David Hartwell’s Top 32 Gateway Science Fiction Books

Prompted by Jeff Vehige’s review of A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge, I dug out my copy of David Hartwell’s book Age of Wonders: Exploring the World of Science Fiction. Chapter 8, “Science Fiction Writers Can’t Write for Sour Apples”, lists Hartwell’s picks for “Literary” novels that would be loved by readers uninitiated in the wonders of science fiction:

  1. The Long Afternoon of Earth (1962, a.k.a. Hothouse) by Brian W. Aldiss
  2. The Caves of Steel (1953) by Isaac Asimov
  3. The Best of J.G. Ballard (1977) by J.G. Ballard
  4. Timescape (1980) by Gregory Benford
  5. The Stars My Destination (1956) by Alfred Bester
  6. * Ancient of Days (1985) by Michael Bishop
  7. A Case of Conscience (1959) by James Blish
  8. Rogue Moon (1960) by Algis Budrys
  9. Childhood’s End (1953) by Arthur C. Clarke
  10. * The Great Work of Time (1991) by John Crowley
  11. Dhalgren (1975) by Samuel R. Delany
  12. The Man in the High Castle (1962) by Philip K. Dick
  13. 334 (1972) by Thomas M. Disch
  14. Camp Concentration (1968) by Thomas M. Disch
  15. * Neuromancer (1984) by William Gibson
  16. * White Queen (1991) by Gwyneth Jones
  17. Flowers for Algernon (1966) by Daniel Keyes
  18. The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) by Ursula K. Le Guin
  19. The Dispossessed (1974) by Ursula K. Le Guin
  20. A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960) by Walter M. Miller, Jr
  21. A Mirror for Observers (1954) by Edgar Pangborn
  22. Davy (1964) by Edgar Pangborn
  23. The Female Man (1975) by Joanna Russ
  24. * The Child Garden (1989) by Geoff Ryman
  25. Dying Inside (1972) by Robert Silverberg
  26. More Than Human (1953) by Theodore Sturgeon
  27. The Shadow of the Torturer (1980) by Gene Wolfe
  28. The Claw of the Conciliator (1981) by Gene Wolfe
  29. The Sword of the Lictor (1981) by Gene Wolfe
  30. The Citadel of the Autarch (1982) by Gene Wolfe
  31. The Dream Master (1966) by Roger Zelazny
  32. Four for Tomorrow (1967) by Roger Zelazny

The titles marked with *asterisks* did not appear in the 1985 first edition of Age of Wonders, but did appear in the 1996 reprint. Linked titles lead to our reviews, which undoubtedly don’t do them justice.

Also: Here is the passage that precedes Hartwell’s list:

There is no doubt that a significant number of science fiction writers today consider themselves literary artists, and a large number consider themselves traditional paid entertainers. But because of the newer attitude, I believe that the likelihood that a work of SF may be a substantial work of literature has been greatly increased. It is not my place to declare who the real artists are and are not. But looking back over the past decades, it is evident that certain works are outstanding in their execution and will repay a reader who does not have an initiation into the special pleasures that come from long acquaintance with the SF field.

7 thoughts on “David Hartwell’s Top 32 Gateway Science Fiction Books”

  1. I have read only 2 from this list – Caves of Steel & Childhood’s End. If they are representative of others in the list, I will say this list is geared towards soft sf – lot of human elements, some magic, & very little in the way of realism – even if futuristic. Caves is essentially a murder mystery; Childhood’s End is mostly religion. Hard sf fans will likely be disappointed.

  2. If Caves of Steel is literary, that doesn’t speak well of the other books. Does it contain a single interesting sentence? Dialogue that rings true? Any but the stiffest exchanges? As for the mystery, the protagonist is like a simple-minded version of Encyclopedia Brown, and most of his deductions are silly. Yikes.

  3. Bill, take the quoted “Literary” with a grain of salt — the emphasis should be on “Gateway”.

    Encyclopedia Brown…heh-heh… :D

  4. Dhalgren? Look, I love Delany’s stuff, but I think there are several of his books I’d use as a “gateway” before I handed that one out. Nova, for example.

  5. I really don’t think a true “gateway” SciFi novel should be more than 5 or 10 years old. Only hardcore SciFi fans are going to pick up a SciFi novel written in the 50s, 60s or 70s. Why not list recent books by Robert J. Sawyer or Joe Haldeman? They certainly have more crossover appeal than anything on this list.

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