The Jovian Manifesto is now Available for Kindle and iPad

The Jovian Manifesto is available for purchase on kindle and iPad. Get it now for the low price of $0.99!

The Jovian Manifesto is available for purchase on kindle and iPad. Get it now for the low price of $0.99!

 

Papa Zulu’s 2nd Five Star Review!

papa_zuluWell folks, Papa Zulu has now been available through Amazon.com for just over a month. And thus far, two reviews have come in, and both are both highly favorable! I tell ya, it pays off to hold back on publication so you can make sure that everything is nicely polished and edited. And while I’m still waiting on a few more people to chime in on what they thought about the book, I am pretty happy with what people had to say so far.

Here are the reviews, with some minor omissions to make sure no spoilers were included:

(5.0 stars) So Good
By Rosie Reader

Lots of action and excitement once again; a great follow-up to Whiskey Delta! I hope there is another one in the series because I want more.

(5.0 stars) Excellent Sequel!
By S.O. “SO” (NY)

What can I say about this….except it’s an incredible follow up to Whiskey Delta! I almost wish I’d given WD a lower rating, just so I could rate this a higher one LOL. It picks up pretty much where book 1 left off, but it is written in such a way that if you didn’t read WD you wouldn’t be too lost. It’s not so much about the zombies this time, but the aftermath of that and the internal conflicts both within the Army and within each person.

(Spoiler, spoiler, spoiler)…

There are a few loose ends where the end of the book is concerned and to quote Braun “this can’t be the end…there has to be more…” His relationship with Saunders is brought to attention, there’s a traitor (or 2) in their midst, and his platoon might have a new leader.

You can check the full reviews by going to the books Amazon page, but I warn you, they do contain spoilers! And it might just be a coincidence, but I did notice a slight uptick in sales since the second review came in. So far, Papa Zulu has sold some 13 copies since publication, and Whiskey Delta and the unrelated Data Miners have even made some added sales. So, for obvious reasons, I am pretty happy right now.

And to my fellow indies, keep hammering those keys and pushing those books! Every copy we sell is a small victory and every favorable review is a big one. After all, that’s why we got into this business, isn’t it? To share what we love, think, and what inspires us, in the hopes that other people draw from it the same things we do.

Papa Zulu – Ready and Available, Finally!

papa_zuluWell, after about a week of tinkering, complaining, and demanding that Amazon, Kindle and Createspace get their act together, Papa Zulu is now available in all formats, and all in one place! This was a bit of a bugger last week, when I was finally finished with the tedious editing and submission process, only to find that it wasn’t even showing up in the right places.

To recap, Papa Zulu was made available through Amazon.com as of last Monday, but it did not appear with the rest of my books. So for the untrained consumer (i.e. anyone who doesn’t know me already), the book’s relation to Whiskey Delta would have been unclear. In addition, the Kindle edition and the paperback didn’t even appear together, with one only available at Amazon.com and the other at Amazon.ca.

But after a few days, that was all resolved. As of now, all formats of Papa Zulu can be ordered from one place (Amazon.com) and I’ve made sure the links to it have been updated to reflect that. And on top of that, it now appears alongside all my other titles on my Amazon author page. So now it will be easy to find, and people who said they wanted a sequel will actually be able to find it.

Yay for small victories and the work that makes them happen! Woe for the speed bumps and delays that make the extra work necessary! And feel free to check out the book’s listing and my author page, now that they are are in working order:

Papa Zulu:
http://www.amazon.com/Papa-Zulu-Matthew-S-Williams

Amazon Author Page:
http://www.amazon.com/Matthew-S-Williams

Papa Zulu’s First Sale!

shutterstock_102844133This past weekend, Papa Zulu went live on Amazon.com in paperback and ebook formats! I wanted to deliver the news the moment it happened, but as KDP and Createspace can take their time making books available to the public, I felt the need to hold off a little. However, that ended today when the book made its first sale. Yes, somebody out there is now the owner of an ecopy of Papa Zulu!

Granted, there are still a few kinks in the publication process. Right now, the ebook is only available on Amazon.ca, the store’s Canadian subsidiary, while the paperback is only available on Amazon.com. And neither are appearing on my Amazon author page. I can only assume my publishing services need to get their stuff together and expand its availability!

But in any case, I’ve gone ahead and posted the link for the ebook in the right hand column. If you liked the first one, be sure to check out the sequel. I’ve posted the respective links below to make it easier. And if you didn’t read the first one, didn’t like it, or just aren’t interested, then do what you like. I ain’t the boss of you!

Until next time, keep hammering those keys 🙂

Amazon.ca (ebook): amazon.ca

Amazon.com (paperback): amazon.com

Createspace store: createspace.com

Big News!

zombie-attackGood news from the my small corner of the indie publishing world. My latest book, Whiskey Delta has just sold over 500 copies, including ebooks and paperback! Yaaaaay! And what excites me about this is the fact the vast majority of those sales happened since the 21st of April. That means that over 400 books were moved in the last two weeks. I can only assume that this means the popularity of it is growing.

And to add to the good news ball, I got another four-star review, which in addition to being nice, put the book’s overall rating back to 3 and a half stars. Once again, the reviewer was sure to mention quality of story combined with poor editing. I’ll let him tell you:

FINALLY! A zombie story where the US Military is not hopelessly inept, but is instead taking the war to the enemy and doing a damn good job. I choose to look past the vast amount of editing needed… and instead focus on a kick-butt military adventure during a zombie apocalypse. Fun, exciting, great action, and characters that you get to know and even care about–what more can I say? Buy it, enjoy it, ignore the typos and other errors and just get into one of the better examples of military adventure/zombie apocalypse cross-overs out there.

Now that was exactly the kind of review I was looking for! And rest assured, sir, the editing is being done! I’ve managed to clean up three chapters so far and noticed that the most glaring mistakes seemed to be in the first chapter itself. Not good! Not good at all… But rest assured, the 2nd edition will be clean, and the second book immaculate! I’m taking steps right now to procure a professional editor so the quality of my books won’t be left in my (incapable) hands!

Cyberwars: The Biggest Cyber Attack in History?

cyber_virusIt’s been declared: the largest cyber attack in the history of the internet is happening right now. But you can forget about the US and China, this one is going on between private organizations, both of whom . In short, the fight comes down to Cyberbunker – a decommissioned NATO bunker located just outside of Kloetinge in the Netherlands – and a non-profit anti-spam organization named Spamhaus.

But first, a little background information is required for those of us not well-versed in the comings and goings of cyberwarfare (I include myself in this mix). Cyberbunker, as its name suggests, is an internet service provider and data haven that hosts websites and data stores for various companies. Founded in 1998, it began with the mission of hosting companies and protecting their data-assets from intrusion and attack.

cyberbunkerSpamhaus, on the other hand, is a non-profit that tracks internet addresses that are sources of email spam, and adds their addresses to a blacklist. Companies that use this blacklist—which include pretty much every email provider and most internet service providers on the planet—automatically block those addresses. Hence, to be blacklisted by this organization is to have your bottom line seriously effected.

The conflict between these two belligerents began in 2011, when Spamhaus began targeting Cyberbunker through one of its clients – and internet service provider named A2B. At the time, Spamhaus was trying to convince said provider that Cyberbunker was a haven for spam email, which led A2B to drop them as a client. Shortly thereafter, Cyberbunker moved onto a new internet service provider, leaving Spamhaus free to blacklist them directly.

Spamhaus attack … did it affect you?When they did, Cyberbunker responded in a way that seemed to suggest they wanted to live up to the reputation Spamhaus was bestowing on them. This involved massive retaliation by launching a cyberattack of some 300 billion bits of data per second, designed to clog Spamhaus’s connection to the internet and shut down their infrastructure.

Might sound like a tiff between two internet companies and nothing more. But in truth, this attack was so big that it began affecting service for regular people like you and me who happen to rely on some of the internet connections the attack is commandeering. In short, millions were effected by this “largest attack in internet history”, as their internet slowed down and even shorted out. Some even went as far as to say that it “almost broke the internet”.

internetBut for many others, this attack went unnoticed. In fact, according to an article by Gizmodo, most people were relatively unaffected. While some companies, like Netlix, reported sluggish streaming, they did not go down, mega net-enterprises such as Amazon reported nothing unusual, and organizations that monitor the health of the web “showed zero evidence of this Dutch conflict spilling over into our online backyards”.

In short, the attack was a major one and it had a profound impact on those sites it was directed at, and the collateral damage was noticeable. But aside from that, nothing major happened and this tiff remains a war between an organization known for spamming and one known for targeting them. And it shows no signs of slowing down or stopping anytime soon.

computer-virus.istockAccording to Patrick Gilmore, chief architect at the internet hosting service Akamai who was interviewed by the New York Times, the bottom line for CyberBunker is that “they think they should be allowed to spam.” CyberBunker is explicit on its homepage that it will host anything but child pornography and “anything related to terrorism.”

So while this latest incident did not cause “Infopocalype”, it does raise some interest questions. For one, how hard is it to wage a full-scale cyberwarfare in this day and age? Apparently, it is rather easy to create massive networks of “zombie PCs and use them to carry out related attacks, not to mention cheap since the hardware and software is hardly sophisticated.

cyber-war-1024x843And as it stands, numerous groups, including military hackers, are engaged in a back and forth with government and industrial giants that involves stealing information and spying on their activities. If things were to escalate, would it not be very easy for hackers or national cyberwarfare rings – especially ones operating out of China, Israel, Iran, Russia or the US – to try and shut down their enemies infrastructure by launching terabytes of useless data at them?

Oh, I shudder to think! An entire nation brought to its heels by adds for Russian brides, discount watches and cheap Viagra! But for the moment, it seems this latest apocalyptic prediction has proven to be just as flaccid as the others. Oh well, another day, another dollar…

Sources: qz.com, gaurdian.co.uk, gizmodo.com

Dealing with Mixed Reviews

thumbs upEvery writer knows that bad reviews are a part of the trade. But what do you do when the bad is mixed in with the good? Aren’t mixed messages kind of worse than consistently bad ones? Well, that’s what I’m wondering as I peruse some collected reviews of my books, as posted on Amazon. Some of them only came to my attention by accident, as I happened to be cruising by not long ago, and I must have turned my prompts off.

In any case, here are some of the reviews, good and bad, that came in with regards to Source, my first indie-published work. As you can see, the first one wasn’t so good, ranking the book at a mediocre three out five stars. The second is from Katy “Obsessive bibliophile” Sozaeva, a pro reader/reviewer who specializes in evaluating indie works, which was posted over a year ago. Compare if you will:

Source_2

Inventive and Imaginative, but Scientifically Flawed. I read this with some enjoyment, I admit. But that pleasure was diminished somewhat by the nagging voice that kept saying, “That wasn’t necessary/easiest/realistic.” It happened in just too many places for it to be assuaged by simply pushing the “I believe” button.

Entertaining and enlightening sci-fi story. The Earth and its colonies are running out of water. The government, left with no options, decides to hedge its bets by creating a colony ship and sending off the best and brightest to colonize the stars, while at home strict rationing and a lottery system to decide who should live and who should die will be instituted. Millions will die, either of thirst or through…

Not exactly consistent is it? And consider this: the first review seemed to have far more of an impact than the second. When Katy reviewed my work and looked on it kindly, I honestly filed it in the “Oh, she’s nice” category. On the other hand, the semi-negative review hit me where I live. It actually made me consider pulling it from the shelf and putting a stop on its sequels.

Eyes

And then consider this review from one of the short stories in my Legacies series, otherwise known as Eyes in the Dark. This story I began years back and completed for NaNoWriMo 2011. Some initial opinions I got on it were quite good, all from my writer’s group, but I was happy to see a positive review posted on a professional site:

I liked the story. It had a convincing science fiction scenario and an intriguing dilemma at the core of the plot. I liked the characters, which always helps. I’d recommend this book and read any others Matthew’s written.

I liked that review, especially the last line since it might actually lead to a rise in sales! But I have to admit, I was surprised by it seeing as how I felt the entire thing was a bit rushed and hurriedly written. As it’s writer, I am abundantly aware of its flaws and I keep waiting for someone to say the same bad things that I fear they will notice.

LiabilityOh, and I should also mention the one review which haunts me to this day. It had to do with this oldie, a short known as Liability which I wrote back in 2005. Since I merged it with another short, I can no longer find the review on Amazon anymore. However, I do seem to remember the general nature of it, which ought to tell you something!

The story is nothing special. The ending is a fairy tale of course and is totally unrealistic, but if you’re looking for a cheap read, it’s worth the price.

I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of it. Harsh huh? And the worst part of it is, I took it seriously. And even though that review was one of five that were quite favorable, I still seem to put more stock in it than the others. Here’s what these other people said, just to be inclusive:

Grabs your attention immediately. Is well written IMHO.

It’s a well conceived and beautifully delivered novel. I wish it has more pages for a more lasting reading.

Good story. Gets you wrapped up in the action right away and doesn’t stop till the end.

Don’t look behind you when you read this novel, they may be watching you. thoroughly enjoyable reading.

And I can imagine what seem people would say, since I’ve said it enough time myself to know it word for word. “Hey, [insert your name here], you can’t please everybody. And there’s always going to be idiots and haters. You can’t take what they say seriously.” Yeah, but when it’s me, I say the words, but I don’t feel it. Somehow, the bad reviews always see to make more sense and leave the lasting mark.

So I put it to all the other indie writers, artists and authors out there. What is it about negative feedback that we find just so believable? Why do we treat positive reviews (I’m assuming it’s not just me) as if they are obligatory or motivated by the desire to not hurt our feelings? Are good reviews only meaningful if they come from people who are usually cruel and hard to impress?

I don’t know… All I know is, I want to get better. And the appearance of a single bad review makes me want to work harder and convince them of my worth as a writer. Funny, considering that if it were a friend of mine being poorly reviewed, I’d be telling them they rock, and telling the haters: “Screw you, with some sexual harassment on top!”

Anybody else got mixed reviews to share? This experience feels somehow cathartic and I recommend it highly. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt your bottom line. Hardly anybody reads this site anyway 😉

Apollo Rocket Engines Recovered from Seafloor

apollo_rocketThis past week, history was made when Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon.com) and his privately funded company, Bezos Expeditions, announced that they had successfully retrieved pieces of the very engines that had once launched Apollo astronauts to the moon. Using remotely operated vehicles and a series of slings, the crew members recovered enough parts to reconstruct the majority of two F-1 rocket boosters.

Bezos Expeditions announced last year that using state-of-the-art deep sea sonar, that they had discovered the remains off the coast of Cape Canaveral off the coast of Florida. And this past Thursday, and with NASA’s help, Bezos located the fragments at a depth of almost 4.8 kilometers (3 miles) and began hauling them to the surface. Bezos claims they belonged to the historic Apollo 11 spaceflight, but further study and restoration will be needed before their identity can be confirmed.

apollo_rocket1Regardless, this is an exciting find, and the nature of the rocket boosters confirms that they were at least part of the Apollo program. Between 1968 and 1972, ten missions were conducted that flew out of the Kennedy Space Center, each one using the Saturn V rocket, that used five F-1 engines to boost them into orbit. Once the rockets had spent their fuel, they were detached and fell into the sea.

That means that approximately sixty five F-1 engines reside in the ocean off the coast of Florida. No telling which of those these ones could be, but it is hoped that serial numbers will be retrieved from the engines that can connect them to a specific Apollo mission. But regardless, this is an exciting find, and could not have come at a better time since NASA is looking to embark on a renewed era of exploration.

saturn-v-rocket-engines-recovered-ocean-installed_65442_600x450All told, Bezos and his team spent three weeks at sea, working almost 5 kilometers below the surface. During this time, Bezos claims that his team found so much:

We’ve seen an underwater wonderland – an incredible sculpture garden of twisted F-1 engines that tells the story of a fiery and violent end, one that serves testament to the Apollo program. We photographed many beautiful objects in situ and have now recovered many prime pieces. Each piece we bring on deck conjures for me the thousands of engineers who worked together back then to do what for all time had been thought surely impossible.

Naturally, NASA was pretty impressed with the find as well. After the find was announced, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden made the following statement on behalf of the Agency:

This is a historic find and I congratulate the team for its determination and perseverance in the recovery of these important artifacts of our first efforts to send humans beyond Earth orbit. We look forward to the restoration of these engines by the Bezos team and applaud Jeff’s desire to make these historic artifacts available for public display.

Apollo_11Needless to say, this is an exciting find, regardless of whether or not these rockets were the same ones that sent Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the Moon. Naturally, I hope it is. I can think of no greater tribute to Armstrong’s memory so soon after his passing. I can imagine him looking down on this from the stars, where he now resides, with a big old smile!

And be sure to check out this video taken by the Bezos Expedition of the undersea find:

Source: nationalgeographic.com, universetoday.com

The First Science Fiction Novel Ever?

What do you think of when you hear the words Sci-Fi? Chances are, the words inspire images such as the one above, of nightmarish landscapes featuring clogged streets, flying cars, neon lights and massive skyscrapers. Or possibly you’re partial to the more utopian visions, with space travel, beautiful arcologies and happy shiny people who want for nothing and treat each other with peace and civility.

All good, but chances are, no one thinks of medieval literature from the Islamic world when they hear that term. Chances are no one thinks of anything other than the industrial age, of men like H.G Wells and Jules Verne. For most of us, these are the people who pioneered the field of science fiction, no doubt about it. But amongst scholarswho specialize in tracing literary genres to their roots, one book stands out as the possible progenitor of them all; a little known novel by the name of Theologus Autodidactus.

Outside of antiquarians and theologists, not many people have heard of this story, and up until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t either. So you can imagine my surprise when I learned about it. To me, science fiction was not something that could have predated the scientific revolution, or the age of industry when steam locomotives, steam ships, and a revolutionary understanding of the world and man’s place in it inspired flights of fancy which went well beyond our world. And yet, as it turns out, a manuscript which was written sometime in the 13th century by an Islamic scholar living in Egypt.

His pen name was Ibn al-Nafis (nee Ala-al-din abu Al-Hassan Ali ibn Abi-Hazm al-Qarshi al-Dimashqi), and he was what westerners would later refer to as a “Renaissance Man”. Not only was he an expert physician he also studied jurisprudence, literature and theology and became an expert on the Shafi’i school of jurisprudence before he died. In addition to writing many treatises on medicine, one of which was made famous for being the first in which pulmonary circulation of the blood was mentioned, he also wrote extensively on law and the world’s first coming of age tale/science fiction novel Al-Risalah al-Kamiliyyah fil Siera al-Nabawiyyah, which translated into Latin is known as Theologus Autodidactus.

Plot Summary:
Broken down succinctly, the story revolves around a protagonist named Kamil, an adolescent feral child who at the beginning of the story finds himself spontaneously transported to a cave on a deserted island. Almost immediately, it is clear that the boy is an autodidactic, a self-directed learner who has mastered several fields through independent learning.

Over time, he is met by several castaway who get shipwrecked on the island, learning and sharing from them. In time, the castaways band together to make a ship and agree to take Kamil with them back to civilization. As they return to the world of man, Kamil begins to see all the works of man, learns of philosophy, law and medicine remaining a self-directed learner all the while) and comes to several conclusions.

As he grows, he is taught the value of jurisprudence, religion, the necessity of the existence of God, and the value of the sciences, arts, and all other things that make man civilized. His own coming of age is reflected in explorations of the origin of man, the current state of the world, and predictions of the future. Towards the end, the plot develops from this coming-of-age scenario and begins to incorporate several new elements, such as the the end of the world, doomsday, resurrection and afterlife are predicted and scientifically explained using his own empirical knowledge of biology, astronomy, cosmology and geology.

Summary:
Ultimately, Ibn al-Nafis described his own work as a defense of “the system of Islam and the Muslims’ doctrines on the missions of Prophets, the religious laws, the resurrection of the body, and the transitoriness of the world”. Essentially, this meant presenting rational arguments for religious ideas, such as bodily resurrection and the immortality of the human soul, using both demonstrative reasoning and literary examples to prove his case. In this respect, he was not unlike Thomas Aquinas and a host of other western scholars from the High Middle Ages, men who would similarly try to defend reason based on faith and use empirical knowledge to defend the existence of a spiritual, universal order.

However, what set Ibn al-Nafis’ work apart was the way in which he expressed his religious, scientific and philosophical views through a fictitious narrator who went on to experience what the world had to offer. Rather than writing things in treatise form, which was the style for most philosophers of the day, he chose to do what only a select few of his contemporaries did and tell the story through a narrator who’s own journey illustrated one’s own journey of discovery. In that respect, he was like Voltaire, who’s fictional Candide had to venture out into the world in order to realize the truth about life and the order of things, though their conclusions were vastly different.

And finally, fact that he chose to speculate about what the future held, up to and including the apocalypse itself, is what makes this work classifiable as science fiction. Here, he was most comparable to men like H.G. Wells and Verne, men who looked to the future in the hopes of illustrating the current state of humanity and where it was likely to take them. And though these, and later generations of individuals, often had a negative appraisal of such things, Iban al-Nafis’ was arguably positive. His exploration was designed to affirm belief in the existence of something greater than material nature, but provable using the same basic laws.

I can’t imagine being able to find a copy of this book any time soon. It’s not like Amazon has copies on hold for anyone looking to a little cross-cultural antiquities reading. I checked, they really don’t! Still, I’d consider it a boon to find a translation and read the whole story for myself. What I little I learned can’t possibly capture the historic and cultural importance of the novel. Something to add to the reading list, right next to The Peach Blossom Spring and Beowulf!

10 Sci-Fi Novels People Pretend to Have Read

Came across this article in Io9 recently, then again over at Scoop.it. You can tell something is important not only when it speaks to you, but when like-minded individuals begin referencing it! And if you own a blog, you definitely want to get on that! In any case, I found the list especially interesting for two reasons. One, many of the books I have already read. And two, I haven’t even heard of the rest.

I’d say a list like this is long overdue, but it’s still highly subjective isn’t it? The books we pretend we’ve read all comes down to what we consider important and relevant, not to mention popular. And even within the genre of sci-fi, I’d say that list is too big to boil down to a simple top ten. Even so, it’s interesting to read and compare, and find out just how many you’ve read yourself. So please, check this out and tell me which of these you have read and which you think you’ll want to check out:

1. Cryptonomicon:
Read it! This book is Neal Stephenson’s groundbreaking piece of historical fiction, combining narratives involving World War II cryptographers with modern day IT geeks who are looking to establish a data haven in the South Pacific. The story tells the tale of a massive shipment of Nazi gold that got lost on its way to Japan, ran aground in the Philippines, and remained hidden until the late 90’s.

Personally, I loved this book because of the way it weaves history, both recent and distant, into a seamless narrative and draws all the characters into the same overarching plot. One would think that Stephenson was making a point about how we are all subjects of our shared history, but it could just be he’s that good a writer!

2. Dune:
Read it thrice! In Dune, Frank Herbert draws upon an immense store of classical sci-fi themes, a grand awareness of human nature and history, and a keen grasp of ecology and the influence environment has on shaping its inhabitants to create the classic that forever established him as one of the greatest sci-fi minds of all time.

Sci-fi geeks everywhere know this one and it saddens to me to think that it’s even on this list. Anyone who’s willing to pretend that they read this book clearly considers it important, which is why they should have read it, dammit! Not only is it a classic, it’s from the guy who literally wrote the book on science fiction that was meant to be taken seriously.

3. Gravity Rainbow:
Never heard of it! Apparently, the story came out in 1974 and deals with the German V2 rocket program near the end of World War II. Pat Murphy, author of The City, Not Long After and The Wild Girls, went so far as to compare this book to James Joyce, a the great Irish modernist writer who was also renowned for being brilliant and inaccessible.

In addition to be classified as enriching, it is known for being odd and hard to get through, with many authors themselves claiming to have started it several times but never being able to finish it. The plot is also rather unique, combining transgressive sexuality with the idea of total war and technological races. But one look at the dust jacket will tell you all of that, right? Crazy Germans!

4. Foundation:
Read it myself, and also am somewhat sad that it made the list. Sure, the fact that it’s a classic means that just about everyone who’s eve shown the slightest interest in sci-fi would want to read it. But I can’t for the life of me understand why people would claim to have read it. Jesus, it’s not a hard read, people. And Amazon sells used copies for cheap and handles shipping. No excuses!

And having just reviewed it, I shall say nothing of the plot, except that it in many ways inspired fellow great Frank Herbert in his creation of Dune. Like Frank, Asimov combined the idea of a Galactic Empire with a keen awareness of human history, eternal recurrence, and prescient awareness.

5. Johnathon Strange & Mr. Norrell:
Now this one I have heard of, but never felt compelled to pick up and read. Apparently, its size and bulk are the reason many people react the same. This 2004 book is the first novel by British writer Susanna Clarke which deals with the nature of the English character and the boundary between reason and irrationality.

Set in 19th-century England during the time of the Napoleonic Wars, the story is an alternative history that is based on the idea that at one time, magic existed in England and has thanks to the help of two men – the namesakes of the story, Jonathan Strange and Gilbert Norrell. At once interesting and speculative, it also presents the rather romantic vision of romance returning to a world increasingly characterized by modernity and cold reason.

6. 1984:
Yep, read this one thrice as well! And given it’s reputation and place in the annals of literary history, I can totally see why people pretend to have read it. Oh, and let’s not forget the way people love to reference and abuse it’s message for the sake of making a quick and easy political point! But none of that excuses not reading it.

Set in an alternate history where WWIII and revolution have led to totalitarian governments in every corner of the world, the story tells the tale of one man’s quest to find answers and facts in a world permeated by lies and absolute repression. Of course, this meager description doesn’t do it justice. In the end, so much comes into play that it would take pages and pages just to provide an adequate synopsis. Suffice it to say, it’s a book that will change your life. READ IT!

7. First and Last Men and Star Maker:
Another one which I’m not too sure about. Much of what is described within are concepts I have heard of in other places, and some of the content sounds familiar. Still, can’t say I’ve ever heard of Stapledon or these two works by name. But after reading about his work, I’m thinking I ought to check him out now. Tell me if you’d agree…

Published in 1930 and 1937, these two books tackled some rather broad ground. The first deals with the history of humanity, covering 18 species of humanity from the present to two billion years into the future. Based on Hegelian concept of history, humanity goes through several different types of civilizations and passes between stability and chaos over the course of it all. However, undeniable progress is made, as each civilization reaches further the last, culminating in leaps in evolution along the way.

In Star Maker, the plot revolves around a man who is able to leave his body and venture throughout the universe. He is able to merge with more minds along the way, a snowballing effect which allows him and his companions to explore more and worlds through time and space. This leads to a climax where a cosmological mind is created and makes contact with the “Star Maker” – the creator of the universe.

Sounds cool huh? And they appear to have no shortages of accolades. For example, Arthur C. Clarke called Star Maker one of the finest works of science fiction ever written, and the concept explored therein had a profound influence on many subsequent sci-fi minds, not the least of which were Gene Roddenberry and J.M. Straczynski.

8. The Long Tomorrow:
This one, I have heard of, mainly because it’s on my list as an example of post-apocalyptic fiction. I have yet to read it, but after reading about it, I think I would like to. Set in a post-apocalyptic world devastated by nuclear war, the story takes place within a society that is controlled by religious groups preaching a technophobic message.

Inevitably, the story comes to a head when young people, intrigued by stories of a neighboring community, go out in search of it, braving punishment and even exile. Sounds familiar? Well, it should. This book, which was published in 1955, has gone on to inspire countless variations and pop culture renditions. It also attempts to illustrate the connection between natural disasters and regression, traditionalism and repression.

9. Dhalgren:
Yet another book that’s compared to James Joyce, largely by people that haven’t read it. I’m one of them! Apparently, this 1975 story by Samuel R. Delany takes place in a fictitious Midwestern town that has become cut off from the outside world by an event horizon. All communications are cut off, and the population become frightened by the night sky reveals two moons, and the morning sun is many times larger than our own.

More strange is the fact that street signs and landmarks shift constantly, while buildings that have been burning for days are either never consumed or show signs of damage. Gangs also begin to roam the nighttime streets, their members hidden within holographic projections of gigantic insects or mythological creatures. Against this backdrop, a group of people come together and try to make sense of what has happened as they struggle to survive.

Told from the point of view of a partial amnesiac, dysmetric, schizophrenic, as well as a bunch of other people who find themselves stranded in the city, the story is an exercise is confusion, dissociation, and a really just a big mystery. In the end, what is truly going on is never revealed, thus leaving the reader with their own interpretations. This is one of the selling points of the book, with William Gibson himself saying that it was “A riddle that was never meant to be solved.” Yeah, I definitely need to read this one!

10. Infinite Jest:
This last novel is more recent, having been released in 1996. Once again, haven’t heard of it, but given its content, praise, and the fact that the author’s low life was cut tragically short, it doesn’t surprise me that its one of those books that everyone feels they must read. But given the length, complexity and the fact that story contains 388 numbered end notes, I can see why they’ve also held back!

The story focuses on the lives of a celebrity family known as the Incandezas, a clear pun on their, shall  we say… luminous fame? The family is deeply involved in tennis, struggles with substance abuse, and in a state of disrepair since the father – a famous film director – committed suicide with a microwave. His last work was apparently a film (entitled “Infinite Jest”, but known throughout the story as “The Entertainment”) which is so entertaining, it causes viewer to lose all interest in everything besides watching the movie.

Clearly meant as a satire on North American culture, particularly celebrity families, entertainment, substance abuse and the sideshow that is celebrity rehab, the story is all about various people’s search for the missing tape of “The Entertainment” and what they plan to do with it. The novel received wide recognition and praise after its publication and became a testament to Wallace’s talent after he committed suicide in 2008.

Okay, that’s four out of ten for me. How did you do? And even if you could say that you’ve read most of the books on this list, or at least the one’s you’ve heard of, I’d say we’ve all come away with a more additions to our reading lists, hmmm? Yeah, I guess its back to Amazon for me!