Visions of Paradise

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Favorite F&SF Series

Before beginning this list, I needed to decide precisely what a “series” consists of. Obviously two books are too short to be ranked against long series of 10-15 books, but I also decided that a trilogy was not a true series per se. So 4 books is the minimum length needed to be on this list.

There is no restriction as to whether a series contains directly-related novels (that is, one long story spread over multiple books) or independent stories set in the same universe. As the list shows, the majority of series I prefer (13) fall into the latter category.

My prejudice towards science fiction rather than fantasy shows, as only 4 fantasy series made the list, and all are on the lower half. Before anybody starts screaming at me, I have not read most of the "major" fantasy series by authors such as George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan, Stephen Donaldson, etc., so they did not make the list from lack of familiarity rather than any specific opinions I have towards them. This is not meant to be a definitive list, merely my personal preferences.

And, yes, only three women authors are on the list, but women tend to write fantasy, and I prefer science fiction, so that is a natural reflection of my interests.

1 / Darkover / Marion Zimmer Bradley
2 / Alliance/Union / C.J. Cherryh
3 / Alex Benedict / Jack McDevitt
4 / Mars / Kim Stanley Robinson
5 / Galactic Cluster / Jack Vance
6 / Pern / Anne McCaffrey
7 / Riverworld / Philip José Farmer
8 / Hyperion / Dan Simmons
9 / Galactic North / Alastair Reynolds
10 / Polesotechnic League / Poul Anderson
11 / Earthsea / Ursula K Le Guin
12 / Nevérÿona / Samuel R. Delany
13 / Galactic Center / Gregory Benford
14 / Ender / Orson Scott Card
15 / Gateway / Frederik Pohl
16 / Sector General / James White
17 / Known Space / Larry Niven
18 / Majipoor / Robert Silverberg
19 / Amber / Roger Zelazny
20 / Book of the Long Sun / Gene Wolfe

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Pnume

The Pnume is the fourth and last of Jack Vance’s Planet of Adventure series of novels (the others being City of the Chasch, The Dirdir and Servants of the Wankh). While the first three novels in the series were mid-level Vance not on the level of either his Alastor or Demon Princes series, the last novel is not only the best of the series, but top-notch Vance fiction.

It begins with Reith, the Earthman stranded on Tschai, kidnapped by the Pnume and taken to their underground city. He manages to escape, and observes Pnume citizens who exhibit strange behavior in which they avoid looking directly at each other, submerging all personal desires for their roles as part of the group. Reith captures a young woman and forces her to help him flee. The very act of her reading a map stolen by Reith traumatizes her since she is convinced she will now be punished as a blasphemer.

Reith manages to reach the surface with the girl, but she has never seen anything other than the underground. Once he is free, the girl expects Reith to abandon her to die, but he feels obligated to protect the girl since he tore her away from the only life she knew and felt secure in. The Pnume is about their changing relationship as they flee Pnume agents, and Vance succeeds in showing its development much better than I actually expected. Along with all the color of Tschai and its exotic inhabitants, The Pnume was a fine conclusion to the Planet of Adventure series.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Fabulous Riverboat

After rereading and enjoying Philip José Farmer’s first Riverworld novel To Your Scattered Bodies Go, I was anxious to reread the second novel in the series The Fabulous Riverboat. This was a totally different type of novel than its predecessor. Bodies was primarily concerned with examining the sociological and theological implications of all of humanity being resurrected on a huge world in which everybody lives on the banks of a near-endless river. The protagonist Richard Francis Burton spent the novel examining many of the societies which have arisen in the strange afterlife. What he learned was that humans brought most of the same ills and evils with them which tormented people on Earth, such as repressive dictatorships and slavery.

The Fabulous Riverboat is mostly set in one society where Samuel Clemens is striving to build a Mississippi-type riverboat to seek the headwaters of the river. Like Burton, Clemens has been contacted by a mysterious stranger who tells him that he is a renegade among the so-called Ethicals who created the riverworld and resurrected all of humanity. The stranger has some plan to overturn the other Ethicals, and it includes Clemens and his riverboat. During the novel Clemens encounters others of The Twelve, the minions of the renegade Ethical. They include Joe, a towering Neanderthal who has become Clemens’ best friend and protector.

The building of the riverboat is a massive undertaking, especially on a world where violence and greed are as prevalent as on Earth. The society where Clemens lives is surrounded by others who threaten their security, including one ruled by a Japanese warlord and another by a black racist striving to build a totally-black society. To complicated matters, Clemens is not sole ruler of the society he has named Parolando, but shares power with King John Lackland, the Norman ruler of 12th century England who is every bit as evil as his legend.

The Fabulous Riverboat is a well-plotted adventure about Clemens’ struggle to build the riverboat. His allies include Joe, legendary swordsman Cyrano de Bergerac, and World War I flying Ace Lothar Van Richthoven (brother of the famous Red Baron). One of the strengths of the Riverworld series is that it enables Farmer to use many historical characters in roles different than their true lives, and he makes those characters very interesting. He is also a strong plotter who manages to make the novel an absorbing page-turner while not ignoring the philosophical questions raised in To Your Scattered Bodies Go.

I recommend The Fabulous Riverboat as strongly as I did its predecessor, even though it is a completely different type of novel. For some reason I never read the two concluding novels in the series, The Dark Design and The Magic Labyrinth, so they have now moved to the top of my list of novels to be bought and read as soon as possible.

Saturday, May 08, 2010


Warriors (edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois) was an interesting concept for an original anthology: stories about warriors, but featuring writers from such genres as historical fiction (Cecelia Holland, Steven Saylor), fantasy (Robin Hobb, Peter S. Beagle, Martin), science fiction (Robert Silverberg, Joe Haldeman, Dozois), alt history (Naomi Novik, S.M. Stirling) to contemporary fiction (Lawrence Block, James Rollins). 20 stories in all, 736 pages, all novelettes or novellas.

I decided to begin with novellas from two of my favorite writers of historical fiction, Holland and Saylor. Holland’s “The King of Norway” is set in her recent favorite venue, Viking Europe, and details a group of jomsvikings invading Norway with the intent of overthrowing its king. The point of view character is Conn Corbansson, who is not a jomsviking, but during a drunken party had sworn to accompany them and not return until he himself was king of Norway.

Holland is an excellent writer who does not fall into the trap of instilling modern sensibilities into her characters. Conn is perfectly comfortable fighting and killing, and the story is as much about the culture and ethics of the marauders as anything else. People kill and are killed, and the characters accept it as a regular part of life. So when Conn shows a momentary regret at the death of a young protegee, it is more effective than it would have been in a less cruel setting.

During the story, I wondered what Holland would choose for its ending, seeing two likely outcomes, but she avoided them both and had a third option which fit well with both the violence which preceded it and the sense of honor of the culture being explored. An excellent story (if you can stomach all the violence).

Saylor’s story “The Eagle and the Rabbit” was told from the point of view of a poor Carthaginian farmer who was one of the last survivors of the Roman army’s destruction of the city at the end of the long Punic Wars. He is part of a small group hiding in the hills as Roman slave traders track down the few remaining Carthaginians who will be sold as slaves when they reach the sea. The title refers to a cruel game the Roman commander plays in which one slave is set above the others and favored, while another is routinely abused by them, all part of their intent to break the spirit of the captives to prepare them to be slaves.

This story is much less violent than Holland’s story, although it is no less cruel in the life it portrays, and it is richer in characterization as well (which has always been one of Saylor’s strengths as a writer). Its ending made me wish for a sequel.

So far this book is outstanding reading. I plan to read some of the sf stories next. To be continued...

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Prozine / Anthology listings

While my f&sf collection is not huge by fannish standards, I do have a fair number of prozines and anthology series which, in many ways, are the backbone of my collection. Here are the series/zines which I currently have the most of:

Fantasy & Science Fiction / August 1969 - current / 407
Galaxy / Vol 1, #1 - Vol. 40, #1 / 247
Asimov’s / Spring 1977 - September 2007 / 207
Worlds of IF / January 1952 - December 1974 / 148
Analog / March 1967 - September 1986 / 56
Worlds of Tomorrow / April 1963 - 1971 / 26
Amazing / December 1957 - November 1983 / 21
Tomorrow / #1 - 19 / 19
Science Fiction Age Nov 1992 - March 1996 / 13

Anthologie Series"
Dozois, Gardner (ed) / The Year’s Best Science Fiction / 26
Various editors / Nebula Award Stories / 19
Carr, Terry (ed) / The Best Science Fiction of the Year / 15
Carr, Terry (ed) / Universe / 14
Asimov & Greenberg (ed) / Science Fiction: The Great Years / 13
Silverberg, Robert (ed.) / Alpha / 9
Carr & Wollheim (ed) / Year’s Best Science Fiction / 7
Hartwell, David (ed) / various compilation anthologies / 7
Knight, Damon (ed) / Orbit / 7