“Classic” science fiction that’s not so great (and reading aloud)

My oldest son is 15 and I’ve been reading to him every night since he was a toddler and I’m not planning on stopping until he goes off to college.  I still mix in some YA, but a couple of years ago I shifted over to largely adult science fiction novels that I had never before read, but always wanted to.  I must say, in the past year, I’ve been quite disappointed in so many science fiction “classics.”  We’re just about done Ringworld, which has to-die-for reviews, and I’ve found the book mostly flat and uninteresting.  Titan came highly recommended, and was so boring– can’t believe I stuck with it.  Stars My Destination– really liked the writing style, but at times just downright confusing.  And at others boring.  Childhood’s End— interesting enough, but still not all that engaging.  Have Spacesuit will travel– eminently forgettable.  There’s probably more, but that’s all I can think of right now.

So, help!  I need book suggestions to read to David.  From experience, I’ve learned a few things when it comes to books to be read aloud.  1) Not too much description.  This can be okay when you are reading to yourself, but at the slow rate of reading aloud, boy does it bog things down.  Too many classic sci-fi authors just love going on-and-on about new worlds, aliens, etc.  2) First-person narration is generally a good thing.  Or third person that really puts you right with the characters into the action.  Essentially, what really works is a minimal narrative distance.  3) I like YA because it tends to be good on the first two points, but so many YA novels (especially of the sci-fi genre) are remarkably cliched and derivative.

Michael Crichton novels are actually pretty much perfect.  They move, they’ve generally got cool science, and they don’t waste time on over-description.  Sure, the characters could be more real, but, I did say “pretty much.”  I’ve read some of my favorite Crichton to David, but I’d really like to read some things I haven’t read before.

So, please hit me with your suggestions.  Ringworld  has been a real disappointment and I’m really looking to bounce back with my next selection.

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Photo of the day

From the Telegraph’s Animal photos of the week.  Wow.

Eagle with seagull in talons and other seagull attempting to free its friend) A photographer has captured a once-in-a-lifetime shot of an epic mid-air battle between an eagle and two seagulls. After initially stalking its prey, the eagle quickly latched onto an unsuspecting gull and flew off with it tightly in its talons. But a brave gull gave chase - frantically pecking at the predators back in a fearless attempt to free its friend. After a pursuit that lasted a few seconds, the other gull eventually gave up, leaving the eagle to fly a further 200 yards to have its feast.

A bald eagle flies off with its seagull dinner clamped firmly between its talons in Prince William Sound in Alaska. But a brave gull gave chase – frantically pecking at the predators back in a fearless attempt to free its friend.Picture: DAVID CANALES / CATERS NEWS

Chart of the day

Changing Medicare cost projections via Drum:

Ten years ago, Medicare was a runaway freight train. Spending was projected to increase indefinitely, rising to 13 percent of GDP by 2080. This year, spending is projected to slow down around 2040, and reaches only 6 percent of GDP by 2090.

Six percent! That’s half what we thought a mere decade ago. If that isn’t spectacular, I don’t know what is.

Can we credit all of this to Obamacare?  Likely not.  But it would be foolish to believe it has not played a role.  And for all that GOP hot air about how it was going to blow up health care costs (in a just world, nobody would ever again take seriously people who had said such things), it’s very, very clear that’s not the case.

Little things that say a lot

No ordinary citizens pay attention to things like laws about unclaimed insurance policies.  Thus, it is actually a good venue to see what legislators really think, or at least who’s influence they are really willing to listen to.  And if the choice is insurance companies or ripped-off consumers, I’m sure you can guess which way the NC legislature is going to go.  At least the N&O and Thomas Mills are paying attention.  Mills:

If you had any doubt whose side the GOP is on, you shouldn’t after readingthe N&O’s story about unclaimed insurance policies. The Senate has passed a bill that would essentially allow large insurers to keep the money from unclaimed life insurance policies. Many were not paid out because survivors of the insured didn’t know the policies existed. In other words, the Senate wants to let insurers scam people.

A lot of these policies were taken out years ago and the insurance companies were never notified of the death of the policy holders. However, with computers, that’s not hard to track down these days. The insurance companies point out  that prior to the computer age a lot of records were kept on index cards and often didn’t have social security numbers or birth dates. That, though, seems to be their problem, not the beneficiaries.

With some of the these policies, the policy holders stopped paying. However, instead of finding out why, the companies just used the principal to keep paying the premiums until the balanced was drained. In essence, the companies stole these people’s hard earned money…

This is the same GOP which ended an estate tax on multi-millionaires. They want to make sure that rich families get to keep all of their money after they die but they want poor folks to give up theirs. They’re ready to enshrine an inherited class but they’re not willing to protect the working class.

Fortunately, Treasurer Janet Cowell is trying to force the insurance companies to pay what they owe. She’s called the Senate bill exactly what it is–a “money grab.” Her office is in charge of unclaimed assets. She wants the insurance companies to go through their records, find unclaimed policies and turn the money over to the state where notice will be put on a website so beneficiaries can find the money they’re owed. Cowell knows whose side she’s on.

Other states have made the insurance companies live up to their end of the bargain. We should, too.

Yep.  Pretty clear whose side the NC GOP is on.  And if you are not quite rich or a large corporation, it’s not you (unless you vow preventing abortion and trying to prevent gay marriage above letting large companies take advantage of you as a matter of law).

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