Recommended books and authors

This page is the logical extension of this page, which lists the authors of most of the fiction I've read and these four A-C, D-H, I-P and Q-Z, that list the books I've read.

These "reviews" have, almost without exception, been written long after I read the books, so some of the information might be wrong. I'll add authors here in a semi-random manner and list them by rank, sort of. Since I suck at describing what I like, you'll just have to bear with me when what I write looks strange, try to remember that any book found worthy to be on this list is one I think is great even if can't tell you why, and trust that I know what's good for you. :)

If I haven't mentioned all the books by an author it's either because I haven't read it, or because I can't remember what it was about. It has nothing to do with its quality.

Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson writes great fiction. If you like SF, try Snow Crash (absurd) or The diamond age (hard nanotech SF). If you can tolerate SF and enjoy historical and technical fiction, and can handle 800 pages of WWII action crossed with the history and future of cryptology, try one of my favourite books, cryptonomicon. And if you don't really enjoy SF, but like action packed eco-thrillers, read Zodiac.

The first Neal Stephenson book I read was the absurd SF novel Snow Crash, which follows aptly named Hiro Protagonist, mob pizza delivery guy, in his quest to get to the bottom of the mystery around the computer virus snow crash which also scrambles human brains.

Snow Crash is a great book. Stephenson's version of USA's future is interesting, thought-provoking and funny. I loved the main characters and worried about their fates when things looked bad. The story is amazing, absurd and incredible and, unfortunately, let me down in the end. But the book is still a great read and I just had to read more by Stephenson.

Which lead me to The diamond age, or a young lady's illustrated primer. In my opinion an even better book than Snow Crash. It revolves around nano-technology, might go a bit too deep into computer theory, and has one or two sub-storylines that are a bit imperfect. But all in all it's great.

An incredibly powerful nano-tech-device, looking like a book and created as a teaching tool for the granddaughter of an incredibly powerful and wealthy magnate, falls into the hands of a poverty stricken girl. I can't remember enough to do justice to the story from there, but following the girl as she grows up is a delight, and the description of the societies around her are as imaginative and faceted as in Snow Crash. The diamond age is great SF.

cryptonomicon, can there be a better title for a book which revolves around the art and science of encryption? Cryptonomicon revolves around an unbreakable code and the lives of some very interesting characters, in two ages where the making and breaking of codes is changing history. Jumping back and forth between World War II and the World Wide Web and a gallery of characters that turn out to be two generations of two families who's lives in past and present are connected in several ways the book is intriguing, funny and heavy on the cryptology.

The focus on cryptology and computer technology might be too much for some. I liked it, even if I didn't understand everything, but I know of at least one person who found it to be too 'heavy'. At 850 pages it's a bit intimidating, but I hope the next one is as thick.

The three volume Baroque Cycle is in many ways a Cryptonomicon prequel. Cryptology plays a smaller but significant part here as well, but the Cycle takes place in the decades before and after 1700. In addition to obvious ancestors of some of the characters in Cryptonomicon we get to meet versions of some of the most important people of the era. Isaac Newton plays an important part, as does Gottfried Leibniz, Charles II, Louis XIV, Hooke, Newcomen, Peter the Great, William III, Christopher Wren... the list just goes on

It's a very good read and you will want to have some reference works at hand to find out who really lived and if they actually did what they do in the book. You can learn quite a bit about the start of the scientific age, but don't take it all as truth.

Stephenson's second novel, Zodiac, is not as much an SF book as an eco-thriller, a great eco-thriller. The protagonist fights big corporations and digs up their sins, and he's good at it. He prefers his drugs simple, theorizing that the more complex the molecule, the more unpredictable its results. And he drives a bike with no lights because if they're not trying to hit you you can avoid them and if they're trying to hit you it's better that they can't see you. Oh, and don't eat anything from Boston Harbour, you'll die a horrible death!

Stephenson's first novel is now avaiable to all those (everyone) who missed it when it first came out in 1984. On the front cover of the copy I read it says: "An entertaining and sometimes murderous satire on campus life." -New York Times Book Review In my opinion this is only half the truth. It is also a murderous satire on world politics, and it's absurd, scary, hilarious, thought-provoking and quite insane. Don't read this book if you're planning to go to uni, it might scare you.

On All my time is spoken for you can read why Stephenson doesn't have a fancy web page and doesn't answer email. On cryptonomicon you can read an interview with Stephenson, an exerpt from Cryptonomicon, and the brilliant essay "In the Beginning was the command line..." about the all important Operating Systems and their history.

Elizabeth Moon

Elizabeth Moon writes about war, small wars or big wars, swords, scythes and clubs or spaceships, faith against disbelief. The important thing in her books though are the people and their inner wars as much as the outer. The Deed of Paksenarion is one of the greatest works of fantasy I've ever read. Through Sheepfarmer's Daughter, Divided Allegiance and Oath of Gold we follow Paksenarion, farm girl turned mercenary turned... you'll just have to read the trilogy and find out. If you like good fantasy you won't be disapointed.

And if you're still not sated with Moon fantasy and the world of Paksenarion you can follow up with The Legacy of Gird in Surrender None and Liar's Oath.

If on the other hand you want to read something different, there's Sassinak a great SF collaboration with Anne MacCaffrey. Where we follow the girl Sassinak into interstellar slavery, out again, and if I don't remember this wrong, on to a career hunting pirates.

Moving on to the Serrano Legacy universe there is the Heris Serrano trilogy Hunting Party, Sporting Chance and Winning Colors, where Heris Serrano, member of a powerful navy family, but dismissed from the navy in disgrace, finds out that piloting a private space yacht can be almost as exciting as being in navy. The trilogy is good, but not as good as Paksenarion, and not as good as the following books in the same universe, Once a Hero and its sequel.

The action in Once a Hero is in part the action of the Heris Serrano trilogy from a different point of view. Esmay Suiza has joined the navy against her father's will. She is currently on the technical officers track, but will soon prove to be command material when she rescues the day in the face of overwhelming odds.

The story of Esmay Suiza continues in Rules of Engagement. I'd tell you what it's about, but that might spoil the previous books for you. (That, and I can't figure out what to write. :) )

Elizabeth Moon's official website is MoonScape.

Terry Pratchett

The Discworld is the greatest scene/invention of comic fantasy today, and Terry Pratchett has written close to thirty Discworld books (or almost twice that much if you count the maps, the diaries, the cookbook, the graphic novels, the play adaptions) and keeps us fans happy by publishing at least one new book every year. Some authors, I won't mention names (the series is called Xanth), do the same, but the books get poorer, or there isn't enough variation to prevent boredom. Pratchett seems to just get better and better.

Better and better books does imply that as you go the other way they are poorer and poorer, but this is only partially true. The first two books in particular (The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic) have a different flavour as they were written as a parody of heroic fantasy before the Discworld started getting the shape it has to day. Some of the other early books might be slightly less good than the latest, but they are still great, and many Pratchett fans has one of the earliest books as their favourite.

The best place on the net for Pratchett fans is L-space, where you amongst lots of other stuff can find the Annotated Pratchett Files were you can look up all the obscure jokes and references that you weren't sure about, or just didn't get (and enjoy the book all over again). On you can find a recommended reading order for the books. Reading the books in a different order might change your perception slightly, but won't ruin any surprises for you, most of the time. The first book I read was Lords and Ladies which is still my favourite. If it wasn't for the fact that this book spoils one or two (not very surprising) surprises I'd recommend that as a first Discworld book, instead I'll claim that the best book to start with is the first of the Guards books, Guards! Guards!.

Not reading Discworld is not an option. Read them all, now!

You should also read his other books, especially The Bromeliad, the trilogy about the nomes, a people four inches high, who through the books truckers, diggers and wings discover new and incredible things about themselves and their place in the world. The reader might discover new things himself if he has an open mind.

A non-Discworld must-read from Pratchett is the collaboration with Neil Gaiman, Good Omens. It's still comic fantasy, but the time and place is here, and the fantasy is all Christian mythology. Azariphale and Crowley, angel and demon, the main representatives of good and evil on earth for neigh on 6000 years have started preparing for Armageddon. They don't really want to, but the orders from above and below are not to be denied. There is also Anathema Device, witch, and owner of the nice (meaning precise) and accurate prophesies of Agnes Nutter, which have never been wrong, and state that the world will end next Saturday. There is Newton Pulsifer, the only member of the Witchfinder army who isn't an invention of it's leader Withcfinder Seargent Shadwell. And there's the Antichrist of course, ADAM, and his friends, Pepper, Wensleydale and Brian, and then there's the Beast, or Dog, as Adam calls him. Read it!

Joseph Heller

Joseph Heller doesn't write fantasy or SF. He writes ordinary and historical fiction, both with extraordinarily funny results. Best known is without doubt Catch 22, a really absurd book about several inhabitants of a WWII bomber base in the Mediterranian. The book might confuse the hell out of some as it jumps back and forth in time, so that people who died in one chapter are alive and well in the next, but it is a great book.

But it's not my favourite Heller, that price goes to God knows. Do you want to know what it was like to be David in the bible? Now you can find out. David is old, cranky, and upset with God, Michelangelo and Solomon. He's upset with God for the reasons known from the bible, and he's determined not to be the first to apologise. He's upset with Michelangelo because of the statue. The naked statue. The one with the uncircumcised member. The much too small uncircumcised member. And he's upset with Solomon. Because he got his own books in the bible. And everyone thinks he was so smart. While he actually was a stupid git who intended to cut the baby in half but was saved by an uncommonly good idea when one woman gave up her claim on the child.

The other Heller books I've read are also good, and in some cases great, but none of them tops God Knows.

More to come, I promise! (Jan 1. 2002)

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