Why Is Kink Fun? A Guest post by Greta Christina

Unzip your mind. Sit back, relax with your drink of choice, and read the following with a healthy spirit of inquiry. Many of you won’t even need to do that much – you’re kinky yourownselves, and you’re ready to go dive into the book without advance preparation. Some of you aren’t kinky at all, or haven’t ever discovered more than a mild, currently socially-acceptable kink within yourself (fuzzy handcuffs, eh? Nice!). Some of you have been conditioned to believe kink is sick and horrible and never ever good.

As with many things, you’ve been lied to. And Greta will attempt to explain why this thing you think is no fun at all is actually very fun and healthy and mucho bueno for many folks. Ready? Then go:

 

Why Is Kink Fun?

Guest post by Greta Christina

"Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More" - by our own Greta Christina - is currently available as an ebook on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords. Audiobook and paperback are coming soon!

“Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More” – by our own Greta Christina – is currently available as an ebook on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords. Audiobook and paperback are coming soon!

Why is kink fun?

Why is it that some people — in very specialized, negotiated, enthusiastically consensual circumstances — find it not just acceptable, but actively and deeply pleasurable, to be controlled, dominated, physically hurt, used, objectified, shamed, humiliated, and/or have their freedom curtailed?

Quick bit of background. I’ve recently published a collection of erotic fiction — mostly kinky — titled “Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.” (Currently available as an ebook on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords — audiobook and paperback are coming soon.) The book has gotten an excellent reception so far, with lots of lovely gushing reviews. But it’s also been received with some bafflement, and in some cases even hostility, from a few readers and people who’ve seen excerpts or read what I’ve written about it… and who don’t understand how it can be healthy to get sexual pleasure from experiences that are so obviously unhealthy and negative and bad. Example: I got this message on Facebook recently, which I’m printing with the senders permission (anonymously at their request):

I am right in the middle of your book “Bending”. As someone who has a very “vanilla” sex drive with no kinks (literally, none.. I’m as bland as they come) I don’t quite see the appeal to feeling shame that comes with BDSM-style punishment and discipline. As someone who’s been shamed in real life by religion in years past, and by friends and family who don’t understand my hobbies and quirks, I find it hard to empathize with how shame can be a turn-on for some people.

I ask this in the most non-judgmental way possible… but, what is the appeal? I’m a little hung up on your book because I don’t understand how humiliation can be erotic. I think the book is very well written but I’m just having a hard time reading through it because there is a stark disconnect between my sexuality and the sexuality of the characters portrayed in your short stories.

Thank you very much for your time. I love the work that you do and look forward to possibly hearing back from you.

I’ve been doing kinky sex for so long, I sometimes forget how incomprehensible it sometimes seems to people who aren’t into it. But I do recognize why this might be hard to understand. In some ways, consensually sadomasochistic sex can almost be defined as sex that eroticizes, and makes pleasurable, experiences that would normally be actively unpleasant, and in some cases even horrific.

What about that feels good?

There’s a limit to how well I’m going to be able to get this across. Sex is such a personal, subjective experience. Explaining why you like any kind of sex that someone else doesn’t — kinky or otherwise — is tricky at best. Try explaining why you like sex with someone of the opposite sex — or the same sex — to someone who really, really doesn’t. It’s like trying to explain what it is that tastes good about broccoli, to someone who totally loathes it. But I’m going to take a stab.

Caveat #1: I’m just talking about myself here. I know that my experiences are shared by many, but I don’t presume to speak for all kinky people. Caveat #2: This is a complicated issue — what’s the phrase the social scientists use? Multi-factorial? — and anything I say to explain this is going to oversimplify pretty much by definition. All that being said, I’m going to take a stab.

For me, much of what it comes down to is intimacy.

The thing about pain is that it gets through. I can be a very well-defended, self-contained person: I don’t let myself get close to people very easily, and it’s hard to just let those walls down and let someone else in. But pain gets through. It’s impossible to ignore. The very intensity of it — the fact that my body is processing the sensation, on some level, as unpleasant — grabs my attention, wakes me the fuck up. If someone is hitting me, I can’t tune out the fact that they’re touching me.

And it isn’t just pain I’m talking about here. In my experience, most forms of sadomasochistic sex have to do with breaking down barriers. Shame and humiliation break down the barriers of dignity and composure. Bondage and domination break down the barriers of self-containment and self-possession. There is an intense intimacy in putting yourself in someone else’s hands, handing over the reins, letting them control what you’re going to be feeling for a while. And again, the very intensity of the experience, the fact that some small part of my brain is screaming, “This is not okay! Get away from this now!”, can — again, in the right circumstances and with the right person — be an intensifier, a magnifier of experience. Including the experience of intimacy, of connection, of being touched by another person.

There’s a lot more going on here, of course. I’ve found that I tend to fantasize about what I don’t have — and when my life is micro-scheduled and overloaded with responsibility, as it so often is, it can feel like a huge burden being lifted to just let go and let someone else be the decider for a couple/ few hours. (You know the cliché of the high-powered business executive seeking out a dominatrix, to relieve him of responsibility for a short while? It’s a cliché for a reason.)

Also, I should point out that kinky people aren’t the only ones who think power is sexy. Humans are hierarchical apes. Get three of us in a room together, and we’ll create a dominance structure. It’s not hugely surprising that many of us would eroticize power. And it’s not hugely surprising that some of us would eroticize power in an overt, explicit way: not simply by being attracted to politicians or moguls, but by being aroused by a person standing over us with a whip.

Then there’s endorphins: the brain’s natural opiates, which kick in as a response to pain, and which under the right circumstances can get us high. And which sexual masochists will tell you about in loving detail, and at great length. If you understand why many athletes experience pain — and pushing through pain to get to the endorphin high — as a pleasurable experience… then you can understand at least part of why sexual masochists experience pain as a pleasurable experience.

And for me at least, there’s a certain hard-wired quality to these experiences that’s fundamentally inexplicable. I have been aware of being kinky for as long as I’ve been aware of being sexual. And I don’t mean since I was eighteen, or since I was thirteen. I mean since I was eight. I have been aware of being kinky for about as long as I’ve been aware of being queer. That isn’t true for every kinky person — but it’s true for a lot of us. I don’t entirely understand this stuff myself: yes, I have intimacy issues, but I think pretty much everyone has intimacy issues, and most people don’t handle those issues by intentionally eroticizing getting beaten and pushed around. Most people probably couldn’t eroticize pain and submission and humiliation, even if they wanted to. (There are people who come to kink later in life, and who nurture a kinky sexuality intentionally — in response to a partner who enjoys it, for instance — but in my experience, most of them had at least a seed of kink to start with.) The way my body processes pain, the way my mind processes power… I can’t entirely explain it, any more than I can explain why I like girls. The clit has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing.

But what it mostly comes down to, for me, is intimacy. Kink gets through. It breaks down my walls. I have formidable walls at times… and the intensity of kink sets dynamite underneath them.

I’ve so far been writing about this from the bottom’s perspective: explaining why it feels good to receive pain, to be humiliated, to be controlled. But I’m a switch, and I can tell you that it feels good on the other side as well… and for much the same reasons. Just as it feels good to both penetrate sexually and be penetrated, it feels good to be on both sides of the connection of sadomasochism. It feels good to break down walls, just as it does to have your walls broken. It feels good to touch, with the intensity of pain or power, just as it does to be touched.

If this still doesn’t make sense: There’s an analogy that some of my readers have made in some other conversations about this. Kink is like a rollercoaster, or a horror movie. It can be fun and exciting to subject yourself to otherwise unpleasant emotions — like fear — in a safe, controlled setting. There is a thrill to fear, a rush… and when you can experience that rush with people you trust, in a place where you know you’re safe, it can filter out the unpleasantness, and leave only the thrill.

Ultimately, it may not be possible to really convey what this experience is like. I will probably never understand on a visceral level what it feels like to enjoy broccoli, or what it is that people find pleasurable about that experience. And someone with no interest whatsoever in kink may never understand on a visceral level what it feels like to enjoy getting beaten or shamed or controlled.

And it may not matter that much. As long as you have an intellectual understanding of this stuff; as long as you have an understanding of the basic fact that people do like different sexual things from you, and that this doesn’t make them sick or bad; as long as you understand that there is literally no medical evidence suggesting that kinky people are sick or bad, and in fact plenty of evidence pointing to the conclusion that we’re every bit as healthy and good as everyone else; as long as you understand that no matter what your sexuality is, there is someone in the world who finds it incomprehensible and weird — and as long as you can use that understanding to accept kinky people and treat us with decency — I don’t know that it matters that much whether you can deeply, viscerally grasp what it is about this experience that people get off on.

But getting a glimmer of the visceral experience can help with the intellectual understanding. It may even help people who do have kinky feelings, and who have been shamed into thinking that they’re sick or dangerous or wrong, come to an acceptance of them, and feel more comfortable exploring them.

And anyway, it’s just fun to think about.

“Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More” is currently available as an ebook on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords. Audiobook and paperback are coming soon!

50 “Simple” Questions, Me Arse

I thought we were in trouble. Guy P. Harrison’s introduction to his new book 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian set alarm bells a-ringing. “This book is not an attack on Christian people,” the first line says. Fair enough. But then there were all sorts of weaselly, mealy-mouthed words that seemed to shout “Retreat!” “Humble and far less threatening,” forsooth. “Clichéd and cartoonish angry atheist attack on crazy Christians,” indeed! “No interest in scoring debate points,” even so! “Proud to say I’ve walked away on friendly terms,” for fuck’s sake. Despite assurances punches would not be pulled, I was positive I was in for 324 pages of forelock-tugging, bowing and scraping deference to Christianity. This looked like it was going to be one of those kumbaya books, and I almost packed it up and sent it back to Prometheus Books with a note saying, “No. I can’t do this.”

50 Simple Questions for Every Christian by Guy P. Harrison. Image courtesy Prometheus Books.

50 Simple Questions for Every Christian by Guy P. Harrison. Image courtesy Prometheus Books.

But I read on, with much trepidation, and within about twenty pages wondered if any Christians would make it so far. Guy wasn’t kidding when he said he was pulling no punches. Despite the occasional irritating elbow thrown at “both sides” (with no evidence that our side ever did anything equivalent), this is mostly a full-on series of knockout blows. Oh, it’s all very civil. But we all know civil language doesn’t mean the content itself is gentle. I don’t know if I’d give this book to any Christian whose faith wasn’t already wavering, because I suspect they’d close it after two pages and never open it again. But it’s an excellent addition to any skeptic’s library, because it gives us 50 questions to use as wedges to insert into any cracks of faith and hammer home.

I like that he led off by asking, “does Christianity makes sense?” That’s an excellent question to explore beyond your Christian conversation partner’s first, “well, of course it does!” And the questions, simple on their surface, keep getting harder, as do the points Guy makes about each one. He presents the atheist/skeptical perspective regarding each question clearly and completely. No quibbles from this New Atheist.

By the end of the book, the common arguments most Christians make for their faith are out cold. Miracles? Dispatched. Prophecies? Punctured. Loving God? Revealed as a complete shit. Intelligent design? In tatters. Good only with God? More like good without God. Pascal’s Wager? A foolish gamble indeed. The Bible? As The Doctor once said, “Atrociously writ!” Guy says it’s not about the content or contradictions. “No, the real reason the Bible hasn’t been able to convince everyone everywhere that Jesus is the only path to heaven is that it is poorly written and structured.” That’s it. That’s the only argument we need; the rest is mere detail. If God existed, he would have been a better writer, and selected excellent editors.

Guy makes a clear and convincing case for skepticism throughout the book. One of my favorite moments is on page 107, where he says, “One unfounded belief sets us up to fall for the next one.” Absolute truth. He hits hard at verses in the Bible used to degrade and subjugate women, and he won’t let modern Christians get away with saying all that’s in the past. He hammers away at the notion that Christianity has anything to fear from science – why would it, if it’s true? By the end of the book, any Christians still unwilling to subject their faith to the rigors of modern science should be feeling thoroughly ashamed, and wondering how true their faith could possibly be if they’re unwilling to let science near it.

Geology gets its rock hammer in – you lot will love the discussion around the “Did God to drown the world?” question, wherein geologists get more than a mere mention. Guy displays a clear understanding of how the geologic record works. Allow me to quote a bit of the passage on page 239 that left me all warm and fuzzy:

Ten thousand years is an extremely thin sliver of time in geology. It’s certainly not so long ago that modern geologists would not have confirmed the flood. A global flood would have been an extraordinarily massive event in the Earth’s history with a colossal impact. It would have left behind a very clear and obvious record. Evidence for it would be everywhere, and the world’s geologists would be the first to see it.

You bet we would!

I also learned of the “Well to Hell,” which I’ve never heard of (pages 257-8). How did I miss this? It’s hilarious – and it provides some teachable moments in geology that I’ll be putting to good use soon. “Center of the Earth,” my arse. Snortle.

The “scientists are arrogant” trope is dispatched with no muss or fuss on page 252. Hard to come over all arrogant when you’re running around admitting and correcting mistakes, and saying you haven’t got all the answers, innit?

This book also contains some shocks for us atheists. As in, “There is no such thing as an atheist.” It’s true! Who are the gods we believe existed, thus killing our atheist cred? Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Ramses II, among others, all of whom were really-real historical figures deified after death. Checkmate, atheists! (This came by way of showing how crappy definitions of God are – see page 167, and chortle along.)

Upshot: I think this is a handy volume for atheists and skeptics to own. I’d encourage brave and/or questioning Christians to get it, as well. And if you want to send the die-hard believer in your life into screaming apoplexy, this might be the ideal gift. Regardless, these are excellent questions, thoughtfully answered from the skeptic’s perspective with plenty of stories and statistics to illustrate. It’s not a kind book. But it deeply respects the Christian’s intelligence, which is more than we can say for the religious leaders who feed their flocks nothing but pap. I’ll be recommending it to anyone who wants to know more about the skeptic’s perspective, or counters to common Christian tactics. And I’ll happily pull it out the next time missionaries darken my doorstep. Combined with the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, I have a feeling I might scar a few innocent young things for life.

Funny how they always seem to skip my apartment… Perhaps I should put a note on the door saying I have a Bible and a few simple questions. Heh.

Now I Wanna Go to Church…

No, seriously. I do. I even have my Bible:

Mah very own Skeptic's Annotated Bible. I loves it and it is mine. My own. My - wait...

Mah very own Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. I loves it and it is mine. My own. My – wait…

I seriously do love my Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. I cackled when it came in the mail, and immediately took pictures of it, then took it out of its clear plastic wrapper and took more pictures, then I took it to bed and promptly began reading. About forty-seven seconds later, I had an almost overwhelming urge to go to church. I want to find the most Bible-believing biblical literalist church possible, and sit there with my big ochre bible, and innocently thumb through it. “Excuse me, Pastor, did you just say God wants us to be saved? But what about here in Second Thessalonians 2:11 and 12, where it says God will make us believe lies so that we’re damned? How does that work?” Cue puzzled but beatific smile.

This is a wonderful book. Granted, there’s a website. But somehow, having this book in hand is utterly different. I think it’s because it feels like the very serious bibles we thumbed through in church every Sunday morning. Its pages are thin and crackly; it has a solemn weight, and somber binding. When you open it, there are the King James words, ever so familiar and hallowed by centuries of repetition. But you’ll never find this introduction in a Christian Bookstore bible: “When I was a Christian, I never read the Bible. Not all the way through, anyway. The problem was that I believed the Bible to be the inspired and inerrant word of God, yet the more I read it, the less credible that belief became. I finally decided that to protect my faith in the Bible, I’d better quit trying to read it.”

Lolz.

Steve Wells did us a huge good service by going through this nasty book verse by verse, annotating and highlighting. In the margins, you’ll find a simple key, little icons that tell you where to find absurdity (okay, more absurdity), injustice, cruelty and violence, intolerance, contradictions, conflicts with science and history, Biblical family values (ha!), interpretation, misogyny and insults to women, sex, false prophecy and misquotes, language (as in naughty), homosexuality (all few references), and, just occasionally, good stuff. Those little icons make skimming through to find what you need quite easy.

Each chapter is introduced with highlights. To take a chapter at random, we’ll flip to Philippians, where the highlights tell us, “Forget Jesus. Paul says you should follow him and people that follow him.” That’s in Philippians 3:17, for those who want a peek. I loved those chapter highlights: it helped me orient myself and gave me fun things to look forward to in what is, let’s face it, an atrociously written book. Well, atrociously written books mashed together any-old-how. A good read-through makes me wonder how anyone’s powers of self-deception are up to the task of convincing self and everyone that this mess is meaningful. Yeesh.

After a while, you just want to skip to the end. Which is where the really good stuff is. Steve included a list of contradictions (spoiler alert: it’s really really long). I think this may be my favorite part of the book, because it’s such a simple, clear-cut reference showing the contradictions with eye-opening clarity – and citing chapter and verse.This is the part I will turn to the next time proselytizers arrive at my door. I will sit them down, open my SAB to that list, and go down the whole thing, asking for explanations until they flee. It’s going to be such fun.

And then, the pièce de résistance, the greatest list of all: “God’s Killings in the Bible.” It begins with Noah’s flood and ends with Jesus. A few killings seem to be missing, but the dude’s such a homicidal maniac it’s hard for even someone as thorough as Steve to keep track. It doesn’t matter. By the time you hit line 25 or 50 (representing untold bloodshed) that you start to realize the God of love was actually the God of “Dang, I love killing humans!” By line 135, it’s really hard to see the Christian god as anything other than a genocidal freak, and throwing a few more bodies on the pile seems, frankly, like overkill. Which is something God engaged in with alarming frequency.

All of this awesomeness is sandwiched between Selected Quotes from the Old Testament (front end-papers) and Selected Quotes from the New Testament (endpapers). And you know those quotes are the ones guaranteed to make all but the most blinkered Christian squirm. “Hey, kids! Let’s read the Bible together! How about Second Kings 18:27? That’s wholesome!”

I’m loving this. I figure if people are going to believe the bible’s their good book, they should read the thing, and prepare to defend it in all it’s blood-soaked, slavery-approving, misogynistic, ignorant, violent and contradictory glory. The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible  makes it easy to help that process along. We can do bible study together! Hooray!

It’s also suitable for gifting to religious relatives and friends, and all you have to do is practice your innocent look: “Oh, it’s a skeptic’s view of the bible? Wow. I thought it was a bible you’d give to a skeptic to bring ‘em around!” *bat eyelashes, shrug bashfully*

The only thing that will make this better is having my pantheist friend join me at church with her LOLcat Bible. And I am breathlessly awaiting the day when the Skeptic’s Annotated Book of Mormon and the Skeptic’s Annotated Qu’ran are available in print. I’ll be bloody well tempted to become a comparative religions scholar in my free time, and if I do, I will enjoy it.

Thank you, Steve, for such an outstanding reference bible. It will have pride o’ place on my shelf, and I hope it will pass down through many generations of my skeptical family. Those of you who’d like to join me at church, you can get your copy here.

By Popular Request: Geology Book Extravaganza

By popular demand, just in time for the holidays, here ’tis: a maclargehuge list o’ geology books! Okay, so Heliconia asked merely for an introductory geology book. And Redpanda may not have expected a huge list when inquiring after a few titles to fill in ye olde gaps in scientific knowledge. But if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing, I say – and besides that, I had two years of book reviews to pull from.

So here they are at last, books I recommend to those who need the short (compared to a university degree) and sweet course in geology.

Annals of the Former World

Annals of the Former World. Image courtesy Goodreads.

 

Annals of the Former World by John McPhee

This is the one that always comes up in any conversation where geologists are discussing good geology books. It’s four books in one, and takes you from coast to coast through America with John and geologists, exploring geological history and wonders. This was a time when the plate tectonics revolution was brand-new, so you get a sense of the excitement (“We can finally make sense of this stuff!”) and the caution (“Slow down, hoss, you ain’t gathered all your evidence yet.”). So you get to watch a theory being born.

Being a book by John McPhee, this is beautifully written, and will stay with you for a lifetime. This is an excellent place for anyone to start.

Reading the Rocks

Reading the Rocks. Image courtesy Goodreads.

 

Reading the Rocks: The Autobiography of the Earth by Marcia Bjornerud

Do this: read the introduction to this book. Just that. By the end, you will have learned something of geology, gotten broadsided by a puckish sense of humor, and likely been hooked enough to buy the thing. This is the intro-to-geology book for those who want – oh, how did I put it when I first read her book? -  “a fun, easy and accurate primer on geology…” I also said, “She’s not only an informative writer whose prose flows like water over Franklin Falls, she’s snarky. I am a sucker for snark.” I still am. I still love this book. And I still foist it upon people who are looking for a short, sharp intro to geology.

So, get this and Annals, for a start. Then, if you are hooked and cannot stop….

Earth: An Intimate History

Earth: An Intimate History. Image courtesy About.com Geology.

 

Earth: An Intimate History by Richard Fortey

This is one of the first books I read when I was renewing my interest in earth science, lo these many years ago. I strongly believe it needs to be read by more people. I’ll see your John McPhee and raise you Richard Fortey – his prose is astoundingly beautiful. Also, he is British, and you know I’m an anglophile. Oh, language! Oh, earth! This is one of those books that immerses you, and by the time you emerge from it, you’ll understand so much more of this planet. You’ll absorb much more geology than you might believe you have done. This doesn’t seem like a science book as much as a love letter about the Earth – but it’s science, through and through. Hard science, strong science.

Read those three books, and you’re well on your way to being able to understand this geology thing. But wait! There’s more!

Supercontinent: Ten Billion Years in the Life of Our Planet

Supercontinent: Ten Billion Years in the Life of Our Planet. Image courtesy Goodreads.

 

Supercontinent: Ten Billion Years in the Life of Our Planet by Ted Nield

There are very few books that I immediately want to read again even before I’ve finished them.  This is one.

What to say?  That Ted Nield writes with the kind of clarity and style that, should he turn it into a narrative, would make even the phone book fascinating reading?  That’s one thing.  Add that to the fact that he’s writing about something inherently fascinating, and you have the recipe for a truly outstanding book.

Nield tells two histories: the history of supercontinents forming and rifting, and the history of our discovery and understanding of them.  Many times, when an author tells two tales, one takes second place to the other.  Nield manages to unfold them both in tandem, so that neither is slighted.  And he still finds time for interesting diversions: gentle pokes at Madame Blavatsky and other purveyors of New Age lost continent woo, the United States’ brief flirtation with the Queen of Mu, snowball earths, why the supercontinent Rodinia may have been vital to the evolution of life on Earth and why understanding supercontinents is so very vital to our survival now.  It’s a lot of territory to cover.  He does it in 270 pages.

At the end, he fires a scathing broadside at Ken Ham’s Creation Museum and those who abuse and ignore science for their inane ideologies.  One paragraph in particular stood out:

I have tried in this book to show something of how ideas in science often grade into – perhaps even sometimes derive from – myth, and I have done this to show how important it is to know the difference between the two.  The truth is that we, as a species, can no longer afford the luxury of irrationality and prejudice.  We are too many and too powerful to live in dreams.  And the greatest and most irrational of the prejudices from which we must free ourselves is one identified by Lucretius in the last century BC: the belief that the world was made for us.

Supercontinent says all that needs to be said about the importance of science in general and geology in particular, and it contains everything I love about science: the incredible power and beauty of the natural world, and the passion and persistence of the scientists who work so hard to understand it.

High praise, amirite? And yet, when we move out of the world as a whole and start getting just a wee bit more regional…

The Mountains of Saint Francis

The Mountains of Saint Francis. Image courtesy W. W. Norton.

 

The Mountains of Saint Francis  by Walter Alvarez

This is the best book on geology I’ve ever read.  Ever.  Oh, others have been wonderful, informative, and well-written, but there’s something about this one that just filled me to the brim.  Maybe it’s the shock – I thought of Walter Alvarez in connection with dinosaurs and killer meteorites, not the mountains of Italy.  Maybe it’s the fact he brings a totality of place and time to the subject, allowing you to experience more than just the rocks of Italy.  Maybe it’s the fact he introduced me to some fascinating fathers of geology, people I’d never known: Nicolaus Steno, who began his career in the 1600s by dissecting bodies and ended it by discovering Earth’s anatomy; Ambrogio Soldani, an abbot who pioneered micropaleontology all the way back in the 1700s.  Maybe it’s the rocks, who become characters in their own right, and with whom one can become very close friends indeed.

I don’t know.  There’s just something about this book – it’s bloody poetic is what it is, gorgeously written, easy to understand while not being dumbed-down, full of passion and wonder and delight.  Walter Alvarez adores geology, and his love glows from every page.  I wish everyone would read this book.  Anyone who’s ever been even mildly interested in how mountains came to be, what rocks tell us, and how we know what they’re saying, would benefit.  Anyone who wants to fall in love with science, whether it be for the first or five hundreth time, will find this book is a perfect matchmaker.  And anyone who’s ever loved Italy will love it even more after this.

The only thing it’s missing is color plates.  Otherwise, it’s perfect in all its particulars, and I’m grateful indeed to Walter for writing it.  More, please!

And I haz moar. Not Walter Alvarez, I’m afraid, not yet, but moar!

Stories in Stone

Stories in Stone. Image courtesy Goodreads.

 

Stories in Stone: Travels Through Urban Geology by David B. Williams

I have one quibble with this book: it should have included color photographs.  That’s all it’s really missing, though.  David B. Williams, who ended up interested in urban geology because he got stuck in Boston after living in the wild, wonderful geologic paradise of Utah.  Buildings clad in stone became his friends, a link to the natural world.  This book eventually resulted, and you’ll probably never look at a city the same way after reading it.

Each chapter is about a different stone: brownstone, limestone, gneiss, marble, travertine and more.  Architecture connects to geology connects to oddball tidbits of history and human endeavor (and sometimes silliness) in one seamless whole.  And there’s a websiteAnd David sometimes does geological tours of Seattle.  I’m so there! (Someday!)

This is another book I didn’t want to put down, because it felt like it was introducing me to quite a few friends – the Getty Museum, the petrified log gas station, and others – that I didn’t want to part from so soon.  And it’s given me ideas for a great many more adventures.  Inspiring, informative, intriguing – perfect!

This next one isn’t quite geology, but it has geology in it – and it must be included. You’ll see why in a second.

Life on a Young Planet

Life on a Young Planet. Image courtesy Princeton University Press.

 

Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth by Andrew H. Knoll

Lockwood recommended this one, and I’m glad he did.  I love reading books that give me physical pain when I realize I’m getting close to the end.  I hated finishing this book: it’s so beautifully written, so fascinating, and so informative that I could have happily spent the rest of my life reading it.

From mere chemical traces to exquisitely preserved microfossils, from the first ambiguous hints of life to stromatolites, from extremophiles to extraterrestrials, from ancient atmospheres to oxygen revolutions, this book is a journey through life itself.  Andrew Knoll’s sense of wonder is only matched by his scientific chops.  There are few people who can write using the big technical words and yet never for an instant seem dry.  He’s one of those rare talents.  He also explains things well  without stopping the narrative cold; tough concepts hold no terrors for the layperson in this slender book.  At least, not if said layperson has read a few books on evolution and biology first – I’m not sure how a total neophyte would fare, but I suspect the sheer power of the prose would smooth over any difficulties.

I can tell you this: a lot of the things that confused me about how really ancient life is identified got cleared up in the course of reading this book, and I understand quite a bit more about how a little rock from Mars caused so much excitement with ambiguous evidence for life.

Andrew Koll, if you’re reading this: I want a revised edition expanded by a factor of at least ten.

And, finally, we come to a very local book, but one that I think is one of the best books you can possibly teach yourself geology with – especially if you love big, beautiful, rich and detailed color photos.

In Search of Ancient Oregon

In Search of Ancient Oregon. Image courtesy Timber Press.

 

In Search of Ancient Oregon: A Geological and Natural History by Ellen Morris Bishop.

I’m not going to quote from this book, because all of it is quotable.  Dr. Ellen Morris Bishop, author and photographer, is a wonderful writer who brings Oregon’s geology to brilliant life.  It’s rare to find a PhD scientist who’s also a talented writer who’s also a brilliant photographer, but Dr. Bishop is all three.  You hear words like “expertly written” and “lavishly illustrated” tossed about for books that don’t strictly deserve it.  This one most decidedly does.

If you’ve ever been even the slightest bit interested in geology, you owe it to yourself to get this book.  If you like landscape photography but don’t give two shits about how the pretty rocks came to be there, you owe it to yourself to get this book.  If you’re interested in the flora and fauna of long-vanished worlds, you owe it to yourself to get this book.  If you want to know some awesome places to visit in Oregon, you owe it to yourself to get this book.

This is the book I give to folks who think they might be interested in geology but really aren’t sure and aren’t rocks mostly boring anyway? This is the book that started me geoblogging in earnest. This book is amazing. Buy it.

Right. So, that’s quite a little list, and you’re probably reeling about now. Don’t even know where to start, possibly, right? Look, many countries are coming up on a holiday during which it is customary to give and receive gifts. All you have to do is find eight friends, family and/or coworkers who are planning on giving you gifties, and hand each one of them a title. Then all you’ll have to worry about is which one to read first!

You can also go for the free download option. Lithified Detritus recommended this one:

Earth's Dynamic Systems

Earth’s Dynamic Systems.

 

Earth’s Dynamic Systems by Eric H Christiansen and W. Kenneth Hamblin.

I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s got a picture of Mount Rainier on the cover, so I like it already. It is free, which means I like it even more! The table of contents looks like it contains all the necessities. And it’s gone through ten editions, which might be a sign it’s a solid text. The authors were kind enough to make it available for free when the copyright reverted back to them. I’ll report back once I’ve read it, but if any of you give it a try first, let me know how it is!

Right. That should be enough to get you started. I’ll have book recs up for some more specific things soon – my shelves groan with excellent books, copies of which wish to come live with you.

Charles Southwell: “The Singularly Perverse Character of Human Intellect”

My reading of 18th and 19th century freethinkers continues apace. Charles Southwell – radical bookseller, socialist “missionary,” publisher, lecturer, Shakespearean actor – is an interesting read. He’s not quite as polished as many of the folks I’ve read, but once you’ve settled in and got up to speed, it’s a pleasant ride.

I’ve begun with Superstition Unveiled. I particularly loved this bit, where he takes off after those folks who absolutely insist on some kind of god being the eternal something that got the universe started:

It has always struck the author as remarkable that men should so obstinately refuse to admit the possibility of matter’s necessary existence, while they readily embrace, not only as possibly, but certainly, true, the paradoxical proposition that a something, having nothing in common with anything, is necessarily existent. Matter is everywhere around and about us. We ourselves are matter—all our ideas are derived from matter—and yet such is the singularly perverse character of human intellect that, while resolutely denying the possibility of matter’s eternity, an immense number of our race embrace the incredible proposition that matter was created in time by a necessarily existing Being, who is without body, parts, passions, or positive nature!

Right?

Also, this bit, which reminds me so much of the Christians I see today, screaming at atheists (which Southwell bundles together with universalists) that we haven’t got any morals, but they have, and then:

Oh yes, Christians are forward to judge of every tree by its fruit, except the tree called Christianity.

The vices of the universalist they ascribe to his creed. The vices of the Christian to anything but his creed. Let professors of Christianity be convicted of gross criminality, and lo its apologists say such professors are not Christian. Let fanatical Christians commit excesses which admit not of open justification, and the apologist of Christianity coolly assures us such conduct is mere rust on the body of his religion—moss which grows on the stock of his piety.

Has a familiar ring, doesn’t it just?

This Actually Is a Review of Victor Stenger’s New Book

Right. So. I promised a review of Victor Stenger’s God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion. Here it is.

God and the Folly of Faith. Cover Art credit Prometheus Books.

I kid. Although Mano Singham’s review is actually very good and straight-up and I recommend it. I’ll be playing the funny to his straight, as it were. Also, I’ll be focusing more on readers’ questions than on a regular old review.

I just want to start with a few words from the Doctor:

That’s pretty much how the vast majority of his book struck me. It’s lots and lots of physics. Proportionally, it’s probably not that much physics – there’s lots of other stuff in there, like the history of science and the birth of religion. There’s a big bit on Darwin and evolution, and what bad news that was for religion. There’s purpose, and transcendence, and neurology. Lots and lots of philosophy. Geology, even so! And awfully bad news for the woomeisters. Physics itself takes up a mere two chapters, along with mentions in several others. It’s just that those two chapters loom over the rest. As I said before, it’s been a long time since I studied physics, and those chapters were a tough slog. Tough, but fun, and I probably learned more in them than I had from all sorts of reading before.

So there’s the book in a nutshell, say a walnut. Here it is in a filbert: science is bad news for religion, the two aren’t compatible at all – no, not even the vague spirituality-type religions – and if you’re looking to physics to support your ideas about the supernatural, you’re barking up the wrong damned tree. Not even quantum supports your religion. It’s natural all the way down.

Right. On to reader questions.

Brad wished to know if it included a rebuttal of the idea that science depended upon the Judeo-Christian tradition in order to flower. Why, yes. Yes, it does: there’s a section called “Did Christianity Beget Science?” The answer, astonishingly, is no. Do try to contain your shock. Enjoy watching Victor trample all over the notion.

Kele Cable says, “I just started reading Stenger’s The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning (I got it for $4 for Kindle on a sale) and like this book it sounds like, there is just a ton of hard-to-understand physics in it.” True. However, mercifully little math. And the physics isn’t beyond someone who’s recently dipped in to tomes like A Brief History of Time. He really did try to dumb it down

Chris Hallquist says, “You say he’s read “On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat,” but has he read both the book of that title by Scotus and the one by Eriugena? Because if he hasn’t, then whichever one he hasn’t read, that will turn out to be the real one you need to read.” I get the impression from the text he has read and contemplated both, but of course, there’s some other book he hasn’t read that will invalidate every argument against religion until he’s read that one, and once he has, there will be that other other one, and so on, apologetics without end.

Graham wished to know if Victor credited Susan Blackmore’s work on NDEs. He did indeed, extensively. Dying to Live was cited several times: I counted at least three substantial mentions, and one walks away with the impression that Victor thinks very highly of Susan indeed.

Graham additionally wishes to know how Victor handled the case of China and its failure to develop science. Victor was spending most of his time on Christianity and the West, but he does argue (albeit briefly) that in China, strict government control stifled the development of science. He says that it was the “new openness in Europe that made science possible.” In other words: totalitarian states, whether theocratic or otherwise, are anathema to the birth of scientific thought.

Graham goes on to ask, “What does he say about Penrose’s ideas about quantum theory and consciousness…?” I’m afraid that, in a section entitled “The Quantum Brain,” Victor hands Roger his ass on a plate. I don’t think he’s impressed by the whole quantum brain thingy, and argues very effectively against it.

Right, then. That does for the reader questions, and excellent questions they were, too. We should do this more often. It’s more fun than a plain ol’ book review. It also makes me pay more attention to the text, which is all good.

You can stop here, if you like. I’m going to go on about some of my favorite bits.

In the Preface, Victor points out something rather important: “The conflict between science and religion should not be regarded as a conflict between reason and unreason…. The distinction between theology and science is in the objects on which to apply reason.” He also points out that reason and logic need outside input. “Theology is faith-plus-reason, with some observation allowed. Science is observation-plus-reason, with no faith allowed.” Sums that up nicely, and also allows me to have a more fruitful conversation with my best friend, who prides himself on his ability to reason, yet can’t reason his way out of the Christian faith.

I loved what Victor said about NOMA: “Most nonbelieving scientists want to just do their research and stay out of any fights over religion. That makes the NOMA approach appealing because it allows these scientists to not worry much about what religion is or how it affects our social and political world. In my view, though, these scientists are shirking their responsibility by conceding the realms of morality and public policy to the irrationality and brutality of faith.” No mercy for NOMA. Me likey. He also asks an excellent question: “And if religion doesn’t work in the sphere of nature, why should we expect it to work in the moral or other spheres?” Why should we, indeed?

For those who insist there must be some vital force or other, Victor brings the hammer down in the chapter entitled “Purpose:” “None of the life sciences has ever found any difference in composition between living and nonliving matter. A living cell is made of the same quarks and electrons as a rock.” Sorry and all that. Some folks seem mightily disappointed that this is so. But, being a geology addict, I think it’s rather awesome we all share the same quarks and electrons.

One of the most powerful statements in the book comes in “Metaphor, Atheist Spirituality, and Immanence,” in response to the folks who claim that God is all-loving, but not one of the other alls, therefore God. “If God isn’t all-powerful, then he hasn’t the power to alleviate all suffering. If he isn’t all-knowing, then he may not know about every case of suffering. Notice, however, that science eliminated the suffering due to smallpox without being aware of every case and without being omnipotent. Certainly any benevolent god worth his salt could do a better job in easing suffering.” My italics. That, I think, is a knockout punch to the argument that a god of some sort exists and wants the best for all of us.

The book finishes with a powerful closing argument: “Religious faith would not be such a negative force in society if it were just about religion. However, the magical thinking that becomes deeply ingrained whenever faith rules over facts warps all areas of life…. Science is not going to change its commitment to the truth. We can only hope religion will change its commitment to nonsense.” Exactly. And Victor knows religion will never do that without help from the non-believers.

This book is an excellent tool for applying the needed pressure. No, it’s not perfect. Yes, it’s a tough go in some places. But there’s a lot of value in here. I found it clarifying my thoughts and, despite feeling like I hadn’t learned a thing during the reading, I’ve come away with a much better understanding of physics than I had before. It’s well worth your time.

A Book for Believers

Image Credit Kenneth W. Daniels

Thank you for the excellent responses to my post sounding out the idea of a book for believers. With such a great many excellent suggestions, I got fired up and ready to go. I made a little list of points, and then figured I’d best see what’s out there already, so I fired up the Fire. I’ve downloaded and read a ton of samples from various books on atheism. Many of my fellow FreethoughtBloggers were authors or contributors. This has convinced me of two things: 1) I am in distinguished company, and 2) I had probably better get off me arse and write a book on atheism. So it’s in the works.

Even though I think I found the book.

Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former Missionary seems perfectly suited for handing to those believers in your life who can’t handle The God Delusion and other atheist classics. Ken was the real deal. He was a child of missionaries. He was conservative evangelical. He became a missionary himself. He went to Africa in order to bring the word of God to tribes that didn’t have a written language yet, and hadn’t heard the supposed good news. Then doubt came crashing in. He followed the evidence, read the Bible closely, read all the apologetics he could get his hands on, considered what various freethinkers had to say, and in the end, became an atheist.

This book was written for believers, by a former believer. He’s married to a believer, many of his friends are believers, so he’s had all the experience he needs showing respect for the person while defending freethought. He’s faced all the questions and comments from believers who just can’t quite grasp why he lost his faith. He’s confronted the No True Christian fallacy head-on. You know, the variation wherein the believer-told-atheist is told they were never a true believer to begin with: he eviscerates that argument. Politely. This gentleman has a way of staying unfailingly polite while thoroughly destroying the myriad arguments and apologetics believers throw our way.

While he’s not quite a new or Gnu atheist, he doesn’t throw any of us under the bus, either. Early in the book, in a section entitled “My approach to my readers,” he gives a spirited defense of Dawkins – by quoting Isaiah of all things! Gorgeous.

This is a long book, but it didn’t really feel long to me. It was a fascinating journey through various trails of doubt, all leading up to the conclusion that Christianity isn’t the truth, there is very probably no god, and the life of an atheist isn’t filled with horrors, but wonders. This is a man who’s read the theologians, too, so he can’t be tarred with that “but you haven’t read X” brush. The courtiers can try their reply on him all they like. He has studied Imaginary Fabrics in depth. He has even read On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat with a mind that wished to be convinced of the magnificence of same. And in the end, after years of study, after considering pretty much every argument for the classic yet cutting-edge fashions of the Emperor, he has determined that the Emperor is, in fact, nekkid. Only I don’t think he’d put it quite like that: more along the lines of, “I’m afraid the Emperor is unclothed” would be more like it. As I said, unfailingly polite whilst standing firm on the facts.

There are times when I squirmed a bit – Ken sometimes seems to miss the godly life a little too much – but then I hit the end this evening, and it’s a megadose of pure awesome. Sort of a one-two knockout: he just annihilates the goodness of a religion that preaches hell, then invites the believers to come on in to the secular waters – they’re fine! He concludes with a secular dream that had this Gnu Atheist standing up and applauding.

This book, I think, is the one you can hand to that true believer in your family. I don’t know if they’d read it all the way through. I don’t think they’d come away feeling any better than if they’d read Dawkins or Hitchens or Harris or Christina. In fact, I think it’ll be worse – with us icky new atheists, they can other the hell out of us. But against Ken, they haven’t got a defense. He knows all the verses, all the apologetics, and he speaks their language intimately. He knows precisely where the cracks are, and while his crowbar may have a velvet cover, he’s still busy wedging it in and splitting the whole edifice of faith apart. He explains exactly what atheists are and why while never failing to respect the believers. Their only defense against this is going to be not reading it. But they should. So should we.

The book is available on Kindle, Nook and a variety of other e-book platforms for $.99. Ninety-nine cents. You can get a paper copy for $9.95 for the luddites in your life. And if you were planning on donating to charity, you can tick off two tasks at once: he’s donating the proceeds to Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, and PATH.

Why, you may ask, am I still planning to write a book for believers after this? A few reasons. This is a long book. I’m going to do up something short. Also, I found all sorts of awesome books on atheism I need an excuse to read. I can be all like, “Yeah, this isn’t for pleasure, you know. It’s totes work!” And then I can stick them in a bibliography, so that believers who truly want to understand this atheism stuff can go on to read about how we can have Sense and Goodness Without God, how we go about Raising Freethinkers and Parenting Beyond Belief, and how we navigate holidays with The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas. Among many, many others. And, last but absolutely not least, you all came up with some excellent suggestions, and I think together we can come up with something brief yet awesome. A gateway drug to all the other atheist goodness, if you will.

But if you need something immediately, and you’ve got a believer in your life who will at least read a few pages before screaming “SATAN!” and running away, Why I Believed is an excellent choice.

(And I swear to you, the next book I review will be Victor Stenger’s God and the Folly of Faith. If you have any questions about it, ask them here, because answering reader questions will be far more fun than just babbling about it. What do you want to know before you decide whether to buy it or not?)

This Isn’t A Review of Victor Stenger’s New Book

God and the Folly of Faith. Cover Art credit Prometheus Books.

I’d actually like to do that book justice. I’ve read it. I’m still digesting it. I can tell you my foremost thought whilst reading it: “Damnit, Victor, I’m a geologist, not a physicist!” It’s been a long time since I’ve read up on physics. The middle chapters, in which he drills down pretty deeply into physics, put my brain through the kind of workout that still leaves you wobbly days later.

My second thought throughout most of the book was, “Ha ha ha, the quantum woo people are gonna hate this!” No mercy. No quarter. Beautiful.

However. Like I said, still digesting. I’ve got bits highlighted for further contemplation, and when I get a spare moment (ahaha I am teh funneh), I’ll scribble down a few notes and get round to saying something that might actually be vaguely interesting about it all and persuade you that you, too, must put your brain through the same experience as mine. Because you know you want to. Unless you’re a quantum woo person, or the kind of religious believer who sticks your fingers in your ears down to the knuckle and screams “Lalalalanotlistening!” until the bad heathen goes away, that is. In that case, you’ll probably hate it. But if you’re a science-loving sort who’s disgusted with the ways various religions and spiritual beliefs try to claim science totes vindicates their position, only to howl that science is nasty and reductionistic when it fails to support them, but then turn right round and claim that science just wuvs woo, then yes: God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion will suit you right down to the ground. Especially if, like me, you groan and roll your eyes whenever someone piously brings up NOMA.

Right. So. The reason I bring it up now, before I’m ready to write a deep and profound and, in places, mildly critical review (really, Victor? All the atheists who ever existed, and you couldn’t find one single solitary woman for your list of famous atheists? Really?), is because of this: Salon just published a howler of an article in which some jackass claims science supports near death experiences, and the afterlife is proved. Evidence: “like, y’know, this woman named Maria had this near death experience-”

And I’m all, “Stop. Just stop.”

I should not have to repeat the tired old “plural of anecdote is not data” line. The editors at Salon should already know this. But we’ll be generous and pretend they have not heard it, and the fact that a bunch of stories written up in fancy language is not science is a fact they were, until just now, unaware of. We will give them that slight benefit of the doubt. Then we will quietly hand them Victor Stenger’s new book, which could have saved them from experiencing massive amounts of embarrassment and publishing something which has made them look like Huff-Po (and if you know anything about Huff-Po’s tendency to publish the most gawd-awful tripe draped with sciency-looking words and attempting to pass itself off as science, which is about as convincing as someone putting a box over a bicycle, painting it gold, and calling it a Porche – hold on. This sentence is wandering off uncontrollably, so let me rephrase: if you know anything about Huff-Po’s tendency to publish rancid bullshit, you’d know that’s quite a lot of embarrassment, and is best avoided).

You see, Victor has a whole section dedicated just to Maria and the Shoe. We learn that not only can Maria and the Famous Shoe She Saw While Dead cannot be verified, we also learn that Maria’s Miraculous Seeing of the Shoe wasn’t actually miraculous. Not unless you count the fact that in the story, no one is reported to be blind, including Maria, and the famous shoe could be seen from her room.

I’m reminded of a line from the Qabus Nama, quoted in The Walking Drum: “Our senses perceive things which do not impinge upon our awareness, but lie dormant within us, affecting our recognition of people and conditions.” Yes, even people in the 11th century knew we sometimes notice stuff (like shoes on ledges visible from hospital rooms) which we don’t consciously realize we’ve noticed. People who really really want NDEs to be true, however, do not seem to know this. Intriguing.

So, yes, the Salon folks needed this book. They needed it badly. They needed it foremost for the section on NDEs, of which the anecdotal Maria’s anecdote is just one small part, one pellet in the buckshot cartridge that blows NDEs to smithereens as it were. They also needed it to help them figure out how to sift woomeisters from people who know what the shit they’re talking about. One of the first clues, which I don’t recall being explicitly stated in this particular book, but have learned from prior experience is a good rule of thumb: if someone co-wrote a book with Denyse O’Leary, you probably shouldn’t trust a single fucking thing they write ever again. (If you have no idea who Denyse O’Leary is, this sums her up quite well.) Victor provides many other clues. Together, they add up to a clue-by-four, with which editors everywhere should whack themselves when being presented with some pablum claiming science has “proven” some sort of spiritual bs. I mean, yes, it’s infinitesimally possible science will someday find cold hard evidence proving something we thought was supernatural – but there’s “evidence,” and then there’s evidence, and editors need to know the difference.

Since they don’t, you do. So I suppose what I’m saying is this: I’ve sort-of just reviewed Victor Stenger’s new book God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion; it’s not perfect but it’s extremely useful; and you should go read it forthwith. Especially if you like seeing Dinesh D’Souza and quantum woomeisters in general thoroughly paddled.

SF Book Bonanza – Getcher Meme On!

NPR has released its Top 100 SF books list. Some damned good stuff on here! Also some things I tried to read and decided after a few pages were not worth continuing *coughswordofshananacough*. I felt the overwhelming need to go through and put the one’s I’ve read in bold. It’s a meme sorta thing – wanna do the same? Grab the list off NPR and go! Bung a link in the comments so we can all peruse.

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
3. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert
5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
6. 1984, by George Orwell
7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov
9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan
13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson
15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore
16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss
19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
22. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King
24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
25. The Stand, by Stephen King
26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
28. Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman
30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams
33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein
35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller
36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne
38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys
39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells
40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny
41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings
42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson
44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven
45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien
47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White
48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
49. Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke
50. Contact, by Carl Sagan
51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
54. World War Z, by Max Brooks
55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson
59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett
61. The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind
63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist
67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks
68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard
69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
70. The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne
73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore
74. Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi
75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson
76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke
77. The Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey
78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson
82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks
84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher
87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn
89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan
90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock
91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge
94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov
95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson
96. Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville
99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony
100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

This they whittled down from a list of 237 finalists. As some of my favorite books are on that Finalist list, but didn’t make the magic 100, I shall include them here:

Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman
The Baroque Cycle, by Neal Stephenson
Bridge Of Birds, by Barry Hughart
The Coldfire Trilogy, by C.S. Friedman
The Eyes Of The Dragon, by Stephen King
The Incarnations Of Immortality Series, by Piers Anthony
Memory And Dream, by Charles de Lint
The Sarantine Mosaic Series, by Guy Gavriel Kay
Song for the Basilisk, by Patricia McKillip
Tigana , by Guy Gavriel Kay
To Say Nothing Of The Dog, by Connie Willis
Wild Seed, by Octavia Butler

Some of those books really deserve more recognition than they got. But then, I’m pretty partial.

Subterranean Homesick Blues, Here I Come!

I just got my package of books from Wayne Ranney.  (Actually, I probably got them a week ago, but I’ve only just now checked the mail.)  You know what this means, don’t you?

Pain, that’s what.

You see, Wayne’s a wonderful writer, and he’s got all of Arizona’s delicious geology to go play in, and these books will be filled with all of the places I used to ramble through for the first three decades of my life.  I shall love them.  But you can expect the occasional sentimental post arising from them, because they’ll remind me how much I miss ye olde home state (although not its government).  We’ll be taking some rambles through Arizona’s spectacular landforms, guided by Wayne and a few others, in the months to come.

While you’re waiting for me to get round to it, you can go visit Wayne’s blog, where he has a spectacular post up on the Esplanade Platform:

Far away from the main tourist areas in Grand Canyon lies a huge wilderness of stone and space. It is silent beyond belief and seldom visited. Within this huge expanse lies the Esplanade Platform, a stunning landscape feature that is found only in the central and western portions of the canyon. The Esplanade forms a broad terrace positioned about a fourth of the way down in the canyon, where the Hermit Formation overlies the Esplanade Sandstone. The Esplanade thus creates a canyon within a canyon. Geologists have long been intrigued by the presence of the Esplanade Platform in Grand Canyon and many theories have been proposed to explain its origin. Did the Colorado River carve it during a period of erosional quiescence, as some say? Or did it form in response to the canyon’s variable stratigraphy? I explored these questions on a recent trip to the Esplanade. From February 10 to 16 I was privileged to backpack with two other friends here. This is our story.

And it’s illustrated.  Lavishly.  So get thee to Wayne’s place and enjoy.