The Browser's Bookweb
Science Fiction Shelf

The Postman by David Brin

"The Earth had spun six thousand times since flames blossomed and cities died."

Jacket text:

    He was a survivor—a wanderer who traded tales for food and shelter in the dark and savage aftermath of a devastating war.

    Fate touches him one chill winter's day when he borrows the jacket of a long-dead postal worker to protect himself from the cold. The old, worn uniform still has power as a symbol of hope, and with it he begins to weave his greatest tale, of a nation on the road to recovery.

    This is the story of a lie that became the most powerful kind of truth. A timeless novel as urgently compelling as War Day and Alas, Babylon, David Brin's The Postman is the dramatically moving saga of a man who rekindled the spirit of America through the power of a dream, from a modern master of science fiction.

Forget the recent Razzie-award-sweeping movie adaptation of The Postman; the book is spectacular. Its quietly haunting lyricism will stay with you long after you've finished the novel. Several other books in the bookweb deal with nuclear war and its aftermath: check out The Curve of Binding Energy, Hiroshima, and Mushroom in the non-fiction section. If I succeed in getting you hooked on interactive fiction, try Infocom's Trinity—it's widely considered one of the best works of IF in the genre's history.

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The Ultimate Hitchhikers Guide by Douglas Adams

"Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun . . ."

No jacket text here, because my copy is so ancient that the dustcover is long gone. (In fact, my copy is so old, it's actually not the Ultimate Guide, but the More Than Complete version, which turned out to be not so complete when Adams published Mostly Harmless a few years later.) The five-book trilogy is now a classic, and this version includes all the individual books — The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, the Universe and Everything, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, and Mostly Harmless — plus the "definitive" introduction to the series and the short story "Young Zaphod Plays it Safe." The Hitchhiker's Guide, a longtime favourite of mine, is definitely on the stranded-on-a-desert-island library list. If you've read the books, pick up the Ultimate Guide so you'll have them all in one nice, easily findable place; if you haven't, get your copy right this minute. Don't you want to know what all those #42 jokes are about? And why AltaVista's translation website is called babelfish?

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Axiomatic by Greg Egan

"I was six years old when my parents told me that there was a small, dark jewel inside my skull, learning to be me."

Jacket text:

    From bio engineering to the wilder shores of physics, from cyberpunk to the electronic frontier; Greg Egan's first collection of short fiction is powerful, shocking and unmissable.

    The Hundred Light Year Diary
    Scientists can 'bounce' messages from the future back to the present — but there's no guarantee that they'll tell the truth . . .

    Learning To Be Me
    Crystalline minds may take the place of human brains, but where does the self really lie?

    Lovers exchange bodies and minds — but their experiments go just that little bit too far, proving that you can have too much of a good thing.

    Powerful writing from a voice at the cutting edge of science fiction.

    "One of the genre's great idea men."
    The Times

    "Brilliant. Fantastic, mind-stretching . . . Revel in it. We'll not see its like for a while."

    "Reveals wonders with an artistry equal to his audacity. Enough to restore anyone's faith in the possibilities of science fiction . . . One of the best I have ever read."
    —Brian Stableford, New York Review of Science Fiction

    Contents: The Infinite Assassin, The Hundred-Light-Year Diary, Eugene, The Caress, Blood Sisters, Axiomatic, The Safe-Deposit Box, Seeing, A Kidnapping, Learning To Be Me, The Moat, The Walk, The Cutie, Into Darkness, Appropriate Love, The Moral Virologist, Closer, Unstable Orbits in the Space of Lies

There's going to be quite a lot of Greg Egan fiction in the bookweb, since he's my favourite author, and Axiomatic is the one book I drag everywhere with me: if I go away for a weekend, it goes in the backpack. Two of the stories are online at Eidolon magazine's website. They're good, of course, but not nearly the best stories in the book (that title, IMHO, goes to "Into Darkness" and "The Safe-Deposit Box"). For more info, you can also check out Greg Egan's Homepage.

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Luminous by Greg Egan

"I didn't take the subway. I needed the cold air to clear my head. So I walked back into the city, making my way between the ruins of the incomprehensible past, and the heralds of the unimaginable future."

    Greg Egan is the author of some of the most surprising and intuitive short fictions in the genre. His stories range from near future predictions to far future, far space improvisations and this new collection includes amongst others "The Planck Dive," "Transition Dreams," "Our Lady of Chernobyl," and the title story "Luminous."

    "The Universe may be stranger than we can imagine, but it's going to have a tough time outdoing Egan."
    New Scientist

    "[Greg Egan] reveals wonders with an artistry equal to his audacity."
    New York Review of Science Fiction

    Contents: Chaff, Mitochondrial Eve, Luminous, Mister Volition, Cocoon, Transition Dreams, Silver Fire, Reasons to be Cheerful, Our Lady of Chernobyl, The Plank Dive

What a surprise—another Egan book! This is his second (well, third, but Our Lady of Chernobyl is out of print, and three of the four stories in that collection are reprinted here) collection of short stories. Axiomatic is still my favourite, but Luminous is also pretty mind-blowing, especially the title story. It's not available in the U.S., but hey, that's what FedEx is for. Alternative acquisition method: Egan has recently uploaded the entire contents of Luminous to Fictionwise, an e-books store. You can pick up the stories piecemeal there.

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Only Forward by Michael Marshall Smith

"I was not going to sleep tonight. Someone had to watch over Alkland, and wake him from such dreams as might come. Someone had to play hero, had to know that little bit more, had to be that tiny step ahead that keeps the story moving. And always, in my life, that someone is me."

    Stark is the hero the future is waiting for — God help it. He's smart, alarmingly cool, and has immaculate taste in shirts. He's a troubleshooter in the City, a lawless sprawl of Neighbourhoods which covers the country from coast to coast. Each is totally geared to the desires of those who want to live in it, from can-do corporate types, through deranged criminals, to people who just don't like loud noises.

    Stark accepts the job from Zenda Renn, the human face of the Action Centre — where people who have to be doing something all the time hang out. Someone's missing. Zenda needs him found, and soon.

    In a world where the past and future, reality and dreams meet and have a fist fight, Stark is the only man who can make the difference. Time's running out and there's no going back. Only forward.

    "Very funny and decidedly surreal."

    "A genuinely new twist . . . with a punchline of Crying Game proportions."
    —Time Out

    "A storytelling skill that can only be described as pure genius."

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy describes the effects of a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster as rather like "having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick." That's also a fairly accurate description of reading Only Forward. It works on a zillion different levels, and the ending is the biggest mindfuck I've encountered in a long time, possibly ever. I really wasn't sure what section to list this in — it looks most like SF or Fantasy, but I could also make a case for it being straight fiction. Hmm. Read it.

Also recommended: anyone who likes Neil Gaiman's books will love Only Forward, and vice versa.