Category Archives: Top 50

The list and reviews of the top 50 books of all time

Hellspark

This is a far future first contact story in the Star Trek tradition. A multispecies survey team is studying Lassti, whose native life may or may not be intelligent. After one of the survey team members is murdered, an outside investigator arrives.

The aliens of Lassti are satisfactorily alien, establishing communication with them takes a lot of creativity and outside the box thinking. The survey team interactions are well done, the author points out the limitations on interaction due to physical differences, as well as the cultural misunderstandings that could arise despite their having worked together for some time.

The characters all nice, generally doing their best to treat each other respectfully and assess the planet honestly. It is heartwarming.

The Steerswoman

On a low-tech planet far away, there is a group called the Steers(wo)men. They believe any phenomena can be logically understood given enough effort, and devote their lives to doing so and sharing that knowledge with anyone who asks. They have no idea how the magicians on the world do the things they do, but are convinced they can find out. Trying to understand magic leads steerswoman Rowan into danger, and she must flee.

What is the essence of science? It is the scientific method, investigate, theorize, test, repeat. Refuse to accept that there is anything inherently beyond human understanding, only things we have not understood yet. This book is a love letter to the scientific method.

The reader can tell that much of what is described as magic is in fact technology. It is not always clear what it is though, is the object moving irregularly through the sky at that start a meteor or a space station? This keeps us interested in following the clues as Rowan gathers them so we can figure it out while she is trying to also.

Epic Failure

A funny military space opera. Caught smuggling, Rogers is drafted into the army as an alternative to prison. Since there hasn’t been a war in two hundred years, Rogers does not expect his military service to consist of anything beyond partying. But as things keep going absurdly wrong on his ship, he finds himself having to take on more responsibility. And discovers a conspiracy or two threating society.

The humor in these books is slapdash, at one point there is a milk bomb. There are serious underlying issues though, there is a real problem. There is some fighting, but the solution tends to come more from negotiation than war.

Bellwether

This hilarious book satirizes the human tendency to follow others. A bellwether is a sheep whose actions are copied by other sheep. People think they don’t act like that, but if that was strictly true, we wouldn’t have influencers and trendsetters.

Sandra studies fads and group behavior. Bennett studies chaos theory. Starting with a misdelivered package, a series of events cause setbacks to their research projects. You will laugh out loud through the book and wonder how many inexplicable things in history come down to group think.

City of Truth

In the City, citizens are trained from birth not to lie until they become unable to do so. There is no fiction, no “the haircut looks nice”, only plain unvarnished truth. Jack is happy with his life in the city, until his son becomes terminally ill. Then he discovers the need for comforting lies and connects with an underground of liars.

This moving, short book makes you think about when lies are appropriate and when undesirable truths must be faced. It makes you re-evaluate the amount of candor in your own life.

Ender’s Game

This story is set in the near future after an alien attack on Earth. The first attack was defeated through luck, the world is now pouring resources into getting ready for the second attack, including choosing promising nine year olds and starting them on military training. Ender is one such child, the book follows him through the challenges at military academy to the shocking conclusion to the war.

The premise of this book doesn’t make much sense if you think about it, would any current military leader really give significant responsibility to a teenager, no matter how brilliant? If you ignore this, however, it is a heart wrenching look at how we use and abuse soldiers. The brutality of the training, the commanders keeping secrets from the fighters, the competition, the difficulty of keeping a moral compass, the distance from those at home you are fighting for.

There is also a second storyline following Ender’s siblings as they gain importance in civilian politics on Earth. Now that we are living in a world where people can actually gain real political power through blog posts, I find this section quite prescient.

Republic of Thieves

This is the third book in the Locke Lamora stories. It is influenced by events in previous books, but can be read on its own. In this story, Locke is hired to be a campaign manager for an election. All sorts of dirty tricks, bribery and blackmail are allowable. The campaign manager for the other side turns out to be Sabetha, Locke’s lost love, and we get flashbacks of their previous relationship.

The backstory with Sabetha and Locke is really well done and interesting. It adds emotional weight to their competition in the present. I continue to be unsure if I like or dislike Locke, but reading about him remains fascinating.

The election shenanigans are fun, they provide the humor in this book. Underneath this story, there is a darker story going on which we get only glimpses of until the end. The ending shocked and left me feeling punched in the stomach. It set up the series to move from Locke’s smaller scale adventures to saving the world mode.

Dreamsnake

Vonda McIntyre

Link to Goodreads here

In middle school we were given the first chapter of this book to read for a comprehension assignment. It made such a vivid impression, I still occasionally thought of it twenty years later. Then thanks to the internet, I was able to identify which book it was from and read it. I found I still remembered many lines accurately.

This book is set in a post-apocalyptic world and follows a iterant medic. She goes to several small communities to heal, loses her medicinal dreamsnake and tries to acquire another one. The book’s best feature is the evocative prose, which makes vivid the desperation of the ill and the medic’s problems. The world we see is intriguing, with a mix of primitive and advanced technology. Humans are very much still humans.

The medic is a great character, a strong woman who isn’t a fighter and who makes mistakes. Her strength is her determination to not give up. She treats others with respect and learns on her journey.

Metropolitan

If you have ever wondered how to carry out a revolution, this is the book for you. This book is set in a fantasy world which has magic powered by a substance called plasm. The protagonist, Aiah accidentally meets a revolutionary who is determined to establish a better form of government. She gets drawn into his plans and becomes part of the revolutionary leadership.

The current government has problems but is not Mordor or a similar obvious evil found in many fantasy books. It just allows enough little injustices that people start thinking about alternatives. Aiah starts feeling rebellious due to facing eviction from her apartment despite being a hard working, law abiding citizen.

This is a good study of a revolutionary movement happens. The challenges and compromises, avoiding spies, putting out propaganda. It is filled with interesting ideas. If you are interested in how society works, this book provides plenty of food for thought.

Marid Audran stories

T

This is a near future thriller. National governments have mostly dissolved, leaving behind local polities with shifting borders and frequent changes of power. In this situation, organized crime thrives. Marid, the protagonist, starts out on the edges of a criminal syndicate, then gets drawn in deeper and deeper. There are murders to be solved and revenge to be exacted.

The world is very real and unique. It has a night club vibe and characters who are mostly awake during the night. There are drugs of all kinds, bodies altered to a range of genders, and implants that can let you live any experience you desire. All this takes place in a Middle Eastern city, the culture of the world is nothing like any present day culture but feels like a realistic development, not a transplanted western culture.

The main source of income for the criminal boss is intriguing. He is involved in all the usual vice stuff, but what really makes him rich is that he maintains accurate census records for a large area. Every time there is a change of government he is there to sell them information on their citizens.

The plot of the first book is the best, the third ends somewhat abruptly. I have heard there was a planned fourth book that was not completed, perhaps that is the reason for the unsatisfactory conclusion.