Celebrating Great Films

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The best science fiction books

In preparation for writing a comic science fiction novel at the end of last year, I bought myself a pile of science fiction books. I visited various websites to try and work out some of the greatest classics of sci-fi that I never got around to reading as a child.

It's been years since I read good science fiction, and I'd forgotten how much fun it is. Three months of reading, and I'm still only halfway through the pile - but only because I acquired more books along the way.

Calling science fiction a genre is, in my opinion, misleading. The range of science fiction stories is as broad as all literature - the one thing they have in common is a particularly rich imagination.

Here's what I've been enjoying. (The absence of Harrison, Clarke and Adams is because I read pretty much their entire works in my teenage years.)

  • The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut (Vonnegut bowls me over with the confidence and ambition of his writing. Despite the extreme weirdness of this book I felt surprisingly emotionally involved by the end.)
  • The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem (I loved the idea of the two competing cosmic constructors, and the timeless style.)
  • Man In The High Castle by Philip K Dick (Such a complete and thorough vision of a culture darkly parallel to our own. A little difficult to follow sometimes, but compelling.)
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin (A grand political drama with wonderful characters. Led me to read a much earlier work of feminist science fiction, Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.)
  • Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (I read the original short story rather than the novel; it's a truly excellent story.)
  • Non-Stop by Brian Aldiss (Relentlessly pacey, great characters, twist after twist, and a dramatic finale. What more could you want?)
  • Foundation by Isaac Asimov (Based on this epic alone, I'm convinced Asimov earned every bit of his reputation as one of the masters of science fiction. It's a series of linked short stories - fascinating individually, and astounding as a whole.)
  • The Player of Games by Iain M Banks (Board games! Cheeky robots! A utopian empire! A violent and colourful enemy! So much fun!)
  • Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein (Charismatic, hugely witty and deeply profound. It feels like he predicted the entire Sixties counterculture. Possibly my favourite so far. Front!)

And here's what I have left in the considerably expanded pile.

  • The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
  • The Mote In God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
  • Last And First Men and Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller Jr
  • Hyperion by Dan Simmons
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson
  • Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Earth Abides by George R Stewart
  • Only Forward by Michael Marshall Smith
  • A few more Dicks and Heinleins

So many worlds of joy!

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