Between finishing Halo and the release of Halo 2, I got the itch to return to the original ringworld crafted by Larry Niven.
It had been years -- probably more than 10 -- since I last strolled the imagined, curving plains of the Ringworld. For those unfamiliar with the concept, imagine a wedding ring scaled up to colossal proportions, thousands of miles wide, with a radius the size of Earth's orbit, and a sun-like star at its center. Now imagine that the inner surface of this ring contains enough soil, water and air for a million Earths, and that its all held in through a combination of thin (by Ringworld standards) but tall ridges at the edges of the ring, and centrifugal force as the ring rotates around its sun. The completed ring could hold trillions of inhabitants without any of them having to ever bump elbows with their neighbors.
I got a bunch of books for Christmas -- the Robert E. Howard's The Bloody Crown of Conan, Stephen King's The Dark Tower, a bunch of D&D source books, and Star Trek alum-turned-writer Wil Wheaton's autobiography Just a Geek. It's a measure of how good Wheaton's book was that after reading a page or two I ignored the rest of these books -- including the conclusion to King's epic Dark Tower series, a conclusion I've been waiting years for -- in favor of this slim tome.
Victor Koman's Kings of the High Frontier shows us a world a few years in our future where a number of individuals, from billionaire Larry Poubelle to smuggler Marcus Grant, seek to shrug off the combined shackles of Earth's gravity and Earth's government to live among the stars.
I first read Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World six years ago when I was near the top of our own world. My wife and I were hiking outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, and on a clear day, you could see the Artic Circle from the top of the ridges we were walking along.
Eye of the World, the first book in Jordan's epic (the unkind might say bloated) Wheel of Time series, was my umbilical to the geek world left behind when we boarded the plane back in Allentown, Pa. Hiking through the endless Alaskan day provided an overly-realistic backdrop for my reading -- it was all too easy to empathize with Rand Al'Thor and his band of refuges fleeing evil in the Two Rivers when my own feet ached from a day's hard hiking.
George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones offers fantasy fans a gritty, realistic medieval adventure that stands in sharp contrast to the aloof elves and all-pervasive magic populating endless Tolkien knockoffs.
The book is set in the land of Westeros, a fantastic realm removed in time and space from our own medieval period. In this land, summers and winters last for years, with autumn and spring flashing by as mercurial seasons caught between fire and ice. Magic, once a known and powerful force, has ebbed and is now viewed as a legend, albeit a legend with a known foundation in fact. Spells died long ago, but the last dragons were slain only decades ago. A medieval society based on a European model dominates Westeros, which was once broken into seven kingdoms, but has since been united into a single domain ruled by a single king. The seven families who had once fielded kings in their own right continue to scheme against on another, playing an unending "game of thrones" for dominance.
The gunslinger is not a whole man.
For years he quested after the man in black, whom he thought was his key the Dark Tower. Along the way, he lost bits of his humanity. First, he sacrificed his hawk David to earn his guns by defeating his teacher, Cort. Then he lost his friends Cuthbert and Alain, on the road to the Tower, and with them, much of his capacity for joy and love. And then there was the boy, Jake, who died under the mountain, sacrificed by Roland so that he could catch the man in black.
"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." That's one of the great opening lines in speculative fiction -- or hell, any kind of fiction.
It immediately evokes mystery, drama, adventure and an entire Old West mythology. It doesn't merely tug at the mind -- it rends. It compels. It forces you to read on to the next sentence ... and the next ... and the next.
It's from The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger, a novel that draws upon many traditions -- the western, science fiction, fantasy, horror -- to create something unique. Something that King himself would later describe as his "Jupiter" -- the creative giant that looms over his solar system of work. He wrote the first version of this book early in his career -- just after scribing Carrie.
Industrialist Marissa Van Hutten has a dream and a nightmare. She longs to see humanity return to the stars, exploring the solar system and given men and women a reason to look up with pride again. But she fears as well. One day in her early twenties she saw a fireball -- huge meteor -- rip through the sky overhead. That moment awakened Marissa to the threat posed by rogue Earth-crossing asteroids -- the sort of extraterrestrial killer that slammed the nails into the dinosaurs' coffins.
But the Earth -- and van Hutten -- is hardly helpless. Marissa helms Van Hutten Industries, an international conglomerate incorporating aerospace and engineering and even educational concerns. They are all arrows aimed at one target -- creating a private space program that will return humanity to space, his time to stay.
Thomas Sipos takes the mythological blood-suckers (vampires) combines them with the intellectual ones (communists) in his novel Vampire Nation.
Fantasy addicts looking for their next fix of sword and sorcery should check out Robert Jordon's modern classic The Eye of the World.
Published in 1990, the novel is the first in a saga called The Wheel of Time. It opens in the tiny village of Edmond's Field, where stubborn shepherds raise sheep and equally strong-willed farmers wrestle with their crops. It's been a hard year for the Edmond's Fielders -- the winter was long and grueling, and spring couldn't kill it.