2010 Reading List

This was a great year for reading. A lot of excellent fiction was released, and I felt like I got a lot of good out of my year from the books that I picked up. Here's what I read.

1- A Fiery Peace in a Cold War, Neil Sheehan (1-14) This was a fantastic history on the Cold War, one that I wish I'd come across while I was working on my project. I've revisited it a couple of times since the start of the year for other projects.

2 - The Forever War, Joe Halderman (1-28) This was a book that had come highly recommended for years, and I really enjoyed how it was more about people than guns and brawn.

3 - The Monuments Men, Robert Edsel (2-8) During the Second World War, a team of specialists were dispatched around Europe to save art from the effects of war, the focus of this book. It's a little uneven, but tells an astonishing story.

4 - We, John Dickinson (2-19) This was a crappy book. Amateurish and poorly written.

5 - Coraline, Neil Gaiman (2-24) I watched the movie around the same time, and I've long like Gaiman's works. This was an excellent YA novel.

6 - Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, John Scalzi (3-4) Scalzi's Whatever blog is always an entertaining read, and this collection takes some of the better entries into a book of short essays. Thought-provoking, interesting and well worth reading.

7 - Shadowline, Glenn Cook (3-6) With all of my complaints about military science fiction not being all that accurate or conceived of, Shadowline is one of the few books that have made me eat my words - there's some well conceived ideas here, and this reprint from Night Shade Books was a fun read.

8 - The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jeminsin (3-19) N.K. Jemisin's first novel came with a lot of buzz, and I really enjoyed reading it from start to finish. It's a very different blend of fantasy than I've ever read.

9 - Spellwright, Blake Charlton (3-29) Spellwright was probably one of my favorite reads of the year - it was fast, entertaining and thoughtful - a good fantasy debut, and I'm already eager for the sequel.

10 - The Gaslight Dogs, Karin Lowachee (4-21). Karin Lowachee's Warchild was a favorite book from my high school years, and I was delighted to see her back after a long absence. This steampunk novel is an unconventional one, and a good example for the rest of the genre to follow.

11 - The Mirrored Heavens, David J. Williams (5-17) David J. Williams contacted me after I wrote an article on military science fiction, and I went through his first book with vigor - it's a fast-paced, interesting take on military SF and a bit of Cyberpunk.

12 - Third Class Superhero, Charles Yu (5-28) Charles Yu distinguished himself as a talented writer with his short fiction, and his recently released collection shows off some great stories.

13 - Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi (6-1) Bacigalupi goes to Young Adult fiction with Ship Breaker, an excellent read set in a post-oil world. He gets a lot of things right with this: the surroundings and trappings of the world aren't always important, but the characters and their struggles are timeless.

14 - Boneshaker, Cherie Priest (6-8) This much-hyped book was one that I avoided for a while, but I blew through it after I picked it up. It's a fun, exciting read in the quintessential steampunk world that Priest has put together. I love this alternate Seattle.

15 - To A God Unknown, John Steinbeck (7-15) Steinbeck's book is a dense one that took me a while to read through while I was reading several books at one. It's an interesting take on biblical themes and on faith itself.

16 - American Gods, Neil Gaiman (7-25) This was a book that was a pick for the 1b1t movement on twitter (something I hope returns), and I was happy for the excuse to re-read this fantastic novel. It's one of my favorite books of all time, and this time around, it was fantastic to have that reaffirmed.

17 - The Burning Skies, David J Williams (7-25) The followup to the Mirrored Heavens, this book took me a while to get through because it was dense and intense. A decent read, but it proved to be a bit of a chore to get through.

18 - How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Charles Yu (7-30) This was probably one of the best science fiction books that I've read in a long time. It's brilliant, well written, interesting and part of the story itself. It's an outstanding take on time travel as well.

19 - River Of Gods, Ian McDonald (9-2) I've long heard of Ian McDonald, but I hadn't picked up any of his stories before now. His take on a future India is a fantastic one, and can't wait for more of his stories. River of Gods broke the mold when it comes to western science fiction: the future will be for everyone.

20 - Clementine, Cherie Priest (9-3) This short novella was a bit too compact for the story that it contained, but it demonstrated that The Clockwork Century is something that can easily extend beyond Boneshaker.

21 - Pattern Recognition (9-11) William Gibson's book from a couple of years ago, taking science fiction to the present day in this thriller. It's a fun read, and I've already got the sequels waiting for me.

22 - New Model Army, Adam Roberts (9-22) This military science fiction book had an interesting premise: what happens when crowdsourcing and wikiculture comes to warfare. The book is a little blunt at points, but it's more thought provoking than I thought it would be.

23 - Stories, edited by Neil Gaiman (9-26) An excellent anthology of short stories from all over the speculative fiction genre. There's some real gems in there.

24 - Andvari's Ring, Arthur Peterson (9-26) A translation of norse epic poetry from the early 1900s, this book looks and feels like a book should, and is one of those bookstore discoveries that I love. This was a fun book that has roots for a number of other stories in it.

25 - The City and The City, China Miéville (9-30) One of my absolute favorite stories of the year came with this book, my first introduction to Mieville. This murder mystery set against a fantastic background has some great implications that go with the story.

26 - Pump Six and Other Stories, Paolo Bacigaulupi (10-22) A paperback version of Bacigalupi's stories was released towards the end of the year, and I have to say, it's one of the more disturbing reads of the year, but also one of the most excellent.

27 - The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving (10-31) I did a little reading on Washington Irving and found an e-book of this while I was going through a bit of a fascination on the gothic / horror genre. This book does it well. Hopefully, I'll be able to do a bit more research on the author and his fiction this year.

28 - The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman (11-8) The television show was an interesting one, and I finally was able to catch up on the comic that started it. They're very close to start, but that changes after a couple of episodes. Some of the characters were spot on.

29 - Baltimore, or,The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola. (11-8) This was a fun read: Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden both have some great storytelling abilities when it comes to horror fiction, and their take on vampires is an excellent one.

30 - Dreadnought, Cherie Priest (11-10) Cherie Priest had a really good thing with Boneshaker, but Dreadnought was a bit of a disappointment. It didn't have the same flair or feeling that the first book did, but it did do some things that I'd wanted to see in Boneshaker. It's an interesting series, and I'll be interested to see what happens next.

31 - Lost States, Michael Trinklein (11-13) This was a fun book that I came across in a local store on states that didn't make it. It's a fun, quick read with a number of fun stories.

32 - The Jedi Path, Daniel Wallace (11-14) While I thought this book wasn't worth the $100 for all the frills and packaging, this is a really cool read for Star Wars fans, going into some of the history and methods of the Jedi Order.

33 - Horns, Joe Hill (11-22) This was the other absolutely fantastic book that I read this year (reading it as an ebook and then from the regular book) from localish author Joe Hill. The story of a man who sprouts horns and a small, emotional story about his life. It's an astonishing read, and one that will hopefully be up for a couple of awards.

34 - Doom Came to Gotham, Mike Mignola (11-24) This was a fun, alternate take on the Batman stories in a steampunk world. Batman + Mignola's art = awesome.

35 - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J.K. Rowling (11-28) 36 - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling (11-29) 37 - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling (12-1) 38 - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling (12-3) 39 - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling (12-12) 40 - Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling (12-15) 41 - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, J.K. Rowling (12-18) I'm not going to talk about each Potter novel in turn, but as a single, continuous story, Rowling has put together a hell of a story here. Outstanding characters and storylines, and the works as a whole are greater than the sum of their parts.

42 - The Magicians, Lev Grossman (12-27)

The logical book to read after the Harry Potter series was Lev Grossman's novel that can be described as an anti-Harry Potter. It's a fun novel the second time through, and good preparation for his followup this year.

43 - Brave New Worlds, John Joseph Adams (12-31)

The review for this book is coming shortly, but I have to say, it's one of the best anthologies that I've ever read.

On to 2011!

2011 Books

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. CoreyAs 2010 closes out, there's the inevitable looking forward to the new year. There's already a small, but growing list of books that are coming out that has been percolating in the back of my head. Some of these are authors that I've never read before, some are ones from familiar people, but all looked interesting to me. Here's what I've got thus far:

Hull Zero Three, Greg Bear

This is actually a 2010 release, but by the time that I buy it, it'll be well into the new year. A man awakes on a far out spacecraft from hibernation and takes stock of his surroundings. It looks like a fast-based, stripped down sort of novel. Hopefully, it'll be better than Pandorum.

The Habitation of the Blessed: A Dirge for Prester John Volume 1, Catherynne M. Valente

I'm not usually moved by covers (There are some exceptions, like The Windup Girl), but this one looks interesting, and the blurb hasn't deterred me at all:

This is the story of a place that never was: the kingdom of Prester John, the utopia described by an anonymous, twelfth-century document which captured the imagination of the medieval world and drove hundreds of lost souls to seek out its secrets, inspiring explorers, missionaries, and kings for centuries. But what if it were all true? What if there was such a place, and a poor, broken priest once stumbled past its borders, discovering, not a Christian paradise, but a country where everything is possible, immortality is easily had, and the Western world is nothing but a dim and distant dream?Brother Hiob of Luzerne, on missionary work in the Himalayan wilderness on the eve of the eighteenth century, discovers a village guarding a miraculous tree whose branches sprout books instead of fruit.

Spellbound, Blake Charlton

Spellwright, by Blake Charlton, was a fun read that I came across earlier this year, and from the early (and now cut section) look that I had earlier, this looked very interesting, and a cool continuation of the world that he's set up. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Leviathan Wakes, James A. Corey

Another one where the cover grabbed me, this start to a series looks to interstellar space, colonies, and ancient secrets lost in the solar system. Looks like it could be a promising romp in science fiction. Blurb:

Humanity has colonized the planets – interstellar travel is still beyond our reach, but the solar system has become a dense network of colonies. But there are tensions – the mineral-rich outer planets resent their dependence on Earth and Mars and the political and military clout they wield over the Belt and beyond.Now, when Captain Jim Holden’s ice miner stumbles across a derelict, abandoned ship, he uncovers a secret that threatens to throw the entire system into war. Attacked by a stealth ship belonging to the Mars fleet, Holden must find a way to uncover the motives behind the attack, stop a war, and find the truth behind a vast conspiracy that threatens the entire human race.

Fuzzy Nation, John Scalzi

John Scalzi's an author that I've followed quite a bit over the past year, and while I haven't read his followup books to 'Old Man's War' (have them, haven't gotten to them yet), Fuzzy Nation is probably going to jump to the front of the list. It's a reboot of a hugo-award winning novel, Little Fuzzy, something he doesn't think has happened before. It'll be interesting to see what happens with that, and there's no doubt in my mind that Scalzi can put together a fun tale.

Embassytown, China Mieville

The City and The City is one of my favorite books that I read over the past year, and as he turns to science fiction and aliens, I'm confident that he'll be putting a unique twist and look on the genre. In the meantime, I've got Kracken to read.

Bright’s Passage, Josh Ritter

I actually don't know anything about what this book will be about. But, it's by Josh Ritter, one of the best singer-songwriters out there, and if this is anything like his music, it's going to be a very good read indeed.

The Magician's King, Lev Grossman

Lev Grossman blew me away with The Magicians last year, and this followup to the book has me really intrigued. Where the first one could be described as the anti-Harry Potter, I have a hard time seeing how this one could play out. The ending moved to a bit more of a traditional fantasy novel, and if he can craft something in the same vein, that should be interesting indeed.

Unknown, Austin Grossman

Brother of Lev Grossman, Austin is known for his fantastic novel Soon I Will Be Invincible. Nothing much has come from the author since that was published a couple of years ago, but reportedly, he'll have something coming out. I'll be checking it out as soon as I get more information on it! Of course, all of these books could be horrible. They could be brilliant. Time will tell, but I can't wait to find out. Hype in any form is a dangerous thing for a book: it can raise expectations beyond what is reasonable, or it won't be enough for a brilliant book to get off the ground. Things like cover art, while cool, aren't the literature world equivilent of trailers, although they're hyped up to be, and while I do love great cover art, it doesn't always pay off by translating into a good book. Most of the authors on this list are ones that I've known and read before, although there's a couple of newcomers. Fortunately, this is a small risk to take. I can buy a book based on the cover and advance reviews, and hope for the best. In some cases, it's paid off. In others? I have a book that sits on my shelf, looking nice. Here's to hoping that 2011 will be as good of a year as this year was.

The Sky Isn’t Falling: Science Fiction as a Genre

Lately, it seems like there have been numerous article and opinion pieces on the state of the science fiction genre, as opposed to the fantasy and horror genres, with science fiction losing out to both and declining as a field. More women make up the total readership, and tend to read more towards the fantasy genre, while commercial ready fiction such as True Blood, The Dresden Files and Twilight have pushed their respective genres towards audiences that are highly receptive towards what they have to offer. Speculative fiction as a genre is not going away: rather, it seems to be growing stronger, with more ties towards the literary fields and with a growing readership. Science fiction is not a genre to be counted out, but it is a style of fiction that will need to undergo much thematic change in the future in order to remain relevant to readers.

Science Fiction as a whole is one that covers a wide range when it comes to themes and topics, and simply stating that the genre as a whole is failing is a rather meaningless, if somewhat dramatic statement. To say that people will stop writing about the speculative future is to say that people will stop imagining what will happen next: that is simply not going to happen. Rather, it is more realistic to assume that some of the more traditional stories might go away as our understanding of the world around us changes: this is a natural expectation.

Science Fiction is a genre that acts as a mirror for the present. It acts as a rare opportunity for creators to examine commonplace issues in a way that it relates to the present; viewing current events out of context as a way of examining them from afar. This is something that I don't believe is new or revelatory when it comes to analyzing the genre, but it is something that bears reminding as people attempt to predict the future of the genre as a whole.

The future of science fiction isn't limited to literature.

Amongst other articles that I've heard reiterated most often is the decline in the fiction that is presented in book (or soon, in virtual book) form. While that might be the case, especially compared to the rise of competing genres, science fiction is not limited to the printed page. As technology progresses, new avenues have presented themselves as methods for the genre to thrive. Content-wise, science fiction is a genre that fits very well with any number of video game systems, and the rise of games with larger story arches, such as Mass Effect, Halo, Gears of War and others demonstrate that science fiction has moved forward with interactive stories that have appealed to a very large audience. I don't believe that I've seen a comparable success with the any sort of video game that follows 'high-browed' literature style to tell a dramatic story.

Similarly, while the same isn't true with films, it's very clear that while they don't win awards as consistently as dramatic films, they can still do very, very well when it comes to earning money for their creators and generating a wide following. One doesn't have to look far beyond Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings and Avatar in recent years to realize that people do like science fiction and fantasy in large numbers. Even looking at the critical reception of films such as Inception, Moon, District 9, and Pan's Labyrinth to see that the genres are capable of being far more than 'just' crowd pleasers, but can also act as an introspective on the problems and conflicts that surround us in everyday life, addressing themes on identity and culture, morals and ethics, just to name a scant few.

Speculative fiction hawks have to get away from academic acceptance.

Listening to a piece on NPR the other day, I listened to Margaret Atwood note that it paid to be somewhat cautious when labeling works of fiction. She herself was caught up in a bit of drama when she characterized her works as being speculative fiction, rather than science fiction, characterizing her work as speculative fiction, creating a distinction between the genres, which rubbed numerous science fiction fans the wrong way, prompting a lot of speculation as to the nature of the genre. Reading over numerous book blogs and talking with fellow readers, it's clear that there is a large rift amongst people as to how to accept science fiction.

Science fiction seems to largely be unclaimed by the literary academic fields, dismissed from major awards on numerous grounds. I noted the bitterness in an acquaintance's words that a literary award was left devoid of science fiction and fantasy works, and I have had to wonder there is such attention paid to the status of the genre in these fields as other books have gained considerable attention in the mass media, such as Cormic McCarthy's post-apocalyptic The Road to Lev Grossman's The Magicians, both of which seemed to fall under a more mainstream section of the genre, while enjoying what appears to have been quite a lot of critical and commercial success. At the same time, other books, such as Cherie Priest's Boneshaker, and Scott Lynch's Lies of Locke Lamora seem to have done very well within their speculative genres, if the outcry of fans over the delays in the third book of Lynch's stories and the quick sellout of Priest's sequel novella are anything to go on.

Obviously, labels matter to an extent, but only when it comes to the marketing of said fictions, which makes the complaints about the literary discrimination seem only stranger to me, from both sides of the spectrum. While Atwood's remarks seemed remarkably short sighted for an established storyteller, numerous science fiction novels that line my shelves are ones that I can point to as superior works of literature, groundbreaking even outside of their own genres. Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials was a series that provided some profound philosophical and religious points for me as a high school student, while Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451 provided an understanding and appreciation for knowledge that remains with me to this point. The fantastic fiction that is out there provides argument and understanding on par with numerous works of literature, and I heartedly believe that genre snobbery is something that is largely baseless and short sighted.

Despite the labels that are out there, books like The Road and The Year of the Flood demonstrate that there is a leaking out of the genre to other genres, and one doesn't necessarily have to go to the science fiction section of the bookstore to find books that could largely fall within the genre. The label on the back of the book matters very little, and readers should be more aware of what else is out in print, especially as regular fiction catches up to the present. Given that we are increasingly living in a world that is science fictional, it stands to reason that some of that will bleed into our entertainment.

That all being said, the genre has survived for going on a century at this point, often as a crowd-pleasing genre, and one that certainly wouldn’t attract any academic or critical interest at various points in its history.

Fans need to understand that Speculative Fiction is about change... and it is changing.

If there is any one lesson that Science Fiction as its own, self-contained sub genre can impart, it is that the future is going to present a changed reality for all of those who inhabit it. The stories tend to follow how the protagonists can change their world for the better, usually based upon their actions. (This is a broad assumption, but one that I feel is valid) As such, it needs to be understood that the environment that fostered the genre in its earlier, formative days has given way to a world that has been drastically changed by economic, environmental and political events that leaves the current generation of readers with a vastly different understanding of the world as opposed to those who grew up during the Cold War.

Science fiction of the recent past was heavily influenced by world events: a book such as A Canticle for Lebowitz is one that likely could not have been written in the present day, ground breaking as it is. Fiction generally relates to its surrounding cultural contexts: It comes as no surprise that a film such as District 9 would succeed commercially and critically in today's present environment, whereas a film such as Star Wars did the same in the 1970s.

As such, the works within the genre should be expected to change with times, as our understanding of the present (as well as our understanding of technology and the things that surround us) changes. Works of epic space opera such as Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy and some of the minor space arcs such as Timothy Zahn's Conqueror's Trilogy or Ender's Game fit within their own contexts.

A common argument that has been talked about is that the futures presented in the past tended to be optimistic, with people believing that the future held a brighter future for humanity, which in turn translated into works of science fiction. Today, the opposite seems to be true, and as such, the fiction that tends to look backwards towards better days - fantasy - seems to be on the rise. At the same time, the science fiction that seems to be garnering more attention is the dystopia stories: Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl and assorted stories, Cormic McCarthy's The Road, and the multitudes of zombie novels that predict our demise in the rise of undead and lone libertarians seeking to preserve the American way of life out on their own. In a way, the most successful form of science fiction to come is likely Steampunk, which presents a darker form of science fiction, set in the past, where readers can feel comforted that their current world of advanced technology (or at least medical science) leaves us much better off than in the Victorian world.

Science fiction isn't dying, dead or going anywhere.

I don't believe that this is the case, at all: science fiction is a genre that has been seen to present some utterly fantastic and relevant stories for readers, addressing concerns of the present day in a twisted context. Looking beyond the artificial walls that genre terms provide, it's likely that the stories that we grew up with are likely going to change a bit: the random adventure in a space ship with strange aliens and laser guns might not be quite as common in the wider genre world, but they're likely to be replaced by stories that offer far different visions and interpretations of the future, by simple virtue of being written and created in the present day. 'Real life' is rapidly becoming something out of a science fiction novel, with hand-held computers, global positioning sensors and advances in all sorts of other technologies.

While some of the subject matter is changing, so to is the mediums that we can see the genre, and by this virtue alone, science fiction and fantasy is a genre that is here to stay, simply because it is a resilient genre that can fill numerous forms. Life itself spreads and survives on numbers, so to does the speculative fiction genres, where massive franchises of video games, movies and tie-in fiction enthralled millions of fans each day, generating excitement at the box office, blogs and conventions, where people look to the next really cool thing that they can take in. In its popularity, it is already bleeding into the mainstream consciousness through any number of forms. At this point, do mainstream literary awards matter for the genre as a whole, or signal some form of mainstream acceptance of the genre? I doubt it.

2009 Reading List

 

So, this year, I read a total of 21 books, far below the total number that I was shooting for - around 40 or so. There are some large gaps - February, March, May, and much of the fall, which coincides nicely with the numerous writing projects that I had going on throughout the year. With this coming year, I'm hoping to read quite a lot more as my schedule allows, and I've got quite an extensive list, as I've been steadily expanding my own personal library - I'm up to 748 books now. That number is sure to grow in the next 12 months.

1 - Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, Matthew Stover (1-2) This was probably the last Star Wars book that's come out that I've really liked. Stover is always an interesting writer, and here, he takes cues from some of the earliest Star Wars books and plays up the pulp factor. This one is fast, engaging and entertaining. In a nutshell, it harkened back to the Bantam Spectra days of Star Wars literature, and that's a good thing. I've got a huge backlog of books from the series that I just haven't gotten around to reading, simply because I'm not all that interested anymore.

2 - Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Suzanna Clarke (1-11) Jonathan Strange is by far one of my favorite books of the decade, and one of the greatest fantasy books since J.R.R. Tolkien. Elegantly written, plotted and conceptualized, Clarke has put together a masterpiece. It took me several years to get through the first half of this book, but when I finally sat down to read it, I absolutely couldn't put it down. I can't wait to read it again.

3 - The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of, Thomas Disch (1-25) I completely forgot about this book, and had to look it up - it's a history of Science Fiction. It was interesting, but I took some issue with some of the things that he brought up at times. I can't for the life of me remember what, but I preferred Adam Robert's history of SF. I picked up the book because I was thinking that I was going to be reading and writing more about the origins of Science Fiction, but that never really panned out. Still, it wasn't a total loss of a read, and it did make some good points about the genre.

4 - Firearms: A Global History to 1700, Kenneth Chase (1-25) This was the only school book that I've actually gone back to, to read over again (although there's one other one that I'm planning on reading again), and that's the history of firearms. This book does a bit more than go through the motions of firearms - it examines the impact on tactics and the makeup of armies (it was revolutionary) and how the technology travelled from Asia to Europe. I used for a couple of my classes and it's highly engaging, interesting and informative.

5 - Wired for War, PW Singer (3-19) PW Singer's book on Robots in Warfare was a fantastic book, easily one of my favorites and something that I'll read in the future. Exceptionally thought out and researched, it not only looks at robotics, but the military command structure and environment, which to me, is far more interesting, and gives the book a significant party piece when it comes to talking about the future of the military. I got to see Mr. Singer talk, and he signed my book, and had a blast doing it.

6 - It's Been A Good Life, Isaac Asimov (4-1) Asimov's shorter biography, this was a quick reread that I'd wanted to do for a while. His life is pretty interesting, from his experience with the military to his start as a writer. Asimov is one of my absolute favorite Science Fiction writers, and it's interesting to see some of the behind the scenes elements to his works. It's a little self-indulgent, I think, but worth reading all the same.

7 - The Catch, Archer Mayor (4-7) Archer Mayor's book from last year, this was another fun book from him. This one introduced a couple new characters and themes, but I liked this year's better - this one was ultimately forgettable, until this year's Price of Malice, and the plot fell pretty flat for me. I think that the two of them could have been combined to become one novel, and it would have worked much better. It's a good reminder that I really need to read some of the older ones again.

8 - It Happened In Vermont, Mark Bushnell (4-16) This is a book of historical thumbnails on Vermont. Lots of fun information on a variety of topics throughout the state's history, but it misses some crucial ones that will be historically relevant in the coming years. The earlier elements provide quite a bit of detail, and some good stories about this state, but honestly, how does one not include something like Civil Unions?

9 - The Soloist, Steve Lopez (4-27) There was a movie based off of this, which looked good, and the book was only a couple of dollars in the bargain pile. It is the story of a reporter for the LA Times and a Schizophrenic man who was a musical prodigy and provides an interesting look at the homeless and LA.

10 - The Book of Lost Things, John Connolley (5-28) I really enjoyed this fantasy book by John Connolley - It's quite a dark book, but I like that. It takes a number of fantasy fairy tales, such as the knight in shining armor, the seven dwarves and a couple others, and puts a new, modern twist on them in a way that reminded me of Pan's Labyrinth.

11 - Rocket Men, Craig Nelson (6-13) This book was instrumental in my capstone and my thinking about space. This is the story of the Apollo 11 mission, and talks a lot about the mission beforehand. I gather that there are some inaccuracies, but I'm willing to let that slide because of some of the concepts that he brings up - the economics of a space program, for example.

12 - The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (6-15) Neil Gaiman's latest book was a delight to read - a wonderfully dark young adult novel that's been nominated for a number of awards, about a boy who grows up in a graveyard. I wonder when a movie will be made of this one.

13 - Explorer's House: National Geographic and the World It Made, Robert Poole (7-29) This is the type of history that I really like - looking at the world through a much smaller thing, and what is more influential than the National Geographic? This book traces the magazine and society's history from the beginning to the present day, and gives a very interesting insight to both.

14 - The Magicians, Lev Grossman (8-19) I loved this book, a modern, dark, brooding and realistic fantasy tale that takes points from the best of Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia. Grossman has put forth an interesting entry into the Fantasy genre, and it's become one of my favorites.

15 - Old Man's War, John Scalzi (9-8) I've rapidly become a fan of John Scalzi because of this book, and his blog, Whatever. This is a pretty ordinary take on the super soldier/ military SF theme, but it's a fun one, and I've already picked up the sequels for some time that I'm in the mood for military Sci Fi.

16 - Consider Phlebas, Iain M. Banks (9-17) Banks came highly recommended to me, and this book was a fun one to read. Exceptional world building - the pacing was a bit off - and interesting characters. It's an epic space opera and adventure, and I'm looking forward to the next couple books in the series.

17 - The Windup Girl, Paolo Bachaglupi (10-6) If this book doesn't win a Hugo Award, I'm going to be very, very annoyed. This has to be the best SF book in years, with a brilliant future imagined for the planet, with multiple storylines, politics and motives from the characters. It’s an exceptional book.

18 - The Price of Malice, Archer Mayor (10-11) Archer Mayor's latest, and one that I really enjoyed, more so than The Catch, and it took on a bit from his earlier books, in my mind. I can’t wait for next year’s book.

19 - The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century, George Friedman (10-19) Ugh. I didn't like this book that much, but it had some interesting points. I found Friedman's book to be an infuriating read, simply because of the assumptions and things that he missed over. Not highly recommended, but there are some good points that he makes - how to think about history and historical events, for example.

20 - Clone Wars: No Prisoners, Karen Traviss (10-20) One of Karen Traviss's last Star Wars books, it's an okay entry, nowhere as good as her Commando books. It’s a fun, throwaway reading for an afternoon. I read it in a day.

21 - Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (And What It Says About Us), Tom Vanderbilt (11-1) The last book that I read last year was back in November, although I have a bunch started that I'm working on getting through. This book is a fantastic one to read - reminded me a lot of Wired for War, in that it's well researched and interesting, and in my mind, essential for anybody who wants to get behind the steering wheel. Already, it's helped me to understand why we drive the way we do, and it's affected how I percieve traffic problems, and how I drive.

That's what I read last year. I've already got quite a list for the coming year, and I'm excited to see how many I get through.

Top Geek Things of 2009

Now that it's close to the end of the year, it's time to look back, like everyone else and their mother on the internet, on the past year. 2009 has been a fantastic one for all things geek. There have been a number of fantastic movies, books, television shows and so forth, as well as a bunch of things that really didn't come off as well. Here's what I've been geeking out (or complaining about) this year:

The Best:

Moon Moon is easily one of the best Science Fiction films that I've ever seen. Ever. It's been added to a very small list of films (The Fountain, Children of Men, Pan's Labyrinth, etc) of exceptionally conceptualized, produced and thoughtful SF/F films out there. Moon is one of two really good films this year that I really enjoyed and for a number of reasons. The story is fantastic, playing off of common themes with new eyes, it's visually stunning and it's a largely original story, one that's not based directly off of prior works. And, it has a fantastic soundtrack by Clint Mansell.

Star Trek This appears three times on this list, because I'm still largely split over how I feel about it. The best parts of this is that it's a fantastic, visually stunning film, and really does what Enterprise and Nemesis failed to do: reboot the franchise in grand style, with over the top action, adventure, everything that really comes to mind when you think Big Budget Space Movie. The cast, pacing and visuals made this one of the most successful films of the year, and the best of the big budget films that came out this year.

District 9 When it comes to fantastic Science Fiction films, Moon and Star Trek didn't have a monopoly on this at all - District 9, coming out of San Diego Comic Con with an incredible amount of buzz and a good viral marketing campaign showed that there was still a place for an innovative filmmaker armed with a good story. The end result is a compelling take on first contact. Instead of an us against them, or invaders from outer space flick, we see refugees from outer space, with an acute political message that makes this movie even more interesting.

The Curious Tale of Benjamin Button This was an interesting film, one that got a bit of press, but wasn't a blockbuster by any means. The story of a man who ages backwards from birth, one that proved to be a powerful and somewhat heartbreaking love story leaves much room for discussion, but at points, was slow and ponderous. Brad Pitt did a fantastic job, as did the special effects artists who provided the CGI throughout.

The Magicians, Lev Grossman The Magicians was a book that came out of nowhere for me, until a Borders email let me know about it. Picking it up, with few expectations, I was enthralled with Lev Grossman's take on the fantasy world. Drawing much from C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia and elements of Harry Potter, this book looks at a boy in a magical academy in a far more realistic sense, injecting a good dose of post-college reality into a field that is often ripe with monsters and epic quests. A quest of sorts is in here, but the buildup is fantastic.

Wired For War, P.W. Singer Wired For War is a book from earlier this year that looked at the developments of robotics in warfare. P.W. Singer takes a long and comprehensive look at not only the state of robots and their use in combat operations, but also looks to how the use of robotics is integrated into wartime planning, and how this impacts command and control structures already in place. From this point, he looks to the future of warfare, where robotics will go through the next decades and what the face of futuristic warfare might look like. It's also peppered with numerous Science Fiction references. I had a chance to speak with and interview Mr. Singer, who was extremely pleasant and eager to talk about his book, and write up several major articles for io9, which was a thrill as always.

The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi Recently selected as one of Time Magazine's top books of the year, Paolo Bacigalupi's first novel, The Windup Girl is a stunning one. Taking place in the near future, in a world without oil, alternative energy has become paramount, while agricultural firms have put profit before common sense and as a result, plagues ravage the world, except for Thailand, whose isolationist policies hold back the outside world and its problems. The book covers a lot of ground, from governmental policy to corporate greed to bioethics, with a wide range of characters who all fall within a gray area. This book is fantastic, and if it doesn't win a Hugo, there's seriously something wrong with the world.

The Moon Reigns Supreme - 40th Anniversary of Apollo 11 & Water on the Moon This year marked 40 years since 1969, when man first landed on the moon with Apollo 11, and with a successful follow-up mission with Apollo 12. Easily one of humanity's greatest accomplishments and it has been followed up with a number of projects. NASA found and restored footage of the landing and EVA activities, cleaning it up a little. NASA also took pictures from orbit of the Apollo landing sites, down to footprint trails with some stunning work from LCROSS. In addition to NASA's efforts to celebrate the anniversary, there were a number of other things out there. The Kennedy Library launched the website 'We Chose the Moon', which documented, in real time, the Apollo 11 mission. I listened at the edge of my seat, following along with the mission transcript and listened as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down on the lunar surface. Finally, Craig T. Nelson's book, Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men On The Moon, was released earlier this year to also commemorate the mission, which proved to be a detailed and fantastic read, one that helped to influence my thinking on the lunar mission. The Lunar landing wasn't the only press that the moon got this year - the LCROSS mission launched a component that slammed into the surface and let up a plume of debris - analysis revealed that there is water on the moon - a lot of it. And for all of those people who complained about this, keep in mind the number of craters that are already there.

Last servicing mission to Hubble. NASA wasn't just in the news for Apollo 11; this year marked the last servicing mission for the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been in orbit since 1990. Despite its troubled history, the satellite has returned some of the most fantastic, beautiful and stunning images of the universe around us, and will continue to do so for a couple more years. Space Shuttle mission STS-125 was launched in May, where a new camera was placed onboard and several other minor repairs. The satellite is slated to continue operation through 2014, so don't fret yet.

James May's Toy Stories James May, one of the three presenters on Top Gear, has been doing a limited TV show on classic toys, including Mecano, Plasticine, and eventually, Lego, looking a little at their history and then building something supersized out of them. It's quite a treat to watch.

Fringe I called Fringe one of the worst things last year, but it's turned around for me. Picking up the boxed set, I was hooked. It's a bit cheesy, gory, but a whole lot of fun. Walter, weird science, teleportation and alternate universes make this show a huge joy to watch. Season 2 is proving to be just as good, now that they've locked down a story, and I'm eager to see where it goes.

Dollhouse Dollhouse debuted earlier this year with a short, 13 episode season that started off slowly, but picked up an incredible amount of steam. While it's more uneven than Joss Whedon's earlier show, Firefly, Dollhouse's better episodes help make up for the slack by introducing some of the most challenging moments in Science Fiction, and deal with issues such as the soul, personality and consent, while also offering cautionary tales on the uses of technology. Unfortunately, with the show's cancellation right as it gets good, there's a limit to what can be told, but with plenty of time for this show to wrap up all the remaining storylines, I think that this will become a cult classic.

Battlestar Galactica Where to begin with Battlestar Galactica? It's been a rush over the past six or so years, with a miniseries and four seasons of television and two movies, and like all good things, it had to end sometime. Fortunately, it ended when it was good, and while the finale garnered quite a lot of talk and dismay from some people (io9 listed it as one of the bigger disappointments), I think that it was carried off well, with a rich blend of religious allegory, action and a satisfying ending that few science fiction shows seem to get.

Kings Sadly, Kings was another short lived show that was cancelled before its time. Taking the story of David and Goliath from the Bible and updating it in a modern, alternate world with inter-kingdom politics, faith and destiny. The stories were superb, well told, with a fantastic cast. This is precisely the type of show that should have been on SyFy, especially with their upcoming show Caprica.

Stargate: Universe SyFy's latest show from the Stargate Franchise, Stargate: Universe is possibly the most interesting and compelling installment in the series. Taking the very basics of Stargate SG-1/Stargate Atlantis, this show takes more cues from Battlestar Galactica than it does Stargate. The result is a far more realistic show, with more personal stories and situations that are much darker, and more grown up from the first show.

Landing At Point Rain The Clone Wars thunders on, with mixed results, but easily the best episode that's aired thus far is Landing At Point Rain. Taking influences from Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan and other war movies, the show finally lives up to its title: The Clone Wars. There's plenty of action, less of the stupid lines and fantastic animation that really made this episode one of the most exciting moments in the entire franchise.

The Hazards of Love, by the Decemberists The Decemberists have long dabbled in interesting and wordy music, as well as fantasy, with their last album, The Crane Wife, and The Tain, but The Hazards of Love is their most ambitious attempt at a concept album to date, one with an overarching story of Margaret and William, a town girl and a cursed man, their love for one another and the Forest Queen who conspires to keep them apart. The album is filled with supernatural elements, and seems to draw from Lord of the Rings and traditional mythic stories to put together one of their best works to date. The band in concert was also a treat to see.

Do You Want To Date My Avatar? I'm not all that familiar with The Guild, but Felica Day's clever music video is hands down fantastic.

Dr. Horrible Wins an Emmy Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog was one of the coolest things to come out last year, and this year, it received an Emmy, which helps to solidify the web as a growing platform for serious and professionally produced entertainment. Hopefully, its success will mean that we’ll see smaller, independent productions going online and succeeding.

Symphony of Science Symphony of Science is a project that puts noted scientists (notably Carl Sagan) to music by using an auto tuner. The result is a series of music videos and songs that help to convey some of the beauty and wonder of physics though some fairly clever songs. I've been listening to them constantly, and as a sort of electronica style music, they're quite fun, and very geeky to listen to. Best of all, there is plans to make further songs.

Star Wars In Concert One of the most iconic elements of Star Wars isn't just the action and epic story; it's the music that it's set to. For much of this fall, a travelling show, entitled Star Wars In Concert has been travelling around the nation. Unfortunately, it's winding down, but it will likely continue into next year. The 501st was called out at most of the events, and through that, I was able to watch the show. Combining a live orchestra, clips from the movies and narration from Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), the entire evening was a fantastic experience that gave me chills throughout.

Tauntaun Sleeping Bag The Tauntaun Sleeping bag started out as an April Fool's Joke, but the demand and interest was so prevalent that ThinkGeek actually went out and made it. What a fantastic idea - I kind of want one.

Slingers The final thing on this list is Slingers, a short conceptual teaser for a show that's heading towards production. The 3 minute teaser is easily one of the best moments in SF that I've seen in a while and I've been bouncing around, positively giddy at the prospect that this might be made. It's got humor, some interesting characters and a very cool look to the future. Plus, it's a space show, and there aren't many of those around now. It left me seeing more, and I'm sure that we'll see more in the next year or so.

Meh:

Fanboys For all the hype, Fanboys was a bit of a letdown. The cancer story was kept in, but so were some of the immature and cheap laughs that brought the entire film down. It's good for a laugh, and there's a lot that went right with it, but still, I was left wishing that there was more to it, without the frat boy humor in it.

Watchmen Don't get me wrong, Watchmen was stunning. It looked, felt and acted like the comic book that it was inspired by, and the transition to the screen worked fairly well. At the same time, for all the hype that there was here, I'm not that enthused to see it more than once or twice. It's still on my to get list, but it's not necessarily a priority. I think my biggest issue with this is that it's too much like the comic book, and that the drive to make everything exact harmed the overall production. It's less of a movie than it is an homage from the director. Sin City was the perfect comic book movie, this wasn't, and it really should have been. Still, it's worth watching.

Star Trek Star Trek, one of the best, one of the eh, moments of the year. It looks and feels spectacular, but when you get down to it, there's the shoddy science, and an incredibly weak story that pulls the movie along. The story's really not what the film was about, this was a character start for more Star Trek, but for me, story is central to Science Fiction, and this just didn't have it.

9 The trailers for 9 looked great, and there was quite a bit of interest in this. I went into the theater with high expectations, and those were largely met - the film looked spectacular, and it was a fun ride, but the story and characters were pretty lacking. It needed quite a bit of story and character development that was needed, and that harmed the film. Plus, it didn't seem to know if it was a kid's movie or one for an older audience. This is probably something to rent, not to buy.

V The new V should have been great - the cast, producers and network put together a good premise, but with the first couple of episodes sped through just about everything that made the show interesting. The themes of first contact, of a ship arriving over earth with a message for peace contain so much when it comes to religion, science and society, all rich territory that could be exploited, but instead, it's gone past too quickly, with crappy teenage romance storylines. I'll probably not pick up watching again, but I'll see what's going on in the show, in case, by some miracle, it's picked up for a second season.

The Prisoner AMC's The Prisoner was another show that should have been great. The trailers presented a fantastic looking story of psychological stress with a weird desert backdrop, but honestly? I can't tell you what it was about. It was convoluted, unconnected and dull, and while it looked very pretty, and had some decent episodes, it was a pretty big letdown.

Spirit gets stuck in the mud The Spirit Rover on Mars got mired down in a patch of sand earlier this year. Put into operation in 2004, and only intended for a 90 day mission, the rover was still going strong until it got stuck. Hopefully, the boffins over at the JPL will be able to get it out and about once again, although if I remember correctly, the last thing that they were intending to try was to back it out the way it came in. I would have thought that would have been the first thing to have tried.

Google Wave - lights are on, but there's nobody there. Late this year, Google Wave got turned on, and like any major Google product with exclusive access, it was, well, popular. But nobody really seems to know what it's for, and unlike Gmail, which could be used as an e-mail client from day one, its limited access restricts a lot of what you can do with this. People aren't using it like e-mail if it was designed today; it's essentially a glorified Gmail chat window, or a really good business collaborative tool. Still, it's pretty nifty, and I really hope that they can integrate it into Gmail someday.

Worst:

G.I. Joe, Star Trek, Transformers, Terminator & Big Budget Crap I know I've singled out Star Trek a couple times here, but more than ever, especially with far superior, low budget films competing with them this year, we see once again that tons of special effects doesn't necessarily equate to a good film. G.I. Joe landed with horrendous reviews, Star Trek had a smaller plot than a television episode and Terminator: Salvation was a huge disappointment, critically. (I thought it was decent, but nowhere near as good as the trailers led me to believe). My biggest gripe is extravagant use of CGI and an over-reliance on special effects for a dumbed down audience. Among other things, Moon and District 9 demonstrated that a good looking, intelligent film could be done for a fairly low cost, and I know that I'll be going back to those far more than the others. Still, big budget summer movies aren't going anywhere - a lot of these films made quite a bit, and the jury is still out on Avatar, which drops in a couple weeks.

Karen Traviss Quits Star Wars - Twice Karen Traviss was really a shining star within the Star Wars Universe. Her first entry, Republic Commando : Hard Contact, was followed up by several very good novels, with some different and intelligent views on the Clone Wars. Then, there was a bit of a row over Mandalorians, causing her books to come into conflict with the Clone Wars TV series. Since then, there's been a bit of a row about this, and Traviss has left the universe for others, such as Gears of War and Halo, and hopefully, her other works. Karen explains everything here, and makes some good points. She will be missed, however.

Black Matrix Publishing Row With harder times coming around, some publishers found a new revenue stream: aspiring writers who have little common sense. One notable SF ones was Black Matrix Publishing, called out by author John Scalzi recently on his blog, Whatever. While Scalzi had quite a lot of very good advice in his usual up front fashion, there were a number of people who went on the offensive and critizised him as an elitist writer, issuing some of the most ridiculous arguments for why Black Matrix had been wronged. I'm not necessarily involved in either side, but Scalzi presented a reasonable argument. Why is that so hard?

The ending to Life On Mars I really got into Life on Mars. It wasn't as good as the UK version, but it was unique, interesting and divergent from it. While the show basically adapted the original show to a large extent at first, they had an interesting pace and storyline starting up, and far better than the first pilot that was shot, which was just terrible. The creators had a delicate balancing act to follow, and did a very good job with giving their characters their own personalities and stories that diverged from the UK version. Then, the show was cancelled and they ended it, and the last ten minutes of the show just dropped like a rock. Clunky, very, very poor production values that made me wonder if this was all slapped together at the last minute, and quite honestly, it dimmed the entire series for me, especially compared to the brilliance of the UK version. I'll watch the show again, but I'll be doing my best to forget about the conclusion.

SciFi becomes SyFy, nobody cares One of the biggest furies of the year was when SciFi became SyFy, and the internet erupted into such indignation that I thought the world was going to end. Quite simply, the channel changed names to create a stronger brand, not change content, and so far, they seem to be doing pretty well, with Warehouse 13, Stargate Universe, Alice and presumably, Caprica doing really well in the ratings. All of which is good, for the network to expand further and really show that geek is really in right now. While the name looks silly, it's really a superficial change. Now, if they would just get rid of wrestling. Or pick up Slingers for five seasons.

Orbiting Carbon Observatory crashes - Mission Failure This was a satellite that I tracked earlier this year while really watching the space stuff. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory was an expensive one, designed to monitor global carbon levels to get a better idea just how climate change is progressing and providing us with a very good look at just how the environment is changing around us. Ultimately though, part of the nose failed to separate from the capsule, and with the extra weight, the rocket crashed into the south Atlantic.

Heroes continues. Meh. I've given up on Heroes, after the dismal decline in quality, storytelling and characters. They should have stuck with the original plan, and killed off the first season's cast when they had the chance, instead of bringing people back time and time again. The fact that ratings are declining is just stunning to me, especially now that the show is into it's fourth season, and I have doubts that it will return. Hopefully not.

FlashForward Look, if I want to watch LOST, I'll watch LOST. I'm not going to watch a show that's a poor copy of it.

Deaths: Every year, there are a number of deaths in the geek genre/fan community. A couple notable ones were Ricardo Montalbán, who played Kahn in Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn, Michael Jackson, who's song Thriller places him on the Geek spotlight, Kim Manners (X-Files/Supernatural Producer), Philip José Farmer, author of Riverworld and numerous other SF books, Dave Arneson, one of the D&D co-founders, and Norman Borlaug, who saved the world through science. There are others I'm sure, but it's still hard to see people in the genre leave us forever.

Unknowns

A couple of unknowns for me include The Lovely Bones, Sherlock Holmes, Avatar and Zombieland, which I haven't seen, Deathtroopers, which I haven't read, and Halo ODST, which I haven't played. (Okay, haven't played much. I've liked what I've played. And the soundtrack. And the fact that the entire Firefly cast is somewhere in there)

What's coming up for next year? The new Tron movie is coming out, which I'm horribly excited for, especially after watching the trailer and then the old movie. Slingers is likely going to get some more buzz. Iron Man 2 will be big, as well as Clash of the Titans, Inception (Really want to see that one), Chronicles of Narnia 3, The Book of Eli, and Toy Story 3. Hopefully, Scott Lynch will have his third book out, and Caprica will be beginning (High hopes for that one), as well as the second half  and second Season of Stargate: Universe. Who knows what else?

Recommended Readings

My friend Tyler copied an idea from another blog about his ten must-read books. I figured that I'd get in on the game with a list of my own essential books. I'll try and avoid some of the more obvious ones, as he noted, such as Lord of the Rings and The Golden Compass with some stuff that usually doesn't get enough attention. I can't, however, promise that I'm going to limit it to an arbatrary number. I will limit it to geek-related reading, however. SF, Science, Fantasy, etc.

The Magicians, Lev Grossman. I read this book late in the summer, and was really impressed with the storyline and direction that it took. While ostensibly a ripoff of Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia, this book explores more realistic feelings of a young man being trained in the art of magic. Wired for War, P.W. Singer. This was an earlier read this year, for which I wrote a review for io9, and had a chance to meet and speak with Mr. Singer. This book is ripe with SF references and potential, looking at the introduction of robotic entities into warfare, and how that effects not only combat, but our military's structure. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke. Suzanne Clarke is possibly one of the best fantasy writers of our generation. JSMR is a stunning book, rich in depth and prose, and is a very deliberate book to get through. It's long, challenging and absolutely fantastic. Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book, Gerald Jones. This book is what got me interested in social history, which has then gotten me further interested in the field and writing. This book presents a very interesting chronicle of the comic book industry, linking it to major events throughout US history, and traces the beginnings of the first comic strips to the industry that it is today. Coyote, Allen M. Steele. Coyote was initially published as a series of short stories by Steele in Asimov's Science Fiction, and is a great read on intersteller travel, near future politics (this was born out of the Bush Administration, and while it's interesting, it's not necessarily accurate or really in depth) and the colonization of a world, a sort of parallel with the foundation of the United States. The World Without Us, Alan Weisman. Alan Wesiman askes an interesting question: what would happen if humanity just vanished? He then goes on to say what would happen - infrastructure would collapse and vanish quickly, and this premise was used in the recent film I Am Legend. However, there's a really good part of this that examines our relationship with nature. The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch. Scott Lynch's first novel is an absolutely riveting read. Lynch is a master at epic world building, creating a detailed fantasy society that includes the darker elements that most Fantasy series seem to avoid. His followup novel, Red Seas under Red Skies is also well worth reading. The Icarus Hunt, Timothy Zahn. This is an older book by one of my favorite authors, Timothy Zahn. It's fairly light fare, but it's an entertaining space opera novel that holds up well. In the Shadow of the Moon, Francis French and Colin Burgess. With the 40th anniversary of the Lunar Landings, there has been an influx of interest in the history of space travel. The University of Nebraska has been on the ball for a couple years now, with the release of In the Shadow of the Moon, which has no connection to the wonderful documentary of the same title. This book examines the history of space travel, on the behalf of the US and Russia, from Gemini to Apollo 11, covering the territory in fantastic detail. The other books in the series are also wonderful. City of Pearl, Karen Traviss. Karen Traviss's debut novel is the first of a six book series and helps to establish her as one of the best new SF writers of the decade. Her stories take place in a number of well concieved worlds and looks over near-future technology, environmental issues and corporate demands. Oh yeah, and some interesting first contact situations and interstellar warfare. American Gods, Neil Gaiman. What's to say about American Gods that hasn't been said before? Gaiman has put together an incredible story. Altered Carbon, Richard K. Morgan. Richard K. Morgan is another up and coming SF writer who has just burst onto the scene in wonderful fashion with this book, Altered Carbon. Morgan puts together a fantastic futuristic world through the story of a noir-esque mystery. Ringworld, Larry Niven. This is already a classic in the SF world, but I wanted to include it because it doesn't get as much attention as some of the other heavyweights of the genre. Ringworld combines epic science fiction from the best elements and lofty themes of the 1970s with another classic theme of SF, exploration. Soon I Will Be Invincible, Austin Grossman. Austin Grossman's first novel about a group of Superheroes in modern society is a fun, exciting and interesting read. These superheroes are a far cry from those of the classic superheroes that are in the comics: these guys have affairs, problems and a rich comic book-style history behind this world. Fans of Watchmen should enjoy it. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon. Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize winning novel is the story of the creation of Superman, and I would actually recommend reading it along with Men of Tomorrow. It's a wonderful and engaging read. The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol 1, Robert Silverberg. This last book is one that I would recommend above all others. If there was ever a situation in which you could only read one SF book, this is the one that I'd recommend. A collection of superb SF stories from the best minds of the genre, this book is one that is absolutely essential. The stories, writing and authors are all top-notch for their times, and this collection of their best works is easily the best snapshot of the genre that I can think of.

Review: The Magicians

Within the fandom genre, I consider myself a fan of Science Fiction over Fantasy. I'm more intrigued in the sheer variety that Science Fiction presents itself with as well as the notion of humanity (or whatever other race portrayed in any given story) pulling itself up on its own two feet with emperical science. Yet, I find myself coming back, time and again, to fantasy works for the absolute sense of escapism and wonder that I often feel with the books that I pick up. I tend to be particularly picky with fantasy books because it is very rare that a fantasy book will evoke some sort of feeling like that from me.

It is because it didn't do this, I think, is what I really liked from Lev Grossman's latest novel, The Magicians. In this fantastic addition to the fantasy genre, Grossman puts together a book that is radically different than just about every other fantasy novel out there, breaking a lot of the very common elements that seem to define the fantasy genre. On a first glance, The Magicians doesn't seem to be very different from any number of well known fantasy books. A boy in his teens is brought to a magical academy, where he learns the various arts of magic, in a school that is hidden from the rest of the world. Without presupposition, anyone would immediately label this as any part of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Within the modern day world that Grossman puts together, Quentin, our protagonist, and his friends, are fans of the Fillory series that sees a family of children stumble into a magical world where they often help to fight for good and right in an epic quest. Again, someone would identify this plot as that of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. While this book certainly has been influenced by these, and more - J.R.R Tolkien's epic The Lord of the Rings is mentioned a couple of times, not to mention the game Dungeons and Dragons, it cleverly turns many of the ideas and themes that defined these pillars of the fantasy genre on their heads.

Grossman's fantasy world is no different than our own. This story takes place largely in our world, with the normal staples referenced for proper placement, but with a side world of magic. Unlike the rediculously cartoonish version that J.K. Rowling presents (which, even as a fanboying 13 year old, never made sense to me), Grossman's alternative world functions in much the same way - magic is dull, time consuming and work. The people who study at colleges for magic study (such as Brakebills, in New York), graduate and enter the dull working world and fail to see that their lives have become essentially meaningless. There is a fantastic quote in the book that stuck with me:

"This wasn't Fillory, where there was some magical war to be fought. There was no Watcherwoman to be rooted out, no great evil to be vanquished and without that everything seemed so mundane and penny-ante. No one would come out and say it, but the world wide magical community was suffering from a serious imbalance: too many magicians and not enough monsters." (Grossman, 210)

What Grossman has essentially done, was insert real life into fantasy. The mundane aspects are there, but along with that is the cynicism and skeptical nature that one feels for life the more you learn from it. This book comes at a particularly interesting point in my own life where I find the text to be highly relatable. We enter college and expect to change the world, only to find that real life is far more dull than anybody bothered to tell us. The Magicians carries with it a resentful, sullen approach to fantasy, something completely contrary to the grand themes that most fantasy novels portray. Indeed, the main action and villain in the book hardly appear at all; just once early on, and in the last quarter of the book, when the characters stumble upon their quest. Even then, their quest is not a noble one, it is scattered, disorganized and brutal, where they turn out to be pawns in a far larger story that helps to tie the entire book together.

There are other elements to fantasy that Grossman stumbles upon that seems to be largely untried ground, at least with some modern works, the effects of magic and power upon a magician. While books such as Lord of the Rings look to the corrupting influence of power, Grossman expands this a bit and utilizes the theme throughout the story. His characters are unhappy creatures through most of the book, and one character hits it right on the head when they note that magicians are different because they are in pain, and from that pain comes the willpower and drive to succeed and make magic. Another character looks back towards the end of the book and wonders at the sheer power that the students are exposed to so early on, and speculates as to just what type of influence that would have upon them. But, for all the corrupting influences that magic might have upon its users, it is clear by the end of the book, when Quentin has retreated from its teachings, that there is still an irresistible pull and wonder to it that makes it hard to walk away from.

I like this approach to a story, changing the entire focus. In essence, it is Harry Potter, grown up. When I first read Rowling's series, I was in the middle of high school, and couldn't have made any critical points about the book if my life had depended upon it. Now, it is as if those major elements have undergone the same sort of transformation and growth that I've gone through in the past decade or so since I first read the books. Grossman's fantasy is darker, far more adult and much more interesting from a storytelling perspective, I think, than all of Rowling's series put together.

Reading over other reviews of this book, I can see a number of critics and reader who just don't get the purpose of the book. While it does appear to be very similar to the aforementioned Harry Potter and Narnia series (there is no way to escape comparisons here), it is the themes and tone that sets this book far apart from them. The Magicians presents a far more realistic setting in a fantasy world, because that suits the characters, casting away the usual black and white morality with one that is far more gray. There are few clear cut moral resolutions here. Every character is damaged in their own way - Quentin, tired of life from early on, Alice, who has grown up with parents who are unable to see their meaningless purposes in life, Penny, who is so standoffish that he is an outsider, Janet, who is so consumed with herself that she must be the center of all problems and Eliot who is consumed with greed and lust. Throughout, the characters are often confronted not with a clear and present danger, but with the simple problem of finding their way in the world as role models and loved ones let each other down, or as childhood standbys turn out to be far more than they appear, such as what happens with the Fillory series within the book.

The Magicians is a thoughtful, interesting and dark read. Like his predecessors in the genre, Grossman has put together a highly imaginative and creative tale. While I often turn to fantasy because of its escapism, I was absolutely enraptured with its view of the modern world through a slightly different lens, one that I can not only relate to, but agree with almost completely. While I'm usually a Science Fiction fan, this book completely captivated me throughout, and is likely going to be on my list of top fantasy works.