They Didn't Ask Me (dr_phil_physics) wrote,
They Didn't Ask Me


So, remember that Facebook meme?
>>>>10 Books in no particular order that have stayed with you in some way. Books that still resonate, regardless of quality or author. Don't take more than few minutes and don't try to list the "right" or "great" works. No more than one book by any given author, and nothing too recent.<<<<<

At the time, I just gave titles. But I want to annotate the list, give you a reason why these books -- all the time realizing that the list would have been different had I written it on another day.

1. Dune / Frank Herbert
Too easy? I mean this is Dune we're talking about. Sandworms, stillsuits, Fremen blue eyes, Bene Gesserit, gom jabbar. Spice. Fear is the mindkiller... I mean, the world building, the layers, the politics, the technology, the PLOT. That, and the first time I read it, it was not only the most expensive paperback I'd ever bought but White Plains NY was in the midst of a heat wave. Sure, it was humid, but reading on my bed at 3am in 102°F+ heat while the Lady Jessica and Paul are escaping -- it seared into my brain.

2. Star Surgeon / James White
Aliens. A whole hospital staffed by aliens, for treating aliens. Aliens including humans. They're all coded by a four letter code. It's been forever, but I think humans were DBDG. Except there were two species whose taxonomy came out as DBDG. The other race was like giant teddy bears. Years later when I was putting some time towards a second Ph.D. in Science Education, in one grad class we brainstormed on how to describe a dog -- and then we're challenged to use that criteria to judge a cat. It came out a dog. Another alien was like an AALN, again I can't remember, but it was like a sentient potted plant. Terrific world building -- the story bogged down in parts -- but I reread this one for years, too. And I stole the teddy bear and plant aliens for two unsold stories.

3. Childhood's End / Arthur C. Clarke
Only ONE per author? I wrestled with the Clarke. I love 2001/2010 and Clarke's The Lost Worlds of 2001 showed me how a short story can blossom into a novel. But Childhood's End... the Big reveal about a third of the way in stunned me in a way no story ever had. The middle, where you are still trying to figure out the aliens, who reminded me of my very tall long haired 8th grade algebra teacher. The finale was a letdown, only because I was left behind. The future was no longer my future -- I had no future in this universe. Bittersweet, yet still strong on rereads.

4. Ender's Game / Orson Scott Card
This has nothing to do with the movie. It was around I first read this that I heard reports of child soldiers for real. The moral ambiguities -- who can argue with survival of the species -- combined with the layers of the multiple apparent endings... And the world building of the Battle School. You may sensing a theme here.

5. Marooned / Martin Caidin
There are actual multiple versions of this story. The most familiar, and the one made into a movie -- which was chopped for some TV time slots, renamed and the resulting incoherent mess won a coveted place in the MST3K pantheon -- involves an Apollo Skylab type mission gone amuck. Lots of great Big Rocket Era stuff, the Soviet space program and a stirring intercut flashback history of one character which has, for good or ill, driven my own penchant for intercut flashbacks. I have a copy of the older Mercury version of the story, but the used copy is mildewed and I can only read it in fits -- and not being in my office at WMU since April has made finishing the earlier version difficult. Love the later book, being a child of the Space Race, it fit perfectly with my interests. And SR-71s!

6. Gateway / Frederick Pohl
Not all that long a novel, the character unlikable, the future depressing... And then you get a whole new alien technology without the aliens. That we never see the Heechee is perfect. The incredible risk of going on a mission is palpable. Could you do it? For real reals? But it's the ancillary materiel scattered through the novel -- mission reports, want ads, etc. -- which make Gateway feel totally alive. Thankfully I had an opportunity last year to tell Pohl how much I loved this device.

7. Janissaries / Jerry Pournelle
They never really got around to finishing this series, but the start was outstanding. Mercenaries surrounded by overwhelming opposition, about to be massacred... And then the aliens arrive and offer them a deal. Can you imagine being dropped on another world? One you know nothing about? And with just the supplies you brought?

8. Andromeda Strain / Michael Crichton
A man with binoculars. The opening paragraph is a sentence with no verb. And then we get the Crichton technothriller crisis, or rather series of crises. Dr. Mark Hall never read all the updates from Wildfire, so he provides our perfect As You Know Bob foil. And the Andromeda Strain itself -- a truly alien life form. Great fun, great details. And filled with faux computer screen results from back in the computer Dark Ages I lived in.

9. Ringworld / Larry Niven
A two-dimensional Dyson Sphere? The enormity of the Ringworld is hard to fathom. I wasn't paying attention as a writer yet to the gold mine of possibilities such a place might hold for sequels -- and apparently Niven had no intention to go back. Until the MIT students... The Ringworld Is Unstable! The Ringworld Is Unstable! Now, as a Physics professor, I instantly see the problem, as well as Niven's solution. Not my favorite Niven, but this one stayed with me. Must be "luck". (grin)

10. Grass / Shari Tepper
The book a friend of ours gave us because it creeped her out to keep it in the house. Oh really? Not the most satisfying of endings, this novel is at its best we don't have the damnedest idea WTF is going on. And wondering how the hell such a warped system got started. Love it. Sad when the mystery is solved -- no wonder Sherlock Holmes is addicted to the chase.


A. The Green Hills of Earth / Robert Heinlein
Early Heinlein is different from the later. From a certain point of view it seems artificial, contrived. But it's a different style from a different time. I got this book for like a quarter or 19¢ or something at a church rummage sale. And I was off and running reading SF. And in my mind, I set the song The Green Hills of Earth to the melody of Gordon Lightfoot's Black Day In July.

B. Where Do We Go From Here / ed. Isaac Asimov
There is so much Asimov I could have put in the list above, and if I wasn't just limiting the list to fiction, I might even include his History of Physics in three volumes. But I went with this anthology. There isn't a dud in this book. I read it first in high school. It was intended to provoke thought in science students, so it's up my alley. Years later I mentioned it to my grad school officemate and he had a copy, which he gave me. A few years ago I got an office copy used online. For sheer breadth of science story themes, I highly recommend this one, if you can find a copy at a reasonable price or through a library.

C. Best Science Fiction of 1972 / ed. Terri Carr
I took this book with me on a family vacation from White Plains to the Pittsburgh relatives. Short stories seemed like a good idea -- easy to put down and pick up. And I confess that I loved the cover art. If I was disappointed to find it wasn't based on one of the stories, I never even noticed after the first story. I read through this book at least twice, maybe three times on this trip. I clearly remember sitting on the patio outside the trailer my grandparents had in Cheswick PA, deep in this book. I always envisioned the cover as an ancient alien derelict, dwarfing the "tiny" human starships investigating it. Sometimes we do buy books based in their covers, especially in ST. And sometimes a great cover can inspire a new story idea. Or several.

Dr. Phil

PS -- Don't forget about the Dr. Phil "Under Suspicion" Giveaway. (DW)

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