Book Recommendations: Sci-Fi

Time for another book recommendation post!

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve always been something of a sci-fi fan, but never got into the hardcore stuff. Star Wars, movies and novels, made up the majority of my fascination for a long time. Star Trek, especially Voyager (yes, in watching the show now I can understand people’s irritation, and am frustrated myself, at the weak storylines and bland character developments when it had SO MUCH MORE POTENTIAL, but it’s still my favorite of all of them) was a mainstay of my teenage and college years. As an adult I discovered Doctor Who and Firefly, and though my relationship with Doctor Who has soured to the point where I no longer care about it in the slightest, it was wonderful for a while. And I adore Firefly (ZOE!!!). I also get a kick out Warehouse 13, and one of these days I am actually going to watch The X-Files.

But … those are all TV shows. And movies, counting Star Wars. There aren’t a whole lot of books which I’ve read in the sci-fi category. And none at all on my shelves, save for a few holdovers from my Star Wars EU days. So I’m always looking for more.

What I love in sci-fi is not just cool technology and spaceships, although I do love those. And I’m not one who is into all the science-y talk, and figuring out the possibilities and probabilities of Faster-Than-Light speed or the like. Aliens are cool, but not essential. I really like just good old-fashioned space opera, the small drama of human existence played out against the wide background of space (or the wide background of a bigger universe than one we’re aware of – like Warehouse 13. It doesn’t have to be space, though I admit I love that best).

So, here are the few books/series I’ve read and enjoyed, and one or two I’ve tried and now wish to steer clear of, and please feel free to hit me up with more based on what I’ve already tried!

Star Wars Expanded Universe. I sold most of my Star Wars EU collection before one of our moves; it was a wrench, but I really didn’t read them anymore, and the New Jedi Order books had left me feeling rather cold toward the EU in general. I kept my X-Wing novels, though, at least all the ones before the NJO, as well as Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy and Hand of Thrawn duology. Oh, and Mike Stackpole’s I, Jedi. I saved all those because I would love them whether they were Star Wars or not, they were just fun, fun reads. And glad I was that I did when Aaron Allston died and I was able to re-read all the Wraith Squadron books by simply going down to our storage unit in the basement and pulling them out of a box there.

The Vorkosigan Saga. I read Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion books first, and loved them so much I turned to her Vorkosigan books as soon as I finished Paladin of Souls. I read Cordelia’s Honor first, and loved it but was so overwhelmed that it took me a little while before I could read The Warrior’s Apprentice. That pattern has remained, in fact. I love each book that I read, but I have to take long breaks in between them because I get so intensely involved in them as I read. And I absolutely cannot read them before bed, or my mind races like crazy all night long!

Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword. These books, by Ann Leckie, are so, so good. Rich characters? Check. Sci-fi and alien concepts used to bring home truths about our own societies and thought processes? Check. Intricate, well-developed plots? Check.

The Touchstone Trilogy. By Andrea K. Höst, an indie writer from Australia. These novels, written in diary form by the teenage protagonist, a girl from our world thrown all of a sudden into a strange new universe, are brilliant. I’m dying to re-read them, but making myself wait until I finish writing From the Shadows, which is also written in diary form from the perspective of a character thrown out of her ordinary world into a new one (of sorts). There are enough similarities there that I don’t want to let myself be accidentally influenced by Höst. I’m saving the trilogy re-read as a reward for finishing my own work.

Ultraviolet and Quicksilver, by RJ Anderson. Oh my. I love these books. Not space opera, but glorious nonetheless. Ultraviolet especially was so gripping and so unexpectedly moving to me, in a way I hadn’t experienced since reading A Ring of Endless Light.

Now for the ones I’ve tried but didn’t love.

Honor Harrington. I really, really enjoyed the first one. The second one dealt with some topics which turn my stomach, and while it might have handled them well (they are so distressing to me I cannot possibly be objective about how they’re handled – I had the same problem with the Phryne Fisher books), it made it impossible for me to continue with the series.

Ender’s Game. I read it because it’s a sci-fi classic. It was, I thought, really brilliantly written. But I didn’t enjoy it. That’s all I can say on that.

To close, I will mention that I have the first book of CJ Cherryh’s Foreigner series coming to me through ILL, but there was a glitch and it got held up for about two weeks, so I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. But I’m excited to try when it does get here!

There you have it, my list as best my memory (and my Goodreads lists) can serve. What do you recommend, or recommend I avoid in my search for more awesome-to-me science fiction books?

Update:

Doris Egan’s Ivory books have been recommended (and I ordered the first one already!)

Two people (blog and FB) recommended Anne McCaffrey: the later Pern books, the Talents series, and the Crystal Singer series.

Also recommended was Shannon Hale’s MG superhero book Dangerous.

 

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To Live In Joy

This has been a really awful few days. The shooting in Ottawa hit me just like a sucker punch to the gut. Ottawa is the closest city to my hometown (yes, we were closer to a Canadian city than a US. REALLY rural, and REALLY far north in NY State); we are very familiar with it. It’s a beautiful, warm, welcoming city, and to think of such a horror being perpetuated in it was awful and personal.

The next day, I found out that the local college in my hometown – the school I attended for my freshman year before transferring to the state university the next town over – had to shut down because of threats on social media. MY town. MY school. Once again, the fury I felt was personal as well as abstract.

Today is the third anniversary of my grandmother’s death. And rather than continue to dwell on the things that make me angry, things I cannot change or stop directly, I’m going to do what Grandma would have done, and share some things that bring light, laughter, and hope to the world.

I’m certain I’ve posted this video before. Kurt Browning is one of my all-time favorite skaters – he is one of the greats – and this is a routine that never fails to brighten my day, no matter how bad it gets.

This song makes me cry. Every time. But they are good tears, tears of love for and pride in my grandparents and all those who choose joy instead of bitterness in the hardships of life.

Speaking of Patty Griffin … I love this song, too.

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I snapped this with my phone last weekend on our mountain hike. Glorious beauty in the dying of the year.

Not a picture or video, but – we have started reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to the kids before bed (Carl reads, I sit and quilt and surreptitiously watch their faces). They weren’t too sure about it at first, but last night the four children had supper with the Beavers, and neither girl wanted to close the book after that. They’re hooked.

“I heard the universe as an oratorio sung by a master choir of stars, accompanied by the orchestra of the planets and the percussion of satellites and moons. The aria they performed was a song to break the heart, full of tragic dissonance and deferred hope, and yet somewhere beneath it all was a piercing refrain of glory, glory, glory. And I sensed that not only the grand movements of the cosmos, but everything that had happened in my life, was a part of that song. Even the hurts that seemed most senseless, the mistakes I would have done anything to erase–nothing could make those things good, but good could still come out of them all the same, and in the end the oratorio would be no less beautiful for it.” -RJ Anderson, Ultraviolet

I love this quote.

In really, really good news from this week (well, the tail end of last week), my dear friend A.M. Offenwanger published her first book! It is a delightful read. The link leads to the Smashwords page, but you can get it through Amazon or Kobo as well, or as a print version through Createspace.

One final song:

There are some of my happy things! I hope that, whether you are having a wonderful week or a dreadful one, that at least one item in this post has brought a smile to your face.

Not So Original

Last night, I half woke up from a dream, thinking it would be the perfect idea for a story someday … it featured a married couple in a medieval-fantasy world, where the woman was the warrior and the man was not, and he was always cracking jokes, and they were quite happy together …

I was horribly, terribly sad this morning when I woke up fully and realized that it was not, in fact, a brilliantly original idea which I could use for a fabulous story.

I had just taken Zoe and Wash from Firefly and inserted them into the Middle Ages.

Darn you, subconscious!

I Do Not Make A Good Invalid

You would think that three straight days on the couch at the end of February would be a great chance to get caught up on my finish-first-draft-before-March goal, wouldn’t you?

Wrong.

Turns out three straight days on the couch is really good for re-watching Firefly, reading library books that don’t actually interest me very much, and fretting about the dishes and laundry.

Sigh.

I wasn’t really sick – just some weird hormonal imbalance stuff – so I also spent most of the time feeling guilty that I was doing nothing when I could, technically, have been up and around and Being Productive. Never mind that said productivity would have resulted in me getting sick, likely, and for much longer than three days. I’m not particularly good at taking care of myself.

Nor, it appears, am I particularly good at creativity when under (self) enforced rest.

I did manage to get a tiny bit more work done on Baby Niece’s quilt. With luck, she might get it in time for her first birthday next October.

On the bright side, I am doing much better today, and can even get off the couch long enough to wash a few dishes and fold a few pieces of laundry at a time, and maybe, just maybe (don’t jinx it, Louise!) get a few words scribbled in between.

Fingers crossed!

(Carl and the girls are heading out to get groceries this afternoon, and on the bottom of the list I included, in CAPS, a request for potted daffodils or crocuses or SOMETHING spring-like. I do love winter, but my eyes are craving color.)

Scrolling through last March's photos, apparently my desire for daffodils is not limited to this year.

Scrolling through last March’s photos, apparently my desire for daffodils is not limited to this year.

Olympic Writer-in-Training

Me, in December: I’ll have this first draft finished by the end of the month, and then I can start on the book I’m supposed to be writing!

Me, in January: Uh … I’ll have this draft finished by the end this month. Or … maybe February. Yup. No problem. And if I don’t, then it’ll have to be set aside until I’ve finished the first draft of the book I’m supposed to be writing. Pinky swear.

Me, partway through February: After all, the Olympics only come once every two years. Writing can take a back seat for a couple of weeks. I really need to watch this sport … what’s it called again?

Me, one week before the end of February: So … maybe I can squeeze in 20,000 words in eight days? How badly do the kids need schooling? And what’s wrong with frozen dinners? Who needs clean clothing anyway? Can I squeeze my self-imposed deadline into March? Why do I need a deadline, anyway? I’m an indie author! It’s not like I have a contract to fill! Maybe I can write three books at once. Sure. That’s not so hard, right?

Sigh.

I’m tired.

But the Olympics have been awesome. I just need to figure out how to apply half of the drive those athletes have to my own life, and I won’t have to wrestle with these sorts of problems anymore.

*Snort*

Brief Thoughts on Advertisements

I’ve been watching the Olympics for less than one week, and I’m already convinced that I never want to see another commercial. My thoughts are more disjointed, my head is filled with annoying jingles instead of real music, I am more snappish and on edge than usual. I hadn’t even realized how much calmer and more grounded of a person I am without advertisements until I started seeing them again. I love the Olympics, but I will be glad when they are done and I can go back to my (mostly) TV-free life.

And so will my husband, who is even more anti-TV than I am.

My kids are crankier these days too, but as much as I would love to place that blame squarely on commercials, I suspect it has more to do with the fact that it’s February, it’s cold, and we haven’t been able to spend much time outside for about three months.

If the weather cooperates and stays snow instead of ice, we’re taking a break this afternoon and going for a winter walk. I’m hoping it does us all some good.

Sherlock S3 Ep3, With Spoilers

Wow. This episode … intense. I’m going to break it down into three parts: the overall episode, Mary, and the murder. Here goes.

Overall: It was a fantastic episode. Very Sherlock Holmes-ian in tone, with its twists and surprises and shocks. Intense, spell-binding, and breathtaking. I usually click over to Twitter once in a while when watching, just to share some immediate thoughts or feelings, or check Instagram on my phone during a slow bit, or at least allow my thoughts to skitter distractedly. I just don’t focus well on TV shows/movies (unlike books …). This time, however, I barely dragged my eyes away from the screen once, and there was no way I was going to get distracted. It was just so IMMENSE.

I love seeing Mr and Mrs Holmes, and the deepening of the relationship between Mycroft and Sherlock. This season has really fleshed out all the characters, taken them beyond caricatures to be much more real. I mean, not really real, as none of them are exactly the type of person you might meet in real life, but they’re at least believable. They aren’t stock characters meant to represent something, without having any life to them. They grow. (Molly walloping Sherlock over wasting his gifts with drugs! LOVE SO MUCH.)

Magnussen was perfectly slimy and creepy and appalling. I almost preferred Moriarty’s madness and obvious wickedness to Magnussen’s calm, controlled, deliberate evil. *shudders*

Seeing Sherlock’s mind palace was kind of awesome, especially the parallel between his mind palace and Magnussen’s mind vault. I like that as Sherlock becomes more human, we get to see more of how his mind works.

Side note – I find the likelihood of Magnussen  being able to remember all that information ridiculous, honestly. It would be more believable to me if he held that info, but somebody else used it, or vice versa. But that his mind holds all that information, and yet he’s still able to plot and scheme and be diabolical … um, no. Then again, nothing about Conan Doyle’s world is actually believable, so I suppose Magnussen isn’t that much of a stretch.

I was unhappy with the Janine storyline, mostly because I’d really liked the dynamic between her and Sherlock in the Sign of Three, but I did appreciate that she called Sherlock on his terrible behavior, and tells him they could have been friends. Because they could have been, and it was a good reminder for him that not all people have to be used.

Mary: Argh. I admit, I was really disappointed about Mary. She’s still awesome, but not in the same way she was before. Before, she was awesome BECAUSE she was ordinary and yet still able to be unintimidated by Sherlock, supportive of John and Sherlock’s friendship, a worthy member of the team, etc. Now, she’s just awesome because hey, she’s a brilliant assassin! It’d be like coming to the end of Lord of the Rings and discovering that Sam is actually a supernatural being disguised as a humble gardnener sent by the gods (or the Eldar or Valar or whatever Tolkien’s god-types are – I got bogged down in the Silmarillion, okay?) to make sure Frodo achieves his quest. Imagine the letdown!

I think Moffat has a hard time with ordinary characters. One of the things I dislike about Doctor Who, from the end of Donna’s tenure through now, is that there are no ordinary companions. Donna, who was beautifully ordinary, turned out to be chosen and special after all, blah blah blah. Then we have Amy, who is special. Rory, who starts out ordinary but turns special. River, who is extra-super-special. Clara, who is special.

(Oh my goodness. I’m suddenly seeing a ridiculous parallel between Sherlock/John/Mary and the Doctor/Rory/Amy, and so help me, if John becomes an immortal Roman centurion next series, I am going to be SO MAD.)

John is, of course, ordinary, and I think much of that is due to Martin Freeman’s immense acting ability. Many other actors would either make him a buffoon or play up his physical abilities to make those almost superhuman, but not Martin. His John is perfect. And I so wanted Mary to be an extraordinary ordinary person, but I do still like her, even though she is now an extraordinary extraordinary person. I also feel kind of cheated in regard to Sign of Three, having loved it so much and now seeing it in a completely different light. And yet … another sign of a brilliant, sneaky, tricksy show, I guess.

As for John and Mary’s relationship – still love it. That she wasn’t playing John, ever. That Sherlock wouldn’t lie to John about her (I REALLY REALLY loved that). That John didn’t immediately forgive her, but that he came around in the end. That he admitted he was still angry, but willing to move forward. That she still wouldn’t let him pick the name for their daughter. That they’ve been shaken, but they’re still a team. It’s not a sappy “love conquers all” story, but neither is it “our trust has been broken everything is ruined TRAGEDY” story.

Murder: What is murder? No, seriously, this is the question I was pondering most by the end of this episode. We consider Sherlock’s action to be murder because Magnussen wasn’t actively threatening John and Mary’s lives with a tangible weapon. And yet …

The first thing I thought of was the Star Trek: TNG episode where Data is driven relentlessly by logic and reason to attempt murder when all else has failed, against a man who was technically helpless, yet had proven himself to be completely amoral and ready and willing to destroy others on a whim. Then I thought of Agatha Christie’s Curtain, where (*SPOILER! No, seriously, don’t read this next bit if you’ve never read Curtain*) Poirot murders an Iago-type, a man who takes twisted pleasure in driving others to murder, without ever actively involving himself. The law cannot touch him, yet he is responsible both for the deaths of many and the moral destruction of those he incites to murder (seriously, at one point he even convinces Hastings to murder his daughter’s supposedly unsuitable boyfriend) (it’s okay, though, Poirot drugs Hastings so he can’t follow through with his plan), and so Poirot kills him, and then commits suicide because he does not believe a man who takes the law into his own hands is safe anymore, and does not trust himself to not play God now that he has done it once. *Done with Curtain spoilers*

I read someone sum up Data’s decision as showing the difference between ethics and morality, and I think that’s a really brilliant way of putting it. Data was programmed with ethics, but he did not have the instinctive morality that (most) human do, and that’s a gaping wide chasm of difference. And that, I think is what it boils down to with Sherlock as well. Whereas John, in that situation, is frustrated and helpless, seething with hatred of Magnussen yet unable to do something about it because Magnussen has not actually, you know, pulled a gun or knife on them (despite the fact that Magnussen has explicitly threatened Mary with death), Sherlock looks at it detachedly and says “This man will destroy all the people I love (and let’s not forget he was after Mycroft ultimately) if he is not stopped, and I have exhausted all the other options for stopping him, therefore I must now kill him.” And he does.

I’m not saying he’s right. I’m saying that Sherlock doesn’t have the same basic programming most human being do. He has ethics, not morality. Logic, not instinct. Therefore in his mind, it was not murder. It was as legitimate an act of protection as John shooting the cabbie to save his, Sherlock’s, life back in Study in Pink.

I really must emphasize again I’m not saying he was right. But I think this makes for a far more compelling character development than just “Oh well, let’s be a murderer!” And I’m curious to see what the show does with this next series. (WHENEVER THAT HAPPENS)

My final thought from this episode: You guys all picked up on Mycroft’s casual reference to “the other one” when speaking of his brother, right? With the implication that this “other one” did something far worse than Sherlock, and was treated far worse in return? I think the supposed return of Moriarty is a blind, and that the third Holmes brother (I have not read all the books, so is that book canon?) is going to be the Big Bad in Series 4. And how cool would that be?

Whew. It’s probably a good thing there’s only three episodes a series for this show. I would have to start getting a lot more concise in my posts otherwise.