This has just absolutely been the best thing ever. I have one of Mark’s books on my unread shelf and I can’t wait to get to it.
Nobody reminded me, but luckily for y’all I remembered on my own. If you don’t feel like clicking through to the AITA, here’s the gist: an avid, experienced hiker wants to take a bunch of his (athletic, hiker-adjacent) friends on a rather difficult 8-mile hike. He prepares these friends in advance for what they’re about to get into and makes sure everyone has proper footwear, water, snacks, hats, that sort of thing. And then one of them drags along a friend who in every available way is unprepared for the hike– and, after pointing out that the person is genuinely endangering herself if she tries this and getting nowhere, he bails on the hike entirely. Later in the day, one of his friends sends him pictures from the ER that two members of the group, including the girl, ended up in, because basically everything went wrong that dude said would go wrong.
This is a not-the-asshole situation for me, and it got me thinking about something that happened when I was in Israel just after graduating college. I was there for a dig at Tel Beth Shemesh, which is a Bronze Age site just west of Jerusalem. We were there for a month, and two of the weekends featured preprogrammed touristy stuff on a rented bus with a guide. The first weekend we were supposed to go to the northern part of the country, and for the second weekend we were supposed to head south. Now, if you know anything about Israel, you might be aware that there is a staggering climate difference between the lovely, temperate, Mediterranean northern half of the country and the fucking Negev desert that occupies most of the southern half. Staggering enough that you dress significantly differently depending on which way you’re going.
We were all rather surprised when we realized which direction the bus was headed, and where our tour guide took us. South. To the desert. To the hot.
Oh, and there was going to be a hike. A three-mile hike, roughly, at Ein Avdat, which is Hebrew for “one motherfucker.” Ein Avdat is beautiful! It looks like this:
I don’t know if the place has gotten more popular since 1998 or what, but I remember it being deserted (heh) when we were there. But it’s gorgeous! Seriously!
There are parts of the hike that are like this, though:
Those are steps carved into the side of the canyon. I don’t know for sure that we carved these specific ones, because I remember there being handholds, but you get the idea.
Going back, by the way, is not an option, because once they drop you off the other side of the hike is … well, three miles away, and your bus drops you off and heads tot he other side. So when we got to the very last part of the hike, I took one look at what they expected me to do to get out of this hot-ass canyon that I didn’t know I was going to be fucking hiking in (and I was not in much better shape in college than I am now) and declared that somebody was sending me a fucking helicopter. Because this is the last part of the hike. After three miles. With no water:
Yeah. That’s a metal ladder. Again, I’m not 100% sure that’s our actual ladder– I remember the rungs being more rebar-y, but again, you get the idea. Nah. Send me a damn helicopter. I ain’t doing it.
I did, eventually, make it out of the canyon. And I forced everyone on the trip with me to take a picture giving the canyon the finger. I didn’t go find that picture today, but when I checked my 22-year-old memories (Christ, literally half my life ago) with a friend of mine who was with me on the trip, she sent me this one. Look at our shoes:
That’s the Dead Sea behind us, so this wasn’t immediately after the hike, but it was the same weekend, and it was definitely the same fucking Birkenstocks. A three mile hike in a box canyon in the desert in Israel in June, with insufficient water and fucking Birks on my feet, because the trip organizers fucked up what weekend we were heading north.
The next day after the hike, we went to Masada, which by rights should have been one of the highlights of the fucking trip. Masada is a Jewish fortress on the top of a mountain. There are two ways to get to it: through what basically amounts to a ski lift, and by climbing the earthen ramp the Romans built while they were laying siege to the place so that they could kill everyone there. It’s called the Snake Path.
This is the fucking Snake Path:
Now, again, each of these two things is on different sides of the complex. There was a small riot on the bus when we pulled up to the Snake Path side of the mountain, and after some debate everyone got off the bus and got ready to hike some more.
Not me. Nope. I took one look at that entirely uphill climb, the day after an unscheduled three-mile desert canyon hell trek, and noped right the fuck out. There are certain things I simply cannot be manipulated into doing, and that bullshit was definitely on that list. I stayed on the bus, and as it ended up had a fascinating conversation with our Palestinian bus driver while everyone else nearly died trying to hike straight up. So I went to Israel and went to Masada, but I have never been inside Masada … but on the other hand, I’m still alive, and I can to this day recite this guy’s explanation of the Arab-Israeli conflict, complete with broken English and the map that he drew a bunch of lines on to indicate which parts of Israel should be given back.
And that’s why I’m not about to get angry with somebody for telling someone he doesn’t think it’s a good idea for her to go on a hike.
Scalzi had– unwillingly, it must be pointed out– some interesting things to say today regarding the existence of a capital-C Canon as it relates to science fiction and fantasy. This was brought on by George R.R. Martin embarrassing himself and everyone else at the Hugo awards a week (? two? Time has no meaning) ago.
For the most part, I agree with him. There is no Canon, at least not of the capital-C variety, and it’s questionable at best about whether there ever was one. And a lot of what certain types of people think might be part of that Canon are books I probably haven’t read. I have never done anything but bounce off of Heinlein, for example. I don’t mind Starship Troopers but I don’t think I’ve ever finished anything else of his. I’ve read my share of Asimov but nothing I care to recommend to anyone. I have read several books by Philip K. Dick and Ursula le Guin; I can’t tell you a damn thing about any of them. No Bradbury or Silverberg, at all.
Honestly, I’ve read very little of the sci-fi Canon. I’m more widely read in fantasy, as that was my obsession as a kid, but I just didn’t read a ton of sci-fi growing up and most of what I’ve read as an adult has been much more modern.
So here’s the question: I don’t think there is a real Canon– there’s no work or set of works that someone having read or not read them would cause me to cast aspersions on their spec fiction bona fides– but what if there was?
In other words, if someone came up to me right now and wanted me to make a list of works of science fiction and fantasy that they needed to read, what might be on that list?
And that’s an interesting question. These will be in no particular order and I will absolutely forget some important books, so don’t take this as– heh– an authoritative list of canonical books. Let’s just say I’m starting a conversation and go from there.
- The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, which are probably as close as I’ll ever be willing to get to books that I insist any fan of fantasy literature must read, if only because that way you get it when people are trying to subvert them.
- Dune. You can skip every single other Dune book other than the first one, but you should read Dune.
- The Harry Potter series. Yes, I know, J.K. Rowling is cancelled, but there’s an entire generation of folks out there for whom these books were foundational and just because we’ve decided that they were magically written by no one is no reason not to read them.
- Speaking of cancelled people, you really should read at least the first two books of the series that is actually called A Song of Ice and Fire but is known as Game of Thrones now. Read the third if you liked them. Do not read further than that.
- The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin, the only person to win Best Novel Hugos three years in a row.
- Read Sandman. Yeah, I know it’s a comic book. Do it anyway.
- Frankenstein. No, seriously, read Frankenstein. Like, do it anyway even if you generally don’t care about science fiction. It’s a better book than you think it is. Seriously. Try and find an edition with the extended ending, though.
- Read something– I don’t care what– by China Miéville. Perdido Street Station, maybe, or The City and the City.
- I will probably catch some crap for this, but read something by Lovecraft. Yes, he is a supreme asshole. But he’s dead, so he’s not going to get any of your money and a lot of his stuff is public domain by now anyway. Call of Cthulhu, The Shadow over Innsmouth or The Colour Out of Space, maybe. They’re short. Take a bath afterwards.
- Orson Scott Card is a living utter asshole, but … man, Ender’s Game. Do it without spending money.
- Watership Down. Which doesn’t have swords or orcs or spaceships in it, but does have talking bunnies and shocking violence.
- Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Salman Rushdie’s most underrated book, and squarely in the realm of fantasy.
- Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series could sub in for Heinlein, who is an obvious inspiration.
- Read some Kameron Hurley. Really, just pick something, although if you pointed a gun at me I’d say something from her Bel Dame Apocrypha series.
And, like, I could definitely go on, and there are a ton of books that I think are magnificent but I wouldn’t necessarily put on this type of list (an example: the Expanse novels, which are brilliant but the series isn’t finished yet, and unlike ASoIaF I think you should actually read all of them) so obviously we could just keep adding things forever. But if this is a list of Where Should I Start, I feel like you could do worse than working your way through these.
What else is part of your fantasy/sci-fi canon?
(Also, I want to note, for the record, that I deliberately didn’t include Amazon affiliate links for any of these, because I feel like it would have been overkill.)
An interesting fact, at least to me: I have read three books by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and I have liked each one more than the one before. I was not a huge fan of Certain Dark Things, I enjoyed her Gods of Jade and Shadow but wasn’t really doing backflips about it, and then there is Mexican Gothic. Which …
Yeah, this shit right here? This shit is my shit. And if this author continues on this trajectory I may not survive whatever she comes out with two or three books from now. Mexican Gothic is exactly what it sounds like one thing the book is not is subtly titled; a dark, atmospheric 1950s-era-Mexico gothic horror novel, set in an old crumbling house, the house and its owners well past their prime, with a socialite heroine who feels like she’s been transported in from another era and an excellently creepy multigenerational family mystery to solve. It’s a quick read– just 300 pages, and I finished it in two or three sittings, basically– but it’s exactly as long as it needs to be, I think; I didn’t finish this one feeling like it needed more detail anywhere and it’s definitely not overpadded.
A short review, I know, but this is definitely worth your time. Moreno-Garcia is somebody to watch out for, and her writing is perfectly suited for this type of genre. I really look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.
I have a good half-dozen posts rattling around in my head right now, none of which are really publishable at this exact moment for one reason or another. There are a couple of things I’d like to review; I’m not done with one of them yet and I’m going to wait a few days for another. I’m waiting to see about a couple of work-related things before I speculate much more online about how next year is going to go. I could find any of half-a-dozen different online bits of nonsense and get mad about that.
And it’s just, like, nah.
Here’s what I’ve got for right now: Not getting that job I wanted was a bit of a disappointing setback but for the most part everything has been going the way I want it to on the work front for the last few days; the school board and the superintendent both seem to be behaving and it seems like the teachers actually have some good advocacy there. We had a little bit of nonsense going about how they wanted all of the teachers to come into school and sit alone in our empty classrooms to do our e-learning, and that got quashed with a quickness, which was good– I’m not about to leave my damn office that I’ve set up exactly like I want it to go try and record videos on my little work laptop, and not having to have to fight with somebody about that is all good.
I continue to improve my little corner of the office, and I’m enjoying this far more than I ought to. Still need a little bit more lighting and maybe a new webcam, which since I’m not buying any classroom decoration stuff this year ought to be a reasonable expenditure. I am changing classrooms this year, and I went into school yesterday and basically packed up all of my stuff from last year’s classroom and stuck it in a corner in the new one. I’m not spending a single second longer than I have to in there; once/if school reopens I’ll have plenty of warning to get everything set up and right now I’m not wasting the effort.
The new room has what is effectively a walk-in closet in it; I had previously thought that it was some sort of common storage space and would be full of crumbling editions of abandoned textbook lines or something, so I was surprised to discover yesterday that it was completely empty. There’s not even any shelving in there– just an empty, carpeted, windowless, concrete-block rectangle, maybe 8′ x 15′ or so. I would be all over this little room if we were actually about to have a normal school year– I could make myself a separate office area that wasn’t part of my classroom if I wanted, or a quieter small group area– lamps! Beanbags!– or any of a dozen different things, and instead it’s just gonna be there, empty, because if we go back there’s not room for more than one person in there and I suspect I can’t literally isolate a child in this little room without getting in some trouble with somebody.
Ah well. We’ll see what happens when and if things ever get back to normal.