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My summer reading list

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I did a lot of recreational reading this summer, mainly because our local library made up an adults' version of the venerable "kids' summer reading club". Basically ours was "book bingo". We had a bingo-card with various topics, and every time we got a bingo, you got an entry in a drawing for stuff from local vendors. Shelly and I both managed (barely) to fill the card, thus putting us in the uber-drawing for a weekend at the local Hilton and dinner at the attached fancy-shmancy restaurant. We didn't win the weekend, but we did win a $25 gift-card to the local healthy-grocery and a canvas bookbag. More importantly, we cleared off much of the book-queue.

Shelly has been much better about this than I have been, posting her books as she read 'em. I don't have my bingo card anymore, so I'm working from memory here. Also some of these are post-summer, but what the heck. . .

Farmer in the Sky (Heinlein) - An early Heinlein work, and one intended to be read by teenage boys. It was apparently originally intended to be printed as a serial in "Boys' Life" magazine, as scouting fits in pretty heavily. It was basically the book equivalent of a 1950's sci fi movie -- not particularly deep but still rather fun.

Heart of Darkness (Conrad) - This was one I'd always intended to read, mostly how I could see how the stream-of-consciousness movie about Vietnam could possibly be based on a book about traveling through Africa in the 19th century. And it really didn't have much to do with the book, apart from the skeletal plot-point of traveling down a river to get Kurtz. I still don't know if I particularly liked the book, although I find it interesting that, like "Moby Dick", it's a really a story of pathological psychology that always seems to become a simple adventure story by the time it makes it to the screen.

Glory Road (Heinlein) - Probably the most disappointing book in the group. When I heard that Heinlein wrote a hack-n-slash adventure story, I knew I had to read it. But then I found that it wasn't really so much an adventure novel but an adventure story padded out to novel length with endless ramblings about politics and Heinlein's obvious personal fetish for giant breasts, subservient women, and spanking, I just gave up. I actually gave up two chapters early because the ending was so obvious that I figured I'd spare myself any more reading.

Asimov on Science Fiction (Asimov) - Yet Again Still Another Collection of Asimov Essays, this time about science fiction in general. It, like Asimov, concentrates pretty heavily on magazines and serialized works rather than later novels and movies. Not a bad read.

The Murders on the Rue Morgue (Poe) - I actually read this because the introduction to my Sherlock Holmes collection mentioned the character of Holmes was basically Poe's character Dupin. Dupin is pretty one-dimensional, but this is a fairly short story so it's understandable.

A Study in Scarlet (Doyle) - Apart from my high-school assignment of The Hound of the Baskervilles, I hadn't read any Sherlock Holmes, so I figured I'd start at the beginning. It's quite a good read, although the middle of the book takes an enormous unannounced turn into the Mormons' journey across America. It's readable, but it just didn't make any sense why in the middle of a book about London detectives solving crimes based on torturous threads of reasoning I'm suddenly in friggin' Missouri reading about Mormons. It does tie back together in the end, but it was just an odd digression. I also found it interesting that Holmes personally makes it clear that yes, he is a little like Dupin, but he's really a much better-written personality. Ooooh, take that Poe!

The Man who Sold the Moon (Heinlein) - One of those so-so stories that's really more about speculation rather than story. Could a person purchase the moon? If so how?

The Star Diaries (Lem) - A rather fun collection of short science fiction stories. Lem clearly loves speculating about something and then having fun with it. My favorite was the story of the protagonist's visit to the planet that was routinely destroyed by meteors and had to pretty-much completely rebuild itself (including the population) every ten months.

Going Nuts in Brazil with Jack Douglas (Douglas) - Probably the second most disappointing book in the series. While I loved Douglas' earlier and mostly-forgotten books (Dave Barry owes this guy half his royalties), this book written at the end of his career was just rather sad. It's rather like seeing a comedian who was funny on Ed Sullivan back in the fifties doing the same gags in the eighties and realizing how tired the jokes had become. The "wink wink nudge nudge" sexual references he made early in his career were now much more overt and came off as lecherous and mildly racist.

The Door into Summer (Heinlein) - Probably the best Heinlein I read this summer. The plot's pretty shallow but the story's a fun read.

Saturn (Bova) - Objectivist scientists defect to a moon of Saturn in a giant spacecraft. Religious fanatics infiltrate and take over. You'd think with a premise like that, it'd be fun to read. But it's really not. I was disappointed.

Solaris (Lem) - The saddest science fiction book ever written. I've seen the 1973 Russian movie, which is the first movie I've ever seen that you can run at 4X speed on your DVD player without losing any of the story. I haven't seen the remake. Probably ought to rent it.

Gradisil (Roberts) - Oooh, it's the adventures of Ayn Rand in space! Some of this book was good, and some was not so good. I still don't know how I was supposed to feel about the end.

The Mote in God's Eye (Pournelle/Niven) - A pretty good read, although Pourniven need to realize that you can only do a "big reveal" in a book once. Seemed like this book did the "big reveal" halfway through regarding the aliens, and then most of the rest of the book involves the rest of the cast figuring it out for themselves. Pournelle needs a second commandment of writing - "You can only reveal that the Butler Did It once. If you do it again, the audience will already know it". Also, the concept of the Cold War coming to an end must've knocked the authors for a loop, because many of their books seem to assume that it'll be going on for another thousand years.

Footfall (Pournelle/Niven) - Good light alien-invasion story from Pourniven. I find it interesting that this is the third book of theirs that I've read (along with The Mote in God's Eye and Lucifer's Hammer) in which chapter one revolves around people seeing a large SOMETHING flying through space. . .AND IT'S HEADING RIGHT FOR US!

Inferno (Pournelle/Niven) - I've never read the original because I heard that it's largely a collection of medieval in-jokes and references to long-dead people that I don't know. This is basically a rewrite, only with all new in-jokes and references to recently dead people that I do know. . .mostly. A good read if you like the concept.

On Basilisk Station (Weber) - It doesn't devolve completely into Tom Clancy territory "let's spend three pages describing a gun", so it's a pretty good read as far as military science fiction goes.

1984 (Orwell) - I did the obligatory reading in high school, but I was told that I really should read this again. Then and now it's one of the best novels ever written, and one that's easily on my top-two list of best books I've ever read. Maybe even number one. Every quote ever written about this book being at the same time prophetic and horrifying is true.
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