Atonement (and a list of books!)

So, last last night, I committed the internet sin of commenting on one of John Scalzi’s tweets after only skimming the linked article and completely misunderstanding the point.  It’s embarrassing because I really like Scalzi and it makes me feel kind of tool-ish. Ah well. Looking back at this blog, I’m pretty sure I’ve had published more facepalmy stuff than that one tweet.

And, fortunately, the Mr. Scalzi posted a list on his blog today: The Ten SF/F Works That Meant The Most to Me*

I love lists. So much so that I feel inspired by this one. Go read his first, though, because it’s a really good list. I’ll wait.

Back?  Ok, here are The Ten SF/F Works That Meant The Most to Me Where Me Is Me And Not John Scalzi And I’m Going To Include Fantasy In My List:

1. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien:  Because how could it not be? It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it still puts 99% of the world-building efforts to utter shame. The characters are fun and well-developed, and the sense of evil he creates with the Nazgul is unmatched, but Middle Earth is the real star here. The depth of the history that is revealed through hints still fills me with awe. How can you build something this big, build complete languages and mythologies and cultures and only reveal a sliver of it in your books? It’s the opposite of playing a sandbox game in that you never, ever bump up against the walls of Middle Earth. Even though what you see is enormous, you’re still only scratching the surface.

2. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett: This wasn’t the first Discworld novel I read, but it’s easily my favorite. My mother passed her love of John Steinbeck along to me. One of the things that she most adored about Steinbeck was the effortless yet engrossing way he could tell a story and then tie it off with an ending that not only perfectly ended the tale, it also made you realize that he’d been telling you something important all along. Pratchett has this gift as well, and Small Gods is the finest example of that style of storytelling. The book is funny and sweet and then, when you get to the end, if you’re not moved to tears…well, let’s just say I delighted in sharing this book with my mother.

3. Planetary, by Warren Ellis: Whoa boy, I’m going to catch heat for this one. Transmetropolitan is, obviously, the more famous and beloved work here, and it’s not hard to see why. If you don’t know why, then go read it. It’s an amazing set up: A Hunter Thompson-ish journalist working in a future where all the wonders we can imagine have come to pass and are utterly mundane and we’re not better off because we’re still humans, which means that we’re still basically bastards. It’s an amazing book, but for me, Planetary is THE definitive Warren Ellis book. It’s an incredible tour of comic book myths and conventions. It’s not really a deconstruction, but it is a peek behind the curtains, and it refreshes every trope it touches.  As the overall story reveals itself, the breadth of it is stunning to behold and the payoff at the end was worth the, um, considerable wait.

4. Neutron Star, by Larry Niven: Niven’s greatest strength is taking a weird idea from science and turning it into a story. That being the case, his short stories have always worked better for me than his novels. He shows off the wonderful strangeness of the universe as cleverly as any writer of hard SciFi I’ve ever read. After reading this collection, I would just daydream for hours about the phenomena he described, something no science teacher ever accomplished.

5. Snow Crash, by Neil Stephenson: I have nothing to add to what Scalzi wrote about Snow Crash, but it would dishonest of me to omit it from my list. That first chapter…I’ve never been so completely hooked by anything I’ve ever read.

6. Neuromancer, by William Gibson: This is another one that’s going to be on so many lists that I doubt I can say much that hasn’t been said.** I’ll say this, though: This one gave me a whole new archetype to try on. You know when you’re a teen and you haven’t really figured out who you are so you try on different…what’s the right word for this? It’s not a “personality;” it’s more like a subculture. That sounds right. Gibson created a new subculture, or at least he introduced me to it. That style of his was so fresh, too. I’d never bumped into Sci-Fi that dropped me into such a well-developed world and then didn’t bury me in explanations. His writing is very fast, and you just have to keep up and pick things up as you go along.

7. Jitterbug Perfume, by Tom Robbins: Because it is a delight to read. The plot is just an excuse for a gifted writer to play with memorable characters and show off his command of the language.

8. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville: You see why I like Scalzi’s list? I won’t go into the marvelous city-building that Mieville accomplishes here because that’s been adequately covered elsewhere. I’m not quite as taken with the book as Scalzi is. I find the first act a little slow and the third act solid but not exceptional. But, oh, that middle section! The slow reveal of the horrors that have been unleashed is as perfect as I’ve ever read. This book describes terror better than any horror novel I’ve ever read and it builds from “uh oh” to “oh shit” to “oh my god everyone’s going to die and die horribly” in such a masterful way that I can’t imagine any book topping it.

9. The Sandman, by Neil Gaiman: Oh, sure, it’s a comic book, but Gaiman has such a gift for storytelling that it would be obtuse to call The Sandman anything but literature. His nesting doll structure of stories-within-stories-within-stories was incredible to experience on a monthly basis, and re-reading the series gives you the sense that the whole thing was mapped out from the very beginning. The voice of Morpheus is as distinctive as any I’ve read in any media and I still hear it in my head when I’m feeling especially (oh god I’m going to say it) goth.

10. Doom Patrol, by Grant Morrison: Along with Watchmen, this was my introduction to comic books as something bigger and stranger than superheroes punching each others. Some Doom Patrol stories are merely strange and funny, but the best of them are pure mad genius and emotionally devastating. The Brotherhood of Dada storyline, punctuated by the Crazy Jane story, is, in a word, “perfect.” There’s nothing else like it and only Grant Morrison could do it.




* “Me” means “him” in case that wasn’t clear.

** After reading Neuromancer for the first time, I spent hours devising a soundtrack for the apparently-inevitable film. The opening credit were set to Nine Inch Nails “Ringfinger.” The Linda Lee scene started with NIN’s “Something I Can Never Have” and ended with Shriekback’s “Faded Flowers.” It was a good soundtrack.

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