Top Ten Tuesday: Vivid Settings

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week we will post a new Top Ten list that one of our bloggers here at The Broke and the Bookish will answer. Everyone is welcome to join.

This week I’m listing my top ten place books – books that had such a realistic setting that I felt like I was there, no matter when or where that setting was.  Whether or not I’d actually want to be there is a whole ‘nother issue.

1) The Arena, Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins.  Even more so than “The Hunger Games,” “Catching Fire” made me feel like I was struggling through the arena with Katniss.  The arena designed for the Quarter Quell is unique, terrifying, and scarily easy to visualize.

2) Paris, The World at Night and The Foreign Correspondent by Alan Furst. Atmospheric settings are Furst’s specialty, but he writes about Paris with a dark and aching nostalgia that stays with you.

3) New Crobuzon, “Perdido Street Station” by China Mieville.  This grimy mashup of Cairo and Industrial Age-London is built beneath the towering ribs of a giant dead creature.  It’s inhabited by eagle-people, bug-people, cactus-people, people-people, genetically modified people, crime lords, artists, prostitutes, totalitarian soldiers, and scientists.  It’s hot and smelly and sprawling.  How all of this came out of one dude’s head is beyond me.

4) Battle school, “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card.  Assuming you weren’t Ender, and you weren’t responsible for defending Earth from alien invaders, and no one was out to cause you terrible injuries, having organized battles in zero gravity would probably be pretty awesome.

5) Salinas Valley, “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck.  The valley’s varied colors, unpredictable weather, and precarious relationship with water make it a beautiful, timeless, and ever-so-slightly ominous setting.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Freebie!

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week we will post a new Top Ten list that one of our bloggers here at The Broke and the Bookish will answer. Everyone is welcome to join.

Back in March, we were given the option to pick our ten favorites from any genre.  I came up with two lists, but strong female characters in historical fiction won out.  This week, we’re running the once-lost top ten soft science fiction books!

The way I would define the difference between “soft” and “hard” SF is the role of outer space.  I consider hard SF to be stuff like Asimov, “Star Wars,” and most Bradbury, which feature spaceships, interstellar travel, robots, etc.  Soft SF tends to rely on social issues inherent in science and politics, and I would say it overlaps dystopian, steampunk, and alternate-history.

This means my list is pretty loosey-goosey, and some of you more dedicated fans will probably raise hackles at my inclusion of whatever, but let’s all just keep in mind that this is about books and reading and how awesome that is.  Alright?

1. “The Windup Girl” by Paolo Bacigalupi.  Genetic engineers race to stay ahead of plague-devouring crops, global warming has flooded just about everything, oil is pretty much gone, and genetically-altered people work as soldiers and prostitutes.

2. “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro. This is a really beautiful look at the human cost of advanced science and what it really means to be human.

3. “Perdido Street Station” by China Mieville.  Officially stated by Mark Oshiro to be the weirdest thing he’s ever read, which is really truly saying something.  Genetic manipulation is used as a punishment, a scientist studies flying creatures in order to reattach a bird-man’s wings, and art critics fight a corrupt regime.

4. “Archangel” by Sharon Shinn.  The story is set on a far-off planet which practices a Christian-esque religion, only angels are physical beings which interact, and intermarry, with humans.  Then you find out that their god is actually a spaceship that delivered them to a new world when theirs was destroyed, and the prayers of angels are actually programmed to release medicine or seeds from the god-spaceship.  Whaaaat.

5. “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury.  Firemen don’t save books anymore – they burn them, per government instructions, and when Montag realizes books are actually pretty neat, he’s chased down by a giant flame-throwing tranquilizer-firing mechanical hound.

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Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books I’d Save

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about this.  At one point I had a full escape plan mapped out which somehow involved rescuing the cat, my laptop, some photos, and a few books.  It’s more likely that I’ll just run screaming from the premises (although I will grab the cat), but if I have more time to pack – say, if I have to flee the zombie apocalypse – these will be my picks:

1. “The Lord of the Rings” by JRR Tolkien.  This is kinda cheating since I am talking about all three books, but you can hardly save one without the others.  I was given/borrowed/took my parents’ 1965 paperbacks, which have been well-loved by all of us.  They’re some of the oldest and most treasured books I have.

2. “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” by JK Rowling (British Edition).  When I went to England, I made sure to get the British version of my favorite Potter book.  My American hardcover has broken from being read so much (several chapters are falling out of the middle), so the British paperback would be the one to come with me.

3. “The Illustrated Man” by Ray Bradbury.  It’s the standard tiny Bantam paperback edition, nothing fancy, but it’s one of my all-time favorites.

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I Can Read!

Reading in Skirts is single-handedly providing me with enough meme-ness to sustain my blog for weeks.  Is it enough to satiate my cravings for oversharing and answering questions?  No, but it’s sure fun.

  • Favorite poet(s)?

I don’t actively read much poetry, but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read by Czeslaw Milosz.

  • Least favorite/hated poet(s)?

I never liked (or should I say, appreciated) TS Eliot because I had “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” shoved down my throat at least once a year in high school.  Like many required-reading writers, though, he probably deserves a second chance. Continue reading

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I’d Recommend To Non-Science-Fiction Readers

I can remember talking about Ray Bradbury with some very well-read classmates and the professor during a creative writing class.  We were all discussing our favorite authors, and he’s one of mine.

“Isn’t he dead?” someone asked.

“No!  He’s like, ninety, but he’s not dead.  I would know.”

“He’s kind of crazy, though.”

I would have argued, but the professor was nodding sagely, as professors are wont to do.  They told me about his “Ray Bradbury Theater,” which admittedly sounded a bit crazy.

“But ‘Fahrenheit 451,'” I protested to unimpressed ears.  “‘Illustrated Man.’ ‘Martian Chronicles.’  Some Twilight Zone episodes!  The guy practically invented science fiction as we know it.”

It turned out the problem wasn’t entirely with Bradbury – it was with science fiction itself.  They (like many) didn’t consider it literary enough.  Even the genre itself occasionally hides under other names, like “speculative fiction,” in attempt to disassociate from the pulp stigmas of “sci-fi”.  As a result, and as in many genres, some readers overlook it entirely, and they miss out on some incredible works that have shaped not just the genre, but other books and pop culture as a whole.

So for today’s Top Ten Tuesday, here are my recommendations to people who think they’re too literary to try science fiction.  A huge flaw in this list is that I haven’t read many of the genre’s greatest – primarily Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. LeGuin, Neal Stephenson, or Philip K. Dick.  I can’t really endorse them, having never read them…but I’ll endorse them anyway, especially Asimov and Dick, since many popular sci-fi movies are based on their stories (“I, Robot,” “Minority Report,” and “Blade Runner,” to name a couple).

1. “The Illustrated Man” by Ray Bradbury.  If I was trying to win someone over to Bradbury, this is the book I’d force on them.  A mysterious tattooed man takes shelter with the narrator, and his cursed tattooes come to life and tell stories of space travel, nuclear apocalypse, Martians, and robots, complete with themes of discrimination, religion, censorship, human purpose and destiny, and family.

2. “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood. Oh, dystopias. What is it about them that makes us actually enjoy reading them?  Is it because we’re safe in our comfortable non-dystopian world?  “Handmaid’s Tale” will destroy your comfort within a couple pages, but the beauty of speculative fiction is that it won’t necessarily happen…right?  Right?

3. “Perdido Street Station” by China Mieville.  You want literary science fiction?  Give “Perdido Street Station” a try and let me know when your pulverized brain makes it to the last of its 623 pages.  The city of New Crobuzon is neither a utopia nor a dystopia – it’s a city, a grungy, Dickens-in-Marrakesh city full of artists and criminals and politicians and cactus-people.  It touches on just about every theme it’s possible for a book to touch on, and it does so with refreshingly little exposition – what?  There’s cactus people?  No explanation given.  Deal with it.  Your disbelief has been suspended and you didn’t even realize it.

4. “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy.  The world has been ravaged by an unspecified disaster, and an unnamed man and his son struggle through a dead, gray, brutal wilderness towards the coast, for no other reason besides needing a destination and the tiny glimmer of hope it provides.  It’s exhausting and sometimes painful to read, but the characters in “The Road” never lose faith, and they don’t let us, either, in spite of everything.

5. “The War of the Worlds” by H.G. Wells.  Giant Martian tripods annihilate nineteenth-century England and all its Victorian sensibilities.  There’s no Will Smith with big guns or Doctor Who with a sonic screwdriver to help save the day – it’s just one ordinary dude, trying to stay alive and find his wife in a world gone utterly to hell.  I yearn for a steampunk-ian period film adaptation, although I did enjoy the surprisingly faithful Tom Cruise version – the death rays, an attack at a ferry crossing, and crazies who want to fight back are all from the book.

6. The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson.  Okay, I never managed to finish these books either, but that’s because I tried to read them when was twelve or thirteen and “Red Mars” was just too boring.  Maybe I’ll put them on my 2013 reading list…

7. “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley.  I found this easier to read than “1984” (another one I never finished – I suck!).  I think what drew me to it was its more morbidly compelling “positive” dystopia, where the people don’t even know they’re repressed, as opposed to a “negative” dystopia where people are aware of their forceful subjugation.  People in the world of “Brave New World” are genetically engineered and sorted into castes, then further controlled via drugs and orgies.  This was essentially the first dystopian novel and it addresses many of the concerns of the 1920s when Huxley was writing it, like increasing consumerism, loss of individuality in an industrialized world, and the international political uncertainty following WWI.

8. “Slaughterhouse Five” by Kurt Vonnegut.  An American POW is abducted by aliens later in life and spends the rest of the book time-traveling and/or going crazy.  If you’re literary-minded, you’ve probably read this anyway.

9. “Dune” by Frank Herbert.  Come on, it’s “Dune.”  It’s like the Star Wars of science fiction literature.  It’s a coming-of-age tale, a religious allegory, and a courtly intrigue all in one huge, imaginative package.

10. “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro. At first glace, you won’t even know this is science fiction.  Then the mysterious dystopia beautifully unfolds itself, Atwood-style, and you realize this near future has a horrible, tragic secret.