Steve Taylor’s reading list, summer 2015

The second entry in our Reading Matters@IPRH series is from Professor of Music Stephen Taylor. You can visit him on the web at

Aurora by Kim Stanley RobinsonIf you are a science fiction fan, this has been a fantastic summer. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, a generation-ship story of a 170-year voyage to an Earth-like planet, was heartbreaking – not least because it has a very different ending than Paradises Lost, a story by Ursula K. Le Guin that I made into an opera in 2012. Robinson is one of our greats: “hard” science fiction but with real people, living real lives. He visited here for a conference on science fiction and the arts in 2013.

Also this summer was Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves, with this unforgettable first sentence (I’m typing from memory, so it really is unforgettable): “The Moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.” Big, ambitious apocalyptic stories are of the moment. Last The Dark Forest by Cixin Liumonth came the English translation of The Dark Forest, the second volume of Chinese writer Cixin Liu’s trilogy about a disastrous first contact with extraterrestrial intelligence. For me, these were the three biggies for (mostly) fun reading this summer. I should also mention two thought-provoking and disturbing novels by Michel Faber: Under the Skin (2000) and The Book of Strange New Things (2015), both meditations on what alien intelligence might actually be like, and what it says about us. If you saw the movie version of Under the Skin, be warned: the book is much more horrific and you may become a vegetarian.

A Beautiful Question by Frank WilczekFor my current composing projects I’ve also been reading a couple of terrific books by biochemist Nick Lane on the origin of life: Life Ascending (2009) and The Vital Question (2015). Also on the list, Peter Ward and Joe Kirschvink’s A New History of Life (2015) – I have been a fan of Ward for years. While this latest work had lots of interesting information, it was badly edited, almost coming across like unfiltered lecture notes for a class (although it must have been a good course). Right now I’m reading A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design, a new book on aesthetics by the Nobel-winning physicist Frank Wilczek that starts with Pythagoras and goes on to quantum physics. Exploring the porous boundary between science and art is one of my obsessions, and I’m always on the lookout for other explorers.


About iprh

The Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was established in 1997 to promote interdisciplinary study in the humanities, arts, and social sciences.
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