My kid is learning to play the piano, and part of that is using dynamics: playing some parts of the song quiet, and some parts loud. Dynamics add contrast and make a song more interesting. Unfortunately, Jonathan Lethem’s book Girl in Landscape, while being extremely well-written, lacks dynamics. It’s heavy, and stays heavy throughout.
Fantasy author Terry Pratchett is famous for his Discworld series, comprised of over forty books taking place on a round, flat world perched on the back of four giant elephants who stand on the shell of a enormous space-faring sea turtle.
But before fantasy-trope-skewering Discworld, Pratchett wrote Strata, a science fiction book that explored the idea of how a flat, round world would actually work. Many of the ideas in Strata appear in the Discworld books.
The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman is a wild, inventive ride. It takes place in a seriously alternate version of our world in the late 1800s, where technology and mind-altering demons go hand in hand. Fortunately, this crazy land is peopled with deep, well-developed characters, a rare occurrence amidst so much intricate world-building.
The famous Philip K. Dick wrote some amazing books, but in his later years, penned a few stinkers. Fortunately, Ubik is one of the good ones. It starts out dystopian (the door to one’s apartment requires coins to open and close every single time) and quickly gets very weird, as characters become unsure of what time they’re in, or even how alive they are. It’s bizarre fun.
If you’re a child of the 80s, reading Ready Player One is like mainlining heroin-strength nostalgia. It’s so ridiculously fun that I frequently imagined author Ernest Cline giggling and saying to himself, “I can’t believe I’m getting away with this!”
Nominated for a Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards in 1975, The Mote in God’s Eye has not aged particularly well. There are some clever twists and exciting sequences in this far-future first-contact tale, and the alien Motes are, in some ways, truly alien.
A ship, powered by a tame black hole, is on a multi-million year mission to place wormholes throughout the galaxy, allowing humans to travel interstellar distances. The people on this ship are awoken by an AI for a couple days every ten thousand years or so to create these wormholes.
The people on board the ship discover something’s not right. But how do you solve anything when you’re in cryosleep for thousands of years at a stretch?