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A question to our more prolific readers

After a discussion with JP on how woefully under-read I am in the arena of Sci-Fi (I read alot of them silly Fantasy novels), I feel that I would like get a list of about 10 books every sci-fi reader must read. Think of it as you are creating a college course on SciFi and you want to cover at least some of the basic foundation books for Sci Fi. I am pretty sure the list could be significantly larger as the field is quite extensive, but lets see if we could come up with a sci-fi primer of 10 top notch books that every fan should have read.

Also, I did take a science fiction class in high school that was part of our English and literature path, but it focused alot on Ray Bradbury but very little beyond that story wise…


32 Comments on A question to our more prolific readers

  1. compared to jp and john, everyone is under-read in the sci fi dept. tim, you should be yourself instead of trying to be like them…

  2. Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion (one book in two parts) By Dan Simmons.

    Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams

    The Genesis Machine by James Hogan

    Startide Rising by David Brin

    Radix by A.A. Attanasio

    Nightwings by Robert Silverberg

    An Alien Heat by Michael Moorcock

    Eon by Greg Bear

    Any Berzerker book by Fred Saberhagen

    Timelike Infinity by Stephen Baxter

  3. Hmm, well, off the top of my head:

    Childhood’s End, Rendezvous with Rama – Arthur C. Clarke

    The Foundation Trilogy(the original 3), I, Robot – Isaac Asimov

    Starship Troopers, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – Robert Heinlein

    Ringworld – Larry Niven

    The Mote in God’s Eye – Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle

    Startide Rising – David Brin

    Hyperion – Dan Simmons

    Ok, I tried to list books that are accessible (mostly), cover a wide time range of SF writing and hit the really good authors. I’m sure we could go the whole ‘list your 10 SF Books for Beginning SF Readers’ route. So, lets do it! My list is above.

    Doh! Beaten to the punch by Jeff! Is it good or bad that I haven’t read most of your list Jeff? Although I must say, you have good taste in picking Hyperion and Startide Rising. Two of my favorite books.

  4. JP. An excellent list, albeit one very much in keeping with the established canon of classic SF.

    If I was going to go with a Heinlein it would be Stranger in a Strange Land. I love Ringworld, but found Engineers and Throne to be better books. Same with Foundation. Great stuff, but I enjoyed the Benford/Bear/Brin sequals more.

    Startide Rising is also part of a loose series, but it works beautifully without having read Sundiver.

    I also have to highly recommend Peter Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy (3 books hardback, 6 books paperback). Great galactic horror stuff.

    Also, a good collection of Cordwinder Smith short stories about The Instrumentality is essential. Scanners Live In Vain is a must-read.

  5. Yeah, I was thinking that anyone who wants to get up to speed on written SF ought to read the masters first. Stranger in Strange Land is not one I would recommend to someone right off tha bat, but then again, Tim has read SF, I just don’t know how much or what he likes. Hence the other Heinlein novels. I would also recommend The Night’s Dawn trilogy as well as the Revelation Space books, which is what set Tim off to begin with. He realized the world of written SF was quickly passing him by.

    Authors in particular that I like are: Brin, Bear, Banks, Simmons, Reynolds, Hamilton. I know, contemporary, but they rock.

  6. Here is my list (in no order) if you’re looking for a survey of great sci-fi:

    Dune (Herbert) – I personally disliked Dune, but so many others love it I just must be wrong

    Childhood’s End (Clarke)

    Hyperion (Simmons)

    Ender’s Game (Card)

    Ringwold (Niven)

    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Adams)

    Startide Rising (Brin)

    A Canticle for Leibowitz (Miller)

    I, Robot (Azimov)

    But let’s say you’ve read most of those or aren’t interested in that ‘old crap’ I’ve got in there. What about more recent sci-fi? Here’s my list of more modern stuff (aside from those mentioned above.)

    Snow Crash & The Diamond Age (Stephenson)

    A Fire Upon the Deep (Vinge)

    The Anubis Gates (Powers)

    Player of Games & Use of Weapons (Banks)

    Red Mars (Robinson)

    Doomsday Book (Willis)

    The Reality Dysfunction (Hamilton)

    Oh, and if you’re up for some real smart reading, try out The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe (and then go on and finish out the series.) Then come help us understand it :).

  7. This post is analogous to JP’s An Introduction to SF via the Movies post a few months back.

    Off the top of my misshapen head:

    (I know you asked for 10, but that’s too difficult. So here are a bunch. Worse – some entries are series!)

    1. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke (Evolution/Transcendence)
    2. Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (End of the World)
    3. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (Artificial Intelligence)
    4. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (Military SF)
    5. Inherit the Stars by James P. Hogan (Alien Artifacts)
    6. Invasion of the Body Snatchers by Jack Finney (Alien Invasion)
    7. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov (Robots)
    8. Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement (Classic Hard SF)
    9. More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon (Telepathy)
    10. Night’s Dawn Trilogy by Peter F. Hamiltion (Space opera)
    11. Nightwings by Robert Silverberg (Far future)
    12. Non-Stop by Brain Aldiss (Interstellar Travel)
    13. Revelation Space Series by Alastair Reynolds (Space Opera)
    14. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (Cyberpunk)
    15. Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein (Military SF)
    16. Sten by Allan Cole and Chris Bunch (Military SF)
    17. The Dingillian Family Series by David Gerrold (Young Adult SF)
    18. The Gap Series by Stephen R. Donaldson (Space Opera)
    19. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin (Parallel Universe/Alternate Reality)
    20. The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold (Time Travel)
    21. The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (Time travel)
    22. The Golden Age Trilogy by John C. Wright (Far future, posthumanism)

    Obviously, I can only speak about books I’ve read. And, as much as I love SF, there are quite a few of the “classics” that I have yet to read. So, for example, some might say that David Drake is THE essential military SF author – but I haven’t read anything by him. Similarly with Space Opera and E. E. Doc Smith.

    I was just mentioning to Scott today that there are a whole slew of the classics, especially Hugo and Nebula Award winners, which I haven’t read yet. Maybe that could be next year’s resolution.

  8. This is all great information since I really wanted to get a level set of what folks have read and found good versus crap. Also, I did decide to start this after a discussion with JP about his movie post that John so graciously linked for us. I guess the other thing I wanted to see is how to inspire some new readers (by that I mean our kids and those in high school) to expand beyond Manga and read some good books.

    You may now continue with your regularly scheduled discussion…

  9. How’s this for a discussion topic? Go to bed!

  10. Gene Wolfe, Book of the New Sun (actually four volumes, but a single novel)

    Isaac Asimov, The Foundation Trilogy

    Brian Aldiss, Helliconia Spring

    Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness

    Frank Herbert, Dune

    William Gibson, Neuromancer

    David Brin, Startide Rising

    Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle

    John Crowley, Engine Summer

  11. Just a note on Scott’s list. The Reality Dysfunction is the first book of The Night’s Dawn Trilogy. And I thought you hated Red Mars? I know I couldn’t read any more of the Mars books after that. In fact, I had problems finishing his Years of Rice and Salt book too.

    How to get kids interested in reading SF? I don’t know. I saw somewhere recently that reading in general has declined quite a bit, so first, you have to get them interested in reading. I think that SF in general has an ‘image’ problem that must be overcome to make it more acceptable to be read by the general population. In fact, there is a whole discussion there that could be had. Anyway, pick some books from the above mentioned Tim, you can’t go wrong. Mostly. (Except for John’s favorite book, The Left Hand of Darkness. He prefers the right hand…..)

  12. Mostly good Sci-Fi choices, though I know both John and I really disliked Red Mars, and while I’ve not read the Doomsday Book, I have read another of Connie Willis’ books, Passage, and thought so little of it that I’m loathe to try that book.

    A Fire Upon the Deep is awesome, though I’ve not yet read the prequel to it (which I’ve heard is also tremendous.)

    For non-silly fantasy, I would VERY highly recommend Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire. It is the best fantasy I’ve read, perhaps EVER.

  13. I still haven’t read any of the Asimov “master works” (Foundation or Robot series) so I can’t comment on those.

    My “ten” (a couple of either/or choices, which could easily be both/ands):

    1. Robert Heinlein in his prime: Stranger in a Strange Land or The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

    2. Ringworld or Protector, Larry Niven

    3. Red Mars (and then Green and Blue, if you liked Red), Kim Stanley Robinson

    4. Tau Zero, Poul Anderson

    5. Neuromancer, William Gibson

    6. Startide Rising, David Brin

    7. Lucifer’s Hammer, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

    8. The Sparrow, Maria Doria Russell

    9. Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson

    10. Dune, Frank Herbert

    This echoes a lot of other lists, I know. I lean more to the “hard” SF, but a few above (Neuromancer, The Sparrow, maybe Cryptonomicon) are more “literary.”

    Let me know how you like any of the ones you read.

  14. Oh yeah, how could I forget Tau Zero or Lucifer’s Hammer? Both excellent.

    JP, I liked Red Mars (enough to read Blue, but I didn’t care for that enough to read Green.) It is John who hated Red Mars.

    Kevin, I liked the Doomsday Book a lot – and I thought Passage wasn’t as good. Although there certainly are plenty of other books to read, you won’t go wrong with Doomsday.

  15. Tim, I’m with Peter on this matter. FIND YOUR OWN WAY. (But please, for the love of all that’s holy, do so after reading Tim Powers’ The Anubis Gates.)

  16. Kevin, I too disliked Connie Willis’s Passage (I gave it 1.5 stars, out of 4), but two of her other books (Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog) each got 3.5 stars from me.

  17. I second the holy thing from Mervius, The Anubis Gates is probably the best book by Tim Powers and is an incredibly entertaining read. I add that to my list of 10 (thus, making my list of 10 contain 11 books, sweet).

  18. My goal here was not to emulate anyone else, but to avoid reading lousy novels before finding something I really like. Therefore I offered up the chance for folks to soapbox about what they liked and why. Furthermore, I really would like to see some of this turned into something a bit more – a primer as it were for maybe a college level course. Then maybe some of them english lit classes need not always be so stuffy….

  19. Dammit Tim, I’m an engineer not a college professor!

  20. Read everything by…

    William Gibson,

    Neal Stephenson,

    Philip K Dick,

    Iain M Banks

    Kim Stanley Robinson

    I’ve also been working my way through the SF Masterworks series (published by Millenium in the UK) and some of these are good, but some are really dull. I think maybe I’m too much of a cyberpunk kid!

  21. With all due respect James, I wouldn’t read everything by hardly any author, and I really wouldn’t read everything by Robinson or Gibson.

    Start with the best (although yes this is subjectively defined) book by that author and if you like it, then look at another by that author.

    For example, I like Stephenson’s Snow Crash (I believe it’s the best cyberpunk book written so far) but I couldn’t even finish this latest crap he’s published (Quicksilver.)

  22. I myself am DONE with Kim Stanley Robinson, having read Red Mars and 40 Signs of Rain. I’m not sticking my finger into that particular electrical socket anymore.

  23. Now see what only reading a few books by an author does!

    Neal Stephenson, you MUST read The Diamond Age, and then if you have the patience and like modern computer geeky stuff read Cryptonomicon. I think Quicksilver willreveal itself as genius once the trilogy has finished (but I’m not sure it’s SF).

    Kim Stanley Robinson, read The Gold Coast and Pacific edge.

  24. Uh oh James, Scott has read all those by Stephenson and thinks Quicksilver is the spawn of Satan. He doesn’t even realize that Cryptonomicon is Stephenson’s best book

    As for me, I will no longer read Robinson after Red Mars and The Years of Rice and Salt.

  25. I liked Cryptonomicon and The Diamond Age quite a bit – I just was so happy at reading a Cyberpunk book that was intelligent (ie not anything by Gibson) that I think Snow Crash just clicked for me. Anyway…

    I might gives Kim’s other books a try – I just hope they aren’t all like Green Mars.

  26. Send me a e-mail address and I’ll send you my top 100 (which is actually more than 100). We’ve been having a similar conversation (at a slower rate of speed) on a space opera list I run, so we may have generated some titles.

    The list is an Excel spreadsheet, if you can handle that format.

    (This is a general invite, by the way, for anybody who might be interested.)

  27. Fred – just use the email address I have linked here. Its my yahoo one and has a huge mailbox since they upped my storage capabilities. Much thanks…

  28. I see Fred found the post I was referring to, even though I got the title completely wrong.

    Fred, why don’t you send your list to the main SFSignal email address: sfsignal at sfsignal dot com

    I’m thinking I’m going to pull all this together into a (much) shorter list for everyone’s benefit.

  29. A Princess of Mars (one of the John Carter of Mars series) by Edgar Rice Burroughs (the guy who invented Tarzan)

    Any of the Miles Vorkosigan books by Lois McMaster Bujold

    Burroughs was an extremely prolific author in the first half of the twentieth century. His one drawback after you’ve read several of his books is that he has a pretty clear formula (the hero’s quest) that he sticks to in terms of overall plot. His imagination for detail, however is unquestionably top-notch as is his descriptive writing. If you read Burroughs, read it for the imagery.

    As for Bujold, she has quickly become one of my favorite modern writers. In the Vorkosigan books her wit is exquisite. The humor is often dry and/or ironic but she’s almost a guaranteed laugh-a-page.

    Most of the other books I could mention have already been mentioned. I mention these two writers because Burroughs is one of the early masters of Sci-Fi and I see Bujold as the future of it. I don’t think she’s as well-known as LeGuin, but she’s an up-and-comer who I think will eventually be recognized as one of the greats of the current age.

    – Brian

    (remove the obvious from the email addie)

  30. One more book that should be mentioned that I didn’t notice anybody list yet is The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester. I could say more, but I just hapened to find a link that does it much better:

    – Brian

  31. Thinking about sci-fi lately I’ve gone back and read some of the ones I used to think were excellent reads. Now I think most of them are just crap (well hokey tv type of sci-fi at best). There are still a few I love from those books and many of them are mentioned here. Except for:

    1. Battlefield Earth (Hubbard)

    2. The Long Run (Moran)

    3. The Last Dancer (Moran)

    4 and 5. The Star Wolf Series (Gerrold)

    6. The War Against the Chtorr (Gerrold)

    but yeah, any of Niven, Asimov, Stephenson, Edgar Rice Burroughs are excellent starters.

  32. Definelty going to agree with all of you who picked classics.Some of my picks are:

    Dune is a must! Not necessarily the sequels however. Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion are definetly in there too. At least one Foundation, preferably 1-3. I, Robot should be there. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Resteraunt at the End of the Universe definetly have a place in this list. Ringworld is always a good one to read, read again, and read many more times. The Time MAchine is definetly there. From there you should take Starship Troopers.

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