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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » "Brain eater": A phrase I hate

   
Author Topic: "Brain eater": A phrase I hate
Omega M.
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If you go to any of the rec.arts.sf science fiction newsgroups on Usenet, you'll see a number of uses of the phrase "brain eater." Here's a Google search for it. It seems to refer to when a science fiction author loses his or her creative powers and starts publishing garbage. Some usage examples:
quote:
Not Vinge's best work, but I suspect some of that may be the venue is not where I'd have preferred his latest to be. Relieved the Brain Eater doesn't appear to have claimed another victim ...

I'd have to admit that he declined somewhat in later years ..., but compared with RAH, ACC or even Asimov, I think the Brain-Eater let him off lightly.

One virulent strain of what we call "the Brain Eater" is when an author slips from writing his own stories to writing fanfic of his own stories.

I hate this phrase! I'll admit that it provides a shorthand for different phases of an author's career (you can talk about pre-Brain Eater and post-Brain Eater), but it does not encourage outsiders to take science fiction seriously as a genre. Also, I think its prevalence encourages people not to be more specific; the majority of the time it seems you'd be better off saying "his writing suggests he's let his fame go to his head," "he's just recycling old ideas," etc.

Of course, maybe the people who use this phrase really don't take science fiction seriously as literature, instead treating it as a big game to see, say, who can build the wackiest or most scientifically accurate world. If so, I'd hate to meet them at a science fiction convention. Really, anybody who uses this phrase in an unironic way has established themselves as someone I don't want to be around. (Other circumstances may redeem them, of course.)

I know most of you probably haven't heard this term before, but it bugs me. Just venting here.

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katharina
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Side note: My stars, I HATE Vinge. I only tried to read one book, but it was just terrible. I actually stopped considering dating the guy who recommended it because I disliked the book so much. I like science fiction, but that was just awful.

Sorry, I can't remember the title, so I don't know if it is considered "good" Vinge or "bad" Vinge.

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mr_porteiro_head
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quote:
I hate this phrase!
So you decided to spread the meme to another part of the internet?

quote:
One virulent strain of what we call "the Brain Eater" is when an author slips from writing his own stories to writing fanfic of his own stories.
Oh goodness yes, this is a good way of putting it.

See also Star Wars, prequels.

<-- likes Vinge

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katharina
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Do you distinguish between "good" and "bad" Vinge?
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mr_porteiro_head
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I never thought of it in those terms, but yeah, I can't see myself recommending most of the stuff I've read except to somebody who's really interested in Vinge's ideas.

What was the book that was so horrible that you couldn't finish it? I'm fascinated to see if it's one I liked.

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aspectre
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quote:
quote:
I hate this phrase!
So you decided to spread the meme to another part of the internet?
The BrainEater got him...
...Great Ceasar's Ghost! It's virulent! my brain...my brain...the pain...my brain is being eaten...aaaarrrrgggghhhh....

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katharina
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I'm sorry - I really can't remember. Something involving bad dialogue, a six-page expository telegram printed in italic allcaps, and a space singles bar straight out of Star Wars with a character who conveniently recounts the central plot and then dies. Or something. I might have been fantasizing at that point about the last part.
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JennaDean
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Brain Eater - I thought that was Sylar? (That's the only reference I've heard to the phrase.)
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Nighthawk
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Mmmmm..... Braaaaaiiiinnnns!
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Belle
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So where would "The Brain-Eater got him" be appropriate as opposed to "He just jumped the shark"?

Trying to get my terminology right...

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JoeH
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I thought this thread would be on zombies.
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Xavier
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Yeah, I thought it was an offensive term used against Zombies, and that Omega was going to come out of the Zombie closet (and perhaps attempt to eat our brains).

I think it would have been a much better thread if we were right.

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Shigosei
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I've never heard it in relation to a science-fiction author. Just zombies and Sylar.

I read and enjoyed A Fire Upon the Deep. I thought the structure of the galaxy was an interesting set-up. I loved the way that I slowly understood the nature of the beings on the Tines planet. In my opinion, the way those aliens were was unique and interesting, and I thought the exploration of how their lives are different because of this was well-done.

I have read a collection of short stories, which were fine, although they didn't blow me away. I honestly don't remember much about them. I haven't read any other novels.

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mr_porteiro_head
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quote:
Originally posted by katharina:
I'm sorry - I really can't remember. Something involving bad dialogue, a six-page expository telegram printed in italic allcaps, and a space singles bar straight out of Star Wars with a character who conveniently recounts the central plot and then dies. Or something. I might have been fantasizing at that point about the last part.

That doesn't sound familiar at all. I've read Fire Upon The Deep, which I really enjoyed for many of the same reasons Shigosei praised it, its sequel Deepness in the Sky which was pretty dissapointing, some short stories which I enjoyed, and his "Peace War" series which was somewhat interesting, but not that good.
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Shigosei
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I have to admit that I have very little interest in hearing the adventures of whats-his-name in the Slowness. Given that you didn't like the book, I think I'll be giving it a pass. If Vinge ever writes more about the Tines, though, I'd love to read it. I think I would also be interested in reading more about the societies in the Beyond.
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katharina
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Actually, I think it was Fire Upon the Deep. That sounds very familiar.

Y'all don't remember the space bar when the hero went to discover what was going on? Or the multi-page letters/telegrams printed in ALLCAPS?

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Dead_Horse
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Makes me think of the "Night Gallery" episode, "The Caterpillar."

"And the female lays eggs."

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Shigosei
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I remember the messages. I vaguely remember a bar, but I don't think it was all that important to the story. One of the guys sort of died at the end, but I didn't consider him the "hero" of the story. I thought Ravna was the hero.

I wasn't reading the book for character development or dialogue. It's definitely more of a concept-driven story.

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mr_porteiro_head
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quote:
Originally posted by katharina:
Actually, I think it was Fire Upon the Deep. That sounds very familiar.

Y'all don't remember the space bar when the hero went to discover what was going on? Or the multi-page letters/telegrams printed in ALLCAPS?

No, doesn't ring a bell. Although I do vaguely remember a plotline with, IIRC, a female student or journalist or somesuch which wasn't that great and which probably could have been taken out of the book.
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TomDavidson
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IIRC, the reason the "Brain-Eater" meme was born, as opposed to just saying that a given sci-fi author "jumped the shark," is that sci-fi authors have this weird tendency to, as they get older, become bizarre and twisted parodies of themselves. It's not just their writing; their public appearances and essays and everything get more eccentric, too. This doesn't seem to happen with romance novelists -- or perhaps it does, and I'm just unfamiliar with the term they use.
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Reshpeckobiggle
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I take it you guys aren't talking about Joan d. Vinge. Her books were good, especially Psion and Catspaw. But the the braineater got her when she wrote Dreamfall.
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Wonder Dog
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Actually katharina, I'm pretty sure you're thinking of Fire Upon the Deep. There are passages in densly-packed COURIER that are transcripts from what basically amounts to the "Beyond" (outer galaxy) version of the net. The heroine, Ravna, is an intern with Vrinimi org, which controls a node of the net. The "Hero" is Pham Nuen, and yes, there's a scene with Ravna and Pham in a bar, getting intel from aliens.

It's pretty heavy stuff, and Vinge gives little by way of an introduction or saftey net, so I can understand why you didn't like it.

I, however, loved it. [Big Grin]

And I doubt Vinge has had a visit from the Brain-Eater - his last book, Rainbow's End, was fantastically lucid, appropriate, and possibly accurate. Vinge's strength isn't character writing - unlike OSC - but he tells a good story and the concepts he introduces in his books are usually mind-blowing.

(It's worth noting that I think Vinge is actually a decent character writer, compared to guys like Asimov and Niven, whose works tend to read more like cool science-fair projects mixed with a narrative.)

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King of Men
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quote:
This doesn't seem to happen with romance novelists -- or perhaps it does, and I'm just unfamiliar with the term they use.
Hmm. "Brain Ripper"?
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plaid
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"Marooned in Realtime" is my fave Vinge that I've read so far. It's a sequel to "The Peace War," but you don't have to read "Peace War" to appreciate it. ("Peace War" isn't as interesting anyway.)

"Marooned" = future in which most humans have disappeared, and the few remaining humans are trying to figure out what to do with themselves -- settle down in one time period to live out their lives, or try to get together enough of a breeding population to continue the human race, or to live out the rest of their lives as temporal observers -- skipping through time and watching as the universe ages until it collapses back upon itself again. Very amazing book.

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plaid
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Are there many -- or any -- writers who write significant books 20-25 years into their writing career? I can't think of many. Some ones I can think of offhand = Hemingway wrote "The Old Man and the Sea" in his 50s I think... Asimov was still writing pretty sharp SF in his 50s and 60s ("Bicentennial Man," "Foundation's Edge," "Robots of Dawn")... Arthur C. Clarke wrote "2001" and the Rama books...
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katharina
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I didn't dislike it because it was "heavy"; I disliked it because I object to outtakes from from reject pile of the first Star Wars being passed off as a story and because I don't consider printing software logs in COURIER to be enough to make it interesting. [Razz]
quote:
I, however, loved it.
That's okay. We can still be friends. [Smile]
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Omega M.
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:

IIRC, the reason the "Brain-Eater" meme was born, as opposed to just saying that a given sci-fi author "jumped the shark," is that sci-fi authors have this weird tendency to, as they get older, become bizarre and twisted parodies of themselves. It's not just their writing; their public appearances and essays and everything get more eccentric, too. This doesn't seem to happen with romance novelists -- or perhaps it does, and I'm just unfamiliar with the term they use.

Okay, I didn't know that. That seems like a good use of the term, because it's as bizarre and twisted as the person it describes. I still find it unnecessarily silly to use for a writer who's simply lost his or her touch, though. (In a similar vein, I think "jump the shark" is too silly to use for any shows that aren't comedies.)
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Wonder Dog
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Hmmm... you see, I actually *liked* the COURIER net transcripts. But I'm a nerd that way. [Smile]

I still don't see the connection to "outtakes from the reject pile of the first Star Wars", other than the bar scene... and even then, Ravna was mostly talking to sentient trees with augmented memory and wheels, sitting with a millenia-old genetically re-combinated amalgam of human hero-ness...then she and her motley crew were escaping the total corruption of the outer galaxy by an ancient sentient computer virus (dug up by software archeologists) to find a planet inhabited by intelligent canines (who think together as small groups by using low-level, subconscious acoustic noise), to rescue a weapon ceated by a quasi-god (from outside the galaxy) to stop the virus, and to rescue some kids whose families got butchered by the virus when it was first unleashed.

No offense, but George Lucas couldn't come up with this stuff if he was whacked out on LSD and paid someone to give him a running start. [Big Grin]

However, the bar scene did feature a hero, a sidekick, an exchange of information, and lots of different aliens, so it's kind of like Star Wars.. I guess... if you squint... [Razz]

(I don't actually mean to give you a hard time. I'm cool the fact that you didn't like it. I just loved the book a lot, and find the idea that it's somehow derivative of Star Wars... a little distasteful? That being said, I'm not trying to pick a fight, I'm just defending something that helped shape my nerdy identity.)

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katharina
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Oh, no, it's fine. [Smile] I'm mostly teasing. I mean, I'm serious about not liking it, but I'm teasing about the deletorious effect it might have on our friendship.
quote:
I still don't see the connection to "outtakes from the reject pile of the first Star Wars", other than the bar scene... and even then, Ravna was mostly talking to sentient trees with augmented memory and wheels, sitting with a millenia-old genetically re-combinated amalgam of human hero-ness
While this could a very funny statement in and of itself, that's kind of what I meant...I mean, I LOVE science fiction, but it felt like...it felt Our Hero was talking to a character sheet from an RPG and not actually a character. I understand about exposition and how hard it is to do when you have to explain a whole world, but it could be done better.

Not that OSC is perfect, but contrast that with the conversations between the humans and the piggies or Jane in the Speaker for the Dead or Xenocide. There is still a lot of exposition, but the conversations revealed more than the layout of the universe; they revealed the people within. I think that's what I was missing from Vinge.

It's something that science fiction is often accused of - being more about the technology or the 'verse than the characters - but Speaker for the Dead (among many other examples) proves that it isn't endemic to science fiction.

Maybe the conversation WASN'T about the characters - the purpose was to deliver information. That can be okay too - noir has limited characterizations and is filled with conversations like that. In the case of (good) noir, however, the lack is made up for in the snappy writing and nimble plot. Star Wars too, I think. Vinge felt like an epic without the characters to sustain an epic.

Does that help? Not that I expect you to agree, but I did want to explain that I have thought about why I didn't like it - I'm not dismissing it out of hand. In all sincerity, what makes you love it?

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Wonder Dog
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I totally agree with your point, and I'll admit that Vinge's characters are pretty two-dimensional. I honestly think that we've been spoiled, having OSC show us great sci-fi with fantastic character writing. The only other author I think comes close is Clifford D. Simak, and everyone called his work "pastoral" because it tended to focus more on relationships than big bangs and bright ideas. (Not that "pastoral" needs to be taken as an insult...)

So then - who else writes great relationship-driven sci-fi? The fact that I can only name two authors out of the dozens I'm aware of is depressing... (Also, should we spin a new thread to explore this further? I think we're beyond brain-eating now... [Big Grin] )

(Oh, and why did I love it so much? Hmm... I think the epic-ness was definetley a factor (you're right, though, the characters are not epic)... but ultimatley I think it was the plethora of cool new ideas (At least, they were cool and new to me [Smile] ). You should know that I'm kind of a Singularity freak, and a lot of Vinge's work plays with that theme. (More info and a def'n of "Singularity" here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity ) I'm a student of digital art, and Vinge's writing has helped me re-conceptualize a lot of what's going on in society today with human/computer bonding and media consumption. Plus, I think the whole idea of software archeology is cool. [Big Grin]

I'll put it to you this way: Vinge is what I read when I want to think about neat new ideas that go beyond spaceships, cyberspace, and super-engineering. OSC is what I read whan I want to feel good, or think about humanity and who we really are, and what we really mean. Make sense? Sort of? [Dont Know] )

[ June 06, 2007, 11:10 AM: Message edited by: Wonder Dog ]

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katharina
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quote:
So then - who else writes great relationship-driven sci-fi?
Hmm...can we extend it to all speculative fiction? Leaving aside the greats like C.S.Lewis and Tolkein and Bradbury, there has to be a few more. I think Robin McKinley definitely writes fantastic character-driven fantasy. Oh, I know there are more. I don't know why I can't think of them. George R.R. Martin, of course.

I haven't read Clifford D. Simak, but your description makes me want to. [Smile]

--

As a sidenote, maybe that's why I really like Azimov, but only his short stories. He doesn't do characterization, but his short stories read like really great noir - clean, tight writing and nimble plot with sciency things instead of the underworld providing the interest. That falls apart when extended to novel length, and that's how Azimov is one of my favorite short stories but I absolutely loathe the Foundation series.

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Wonder Dog
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Okay, let's extend it to all speculative fiction. Who out there has written characters that made your heart ache? (Which OSC's characters routinley do for me...it's a good thing.)

I heartily recommend you check out some Simak... "Way Station" and "City" are two of his best, but there are a bunch of others that are good.

Oh, and I totally agree about Fountadtion. I got the whole series last Christmas, and after reading them, thought to myself: "Thats's it?". I must be missing the context of them coming before we had a lot of the really good stuff we have today. It should be noted that I also feel that way about Necromancer.

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Reshpeckobiggle
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quote:
Originally posted by Wonder Dog:
Okay, let's extend it to all speculative fiction. Who out there has written characters that made your heart ache? (Which OSC's characters routinley do for me...it's a good thing.)

I heartily recommend you check out some Simak... "Way Station" and "City" are two of his best, but there are a bunch of others that are good.

Oh, and I totally agree about Fountadtion. I got the whole series last Christmas, and after reading them, thought to myself: "Thats's it?". I must be missing the context of them coming before we had a lot of the really good stuff we have today. It should be noted that I also feel that way about Necromancer.

Grace Chetwin. I don't know how she does it, but my heart aches when I think about her stories. What she writes is generally considered Young Adult Fantasy, by the way.

Also, the aforementioned (and ignored) Joan D. Vinge. Has no one read Psion or Catspaw? Her [i}Snow Queen[/i] and Summer Queen books are more well known, but they didn't do it for me quite so much.

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mr_porteiro_head
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I just read Snow Queen, and am baffled that it managed to win a Hugo award. It really didn't do anything for me.
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FlyingCow
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quote:
This doesn't seem to happen with romance novelists -- or perhaps it does, and I'm just unfamiliar with the term they use.
Maybe the brain eater gets all romance novelists before they're published, so we have no "before" work to reference? [Evil]
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Tatiana
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[Smile] Flying Cow. [ROFL]

I think the brain eater is a good way to put it. I definitely think that happened to Heinlein. The way I always put it was that he went from writing pre-pubescent boy wish-fulfillment fantasy straight to dirty-old-man wish-fulfillment fantasy, with one or two adult novels in between. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is my favorite of his, which I think he wrote at the peak of his powers, but Citizen of the Galaxy, and a few of the others are almost as good. I truly loved (in a read-one-a-night way) almost all of the PPBWFF phase, and even the DOMWFF books are fun reads, if you have the stomach for them. In other words, even when Heinlein is bad he's good. [Smile]

I really loved Niven's known space books. They aren't about characterization, people! They're about the joy of playing around with awesomely cool ideas. [Smile] Protector rawks so much! Time stasis fields, room temperature superconductors, tree-of-life root, generated gravity telescopes, bussard ramjets, tides in a neutron star's gravity field, dyson spheres and rings, stepping disks, there are just so so so many cool things and ideas in our future that will totally change human society again and again. [Smile] Read the short story "The Inconstant Moon". The Niven and Pournelle stuff doesn't have nearly the same power, to me. I did like the Moties, though.

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Reshpeckobiggle
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mph, it must have been a slow year. Kind of like when The Unforgiven won Best Picture. But don't give up on her. Read Psion. It may come bundled with the sequel Catspaw under the title Alien Blood.
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pooka
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I think the Nova episode about Mad Cow Disease was called "The Brain Eaters".
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The White Whale
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Tatiana, I just finished The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and want to read more of Heinlein's books.

And since you seem to know the good ones, can you clarify PPBWFF and DOMWFF for me?

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mr_porteiro_head
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PPBWFF:

Have Space Suit, Will Travel
Citizen of the Galaxy
Starman Jones
Farmer in the Sky
Starship Troopers

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Tatiana
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PPBWFF is pre-pubescent boy wish fulfillment fantasy and DOMWFF is dirty old man wish fulfillment fantasy.

Heinlein is really great! Probably the one that stands out for me the most after The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is Citizen of the Galaxy. I read that one twice straight through, when I first got it. It was really good.

More good ones from the PPBWFF:
The Star Beast
The Puppet Masters
Tunnel in the Sky
Farmer in the Sky
The Rolling Stones
Have Space Suit, Will Travel

I love his books from this era.

The start of the DOMWFF phase is Stranger in a Strange Land. I liked it pretty well, though it's terribly dated. I don't particularly recommend it, but like I said, Heinlein is good even when he's bad. Like, I can close one of his books and laugh and shake my head at his over-the-top opinionated silliness, but they're always a good read regardless. They're definitely not trash, even though he goes off the deep end quite a bit with the incestuous relationships and stuff. If that kind of stuff bothers you, you might want to avoid them.

I liked Glory Road quite a bit, as I recall.

Definitely avoid Podkayne of Mars. I remember that one as being terrible. Of his short stories, The Menace from Earth was awful. The others that I read were good. The Man who Sold the Moon was one I especially liked.

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The White Whale
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I also just finished The Man Who Sold the Moon. It was very good.

And I should have realized what PPBWFF and DOMWFF stood for, I just didn't think hard enough.

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