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Non-Rulebook Reading

December 8, 2008

It started with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, as so many geek journeys do. I read the quadrilogy (including The Hobbit) once, twice, and eventually came back for a third time. I visited Tolkien's Eagle & Child pub in Oxford to really get the full effect. Eventually I moved on to try other Tolkien works, but they didn't keep my interest in the same way and I gave up on Tolkien. Next up was Frank Herbert's Dune. It blew me away. I read it once and knew that I hadn't even scratched the surface, so I read it again. Then I moved on to Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune, and Chapterhouse: Dune. They were good (especially Children of Dune and Heretics of Dune), but not great, and they all paled in comparison to the original. I went back and re-read Dune for a third time and cherished it even more. Then I made the mistake of buying the Prelude to Dune prequel trilogy by Frank's son Brian Herbert and co-author Kevin J. Anderson. I read most of the first book Dune: House Atreides before giving up and running far away from the Dune universe.

At least I have Brian Herbert to thank for indirectly introducing me to the genius of Isaac Asimov. I ran screaming from Dune and luckily fell into the arms of Asimov's awe inspiring oeuvre. I started with Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation, then moved to Foundation's Edge, Foundation and Earth, Prelude to Foundation, and Forward the Foundation. These seven books were the best series I'd ever read. I hungrily looked for more Asimov. Next up was Elijah Baley in the Robot Series, including Caves of Steel, Naked Sun, Robots of Dawn, Robots and Empire. Another great series, but I needed more robot stories, so I turned to I Robot and The Complete Robot. The Empire Series seemed like the logical next step, so I spent some time with Pebble in the Sky, The Stars, Like Dust, and The Currents of Space.

Asimov had firmly entrenched himself as my new favorite author, so I devoured everything of his that I could find, enjoying Nemesis, The Gods Themselves, Nightfall, The End of Eternity, and The Martian Way. Gold, Magic, and Fantastic Voyage left me a bit cold, so I re-read the seven books in the Foundation series, and enjoyed them and Asimov more than ever. Somehow I followed that up with the same mistake that I made with the Dune universe; I guess I hadn't learned my lesson. I bought the Second Foundation trilogy, including Foundation's Fear by Gregory Benford, Foundation and Chaos by Greg Bear, and Foundation's Triumph by David Brin. Just like with the Prelude to Dune trilogy, I got most of the way through the first book Foundation's Fear before giving up and running away from the Foundation universe. I had heard good things about the Second Foundation trilogy, and didn't expect it to be nearly as miserable as it was, but I guess I need to stop dabbling in authors borrowing a universe from its creator, whether its Dune or Foundation.

This time I ran so far away that I left science fiction altogether and fell down the rabbit hole that is George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire. I got to meet Arya, Tyrion, Jon, and the rest of the gang. I enjoyed Game of Thrones, Clash of Kings, Storm of Swords, and even Feast for Crows, although less so. I eagerly awaited Dance of Dragons, and then I waited some more and some more. I wasn't used to reading an author that was still alive and writing -- It was surprisingly painful. So I re-read all four of the Song of Ice and Fire books while waiting for the release of Dance of Dragons. It was supposed to be timed perfectly so that I could transition seamlessly from Book 4 to Book 5, but I finished just as the release date was delayed yet again. I was left with a void and nothing to read, having already read all of my favorites multiple times.

I tentatively decided to revisit science fiction with Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I promptly decided that Clarke would be my new Asimov and picked up a plethora of Clarke's books. I enjoyed 2010: Odyssey Two and am currently reading 2061: Odyssey Three (with 3001 waiting in the wings). In the meantime, I've also plowed through Songs of Distant Earth and Childhood's End, both of which were very good, although not quite as enjoyable as 2001 and 2010. I'm also currently working my way slowly through The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke. Rendezvous with Rama is on tap, and certainly its three sequels too if its as good as I hope. I'm enjoying Clarke, but worried that he'll run out fairly soon at this rate since he wasn't nearly as prolific as Asimov -- almost nobody is. So I'm already looking ahead towards what will come next.

Wikipedia tells me that Robert Heinlein rounds out the "Big Three" with Asimov and Clarke, which perks up my ears, although makes me wonder how they could have forgotten Herbert the Elder. Perhaps then Heinlein should follow Clarke, but the question remains: which Heinlein? Stranger in a Strange Land, Starship Troopers, and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress all seem like viable candidates, but I want to choose wisely here so that I give him a fair shot.

Dune still stands as my single favorite book. Foundation reigns supreme as my favorite series of books. But what next? Clarke is allowing me to escape from my rut of reading and re-reading the same works over and over, but he feels like a stop-gap measure that won't last much longer. Where do I turn? Perhaps Bear and Brin did a better job capturing the spirit of the Foundation universe than Benford and I should return to the Second Foundation trilogy? Perhaps Heinlein is in fact the next logical step, but do I start with his early novels or jump right to his later works? Will Martin finally finish Dance of Dragons by the time the clock strikes midnight on 3001 and Rama? Or is there something else out there that I'm missing entirely that I might enjoy... or that might even rival Dune and Foundation?