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My Top 10 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Novels: #2 – Flowers For Algernon

April 29, 2011 1 comment

#2 – Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (1966)


This is the only book I’ve ever read that has actually made me cry.

Yup, this 200 pound dude has actually starting shedding tears while sitting and reading a book. This  book.

Algernon is a laboratory mouse which has undergone a procedure to increase its intelligence. When the procedure works, the scientists decide to try the procedure on a mentally challenged person named Charlie.

The book is written in the first-person from Charlie’s perspective. Charlie was asked to write progress reports before and after the experiment, and this creates a very unique reading experience.

The first few reports are before the procedure. Charlie has poor grammar, spelling mistakes and finds it difficult to write very much. But you gain a sense of connection with Charlie, especially when he discusses how he is treated by his family and co-workers.

As the procedure begins to take effect, Charlie’s writing becomes more lucid and he actually starts to do his own scientific research. He falls in love. Basically, he begins to live a normal life.

Then, Algernon begins to deteriorate, and Charlie wonders if the same will happen to him.

Despite being published 45 years ago, the themes of ethical scientific research and treatment of the disabled are still very much relevant.

It’s an incredible book that shared the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1966.

“all my life I wantid to be smart and not dumb and my mom always tolld me to try and lern just like Miss Kinnian tells me but its very hard to be smart and even when I lern something in Miss Kinnians class at the school I ferget alot.”

– Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon

All Entries

#10 – Watership Down

#9 – The Harry Potter Series

#8 – The Wheel of Time Series

#7 – The Stars My Destination

#6 – To Say Nothing of the Dog

#5 – Doomsday Book

#4 – Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal

#3 – The Farseer Trilogy

#2 – Flowers for Algernon

#1 – The Martian Chronicles

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My Top 10 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Novels: #3 – The Farseer Trilogy

April 28, 2011 4 comments

#3 – The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb (1995 – 1997)



Assassin's Apprentice: Book 1 of the Farseer Trilogy

Robin Hobb’s writing style has a lot of similarities with George RR Martin. She makes her audience identify with the main character, and then she makes that character suffer.

She also creates villains so evil that I get physically angry when I read her books. I get invested in the character’s struggle and I cannot put the book down.

The Farseer Trilogy follows the story of FitzChivalry Farseer; the bastard child of a murdered prince who has to grow up in the castle where, were he conceived legitimately, he would have one day ruled.

Instead, he works as a stable-hand until the King decides he could be trained in a more  useful purpose: an assassin.

While it is set in a fantasy world, there is only a limited amount of magic. The two types are called ‘the skill’, which is the ability to speak to others minds and influence their thoughts. The second is called ‘the wit’, a magic which allows those with the talent for it to speak to animals. This magic is considered ‘unclean’ and its use is forbidden.

Of course, poor Fitz has both the skill and the wit. Craziness.

Fitz manages to befriend the King’s court jester, known only as ‘the Fool’. The Fool however, is more than what he seems.

The second and third books expand the story into an all-out struggle for Fitz and the Fool the save not only the Kingdom, but the entire world.

Although the story is considered ‘epic’, it is the characters that truly drive this story. It is also interesting to read a story written by a woman, but told in the first-person perspective of a male character.

This is definitely a trilogy to check out if you have any interest at all in fantasy novels.

“The fight isn’t over until you win it, Fitz. That’s all you have to remember. No matter what the other man says.”

– Robin Hobb, The Farseer Trilogy

All Entries

#10 – Watership Down

#9 – The Harry Potter Series

#8 – The Wheel of Time Series

#7 – The Stars My Destination

#6 – To Say Nothing of the Dog

#5 – Doomsday Book

#4 – Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal

#3 – The Farseer Trilogy

#2 – Flowers for Algernon

#1 – The Martian Chronicles

My Top 10 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Novels: #5 – Doomsday Book

April 26, 2011 Leave a comment

#5 – Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (1992)



Another novel by Connie Willis which follows time travelling historians. This time, a history student is sent back to the 14th century, further back in time than any history student before her.

She wishes to go back to the 1320, but she ‘accidentally’ arrives in the year 1348; the time of the Black Death epidemic in England.

The story then switches back and forth between the 14 century and the 21st century, where a history professor desperately tries to bring his lost student home. However, another wrench is thrown in the machinery when a flu epidemic breaks out in the 21st century as well.

Is it possible the Black Death came forward in time?

Despite the dark overtones of being in the worst flu epidemic in history, Willis manages to make this more of a dark-comedy than a straight up thriller.

The novel won both the Hugo and Nebula awards and is considered one of the greatest works of science fiction in recent history.

All Entries

#10 – Watership Down

#9 – The Harry Potter Series

#8 – The Wheel of Time Series

#7 – The Stars My Destination

#6 – To Say Nothing of the Dog

#5 – Doomsday Book

#4 – Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal

#3 – The Farseer Trilogy

#2 – Flowers for Algernon

#1 – The Martian Chronicles

My Top 10 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Novels: #6 – To Say Nothing of the Dog

April 25, 2011 Leave a comment

#6 – To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis (1997)


Connie Willis has become one of my favourite authors. Most of her books take place in the same universe, in which University history professors have access to time-travel technology to help them study the past.

‘To Say Nothing of the Dog’ is a comic science fiction story following the (mis)adventures of Ned Henry and Verity Kindle, two folks from the year 2057 who have been sent back to pre-World War II England.

Their objective is to find the ‘Bishop’s Bird Stump’, a piece of Victorian…something, that is necessary for a wealthy American woman to complete the restoration of the Coventry Cathedral, which was destroyed by German bombings during the war.

While the main story sounds a tad dry, Willis’ hilarious writing style,  lovable characters and possible time paradoxes make this a real page turner; something difficult to do for a comedy novel.

“Cats, as you know, are quite impervious to threats”

– Connie Willis, To Say Nothing of the Dog

All Entries

#10 – Watership Down

#9 – The Harry Potter Series

#8 – The Wheel of Time Series

#7 – The Stars My Destination

#6 – To Say Nothing of the Dog

#5 – Doomsday Book

#4 – Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal

#3 – The Farseer Trilogy

#2 – Flowers for Algernon

#1 – The Martian Chronicles

My Top 10 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Novels: #8 – The Wheel of Time Series

April 23, 2011 1 comment

#8 – The Wheel of Time Series (1990 – 2012)



Cover of

This epic 14-book series is finally coming to a close in 2012. If you haven’t read the series, here is the skinny:

The Dark One is going to break out of his sealed prison to destroy the world and a group of kids from a small village have to stop him.

You know, that old gag.

Even though the premise is a bit overused, the first 5 or 6 books of the series were great. Literally, fantastic! Engaging characters, funny dialogue, magic and Trollocs.

Obviously drawing from Tolkien, the author, Robert Jordan, expanded on Tolkien and created an incredibly detailed and believable world in which all these events transpire.

But then, things went to hell.

Jordan had created such a detailed world, and his books sold so well, that he went a bit nuts with it. Books 6 through 11 had a much slower pace, more politics, more subplots, and less action. Most of these middle-books were by no means bad; they were still entertaining and I somewhat enjoyed them. But they had nothing on those first 6 installments.

So many of Jordan’s followers began to lose faith. With 2-3 years between books and very few plot advances, people were understandably frustrated and wondered if the series would ever get finished.

Then Robert Jordan died.

He passed away on September 16, 2007 from cardiac amyloidosis. But he did pass on all his notes to another fantasy author: Brandon Sanderson.

Sanderson took over the final books of the series, three in total. Two have been released and they have received rave reviews. It seems the Wheel has turned and the magic of the series has returned.

So that is where we are now. Waiting on the very last book. Devout fans will be flocking to the bookstores when ‘A Memory of Light’ is released, supposedly in March of 2012.

And I will be one of them.

Despite the flaws of some of the middle installements of this series, ‘The Wheel of Time’ is an incredible work of epic fantasy and should not be missed.

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.

– Robert Jordan, The Wheel of Time

All Entries

#10 – Watership Down

#9 – The Harry Potter Series

#8 – The Wheel of Time Series

#7 – The Stars My Destination

#6 – To Say Nothing of the Dog

#5 – Doomsday Book

#4 – Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal

#3 – The Farseer Trilogy

#2 – Flowers for Algernon

#1 – The Martian Chronicles

My Top 10 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Novels: #9 – The Harry Potter Series

April 22, 2011 1 comment

#9 – The Harry Potter Series



Jacket art of the Bloomsbury edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher

Most people love it, some people haaaate it. And frankly, when my little sister started gobbling up these books back in elementary school, I was pretty skeptical.

They looked like kiddie nonsense and I wanted nothing to do with them. But then,  my sister was sick  in the hospital so it fell to me to wait in line at the bookstore with all the folks dressed as wizards in order to get her pre-ordered copy of  ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ as soon as it was released. So I had a bad association with the books until I got to college.

Waiting for the book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in a Californian bookshop (Borders, Sunnyvale), 5 minutes before the books official publication. Photo by Zack Sheppard

Then, friends started reading them. The movies were making millions (billions, even). They were even teaching the books in some of the University’s English classes! I decided I should at least give them a shot.

When I did, I was dragged kicking and screaming into a world of boys living under cupboards and giant groundskeepers and fortune-telling wizard teachers.

But once I was in, I did not want to leave.

The books just get better as they go along. The story becomes more intricate; the complex web of characters get more evolved and grown up. By the time Harry and his pals get to be 17, they are in the middle of a life and death struggle that is as far from a Roald Dahl children’s fantasy book as you could get.

So if you love them, great! Me too!

If you hate them, well that’s your opinion.

And if you haven’t read them, give them a try. These books will appeal to all ages and you won’t be able to put them down.

‘Scars can come in useful. I have one myself above my left knee which is a perfect map of the London Underground.’

– J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

All Entries

#10 – Watership Down

#9 – The Harry Potter Series

#8 – The Wheel of Time Series

#7 – The Stars My Destination

#6 – To Say Nothing of the Dog

#5 – Doomsday Book

#4 – Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal

#3 – The Farseer Trilogy

#2 – Flowers for Algernon

#1 – The Martian Chronicles

The Science Hall of Fame

January 13, 2011 Leave a comment

There is one for pretty much every sport, a Walk of Fame for Hollywood stars, and one for Rock and Roll stars.

But there has never been a Science Hall of Fame, even though scientists have had a larger impact on our world than all the people in them other Halls of Fame put together!

Until now.

A few weeks ago, a paper was published online (and appears in print this week) in Science entitled “Quantitative Analysis of Culture using Millions of Digitized Books”. What these researchers did was use Google’s effort to digitize books (Google Books) which has currently digitized about 15 million books, roughly 12% of all books ever printed.

They used a subset of these already digitized books, 5.2 million, and were able to create a corpus of data wherein you could search for a particular word or group of words (i.e. “slavery” or “The Great War”) and see how often those words appeared in print as a function of the year. The years available are between 1800 and 2000.

This ability to study how often certain names and subjects appear in print allow researchers to study human history and culture in a new quantitative fashion. The authors of the study call it “culturomics”.

The authors  found some pretty interesting results, including finding that the English language has grown by 70% in the last 50 years; they were able to see the decline in use of certain words (who says “chide” anymore?) and found that the average age of peak prominence for a celebrity is 75.

After this study was published, John Bohannon, writer for Science, and an author of the culturomics paper Adrian Veres, teamed up to find which scientists were most popular in literature, and create this Science Hall of Fame. It is highly quantitative in nature, which is quite poetic for a science hall of fame if you think about it.

Scientific fame is measured in units of milliDarwins, one-thousandth of the average annual frequency that Charles Darwin’s name appears in English-language books from the year he was 30 years old (1839) until 2000. Here are the top 25:

You can go to the site and look up your favourite scientists, or you can also play with the raw data yourself and do your own studies, which has already caused me to be very unproductive at work today.

I’d also like to point out that the first 3 Nobel Prize Winners on that list are all physicists. Just sayin…