# Friday, January 4, 2019

I remember when I first discovered the list. I read the headline: "Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books" and thought about all the science fiction and fantasy I read in my youth. Surely, I've read most of these, I thought.

Not even close.

I don't recall the exact number, but I know I had read less than 20. I had never even heard of many books on the list.

Still, I was determined. So I rolled up my sleeves, entered the book titles into a spreadsheet, and headed to my local public library, resolved to read every book on the list.

Upon closer inspection, I faced a bigger hurdle than I initially realized. The list did not contain 100 books. Many of the "books" were actually multi-volume series: Lord of the Rings is 3 volumes; Dune is 5; A Song of Ice and Fire is 5 large books and still growing; Wheel of Time is 14 volumes and each book averages 850 pages! In total, there were over 300 books in this list.

I did not want to commit to every single book in every series, so I resolved to read at least the first book in each series and to continue a series only if it interested me.

That was 7 years ago.

Last month, I finished The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, completing my goal. I have now read at least one book in each series of the list and I completed all but 10 of the series. I even went back and re-read many of the novels that I had read during my youth, such as Fahrenheit 451, A Clockwork Orange, and Frankenstein.

The list was compiled by conducting a poll of NPR listeners; and, as with all polls, this list is subjective and is limited by those who choose to participate and the time at which it is taken.

It's difficult to argue with the top 5-10. All are classics and very few lists of this sort would deny the impact and quality of any of these. 

But some will quibble because their favourite book or series was left out.

Notably absent are Bram Stoker's Dracula", The Narnia Chronicles (although C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy was included), The Hobbit (although The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion made the cut), the Harry Potter series, the Hunger Games series, and any works by H.P. Lovecraft.

This was my first time reading some authors of whom I had heard (Neil Gaiman, Kurt Vonnegut, Terry Pratchett, and others) and many authors with which I was completely unfamiliar (Neal Stephenson, Max Brooks, Peter S Beagle, Joe Haldeman, and others)

For the most part, I greatly enjoyed these books. I took the time to review many of them afterward.

I gave the highest ratings to the following books:

  • Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  • The Stand by Stephen King
  • Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
  • Stardust by Neil Gaiman
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • Merlin Trilogy by Mary Stewart
  • The Last Unicorn by Peter S Beagle
  • The Once and Future King by TH White
  • The Belgariad by David Eddings
  • The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

The only book I disliked was Kushiel's Dart.

Here are some of my observations after finishing this reading.

There is more variety in science fiction than in fantasy. Most fantasy novels are coming-of-age stories.

A few themes were repeated in multiple novels on the list.

The Arthurian Legend is recounted in the following:

  • The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • The Once and Future King by TH White
  • The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart
  • The Space trilogy by CS Lewis
  • The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan

Time Travel is a primary topic in each of these stories:

  • The Time Machine by HG Wells
  • The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  • The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
  • The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
  • Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

and is at least part of the following stories:

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Dark Tower by Stephen King
  • The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

Three novels dealt with the end of the World

  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe
  • Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

Vampires are major characters in I Am Legend by Richard Matheson and Sunshine by Robin McKinley and are mentioned in the Discworld series

Most authors appeared only once on the list but 16 appeared multiple times and a few (Neal Stephenson, Neil Gaiman, and Ray Bradbury) appeared 4 times. Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein each had 3 books on the list. 11 authors were listed twice.

Two Graphic Novels made the list: Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons; and The Sandman by Neil Gaiman.

I found it interesting that every book on the list was originally published in English, except the two by Jules Verne: Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I chalk this up to the fact that an American radio network conducted the survey.

If you would like to read my detailed opinions on the books, I have posted reviews for many of them at goodreads.com 

If you are ambitious, below is the complete list:

Rank Title Author Books In Series Books I Read Year Read
1 The Lord of the Rings JRR Tolkien 3 3 1985
2 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams 5 5 1985
3 Ender's Game Orson Scott Card 1 1 2013
4 The Dune Chronicles Frank Herbert 5 5 1988
5 A Song of Ice and Fire George RR Martin 5 5 2012
6 1984 George Orwell 1 1 1982/2018
7 Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury 1 1 1977
8 The Foundation Trilogy Isaac Asimov 3 3 1985
9 Brave New World Aldous Huxley 1 1 1986
10 American Gods Neil Gaiman 1 1 2012
11 The Princess Bride William Goldman 1 1 2017
12 The Wheel of Time Robert Jordan 14 1 2012
13 Animal Farm George Orwell 1 1 1986
14 Neuromancer William Gibson 1 1 2012
15 Watchmen Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons 1 1 1990
16 I, Robot Isaac Asimov 1 1 1981
17 Stranger in a Strange Land Robert Heinlein 1 1 2010/2018
18 The Kingkiller Chronicles Patrick Rothfuss 3 1 2012
19 Slaughterhouse Five Kurt Vonnegut 1 1 2012
20 Frankenstein Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley 1 1 1976
21 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Pilip K.Dick 1 1 2011
22 The Handmaid's Tale Margaret Atwood 1 1 2013
23 The Dark Tower Stephen King 8 8 2013
oo 2001: A Space Odyssey Arthur C. Clarke 1 1 1978
25 The Stand Stephen King 1 1 2016
26 Snow Crash Neal Stephenson 1 1 2013
27 The Martian Chronicles Ray Bradbury 1 1 1976
28 Cat's Cradle Kurt Vonnegut 1 1 2012
29 The Sandman Neil Gaiman 10 10 2015
30 A Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess 1 1 1990
31 Starship Troopers Robert Heinlein 1 1 2000
32 Watership Down Richard Adams 1 1 2012
33 Dragonflight Anne McCaffrey 1 1 2012
34 The Moon is a Harsh Mistress Robert Heinlein 1 1 2012
35 A Canticle for Leibowitz Walter M. Miller Jr. 1 1 2012
36 The Time Machine HG Wells 1 1 1977
37 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Jules Verne 1 1 1975
38 Flowers for Algernon Daniel Keyes 1 1 2011
39 The War of the Worlds HG Wells 1 1 1975
40 The Amber Chronicles Roger Zelazny 10 10 2014
41 The Belgariad David Eddings 5 5 2017
42 The Mists of Avalon Marion Zimmer Bradley 1 1 2014
43 The Mistborn Trilogy Brandon Sanderson 3 3 2012
44 Ringworld Larry Niven 1 1 2014
45 The Left Hand of Darkness Ursula K LeGuin 1 1 1986
46 The Silmarillion JRR Tolkien 1 1 1988
47 The Once and Future King TH White 4 4 2016
48 Neverwhere Neil Gaiman 1 1 2015
49 Childhood's End Arthur C. Clarke 1 1 1977
50 Contact Carl Sagan 1 1 2011
51 Hyperion Dan Simmons 1 1 2013
52 Stardust Neil Gaiman 1 1 2017
53 Cryptonomicon Neal Stephenson 1 1 2013
54 World War Z Max Brooks 1 1 2013
55 The Last Unicorn Peter S Beagle 1 1 2017
56 The Forever War Joe Haldeman 1 1 2014
57 Small Gods Terry Pratchett 1 1 2015
58 The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever Stephen R Donaldson 3 3 2014
59 The Vorkosigan Saga Lois McMaster Bujold 23 10 2016
60 Going Postal Terry Pratchett 1 1 2014
61 Mote in God's Eye Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle 1 1 2013
62 The Sword of Truth Terry Goodkind 12 1 2018
63 The Road Cormac McCarthy 1 1 2012
64 Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell Susanna Clarke 1 1 2014
65 I Am Legend Richard Matheson 1 1 2014
66 The Riftwar Saga Raymond E. Feist 3 3 2018
67 The Sword of Shananara Terry Brooks 3 3 2017
68 Conan the Barbarian Robert E Howard 3 3 2016
69 The Farseer Trilogy Robin Hobb 3 3 2017
70 The Time Traveler's Wife Audry Niffenegger 1 1 2005/2018
71 The Way of Kings Brandon Sanderson 1 1 2018
72 Journey to the Center of the Earth Jules Verne 1 1 1976
73 The Legend of Drizzt Series RA Salvatore 24 1 2017
74 Old Man's War John Scalzi 1 1 2014
75 The Diamond Age Neal Stephenson 1 1 2015
76 Rendezvous with Rama Arthur C. Clarke 1 1 1990
77 The Kushiel's Legacy Series Jacqueline Carey 9 1 2017
78 The Dispossessed Ursula K LeGuin 1 1 2017
79 Something Wicked This Way Comes Ray Bradbury 1 1 2017
80 Wicked Gregory Maguire 1 1 2006
81 The Malazan Book of the Fallen series Steven Erikson 10 1 2018
82 The Eyre Affair Jasper Fforde 1 1 2017
83 The Culture series Iain Banks 10 1 2018
84 The Crystal Cave Mary Stewart 3 3 2018
85 Anathem Neal Stephenson 1 1 2016
86 The Codex Alera Series Jim Butcher 6 1 2017
87 The Book of the New Sun Gene Wolfe 4 4 2018
88 The Thrawn Trilogy Timothy Zahn 3 3 2014
89 The Outlander series Diana Gabaldon 7 1 2017
90 The Elric Saga Michael Moorcock 6 6 1990
91 The Illustrated Man Ray Bradbury 1 1 2016
92 Sunshine Robin McKinley 1 1 2017
93 A Fire Upon the Deep Vernor Vinge 1 1 2015
94 The Caves of Steel Isaac Asimov 1 1 1988
95 The Mars trilogy Kim Stanley Robinson 3 3 2014
96 Lucifer's Hammer Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle 1 1 2015
97 Doomsday Book Connie Willis 1 1 2015
98 Perdido Street Station China Mieville 1 1 2017
99 The Xanth series Piers Anthony 40 1 2018
100 The Space trilogy CS Lewis 3 3 2013
Friday, January 4, 2019 9:23:00 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Thursday, January 3, 2019

GCast 29:

Introducing Cognitive Services and Computer Vision

Microsoft Cognitive Services allow you to take advantage of Machine Learning without all the complexities of Machine Learning. In this video, I introduce Cognitive Services by showing how to use Computer Vision to analyze an image, automatically detecting properties of that image.

Thursday, January 3, 2019 12:53:21 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Wednesday, January 2, 2019


Augie March is an unlikely and unassuming hero in an American saga.

Born of a working-class simple-minded single mother in depression-era Chicago during the Great Depression, Augie struggles to rise above his lot in life.

Saul Bellow chronicles his struggles in The Adventures of Augie March.

Augie March begins his way in the world as a small-time criminal - stealing books,

Self-described as "an American, Chicago born", Augie often drifts through life, finding work where he can and seeking love where he can. His adventures often occur because he follows others: He falls in love with a girl who takes him to Mexico to finalize her divorce and train an eagle; he accompanies a friend on a trip to smuggle workers into the US from Canada, but they become stranded when the police discover the friend is driving a stolen car.

But, Augie progresses. He travels the world and experiences life and meets a lot of people. He takes on a number of jobs: Running errands for a corrupt businessman; recruiting workers to a labor union; buying and selling on the European black market; eagle trainer; even a stint in the US Navy; 

Our hero's great hindrance is his desire to do the right thing. For example, his engagement to a rich girl is derailed when he helps a friend escape an abusive relationship and recover from a botched abortion. Augie's fiancé and her family refuse to believe he is not sleeping with the girl he is helping. He knows this will happen, but he does what he believes is right.

It's sometimes hard to tell where the story is going. There are so many characters and so much happens that the reader can't always see what is important. March seems to just travel through life experiencing his adventures, with little or no theme running through them all. He tries, and he fails, and he tries again - in his careers and in his romances. Repeatedly, he deals with the chaos that is life and moves on.

But I see Augie's life as a pursuit of the American Dream, which is bold in its reach, but limited in its explicit goals.  March is more self-aware than most, seeing his weaknesses and strengths and he never stops growing. And he never stops trying to move forward. And he never stops dreaming.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019 5:46:58 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, December 31, 2018

Episode 544

Elizabeth Graham on Azure Logic Apps

Microsoft Global Black Belt Elizabeth Graham describes Azure Logic Apps and how to use them to solve integration and workflow projects.

Monday, December 31, 2018 9:06:00 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Thursday, December 27, 2018

GCast 28:

Natural Language Processing with LUIS

Learn how to use Microsoft Language Understanding Information Service (LUIS) to build models that provide Natural Language Processing (NLP) for your application.

Thursday, December 27, 2018 9:53:00 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, December 24, 2018

Episode 543

Alex Mang on Azure Durable Functions

Alex Mang describes Azure Durable Functions and some real-world examples of how he uses them.

Monday, December 24, 2018 9:42:00 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Thursday, December 20, 2018

GCast 27:


Learn how to use QnA Maker to create a bot that automatically answers questions.

Azure | Bots | GCast | Screencast
Thursday, December 20, 2018 9:26:00 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The world of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson is a dangerous one. The continent of Roshar on the planet Roshar is filled with perils. Violent "highstorms" destroy nearly everything in their path; giant carnivorous crustaceans roam the chasms; the Parshendi and the Alethi races have been at war for as long as anyone can remember with no victory in sight for either side; and godlike creatures battle each other every few thousand years to decide the fate of the planet.

The Alethi-Parshendi wars take place on the Shattered Planes - a vast series of high plateaus separated by deep chasms. Enslaved "bridgemen" push giant bridges between the plateaus in order for armies to advance and attack. These bridgemen also serve the purpose of drawing enemy fire away from the armies, keeping their survival rate close to zero.

On top of this is the caste system, which decrees at birth the fate of each person - from slave to king. There exist about a dozen specific castes, but they are grouped into two broad categories, based on eye color. The light-eyes are clearly at the top and dark-eyes are decidedly below.

But Roshar also has some marvels. The storms generate a mystical force called "stormlight" that can be captured in stones and other objects and can be harnessed by those with the power to do so. Powerful shardblades can cut through nearly anything and armor made of shardplate can protect the wearer from nearly any attack; soulcasters are devices that allow masters to transmute one object or substance into another; and spren - creatures made of light, who sometimes come to the aid of humans.

The book switches points of view between several characters. The most important are:

Kaladin, son of a physician, who goes to war to protect his younger brother. But ends up sold into slavery as a bridgeman - the most expendable people in the army. He begins to acquire powers from stormlight and learn how to use those powers to help his fellow bridgemen.

Shallan Davar, who apprentices herself to the heretic scholar Jasnah Kholin in an attempt to steal her soulcaster.

Dalinar Kholin, a decorated warrior, an honorable man, and the uncle of a king. Dalinar sees visions of ancient gods and begins to question the wisdom of the endless war waged by his countrymen.

By far, the most interesting story is Kaladin's. He progresses from idealist to cynic to reluctant super hero and it is all done with perfect plausibility. Kaladin miraculously survives every danger he faces, but often those closest to him perishes. Despite this, the other bridgemen rally around him and he eventually inspires and unites these dregs of society.

Few of the stories overlap in this book, but we expect them to do so as the series progresses.

As he has done before, Brandon Sanderson does a masterful job of building a world in which to place his characters and stories. In fact, the first two-thirds of this book spends much of its time setting the scene for the final third.

At over 1000 pages, this is an intimidating book - particularly when you consider it is part 1 of a proposed 10-volume series (three volumes have been published as of this writing) It took me nearly a year to finish it as other patrons kept requesting it

But it was worth the time and effort. I loved the characters and the world and the plausibility of the world Sanderson creates. Sanderson doesn't simply allow magic to exist - he provides a source to that magic and a partial explanation of its uses and limits.

The Way of Kings not a perfect book. The story is long and the action is sometimes separated by hundreds of pages of character development. But it never suffers from the flowery language that often bogs down high fantasy stories

There is much to think about in this book. But one of Kaladin's men put it best when Kaladin asked the meaning of a story:

"It means what you want it to mean," Hoid said. "The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think , but to give you questions to think upon. Too often, we forget that.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2018 9:38:00 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, December 17, 2018

Episode 542

Jim Wooley on Static Analyzers and Roslyn

Microsoft MVP Jim Wooley describes how to use Roslyn to create your own static analyzers to verify the quality of your code.

Monday, December 17, 2018 9:48:00 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Sunday, December 16, 2018

AppointmentInSamarraAppointment in Samarra by John O'Hara takes place over a 72-hour period in the small eastern Pennsylvania town of Gibbsville.

But three days is all it takes for Julian English to destroy everything good in his life.

Julian had it made. He was born into a wealthy family; he owned a car dealer that was successful even during the great depression; and he had a beautiful, faithful wife, who loved him.

But he drank. And one night, at a party, he grew tired of listening to loudmouth boor Harry Reilly and threw a drink in his face.  Julian quickly regretted his actions. Harry was an influential man in Gibbsville and Julian owed him money; but rather than correct the situation, Julian hurtles down a path of self-destruction for the next 3 days, alienating himself from the rest of society, burning bridges in his life, and spiraling quickly downward until he reaches a breaking point.

Appointment is an excellent look at America of the 1930s. It shows us the social castes, the gossip, the overt racism, and life inside a bubble that is small town America.

O'Hara does a masterful job of building the characters of this town and the dynamics between them.  He gives us a backstory about Julian's wife, so we understand why he is lucky to have her and a fool to risk losing her. We learn about Julian's family and the pressure his father places on him, so we understand why he sometimes feels useless and helpless.

Interestingly, none of Julian's acts of self-destruction are described in the book. We hear about them later as characters discuss what happened. Sometimes, it's unclear exactly what Julian did. For example, his wife sees him leave a night club with the girlfriend of a local mobster; then later finds Julian passed out drunk in his car. Did he commit adultery? It probably doesn't matter, as that was clearly his intent. And he is now in trouble with both his wife and the mob.

This is a book that got better as it went along. As the story progresses, Julian's downfall seems inevitable. But I could not look away. Appointment in Samarra is an American tragedy that is well worth watching.

Sunday, December 16, 2018 7:56:16 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)