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My Book Recommendations

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Sources for Books and Texts

A good source for books on the Web is Amazon.com. If you don't mind using your credit card over the net, and if you care for a great selection, this is the place to visit.

Older texts may already be available as freely distributable e-texts. To find out more about the Project Gutenberg and the philosophy behind the publication of e-texts, check out the History and Philosophy of Project Gutenberg.

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Biographies

Richard P. Feynman - Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman

Reminiscences of the life of a fascinating person. Exciting and very humorous; a solid recommendation.

Groucho Marx - Groucho and Me

I stumbled over this in a bookshop some way off Oxford Street while trying not to get lost in London. Groucho recounts his life in a typical Groucho manner: he talks about life as a poor kid in a big city, of his time on the Vaudeville circuit, and of the rise and fall of the Marx Brothers, not forgetting his time on "You bet your Life". Interspersed in the narration are random thoughts and observations on the peculiarities of modern life.

Information on Groucho and the Marx Brothers:

Frank Zappa (with P. Occhiogrosso) - The Real Frank Zappa Book

The world of today and yesterday, seen with the eyes of Frank Zappa. This is not a dusty vitae, but also gives some insight on Frank's personal views of the world. If you're interested in FZ, you'll like this one.

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Humor

Tom Sharpe - Indecent Exposure

Sharpe's biting parody of life in a sleepy southafrican backwater doesn't miss a single cliche to build a babylonian tower of catastrophes which he expertly brings down on his poor protagonists. Definitely no the right material for sensitive people.

James Thurber - The Thurber Carnival

My first exposure to Thurber was through "Fables for Our Time": my english teacher at school considered "The Very Proper Gander" or "Little Red Riding Hood" the ideal material to make her lessons a bit more attractive to us numbskulls. Thurber's humor is very reserved and dry, and sometimes even a bit sentimental. In my opinion he's the man Kishon learned eveything from. "The Thurber Carnival" servers well to give an overview of his work over the years, and it definitely whets your appetite for more. If you want to give it a try, I recommend "The Secret Life of James Thurber" or "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty".

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Classic Stuff

Rudyard Kipling - Stalky & Company, Kim

Yes, I know, "Stalky & Company" is a school story meant for younger people, but nevertheless this one worms its way back again in my reading stack every other year or so. I guess the basic appeal is that these are stories of comeuppance, where otherwise powerless schoolboys take crafty revenge on everybody who's opposing them.

Kim is the real classic - forget about the movie, and read the book instead, if just for Kipling's descriptions of India during the colonial times.

Herman Melville - Moby Dick

"Call me Ishmael" - that opening has made it into literary history. This is another case where you should forget about the pathetic apptempt to frame this masterpiece on celluloid. The text has a rather gothic quality to it - when you make your way through the (for me anyways) complicated sentences, you can perceive them like the arches in a church, rising high, pure and beautiful.

Mark Twain - Huckleberry Finn

Can't say for sure why I prefer this to the hilarious "Tom Sawyer" - it's maybe the more adolescent outlook on life.

Much of work of Mark Twain is available in e-text format. The Mark Twain Homepage at Mining Co contains an extensive list of available material.

You can also read his classic essay on The Awful German Language in my humor archive.

Oscar Wilde - The Picture of Dorian Gray

I mean, you've got to know this. This is pure genius. If for nothing else, read it for the quotes. My personal favourite is "I can resist everything but temptation".

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Crime and Detective Stories

William Denton offers A Glossary of Hardboiled Slang that defines common slang terms used in hardboiled fiction.

The Mysterious Homepage is a good starting point to find information about mysteries and crime fiction and their othors on the Web.

Raymond Chandler - The Long Goodbye

This is the hardest and yet most sentimental story about Marlowe, the disillusioned and cynic private eye.

James Ellroy - The Black Dahlia

This book marked the breakthrough for Ellroy and his loose quartet of semi-fictional stories about the LAPD around WW2. Ellroy's cops are mean and bad, and in their methods they don't differ much from the scum they are hunting. His books are definitely not for the faint of heart. All in ll, he's a most worthy successor to the throne Hammett and Chandler vacated.

Beatrice has two interviews with Ellroy online: The Guy Behind the Mad Dog, dating from 1995, and Viewing Dark Places In a Cold Hard Light, done 1996.

Dashiell Hammett - The Big Knockover and Other Stories

A milestone in the history of crime fiction: Hammett invents the figure of the private eye and founds the "hardboiled" genre that later on spawned the Film Noir.

Ellis Peters - A Morbid Taste for Bones

A monk as a male Miss Marple in the Middle Ages. Cadfael is some sort of Sherlock Holmes with a robe. Sho'nuff, this is plain trivial, but just as Agatha Christie, it makes good reading if you don't want to tackle serious stuff.

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Literature

Alan Silitoe - The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

Short stories depicting the life of the british lower class.

Nevil Shute - On the Beach

Another title from my english class reading list: Only the Australians seem to have survived the nuclear wolrd war, while the rest of the earth has been rendered uninhabitable. Soon it becomes clear to the surviors that they are only living on borrowed time and that they can't avoid their fate. Horrifying, fascinating, sad.

Evelyn Waugh - Decline and Fall

A recommendation from Jutta, my girlfriend, who studies English and Economics - and I must support it. Waugh's slightly bizarre rendition of the english society is amusing and interesting.

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Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Speculative Fiction Links List is a link farm with lots of references on Science Fiction, Fantasy und Horror Authord. You might want to check this out for links I haven't found myself (yet).

Iain M. Banks - The Player of Games, Consider Phlebas, Excession

The "Culture"-Universe is the fascinating backdrop for some of Banks' novels. It's a tough place, abound with treason and intrigue. The premise is that at some point in the far future, mankind and its intelligent machines, the "minds" evolve to a pangalactic and multi-species presence, the Culture.

Harlan Ellison - Alone Against Tomorrow

The anthology which founded Ellison's fame as "Angry Youg Man of SF" in the seventies. Personally I am horrified to see "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" made into yet another unexciting computer game.

Philip Jose Farmer - To Your Scattered Bodies Go

The "Riverworld" is a large artificial planet whose surface is just one long river valley, and all the death are resurrected along the shoreline. This opens immense opportunities for the story - what would happen if Hitler would chance upon Jesus? This is basically a space opera, but nevertheless interesting and exciting.

Robert A. Heinlein - The Number of the Beast

One of his later books, where Heinlein took a fancy to retcon his whole works into a large universe. Fascinating for Heinlein buffs, but probably quite frustrating for people without that background.

Terry Pratchett - Discworld

Pratchett's Discworld is crazy fantasy world where virtually everything is possible. Unlike other humorous writes like Craig Shaw Gardener or Robert Asprin, Pratchett manages to stay convincing, surprising and interesting all the time.

Since he's got a strong appeal for computer geeks like us, he has his dedicated fan newsgroup on usenet. Since he drops by personally from time to time, this is a great place to hang out and talk about it all.

Neal Stephenson - Snow Crash

If somebody would ask me for reading recommendations in the Cyberpunk genre, then this book would be right at the top of the list. While Stephenson wasn't the first to explore this genre, "Snow Crash" is definitely the most convincing of the "adventure in VR" lot. Check out the review linked in above, it can tell you much more than I with my limited vocabulary :-)

WIRED has a great story by Stephenson in their back issues section - check out Spew.

Jack Vance - The Alastor Series

Vance is a brilliant narrator who captures our imagination with his description of well thought-out alien worlds and habits. Who cares if there's usually just a plain space opera behind it - after all, aren't there masterworks of sculpture made from simple clay, too?

If you are interested in Vance, you should check out the forthcoming Jack Vance Integral Edition.

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Read Recently

George R. R. Martin - A Game of Thrones

Usually, I try to steer clear of epic multi-volume fantasy novels, but nevertheless I bought "A Game of Thrones" when I saw it on the shelf of a local bookstore - after all, I had fond memories of George R. R. Martin's "Tuf Voyaging", which was one of the first SF/F books that I read in english. The fact that I didn't realize that it was Book 1 of the series "A Song of Ice and Fire" did probably help, too.

"A Game of Thrones" is set on a world that experiences a sort of ice age, where long warm periods are followed by equally long "winters" of fierce cold. The main focus is on the Realm of the Seven Kingdoms that resides on a large isle that spans from sub-tropical to arctic climate. Their northern border is fortified with a huge wall of ice and guarded by the Night Watch from raiders and unearthly beings that are called the Others. As the story starts, the Seven Kingdoms have just experienced one of the longest warm periods in memory. But instead of preparing for the next winter, there is intrigue abound that culminates in a fierce struggle for the throne.

The story is narrated in turn from the viewpoints of the various main characters. For me, the frequent shifts worked well, as they allowed Martin to weave an intricate plot that keeps the reader interested. His characters are believable - none of the good guys is without fault, and none of the bad ones is evil personified. Of course there are also some mystic elements that make "A Game of Thrones" more than an epos of medieval powermongering - but luckily, the book's not swords and sorcery all the way.

All, in all, it's four stars out of five for "A Game of Thrones".

Links: Imprint,

David Weber - On Basilisk Station

"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" goes the popular adage and from this point of view, C.S. Forester should feel masively flattered were he still alive, because David Weber's Honor Harrington is a worthy successor in the true tradition of the heroic captain.

Of course there are lots of differences between Hornblower and Harringtin, the least being that Weber's epic is a space oper and that his captain is indeed a woman. Yet the core of the classic saga has remained the same: Here, too, a single hero fights for law and order against an all-powerful, sinister enemy - the People's Republic of Haven.

The story starts with Harringtons appointment to her first hyper-capable command, a light cruiser. Having read herself in, her commands takes part in a fleet exercise, where Harrington becomes a pawn in a conflict of her superior officers, which ends in Harrington being sent to a reote outpost. This is where the typical Sea Hero/Space Opera plot kicks in, where Harrington fights against all odds, earning the respect of her crew and her superiors - space battle included.

Like Forester (and Alexander Kent after him) have demonstrated, there still a lot of leeway in the basic book formula - and Weber knows how to use it. His first Harrington book is an easy read and yet the tension will keep you going right up to the end. It certainly persuaded me to spring the cash for all of the other books in this series.

If all this has gotten you interested, scoot over to the Baen Books web site and check the Free Library section, where you can read parts of the first two Harrington books online for free.

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More Reviews (Links)

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Other People's Book Pages

Hugo Winners reviewed by Steve Parker
A steadily growing list of reviews of all Hugo Award winners.
Private Joker's Homepage
Infos about Gustav Hasford, whose novel "The Short-Timers" served as a basis for Kubrick's Vietnam epic "Full Metal Jacket". This site contains e-texts of Hasford's novels and other writings.
William Denton's Book List

From 1995 to 2000, William listed the blurbs and cover texts of all books he had bought.

Book Recommendations of Real Folks

This page lets you submit your own book lists and comments. All recommendations are on file, so you can find out what other people like to read.

The Science Fiction Resource Guide

A great portal for finding information about SF&F on the 'net.

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Links: Imprint, Back to my Homepage.


Thomas Bätzler, Thomas@Baetzler.de
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