As long-time followers of this blog know, I have recommended several genre novel series over the years. (I might do another post like that later this year, assuming I have access to the necessary books and time to read them, of course.) This time, I came across some cool recommendations from someone else that I thought you would like.
Five years ago, Paul Goodman of EpicStream wrote an article with his “15 Sci-Fi Books You Should Definitely Read”, a mix of classics and newer stuff. I looked them over and decided to share his list/comments — all on one page but w/ fewer pics — along with a few brief comments of my own.
15) Ancillary Justice (by Ann Leckie)
“This Hugo Award winning novel tells the story of a soldier named Breq, who was was once the consciousness of a massive starship linked to hundreds and thousands of soldiers in the service of a vast interstellar empire. Now trapped into a single human body, Breq is drawn into a vast conspiracy spanning the stars while she seeks revenge against those who destroyed her other selves.”
This sounds vaguely familiar to me. The idea of the ship’s AI reminds me of the Brain and Brawn Ship Series by Anne McCaffrey et al., except in reverse. (Of course, there are other authors who make use of the idea, too.) This book is actually the first in The Imperial Radch Trilogy, which continues in Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy. I’m definitely going to check it out!
14) Starship Troopers (by Robert A. Heinlein)
“Probably legendary writer Robert A. Heinlein’s most well-known work, Starship Troopers is a military sci-fi novel that’s actually pretty light on the action (unlike the movie). Focusing on the life of Juan “Johnnie” Rico and his career in the Mobile Infantry, the novel discusses the philosophy of war and civic virtue with an galaxy-wide war between humanity and an arachnoid species as the backdrop.”
I talked a bit about this book, the “ancestral text of U.S. science fiction militarism”, last year when celebrating its 60th anniversary. It’s one of those that I keep thinking I really ought to read but just haven’t been in the mood. But, it *is* on my To-Read list…
13) Neuromancer (by William Gibson)
“One of the earliest books in the cyberpunk genre of science fiction, Neuromancer is the story of Henry Case, a drug-addicted, down-on-his luck computer hacker hired to pull off the ultimate digital heist in a dystopian future.”
I discussed Gibson’s novel (first in a series, I believe) in a related post honoring its 35th anniversary last year. Given my IT background, you might think that I would have read it already. But, though it has been on my radar for some time, it just never really interested to me. After re-reading its summary, I just may need to give it a chance.
12) John Dies at the End (by David Wong)
“More of a sci-fi horror comedy, this novel stars John and Dave, two friends who end up getting drawn into the weird, wacky, and downright horrifying paranormal craziness of their unnamed midwestern town. You’ll never look at soy sauce the same way again after this one.”
Despite the morbid title and paranormal focus, which I don’t normally find appealing, the fact that it is also a comedy has me intrigued. Will it have sort of a Ghostbusters vibe? More like “Supernatural”? Or, something totally its own? I dunno. But, I’m willing to track down a copy and try it. You?
11) War of the Worlds (by H.G. Wells)
“One of the oldest (and probably most well known) alien invasion stories of all time, War of the Worlds depicts the fall of London under the onslaught of Martian war machines, and the collapse of civilization as humanity struggles to repel the invaders.”
This is the elder statesmen of the classics listed here, having celebrated its 120th anniversary back in 2018. I honestly can’t remember for sure if I ever read it. I did, however, listen to an audiobook production voiced by various Star Trek actors. (That almost counts, right?) I really should add this one to my To-Read list, too, along with a few of Wells’ other works.
10) Eisenhorn (by Dan Abnett)
“Now you’re probably wondering, “Why is a book based off the Warhammer 40,000 board game on this list?” and I’ll tell you – because this trilogy by Dan Abnett is really, really good. Far from your typical 40k book (most of them seem to center on space marines shooting and stabbing stuff), Eisenhorn focuses on the secret espionage and political intrigue of the Imperium, and follows the rise and downfall of an imperial agent as he tries to root out treachery and evil within the Imperium’s ranks.”
Back when I was a regular comic book reader, I remember Abnett co-writing various titles with Andy Lanning. Not one of my top 5 writers but good enough for me to be curious about any novels he has written. Not being a gamer, I don’t know much about Warhammer 40K, nor do I have much interest, tbh. But, this particular focus sounds interesting, and hopefully I won’t feel too lost trying to figure stuff out.
What Goodman didn’t explain is that Eisenhorn is actually an omnibus print of a trilogy: Xenos, Malleus, and Hereticus. A fourth book, The Magos (short stories spanning Gregor Eisenhorn’s life & career), came out since Goodman’s article, which leads directly into Pariah, part of another 40K series.
9) Blindsight (by Peter Watts)
“One of my personal favorites, Blindsight is a unique take on how humanity would make first contact with an alien life form. In the post-singularity future, a team of transhuman specialists are sent to investigate an unknown radio signal in the outskirts of our solar system, and encounter an extraterrestrial life form of terrifying intelligence. This novel delves deep into what it means to have free will, game theory and evolution, and is a great read for anyone who appreciates science fiction that forgos [sic] laser pistols and warp drives for hard science.”
I have to admit, I love “laser pistols and warp drives”. But, sometimes one needs something a bit more intellectually challenging. Sounds like Watts is one of those authors that can deliver really good ‘hard SF’, along with the likes of Clarke, Niven, Bear, Robinson, etc. This one sounds quite intriguing, especially once you find out more about the first-contact team. I’m in!
Oh, there’s also a sequel titled Echopraxia.
8) Ender’s Game (by Orson Scott Card)
“This classic sci-fi novel presents a grim future where humanity has been dragged into a war with an insectoid species apparently bent on our annihilation. A group of childen [sic], including the story’s protaganist [sic] Ender Wiggen, are drafted into the elite Battle School in the hopes of preparing them to defend against an invasion by a numerous, powerful foe.”
Now, this one I have actually read (and enjoyed), along with one or two of the sequels. Maybe not ‘hard SF’, but definitely thought-provoking. Thumbs-up!
7) Dune (by Frank Herbert)
“No best science fiction list is ever complete without mention of Frank Herbet’s [sic] grand epic. A huge cast of characters, intergalactic political intrigue, giant sandworms – there’s a lot going on and it’s all a great read.”
I discussed the original Dune‘s 55th anniversary in a post earlier this year. Fans of this novel and its sequels are probably among the most dedicated for any SF series, yet I have never been among them. Of course, the world (not just one planet) created by Herbert is quite complex, and I suppose I just wasn’t prepared to fully immerse myself in it. That was probably around 30 years ago when I tried it, so it may be time to give it another go. One more for the list…
6) Redshirts: A Novel With Three Codas (by John Scalzi)
“A tounge-in-cheek [sic] look at the infamous “redshirt” trope of the original Star Trek series, Redshirts follows Ensign Andrew Dahl as he tries to stay alive while accompanying the starship Intrepid‘s bridge crew on increasingly more dangerous away missions to alien worlds.”
Now this looks like a lot of fun, especially for a longtime Trekker like me! I’ve heard good things about Scalzi (Creative Consultant for “Stargate: Universe”) but have never tried one of his novels. This may be just the right introduction for me. As one Amazon reviewer put it, “Not only does it parody Roddenberry’s baby, but, startlingly, it demonstrates heart. It ends up resonating on an emotional level. Which is weird for a parody.” I’m always up for cleverly written humor and inside jokes, so count me in for this one, too!
5) The Hyperion Cantos (by Dan Simmons)
“Hyperion (and its sequel The Fall of Hyperion) tells the stories of a strange group of travelers who have been sent on a pilgrimage to the planet Hyperion, home to the mysterious Shrike – a violent creature that appears to be unbound by time.”
Many, many moons ago, I had a quasi-co-worker who I met with for lunch once a week. He was a voracious reader, especially in the SF/fantasy genres, so we talked a lot about books & movies and even took the occasional long lunch to visit a used bookstore. One of the books he used to rave about was the then-recently-published Hyperion. He just thought it was the coolest thing, and I promised I’d check it out. Fast-forward roughly 30 years, and I still haven’t read it. What is WRONG with me?!
OK, I’m moving Hyperion up several spots in my To-Read list, followed by The Fall of Hyperion. Btw, the Hyperion Cantos is actually a tetralogy, since Simmons published Endymion and The Rise of Endymion a few years later. Hope I’m not disappointed…
4) The Forever War (by Joe Haldeman)
“This award-winning military sci-fi novel details the life of William Mandella, who is drafted to fight against an enemy known as the Taurans. Unfortunately, due to the relativistic effects of space travel, Mandella finds himself aging only a few scant years compared to the decades and centuries passing on Earth, and having to deal with the extreme cultural shifts and technological advances made by both humanity and its alien foes.”
This modern classic came out in 1974, but I only got around to reading it a couple years ago. (I think I picked up a cheap copy of a 2005 printing.) It was fairly interesting and I enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t list it among my favorites. Worth the read, though.
3) Seveneves (by Neal Stephenson)
“An extensive examination of what humanity’s future may be like among the stars, Seveneves begins with the destruction of Earth’s moon, followed by humanity’s attempt to evacuate into space and then flash forwards thousands of years later to the struggles of a genetically engineering humanity as it attempts to recolonize a newly terraformed Earth.”
I remember many years ago that I often noticed a very thick book by Stephenson in the library (not the one I go to now). It was rather daunting, and I could never bring myself to try it. (Don’t even remember which book it was, now.) But, when I saw his name on this list, it piqued my interest, as did the very brief description of this novel (~860 pages) provided by Goodman.
However, I found this review on Amazon: “The SocialJusticeWarrior themes (men bad/women good, pointless homosexuality, Globalism/multiCulturalism, etc.) were so over-the-top that I had trouble getting through the book. Totally unbelievable, ridiculous action sequences, and a ridiculous beginning premise (the Moon is mysteriously blown apart by a vague ‘agent’). Men are literally rendered extinct while a ridiculously small/incapable group of women somehow re-constitute human civilization.”
If accurate, that is *very* disappointing. I’ll probably pass this one up.
2) Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (by Philip K. Dick)
“Most famously known as the novel inspiring the classic film Blade Runner, this novel by Phillip K. Dick explores what it means to be human as it follows the story of a bounty hunter on a mission to eliminate a group of rogue androids in a post-apocalyptic future.”
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I never read this book and am only a moderate fan of the Blade Runner movie. To be honest, not much of Dick’s material interests me, for some reason. But, I am curious what this one is like — if only I can get the Blade Runner images out of my head….
1) Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (by Douglas Adams)
“Seriously, if you haven’t read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, stop what you’re doing right now and go pick it up. A fantastic, comedic read about a poor hapless human named Arthur Dent as he traverses the odd corners of the universe with alien explorer Ford Prefect, this novel is just a flat-out entertaining read and a must-have for any sci-fi fan.”
I read Hitchhiker’s Guide and (I think) three of the sequels many years ago. Loved ’em! There’s just something about the quirky, British humor and bizarre ideas Adams comes up with that make the series a real joy. (Even the depressed and paranoid android!) I think I have a compendium of four or five (of the six) books in the series around here somewhere. It may be time to put this on the Re-read List, eh? It beats Vogon poetry!
Did you find a few to add to your To-Read list?
As for me, I’ve only read three for sure, and most of the others sound good. I can’t decide whether to prioritize the newer ones (e.g., Scalzi, Wong, Watts) or get a few more classics (e.g., Dick, Gibson, Heinlein) under my belt first. Regardless, it’s a good thing my library has curbside pick-up…