Book Series for the Long Haul

I figured now is as good a time as any to recommend a few longer book series to help us all pass the time while we try not to think about the state of things. Don’t worry, all series on this list are completed so you don’t have to wait for the next one.

It’s always good to get lost in a book. Admittedly, most of these series fall into either fantasy or science fiction, but I have read them and greatly enjoyed them.

The Wheel of Time

The Eye of the WorldThe first series I thought of was the one I read last year and may be the longest I’ve ever read. The Wheel of Time is fourteen books long (fifteen with the prequel) and each book averages at about 800 pages. This epic fantasy series was incredible and I consumed it all in about 9 months. The first book is The Eye of the World. If you decide to dive in, there is a great community of fans on social media sites (at least there is on Twitter) and Amazon is currently adapting it into a television series. I also tracked my way through this series as I was reading it, so you can read my reactions and thoughts on each book after you read each installment to see if we had the same thoughts about the events. You can find my posts on this series on my list of Book Recommendations above.

 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyIf you a prefer a more whimsical read, then The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams may be for you. This series of five books is an absolutely absurd story filled with space travels and nonsense that is joyous to read. Yes, the premise does include (spoiler warning even though the book starts with this) the destruction of Earth, but the journey afterward is a funny exploration of the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.

 

The Riftwar Saga

Magician Raymond E Feist

The Riftwar Saga was written by Raymond E. Feist and begins with The Magician. As you may have figured out, this series is a fantasy series. It consists of four core books but there are several other books the extend the story into The Riftwar Cycle. I’ve read the core series and only a few of the books that take place immediately after the main four. I greatly enjoyed them and hope you do to.

Dune

Dune

Dune by Frank Herbert is one of the best science fiction books I’ve read in the past several years. Admittedly, I have only read the first book. The series extends beyond the first novel (which can be read as a standalone book if you prefer) to include nearly 20 books in total. The first six were written by Frank Herbert and make up the core books. The series was extended by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. A new film adaptation of the original book is being made and should be coming out within a year (I think the original date was this December).

 

Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl's Moving CastleHowl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones is a trilogy aimed at younger audiences, but that just means anyone can read it. I again have to admit I’ve only read the first book of the trilogy, but this was because I did not know it had sequels until recently. I am definitely going to read them. There is an animated film adaptation of this first book made by Studio Ghibli that is an excellent watch. They do change a few things (as usually happens with film) but it is a great supplement to the book.

 

The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the RingsSince I think the Lord of the Rings series/trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien has become one of those stories that people will claim to have read but have never actually read, I thought it would be a great time for many people to actually read it. Of course, the movies are phenomenal and do a great job of adapting the series for the screen, which is why I think many people have not actually read the books. There are quite a few differences between the book and screen despite the scripts sticking really closely to the source material. There is much more to Tolkien’s universe as well if you like this series. Outside of The Hobbit which preludes this trilogy, there are supplemental books that expand into areas well outside the main story-line for any who are interested.

 

Harry Potter

Harry Potter

It’s always a great time to re-read Harry Potter. Or finally read it. The series is great and you can even reward yourself by watching the movie adaptations alongside your read-through.

 

The Murderbot Diaries

Okay, this last one is simply a guilty-pleasure recommendation that actually breaks my rule. The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells is not yet completed, but the fifth book comes out next month. The first four books are novella-length, so the series isn’t terrible long, but I think the introverted Murderbot is just a great, fun character who tries to interact with humans a little as possible.Murderbot Series

Solaris

SolarisSolaris by Stanislaw Lem is strange to say the least. The premise is intriguing and I must admit I greatly enjoyed the first half of the book. The second half stalls a bit and gets a little abstract, but overall I think the book is interesting enough to recommend.

Written in 1961, it is a science fiction novel that takes place on a distant planet called Solaris, where the ocean covering nearly the entire surface is discovered to be a sentient life form. We follow a psychiatrist, Kris Kelvin, who travels to the station hovering in the planetary atmosphere. The story takes place in a distant future where humanity has thoroughly mastered space travel and the planet of Solaris is a still unknown entity. A rare, inexplicable puzzle still yet to be solved.

The book itself is an interesting thought experiment that imagines a planet-sized life-form while also delving into what it means to be human; physically and mentally. As I said, the first half really drew me in and made me want to discover how and why the events were taking place. Of course, I had to then finish the novel and the second half was good, don’t get me wrong, but it left me wanting a bit more.

This book has been adapted into film three times (1968, 1972, 2002) with the most recent staring George Clooney. I have not seen any of the adaptations, but I may check them out eventually. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a new adaptation especially since there are many elements that remind me of movies such as Sphere, Alien, or Sunshine. The premise is great enough that I don’t think Hollywood will leave it alone.

The book is approximately 200 pages so it is a fairly quick read. I first heard of this book from a student who was reading it for a class. I then saw it again mentioned in a collection of essays by Ursula K. Le Guin who discussed a few other of Lem’s books which I do want to read. I think Lem has a good writing style and, from what I have read, he has interesting ideas that encompass psychological or philosophical ideas. This alone makes me interested in reading more of his work. It helps that he is able to frame the ideas around an interesting narrative.

Happy Reading.

We

WeWe by Yevgeny Zamyatin is a strange, wild ride that I can only describe as a mixture of Ayn Rand’s Anthem and George Orwell’s 1984. Though We was published long before either of these books were even beginning to be written. It likely influenced Rand and Orwell when writing their own novels. We was written and published exactly 100 years ago and has an interesting history of its own. It was first translated and published in English in 1924, but it almost didn’t get published or survive the political changes happening in Russia after the first World War.

There are strong elements of Russian communism within the novel but the novel as a whole offers a critique of the political system, which created tension between Zamyatin and his own country. In fact, the international publication of We became the reason the Russian government began repressing writers in 1929. Zamyatin elected a self-imposed exile after this book was attacked and removed from Soviet libraries and he was forbidden to publish any future work. He and his wife moved to Paris (with permission from Stalin) in 1931. He later died in 1937 never returning to the country he considered home.

The novel was written at the beginning of what we now know as the communist period of Russian history. We was an examination into a future where such a political system was made perfect, at least in reference to the citizens becoming merely parts of a whole known as The One State. The citizen’s live within a walled city and their days are mapped by the hour and the schedule is strictly followed. Their apartment-style living quarters are made of a futuristic glass material allowing absolutely no privacy. They are all furnished minimally and in exactly the same way. However, there are blinds, but they can only be drawn when an approved “pink ticket” is inserted. This provides privacy for one hour and the tickets are approved only for sexual activity.

Our lead character, D-503, gradually faces changes to his own conditioned way of thinking. The number designation, instead of a name, is echoed in Rand’s Anthem which also presents a society focused on a collective instead of the individual but with different results. I noticed a handful of similarities in plot with Orwell’s 1984However, and again, We preceded both of these novels, but I must admit I liked the latter novels more. We does present its own, intriguing dystopian vision which is important in its own way.

The book did get fairly abstract at times, especially since it is written in journal form through the perspective of D-503 and often uses mathematics to make analogies. They are easily understood but several entries are not fully formed or lack description. I cannot say whether or not the translation from Russian into English accounts for the lack of clarity or if it was written that way with purpose. I’ll let you be the judge.

If you are a fan of dystopian novels, which I must admit that I am, you will likely enjoy this book. Dystopian novels are unique because they offer a vision into an imagined future based on events from our own history. They are a commentary of the time they were written but set in worlds where practices of that time, often injustices, are allowed to persist and become normal behaviors within futuristic societies. They are written almost as warnings of what may come to pass. The same applies here but perhaps with more historical contexts.

But it is up to you if you decide to read it. I am merely providing some information that may help you make that decision. Perhaps this is the first time you have heard of this book. I know I only discovered it recently and likely never would have heard of it if I hadn’t read a collection of essays by Ursula K. Le Guin. Should you take the plunge into this strange world, I hope you enjoy it or at least take something of value from its pages.

Happy Reading.

The Murderbot Diaries

Murderbot-novellasThe Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells is a series of novellas centered around an artificial construct with organic, human components. This means the main character is a robot with human parts, which is often called a cyborg, but the semantics are essentially irrelevant because Martha Wells created her own universe and we are lucky to play around in it beside her artificial being who calls itself Murderbot. As with all book recommendations, there will be no spoilers.

The series currently has four installments. All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy. The newest book is titled Network Effect and is set to release in May this year. I say book because this upcoming novel is in fact a full-length, standalone novel whereas the previous books are much shorter and read as continuations of the original story. I won’t be surprised if we see several if not all four of these first books published in a one-volume collection with four parts. They are all quick reads and each could be read easily in one day/afternoon. This is both fantastic and unfortunate. Fantastic because they are easy and fun to read (and you can easily read them all before the new book arrives), but unfortunate because you want more Murderbot (which luckily there are four out already and the fifth on the way).

There are several things I really like about this series. One is the main character who calls themself Murderbot. They are an anti-social being who just wants to watch tv shows all day and not interact with humans. The issue is, they are not considered human and are owned by a company who uses them as a security robot. I really enjoy stories that have introverted characters who slowly learn how to become human, which can be argued as what happens in this story. Argued is the key word here.

The second thing I really like is about the character of Murderbot but came to me via author V.E. Schwab’s twitter account.

V_MBTweet

Of course, Murderbot is genderless because it is fabricated but has human parts (and none of those parts are related to sex). I thought it was fascinating that this was a prime example of how readers create part of the story when reading books. I had projected my own gender on this main character and assumed they were male. I only realized this once it was pointed out. This just goes to show that gender and sex really don’t need to be part of a fictional character and readers can bring their own views into the fictional worlds they enjoy. As a writer myself, I’m glad I now have a prime example to use when/if I ever have to argue gender or sexuality of characters.

If you have read the Murderbot series, did you apply your own gender to Murderbot? I’m curious. If you are female, did you apply a male gender to Murderbot because they exhibit traditionally male stereotypes (protective, destructive, violent, stubborn)?

A few things that made the universe of Murderbot a little frightening for me was the way corporations are represented and how data is constantly collected (legally and illegally) and data-mined for profit. I think such data-mining is currently happening with social media and other programs we use today, but we are only at the very early stages of what is seen in Murderbot. Ever have a conversation about something and then see an add on your phone a few minutes later? Yeah. That’s because companies use any techniques they can to try and get you to buy something. Wells may very well be predicting an unsettling part of our future with this aspect.

To stay true to my “no spoilers” comment at the start. I’ll end the post here. If you like science fiction and space travel and robots, you’ll likely enjoy Murderbot. If you consider yourself introverted, you’ll also likely enjoy Murderbot. If you don’t think you would like Murderbot based on this post, give it a shot anyway. The first book is the perfect size to try it out.

Happy Reading.

On Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le GuinUrsula K. Le Guin was an influential writer and advocate for the progression of science fiction and fantasy into the realms of mainstream literature. She was also a strong advocate for female writers and did what she could to promote equity in publishing. Needless to say, she was a strong-minded and socially aware individual and she has been praised and criticized for these very reasons. To me, she is an inspiration and encourages me to improve myself.

I hate to say I have only recently discovered Le Guin, but what I have read so far has already impacted my own views of writing and the field of writing. I can’t recall when I first discovered who she was (I believe I discovered her from Neil Gaiman), but I do remember when I read her work for the first time. It was The Left Hand of Darkness and I finished it roughly two years ago. She died three weeks later on January 22nd, 2018. I have since read a collection of non-fiction The Language of the Night and watched a documentary titled The Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin.* The documentary was well-one and worth the watch.

Within The Language of the Night, Le Guin discusses much of what the world of science fiction looked like from a writer’s perspective during the 1960’s and 1970’s. It was at this time when the publication of science fiction and fantasy was changing. These two genres, which are often paired together, were looked down upon as a secondary form of writing or considered childish stories. There were a lot of terrible stories written during the first half the 20th century (and the second half as well), but something happened during the second half which changed societies views about these topics. I believe J.R.R. Tolkien was a big influence (mainly on the view of fantasy as a legitimate form of storytelling) primarily with his essay “On Fairy-Stories.” These areas of entertainment still face some resistance today but it is hard to deny that stories written within the classification of either genre are influential and have merit. This is not just because they are extremely popular across the globe, but because they are lasting.

Yes, we are lucky because most of the not-so-great science fiction and fantasy stories written in the 1900’s have been culled by time thus leaving us with the better stories still standing, but there are some hidden gems still out there and I hope they do not fall into obscurity or disappear altogether. I don’t believe Le Guin’s works are at any risk of disappearing. I still need to read many of her books, but the one’s I hear most about are her Earthsea series and the Hainish Cycle (this later series consists of standalone novels and includes The Left Hand of Darkness). My lovely wife bought me the illustrated Earthsea series for our one-year anniversary. I hope to read it this year.

Le Guin is known as one of many essential science fiction authors. She was advocating for the field around the time that these types of books were first being taught in schools. Many people today, myself included, grew up reading fantasy and science fiction in school alongside the other “classic” books. I read The Hobbit in middle school and again in high school (though I had already read it before it was “required”). I read Fahrenheit 451 in high school and loved it. Science fiction and fantasy have become part of the norm. They remain popular and are growing fields. At the time Le Guin was becoming a popular writer of these genres, it was a somewhat niche field. She wanted it to grow and grow it did. In the 1970’s, Le Guin stated that only 1 in 30 writers of science fiction were female. She was a rarity. She worked to encourage women writers and urged them to resist the use of male pseudonyms which was still common at that time. I’m glad that the times have changed and the world of writing is more inclusive than the past, but we still have a ways to go. I, like Le Guin, will advocate however I can to promote diversity and inclusion in all areas of life.

Though many readers believe her work can be a little too political, primarily her non-fiction, I find it mostly reassuring and encouraging. Her writing was her form of learning her social environment and saying what she wanted to say. She wrote stories of worlds where certain aspects of our society were dismissed or exaggerated in order to explore what those fictional societies would look like. This is what I believe makes them so interesting to read. Many of the aspects she writes about are still very much relevant today, nearly fifty years later, and will likely remain for a long time. I think her writing will endure because most of her stories are simply other worlds we can enjoy. Oftentimes they are, but they still hold a gem which we can either discover or ignore depending on what we want from the book. That gem is much like a flag to be raised toward a cause we may wish to stand behind.

Le Guin has influenced many writers who are popular today. I hope she continues to influence writers and others, much like she has influenced me. I may not love all of her works, but I will respect her for who she was and what she believed. Her words survive her and will continue to influence the world to persevere and improve itself. That is the best that any writer can hope for.

 


*Link was available at the time of writing. If the link is unavailable, I recommend searching the web or checking your local library for a copy of this film.