A Golden Grab-Bag of Science Fiction Goodies

The Windup Girl    The City & the City
An out of this world round-up of speculative adventure to the stars, through time, through the human mind, and even Bangkok.

The settings for the novels that won 2010’s top awards for Science Fiction and Fantasy, the Hugo and Nebula Awards were Besźel, Ul Qoma, and Bangkok, gritty, urban, and mundane, and without a ray gun or rocket ship in sight. Well, perhaps mundane is not entirely accurate. Besźel and Ul Qoma, The City & the City of China Miéville’s murder investigation can’t be found on any map of this world, and the Bangkok of Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl has not yet come into existence, but the scenery isn’t much different from many places around Houston, at least at first glance.

But if these two versions of alternative reality aren’t on the shelf when you come looking for them, here’s the promised Golden Grab-Bag of Science Fiction Goodies containing multiple delights for the eyes and ears:

Aristotle and the gun and other stories      Aristotle and the Gun / L. Sprangue de Camp

This is an excellent sampling of de Camp’s work. There’s humorous fantasy about a knight with an entrepreneurial knight who’d much rather get ahead in the world by maximizing profits rather than slaying dragons, and a story of the havoc caused by entering a mermaid in a swim meet. There are also science fiction stories: a Neanderthal living in New York in 1946, a cautionary tale about going back in time to enlighten the ancient Greeks about the advantages of the scientific method, and – my favorites – three stories told by Reginald Rivers, de Camp’s time traveling Australian dinosaur hunting guide.

Between Planets       Between Planets / Robert A. Heinlein
Don Harvey is out riding in the New Mexico sunlight shooting rattlesnakes when he gets a call on his cell phone telling him to get back to the ranch now! There he’s handed a radiogram, “DEAR SON, PASSAGE RESERVED FOR YOU VALKYRIE CIRCUM-TERRA TWELVE APRIL—LOVE MOTHER AND DAD.” He must get on a ship to Mars now before the tension between Earth and its colony on Venus explodes into a civil war.

Doctor Horrible's Sing-along Blog       Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog / Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed, Joss and Zack Whedon
Despite the fact that his plans for world domination are on schedule, pretty much, mostly on schedule, on his video blog, Dr. Horrible, laments his attempts to successfully woo Penny, the girl of his dreams, at the washateria. Worse than that his nemesis, Captain Hammer, is putting the moves on her and standing in the way to his acceptance into the Evil League of Evil!

Dead Air       Dead Air / James Goss

In 1966 pirate radio station Bravo, anchored off the coast of the United Kingdom receives two extraterrestrial visitors, one bent on destroying everything in its path, and the other bent on destroying the destroyer. It’s bad news for the humans on board, and could be much, much worse for the entire population of the earth. This sound recording about a sound recordings that’s a weapon of mass destruction, with its marvelous script, talented acting and excellent production make this BBC original audio story a superb science fiction thriller.

The Left Hand of Darkness       The Left Hand of Darkness / Ursula K. Le Guin

Genly Ai, the Terran Envoy to Winter, or Gethen as the natives referred to their planet has a hard time carrying out his mission. As Ai reflects, “Culture shock was nothing compared to the biological shock I suffered as a human male among human being who were, five-sixths of the time, hermaphroditic neuters.”It takes him a year to get an audience with the king. Then the king dismisses him as a pervert and possibly a fraud.

Leviathan      Leviathan / Scott Westerfeld

It’s August 1914 Aleksandar, a prince of the Austo-Hungarian Empire is on the run in a stolen war machine. His parents have just been assassinated, and all of Europe is preparing for the Great War. Meanwhile, in England, Deryn Sharp is so keen on flying, that she disguises herself as a boy, enlists in the British Air Service, and by chance, ends up as a midshipman on the Leviathan. The Leviathan is a living airship, a giant creature created by the Darwinists.

A Princess of Mars      A Princess of Mars / Edgar Rice Burroughs

Prospecting in Arizona in 1866, John Carter is attacked by hostile Apaches. He’s cornered in a cave. But as he remembers it a century later, when all hope gone, “Suddenly a low but distinct moaning sound issuing from the recesses of the cave behind me, and, as it reached the ears of the Indians, they turned and fled in terror, panic-stricken.” Carter finds himself paralyzed; he smells a strange gas in the air; then after an uncanny out-of-body experience, he finds himself on Mars.
The Radiant Seas      The Radiant Seas / Catherine Asaro

When a long postponed war finally erupts, the heirs of two interstellar empires find their idyllic home torn apart. Each must engage in an all out effort to both extinguish the military power of the other and keep their romance and their marriage and children a deep secret from their people and their intelligence services. It’s a deadly game.
Rainbows End      Rainbows End / Vernor Vinge

Step a few decades forward in the 21st century and view a world on the brink of dystopia or destruction. The intelligence services of Europe, Japan and India make a horrifying discovery, someone has successfully developed weapon for mind control that can be broadcast electronically. What they don’t know is that one of their own is the man who plans to enforce peace on the world using the weapon.
Snow Crash      Snow Crash / Neal Stephenson

In the virtual online world of the metaverse, Hiro Protagonist is a very important hacker. As one of architects of Black Sun, his avatar has ready access to one of the most prestigious pieces of unreal estate in virtual reality. In the real world he freelances for a spy franchise; he advertises himself as the greatest swordsman in the world, and he delivers pizza for the mob.
Trigger and friends      Trigger & Friends / James H. Schmitz

Con games, deadly rivalries, and the Mob, some things never change. But in the future, rivalries are fought with spacecraft and mobsters make their getaways with subspace portals. Join secret agent Trigger Argee, scout Heslet Quillan and Holati Tate, master of intrigue, as they battle the criminal element on its own interstellar turf.
The war of the worlds      The War of the Worlds / H. G. Wells

"No one would believe … that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own…Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic… slowly and surely drew their plans against us.”
The Waters of Mars        The Waters of Mars / Russell T. Davies and Phil Ford

Mars, 2059. Bowie Base One. Last recorded message: "Don't drink the water. Don't even touch it. Not one drop".

The Yiddish Policemen's Union       The Yiddish Policemen's Union / Michael Chabon

In a world in which Alaska, rather than Israel, has become the homeland for the Jews following World War II, Detective Meyer Landsman and his half-Tlingit partner Berko investigate the death of a heroin-addicted chess prodigy.