Thursday, June 18, 2015

Top 100 Science Fiction Novels

It is not exactly "top 100 books", as several entries are a series of books. So despite having read 44 books on this list, it looks like I have barely scratched the surface.

Progress So far: (bold == read)

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien (3 books)
2. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams (4 books)
3. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card (and Ender's Shadow)
4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert (just the 1st Dune)
5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin (multiple books)
6. 1984, by George Orwell
7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov (3 books)
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 ( 2 books )
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 (7 books!)
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 (skipping this, too slow)
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 (3 books)
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

So as you can see, my reading queue is quite full!

Some I plan to skip for various reasons. For instance, I burned out on Stephen King in high school. However, I plan on reading most of the entries in the list.

George R. R. Martin's series is a low priority. I plan to wait until the TV series is done and all the books are written. I've got a few years of reading here, so I can be patient.

I have a number of other recommended science fiction on my reading list as well:

Hugh Cook (,
China Mieville, Lev Grossman, Ian Banks (Player of Games), Verner Vinge (Fire on The Deep), Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis series, Charles Stross Halting State (and others).

A good SciFi book I enjoyed, that wasn't on the top 100 list, is Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Learning to Learn Course Project

I enjoyed my recent Learning to Learn course and wanted to share my class project. The instructions were to create a instructional tool that taught three or more of the concepts covered in the course. Most students created PowerPoint style presentations.

I got a little inspired and created my own Choose Your Own Adventure. I tried to inject a little humor and fun into the learning process.

You can check it out here:

A big thank you to Inkle Studios for providing a fantastic, free, online writing application.

Monday, February 02, 2015

A Mind For Numbers

One of my ongoing personal projects is discovering good techniques and tools for teaching math, science, and a problem-solving mindset to our two elementary school-aged kids. To that end, I recently read Dr. Barbara Oakley's excellent book: "A Mind for Mathematics: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)."
Dr. Oakley's own story is inspiring. She transformed herself from a math-phobe into a professor of engineering. This book is not your usual anecdotal self-help book. While the tone and writing are very casual, the material is completely scientific. All the information is based on the latest brain research, and the book includes a comprehensive bibliography.

I did not need to read the underlying psychology and brain research papers to see the truth of what Dr. Oakley wrote. I found myself reflecting on my own successes and failures in learning. I’ve always considered myself naturally talented at math. I ended up with a BS in Mathematics. However, there were a few mathematical subjects that confounded me, most notably Linear Algebra. In retrospect, I saw that I lost the thread of understanding on Linear Algebra right from the start. After those early frustrations I established a fixed mindset and convinced myself that I just wasn’t any good at “matrix math.” In graduate school I worked very hard to pass a Numerical Methods qualifying exam. Numerical Methods makes extensive use of Linear Algebra. However, I was doomed by my lack of understanding of the underlying theory. As hard as I worked at memorizing and mastering techniques for solving the problems, I was helpless to apply those techniques to new or even slightly different problems. I needed to start from scratch and build up, but by then it was too late. Only now, many years later, can I see my mistakes.

Dr. Oakley’s book inspired me to apply her techniques to learning something new. I'm working on learning a new programming language (Python) and a new subject (Machine Learning). I recently finished Andrew Ng's Machine Learning course on Coursera. Now I’ve decided to master Linear Algebra, which is key to gaining a deeper understanding of Machine Learning (ML).

While waiting for my Linear Algebra course to begin, I enrolled in Dr. Oakley's Coursera course Learning to Learn. The class covers the same material as her book, but takes time to expand many of the concepts. Dr. Oakley’s book should be required reading for anyone with a brain. I plan on having both of my kids read this book some time during middle school. You can find my book review on Good Reads.

Friday, January 02, 2015


I have recently discovered Coursera. They offer hundreds of online courses in a wide range of subjects. Most courses are roughly equivalent to an semester-long undergraduate level course. Some are easier and some are equivalent to graduate-level coursework. 

I got started with Andrew Ng's Machine Learning (ML) course. I have been curious about machine learning, but a little biased against the field based on my limited knowledge of Artificial Intelligence (AI). My impression (and that of many others) has been that AI has long over-promised and under-delivered. However, recent advances in ML and its use in analyzing big data sets made its potential impossible to ignore.

When I started the course, I did not know that Professor Ng had helped found Coursera. Nor did I realize the extent of his influence in the field of machine learning. Learning these facts gave added weight to his personal anecdotes about applying machine learning techniques. When Prof. Ng includes advice on how to approach ML problems, perk up your ears! 

My enthusiasm almost got the better of me. I started auditing the Control of Mobile Robotics course and was getting ready to try Sports and Building Aerodynamics. Then the homework in the ML course started in earnest. So I used self control and decided to focus on one class a at a time.

The course was a good challenge and I enjoyed it immensely. My programming OCD kicked in and I finishing the course with a 100%. The extra credit programming assignment more than made up for the few points I missed on the quizzes.

I put my Caltrain commute to good use, watching the lectures and working the assignments. Noise cancelling headphones help to make hearing and understanding the lectures easier, by cutting out background noise. I would download that week's lectures to the iPad and work my way through them in 2-3 days of train commuting. 

I'm already onto my next course Learning to Learn taught by Dr Barbara Oakley.