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Post 23 Feb 2015, 1:28 am

I'm looking at what to download next onto my Kindle. As long as I take to read books, I normally buy at least a few of em rather than just get them from the Library.

But since I value your opinions over some of the amazon reviewers, have any of you read Arthur C. Clarke's stuff? I already have 2001 and 2010, and I think I read 2067 (whatever the third one was called) a long time ago. Might've read 3001: final odyssey but that was also a long time ago.

Any recommendations along those lines for Arthur Clarke? There were a few that looked interesting on Amazon so I'm wondering what I should download next, if I feel so inclined as to buy one (probably will not buy more than one at the most, as I can't read like I used to). Was wondering what you guys thought rather than relying on Amazon reviews. That one Earthlight looked fascinating; a political crisis between mother Earth and her colonial children...the Moon, Mars, Venus, have created a "Federation" and there's tension with the Terran Government. Wow! But as I said I would rather see your points of view than amazon readers, lol.
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Post 23 Feb 2015, 6:10 am

If you have not yet read "Childhood's End", then I would recommend you remedy that asap.
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Post 23 Feb 2015, 11:03 am

Are you specifically looking for Clarke recommendations or just good SF more generally ? I can recommend a lot more of the latter.

Anyway, one of Clarke's that I read which I found very interesting is called The Trigger. I think you'd enjoy that. The basic premise is that a scientist accidentally discovers a device which emits a field that sets off any munitions within its radius, effectively rendering all firearms completely redundant. Most of the book is about the political and wider social implications of an invention like that, particularly in America where guns are fetishised so much. It's a good read, and given your interest in all things political I'm sure you'd enjoy it.
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Post 23 Feb 2015, 2:11 pm

I (sadly) admit I do not read near as much as i should and sit in front of the boob tube way too often! But when I (rarely) do read, and when it happens to be SciFi, I like Robin Cook and Michale Crichton, the medical/techno stuff that seems like COULD actually happen. Science fiction that feels all too real is all the creepier and more fun in my way of thinking. I recommend both. (but I prefer Clive Cussler adventures the most, sort of like James Bond on the high seas.)
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Post 23 Feb 2015, 2:51 pm

You're much better off reading anything by Neal Stephenson. He's the absolute daddy of SF writing. His books tend to be very long though, so if your dyslexia makes it difficult to read long books then you'd have to put the effort in. Well worth it mind.
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Post 23 Feb 2015, 4:41 pm

Yes, I was thinking specifically Arthur C Clarke for the moment. After reading 2001 and 2010, his writing has earned my respect. It's actually not difficult for me to re-read a book, and I've got both on my Kindle and have read them about 3x each. I thought the characters were a bit more "human" in 2010, as 2001 was an intro to the future of space travel to the people of 1965.

I used to say that fiction bored me, and that I was way more interested in non-fiction or historical stuff; but my exceptions would of course be Clive Cussler, Ian Fleming....and Arthur C. Clarke. Cussler's a bit long to read these days, however, so Clarke and Fleming will likely get most of what little attention I can give them.

You mentioned [Danivon] I ought to read Childhood's End. Have you read Earthlight yet, the one I saw on Amazon? Although, if the one you mentioned is more fantastic than that one, I'll put a pin in Earthlight for the moment and go with your recommendation. [Sassenach]: The Trigger...that sounds interesting. I do like political-ish novels, yes. Is The Trigger a short (or short-er) story by Clarke? Reason I ask, is that I think there might be a book that has all his collected short/shorter stories in it; an anthology of sorts.

[GMTom]: As far as Clive Cussler: as I mentioned above, another great series I've read quite a few of. Several of the ones up to Valhalla Rising. However, something tells me that a certain one of our Redscape colleagues here wouldn't be terribly amused at the plot of Night Probe. :laugh: Cussler however is a bit long to read these days.

Sassenach: Well, as far as reading long books, it's ADHD actually. However, that matter is urgently "under review" right now, most fortunately. So there's at least hope on the horizon. While the problem could never be covered up 100%, I still managed to read The Hunt for Red October...in middle school! (Might not have got all the nuances at that age, and it took me a while to finish it, but finish it I did.) So yes, you're exactly right about long books. The best I could do lately is Fleming or Clarke, these days. Different types of writing style but reasonable enough for me, the way they flow forward in an eas[ier] to read manner.
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Post 23 Feb 2015, 6:38 pm

Found it. Seems The Trigger is over 500 pages. Earthlight is a trifle shorter than Childhood's End but not by much; the latter is only 200+ pages.

I forgot I could download samples, hah...I've gone through a little of Childhood's End. It's actually a bit harder to read than Earthlight; Clarke's style, I mean. And from chapter 1 to 2 they seem to have skipped something really important.

How many of you have read 2001 and/or 2010? I still have those on my Kindle. Clarke has one hell of an imagination. What a pity they scuttled the Apollo program. (Though that's probably a good debate for another place :cool: )

So many to pick from...tho fortunately the Trigger is a couple dollars cheaper than Earthlight or Childhood's End. It seems, even in 2001 and 2010, that Clarke's got a message to get across. I can tell that from reading the abstracts on amazon.
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Post 24 Feb 2015, 12:14 pm

[Sassenach]: as per your recommendation, I've downloaded a sample of The Trigger. Like I said, it's a few bucks cheaper than the others, so even if it takes me a damn long time to read, I'll at least make an attempt to tackle it, if that's the one I end up buying.

Off topic: I mentioned Ian Fleming was easy for me to read. He wrote 14 James Bond books and I have 12 (with the nifty Penguin paperback copies released in 2002-3...lotsa sexy women on the covers...like From Russia with Love with the hot chick in stuff you would not think Russian women typically wear, with cypher keys falling from the sky...Thunderball's even hotter looking :laugh: ) I think the ones I am missing are The Spy Who Loved Me and Live and Let Die. Since 2003-ish I've managed to read about five of the 12 I have, plus started Doctor No.

I typically prefer a real print book to a Kindle download. But the latter has reduced a little bit of clutter. Almost makes me sad, though, for the owners of independent bookstores.

Any rate, Arthur C. Clarke is a prophet, not just of sci fi but of geopolitics. Now, while I think there are 9 members of "the nuclear club", Clarke predicted 33. Wrong, of course, but he may prove correct in the future. And "meatless days" even in the United States (like there were during the War). Problems with feeding all of humanity. And of course Detente with the USSR, in an attempt to deter China. (We ended up getting both, but of course Detente came to a crashing halt with the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979; and we didn't have a thawing out of relations with the USSR until 1989-ish). Of course, China is now our second biggest trade partner. Yet Clarke mentions a Chinese Empire rather than the PRC. But, we shall see. Clarke spoke in 2001 of a "US/USSR bloc" even though the two were still "rivals"...almost like the entente cordiale of the early 20th century, between UK and France. We still spy on each other, but it seems like it's more just for fun than anything else. But he does not say what happened to actual Socialism/Communism in those countries.

This is why I like Clarke.

What are Stephenson's books about, Sassenach?
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Post 24 Feb 2015, 2:09 pm

When I was a teenager I read all the monolith series books that were at that time published: 2001, 2010 and 2061. 3001 had not been written back then and I never got around to it.

I did enjoy them at the time, although 2061 fell a bit flat for me.

Neal Stephenson wrote a few cyberpunk/potential singularity novels, of a kind - 'Snow Crash' and 'Diamond Age'. The latter features neo-Victorians (an entrepreneur class who look back to the economically free days of the latter 19thC for inspiration).

Then there was 'Cryptonomicon', a large novel that is about code-breaking, setting up a totally unmonitored storage space for data etc and connected to the Philippines during WW2. After that, all of his novels are massive (conceptually and in terms of the number of pages).

He then wrote an amazing pseudo-historical trilogy (the "Baroque cycle") which is a kind of prequel to 'Cryptonomicon' set between about 1670 and 1730: 'Quicksilver', 'The Confusion' and 'The System of the World'. This trilogy is massive - three large books of about 900 pages each - involving real people (Isaac Newton, a young Ben Franklin, Franz Leibniz, Wilhelm of Orange, John Churchill) and a rogues gallery of thieves, spies, loose women, escaped slaves, soldiers traders and politicians). Along the way it explores all kinds of interesting history, such as the origins of the words "dollar" and "sabotage", how markets work, alchemy and the early science of the Royal Academy, intrigues around the English throne as well as wars and peace with France and Holland, religion etc etc etc. I found it fascinating and easy to read, although I do lap up some of the complex parts.

'Anathem' is just under 900 pages as a story, but also has 40-odd pages of glossary and detailed mathematical notes. The glossary is necessary because the book employs portmanteau words which have dual meanings. The title, for example means both a particular type of musical anthem, and the ceremony of ejecting an errant student from the philosophical/religious/mathematical order at the centre of the story. It takes quite a while to get into the words being used because they are similar to, but not the same as English words, which I imagine for someone with dyslexia would be a total nightmare

As it's set on an alien (but quite parallel to our) planet it tries to convey that the people in it are actually alien to us. It's mainly about the development of mathematics and philosophy and universal truths. I really liked it but it was a hard slog.

I have a copy of Reamde, which looks like it's a return to cyber-stuff: virtual worlds, online games, hackers with a devastating and profitable virus. but it's over 1000 pages and I need a bit of headspace first.

I would recommend Diamond Age to start with. I didn't like Cryptonomicon much (read it after the Baroques and it seemed to pale in comparison - I certainly don't think you need to have consumed it to get them).

An author I really like for his SF is Iain M Banks. His 'mainstream' books under the name Iain Banks are an acquired taste and vary in quality in my opinion, but I like the Culture novels (probably the fact that it's set around a vast socialist and libertarian interstellar society helps) and his other SF output. A good sample to try would be "Consider Phlebas" (the first Culture novel), "The State of the Art" and "Against a Dark Background". My favourite novels of his are "The Player of Games" (about a boardgame player sent on a vital mission and beat aliens at their own game) and "Use of Weapons" (about war, and those who fight them).

Another is Alistair Reynolds. I think his books are well written and have some thought provoking ideas. His "Revelation Space" series is another favourite of mine.
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Post 24 Feb 2015, 3:25 pm

Dan, I can't agree about Cryptonomicon, it's a masterpiece and bears reading again.

As regards Reamde, you'd be surprised. Stephenson's previous books have all been high concept stuff but this is nothing like those. It's basically just a simple page-turner. A thriller essentially. It's incredibly easy-reading by comparison with the rest of his novels and you'll find that when you start to read it you'll fly through it without any kind of effort. In truth it's a little dumbed down compared to the rest of his work but it's still enormously entertaining. Not in the same league as Cryptonomicon or Anathem but it's a great read and certainly no head re-alignment required.

Iain Banks is, as you say, a very hit and miss writer. His SF is probably better than his mainstream fiction but both include a handful of exceptional books mixed in with a fair amount of dross. Player of Games is brilliant, Against a Dark background is very good also, as is Inversions. On the other hand there are Excession and Feersum Endjinn, which are terrible. Very frustrating writer because half of his books are great and the other halk are abysmal, there seems to be little in the way of middle ground.

Not so sure about Reynolds tbh. Chasm City is great but a lot of his books left me a little disappointed and as a result I've more or less stopped reading his stuff these days.
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Post 24 Feb 2015, 10:24 pm

Stephenson's previous books have all been high concept stuff


High concept? How so?

Danivon: loved how you put "thieves, loose women" etc in with "politicians", haha! A lot of people were down on 3001 but i thought it was OK. Some of the stuff you're talking about sounds interesting, not sure if all of it would be right up my alley, tho.

However, books with a political bent always do interest me, even clothed in the genre of science fiction. When things were working better I actually read The First Man in Rome, historical fiction, not science, by Colleen McCullough; it covers the rise of Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla, the Roman statesmen who helped dismantle the Republic.

2010 was also made into a movie. I won't spoil it if anybody wants to see 2001 in the future, or 2010; but if you read the books second it's like "oooooooooo yeahhhhhhhhhh! I get it now!" But then again, that's often the way books are versus movies.

Both 2001 and 2010 were made into movies, of course, have you seen both or one of them? The screen play and book of 2001 were written not only by the same author but simultaneously. Which is odd because they changed.......[censored to prevent spoilage]......and of course John Lithgow plays Kurnow, the engineer who designed Discovery, Floyd is played by Roy Scheider (Jaws), and the commander of the Leonov is played by Hellen Mirren. Interestingly enough, as the movie was made in 1983, Keir Dullea and Douglas Rain (who in 1968 were David Bowman and HAL, respectively) were still alive, and played exactly the same roles.

But Jeeze H. Peetes the man was a prophet! The perterbation maneuver, the aerobraking thingy, all were used by NASA for real in missions, I think Voyager or Galileo did the aerobraking thing, and the perturbation maneuver, well, Jupiter's been used as NASA's cosmic slingshot quite a few times, I hear, on missions to the outer solar system (it's big, it's there, and it rotates on its axis....what more do you need?) For all we know there will indeed be a space elevator in our time.

I ended up buying Earthlight....strangely enough I'm on Ch 3 by now. Some of the stuff is a little bit off (like the typewriter in 2001) but technologically it's pretty prophetic like I said of him. Strangely enough I don't think this will take very long (in my terms that is).
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Post 24 Feb 2015, 11:53 pm

High concept? How so?


Stephenson is a polymath who's fascinated by big picture ideas. Anathem works on all kinds of different levels. At its most basic it's a simple, albeit very long, first contact story. In reality though it's way deeper than that. It's also a work of abstract philosophy and highly theoretical physics (the two are not dissimilar). He's taken the ideas of any number of real world philosophers and then recreated them as ideas that arose independently on an alien world, expressed as concepts that would be familiar to the people who inhabit that world and in a language which is superficially similar to English but different. It's an incredible achievement, all the moreso for still coming out as a highly readable story and not some kind of dry and tedious treatise.

His Baroque Cycle series are historical novels set around the period from the death of Cromwell to Hannoverian accession in England which sweeps wildly through such concepts as the origins of modern science, the nature of money, the clash between faith and modernity and the birth of all of the institutions which have shaped the modern world. Again, this is all achieved without ever being boring.

I can't recommend him highly enough, one of my favourite authors.
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Post 27 Feb 2015, 8:13 pm

Sounds good. BTW I also downloaded/bought Rendezvous with Rama and The Songs of Distant Earth which I think one of you said was good as well. Definitely not going to read them all in a streak, but things are actually improving, else I would not have just bought three such books in such short space of time. For now though I think I will lay off anything >299 pages.

On Chapter 4 of Earthlight. If any of you had overlooked that one, it's an interesting premise. Just think of the American Revolution, but backwards, sort of. A man is sent (this doesn't spoil anything) from "Central Intelligence" to spy on the Lunar observatory, posing as a CPA. I think I'm actually going to finish this one in a timely manner...something that hasn't happened for a few years now.

Offhand, I read that Rock Hudson had left the premiere of 2001: A Space Odyssey, bitterly asking "would someone please tell me what the hell this is about?" :laugh: Actually, I think that was in the introduction to the book 2001. I really think that 2001 and 2010 are the only important ones, or ones worth reading, in the Odyssey series. In other words, I concur with you Danivon about 2061.

Also offhand--thinking of 2001/2010--My big question is of course, with the knowledge we have now, why have we not yet built a space station that SPINS on a central axis, which is where "stuff" could link up to, but the spinney part (sorry I'm getting so technical) is where people could live. I wonder what such a thing would cost? And maybe such a station could spit out a "capture" satellite to....um...capture satellites (if they had broken, like when Hubble's mirror was misaligned and they had to fix it via the Space Shuttle) and bring them back to the Space Station, where the team of scientists, or engineers or whoever, would fix the thing. Probably a lot more complicated than I am making it out to be, but it would be cool. At any rate, since such a thing would spin on a central axis people could live there longer, even if it wasn't "full" gravity (everywhere is "full gravity" I am told but I think you all know what I mean). Like 1/2 Earth gravity or something. At least enough that you wouldn't have to undergo physical therapy when you got back!

Not only that, it requires a new type of launch vehicle, 2 stages at most (like the White Knight/SpaceShipOne was) just as Clarke described. And with a minimum as possible thrust so you wouldn't have "train" beforehand: it would be just like taking a regular, commercial flight (with a few caveats of course, like, don't sit next to someone who gets spacesick).

At least a little of what's in 2001/2010 could have been done by now, if it weren't for that damned invasion of Iraq (not trying to get onto that subject tho, haha) as much money as we spent there, we would not have had to cancel Constellation. Bringing private companies into it for once was a good idea I think and we may very well catch up to 2001....at least by 2101, I would hope...
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Post 27 Feb 2015, 11:06 pm

The simple answer to your question is cost. There's all kinds of cool stuff we could have done by now if it weren't for a lack of money. Sending a manned mission to Mars for example. Von Braun had a plan for that which could have got us there by the early 80s. We could have had thriving Martian colonies by now if Congress had been willing to stump up the cash.
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Post 28 Feb 2015, 12:21 am

It would cost more to spin? Like, how much more?