Since Y2K hasn't destroyed civilization, but has everybody stocking up on canned food and batteries and ready for primitive living, maybe this summer is a great time to return to that most primitive of information technologies - the book. And while retro survivalism is no longer the rage it was last December, perhaps a glance at your shelves instead of your TV might still be in order. With that, here are the picks for SDI's 3rd Annual Summer Reading List. As always, there will be a quiz later, so pay attention. And when you do get around to reading them, drop us a line. We like it when you foist your opinions on us. It keeps Widge and I up at night laughing. (Of course, after twelve pots of coffee, pretty much anything could keep us up all night laughing.)
Alex Ross and Mark Waid -- Kingdom Come. In the excellent tradition of Alan Moore's Watchmen, and inspiration to such comic greats as Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis, Kingdom Come is more than a comic book, it's a work of visual and literary art. With amazing paintings by Alex Ross and a story as deeply compelling as they come, Kingdom Come asks the question that most entries in the superhero oeuvre avoid -- what happens when heroes forget their place? A cautionary tale on the necessity of change, with more meat than most spandex-clad narratives of our day.
Neal Stephenson -- Snow Crash. An earlier work by the up and coming heir apparent to Bill Gibson's cyberpunk throne, Stephenson's Snow Crash has it all -- computers, guns, high-speed cars, and mafia-delivered pizza. Come see Hiro Protagonist, freelance hacker extraordinaire, as he wanders through a tale of ancient religion and ultramodern technology in a book that Gibson himself called "Fast-forwarded free-style mall mythology for the 21st Century."
David Foster Wallace -- Infinite Jest. OK. We've given you a soft pitch and a slow curve, so now it's time for the high heat. This book will rock your world. Period. It will also cause back strain if you lift with your knees instead of your back. It's frickin' huge! But from all accounts, worth the investment. Frequently compared to Thomas Pynchon for style and literary self-awareness, Wallace is considered by many to be the finest young writer working today. SDI looks forward to years of hating the brilliant bastard and devouring his gargantuan books.
Ezra Pound -- Guide to Kulchur. The original Doc Ezra was a bad mofo. In the first quarter of the 20th century, when Pound talked, the literary world not only listened, but held its collective breath. Pound is the reason you've heard of people like T.S. Eliot and H.D. (and if you haven't heard of them, get out and don't come back until you've read "The Waste Land" ten times). In Guide to Kulchur, Pound sounds off about all that irks him in the Western world, and how it could be fixed. His observations are timely eighty years later, as the problems that had begun to alarm him and his contemporaries are in full glory now, despite their efforts to the contrary.
Kurt Vonnegut -- Welcome to the Monkey House. Vonnegut's contribution to literature in general and speculative fiction in particular need little introduction for the bibliophile. A living legend in the genre fiction world, he is perhaps better known for novels like Breakfast of Champions and Cat's Cradle. In Welcome..., his talent in short fiction shines. Each one of these stories will blow you away, and the sheer variety of tone and theme speaks volumes of Vonnegut's imaginative genius. Run, do not walk.
Sean Russell -- The Initiate Brother and Gatherer of Clouds. Genuine fantasy page-turners, Russell's pair of oriental fantasies provides a welcome respite from the steady stream of sword-and-sorcery crap spewing from the genre presses these days. Russell provides more than just a vaguely Eastern feel for his story, instead opting for the much more difficult task of trying to capture authentic feudal Japanese sensibilities and characters. The adventures of the young monk Shuyun will engross you for hours on end, and the effort to figure out who the REAL enemy is will keep you guessing until the bitter end.
Theodore Sturgeon -- More Than Human. Pick up this classic of science fiction, and see first-hand the book that vaulted sci-fi from pulp magazines to high art. Sturgeon is a grandmaster story teller, and his characters are so well-drawn and realistic, you can feel their rage, frustration, anger, and pain. Pick it up and pass it around your inner circle of misfit friends, and see the potential for mayhem unfold.
Friedrich Nietzsche -- Thus Spoke Zarathustra -- A Book for All and None. Ahh, Nietzsche. Few other philosophers have been so simultaneously adored and reviled as good ol' Freddy. His appropriation by the national socialists and the frequent attribution to him of views he did not possess has led to a strong knee-jerk reaction from traditionalists of all stripes, but a serious investigation of his ideas in order for anyone, particularly those of a revolutionary bent. Read his manifesto on social upheaval, the dangers of complacency, and self-determination, follow his guidelines, and then grab some scissors and stitch a big "S" on your chest so the SDI crew will know you when the revolution comes.
Robert Anton Wilson -- The Schrödinger's Cat Trilogy. It's been a while since we hurled any RAW at you, and since he's never far from the hearts and minds of the staff here at SDI, we decided it was time to go back to him. If you've been doing your homework like good little boys and girls, then you're all ready for this book, which both is and is not a sequel to The Illuminatus! Trilogy. "Is and is not?" you ponder, uncertain what to make of such an assertion. Hah! If you had READ Illuminatus!, you would not be confused. Busted. Go to the back of the class and bang erasers against your head.
Mark Salzman -- Lost In Place: Growing Up Absurd in Suburbia. While SDI hasn't exactly been known to recommend personal memoirs, this one is different. Rather than the typical self-deprecating false modesty of most memoirs, Salzman turns a realistic and critical eye on his adolescence in rural Connecticut, a boy fascinated by kung fu, Zen buddhism, and recreational drug use. A must for anybody that's ever felt seriously out of synch with their surroundings, or for any Westerner curious about the tenets of Zen, and how those tenets play out in American culture.