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Top 10 Science Fiction Novels from Clarke to Brin!
Top 10 Science Fiction novels - A Personal List
As with all Top 10 lists based on opinion rather than statistics such as sales, it is a highly subjective list, and a personal one based on my views, and the books I've actually read. There will be many, many great books I've missed, and if so please feel free to tell me (and all other readers of this article) about them in the comments section below.
1. 'The City and the Stars' by Arthur C. Clarke
There have been many 'end of the universe' books written, but this one by one of the grandmasters of science fiction is the best I've read. It's about the eternal city of Diaspar, protected from the ravages from time and a hostile universe, living within one perfect city. Once they held the power that ruled the stars, now they shut themselves off from the universe. No one truly dies in Diaspar, but no one is truly born either, just an endless cycle of rebirth. Until a new child is born for the first time, and he has a curiosity about the City and what is outside, that no else has... A truly amazing, awe inspiring book, and at only about 250 pages, quite a quick read too.
2. 'Foundation' by Isaac Asimov
Another classic novel from a grandee of the genre. Asimov's 'I, Robot' series are probably more well known, but I prefer the Foundation series. The first book, 'Foundation' is a great book, with plenty packed into the 200-odd pages. The book is set in the far, far future when humanity's Galactic Empire is crumbling and facing imminent catastrophe and plunge into a new Dark Ages. Mathematician and Psychohistorian Hari Seldon comes up with a plan to save mankind by creating a store of all human knowledge.
The series eventually ran to 7 books, two of which are prequels to Foundation, but start with this one.
3. 'The Reality Dysfunction' by Peter F Hamilton
This book is the first in a trilogy of books which make up the 'Night's Dawn Trilogy' an epic space opera. It's about 1,000 pages, with the other two books a similar length so if you don't have the time, don't start it. But if you invest the time, you will be richly rewarded. Peter F Hamilton has created a whole universe peopled with many fascinating people spread throughout the galaxy, 600 years in the future. A large part of this first book is taken up with settlers on a new colony world, far out in space. It's the best 'new colony' type of book I've read, really getting into how a new civilisation could be developed from scratch. This is only the start of a wonderful story, that is mind-boggling in its scope.
4. 'Raft' by Stephen Baxter
I struggled to decide which of Stephen Baxter's books to include in this list, but in the end went for 'Raft' not because it is the best particularly, but because it is the first book in his Xeelee series, which is probably my favourite of all sci-fi book series. In the early books, the Xeelee are god-like beings, masters of time, space and the universe itself or so it appears. In the later books, humanity has evolved to rival the Xeelee with book races pitted against the merciless and inexorable decline of the universe.
Raft itself only covers the main mythos in passing, but it is a great story of humans struggling to survive in a completely alien and challenging environment. Brilliantly realised and true to scientific principles, this is believable stuff.
5. 'Rendezvous with Rama' by Arthur C Clarke
This book can be summarised by "Big dumb object spotted in space, possibly from an alien race. Humans sent out to investigate". This is very cliched science fiction, but then a cliché doesn't apply to the book that started it all, and arguably this book started the whole 'big dumb object in space' sub-sub-genre!
'Rama' is a cylinder 50km in length, which an expendition sent to investigate manage to dock with, and journey inside to discover as much as they can about the object and the beings who created it. Hard science fiction at it's best. Originally a stand alone novel, there have been several sequels that make up a series.
6. 'The Player of Games' by Iain M Banks
The Player of Games is a book in Banks' Culture series of space opera novels. Set in the far future where 'The Culture' is a very advanced society which has eliminated hunger, death, disease and supposedly created the perfect society. The truth is there are lots of problems however. 'The Player of Games' is about a master strategic games player who competes in a grand tournament in the cruel Empire of Azad. The game is life or death, and the winner becomes emperor.
This book can be enjoyed on many levels. On the most basic, it is a cracking science fiction story, but there are a lot of themes and issues to think about, and the book does make you think...
7. 'Ender's Game' by Orson Scott Card
This is the story of Ender Wiggin, a child prodigy in the distant future who gets sent to Battle School. The military are looking for a genius commander to turn the tide against the alien Buggers in a war for humanity, and they think the young Ender may be just what they've been looking for.
This short description does nothing to impress upon you how good the book is, it is just one of those you have to read. A true classic of science fiction.
8. 'The Warrior's Apprentice' by Lois McMaster Bujold
The thing with space opera science fiction novels is that they usually resemble a brick, and take a month or more to read. Lois McMaster Bujold however writes quite short pacey, space based science fiction which is by turns funny and dramatic. The character of Miles Vorkosigan is a great one which you will struggle not to like. If you like this, there are many other books in this series, but they can be read as stand alone too. All I can suggest is try it, it won't take long to read and you may just come to love it.
9. 'A Canticle for Leibowitz' by Walter M Miller
I'm quite a big fan of post-apocalyptic science fiction, and this is probably the best of its kind I've ever read. It is set in the future following a nuclear war, and mankind is just starting to crawl out of a new dark ages which lasted for several centuries. The Catholic Church plays a prominent part in the rebuilding of civilisation and the the Order of St Leibowitz in particular tries to preserve the knowledge of the past, enshrining rare surviving documents (including an old grocery list). The book consists of three separate stories, set apart by quite a span of time, but linked by the theme of the rebuilding of civilisation (and repeating the mistakes of the past?). A novel that really makes you think.
10. 'Sundiver' by David Brin
Sundiver is the first in Brin's 'Uplift' saga. All races in the galaxy were 'uplifted' by a patron race who came before them, giving them intelligence and opening up the stars to them. Of all the races, humans are the only ones who don't appear to have been uplifted, or if they have their patrons are nowhere to be seen. An expedition to the heart of the sun hopes to uncover the truth.
The mystery of humanity's origins, and who their patrons were, is a good story, but what is even better about this book is the detailed world (or galaxy) building that sets up the many books that follow it. The Uplift saga is one of science fiction's most classic series.