Some Recommendable Literature:

(in a completely random order... for now, anyway)

Series (go to Singles)

I do have a problem with series... It always seems to me that the Author is running out of oomph, and finds it necessary to recycle ideas, or worse yet, use ideas that (s)he would not have deemed worthy of the story that started the series. It is rumored that Shakespeare would write the last acts first, while most inspired, then the middle ones and finish by writing the first acts by the time he was running out of steam. This works well for plays, because the audience will hate the first act, but stay a bit longer to see what comes next - after all, they've already paid for the whole play; after the middle acts, they'll begin even liking the play, and by the end of the final act, they'll be all ecstatic, forgetting the mediocrity of the first act. Unfortunately, with series, the Author must 'hook' the Reader with the first book, or the sequels will never be bought. Oh, well…

Foundation Series
(Of the Fall and the Rise of the Galactic Empire in Seven Installments) by Isaac Asimov

These are the first three books, Foundation (’51), Foundation and Empire (’52), and Second Foundation (’53) form a rather complete trilogy: written in the early 50's, fast-paced and clear. The next two books, Foundation's Edge (’82) and Foundation and Earth (’00: back in print) extend the trilogy into a ... well, pentalogy: Written in the early 80's and in a historical order, these two sequels are still quite fast-paced and clear, extending some ideas from the first three and adding to the complexity and grandiosity; the age of the author seems to show. Oh, well.
The last two, Prelude to Foundation ('88) and Forward the Foundation (’93), are consecutive prequels to the series. They strive to explain how psychohistory and its application came about, and link the robots to the Foundation series, getting longer and longer in the process. Oh, well.

The difficulty of governance grows at least exponentially (if not combinatorially) with the size of the subject population (governing even just oneself, no subjects, can be difficult). Is it then reasonable to expect a single emperor to rule the whole Galaxy? The story line is happening so many thousands of years past our century that humans no longer even believe that they originated from a single planet., yet, science, mentality and art (as little as it appears) have barely evolved beyond what is known today. With such a level of (most of all mind-boggling) intellectual stagnation, how could a Galactic Empire even begin to be formed? Finally, as to the ultimate idea of Foundation's Edge: how reasonable is it that qualitatively different levels of consciousness would communicate at all, not to mention a higher level relegating a vital decision to a lower one? Oh, well.

Oh well - indeed: There is a "Second Trilogy," written by Gregory Benford (Foundation's Fear), Greg Bear (Foundation and Chaos) and David Brin (Foundation's Triumph). They attempt to bridge the gap between Asimov's prequels (Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation) and the first trilogy (Foundation, Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation). Alas! the prequels themselves (wordy and slooow) were uncharacteristic of the original trilogy. The second trilogy seems to start off on a sloow foot, and adding confusion: Benford first asserts that only information is feasable to transmit through the Worm Nest (the ugh! net, or web) of wormholes connecting the millions of planets, but then Hari Seldon goes on a World-hopping spree?!? Oh, well... However, I must commend Benford for introducing wormholes and "warp" drives that "distort space-time, contracting it fore and expanding it aft;" for which the theory, but not the technology exists (yet). This ameliorates the implausibility of the whole idea of a galactic empire (see above). Bear's contribution sheds more light in the time period when the original trilogy began: Hari Seldon's trial, and explains why he was neither executed not exiled with the rest of the Foundation. The explanation weaves in the robots, much as Isaac Asimov had done so in Foundation and Earth. While this is a departure from the original trilogy, it does follow Asimov's own departures in both the two prequels and the two sequels. I'm curious to read Brin's contribution, but that will wait until a paperback is available. Sorry.

Dune Series
(Of eugenics, cellular and genetic memory, prescience in Six Installments) by Frank Herbert

The storyline begins in the remote future, after something called the Butlerian Jihad. As the aftermath of the latter, humankind is living on an unspecified number of planets, but divided into several groups: the Bene Geserit (women, who excel in eugenical scheming), Bene Tlailax (men, who excel in bio-engineering), Ixians (unspecified folks who excel in technology), Arrakians (who harvest the geriatric drug called spice, and which is at the heart of almost everything happening, the unspecified by-product of the unspecified but somehow dubious metabolism of the formidable sand-worms). While never quite clearly spelled out, this seems to imply that a multi-billion humankind essentially behaves like a group of small cliques; how convenient for the Author!

Well, anyway. A genetically bred hero becomes prescient, thus becomes the de facto Emperor and Messiah, and for the fear of a worse choice dumps the mankind into a billions-of-dead-jihad. Ahem. His son, in a symbiosis with the ‘sand-trout’ (the sand-worm's larvae-stage), rules humankind into a 3500-year forced lull. Aahem. Which ends with the symbiont's death, the sand-trout repopulating Arrakis, which has been artificially turned during the stagnation into a nice garden planet, with the sand-worms extinct. And humankind multiplies and scatters asunder, only to return with vengeance (and lack of proper respect for the nice arrangement we've known so far). Practically all gets destroyed by these vindictive returnees, who as it turns out flee from a menace even far worse than they themselves are. And which remains unspecified, out there, for a seventh volume, now never to be written by the now late Frank Herbert.

Hitchhiker Series
(Of everything Sci-Fi, irreverently) by Douglas Adams

The trilogy in ...ahem... six parts. (Beware: the part "Young Zaphod Plays It Safe" is really a supposedly explanatory vignette has never been published separately, and is to be found only in the omnibus edition "The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide", below, far right.) I'd recommend reading "The Restaurant..." (2nd below) more than any other in the series, although "So Long..." (4th below) is pretty good too, albeit not as hilarious as "The Restaurant..." The Reader should keep in mind that "The Hitchhiker's Guide..." (1st below) grew out of a radio series, and so the 1st book is more-or-less just an edited collection of these 1/2-hour shows. By the 2nd book (my all-time favorite! Really!), Adams got the knack of it: I still laugh over the introductory paragraph every time I think of it.

Unfortunately, by "Mostly Harmless" (5th & last in the series), Adams was too busy tying up all the lose ends and making sure everyone is properly killed off for it to be much fun. So... if you'll read only one book in the series, read "The Restaurant..." And then you'll want to read the others. But then, the omnibus edition (6th book above) is a better deal. At any rate, you'll learn that the ultimate answer is "42", and to the ultimate question of "How much is 6 x 9?" And it irks me to no end that Adams has not exploited the fact that this is true only in base 13 - a number with very interesting and unique characteristics, one of which being that 13 is half of the critical number of dimensions of spacetime in bosonic string theory, possibly at the heart of The Theory of Everything (upon heterosis, supersymmetrization and sundry other known and unknown modifications...). Oh, well... But, I digress. This does remain my favorite irreverent Sci-Fi (vol.2 especially).

Odyssey Series
(Of the less-and-less mysterious Black Monolith that watches over humankind) by Arthur Clarke

It begins at the pre-dawn of the mankind, with a mystery as simple as profound, and all the more intriguing...
...and ends tepid. Maybe it's just me, but I'd bet that humankind will have achieved most of the "3001" in less than a quarter of the time till then.

I've seen the "2001" movie at least 5 times and then bought the video. I love the book (although I wish Clarke had originally thought out the details which are corrected by the film, and adhered to in the sequels). The rest, I read to see what Clarke thought would happen next... Unfortunately, en route, the mystery of the Black Monolith is eroded and somehow ...trivialized! Oh, well; yet another series that begins so good... On the other hand, as all of Clarke's writing (that which I have read, of course), this series is also scientifically at least plausible and possible, without boring (me) with technical details.

Rama Series
(Of being ignored, then scooped up as a specimen by an unknown alien species) by Arthur Clarke (and Gentry Lee, for Vols. 2-4)

An asteroid?

On collision course with Us?
...

It's a spacecraft!

… and flies by ignoring us!

By the end of the 4th volume, we still have no clue who they are, what they want with us, where they are taking us, when we'd meet them, or why they bother with us at all!

The mystery element is definitely as present as in the (beginning of the) Odyssey series, and remains the driving force behind my fairly voracious reading through the series, and also behind my wish for Clarke (and Lee, and perhaps a third co-author) to do justice to Clarke's "Ramans do everything in threes." [from the end of Vol.1] Although "Rama Revealed" purports to reveal the 5 W's raised in the first book, there is definitely much room for writing another three sequels. Anyway. The series does very well in describing a very plausible Universe with lots of spacefaring and even more intelligent races, and... well, putting us in our place. And yet, there is always something grand looming just beyond what becomes known, without ever turning trite or trivial. In addition, this is really scientific science fiction; accurate, plausible and possible, but not technically boring.

Go to Singles

Tristan Hübsch, 2000


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