Monday, January 08, 2007

I thought I should share my Sci-Fi reading list. I'll start with the Stephen Baxter books I've enjoyed reading. Now, Baxter is considered to be a Hard Sci-Fi writer, like Clarke. But Baxter's writings are even more futuristic, and absolutely mind bending. Naturally, because Baxter is more like Clarke's successor, carrying the baton into the 21st Century. Certainly not for the faint hearted and semi-luddites. His works are based on extrapolations of our current understanding of Quantum Mechanics. His novels stretch across timescales one would never have imagined. From 500,000 years away, all the way up to several billion years into the future. How mankind will've evolved, what kind of entities we might encounter - not the usual sort of man-eating super roaches you see in B-grade movies, but civilizations that have evolved from Dark matter..and ideas like that, which really stretch your imagination and force you to re-think your philosophy, if you have any that is.

But I found his prose to be a little juddering with haiku-like short sentences and abrupt context switches from chapter to chapter, especially when I read Manifold: Origin, which was the first Baxter novel I read. Subsequent novels were better, probably because I must've got used to his style by then. Baxter's stories are very unique in that he constantly keeps hitting the boundaries of our understanding of the Universe, our purpose here, if there really is any, puts his chatacters in extraordinary situations like encountering a whole galaxy that is miniaturized into a small box because their Sun was about to go Nova or meet a civilization that is millions of years ahead of us and they completely ignore us until the end of the Universe where they leave a small condescending token behind for the poor Humans, like how we throw crumbs at pigeons or a human being grafted onto an AI and then suspended inside the Sun to study why the Sun is dying so fast instead of hanging around for another 5 billion years. But his characters seem to lack depth because there are usually dwarfed by the engineering and astronomical marvels in the story working on colossal scales like the aliens who are re-engineering the Milky Way in the Ring. Some books like the Ring, especially leave you reeling under the concepts.

The Light of Other Days, was a lot more enjoyable. A lot of his novels are interlinked. You have to read all the novels in the right order, when you finally get this "a-ha!" moment when all the pieces fall together - all episodes fall in line sometime along the "Time-like infinity". Start with "The Light of Other Days", which was a collaborative work with Clarke. Then move to Manifold: Origin and then Ring. If it still leaves you thirsting for more Hard Sci-Fi, read Coalescent - an entirely different thread. If the Ring and Manifold leaves you numb and staring into deep space, wondering what your descendants 80,000 years from now will be doing, then you should read Coalescent to bring you back to present day. And if you are curious about Hiveminds you will like this book. Exultant, I felt was too much like Orson Scott Card's - Ender's Game.

You'll also notice Baxter recycling some of his stuff in other novels. But don't miss The Time Ships, a sequel to Wells' Time Machine. I loved this book, probably because he had to continue with Wells' style of writing instead of using his natural style. If you are interested in Evolutionary Biology, Genetic engineering, liked Huxley's Brave New World and are willing to make that leap of faith where a lot of things that we've come to accept as Society, Religion, Culture are all challenged; you should read this book. Well, Faith is the wrong word in this context, I suppose.


Edward Ott said...

If you haven't read david Brin you should he is very good.

Ashwin Jayaprakash said...

I have read Brin's "Foundation's Triumph" and I loved it. That's the only Brin-book I've read.

I've read Donald Kingsbury's "Psychohistorical Crisis" and I liked it a lot. But Brin's work on the Foundation is superb. I don't think even Asimov bothered to answer/question all the gnawing philosophical issues that the Foundation, the "altruistic" Robots and Psychohistory bring up.

It's surprising that even after so many books about the saga, Asimov did not write about/treat the Foundation in the way Brin has. One might feel that Asimov tried to dumb it down for all of us. Umm..?

Yup, Brin's book is a fitting conclusion to the saga.