction remnants from Niven, and so mostly suited for dyed in the wool Niven fans like me.
A World out of Time is hard to classify. Though it shares some ideas with various 'known space' works, it also stands on its own, telling the tale of a poor guy who through various misadventures ends up seeing the far, far future of Earth and humanity, sort of like the guy in the classic Time Machine novel.
The Flight of the Horse is a wild fantasy ride, meant for pure entertainment of both author and reader-- at which it succeeds. The central plot device is that it's possible to travel between all possible universes and find and do the most fantastic things imaginable....
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|Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle |
Footfall is about an alien invasion of Earth that mankind overcomes with spunk and quite plausible ingenuity. This book earned Niven and Pournelle a place in my article To Whom It May Concern.
The Mote in God's Eye may be the most famous sci fi collaboration of Niven and Pournelle, and there's lots of intriguing and creative ideas presented here. The conundrum consists of some scarily capable aliens bottled up by nature in their own little section of the galaxy-- which is lucky for everyone else because the aliens might just eat everybody's lunch if they ever get out. But the little buggers are just so darn clever...
The Gripping Hand is a sequel to The Mote in God's Eye, and is most noteworthy for the space chase climax, with those amazingly improvisational aliens scaring the heck out of the heroes. Niven and Pournelle began this series with an experiment in story presentation that is a bit jarring to me personally-- it seems like a story written in the 50s or 60s only without the techno-errors real 50s and 60s stories usually possess. But it's still one of the better and most original sci fi stories out there, and shouldn't be missed.
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The Peace War and Marooned in Realtime may be two of the main Vinge books dealing with his technological singularity, which is bringing Vinge recognition even beyond the science fiction community. The Peace War is perhaps the more entertaining of the two, and serves as prelude to the mysterious event which causes the complete disappearance of all humanity everywhere-- except those traveling through time in special bubbles invented in the first book. Marooned in Realtime tells the story of the wildly diverse group of people who miss the singularity in their time-traveling bubbles, and seek to understand what happened and what their new role in the world should now be.
A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky are somewhat removed from the singularity themed story-line, but still somewhat related in concept. In these books Vinge envisions a galaxy that for whatever reason mysteriously limits the speed of information processing possible in a given region, with only the slowest speeds available near the center, and faster speeds available further out. This same constraint affects the possible speed through space as well in these regions. Thus, even advanced folks lose their edge as they travel too deep into the galaxy, and primitive folks can gain new advantages by moving outwards. Man, are these two books difficult to summarize! Vinge proves himself the equal to Brin in creating amazingly real and exotic alien lifeforms in the first, plus keeping you on the edge of your seat with a Good versus Evil scenario which might just frighten some reader geek enough to make them drop that artificial intelligence project they're working on. I thought Vinge had really outdone himself in Fire. But then I read Deepness.
A Deepness in the Sky is the best science fiction I've read in 25 years. If you read just one science fiction title off this page, this is the one to do. Sure, you'll miss out on lots of other great stuff here. But Deepness is the cream of the cream.
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|David Brin |
Sundiver, Startide Rising, and The Uplift War are the books of Brin's first trilogy, and I believe the stuff that put him on the map, sci fi-wise.
Brightness Reef, Infinity's Shore, and Heaven's Reach represent Brin's second Uplift trilogy. Each of these six books are related at least somewhat to all the others, but also stand alone quite well-- with perhaps the exception of Sundiver. Sundiver was surely one of the very first novels Brin wrote, and it shows. There's lots of good stuff in it, like all the rest-- it's just that Brin's writing improves dramatically after Sundiver.
If you love mysteries, suspense, grand space opera and spine-tingling space battles, plus aliens so fully fleshed out and unique you could write a college paper on them, these books are for you. Brin's works may often make you question Brin's own humanity-- for it can seem unbelievable that anyone human came up with this stuff! Like Spielberg's best films, Brin's books offer the reader a sumptuous feast, but then amaze you by leaving you wanting more after it's all over.
Earth is a separate tale from the Uplift series, with glimpses of possible near future scenarios and dangers, and perhaps the wildest use of a space shuttle ever imagined.
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|Michael Crichton |
Crichton first hooked me with The Andromeda Strain in high school-- a story of Earth dealing with a terrifying contagion from outer space. For some reason though I never read him again until Jurassic Park (the dinosaurs-in-modern-day tale). Read that, then saw the movie-- and was severely disappointed with the film, which represented just a handful of pages from the book. If you've never read the book you should do so immediately. It's thousands of times better than the film. Likewise The Lost World, which continues the tale of dinosaurs being brought back to life by foolish human beings. Heck, after seeing the difference between the film and book versions of these works, you almost can't drag me to a theater any more. 99% of the fun is in the hard copy.
Congo is a wholly other subject, about a mysterious lost civilization whose tinkering with the natural order comes to haunt a modern expedition. I just wish Crichton had played with this scenario a bit more, like with another book or two. There was lots more potential entertainment and action that could have been garnered from that tale. Much more than could be fit into a single novel.
Timeline concerns a time travel expedition gone wrong, utilizing some interesting technology.
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|Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Steven Barnes|
The Legacy of Heorot and Beowulf's Children tell the story of some of humanity's very first deep space colonists who make it to a new Earth-like world and then must cope with several unexpected dangers from the native lifeforms. These books are quite thrilling and engaging, putting a futuristic spin on the classic Beowulf 'hero-versus-monster' story of literature. I expect sooner or later someone will make movies of them.
|Ernest Callenbach |
Ecotopia is fairly dated now, but originally was, at least in part, an environmentalist's wet dream. It lays out an alternative history of the USA from 1980, wherein the northwestern section split from the rest to pursue a more environmentally friendly course in terms of technology and society.
|General Sir John Hackett et al |
The Third World War is an old Cold War treatment of what might have happened if the USA and Soviet Union had engaged in World War III in 1985.
|Dale Brown has been there and done that, in Air Force terms. And he apparently does plenty of research beyond his own experience too, in order to come up with his great tales of red blooded American techno-warrior adventure and daring do. His books for the most part follow the lives of the same dozen or so major characters (and dozens more minor ones) throughout many years of military service. This gives the reader sort of a sense of family or same unit comradery with the characters that gets pretty comfortable over time-- except for when one of the heroes undergoes some awful torture or injury to save others, or worse yet, is killed in action. Brown's one of my favorite modern war writers, and he's also one of the most reliable sources for book entertainment I know of, for all that waiting you've got to do at airports, on train rides, hospital waiting rooms, etc., etc. His works include Day of the Cheetah, Silver Tower, Sky Masters, Night of the Hawk, Fatal Terrain, and Chains of Command. At the time I write this I'm in the middle of Battle Born. Brown first hooked me with Flight of the Old Dog, years ago, which is about a highly modified B-52 bomber and its crew going against all odds to save the world from oblivion.|
|Gene Roddenberry |
For good or ill, Star Trek is a part of my being now. With Star Trek, Roddenberry succeeded in shaping the mindset of many of my generation-- including myself. My web site probably owes much to the inspiration I got from Roddenberry.
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|Ayn Rand |
Rand made a pretty big impression on me years ago. Almost too big. Reading something like The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged can be overwhelming for a young or inexperienced person. It can also make you intolerant of much typical human behavior and conditions. Rand's idealistic defense of capitalism is searing in its intensity, no doubt because of the time she was forced to spend under Communism in her life. Rand's contribution to the world is valuable, but the bottomline is the perspective she presents in her books is really too narrow to apply to very much of human existence and endeavor. Still, I recommend everyone read Atlas Shrugged at some point. Note that it'll probably be easier to get through during your high school or college years than before or after.
Clancy is more famous than Dale Brown, but basically offers similar fare in the reliable entertainment market, using the vehicle of military or para-military adventures. Clancy seems to enjoy a slightly wider scope on international affairs and politics than Brown, and nobody relates the sweeping vista of a good-sized war like Clancy. Clancy also excels at tales of covert military and intelligence missions. Unfortunately, as Clancy's tales are often more closely tied to current events than Brown's, Clancy's works get dated much more easily. For instance, several of Clancy's older books are so heavily tied to the Cold War that they might be a hard read for many. Clancy has begun trying to rectify this in his last several books, by getting away from current events and more into his own alternate or parallel reality, like Brown and others. Though I suppose Clancy has made big bucks from the film adaptations of his work, to my perspective those films have damaged his credibility with potential new readers-- for the films have been awful. The books were a thousand times better than the films, but only existing Clancy readers will know this. Everyone else might be put off from his books forever by the cinematic stuff. As Clancy has also become a franchise in himself, there's now books out there invoking his name but actually written by others. I personally try to avoid those. Real and true Clancy books to date include The Cardinal of the Kremlin, The Sum of All Fears, Patriot Games, Red Storm Rising, Clear and Present Danger, Without Remorse, Debt of Honor, Rainbow Six, and the Bear and the Dragon. Debt of Honor may have earned an extra historical footnote due to its pre 9-11-01 description of a suicidal airliner attack on the Capitol building in Washington DC, which (in the book) succeeded in killing off the heads of all three branches of US government but for the acting Vice President, who were all there attending a Presidential speech.
|Jules Verne |
Paris in the 20th Century
|Edgar Rice Burroughs |
Pellucidar is about the adventures of folks who discover a whole other world to exist inside the Earth, complete with its own monsters and primitive peoples. Though Burroughs tales are dated now, science has surprisingly discovered that there may well be other worlds hidden deep inside the Earth-- only they're likely to be utterly alien and wholly uninhabitable, compared to our surface environment.
|Arthur C. Clarke|
In my day Clarke was usually one of the first science fiction writers teens ran into on the book shelves-- and for good reason. A real life respected scientist, Clarke's writings may have been among the 'hardest' of hard science fiction works created in the mid to late 20th century.
Childhood's End is an apocalyptic tale wherein one of the wildest possible destinies for mankind is realized. I believe this may be one of Clarke's most well-known works.
The City and the Stars
The Songs of Distant Earth
Rendezvous with Rama
|Spider Robinson This guy is so talented if you start reading one of his books you have no choice but to finish it. At least books like Time Pressure, Mindkiller, and Telempath. The first two are somewhat related to one another, and use at least one techno idea of Larry Niven's to awesome effect. Telempath is a post-apocalyptic tale-- sort of Robinson's own version of Mad Max-- but wholly different and far superior to any such film.||J.R.R. Tolkien|
The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King absolutely stunned me in high school. I obsessed over the appendices in Return long after I'd finished the series. I also sought out every other scrap of Tolkien tales I could find (including the poetry-- and I am NOT a poetic person), but none of those were nearly as satisfying as these main volumes. Classics all. Wonderful all. But a bit of a caution: I remember the Hobbit being much more difficult to get through than the other books, due to the different writing style employed there. Of course, if you skip it you'll be compelled to read it anyway after you read the other three tomes-- you'll simply have no choice.
|William Gibson |
|B.F. Skinner |
Walden Two had a big impact on me when I read it. I wanted the place to be real, so I could go there myself.
|Greg Bear |
Eon and Eternity are two stages of the same story line. A dazzling roller coaster ride involving an asteroid colony and the development of a singularity gateway to bizzare realms and aliens. Wonderful.
The Forge of God is a Doomsday tale, unrelated to the two books above.
The Philosopher's Stone is an astonishing book. It accomplishes what Spielberg loves to do in films, which is start out in the most normal and mundane circumstances possible, and slowly pull the viewer along, one very plausible and reasonable step at a time, until finally he has you in a place you never believed possible. This book should have a warning on it reminding readers it is pure fiction and fantasy, and that they should not attempt to do some of the things they read about in the story. This book can be downright dangerous for some folks. And I absolutely love it.
1984 is the book Orwell is most famous for, and rightfully so. Written not long after the end of World War II, it describes not only a possible but perhaps frighteningly likely future for us all, where humanity is forever trapped in an unending Dark Age of abject slavery and close surveillance. My timeline site, created over the past ten plus years, presents a more optimistic future history for humanity. But if I were today forced to tell people the kind of future I think most likely to come about, I'd point to the silence in the heavens from extraterrestrials (all the civilizations seem to be dead, or muted and enslaved), current events, and to the world depicted in Orwell's book 1984. Orwell's 1984 may give us an idea of the transitional stage we'll go through before finally reaching a merciful extinction. An extinction we may share with all the other civilizations which preceded us in this galaxy.
If you'd like to know more about all this, and maybe even do something about it, there's several things you can do immediately. One, read Orwell's 1984 (if you haven't already). Two, read Ragnarok: The War for our Destiny. And three, read Civilization's best defensive measures against war, terrorism, technological stagnation, and economic ruin. Four, start catching up on current news and events from as many diverse sources as possible, to see what's scaring the bejesus out of lots of folks in contemporary politics, technology, and business matters. And five, decide how you'll do your part to hold back the coming Darkness.
Good luck to us all.