My Top Ten Best Science Fiction Novels
I have loved science fiction since I read a short story at the age of fourteen. I think it was the classic 'The Cold Equations' by Tom Godwin. I remember the look and feel of that book that I borrowed from the local library clearly and from that day I was hooked! Reading science fiction has had a profound effect on my life and has definitely shaped the person I am today. Putting together a list of the best science fiction novels is clearly very subjective and choosing ten leaves out many, many well loved books.
This is a list of my top ten, books that I have loved or that have had a profound effect on me. Books that I remember even though I read them many years ago. Stories and characters that linger after the end of the book and stand up to reading again many times. It will not be your best science fiction and I apologise in advance for leaving out some of the all time classics. I hope there are some books here that you have not read and that you will enjoy reading for the first time as much as I did. I do not intend to produce a list that you could find anywhere of the classics, but a personal list that means something to me. I also had a hard time putting them in order. They are all favorites so to my mind no 10 is just as enjoyable as no 1!
No 1 Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. Speaker for the Dead is the second in the Ender series which also includes Enders game then continues Xenocide, Children of the Mind. Although Ender's Game is a great read I enjoyed Speaker for the Dead more. It won the Nebula Award in 1986 and the Hugo Award in 1987 and can be enjoyed as a stand alone novel. Set on Lusitania and centered around the native species the Pequeninos, or piggies, who are the only alien species that humanity has found since the xenocide of the buggers in Ender's Game. The piggies 'worship' the father trees but their life cycle is intimately tied to the trees which has a tragic outcome for one of the human settlers. An involved, highly readable novel that is hard to put down, with a well thought out and original alien race.
No 2 Time Enough For Love by Robert Heinlein. One of my all time favorite authors is Robert Heinlein. The very first Heinlein novel I read as a teenager was 'Tunnel in the Sky' and I have read, I believe, all that he has written. Sadly Robert died in 1988. Admittedly sometimes his sermonising approach can be irritating and some of the books seem a little old fashioned but they are still wonderful reads.
Choosing my favorite is hard. I loved Glory Road and the classic Stranger in a Strange Land. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress popularised the acronym TANSAAFL (there's no such thing as a free lunch). I chose Time Enough for Love as it's a huge book with many sub stories that stand alone as wonderful tales. The Tale of The Adopted Daughter and The Tale of the Twins Who Weren't stand out out as two of the best . The stories are tied together as we follow the very long life of Lazarus Long.
No 3 The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons. This is the second book in the series with the first book being Hyperion and continuing in Endymion and The Rise of Endymion. I seem to always like the second book of a series best! In this case it may be because I happened to read Fall of Hyperion first and only then went on to read Hyperion. I live in a country where it's not always easy to buy the book you really want! The grand scope of the book includes the concept of the farcaster developed by the TechnoCore which allows instant travel across huge distances and are an integral part of society . Unfortunately as we see later they are also where the TechoCore lives with devastating consequences to human's galaxy spanning civilisation.
The action in Fall of Hyperion centers around the planet Hyperion and the Time Tombs with the mysterious Shrike an important
part of the plot. It follows a group of pilgrims sent by the Hegemony
and the Shrike Church to make a request of the shrike. A wonderful read
and probably better if you read Hyperion first!
No 4 The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin. A wonderful book by one of my favorite authors that won the 1969 Nebula and 1970 Hugo awards. Although written such a long time ago I recently re-read it and enjoyed it as much as the first time. The story is set on Gethen (or Winter) which is in the grip of an ice age and follows Genly Ai an earth man and an envoy from the Ekumen which is an organisation of many worlds. On Gethen there is no word for war and the people are androgynous for most of their lives, becoming either male or female randomly during kemmer. The consequences of their biology on their society is what makes this novel so interesting and unique to me.
No 5 A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge. This is a novel in the space opera tradition with many innovative ideas and interesting aliens. The Unthinking Depths, the Slow Zone, the Beyond and the Transcend are all different areas of the galaxy where the laws of physics differ. The Earth is in the Slow Zone where intelligence is limited and FTL flight is impossible and FTL ships straying from the Beyond will be stranded forever. Most of the action takes place in the Beyond where many different forms of intelligence exist. In the Transcend are godlike beings including the Blight, which is awakened by meddling inhabitants from the Beyond and causes devastation throughout inhabited space. Stopping the Blight with the help of the half-mystical Countermeasure is explored in this novel.
Much of the action is set on the Tines world which contains one of the best alien species i have come across. The Tines are dog like aliens with each person consisting of multiple (up to five or six) individuals forming one mind. A wonderful story with many twists and turns and great character development.
A Deepness in the Sky is set in the same universe with more interesting aliens, although a good read, I did not find it as engrossing as A Fire Upon the Deep.
No 6 Galactic North by Alistair Reynolds. Now for something a little more up to date. Alistair Reynolds is one of the most popular UK authors of the past ten years and is well known for his Revelation Space novels. They are all hard SF in the space opera style of the 60's and 70's with wide stretching scenarios and innovative science. Quotes: '"The stories are written with real energy. Dark, satirical and frequently dystopian. This is gothic SF with gore as Reynolds ensures his taut narratives grip from the first sentence." -- Jonathan Wright SF. Although it helps to have read some of the Revelation Space novels they are enjoyable as stand alone stories.
Galactic North is a collection of stories set in the Revelation Space Universe each one fine to read alone or in this collection. The emergence and development of the Conjoiners in explored in detail and some stories are based on Chasm City and Yellowstone. Although filled with future technological developments it's the development of the characters which I especially like set against this well thought out future society. If you like old fashioned space opera brought up to date and great characterisation you'll love Galactic North and the Revelation Space novels.
No 7 Titan by John Varley. Titan is the first in The Gaea Trilogy with a wonderful main female character Cirroco Jones who 'climbs the spokes of the wheel like Titan to meet with Gaea the slightly mad alien intelligence running the whole thing. Titan, which orbits Saturn, is filled with weird and wonderful creatures that work because of the depth of detail and science that Varley uses to describe them - Who can forget the centaurs and their musical language or their lifelong enemies the 'angels'? A wonderful read and one of the great science fiction novels. Be sure to read the rest of the trilogy , Wizard and Demon as well!
No 8 Gateway by Frederich Pohl. Gateway is the first if the Heechee Saga which also includes Beyond the Blue event Horizon, Heechee Rendevous, Annals of the Heechee and The Gateway Trip. I read the first two a long time ago and have just acquired them again so I am thoroughly enjoying them. I have yet to read the last three in the series. Gateway introduces us to the world in the near future where an asteroid has been discovered that is covered in blue metal, with blue metal lined tunnels and, most importantly, working alien spaceships left behind millions of years ago by the mysterious Heechee. The catch is that although they work there's no way to know where they will go when you activate them or how long they will take getting there. Able to go faster than the speed of light by an unknown method, indeed almost everything about them is unknown, they can take a few prospectors to explore the universe in limited fashion and return with a fortune if they are lucky. or, if they are not so lucky they may end up too close to a nova or a black hole.
Gateway explores the journeys, fears and triumphs of Robinette Broadhead who makes a fortune but loses the love of his life doing it. Told by a series of flashbacks as Rob explores his feelings with his robot psychiatrist after losing his love in a tragic incident that may or may not have been an accident this is a great read and has become one of the classics of SF. I'm now enjoying Beyond the Blue Event Horizon and may report back on that later!
No 9 The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. won both the Hug and Nebula Awards although whole sections were omitted in the original publication. It has now been published with these sections included. Although it is a book about war it's more about how the characters cope with being more and more isolated by the effects of relativity from their homes. It follows William Mandella and fellow soldier and lover Marygay as they fight the Taurans, never knowing each time they jump through a wormhole if the Taurans will have advanced enough to wipe them out this time. Although Mandella and Marygay try ot go home after their discharge, Earth has changed so much they no longer fit in and re-enlist, which is what the army expected them to do all along!Don't be put off if you don't like war novels. This is much more and a great read for anyone who loves SF.
Here are some reviews:
"FOREVER WAR is brilliant--one of the most influential war novels of our
time. That it happens to be set in the future only broadens and
enhances its message."
--Greg Bear, author of Moving Mars, Eon, The Forge of God
and "The Forever War does what the very best science fiction does. It
deals with extremes both societal and teleological; it places a frame
around humankind's place in the universe to show us what is outside the
frame; and it functions simultaneously at the literal and metaphorical
level. Inarguably one of the genre's great novels, it is also among the
finest novels ever written about war."
--James Sallis, author of The Long Legged Fly, Drive, Cripple Creek
No 10 Up Walls of the World by James Tiptree Jr (AKA Alice Sheldon) . if you like to explore strange new worlds and interesting and exotic aliens this one is for you! It opens on the gas giant planet Tyree where Tivonel is a female of a species that communicate by light and by melding there mind-fields . Tivonel roams the wilds, the upper winds of her world. Her fellows have settled in the Deep where the winds are less wild but Tivonel is restless and young. However disaster is coming to her world in the shape of the Destroyer.
On Earth Doctor Daniel Dann is burned out and depressed and running a research investigating physic phenomena. How this interacts with Tivonel on Tyree and is the main thrust of the story. Can Tyree be saved from the Destroyer and is the way that is suggested a moral one for the inhabitants? A complex beautifully written story that seems as fresh now as when it was written in 1978.
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