Monthly Archives: November 2006

Top Fifty SF/F Books

Via Mixolydian Mode, a list of the Top 50 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books according to the Science Fiction Book Club. I will bold which ones I’ve read, and add a few comments.

1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien If you don’t like it, that’s a sad handicap for you.
2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov Justly famous; wouldn’t really work.
3. Dune, Frank Herbert Science fiction Islam with economics fun.
4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein Fluff that thinks it’s deep.
5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin Actually deep.
6. Neuromancer, William Gibson Eh.
7. Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke Not all that great.
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley Pretty poor quality, and unrealistic too.
10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe Worth the pagecount, and good for vocab.
12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras I think I’ve read this, but can’t remember.
15. Cities in Flight, James Blish
16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett The later books are much better, but the Luggage is awesome.
17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison Influential, but pretty poor reading value.
18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
Well-written but depressing.
19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
Extremely clever and fun.
20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany Has anyone actually read this nihilistic brick?
21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey Worthy of love and rereading!
22. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson Waste of time and dictionary.
24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman Influential boring waste of time.
25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl Ditto.
26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
27. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
Should be much higher.
28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice Gothic vampires. Borrrrrring.
30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin

31. Little, Big, John Crowley Overrated.
32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny Zelazny has done much better.
33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement A must for worldbuilding.
35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith Awesome! Fun, too!
37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke Eh.
39. Ringworld, Larry Niven
40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys

41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien Very good in places, very full of ideas.
42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut  Almost total self-indulgent waste of time.
43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
Not bad, actually.
45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein If you don’t read it, you can’t understand the gun-thread arguments.
47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks Sucks and blows like a tornado.
49. Timescape, Gregory Benford  I can’t remember finishing this.
50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

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We Are Not Amused.

I’m getting more than a bit annoyed at computer systems. Archive.org is playing tricks on everybody, what with its search engine overstressed. WordPress had some huge surge in stats on Saturday. And WordPress is also saving my posts fairly often as drafts, rather than publishing them.

Annoying….

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“Bede’s Journal” and the Prohibition of Witchcraft

Bede has an interesting post on witchcraft prohibitions in the Bible, comparing the Vulgate and King James versions of the same passage. (Seen via Claw of the Conciliator.)

In fact, I have read a very interesting history-of-ideas book on the history of witchcraft’s treatment in Europe by the Church. (I don’t recall the name and author, but it was somebody big.) The major point was that, for the most part, early Christians were not all that fearful of witches. Witches were just one more form of idolatrous worshipper, and the power and name of Christ was inevitably victorious over mere spells and prayers to demons. (In your face, Simon Magus!)

The whole thing with witches wasn’t of much concern until Christianity got wayyyyy out into the countryside. At that point, the urbane Christian missionaries found that one of their major charitable responsibilities was that of saving the butts of supposed witches and pagan priests from angry countryfolk who had bad weather, dead cows, sick kids, etc.

Christian decrees of that day said that it was quite possibly heretical to attribute any magical power whatsoever to witches, sorcerors, pagan priests, et al. Priests were encouraged to scold their congregations for holding such heathenish beliefs. The only power demons held over Christians was the power of illusions and lies. So it was strictly forbidden to punish or kill any pagan or witch for magical crimes; doing magic was foolishness which couldn’t actually have any effect. Only normal poisonings and killings proved by evidence could be punished.

It is only much later that you find Christians beginning to consider again that magic might work, that the demons might have more material powers, and that witches might be killed for practicing witchcraft. It again seems to have been set off by civil unrest, bad weather, outbreaks of disease, and crop failures more than any change in religious belief — though the turmoil of the Reformation does seem to have triggered a lot of the witch scares.

Also, as regards the Hebrew word for witch — I believe it is a word associated strongly with poisoners, just as the Latin and Greek words for witch are. The idea, at least in Roman society, was that you went to a witch for a poisonous potion if you wanted to get rid of somebody. (Some of the noble Roman ladies allegedly did this a lot.) IIRC, “veneficium”, poisonmaking, was synonymous with “maleficium”, evil magic.

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Sound and Sensibility

Some of you may have seen that our friends at Digiview Entertainment have introduced a new line of “bargain audiobooks”. You can buy single CD audiobooks two for five dollars, and longer ones are two for seven dollars.  Finally, the same quality and cheapness we get from Digiview’s DVDs. Wonderful, right?

Um. Well.  No.

Today I finished listening to Digiview’s production of Sense and Sensibility. It’s not exactly a full cast production, but there are two actors involved: the narrator, Claudia Tyler, who also performs all the female characters’ dialogue, and an uncredited male actor whom I swear I’ve heard on audiobooks before. Neither are English, but both are fairly competent and convincing. I could ask for more vocal variety from both actors, but you can tell characters apart just fine. The only serious problem is that both actors mispronounce words fairly regularly. (And I suspect that’s more a problem of rushed production.)

But the production problems are pretty serious. The ends of many tracks are clipped off — and by “many”, I mean more than half. Important bits of quite a few chapters appear to have been accidentally abridged. At least one track on the last CD seemed to have been sped up to make it fit. Most spectacularly, the seventh track of the fourth CD consists not of the course of Marianne Dashwood’s illness, but of static and bits of some radio station. And finally, the whole thing ends with the words, “End of Project Gutenberg’s text of Sense and Sensibility”, which in a non-Gutenberg project is a breach of Project Gutenberg’s terms of service, to my understanding. (Not that anybody would care in a non-money production, but….)

Yeah. Those are some impressive technical difficulties. And I speak as one who is extremely experienced with screw-ups!

Well, tomorrow I have a ton of billing to do, to the accompaniment of my second Digiview audiobook (Wuthering Heights, which I have sworn I will wade through before I die). This is pretty funny, as Charlotte Bronte apparently regarded Jane Austen’s work with abhorrence, as being produced by someone who didn’t have an ounce of real womanly feeling in her body. (Which just makes Charlotte sound even more like Marianne Dashwood, and probably made Austen laugh heartily from the hereafter.) I will recall Jasper fforde’s dictum that every character in Wuthering Heights needs counseling in anger management issues, and try to regard the characters with the same sympathetic understanding I give to opera characters yodeling their way to insanity. In short, I’m fairly sure that any audiobook actors will give the Gothic Miss Charlotte a good deal more sympathetic rendition than my mind ever has.

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From the Banks of the Maumee

Just a Comment is a blog dedicated to the beauties and wonders of Toledo, Ohio.

Yes, seriously. Go take a look, o cynic, and see. The same blogger also runs The Roving Medievalist.

I think this kind of city blog is a real service to humanity.

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Roman Filks!

For all of you Latin lovers and legionary-wannabes, click on over and sing some Legio XX Songs! These aren’t from Roman reenactors, btw, but rather from Roman LARPers.

Possibly the best song is a rewrite of “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General”:

My family’s patrician, we’re descended from a deity
With pietas and dignitas, but never spontaneity
We clap politely at the games when gladiators spear their foes
And when we write a speech it always sounds like one of Cicero’s

Fittingly, we also have math/linguistics/filk guy Kevin Wald’s oldie-but-goodie:

I am the very model of a heroine barbarian;
Through Herculean efforts, I’ve become humanitarian.
I ride throughout the hinterland — at least that’s what they call it in
Those sissy towns like Athens (I, myself, am Amphipolitan).
I travel with a poet who is perky and parthenian
And scribbles her hexameters in Linear Mycenean

However, this otherwise excellent site features an unaccountable absence of Kipling’s quite wonderful marching song from Puck of Pook’s Hill, “Rimini”:

And I’ve tramped Britain, and I’ve tramped Gaul,
And the Pontic shore where the snow-flakes fall
As white as the neck of Lalage—
(As cold as the heart of Lalage!)
And I’ve lost Britain, and I’ve lost Gaul,
And I’ve lost Rome and, worst of all,
I’ve lost Lalage!

But Suetonius is the guy who kindly preserved real Legion marching songs for us. Read his Lives of the Twelve Caesars for that and many other fun scurrilous tabloid details.

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Still Sick.

Bah. I hate being sick.It is no fun at all, I’m telling you.

On the bright side, the weight loss project continues to go well. I’ve lost sixteen pounds since I started two months ago. Unfortunately, I need to lose a good many more pounds than that.

Yes, these are the joys of spending years alternately eating too little on most days and then eating a decent amount on the weekends. You both starve yourself and gradually gain weight! However, now that I am actually paying attention to my daily calories — and keeping it above starvation level every day — instead of eating random food when it happens to occur to me, I find I am feeling a lot better as well as losing weight.

Well, yes, right now I don’t because I’m still fighting this gunk in my nose and the soreness in my throat. But when I get well again, I’ll feel better. :)

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