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Posts Tagged ‘Culture’

Reading Black and White

I love a good Best Of list. There’s nothing more fun than reading through a list of the best novels or films of all time and then debating the order with a friend. Over the years there have been quite a few of these Best Novels lists, most notably Modern Library’s list in 1998 which was met with all kinds of criticism.

Well, yesterday I was researching a post for my other blog and I stumbled across this site, which has a different take on the Best Novels list. It’s of the best 100 novels and like many lists it’s voted for by readers (not critics) but unlike the others, it’s updated every few months and the voting is continual, so the chance of a non-deserving book being inflated is lessened.

I’ve had a good look and it’s not bad. Most of the books you’d expect are listed. The main ones missing are The Scarlet Letter, Midnight’s Children, The Call of the Wild and Mrs Dalloway, and there’s nothing by Henry James. And I wouldn’t have The Time Traveler’s Wife or The Da Vinci Code on the list, let alone above James Joyce and Cormac McCarthy.

But if you take the whole 100, it’s not bad for one of these lists (even Time Magazine left off John Irving) and the idea that it’s continually updated is kind of neat. It should keep evolving and while I’m not sure about the order of the top 10 (who is?), at least this time I could vote! So I did and I thought I’d include it below. I wonder what your top 10 would be? ;)

My List

  • Animal Farm
    George Orwell
  • Pride and Prejudice
    Jane Austen
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
    Harper Lee
  • The Golden Notebook
    Doris Lessing
  • The Great Gatsby
    F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude
    Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • The Sun Also Rises
    Ernest Hemingway
  • The Portrait of the Artist
    As a Young Man

    James Joyce
  • The Once and Future King
    T.H. White
  • Catch 22
    Joseph Heller
Readers’ List

  • 1984
    George Orwell
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
    Harper Lee
  • The Catcher in the Rye
    J.D. Salinger
  • The Lord of the Rings
    J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Pride and Prejudice
    Jane Austen
  • The Great Gatsby
    F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Crime and Punishment
    Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Catch-22
    Joseph Heller
  • Lolita
    Vladimir Nabokov
  • Ulysses
    James Joyce

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Them by Nathan McCall

The books I plan to read over the next few months; a couple I’ve just bought, the others I’ve had lying around. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has to be the best title I’ve heard in a long time. ;)

Duma Key
Stephen King

First Impressions: King’s latest. Not sure what to make of it yet; I like King’s supernatural novels more than his straight horror, but the characterisations are some of his best.

Orpheus Lost
Janette Turner Hospital

First Impressions: An ambitious post-9/11 reworking of the Orpheus myth. Might be a little too ambitious but Turner Hospital is a good author. Should be interesting.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Mark Haddon

First Impressions: Winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year in 2003, the novel was Haddon’s début, a mystery told from the perspective of a 15 year autistic boy. Hope it lives up to the hype.

Winterbirth
Brian Ruckley

First Impressions: Scottish author Ruckley’s début, the first of the Godless World trilogy. The reviews have been good but it sounds a little like another Wheel of Time series to me.

Them
Nathan McCall

First Impressions: McCall wrote for The Washington Post for many years; Them is his first novel, focusing on gentrification and racism. I like what I’ve read so far.

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startide.jpgDavid Brin’s Uplift series is one of the most beloved of science fiction series. The Uplift Saga is populated by an array of strange aliens, characters and worlds, set in a future universe where no species can reach full sentience without the help of a patron race.

The sequence began in 1979 with Sundiver, but it was Startide Rising which cemented Brin’s reputation as a writer. Startide was published in 1983 and won both Hugo and Nebula Awards. It was everything people wanted SF to be at that time: epic in scope, with lots of ideas, aliens, and a pace that propelled it forward.

Reading it now the most striking thing about Startide is that it hasn’t dated that much. Perhaps some of the technology doesn’t seem that different to what we have today (or especially alien), but everything in Startide Rising has a feeling of a history, a past, and that makes it work for the story. The characters also stand out. Creideki, the dolphin captain of Streaker, feels distinctly alien, while Tom Orley and Gillian’s romance is at the heart of their world. The story is very human, set in a strange universe – a level science fiction doesn’t often reach.

Startide begins with the ship Streaker, which has crashed on the world Kithrup and is being pursued by armadas of fierce alien races. Before it crashed Streaker had discovered a fleet of vessels, believed to be the remains of the famed Progenitors who began the Uplift process millennia ago. The Galactics want the location of the fleet and will stop at nothing to get it, leaving Streaker’s mix of human and dolphin crew to fend off their assaults (and a mutiny) as they try to make their escape.

I’d not read Startide previously, though I had read Sundiver, and the first thing that impressed me was how Brin goes straight into his story. He wastes no time with Streaker discovering the alien fleet, or even its crash on Kithrup; he uses this as a backdrop, while other authors might have made another novel out of it. I also liked the depictions of the aliens in the novel. The Galactics are primarily humanoid and their strangeness comes more from their rituals and culture than their physical appearance. In their own way it is the dolphins that are the true aliens; Brin describes them (their movements, battles, rescue fever) almost as another race, and their language of Trinary is unique, a haiku language which is both beautiful and sad. The overall sense I got from Startide Rising was, again, of a very human story, as much about the characters as the science… I found that refreshing compared to more contemporary space opera.

There were a couple of things I didn’t like as much. First, I didn’t think the pace was as full-on as other people have said; certainly the novel has a good pace, but there were sections where I found it dragged for 20 pages or so. Some of Streaker’s politics also weigh the story down from time to time. And for as well as Brin writes his characters, one of the more interesting characters, Dennie, is largely neglected during the novel. At times I would have like to have seen more of her point of view, rather than Toshio’s.

Still, these are fairly minor details. Startide Rising is space opera at its best and still holds up well so many years after it was first published. Highly recommended. Just don’t be put off by the fact that it’s book 2 in the series; Startide Rising is where the Uplift Saga truly begins.

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