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  • It Is Literature Nonetheless

    Posted by James R. Rummel on February 29th, 2008 (All posts by )

    The Chicago Boyz like to discuss the books we read. Usually these are tomes that concern History-with-a-capital-Aitch or Literature-with-a-capital-Ell. I thought I’d do something different.

    io9 is a group blog where sci-fi geeks discuss their obsession. One of the recent posts that I found interesting was entitled The Twenty Science Fiction Novels That Will Change Your Life.

    These sort of “Best Of…” lists are always ultimately unsatisfying, since the author will always deviate from your own tastes sooner or later. In this case, I agreed with the list of books that had been printed prior to the mid-1990s, and then pretty much disagreed with every choice that had been printed afterwards. Even so, it was astonishing that the author of the post and I would agree even that much.

    One example of divergent sensibilities is the endorsement of Cryptonomicon (2000) by Neal Stephenson. This is a rich and multilayered book, certainly a worthy addition to anyone’s collection of science fiction, but it isn’t what I would have picked. Instead I would have gone with Snow Crash (1992).

    Why is that? Because Cryptonomicon concerns itself with cryptography, data havens, international finance, and the genealogy of a very strange family. The book was interesting enough, but I really don’t concern myself with any of those subjects in my everyday life. It is rare that something happens to remind me of the tome.

    Snow Crash, on the other hand, dealt with massive multiplayer online entertainments, music, physical security, sword fighting, and the eternal love and loyalty of a stray dog that is shown some kindness. These are things that I do spend time on during my daily grind.

    Your mileage will almost certainly vary from mine, of course.

    In closing, I would like to say that the science fiction I started to read as a young child has certainly increased my appreciation for being alive in this amazing time and place. Advances in technology and culture that have appeared in my own lifetime are readily apparent due to my constant exposure to speculative fiction, and I have embraced them with a great deal of delight instead of bemoaning how things change.

    My car still can’t fly, though. Someone needs to fix that.

     

    15 Responses to “It Is Literature Nonetheless”

    1. Jim MIller Says:

      That’s a terrible list, although there are a few good books on it. Some of the books on the list aren’t even science fiction, but fantasy.

      But what has been left out is what’s worst about the list. There’s no book on the list by Clarke, Heinlein, Asimov, Herbert, Niven, or Anderson. Or, going back farther, Jules Verne.

    2. Jonathan Says:

      My car still can’t fly, though. Someone needs to fix that.

      But now we have our two-way wrist TVs and tricorders! Except they’re called something else and children use them. Living in the future is confusing.

    3. Shannon Love Says:

      Because Cryptonomicon concerns itself with cryptography, data havens, international finance, and the genealogy of a very strange family. The book was interesting enough, but I really don’t concern myself with any of those subjects in my everyday life

      Actually, Cryptonomicon and its prequels, the Baroque Cycle, are ultimately about something in your everyday life: money. The books are about the technology of money. Cryptology is just the way money will be implemented in the digital world.

      It is rare that something happens to remind me of the tome.

      That’s because your not a computer geek. Parts of the book seem like sections of my biography.

      I might recommend a good book: The DREAMS OUR STUFF IS MADE OF: How Science Fiction Conquered the World by Thomas M. Disch which explores how science fiction inspires the creation of technology.

    4. Jay Manifold Says:

      Uh, “rapture f—ers”? “Mindf–k”? Yawn.

      A third of the list is less than a decade old, and two-thirds of it is less than two decades old. Riiiight …

      (I list a baker’s dozen here, none less than forty years old.)

    5. david foster Says:

      Walter Miller’s great novel “A Canticle for Leibowitz” is generally considered as SF, though I think it is primarily a philosophical and theological book. It takes place in a monastary where old books are sheltered after the “flame deluge” (World War III) which destroyed civilization, and follows the monastic community over a period of centuries.

      Here’s one passage I like:

      To minimize suffering and to maximize security were natural and proper ends of society and Caesar. But then they became the only ends, somehow, and the only basis of law — a perversion. Inevitably, then, in seeking only them, we found only their opposites: maximum suffering and minimum security.

    6. James C. Bennett Says:

      About half of the list was good. But the Ursula LeGuin book should have been Left Hand of Darkness, which is almost the only one of her books that stand up over time (but get an early edition, before she redid it out of political correctness.) The Dispossessed looks quite silly by now, since it shows a supposedly advanced civilization that managed to avoid the information revolution entirely. This is typical LeGuin – – her Orsinian Tales are quite charming at first, but her invented Estern European nation becomes impossible as soon as you look at Eastern European history and realize that every Eastern European nation is so different from its neighbors that Orsinia is a chimera.

    7. Tatyana Says:

      The only Sci-Fi writer that ever mattered to me was Stanislaw Lem. But then he’s not exactly sci-fi. Or rather he’s sci-fi on the surface. Just like broth. Strugatsky.

      Shannon, so you’re a computer geek in addition to understanding millwork? Is your middle name Leonardo?

    8. david foster Says:

      Also, Connie Willis writes some good stuff, both novels and short stories. Emotionally powerful and often very funny.

    9. Shannon Love Says:

      Tatyana,

      Millwork?

    10. chuck Says:

      I disagreed with everything after 1931 except for Fire Upon the Deep. Annalee seems to have a weakness for novels with political messages. And I don’t think I agree with her politics.

    11. Tatyana Says:

      Wasn’t there something you wrote somewhere in the comments about making wood frames/ grain/bracing/etc?

    12. Carl from Chicago Says:

      Ah! Another Stanislaw Lem fan. I agree that he should have made the list probably more than once… Solaris (ignore the terrible movie although his love interest was smokin’ ) and I like Contact although there are many more to choose from.

      Another favorite is “The Forever War” by Haldeman

      I do like lists though… you need to throw down a stake in the ground and start talking from somewhere.

      Dick is missing though and that is horrible. They did pick up HP Lovecraft

    13. Jay Manifold Says:

      Alas, the only Lem I’ve read in its entirety is Tales of Pirx the Pilot. Got partway through The Futurological Congress before my copy disappeared.

      The list I shamelessly link-pimped in comment #4 above includes both the Miller and one of Dick’s. As with all such things, it likely reveals more about me (or, recursively, more about what I prefer to reveal about me) than about the actual state of the field.

    14. Shannon Love Says:

      Tatyana,

      Wasn’t there something you wrote somewhere in the comments about making wood frames/ grain/bracing/etc?

      Oh, that’s just woodworking, my hobby. Learning how wood changes in response to humidity and tempreture is a fundemental part of desiging and building in natural wood.

    15. Tatyana Says:

      Shannon,
      In architect-speak we call woodworking millwork. Why – have no idea, actually: you would think, logically, a product manufactured offsite (in the mill) should be called millwork. While in reality it’s the opposite: built-in cabinets, f.ex, are often constructed (at least partially) and fitted on-site. Trim, too, often has to be custom-fitted and stained/polished on-site.

      Btw, do you know aboutAmerican Woodwork Institute? Their Quality Standards’ is my desk referral.