It’s been a little while since I’ve updated here. I’ve been posting regularly at the OpenHatch blog, and on my MetaScience tumblr, and I’ve been busy with a pack of things. Probably the most useful to mention is the Boston Civic Expo, which I’m co-organizing. It’s on Friday, May 31st. If you’re interested in government transparency and in using technology to improve government and communities, you should come.
A friend asked me the other day for my top science fiction recommendations, and I realized I’d never posted them here. Let’s rectify that.
Contact, by Carl Sagan, is probably my favorite science fiction novel, and one of my favorite books period. Many authors get so caught up describing future tech or alien civilization that they forget to write compelling main characters, but Contact’s Ellie Arroway is the heart of the story: brilliant, stubborn, kind, self-righteous, lonely, and deeply curious. She elevates the plot – a well-told, innovative take on first contact – into something unforgettable.
Hyperion, and its sequels Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, and Rise of Endymion, by Dan Simmons, are gorgeous, ambitious novels. The first book, which is my favorite, tells six intertwined short stories – the tales of six pilgrims on their way to the Time Tombs, on the planet Hyperion. The Time Tombs are guarded by the Shrike, an enigmatic, half-mechanical being, and legend says that it kills all pilgrims save one, to whom it will grant a single wish. If that premise doesn’t hook you, I’m not sure what will. Simmons is endlessly inventive, and a beautiful craftsman of worlds, characters, and sentences.
On any given day I will list a different story of Ursula le Guin’s as her best. Sometimes it’s the more fantastical Lathe of Heaven, or the more political The Dispossessed, and one can make strong arguments for many of her short story collections. (I’ve written about The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas on this blog before.) But today, I’m going with The Left Hand of Darkness, a book told by an envoy to a world without seasons or genders. It’s an exploration of a culture without duality, and the title comes from a poem/proverb of that culture: “Light is the left hand of darkness / and darkness the right hand of light.”
Honorable mentions: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick; Flatland: a Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott; The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood; and Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman.