Thursday, November 24, 2005

Geek Novels

Since I'm confessing to my geek tendencies, I'll direct readers to The Guardian's list of the 20 Best Geek Novels Written in English Since 1932 (via 2Blowhards). To my amusement/horror, I've picked up 19 of the 20 and completed (at least once) 11. Would that this made me a competent programmer...

Here is the list (an asterisk indicates I've cracked the covers; an "R" means I've read it):

1. The HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- Douglas Adams (*)
2. Nineteen Eighty-Four -- George Orwell (R)
3. Brave New World -- Aldous Huxley (*)
4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? -- Philip Dick (*)
5. Neuromancer -- William Gibson (R)
6. Dune -- Frank Herbert (R)
7. I, Robot -- Isaac Asimov (R)
8. Foundation -- Isaac Asimov (R)
9. The Colour of Magic -- Terry Pratchett (*)
10. Microserfs -- Douglas Coupland (R)
11. Snow Crash -- Neal Stephenson (R)
12. Watchmen -- Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons (R)
13. Cryptonomicon -- Neal Stephenson (*)
14. Consider Phlebas -- Iain M Banks
15. Stranger in a Strange Land -- Robert Heinlein (R)
16. The Man in the High Castle -- Philip K Dick (*)
17. American Gods -- Neil Gaiman (*)
18. The Diamond Age -- Neal Stephenson (R)
19. The Illuminatus! Trilogy -- Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson (R)
20. Trouble with Lichen - John Wyndham

In my original post, I said I'd read 15 of these titles. I lied. I silently did a sleight-of-hand, substituting titles of authors I'd read. For instance, I've read Wyndham's The Chrysalids, and Dick's Ubik and Valis, and Pratchett's Discworld. Surely these books represent their authors' best prose as ably as the ones listed? I've read enough of the two Dick books mentioned to realize this assumption of mine is faulty. The truth does count for something, so judge me by the amended results (while I'm in full disclosure mode: I haven't read the entire Illuminatus! Trilogy, either, but I did read the first book, The Eye In The Pyramid, and it left me with the unshakeable certainty that not only would other two books would be just as pointlessly crazy as the first, but that I'd be unable to tell which "episode" occurred in what book once I was finished them all).

If I could go back in time, there are books on this list I'd encourage my younger self to drop in favor of a good comic. Asimov's Foundation is a tedious slog, but qualifies as a light-hearted, entertaining lark next to Dune. I had declared myself a sci-fi geek, however, and read both out of a bounden sense of duty. Ditto, Stranger In A Strange Land, which I think actually marks an unfortunate turning point in Heinlein's work.

Liar or no, I still believe I'm qualified to make a little informed forecasting, so here goes: in the next ten years the list will have to include China MiƩville (probably by giving Mr. Wyndham the heave-ho).

Post-Script: Here's a nifty defense of what I've typically considered "dystopian" literature (which
definitely includes Philip K. Dick. Link from ALD.


F.C. Bearded said...

Nobody puns quite like Pratchett. I read "Colour of Magic", out of the public library, when it seemed it was the only book he'd written.

"Reflected sound of underground spirits," indeed.

Whisky Prajer said...

I've never been able to quite put my finger on why I've had no trouble reading and enjoying Pratchett, while Douglas Adams leaves me cold. Pratchett's ability to pun is certainly one aspect I enjoy. I also like how seriously he takes his silliness. He works very hard at staying consistent, which is a trait I have an easier time admiring than Adams' brand of unfettered looniness.