Thursday, March 22, 2012

More Good Asimov Stories

Though not quite as spectacular as the stories listed in my first Asimov post, these are pretty darn good science fiction, all found in Isaac Asimov, the Complete Stories; Volume 1 
-"Franchise"—Future voting is done by a computer who figures out what the people want, then selects just one voter to answer what it doesn't know.

-"The Watery Place"—Very short, and reading more like a joke, this tells the story of respectful aliens making contact for the first time.

-"The Immortal Bard"­—Shakespeare travels to the future.  This also reads more like a joke.

-"Someday"—In a world where people don't read, a sad electronic storyteller tells fairytales that get distorted by a software upgrade.  

-"Spell My Name with an S"—Big consequences stem from little actions. 

-"In a Good Cause"—A rather slow but fascinating exploration of the politics of war and peace. 

-"What If"—Fate and the dangerous question of "what if…?"

-"It's Such a Beautiful Day"—In a sterile inside world, a boy discovers the pleasure of the outside.

-"Strikebreaker"—Untouchables in a modern society. 

-"What Is This Thing Called Love?"—Androgenous aliens try to understand human love and reproduction.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Birth of a Lemon

It's the middle of March, and here in Arizona, that means citrus blossom season:  that sweet pervading perfume in the air, bees buzzing around fruit trees, and the promise of a crop of lemons we won't possibly be able to use up, even if we give away 200 pounds.

So here's a photo-recap of the stages of lemon blossoms:  
Buds on my lemon tree
The buds turn into flowers.
Then the petals fall off, revealing tiny green nubs that will turn into lemons with the amazing precision of nature.
I took all these pictures today, on the same tree.  The branches are practically heavy with blossoms.  It's one of those yearly miracles I love so much.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

"Catching Fire" by Suzanne Collins

In honor of the much-anticipated premier of The Hunger Games movie on Monday (which I'm super excited about), I thought I'd post about this amazing series.

Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins' sequel to The Hunger Games, is another fantastic read.  Nothing can top the first, for its originality and excitement, but Catching Fire does a good job. 

In The Hunger Games, the powerful Capitol forces its subjects to participate in a yearly televised game to the death, to show the once-rebellious districts who's in charge.  It's a disturbing system, one I'd hope would never really come to pass, and what terrifies me most is how people go along with it.

In Catching Fire, politics and the seeds of rebellion begin to sneak into the story.  A great direction for the series, I think.  Contestants start working together, and Katniss, the main character, realizes that bigger things are afoot.  In the third book, Mockingjay, one of the main themes is Katniss' struggle with her role as a simple pawn in a larger game, and this is where that really starts. 

I also love the development of Katniss and Peeta's relationship (yes, I'm firmly in camp Peeta). 

Suzanne Collins' writing is emotional and absorbing, and Catching Fire becomes a page turner almost as heart-pounding as The Hunger Games

The ending is a cliffhanger in the grand style of The Empire Strikes Back.  I had a hard time making myself ration Mockingjay, the third and final book in the series.

Suzanne Collins, you deserve all the acclaim you're getting.  It's a horrifying premise, and maybe it glorifies violence despite the main characters' hatred of it, but it's still the most engaging set of books I've read in a long time.

My rating:  5

To read more about the movie, click here.
For my post on The Hunger Games, click here.
To buy Catching Fire, click here.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Birth Year Reading Challenge

I just found an interesting literary pursuit:  The Birth Year Reading Challenge from Hotchpot Café.  Participants find books published in the year of their birth and pledge to read them this year.  If you're interested, hop over to Hotchpot Café, and then check out the NYT best-seller list for the very week you were born at

After a bit of research, here's my list: 

Matarese Circle—Robert Ludlum—Number one on the NYT best-seller list the week I was born.  I've never read any Ludlum.  Spy novels really aren't my genre.  But it's very Cold War, the last gasps of which played a big role in my childhood. 

Good as Gold—Joseph Heller—Number two on the NYT list the week of my birth.  I read Catch 22 in the Czech Republic.  I didn't exactly like it all.  The profanity and "adult" material detracted from the experience for me.  I couldn't keep track of all the characters or the timeline.  Once I decided to stop trying to keep everything straight, however, I just melted into the insanity of it all:  the bizarre, contradictory, implausible nature of war and life.  Brilliant and powerful book, if not always to my taste.  I'd liked to see how Good as Gold compares.  

Sophie's Choice—William Styron.  I haven't seen the movie, but the book's been on my "to read" list for a while.  The effects of the Holocaust are far-reaching.

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler—Italo Calvino.  Famous for being written in second person, and playing with the roles of reader and author, this book intrigues me.  Like Catch 22, who knows if I'll actually like it, but I'm open. describes it as a "triumphant response to the question of whether the art of fiction could survive the vast changes taking place in the communications technology of our world."  In 1979?  He's probably rolling in his grave now.

Hard Laughter—Anne Lamott.  I'm just finishing up on her Bird by Bird;  Some Instructions on Writing and Life.  She has some clever lines and good advice (most of it more about mindset than actual skill development), but I find the book a little whiny.  She talks on and on about how torturous it is to be a writer, until I'm kind of like, "why do you write, then?"  I think that's just her brand of humor, though I can only take it in small doses.  I'd like to see what her novels are like.  This is her first published, and she talks about it a lot in Bird by Bird.