I don't read much fiction these days, having had my fill of courtroom dramas and high-tech thrillers. An occasional good mystery is about all I read nowadays that's not hard science or biography. Below are a couple of decent science-oriented fiction books that I've particularly enjoyed.
Contact by Carl Sagan -- A classic work of scientific fiction and a killer movie too. The book is quite a bit deeper than the movie, and a must for any fan of Sagan's other writing. You will especially enjoy the mathematical twist at the end.
The Flight of Peter Fromm by Martin Gardner -- Gardner's only fiction as far as I know, and what a beauty! Gardner follows the young Fromm on his journey from religious fundamentalism to skeptical enlightenment. Fromm is a student in a liberal Chicago seminary who discovers for the first time in his life that alternative explanations exist for much of the dogma he's accepted since his youth. This story is phenomenal and should be read by anyone having a religious background, regardless of where you are in your spiritual journey now.
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman -- A little known science fiction classic. Haldeman's book chronicles a war between humankind and a race of aliens. Haldeman stays true to modern physics: since warriors must travel great distances (with the help of relativistic worm hole trickery), they age only a few years while hundreds of years elapse back on earth. Thus, soldiers find themselves returning from battle to earth generations after their families have passed away, and political changes have rendered their reasons for fighting moot. A tremendous story and very satisfying to the scientifically minded.
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell -- A science fiction tale with a twist. In the near future the first radio contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence is made. A clear radio signal is picked up from Alpha Centauri. It's not prime number sequences or other mathematical symbols, rather beautiful music. While the UN argues over how best to organize an expedition, another more independent group with considerable financial means responds -- the Jesuits. God has other children out there, we must know them. The year is 2019 and the journey is made, but at some point something goes horribly wrong, and only one of the 8 journeymen returns nearly 40 years later, and he's not talking much (and he hasn't aged 40 years either, due to the relativistic effects of interstellar travel). Russell spins a masterful tale combining three different timelines woven together, pre-trip Earth, the ship and their exploration of Rakhat, and post-trip debriefing of the priest/professor who returned alive. The result is a nice suspense-building device, as you simultaneously learn about the preparations for, the trip itself, and the investigation of the result. Russell does a great job of rationing out the pieces of the story using this format.
The character development is extensive and the description of the alien civilization is compelling. I was initially skeptical and was tempted to put the book down after about 100 pages, but having hung in there, by 150 I was firmly hooked, and by 200 I was ruing the fact that it would eventually have to end. The scientific aspect is not central -- as in much of the fiction I prefer these days -- but what is there is accurate enough (though requiring some generosity -- it's unlikely that we'll be able to drive an entire asteroid at 2G acceleration within 20 or so years), and supports the story in a wonderful and unobtrusive fashion.
I confess that the religious aspects of this story were almost equally as interesting as the scientific and cultural. As one who has a religious background to form some context, I was intrigued by the twist this element gave to the story.
I have to give this book 5 stars, very impressive!
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