yet another sf list

SF books on a shelf

I posted a few years ago around desires to work my way through some of the top SF novels ever, the canon if you like. The hard bit is working out what the canon should and shouldn’t include and whether there is truly a universal approach. Many of the lists tend to focus on US and UK publications. This post points out that issue in its discussion of yet another list, this time it’s the list from World Without End. It contains lots of related lists and its main SF one contains 256 titles. Of those, I’ve read 79, or approximately 31%. Come to think of it, I’d read around 30% of the list I used in 2012 (32 out of 100). This new list contains a broader variety of titles and does manage to include a graphic novel, Watchmen, yet where is Saga? Is it more that graphic novels tend not to get counted in lists with novels…is the genre too segmented?


I noted a week or so back that I had finally got round to beginning Gaiman’s American Gods. I started to regret this decision as filmfest started a day or two later; filmfest is a very bad time to read, many books have failed in this period. Curiously I find it difficult to return to books that I never finished due to other interruptions, books that have been aborted due to the demands of filmfest are never returned to.

Terry Pratchett’s The Lost Continent is a case in point. I had eagerly bought this the day the hardcover was released, on the eve of fest. I struggled valiant and made some progress but it was all for naught. My attention petered out partway through and it has sat on the shelf, unfinished, for nearly 20 years now. I try not to buy books during filmfest either but did notice the ebook of The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu had dropped to US$4.50 and that was too good a deal to resist as I’ve been meaning to pick it up for ages.

As for American Gods, I am successfully forcing myself to read a chapter a night. In some respects “forcing” is not quite the right word as it is a pleasure to read, and once started it’s very easy to flow with the story and I’m not about a third of the way through. Perhaps I can try The Three Body Problem after it, and part of me is tempted to re-read the entire Malazan series once more. And one day, perhaps, I’ll give the Last Continent another go.

stuff I haven’t read

There is a fun meme going round, #iconfessineverread (Con, Rachel and others) and I had fully intended this post to be in similar vein but I seem to have rambled on instead :) Perhaps I will try and list some books I should have read but haven’t, in another post.

It’s fair to say that beyond what was required for school I have read little of the literary canon. I have on occasion dipped my toe into literary waters and at one stage I was at least trying to read Booker winners. That’s mostly a fail these days. Yet what I did read I enjoyed including Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam. McEwan I particularly liked as he managed to write interesting, intelligent books that were also short :) I haven’t read of his in years either including Atonement which everyone tells me I should read.

A lot of my reading has been more what is termed “genre reading”. Truckloads of science fiction, not to mention thrillers. Later I “diversified” into fantasy and other things. These days I read a mix of SF, fantasy, graphic novels and of course gaming. I’d argue that the games I like to play generally reflect a story telling approach and could be included in a list of “stuff I read”. I’ve recently finished Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, and it was split into sections labelled chapters to chart the plot progression. This worked for me and it felt like I progressed through a story of the classic 3 act approach, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. I think it even had a prologue and an epilogue.

I’ve not been particularly keen on writers’ festivals or conventions either. I’ve been to the odd event at the Sydney Writers’ Festival but mostly skip it. On the other hand, the few times I’ve gone I’ve usually run into people I know in the crowd and had engaging catch ups. Despite my fondness of SF, I’ve never been fond of SF conventions either and usually skip them too. Looking back I think it would have been nice to have got involved in a book club at least. I’ve had friends who’ve been in clubs for years and enjoy the continuing engagement with a group of familiar faces.

This week in fact I have started a book I should have read years ago, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I have no excuse, I even bought the hardcover when it was first published. Disappointingly even though it’s the first edition, it’s the 8th printing. I have had a look around and it seems there was a very nice edition published some years ago by Hill House. Unfortunately it’s also a little expensive.

mapping spaces

Unsurprisingly, I frequently buy books. Ordering online in the evenings after a glass of wine or two, buying books is all too easy. Feeding the addiction. I like to think I don’t buy as much as I used to but it’s not an area of data I wish to explore too deeply.

I have a bit of a thing for maps. Many, many years ago my primary school was getting rid of some of big, canvas maps that used to hang on classroom walls. I recall grabbing several from the bin and taking them home. I’ve never quite had the space to hang them and these days I’ve whittled the collection down to two. One day they will hang.

4 mapping booksI’m not into maps in any sort of cohesive way other than I like odd maps, curious maps, imaginary maps, pretty maps. I like map books that are big on images and with occasional text; books that I can easily dip in and out of. I recently ordered a few books for one of the kids’ birthdays and threw in a few for me as well. As it turns out, there were four books for me, all map oriented:

  • The Curious Map Book – full of odd looking maps and bits of maps, maps that have been used for games, for teaching nobles and so on
  • Atlas of Cursed Places: A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations – with a title like that, how could I say no :)
  • Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World – somewhat surprisingly this has few images and is mostly text. The basic idea is to explore the ways in which geography shapes a country’s outlook and how it impacts on the ways countries engage and interact
  • A Renaissance Globemaker’s Toolbox: Johannes Schöner and the Revolution of Modern Science 1475-1550 – this is full of beautiful, colour facsimile images and ties into my interest in the history and philosophy of science

five on a seat

With a heading like that, I feel like I’m channelling the Famous Five and that may yet lead me down an interesting path for headings…five take a flying jump and so on. Here’s another five articles of vague interest:

it’s in the mail

A couple of weeks ago, I ordered a book or two…or 5 from Amazon. Having heard good things about Jessica Jones I thought I should read the original comics before watching the show. Thankfully, they’re bundled up in an omnibus. Then I thought I should get hold of Gaiman’s new Sandman. And it seemed silly not to throw in a few more things.

a pile of booksWhen I unpacked all my books in the new place a year or so back, I realised I couldn’t find my old, old copy of K&R’s The C Programming Language. I had the pre ANSI (just) edition when I learnt C for Computer Science at Wollongong Uni way back in 1989. 1989 was a really bad year for me as I used to spend 2.5 hours each way commuting from Bankstown to uni. That year, there was a landslide of the railway at Coledale and the line was reduced to a single track for much of the year. My commute increased to 4 hours each way and I ended up failing most of my subjects. I like to blame the commute though part of me suspects I was still working myself out too and trying to find my direction. I eventually took a year and a half off uni, worked on a loading dock at Grace Bros (now Myer) to pay off a car and then returned to uni.

I eventually passed everything I failed that year including C. Ultimately I never quite finished my compsci degree though I did finish all the core components. I never went into programming as a profession though part of me misses the intensity of a good coding session and part of me never wants to return to that single minded focus. I’ve kept most of my programming books, along with Fortran and Pascal, and so forth. Well ok, not Forth :) However, I missed having a copy of K&R C on the shelf, moreso than the books that are there.

So I grabbed a copy…and have been dipping in already. Once I dipped, I started re-reading some of the earlier examples and all of a sudden I’d opened an editor and typed one up. Except I didn’t have a c compiler installed so I’m loading one into cygwin. Oddly, I’m not editing in vi this time and trying out Microsoft’s Visual Code Editor. It’s nice, it has a dark background which has a lot less glare. I’m also liking that the template recognises that I’m writing c and provides colouring for keywords and commands.

And it worked. I also made a couple of changes and they worked too.

NTS: shutdown cygwin while installing new software. The installation went a bit wrong so I had to uninstall cygwin altogether and re-install from scratch. However once all that was done, the c code compiled without errors and worked first go :-)

a memoir from welly

I nearly bought a bookmark today, remembering when I used to stockpile them; many bookmarks for the many books I had on the go. I saw some nice bookmarks at the market this morning.

This evening, on holidays, I was reading a book of essays I got for my birthday. Admittedly I had already skipped the first two essays, otherwise known as the forward and the introduction. I was not in the mood for reading essays about essays.

Just the essays.

I should have mentioned that this was a paper book, printed on paper. One day the need to explain such will be rare. Perhaps. I finished the first essay and realised there was no bookmark button. No buttons at all. Nor did I have any bookmarks, being away.

So I resorted to the flexible cardboard that had encircled the socks I did buy at the market this morning. And I recalled that, despite having piles of bookmarks, I never had one close to hand to insert between the pages. Scraps of cardboard or paper usually sufficed.

Some things don’t change. Not really.

sciffy bits

I started #blogjune with high hopes of a daily whinge and occasional rant.  I started well enough but then got caught up writing another response about blogging relevancy in response to conversations about blogging as a thing. It was mostly finished in one hit, with good stats on the “golden age” of lib blogging, it just needed a paragraph or two more. As per my usual practice, I had to put it off because life, then procrastination, thus it became a bottleneck and nothing else got blogged. It still sits unfinished and the conversation has moved on though I think it’s still useful to point out that I was whining about my own erratic and infrequent blogging back in 2001 :-)

So sciffy stuff. Con posted an article on 10 SF books that people pretend to have read. Of the list, somewhat surprisingly, I’ve read 4. Top X lists can be interesting beasts, and Con commented that such lists can be good for finding authors you haven’t heard of. I blogged a list of top 100 SF novels in 2012 of which I’d read 32 with plans to read more. 3 years later, I think I’ve only read one or two more. Oops. Both lists have good stuff and I should read more of them. Some books are in common to both lists.

I have however been reading lots of stuff that doesn’t appear on top X lists…or perhaps I’m looking at the wrong lists. I decided to re-read all the Raymond Feist novels…which ended up being a wee bit exhausting and I eventually gave up around Book 15. I’m now re-reading the Vorkosigan Saga and on to book 4. Perhaps I should be looking at fantasy lists, though of course the real answer is the lists themselves shouldn’t matter beyond Con’s original point to find new stuff to read.

The reason I’ve been re-reading series’ stuff is that my other reading had slowed for a while and it’s nice to be able to steadily chunk through novel after novel. Lying in bed reading novels rather than playing handheld games or reading endless article feeds. Revisiting old friends and stories has been fun too and it’s nice to discover that the writing still sucks me in. Have been meaning to re-read Dune too, though I think I’ll do it as a standalone.

a long weekend

A long weekend almost over. Been fun. Chilled. Saw a few friends, caught a few movies. Ate toast.

Usually by the end of the long weekend, I will have hit double figures for number of films seen, this time I made it to 8. A very relaxing 8 at that, not an exhaustion induced marathon. I have managed to run into friends each day of fest, some only fleetingly alas. I’ve caught up on the seating politics of the group I used to sit with, close to a schism no less though friendly enough.

The Greenaway, Eisenstein in Guanajuato, was disappointing alas. I was really looking forward to a new Greenaway as I have loved some of his earlier films including Prospero’s Books and The Pillow Book. In this one, as always, I enjoyed his use of, and experiments with, framing in order to tell a story. Visually delightful but the story, while it continued along, lacked depth, and even interest.

Curiously, the two standout films for me so far were both documentaries. I enjoy documentaries but they’re not my preferred sort of film either. Yesterday was Sherpa, which explored the nepalese community that they make their living from supporting the Everest climbing industry, and “industry” is the right word. There’s an early shot of of climbers, effectively queued mid ascent. Hundreds of them, their colourful jackets bright against the white of the snow.  The doco was initially going to be about one of sherpa who was likely to attain a new record by reaching the summit 22 times, and of their clients on their first trip. Instead, an avalanche resulting in the deaths of 16 nepalese, which became the heart of the movie.

Tonight, I saw a doco called Palio, about a horse race in Siena. I read a book of this race as a child and loved it, reading it many times. I even have a pennant for the contrada of the snail, one of 17 contrade that compete in the race. Beyond that I knew little of the race. Thanks to this doco, I have seen it, and the Square in Siena where it is held. It looks amazing and this is no ordinary horse race, representing hundreds of years of culture. In some ways, not dissimilar to the history of bull-fighting in Spain. I don’t follow sport and am rarely excited by racing but was on the edge of my seat for the racing portions, and felt both the good side and the bad. It is not an easy race, either for horses or riders. One day, I would love to visit Siena and watch the Palio.

bit of a sucker

Targeted advertising: sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it, sometimes I both love and hate it at the same time. Was just on facebook and “scored” an ad for a new edition of Dick’s The Man in the House Castle by The Folio Society. I used to love Folio Society editions and have quite a few. Dad used to be a member and I inherited some of those and have picked up more of my own in second hand bookshops both here, in London and in the famous book town in Wales, Hay-On-Wye. I’ve never actually joined myself and they always had an odd, regional based approach to pricing eg it was more expensive to order the same book from the UK, not including postage, as an Australian than as an American or English.

Dunno where that’s at these days but the prices do seem a little better. Looks like they even have a bunch of SF books. Which brings me back to Man in the High Castle. It looks nice and isn’t too expensive. On the other hand, as you can see from the photo, I already have a nice edition of it from Easton Press in the US. Still a little tempted, and I may well add it to a general order as I’d quite like their set of Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. I loved the Foundation books and have ageing, smelly paperbacks of them, purchased no doubt from the SF piles at Ashwood’s in the late 80s.

Thankfully I already have an extremely nice edition of Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles from Subterranean Press so have no problems passing on the Folio Society edition. I do have a cheaper leatherbound edition of the first 4 Hitchhiker’s books and would like nice editions of them someday. I missed on their first print run of Dune, which does look quite spectacular, on the other hand it is $150 and the Easton Press version is very nice too.