I’m not afraid to admit that I’m a short story junkie. Between novels, I like to read a short story or two to break things up. The format is, well, different. It’s hard to explain, but a good short story captivates me. I enjoy how the characters are developed, and I really enjoy a short story with a strong plot twist. It’s especially satisfying when just enough is left unresolved that I get use to my imagination to complete the story.
I also find that short stories are a good way to explore different authors. If I like their short stories, then there’s a good chance I’ll enjoy their longer form writing too. That’s why I decided to read Selected Stories by Theodore Sturgeon. I had never heard or ready any of his works, so I figured it would be best to start with a collection of his short stories.
What is human consciousness? Is it an abstract concept, an ephemeral state, or a thing that can be captured and stored? If it’s a thing that can be stored, does that “thing” represent who we are? If that thing were put into another body, or a similar body, would we be the same person?
Based on my knowledge, modern science doesn’t have the answer to these questions. Fortunately, the lack of scientific evidence hasn’t stopped people from writing books about or based upon it.
A significant number of science fiction books I read treat the human mind as something that can be captured and stored. Depending on the book, that representation of the mind can live on inside a computer, or it can be placed into and/or transferred between bodies. Seeing how different authors explore the concept is an interesting thought experiment. It begs all sorts of questions such as is the stored representation really me? Will that representation realize it’s a copy? What are the ethical implications if multiple copies of me are active at the same time? It’s a long list that goes on and on.
Given that science fiction has a peculiar way of foreshadowing future technologies, it wouldn’t surprise me if some variation of these visions appear in the future, especially given the desire of those who want to live forever. My latest science fiction read to explore this concept was Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan.
As part of my reading list for the year, I make it a point to include “classic” science fiction. I consider pretty much anything written prior to the year 2000 as classic.
One of the other elements I look for in these classic works is their ability to stand the test of time. I’ve read books from Asimov, Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, Peter Hamilton, Joe Haldeman, Orson Scott Card, and others. I find it fascinating how many things these authors foreshadowed in their novels that have come to pass or are close to happening. It’s even more amazing when you consider that some of these novels were written over 50 years ago, and some are even older!
For my latest classic science fiction read, I read Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. A good friend and former colleague suggested I read Stephenson’s works, and he strongly recommended that I start with this one.
Goodreads tells me I’ve finished 29 books so far this year, but the pace has been very uneven. Some have been a slog that felt more like work. I almost gave up on one or two, which I rarely, if ever do. Others have been a breeze. Fortunately, my latest read, The Term Sheet by Lucas Carlson, fell into the breezy category. It took me less than a week start-to-finish, which is a good pace for me.
Two of my primary reading genres are classic science fiction and short stories. Therefore, I should not have been surprised when my nemesis, the Amazon recommendation engine, suggested I read Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick. And of course, being the compliant subject of our artificially intelligent overlords, I complied and added it to my reading list.
When I construct my reading list for the year, I keep an eye out for new books by my favorite authors, or ones from their catalog that I might not have read yet. Current favorites include Blake Crouch, Eliot Peper, A.G. Riddle, Hugh Howey, William Hertling, Robin Sloan, and Andy Weir.
So last year, when I saw that A.G. Riddle came out with a new trilogy named The Long Winter, I knew it would be both on and near the top of my reading list for this year. I recently finished the first book in the series, Winter World.
I find science fiction fascinating. I’ve written in the past about why I read it. The main reason – it has an uncanny ability to foreshadow the evolution of technology. I’m regularly amazed by an author’s capability to imagine the future.
A case in point is a recurring theme in my science fiction reading – artificial intelligence (better known as AI). In my opinion, we are at the early stages of artificial intelligence. Narrow AI is already here and integrated into our daily routines, whether it be internet searches, directions, or predicting weather patterns. The question is if and when AI becomes more general, and eventually turns into superintelligence. Superintelligence is that point beyond the singularity where machines become smarter than humans at a runaway pace. Predictions abound regarding what happens at that point from catastrophic, apocalyptic outcomes to a wondrous society where all the problems of today have been solved.
In my latest science fiction read, Post-Human (the Omnibus Edition), David Simpson imagines a story arc for AI that starts in the not so distant future and evolves from there.
My reading list is downright crazy. There are over 220 books on my “Want to Read” list on Goodreads. I do my best to prioritize the list every year, but even then a book can sit on it. Such was the case with The Jennifer Project by Larry Enright.
I first came across the book in March, 2017. I’m almost positive it came through an Amazon recommendation or one of their daily deal emails. The description looked good with numerous references to artificial intelligence (AI), so it fit in with my favorite reading genre – science fiction.
I put the book on my 2018 reading list, but it was pretty far down the queue. I moved it up considerably in 2019, but still wasn’t able to get to it. It finally made it up to the top of this year’s list, and I finished it last month.
One of my favorite authors is Blake Crouch. Ever since reading the Wayward Pines trilogy, I’ve made an effort to keep at least one or two Crouch novels in my reading list at all times. So far, I haven’t met a Crouch novel that I didn’t like.
Abandon was the latest book of his that I read. It’s written in classic Crouch style. He doesn’t waste anytime drawing you into the story. He builds the characters on the fly. There’s also a lot of time shifting, which is another characteristic of his writing. There’s also a lot that’s different, which I liked.
In somewhat of a coincidence, the last story left for me to read in Amazon’s Forward Series was The Last Conversation by Paul Tremblay. I didn’t plan it that way. It just kind of happened.
Reading a short story is different than reading a long form novel. The author has a limited amount of pages to develop characters and explore a topic. It means there are usually fewer characters, the pace of the plot tends to be faster, and the author leaves it up to you the reader to fill in more of the details. In a well written short story, the ending is typically a stunning plot twist or reveal – the more unexpected the twist, the better. It’s not unusual for the ending to be abrupt, lacking closure. One gets to use their imagination to create their own ending, or to debate possible endings with others who have read the book.
Some are put off by this format, but I like it, a lot.