65 Classic Science Fiction Books I Want to Hear

by James Wallace Harris, Friday, November 25, 2016

Hothouse - Brian W. AldissHappy Birthday to me! Last year I wrote “64 Classic Science Fiction Books I Want to Hear” for my 64th birthday. It was published at SF Signal. I had hoped audiobook publishers would have granted my wish by now. Unfortunately, only one title has shown up at Audible.com – Nova by Samuel R. Delany. I bought it and it sounds wonderful. Maybe more will show up by the time I’m 66. But guys, I can only live for so long.

Here’s the list updated to 65 titles for my 65th birthday. I’ve substituted some collected works for older original short story collections. I figure it’s probably easier to get the audio publishing rights to the most recent collections.

If I had three wishes from a genie, one wish would be for Adventures in Time and Space (1946) edited by Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas in a perfect audiobook edition. Great anthologies on audio are rare. I expect publishing rights are hard to arrange. I’m still wishing for six completely out-of-print volumes to come out in audio. Most of these books below are available in print or ebook editions. Does it take a certain demand for print/ebook editions before publishers will risk an audio edition?

A Mirror for Observers - Edgar PangbornMost of the great science fiction classics have shown up on audio. Starting in 2002 when I join Audible.com, I’ve been “rereading” my favorite science fiction books from youth by listening to them. I love hearing old science fiction when read by a great narrator. If you can think of an old science fiction book that’s not on my list below, chances are its available on audio at Audible.com. If you haven’t gotten into audiobooks yet, I recommend starting with an old favorite. You might be surprised to hear something you missed.

Many of the books below are forgotten classics, especially the older ones. People from my generation might remember them, but younger readers may never have heard of many titles. The real question is whether or not these books still hold up. Just because I want to hear them doesn’t mean they are great stories. They are just books I often read about when reading about science fiction.

What amazes me are the authors that have no Audible.com editions of their work. Or next to none. I can’t figure out if this is for legal reasons, or there’s no interest in their work. These include:

  • Eleanor Arnason
  • Alfred Bester
  • Michael Bishop
  • Pat Cadigan
  • R. A. Lafferty
  • Maureen F. McHugh
  • Eric Frank Russell
  • James H. Schmitz
  • William Tenn
  • James Tiptree, Jr.
  • Wilson Tucker

65 Books I Want to Hear

H=Hardback  T=Trade paper  M=Mass market  E=ebook  *=OOP

  1. A Voyage to Arcturus (1920) by David Lindsay – HT
  2. The World of Null-A (1948) by A. E. Van Vogt – TE
  3. The Voyage of the Space Beagle (1950) by A. E. Van Vogt – T
  4. Bring the Jubilee (1953) by Ward Moore – TE
  5. The Demolished Man (1953) by Alfred Bester – TE
  6. A Mirror for Observers (1954) by Edgar Pangborn – H
  7. Mission of Gravity (1954) by Hal Clement – TE (as Heavy Planet: The Classic Mesklin Stories)
  8. Cities in Flight (1955) by James Blish – E
  9. The Stars My Destination (1956) by Alfred Bester – TE
  10. Wasp (1957) by Eric Frank Russell – E
  11. The Lincoln Hunters (1958) by Wilson Tucker *
  12. Rogue Moon (1960) by Algis Budrys – E
  13. The High Crusade (1960) by Poul Anderson ME
  14. Hothouse (1962) by Brian W. Aldiss – E
  15. Davy (1964) by Edgar Pangborn – H
  16. Empire Star (1966) – T (combined with Babel-17)
  17. The Witches of Karres (1966) by James H. Schmitz – ME
  18. Dangerous Visions (1967) ed. Harlan Ellison – TE
  19. The Einstein Intersection (1967) by Samuel R. Delany – TE
  20. Camp Concentration (1968) by Thomas Disch – TE
  21. Past Master (1968) by R. A. Lafferty – T
  22. The Last Starship from Earth (1968) by John Boyd – *
  23. Behold the Man (1969) by Michael Moorcock – T
  24. Bug Jack Barron (1969) by Norman Spinrad – TE
  25. Macroscope (1969) by Piers Anthony – HTE
  26. The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) by Ursula K. Le Guin – HTME (OOP on audio)
  27. And Chaos Died (1970) by Joanna Russ – *
  28. Science Fiction Hall of Fame (1970) edit by Robert Silverberg – T
  29. The Year of the Quiet Sun (1970) by Wilson Tucker *
  30. The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth (1971) by Roger Zelanzy – TE
  31. The Fifth Head of Cerberus (1972) by Gene Wolfe – TE
  32. The Listeners (1972) by James Gunn – T
  33. The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume 2A and 2B (1972) edited by Ben Bova – T
  34. The Sheep Look Up (1972) by John Brunner – TE
  35. Before the Golden Age (1974) edited by Isaac Asimov – *
  36. A Martian Odyssey and Other Science Fiction Tales (1974) by Stanley G. Weinbaum – *
  37. The Centauri Device (1974) by M. John Harrison *
  38. The Female Man (1975) by Joanna Russ – T
  39. The Shockwave Rider (1975) by John Brunner – TE
  40. Trouble on Triton (1976) by Samuel R. Delany – TE
  41. On Wings of a Song (1979) by Thomas M. Disch – E
  42. Ridley Walker (1980) by Russell Hoban – HTE
  43. No Enemy But Time (1982) by Michael Bishop – E
  44. Native Tongue (1984) by Suzette Haden Elgin – TE
  45. Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984) by Samuel R. Delany – TE
  46. Ancient of Days (1985) by Michael Bishop – TE
  47. The Falling Woman (1986) by Pat Murphy – E
  48. Mindplayers (1988) by Pat Cadigan – TE
  49. Grass (1989) by Sheri S. Tepper – TE
  50. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (1990) by James Tiptree, Jr. – T
  51. A Woman of the Iron People (1991) by Eleanor Arnason – E
  52. Sarah Canary (1991) – Karen Joy Fowler – TE
  53. Synners (1991) by Pat Cadigan – TE
  54. China Mountain Zhang (1992) by Maureen F. McHugh – TE
  55. Ammonite (1993) by Nicola Griffith – TE
  56. The Rediscovery of Man (1993) by Cordwainer Smith – H
  57. Galatea 2.2 (1995) by Richard Powers – TE
  58. Ingathering: The Complete People Stories of Zenna Henderson (1995) – H
  59. Holy Fire (1996) by Bruce Sterling – TE
  60. The Book of the Long Sun (1993-96) v.1 and v.2 by Gene Wolfe – T
  61. Immodest Proposals: The Complete Science Fiction of William Tenn Volume 1 (2001) – H
  62. Here Comes Civilization: The Complete Science Fiction of William Tenn Volume 2 (2001) – H
  63. Aye, and Gomorrah (2003) by Samuel R. Delany – T
  64. Strange Relations (2008) by Philip Jose Farmer – M (The Lovers, Flesh, Strange Relations omnibus)
  65. The Big Book of Science Fiction (2016) edited by Jeff and Ann Vandermeer – TE

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JWH

Three Useful Internet Sites for a Dynamic Reading of Ulysses by James Joyce

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Reading Ulysses by James Joyce can be very difficult, even daunting. Many well read readers consider Ulysses the number one novel of all time, because of it’s rich complexity and advanced writing techniques. Joyce intentionally made Ulysses a reading challenge, full of Easter eggs for readers to find and decipher, making it a novel worthy of multiple readings.

I have tried reading Ulysses before, but even after reading Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man three times, I wasn’t ready. One major barrier for me is my poor reading skills. I’ve been conditioned to read fast, always wanting to know what’s going to happen, by the plot driven novels of my youth. Ulysses is more like a great painting that you must study slowly and carefully, and for most of my life I never had the patience.

The range of what I could read took a quantum leap forward in 2002 when I started listening to audio books. Listening makes me read slow, and that changes everything. Also, professional readers showcase writing far better than my own inner voice. It’s like the difference between reading poetry and hearing it read aloud. Quality fiction should be heard. It should sound dramatic and dynamic, even poetical. Bad writing sticks out when read aloud. Once I started listening to Ulysses I could get into it. But still there was much I was missing.

Ulysses is famous for its stream of conscious writing techniques. If you just read it with your eyes, it’s easy to confuse the narrator with inner monologues. And even good audio book narrators don’t always distinguish between the two.

Ulysses is also full of allusions to real world and literary history, using colloquial and idiomatic words and phrases that are long out of fashion. Plus Joyce frequently cites lines of Latin, songs and poems that well educated people knew back then, but most people don’t know about today.

Luckily, I’ve stumbled upon two sites on the internet that are wonderful tools for helping me to read Ulysses in a very efficient manner. The first is  The Joyce Project that features an online version of Ulysses. Now most people hate reading online, but I have a major reason to get over that prejudice. The second site that I use is an audio performance of Ulysses at Archive.org. I read online as I listen to this online recording. This recording is very special because they use different actors for different characters, and they use a special effect for when Joyce is having his character speak in their internal voice. This is a tremendous advantage for understanding Ulysses. And I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to hear Joyce read by someone that can pronounce everything correctly, and even offer good accents.

As an extra bonus, The Joyce Project has an annotation mode you can turn on, and certain words and phrases will appear in color that you can click on to read for elaboration. What I do is read and listen to each episode, and then go back and click on all the highlights. Here’s what the plain text looks like, then with the annotations highlighted, and then with the pop-up for the first annotation.  Clicking on the image will enlarge it.

The Joyce Project 1

The Joyce Project 2

The Joyce Project 3

But what works really well is to open the The Joyce Project and the Archive.org audio player windows so they overlap, like this:

Read and Listen

This allows me start and stop the audio easily as I read, in case I do want to stop my reading to study an annotation.

Finally, there’s a third dimension to using the web for reading and studying Joyce – there’s a goldmine of supplemental material. I’m not pursing the study guides on my first reading except in a very limited way. Ulysses is a black hole for scholarship.

One site that is frequently recommended to me is Frank Delaney’s podcast re:Joyce. Delaney does one podcast a week and is up to #245, but only to episode five in the novel. He estimates it will take him 25 years to finish the project. Delaney is a famous author and broadcaster, and knows Joyce’s Ireland, so his rich voice and literary experience makes him a great guide for traversing the land of Joyce. His enthusiasm enhances the enjoyment of reading Joyce.

I figure the first two tools, the annotated text and the performance narration, are the two best tools I’ve discovered for reading Ulysses for the first time. And the Frank Delaney podcast is a wonderful supplement for those people who want to take their first step into Joyce scholarship.

JWH

Printed Book v. Audio Book

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, December 8, 2014

I am reading and listening to the same book, Timescape by Gregory Benford. This 1980 science fiction novel is about the year 1998, and the Earth suffering from an environmental collapse. The reason it’s science fiction is because the people in 1998 find a way to send a message back to people in 1962 to tell them to stop doing what they’re doing. I first read Timescape back in the early 1980s, just after it came out, and then listened to it in 2007. I’m reading it again this month for a book club, but as an experiment, I thought I’d listen to what I just read a week later. This has proved to be a fascinating experiment.

When I started routinely listening to audiobooks in 2002, I discovered just how bad a reader I was. Even though I was a lifelong bookworm, and thought myself a great reader, audiobooks revealed I wasn’t. My inner narrative was sketchy and wimpy compared to what I heard by professional narrators. This was true for a number of reasons, but mostly because I read too fast. I was skimming, rather than reading. There is more to reading than finding out what happens next. A great book will be rich in details, its scenes dramatic, and its characters full of distinctive voices. Speed reading tends to gloss over the details, flattens the drama and eliminates the voices.

A dozen year later, I now read much slower. I work very hard not to skim. I keep an eye out for the clues the author gives to imagine the dramatic interaction of the characters, and their personal voice. I’ve come a long way, but not far enough. I’m rereading Timescape because I’m leading a book discussion group, and I’m summarizing each chapter.  I concentrate harder on the details of the prose and take notes.

Then a week later, I decided to listen again to the same story. As I progress over each chapter, I remember reading the words. I’m don’t think I skimmed much at all, but it’s still very obvious that I’m not getting the dramatic intent of the story. The book is narrated by Simon Prebble, and he brings so much more nuance to the story. Prebble is not making stuff up, the clues to how the characters should sound are in the narrative, I just don’t imagine the drama in my head when reading compared to what I hear in the audiobook.

Strangely, listening to an audiobook is like using a magnifying glass to examine the details of writing. Benford has created characters with distinctive voices and psychologies. He even gives his sister-in-law, Hilary Foister, credit for helping him with the British portion of the story. For instance, I’m always jarred when British people drop the definite article, like when they say, “go to hospital” or “go to university.” I don’t know why we want the definite when declaring generic places, but that’s how it is. When reading that kind of thing in Timescape I didn’t notice it, but I did when listening.

When Renfrew meets Patterson for the first time he experiences a number emotions.  Renfrew grew up a working class kid that’s made it to Cambridge, to become a physicist,  and meets the upper class Peterson, a politico who’s going to evaluate his budget for a highly theoretical experiment in times when many are starving. Renfrew is very tense, and class conscious.

     “Good morning, Dr. Renfrew,” The smooth voice was just what he had expected.

     “Good morning, Mr. Peterson,” he murmured, holding out a large square hand. “Please to meet you.” Damn, why had he said that? It might have been his father’s voice: “I’m reet please to meet ya, lad.” He was getting paranoid. There was nothing in Peterson’s face to indicate anything but seriousness about the job.”

Do you feel the paranoia from reading it? I did a little, but I felt it more when listening. Prebble even does the father’s voice with the accent and different tone, a tiny flashback. The two men sound different in the narration, sounding like what Benford tells us they sound.

This rather plain passage presents all the essential details, but when I listened to Prebble read it, I got the feeling we were decoding more of Benford’s intent. I even picture how Benford imagined the scene and wrote it. Charles Dickens was famous for acting out his characters and scenes as he wrote them. I think most good writers, even if they aren’t hammy would-be actors, at least mentally picture their scenes in a dramatic way, and hear the voices of their characters. If you read very fast all characters sound the same – your inner voice.

When readers decode fiction they can reconstruct the scene in an infinite number of ways.  I tend to think most of us readers don’t do a lot of decoding, but merely grab the basic information to move the story forward and rush on to the next fact. I have met people who claimed to see novels acted out in their heads, but I don’t.

However, when I listen to an audio book read by a great narrator, I do. It’s like a book is a freeze-dried drama and the narrator is the water that reconstitutes the story. I think this is true because the audiobook goes at a very slow pace, the pace of speech. That gives my mind time to feel the words which triggers images. Finally, the professional reader colors the narration with a rich reading voice that adds addition textures.

Benford is not a great literary writer, but Timescape is far more literary than most science fiction novels. Timescape won several awards and has been added to many best book lists. I think it succeeded because it stand outs among other science fiction novels as better written and more character driven. It also stands out because of its serious extrapolation and speculation – it’s not your typical sci-fi escapism. And I feel listening to Timescape magnifies its higher qualities beyond what I was able to perceive by just reading the book with my inner voice – which is quite plain.

As a person who’d love to write fiction, I hear in Benford’s story what I’m missing in my own writing. The details I notice under the magnification of audio narration reveal qualities in writing I aspire to acquire. I think listening to audio books can be a superior way of decoding fiction. I wonder how blind people running their fingers across the Braille page compare what they take in by touch to what they hear with their finally tuned ears. Thousands of years ago when humanity transitioned from an oral culture to a written culture, I wonder if they missed what went away when they started reading silently.

As a lifelong book worm I’ve been conditioned to seeing words, but now I’m learning what it means to hear them.

JWH

AirPlay – The Best Way To Listen To An Audio Book

I’ve been an Audible.com user since 2002 and over the last dozen years I’ve learned a lot about listening to audio books.  First off, it actually takes practice to learn how to listen to an audio book well.  Don’t let first impressions about audio books throw you off.   Some people get frustrated because they keep missing stuff and jumping back isn’t as easy as rereading a paragraph.  Luckily good players have a 30 second jump back button.  And don’t worry, the more you listen, the more you learn how to keep you mind focused on the story, even when you’re doing something else.

AirplayIcon

Most people think listening to books is something you do on car trips, and that’s how I got hooked, but there are many times in your day when listening to a book is an added pleasure.  For example, I often eat alone.  So the time I spend cooking, eating and doing the dishes is enhanced by listening to a book.  Listening while doing something is great if you’re a bookworm that wants to finish a lot of books, but it’s not the best way to actually listen to a book.  Even when you’re doing something mindless and think you can devote yourself to a book you can’t completely.

I’ve recently discovered my current best way to listen to a book because I bought a new stereo receiver with AirPlay and my friend Charisse recommended a rather intellectually deep book, Possession by A. S. Byatt.  AirPlay is Apple Computer’s technology, also licensed to third party developers, that allows you to beam content to AirPlay enabled devices.  I use an iPod touch to listen to books, and when I got my new Denon receiver my iPod started showing a little AirPlay symbol automatically.  If I tap this new symbol I’m given the choice of playing the book through the iPod or from the Denon.  If I select the Denon the receiver automatically turns itself on, even when I’m in another room, and starts playing my audio book.

My stereo system is hooked up to large floor standing speakers, so I can play the book loud, and I do.  This has transformed how I listen to my audio books.  Like discovering music sounds best when played loud, so does audio books.  Hearing the narrator speak in a volume similar to a person in the room talking firmly and expressively loud changes how I perceive the book.  It feels like I’m at a play with my eyes closed.  Writing just jumps out when listened to at this volume, especially if I just sit and pay full attention.  Combining a good narrator with a good writer at this volume absolutely showcases literary skills.  Writing, word by word, and line by line, is just so vivid.

When Charisse came over to hear selections from two of her favorite novels, Possession and Great Expectations, she was so impressed that she asked me to help her buy a stereo system like mine.  And that’s the trouble with this new method.  You need a big stereo system.  Really good headphones do work, but there’s something about the sound filling the room  that makes it feel like people are acting out the book.

Sadly, big stereo systems aren’t common anymore, but many people do have surround sound systems for the flat screen TVs.  Check and see if you have AirPlay enabled on your system, or another method to plug in a smart phone or portable player.  Some systems have an input jack that plugs into your headphone jack.  Give it a try.

I don’t always expect to listen to books this way, because it’s not convenient, but more and more, I’m finding time to sit in my easy chair and devote myself to listening to my book played loud.  Over the years I’ve experimented with various ways to take in audio books.  The best way to study a book for research or school is to listen and read at the same time, but to get the fullest dramatic impact of a well written piece of fiction, listening at loud levels really makes the work stand out.  Also, it was interesting to listen with Charisse, like two people watching a TV show together.  It worked.  Most people think of reading as a solitary pursuit, but AirPlay could encourage group listening to books.  I know it sounds strange, but it works.  My wife Susan and I always enjoyed listening to books in a car, which by the way, is another good way to listen to a book played loud, but now that I’m learning to focus so intently, I’m not sure I should be driving and listening.

Audio books taught me I was a poor reader and I should leave the reading to experts.  I also learned that going slowly through a book, at conversational level speed, was more respectful to the writing than my normal eye-ball reading habit of anxiously speed reading through the pages to find out what happens next.  Now I know that the slow pace of audio books combined with good speakers played loud and full attention makes a book come alive in a unique way.

JWH – 5/28/14

The Strange Pricing of Digital Goods

I buy a lot of digital goods and services but I’ve noticed that there is no consistency in pricing.  For example I subscribe to Rdio.com and pay $4.99 a month for access to millions of songs and albums.  Yet, The New York Times wants $15-$35 a month for access to just one newspaper.  $60 a year for 15,000,000 songs versus $180 for 365 issues of one newspaper – can you spot the obvious bargain?

Yet for $7.99 a month, or $96 a year I get access to 75,000 movies and TV shows at Netflix.  $7.99 a month is also the price Hulu Plus charges for thousands of shows too.  So why does one newspaper cost $15 a month, especially since it was free for years.  I love reading The New York Times, but I can’t make myself pay $15 a month for it when I get so much music for $4.99 a month, and so many movies and TV shows for $7.99 a month.  If I was getting access to several great papers for $7.99 a month I’d consider it a fair deal.  But for one title, I think it should be much less.

This makes The New York Times appear to be very expensive.  However, The Wall Street Journal is $3.99 a week, or $207.48 a year. Strangely, The Economist, a weekly is $126.99 a year for print and digital, or $126.99 for just digital. Go figure.

I also get digital audio books from Audible.com.  I pay $229.50 for a 24 pack, which is $9.56 per book, but they often have sales for $7.95 and $4.95 a book.  I can get two books from Audible for what I’d pay for 30 daily papers, but I actually spend way more time listening to books than I’d spend reading the paper online. 

I subscribe to several digital magazines through the Kindle store.  Right now I’m getting a month of The New Yorker for $2.99, but that’s suppose to go up to $5.99 soon.  (What is it about stuff from New York being more expensive?)  Most of the magazines I get from Amazon are $1.99 a month, way under the cost for a printed copy at the newsstand.  The Rolling Stone is $2.99 and I usually get two issues in a month.  So for $15 a month, the price of The New York Times, I get 11 magazines (4 New Yorkers, 2 Rolling Stones, Discover, Maximum PC, National Geographic, Home Theater and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction).  That’s a lot of reading for $15 a month, and a lot of variety.

However, I also subscribe to Zite, an app on my iPad where I do the most of my news reading, and that’s free.  I get free articles from those magazines above and who knows how many more, all for free.  In fact, I spend so much time reading Zite, because it’s customized to my interests, that I’m thinking of cancelling my magazine subscriptions.  But that’s another issue.  Like when I subscribed to paper copies of magazines I mostly let them go unread.

Even if I paid $15 a month for The New York Times I’m not sure how many articles I would read above the 10 articles a month they offer now for free.  I don’t expect everything to be free on the internet, but sadly, paid content has to compete with free.  Zite, which is free, is actually worth $15 a month, because I get access to zillions of magazine articles, newspaper stories, and web blogs.

I’m also a subscriber to Safari Books Online, a subscription library to technical books.  I pay $9.99 a month and get to have 5 books a month “checked out” to read.  I can keep them longer, but I have to keep them at least one month.  So for $120 a year I get to read as many as 60 books, which means the price could be as low as $2 a book.  That’s a bargain when most computer books are $40-50.

And I’m a member of Amazon Prime.  For $79 a year I get unlimited 2-day shipping, access to 12 ebooks (1 a month from their library of 100,000 titles) and unlimited access to thousands of movies and TV shows.  This is another tremendous bargain.  I also buy ebooks for my Kindle and iPad from Amazon.  Costs run from free to $9.99.  On very rare occasions I’ll pay more, but it hurts.  Digital books just seem less valuable than physical books.  I don’t feel like I collect digital books like I do with hardcovers.  I don’t even feel I own ebooks.

Next Issue Media is now offering a library of digital magazines Netflix style for $9.99-$14.99 a month, but only one of the magazines I currently subscribe to, The New Yorker, is part of the deal.  If all of my regular magazines and The New York Times were part of the deal, then I’d go for it.  However, Zite with it’s intelligent reading system would still dominate my reading.  Flipping through magazines is just too time consuming.  What I want is a Zite Plus, a service that provides access to all the free and paid content I like to read.

Can you spot the trend in all of this?

I think most people on the net are willing to pay for digital goods if they get a bargain, especially if it’s part of a library of goods like Netflix, Rdio, Rhapsody, Spotify, Hulu Plus, Safari Online, Amazon Prime, etc.

And there is another issue about buying digital goods.  Some companies charge extra if you use their content on a smartphone.  Rdio and Spotify are $4.99 a month for listening on your computer but $9.99 a month to also listen on your smartphone.  The New York Times is $15/month for reading online and smartphone, $20 for online and tablet, and $35 for online, smartphone and tablet.  Why the heck is that?  It’s the same damn words.  Why would they care where you read their paper.

Netflix charges $7.99 a month and you can watch it on a whole array of possible devices.

JWH – 4/24/12

Classic Science Fiction Books on Audio, Kindle and Nook

First off, look at the PDF report I made:  Classics of Science Fiction on Audio, Kindle, and Nook.  [Excel version.] What I did was take the ranked list from the Classics of Science Fiction web site and make a spreadsheet adding columns for Audio, Kindle, Nook and In Print.  By “In Print” I meant there was a paper copy for sale.  I then looked for the books on Amazon, B&N and Audible.com web sites, marking their columns Yes or No.

The original Classics of Science Fiction list was pulled from a database of SF titles that had been recommended from 28 different sources.  The final list were all books that had been on at least 7 of the recommended lists.  What I wanted to know is how well these books are represented in ebook and audiobook editions.

Of the 193 titles, 143 can still be bought as old fashion books.  81 can be listened to as audio books, 69 read on the Kindle and 64 on the Nook.  So a little less than half are available as audio books, and about a third as ebooks.  That doesn’t sound too bad.

However, if you use just a Kindle for reading, two thirds are not available, so that does feel bad.  Or if you’re an audiobook fanatic, a little more than half are unavailable.

35 books were not available from any source and 35 books were available from all four sources.  I made the all sources blue, and the no sources red.  Some of the red books might be available from other sources like print on demand, for ebook readers other than Kindle or Nook, or even on the web as public domain. 

Many of the red titles were collections, so I don’t worry about them going out of print.  Often a writer’s short stories get recollected under new titles.  If I saw a new collection that appears to have most of the original stories I counted the old title as being in print.

What’s troublesome is the number of novels that are no longer available.  Should John Brunner’s Stand On Zanibar really be considered a classic if no one is selling it?  Some of these novels do come back into print every decade or so, so if this list was made again in a year it would all be different.  Yet, I would think with the advent of ebooks all books will become “in print” digitally.

Some of the short story collections really should be in print today because they are major collections that deserve to maintain their identity, such as:

  • Adventures in Time and Space edited by Healy & McComas
  • Before the Golden Age edited by Isaac Asimov
  • The Past Through Tomorrow by Robert A. Heinlein

Someday I might reevaluate this list and remove the books that people have obviously lost interest in, and remove most of the short story collections, and titles that really shouldn’t be listed as science fiction, like Gulliver’s Travels and Animal Farm.  They are on here because fans polls or critics included them, but I think they shouldn’t be.

I’m also surprised by how many famous SF books are not available on the Kindle or Nook.  Do some authors not like ebooks and refuse to let their work appear in digital editions, or are there legal problems, or do some publishers think ebooks compete too well with print editions?

What’s fascinating is some books are only available in audiobook editions, like The Lensman series from E. E. “Doc” Smith.

JWH – 9/4/10

Revised 9/5/10:  I replaced the reference to Frank Herbert’s Under Pressure to John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar because Chistopher Carey below pointed out that Under Pressure is also known as The Dragon in the Sea.  Thanks for that information.  I also found a little know hardback version of The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke.  I also added an Excel version because of a reader request.

I also changed the totals in various places.  I don’t know if it’s going to be practical to update the essay every time I update the spreadsheet/pdf report.

Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge by Mike Resnick

“Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge” is the Hugo and Nebula Award winning novella from 1994, that was produced as an audiobook two years ago by Audible Frontiers.  I read the story when it came out and remembered being impressed, but I just couldn’t remember the details, so I listened to audiobook version, beautifully  narrated  by Jonathan Davis, and now it’s etched into my brain again.  I wonder how much I’ll remember about the story in 16 years?  I hate that my mind is a sieve.  And maybe, since I’m writing a review here, that will further reinforce my memory.

“Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge” is available to read online at Subterranean Press, and reprinted in these anthologies.  “Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge” is a fantasy allegory in science fiction drag about alien anthropologists finding seven artifacts at Olduvai Gorge that tell the story of extinct mankind.  Mankind had conquered the galaxy and the aliens both admired and hated us.  They wanted to know what drove humans to destroy everything we touched.  You can think of the recent film Avatar as an eighth story about homo sapiens’s impact on the galaxy.

I really hated the way Avatar painted humanity so thoroughly brutal and selfishly uncaring.  When I tell friends about this, they tell me that’s how they see humans too.  It’s certainly the way Mike Resnick paints us in “Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge,” but he does it with more finesse than James Cameron.

The audio production of “Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge” runs two hours and twenty minutes and is seven short stories encased in a fictional frame.  Resnick infuses his firsthand knowledge of Africa into this tale, and uses Olduvai Gorge as the touchstone setting for the seven visions and the frame.  It works fantastically well on audio, and reminds me of a shorter version of Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man.  I’ve always considered Bradbury the anti-science fiction science fiction writer because he fears the future, and sees so much horror in the nature of man.  “Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge” could be a homage to Bradbury.  I always like Mike Resnick’s prose because he’s better than most science fiction writers at blending emotion into his stories.  One of my all-time favorite short stories is his “Travels with My Cats.” [Also on audio at Escape Pod.]

I review a lot of science fiction, but the story review that gets the most hits is “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury.  My guess is the story is often taught in school, and if it wasn’t so long, I’d suggest teachers should replace “The Veldt” with “Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge.”  Both are cautionary tales about the evil side of humanity, a perfect Rorschach test for young minds to contemplate our reality.  How do you judge humanity after reading “Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge?”  Are we inherently flawed?  Are we evil?  Not only do we threaten all other life forms, we lean towards the self-destructive.  And if we’re not evil, are we just stupid, aggressive and unrelentingly unaware?

Robert A. Heinlein used to brag that mankind is the most dangerous animal around and any intelligent life on other planets should get out of our way.  There’s a lot of extinct species on this planet that would agree with him.  “Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge” agrees with this sentiment, but who is Mike Resnick warning?  I don’t think his message is to aliens from outer space.  Are we merely meant to accept this story at face value?  Or does Resnick expect us to smarten up?

JWH – 2/2/10