Ten favorite science fiction novels

That is from a reader request, please note I am not saying these are the best (that would be a separate query).  Here goes, noting I am engaging in some bundling of volumes and sequels:

1. Olaf Stapledon, Last and First Men, Star Maker.  Who needs characters and plot when such a compelling mega-Hegelian take is on the table?  His other novels are underrated as well.

2. Isaac Asimov, original Foundation Trilogy.  But no, the books didn’t want to make me become an economist and in fact when I read them at age fourteen (?) I recoiled at their historicist, anti-Hayekian, and anti-Popperian nature.  I, Robot is actually a more important book, and one of the most influential of its century, but it is less fun to read.

3. Stanislaw Lem, Solaris, doubles and erotic guilt, with a touch of Girard, check out the Tarkovsky film as well.

4. Ursula LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness, her masterpiece, sadly I find The Dispossessed pretentious and unreadable.

5. Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood’s End.  In for a penny, in for a pound, as they say.  And once again, why haven’t they turned this into a movie?

6. Dan Simmons, Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion.  I’m not sure these are important science fiction, but they sure hold your interest.

7. Larry Niven, Ringworld.  Read this one through the lens of Dante.

8. China Mieville, Embassytown.  It demands serious attention, but worth a try even if you don’t enjoy his other books.

9. Liu Cixin, The Three-Body Problem trilogy.  Again note the first volume is tough sledding for quite a while.

10. Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game trilogy, it only gets great at the end of the first volume, nonetheless deeply worth it.

Assorted notes: I would have said Dune, except that last year I tried to reread it.  John Wyndham deserves a lifetime achievement award.  Philip K. Dick is “idea rich,” but basically a bad and overrated writer.  And don’t kid yourself, Neuromancer, while important, isn’t that much fun either.  A big chunk of Verne and H.G. Wells is worth reading, more than just the famous ones.  I’m a fan of Neal Stephenson, but not sure my favorite works of his count toward this category.  Huxley’s Brave New World would make the list if it counts.  Gene Wolfe is OK, but no need to lecture me about him in the comments, same for Ray Bradbury.  Some Heinlein holds up fine, but most does not.  Vonnegut no, but I like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series if it counts as science fiction.  There is also Iain Banks.

Honorable mentions: Joe Haldeman, The Forever War; Greg Bear, Eon; Octavia Butler Xenogenesis trilogy; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  My dark horse pick might be Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things, or Audrey Niffennegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife, if that one counts as belonging to the genre.  High marks to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and The Stand, again if they count.  Any of these mentions could make the top ten without shame.


Vernor Vinge is brilliant, and his tinkers in the peace war should be especially appealing to a libertarian.

Agree on Vinge, came here to say that. (He also has gotten better as a writer with each book, something that doesn't always happen.)

Vernor Vinge is why I clicked on "Comments".

Ditto. Fantastic writer, invented the cyberpunk genre (TRUE NAMES), invented the concept of the singularity (Fire Upon the Deep, Deepness in the Sky), etc. etc.

I'd throw in Fritz Leiber, too.

Fantastic writer, invented the cyberpunk genre (TRUE NAMES)

Neuromancer, which predates it, has already been mentioned.

He did coin the *term* singularity, it seems, but certainly not the concept.

Please elaborate on why Vonnegut no and why Wyndham has a life time award , none of hi sbooks make the list.

Even Vonnegut admitted his books were too sentimental - its like drinking syrup reading him. Reading Wyndham was pretty scary as a kid - Day of the Triiffids, Midwitch Cuckoo's etc, but I haven't read him for a long time. My favourite as a kid was Brian Aldiss - The Malacia Tapestry and Helloconia series. Probably my favourite story from the Golden Age though is Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth "The Space Merchants", probably the most economics focused SF story I think.

Have you read Pohl's The Midas Plague, Chris? Kind of a timely book now that we talk about automation; in that book's future the robots produce so much that to be poor means you have to constantly wear out and consume all the goods they make, and to be rich is to be free from owning things. I remember it was a great book, though I haven't read it in ages.

Vonnegut famously denied he wrote SF, so maybe Tyler is taking him at his word?

Vonnegut has the singular distinction of convincing me that the firebombing of Dresden was as not a big deal as I had thought.

But that doesn't make him a great SF writer. A generation of people has formed their opinions about allied war crimes in WWII from a book about a man who was abducted by aliens who kept him as a zoo animal alongside his favourite Hollywood starlet. Yes that is certainly SF. Is it good SF? Well you decide.

How did Vonnegut convince you of that?

What about: Permutation City is a 1994 science-fiction novel by Greg Egan that explores many concepts, including quantum ontology, through various philosophical aspects of artificial life and simulated reality? And your colleague Robin Hansen who ripped off--eh, adapted--this book to his own ends? But maybe Dr. Hansen's book is not sci-fiction, but science fact-ion? :)

It’s a great book. Maybe it should be on that list.

Yes, the Egan is a good pick.

While I very much enjoyed Egan, his books lowered by total stock of happiness as now the ideas of R Hanson, as well as two out of three Black Mirror episodes, seem completely derivative.

Agree on Permutation City. This is a mind-***er book that stays with you for a long, long time.


Self-regarding Heinlein pastiche? With added political correctness?

He hardly ranks with the most mediocre pulp authors.

Scalzi's books are fun, but Old Man's War draws so heavily from The Forever War for me. That one is certainly in my top 10.

Fun? His characters are dire, his understanding of children insignificant, his ideas would have to aspire to be lame. A waste of time.

How can Forever War be in anyone's Top Ten? Or even Top One Hundred? So much good SF has been written. The only thing JH does well is the attempt at the impact of time dilation. Apart from that it is just a whine from a Baby Boomer who did not want to go to Vietnam. No concept or understanding that some wars are actually necessary and worthwhile - you would think the Killing Fields would have made that obvious. No particularly interesting ideas. No particularly interesting conclusion. Not even all that Hard.

No concept or understanding that some wars are actually necessary and worthwhile

That can hardly be true for both sides of the same war, and is often true for neither side of the war.Take Vietnam: The US clearly lost the war by any normal definition, and suffered not at all in consequence. So what was the point of fighting the war?

Scalzi is hit or miss. Lock In was mediocre at best, but the precursor "Unlocked" was quite good. Old Man's War is just plain bad: filled with juvenile humor, flat characters, and the existence of the Ghost Brigade completely negates the books underlying premise.

Old Man's War has some good sections, but overall, yes it's pretty mediocre. It's clearly a take off of The Forever War, and I'm ok with that, but it's clearly from a weaker writer.

Agree that Vinge is great, but I think his appeal to folks who "don't read science fiction" is low.

_Snowcrash_ is a mess of a book - narratively, plot-wise, and the economics don't work; but still brilliant. And it does seem to appeal to folks who "don't read science fiction".

I'm not sure he's a great author, but I think Peter Watts deserves attention, _Blindsight_ and _Echopraxia_ in particular.

Nice description of Snow Crash, agreed. And now that you mention that ... why no Gibson on the list? My pet peeve with Gibson: his environments are great and fascinating but I'm always a bit disappointed with his "deus ex machina" plot resolutions. Still a great read though.

He mentions Neuromancer, and his answer seems to be that Gibson is not "fun to read."

I found Peripheral interesting and enjoyable, though it was notable almost the entire lack of exposition typical in SF. It made for realistic conversations, and also (for good or ill) for a lot of confusion on the part of the reader, with difficulty understanding the world until quite a lot in.

Peripheral's lack of exposition put me off because what wasn't being exposited looked a lot more interesting than what the book was actually about.

I tend to agree with TC on this one. I've read Neuromancer and Count Zero many times. I'm still not sure I could explain how they ended. His short stories are far better, IMO.

In addition to Snowcrash, one step further out is The Diamond Age, which provides an interesting illustration of how justice might look in China, if the Chinese cared about justice, on top of the interesting take on the post scarcity economics. In retrospect, it seems like China ran out of surplus girls 5-10 years ago, so the prediction of surplus chinese girls that far out did not age well.

When re reading the Gibson Bridge Trilogy, I was hit by how those books just seemed like "Snowcrash Lite", however, I was pleasantly surprised by Neuromancer, I was expecting it would not have aged well, but it was quite readable.

I came here to say that, but also tout Stephenson's other work including Anathem and Cryptonomicon.

Anathem is brilliant, a much better work than The Diamond Age - I am not sure why that one gets so much love. I don't hate it, but it didn't stand out for me in either ideas or story.

Five of my favorite

1. Bruce Sterling, Islands in the Net.
2. Anne McCaffrey, Dragonsong.
3. Alan Dean Foster, Damned Trilogy.
4. Timothy Zahn, Cobra. .
5. Jim Aikin, The Wall at the Edge of the World.

Really missing Clarke’s Rendevouz with Rama and Brin’s Startide Rising on this list. Also some Cormac McCarthy if his stuff counts.

Apropos of nothing, Clarke, a brilliant writer, was essentially an open pedophile who, if he was in the USA as opposed to Sri Lanka, would have been writing in prison. Especially in Texas.

No he wasn't. If he was sexually abusing children then he was definitely not open about it. As no evidence has ever been produced he is about as likely to be guilty of it as the President of the United States.

Wait a minute. Let me change that. He is about as likely to be guilty as the Vice President of the United States.

No, that still doesn't seem right. Hang on, I got it! He is about as likely to be guilty as the Secretary of Agriculture.

There we go! Third time's the charm!

His friends say he slept with boys and pretty much everybody who knew him said so. You can get into issues like the age of consent, which varies country-by-country, not sure about Sri Lanka, but outside the USA 'consent' is usually whatever the parents think is OK.

Wikipedia has a cool coda on A. C. Clark: "Just hours before Clarke's death a massive gamma-ray burst (GRB) reached Earth. Known as GRB 080319B, the burst set a new record as the farthest object that could be seen from Earth with the naked eye.[60] It occurred about 7.5 billion years ago (roughly equal to half the time since the Big Bang), taking the light that long to reach Earth.[60] It was suggested by Larry Sessions, a science writer for Sky and Telescope magazine blogging on earthsky.org, that the burst be named “The Clarke Event"."

I love Cormac McCarthy, but he definitely doesn't count.

McCarthy lightly treads in magical realism. Not SF.

Blood Meridian’s Judge is certainly not fully human. But not SF either.

More of a combination of tangible human impulses anthropomorphized and made to represent an impulse/instinct that is a tactile Paradise Lost versión of Satan.

I was likewise a bit surprised Brin was not mentioned. I also think that Forever War should be rated higher -- it's really one of the only books that really directly confronts the problem of space -- as in it's really, really big.

Rendevouz with Rama is a bit navel gazing.

Yes. Clarke might be my favorite SF author of all, but "Rendzvous with Rama" was so to speak nothing but special effects. Fun to read because Clarke put cliffhangers at the end of practically every chapter, with some new mysterious item or object, but in the end it was all a bunch of mysterious machinery that we learned almost nothing about.

How to write Tyler Cowen post:

1. Identify some borderline popular subject
2. Google for list of references and titles related to subject. More obscure the better.
3. Compile list so it looks like it contains meaningful information.
4. Revel in the glory that list contains no meaningful information.
5. Profit off continuous attempt to signal virtue and inflate ego.

Not true. I like this blog for its content, and there are a few others but TC writes continuously. Some interesting bloggers on Twitter too, but I don't subscribe to it.

It’s just his list of favourite sci-fi novels! Relax. Sometimes a list is just a list.

And watch, 75 people will respond and many of us will get new novels to read.

You sound like a regular reader of this excellent blog.

Why dont you just stop reading it? That would be much more rational than attacking something which you dislike as much as you dislike this.

Because Anon enjoys attempting to signal some perverse type of virtue more than anything else.

Not sure you would consider many (if any) of these picks obscure.

You're virtue-signaling and inflating your ego with this comment.

I have read all but 8 and 9, but will take a look.

Childhood's End was made into a miniseries a few years back, but I bailed out after the first hour.

+1 also Amazon says "Soon to be a Syfy miniseries event" for Childhood's End

Despite being a major Carke fan - I read 2001: A Space Odyssey at 11 and finished reading it just before my father took me to see it at the college where he took me - for some reason didn't read Childhood's end, which I enoyed even more.

I later read that Childhood's End was the inspiration for him to write the screnplay for 2001 along with Kuberick. Also, a screenplay has been floating around Hollywood for many years but never made. I'm not sure if the Amazon version is that screen play, but it didn't look good on the previews.

Embassytown is a treat. I like most of Miéville's oeuvre, but Embassytown constrains its ambition, and works well for that.

Childhood's End - Is asking why it has not been turned into a movie a critique of the Dec 2015 3 episode miniseries?

It wasn't necessarily amazing, but on RT it got 68% critics/71% audience approval.

I can't see any reasonable person saying Brave New World is not scifi. We should define scifi as having speculative science impact the story rather than deferring to the publishing industry's desire to ring-fence certain science fiction stories as respectably literary and therefore okay for the non-geeky public to consume.

By that definition, the honorable mentions might also include Murakami or perhaps even DFW's Infinite Jest (Which may be slightly overrated because of how long and painful a read it is).

1Q84 is one of those novels that gets dumped into "magical realism," as does other Murakami. There's a number of reasons why, but for one it's that there really is no attempt to ground it in some sort of (real or fantastical) science, explain the science, or have the details of the science be the important thing.

Really enjoyed 1Q84 though.

Infinite Jest isn't a remotely painful read. It's compulsively readable.

Moreover, in so far as the Art World gets weird as it is, it turns out a painting called “Les Amourex Jeunes was stolen from a French art dealer and landed in the hands of Herman Goering. It ended up at Utah Museum, and in 2004, it was given to the rightful family, and handed to one, Suzanne Geiss Robbins of Greenwich Connecticut. Suzanne Geiss Robbins passed away on February 12th, 2017. Meanwhile, Suzanne Geiss continues to go missing.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is strangely missing from the list. One of the most enjoyable books I've read , not just in the science fiction category..

As a fan of the series, I could see it being included in someone's list, but I could also see it being excluded. It's a lot of fun, but for me it doesn't have the impact that a truly great book does.

I have to disagree on the History hitchhiker’s guide’s lack of impact. I would say that I see more discussion of, influence from, and references to that book than any book on the list. Yes, there are sci-fi books with a bigger impact (1984, Brave New World, Frankenstein, War of the Worlds, 20,000 Leagues, Frankenstein, 2001, Dune, Fahrenheit 451, etc.), but nothing on this list, since he’s excluded all major sci-fi before 1950. I only see, before 1950, Stapleton (who I don’t know) and Foundation, which I can only assume Tyler hasn’t read since he was a teenager because the writing is really awful, just so poorly written. Hitchhiker’s Guide is now 39 years old and still remains popular.

I don't disagree, but I meant impact on me as a reader rather than cultural influence.

And the 'Don't Panic' on the dashboard display of the Tesla in space, that has to count for something.

The prose in Foundation is weak, but it did not get in my way. The original trilogy has good ideas, nice pacing and some plot twists.

I started reading Foundation in high school but put it down after 100 pages so picked it up my freshman year of college and was surprised how much lower the writing was compared to the literature I had read in high school. I also thought it didn't get in the way after a few chapters.

It's the original radio series of Hitchhikers that deserves the credit. The books are enjoyable, but in 1978 when the radio broadcast was first aired, the use of stereo, the sound effects and the anarchic humour made it an instant and memorable hit.

Dispossessed is great.

Speaker for the Dead is an incest-fest. Ew.

Otherwise, excellent taste. :-)

Yeah, Speaker for the Dead wierded me out. Then I read 'Lovelock' and never touched an Orson Scott Card book again. Eeew.

In brief, 'Lovelock' is about a trained money that overcomes his conditioning by masturbating to thoughts of it's owner.

Look Jeffrey Dahmer and I have biological differences. Suzanne is working on her website. Check her website. Look, I went to HBD and I have created a $17 B lending industry. So what if I watch child pornography?

So the stodgy, full of ridiculous technobabble and untenable pseudoscience "Three Body Problem" makes into the list and Dick's "Valis" does not? Must be kidding.

Ender's Game trilogy? Weren't there four novels in the main part of the series?

Possibly a problematic question -- https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ender%27s_Game_series

"There are 11 stories in the Ender's Game series. According to Orson Scott Card, the author, you do not have to read the books in any required order, except that Xenocide should be read right before Children of the Mind.[1]"

But the wiki does seem to take your view as well.

I agree with Valis - nice strange pre-postmodern writing. I miss here all the short stories of R.A. Lafferty. R.A. Lafferty is a nice mix of Borges philosophy with Vonnegut humor. And a nice little bagatelle is: Our Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber. Links: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/721748.Not_To_Mention_Camels https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_Darkness Both highly recommended.

+1 for the little known R.A.Lafferty. If anyone wants to try a novel rather than short stories, The Annals of Klepsis would be my top pick. Lafferty was ahead of his time and that time still has not quite come I think. I see him as an explorer of the phenomenological and a psychonaut. Okla Hannali may be his magnum opus.

Woah, you don't hear Our Lady of Darkness mentioned often! Creepy story.

There is always a need to lecture about Gene Wolfe in the comments, everywhere. I'd consider him to be the most underrated living science fiction author.

He's most famous for the series Book of the New Sun, which is good (http://1novels.com/242389-the-shadow-of-the-torturer.html), but his short stories are also incredible. (Pro tip: if you wanna seem well read, just read some of an author's short stories or novellas so you can say you're familiar with their work without having to read an entire novel, or worse, an entire trilogy.) Definitely take a look at Forlesen, Seven American Nights, Westwind, or of course The Fifth Head of Cerberus if you ever get a chance, they're all short and all brilliant.

I adore Wolfe, but I had no trouble justifying his being left off this list with the thought that he is really more of a fantasy author in spirit. But I may be biased, because my favorites of his are The Wizard Knight and the Latro books, which are both unambiguously fantasy.

Yeah fair enough, most of his work is far from what would be considered typical science fiction or hard science fiction. It wouldn't entirely belong on this list. The sad thing, though, is that he's often left off of best fantasy author lists also, perhaps because he's not quite writing typical fantasy either.

Hear, hear. Wolfe is my favorite author. Peace is an incredible novel that I recommend to people who think they won't like a writer of "genre fiction."

Perhaps I should re-read it, but Dune still figures on my list. I would probably add A Canticle for Leibowitz and Vinge's A Fire upon the Deep.

if I added anything by Heinlein, it would have been The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

Agree with Canticle for Leibowitz. I didn't "get" Dune.

+1 tp Canticle for Liebowitz--great book.

Of course, Deepness is the Sky is a much superior book set in the same universe. Vernor Vinge captured the magic twice, too bad his direct sequel to Fire Upon the Deep did not turn out so well.

Why "much superior". I find those two books equally great.

Any opinion on Ian Banks' Culture series ?
I would really like to know what's your piece of mind on this :)

Solid yarns. Not profound. Good smart, exciting well paced reads though. Definitely the opposite of Heinlein because for the socialist Banks, there is a free (energy) lunch.

I agree with Thor, by and large. He is good with grand settings. He really did have good ideas for the worlds his characters live in.

However I think his two main flaws are that he was a Communist and so it is hard for him to make the individual count for anything. The universe is the product of vast impersonal forces against which individuals can do little. Do any of them in any of his books actually change anything? This follows on from his standard cheat - the Culture is so rich and advanced, that it can become so powerful, that there is always this deus ex machina in the wings. A drone will save the day. Or a couple of billion AIs.

The other flaw is that Banks was spectacularly ungenerous in the people he did not like. He cannot seem to comprehend that someone might disagree with his politics for any other reason than they are a sexual psychotic whack job. I mean if you so much as support School Vouchers in one of his novels it must mean you will turn out to be the Marquis de Sade. There are basically two sorts of societies in his novels - the Culture's Tranny-fest and a world of pain and torture. Nothing much in-between.

He was also very bad at sex. Presumably he thought about it a bit but didn't do much of it.

not sure I agree - individuals do count but many of the important individuals are ships or other A.I.s

A Deepness in the Sky is probably the best SF book I’ve read, but it assumes a lot of prior SF reading/familiarity. Ramscoops, cold sleep, relativistic time dilation, fallen colony worlds—that’s all the setting for the actual story.

Surely JG Ballard deserves a mention.

He didn't write space operas, but novels like High Rise are obviously dystopian science fiction, and I think that label applies to his later books like Cocaine Nights. He is preoccupied with the effects of technology on psychology, society and the environment.

And his books are well written and packed with ideas. Just rarely optimistic.


Fwiw, as he said himself, he wrote about inner space, and others wrote about outer space.

Vermillion Sands is amazing.

Charles Stross’ Accelerando?

A book available for free on the author's website, if anyone is interested in reading it - http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/fiction/accelerando/accelerando-intro.html

I haven't read enough to have valid opinions, so will simply say I greatly enjoyed Asimov's Foundation Trilogy back in high school. I thought Sagan's _Contact_ was a good read around that time, as well as _Brave New World_. But seriously, I can't remember enough of any of those to have an opinion beyond remembering I liked them. As an adult I read H.G.Well's _Time Machine_ and thought it held up very well compared to most fiction. Tried the _Three Body Problem_ and didn't make it far.

Uh, the list is about favorites. If you've only read one sci-fi and if you liked it, then you'd have a list (of one).

J.G. Ballard: I enjoyed a lot as young. I reread a short story compilation last year and still works with a bit of suspension of disbelief.

Jules Verne: I remember having an old and brittle world atlas when reading his books. Finding one place quoted on the story in the map was quite satisfying. First time I realized how place's name are easily altered by translations, wars or political changes since Verne wrote the book. I was not enthralled by super-capable engineers or machines but by the aspiration to travel to different places.

Eremei Parnov/ Mikhail Emtsev: Devuélvanme mi amor (Vozvratite liubov'):

Pure atomic era nihilism. This short story was part of a compilation. A somnambulist scientist gets fatally irradiated by accident in a secret research facility. While dying, he thinks for the first time on the consequences of his efforts and work. His last desire is to see his girlfriend one more time. As paranoia takes over, he believes his GF visiting him at the hospital is a robot replica developed by his employers. These robot GFs were designed to avoid engineers compromising nuclear research........pure depression fodder for angsty teenagers.

20 years later I think I'm still a bit influenced by this story. I work in nuclear energy related topics.......we must be extra-careful with that sh*t.

Nobody seems to have noticed that First Men, Last Men and Starmaker are actually two separate works, the first published in 1930, and the second in 1937. And Starmaker includes a description of a race that failed due to its invention of a portable device that allowed entertainment to be provided all the time - 'These instruments afforded intricate stimuli to the taste organs and scent organs of the hand. Such was the power of this kind of entertainment that both men and women were nearly always seen with one hand in a pocket. A special wave length had been allotted to the soothing of infants.

A sexual receiving set had been put upon the market, and programs were broadcast for it in many countries; but not in all. This extraordinary invention was a combination of radio — touch, taste, odor, and sound.' The book can be found here for free - https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/stapledon/olaf/star/ and Last And First Men here - http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0601101h.html

As for pretentious and unreadable, one can assume that the following passage is the sort of thing that anyone devoted to ensuring the rich continue to get richer would find worth avoiding - 'A thin, small, middle-aged man beside Trepu began speaking, at first so softy, in a voice hoarsened by the dust cough, that few of them heard him. He was a visiting delegate from a Southwest miners’ syndicate, not expected to speak on this matter. “. . . what men deserve,” he was saying. “For we each of us deserve everything, every luxury that was ever piled in the tombs of the dead kings, and we each of us deserve nothing, not a mouthful of bread in hunger. Have we not eaten while another starved? Will you punish us for that? Will you reward us for the virtue of starving while others ate? No man earns punishment, no man earns reward. Free your mind of the idea of deserving, the idea of earning, and you will begin to be able to think.” They were, of course, Odo’s words from the Prison Letters, but spoken in the weak, hoarse voice they made a strange effect, as if the man were working them out word by word himself, as if they came from his own heart, slowly, with difficulty, as the water wells up slowly, slowly, from the desert sand.'

'Read this one through the lens of Dante.'

No, read Niven's and Pournelle's Inferno through the lens of Dante.

Possibly, Prof. Cowen is covered pairing two separate books with no real relation to each other under a loose interpretation of 'noting I am engaging in some bundling of volumes and sequels.'

>"it only gets great at the end of the first volume, nonetheless deeply worth it"

I disagree with this type of appraisal. If you were bored for half the work and entertained for the other half, it is mediocre. If you were bored for 90% and only found the last 10% great, it may even be less than mediocre. Unfortunately the quote represents a very common way of looking at things - I've seen people denounce shows and books that kept them entertained for hours just because of a botched or missing ending, or praise stuff that is actually an utter bore just because it has a flash of intelligence at the end.

(I think Ender's game is decent throughout with a great plot twist, making it a fun read but not 'deeply' worth it)

Of course we're talking about taste here, so it's all a matter of opinion, but for me, how the book holds up as a whole artistic work is quite important.

If a book is great for 299 pages, but then the last page is terrible, I will be sorely disappointed. If a book makes me work for awhile, but eventually gets great, that makes the earlier slog worthwhile.

A lot of the fun of reading is anticipation about what is going to happen next, and how the plot is going to develop. Whether or not expectations are met retroactively has an impact on the value of that earlier reading.

I would put that series (Ender's) in the same class as Legend of Zero -- good but not great.

Unless you're in the "80% of everything is crap" camp. (Quick, who said that?) In which case if 20% of the book was outstanding and 80% only mediocre, then it would be great ...or at least good.

No Bester? No Cordwainer Smith? Jack Vance?

Bester and Smith! Can't believe I hadn't thought of either reading this post. Probably should drop everything I was planning on doing today and reread Demolished Man and some of the Smith short stories.

The Stars My Destination is one of the greats.

Norstrilia is wonderful. Smith managed to debunk transhumanism before it even existed. It doesn't matter if you live 400 years and look perfect, if you really are just sad on the inside. And the slaves you created might end up being more human than you. "The Dead Lady of Clown Town" has to be the best piece of Christian science fiction ever; nothing communicates the idea of the incarnation than it.

I've always been fascinated by the Mule. I think it's taken the shape of Donald Trump.

No the Mule was Sarah Palin. She almost destroyed the Foundation with her telepathic sex rays. Fortunately (*cough*) the Second Foundation (Journolist) was able to thwart her.

Does science fiction serve the same role as religion? That's one explanation for science fiction's popularity (i.e., it uses a combination of science and technology as the catalyst rather than divine influence). Do fans of science fiction think about why they are reading it while they are reading it? Similar thoughts cross my mind Sunday mornings. Do pious Christians read science fiction (other than the Bible)?

Wolfe is a devout Catholic, if I'm not mistaken; Card is a great-great-grandson of Brigham Young, if you count Mormonism as Christian. (Is LDS scifi redundant?)

Christian author C. S. Lewis also wrote the Space Trilogy of sci-fi novels.

Unsurprisingly, Lewis' Space Trilogy is explicitly religious. It's also very good.

I was referring to consumers of science fiction (and religion), not the creators of science fiction (and religion).

Plenty of pious Christians read a lot of science fiction (as well as write it), and certainly Chuck Colson brought all of C.S. Lewis to the attention of American evangelicals. In American Protestant typology, that's one way to distinguish evangelicals from fundamentalists. (Mainliners also read science fiction; to the extent that they don't, it would be for the same reason that various sophisticates tend to sniff at genre fiction.)

I finished reading "A Canticle for Liebowitz"* for the first time instead of going to church last Sunday morning. My wife was out of town and I didn't feel like going to services by myself. You can interpret that intersection of faith and Science Fiction however you choose.

I don't hold myself up as a model of piety, but I'll try to answer the original question. Both can be grappling with the same philosophical questions, but I don't see "Science Fiction" as trying to create an overarching explanation for life and existence. So it's not a full substitute. It's as easy to make it a compliment to religious thought (what is the soul, when you can upload your consciousness to electronic media? I also finished 'Altered Carbon' recently) as it is to make Greek philosophy a compliment to religious thought. I know plenty of fellow church members who devour science fiction media.

*-Yes, it's mentioned elsewhere in the comments and I enjoyed it a lot. It's also an appropriate science fiction novel for this particular discussion.

Well said.

The only thing I can haltingly add is, Science Fiction is also entertaining. It's not clear that this element is present in religion.

I've never thought of SF serving a similar role as religion. To me, however, it's an excellent way to create differing social perspectives without being strictly blunt. And I specifically simply like the futuristic aspects and imaginings.

Isn't the Bible more history than scifi?

I'd say "The Bible" is more of a sword and sorcery novel than science fiction, but it is the basis of the "alien contact" idea.

If it was history, then the character God/Jehovah etc would still be organising miracles today that would be as irrefutable as the ones that appeared to be occurring in past history. The recent film "Noah" was very true to "The Bible" and had scary black monsters to represent the Nephalim or fallen angels depicted in the book of "Genesis". I think on the balance of probability we can be fairly sure that the events as depicted there were not history, even if there was a catastrophic tsunami around that time.

You know there are other books in the bible, right?

Philip K. Dick is “idea rich,” but basically a bad and overrated writer

This is an excellent description of Dick. He has interesting ideas but his writing is just shockingly pedestrian even by the low sci-fi standards. Why is it that filmmakers absolutely love Dick and keep churning out movies based on his books when there's so much classic sci-fi by others that remains unfilmed?

I recently read Dune (the first book) and I think it holds up pretty well.

Why not make movies based on conceptually great books that are poorly written? The writing quality is not relevant to its adaptability to the screen.

Movies based on great books often fail to measure up to the original; a movie based on an interesting but poorly executed book can make something flawed into a true work of art.

I agree that Dick's stories work better as movies and I've enjoyed several of the adaptations. My complaint is that there are lots of conceptually great classic sci-fi that filmmakers ignore. There has been about one new Dick movie a year in the 21st century, which is probably as many as all the adaptations of the other authors mentioned by Tyler put together.

As far as predictive sci-fi in its time, second phase cyberpunk wasn't really bad. Bruce Sterling, etc.

That got put the wrong place.

Yup. Dick's novels were slapdash messes -- but had a ton of interesting ideas, that a filmmaker could take and turn into interesting movies.

Too much present tense. Dick died in 1982, and the ideas he produced in the 1960s were astounding. Heck, he did "age of em" with brains in cryo tanks rather than computers.

But then with all this old sci-fi (as with movies) we are looking at conversations with audiences out of their time. What should we really be reading right now?

I read a bit of sci-fi, and I might agree with William Gibson's old line that the present is weird enough.


Sci-Fi is genre writing, in this kind of writing the important thing is the homage to the genre rather than the quality of the writing. If it is great writing, but poor quality Sci-Fi ideas then it is literary fiction, not Sci-Fi. In other words great ideas trump great writing. Its the same in detective fiction, a great plot device and you can ignore the writing (as long as it is adequate). Dick is pretty good at the Sci-Fi bit, so he is fine. Actually I like his mid 60's California amphetamine vibe. My favourite is the Man in the High Castle, the whole subplot with the Japanese buying US artefacts.

No mention of William S. Burroughs. Outrageous. I can understand why not one of his novels is a "favorite," which I assume means most enjoyable. But in contemplating important SF writers, such as Dick, Wyndam, and the like, Burroughs needs to be considered. He was a major innovator, pushing the genre in new directions.

+1 Had totally forgotten about him ... his writing is borderline unreadable but certainly SF and original.

Your list of the best works of science fiction, please.

Seconded. Also, on a related note, an analysis of the psychology behind the differentiation of "favourite" from "best."

Mieville is brilliant, whatever one might think of his politics, and Embassytown an excellent pick (though The City & the City is my favourite).

I'd also put in a word for Hannu Rajaniemi, who's Quantum Thief trilogy was rather good.

Loved Ringworld; hated Ender's Game.

I was going to make the same comment, that Embassytown is great, but The City & The City is my favorite.

(Incidentally, if you don't like Miéville's politics, you'll still be pleased with The City & The City.)

I also want to mention Paolo Bacigalupi, because the worldbuilding in The Wind-Up Girl is interesting (if not always accurate).

"The Wind-Up Girl" is high on my list of next books to read, because I liked his newer book "The Water Knife". The plot and characters were pedestrian, standard SF fare, but the setting and set-up were superb -- a near future where water shortages in the southwest plus a mixture of demagoguery and political indifference/incompetence have caused the southwestern states to fight low level wars over water with each other. Marc Reisner's real-life book "Cadillac Desert" makes an appearance in the novel as a mcguffin of sorts.

its too bad the titular character is pure fetish bait.

+1 Lem, I would include The Invincible in my top 10. It would be interesting to read The Cyberiad in Polish, I wonder how much of the humor in Michael Kandel's translation was his own. Tarkovsky's Solaris was very good of course, but more difficult than the book. Soderbergh's was a perfect Hollywood adaptation.

Dune is fine, great even but only the 1st book.

Wolfe may have once been underrated but is now appropriately rated.

" It would be interesting to read The Cyberiad in Polish, I wonder how much of the humor in Michael Kandel’s translation was his own." -Myself and a friend read it in Romanian and we laughed out quite a bit. I think Lem is just that good.

Try Fiasco, great novel IMO.

The best science fiction novel ever, Ada, should at least get a mention...

Please explain this in a bit more detail. Why Ada?

It's a bit early to tell, but I think VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy compares to the best of the genre.

It was a bit blah for me.

I liked the Strugacki Picnic atmosphere very much. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roadside_Picnic You might argue that it's inspired by that.

I sort of compulsively read it because I always felt like it was on the verge of becoming amazing, but it never did.

Dune is the only 'good' science fiction book (but pass on the all the sequels). Heinlein, Clarke, Card, etc. comprise enjoyable beach reading.
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is the best sci-fi comedy.
Foundation was exciting when I was 12, but unreadable a few decades later.

I devoured sci-fi as a teenager, but now find nearly all of it execrable. I find that clever and precocious youths still love Sci-Fi, but in the past 20 years I've barely heard of any adult that reads the genre. Nearly all the 'famous' sci-fi authors are unreadable once you're no longer a teenager.

Surprising, H.G Wells and Jules Verne remain quite readable and impressive.

I thought that too for a while, stopped reading science fictions for a decade or so. We now live in a golden age of science fiction and related speculative fiction, the quality of writing is very good, etc. What you said might have been true in the 80s/90s, where the old masters still dominated, but just seems ignorant given current offerings.

Who are you thinking of as the "old masters" dominating in the 90s? The 90s had a lot of relatively new people and, IIRC, more female Hugo winners for Best Novel than recently, what with Anne McCaffrey, Lois McMaster Bujold (multiple times), and Connie Wilson, along with Nancy Kress with some nominations in Best Novel and win in Best Novella. Haldeman perhaps was an "old master" then, but Vinge, Stephenson, and Kim Stanley Robinson, the other winners, were new or newish.

What is different about awards recently is the branching out of the big US/English speaking awards to works originally published in other languages.

Sorry to have been unclear. What I meant was that, even in the early 90s, the old masters still had much greater presence than they have now. Some of that is the extent to which, pre-Internet, the tech in the old masters didn't seem so laughable. Post-internet and post-iphone, almost all preceding science fiction is revealed effectively to be fantasy set in space (that is, more like Star Wars than hard science fiction).

Karin Boye: " Kallocain" and Philip Pullman: " The Book of Dust Vol 1 ", if you ask me.

Samuel Delany's Dhalgren.

Is Dhalgren even SiFi? I read it as a teenager and I couldn't make a head or tail out of it.

I think you need to re-read Neuromacer, and some more Gibson. He’s the best.

Would be very interesting in hearing thoughts on the best science fiction short stories (or short story compilations).

Personally, I think Ted Chiang's "Stories of Your Life and Others" is up there. The one film adaptation ("Arrival") was extremely well-received, but is based on probably the weakest story in the set. If you want to sample some of the stories, a few of them are available online for free: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Chiang#Works (I recommend starting with "Understand".)

+1 on this recommendation. I didn't particularly like "Understand". "Seventy-Two Letters" (relates golems and kabbalah to AI) and "Hell is the Absence of God" I thought were the best.

Ted Chiang said he didn't like "Understand", either. I found it to be the most entertaining in a comical, action movie way. I like the idea of frying someone's brains with a couple words and subliminal run-ins. I remember laughing out loud because the narrative was kind of action packed and fast paced, but the actual scene was like two Stephen Hawkings having a staring contest.

Robert F. Young didn't write that much, but The Dandelion Girl is very powerful. Influenced a few Japanese anime, if you can believe it. I think Bob Shaw's The Light of Other Days is excellent too.

Young and Shaw both wrote some haunting short stories. Shaw's slow glass stuff had its prescient moments. Young's Thirty Days Had September is nice

I'm fairly certain this is the second time (at least) that you've blogged about this here. The first time you did so, I made a point to mention Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars, which is so good on so many levels. I want to make a point to mention it again this time around, too.

Chessmen of Mars.

Vernor Vinge! Which I think you mentioned on another occasion, come on!

Thank you for answering my reader request, I have read most of these and found some good leads for further reading!

Some other pretty good books: "Babel 17," Samuel R. Delany; "This Immortal," Roger Zelazny; "Nine Hundred Grandmothers," R.A. Lafferty; "Emphyrio," Jack Vance; "Tau Zero," Poul Anderson; "Beetle in the Anthill," Strugatsky brothers.

Roger Zelazny - Lord of Light is very good.

I agree regarding Lord of Light.
A great story by a writer who wrote a lot of trash.

Also Arkady and Boris Strugatsky - Roadside Picnic.

Few to no Europeans (except British)? Serge Brussolo, Herbert Franke anyone?

Lem and the Strugatsy brothers are sadly underrated in English-language circles. Lem's entire oeuvre and the Strugaskys' mature work are standouts in both imagination and sharp social criticism.

Why is Childhood's End not a movie? (And I realize it was a mini-series, yes.) Possibly because it is -- as told -- the saddest story ever told. The end of humanity as we know it, AND the loss of all of our children. Talk about a double punch to the gut. Yes, the children leave the planet and go on to some elevated other form of life, so there is a "happy ending" implied, but it is really not in the book. So I would imagine audiences would leave the theater staggered: "We're all going to die, and our children will be taken from us." I can't see any movie studio taking that on. (Don't get me wrong, it is a great book, but sort of the Ultimate Downer.)

Not that anyone cares, but I agree, TC's dismissal of Gibson is very, very wrong. His books (and Michael Connelly's, in a very different genre) are the only ones I pre-order sight unseen.

And NOT because it is currently a (poorly done) TV series, but Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon has always been a favorite of mine. Classic noir detective plus two or three very original ideas.

I think the criticisms people are applying to Dick are even more relevant for Gibson. He has a lot of great ideas and plot points, but his writing itself is borderline bad. He got better as he became more experienced (for me, peaking with Pattern Recognition), but his early works, including the Sprawl Trilogy, are downright amateurish.

I'm more offended at TC's dismissal of Gene Wolfe, who is one of the greatest living authors --of any genre.

Even a Top Ten List of cereal preferences begs for rebuttals. I have no beef with this list, but the Philip K. Dick dig would be more accurate if qualified: "Philip K. Dick is a bad novel writer." Dick is the superior Short Story writer.

Dick wrote quickly and used sloppy, hackneyed prose in places. I think that's the main dig against him as a stylist. But he was a great story teller and an inspired short-story writer. And later in his career, he was a very interesting novelist. A Scanner Darkly, Valis, and Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said are amazing works in my view.

This comment is on the mark. I've read 6 of his novels, and all but Scanner Darkly (which is a masterpiece) is poorly written. People should definitely stick to his short stories.


Carl Sagan's Contact is my favorite. Ben Bova also deserves a look.

What about M John Harrison's Kefahuchi Tract trilogy - Light, Nova Swing, Empty Space.

Does P.D. James’s “Children of Men” count as SciFi? If so, it ought to be on this list. Surprised C.S. Lewis’s Space trilogy didn’t get a mention. Interesting ideas about what life on other worlds could mean for Christianity.

+1, also one of the first sci-fi to posit that if we meet aliens, it might be the case that we are the "bad guys" instead of them.

One of my favorite topics. Thanks for posting this! Other books you might like (some newer):

Kindred by Octavia Butler (definitely on my top 5 list).

Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (give it a chance and you’ll find it’s astonishingly good—just have to get used to the language)

Wool by Hugh Howey

We are Legion (We are Bob)

The Core of the Sun by Sinisalo (delightfully bizarre)

11.22.63 by Stephen King (if that counts as SF)

A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (just lotsa fun, nothing more).

Dark Eden is good. The first few pages I thought it would be terrible, it seemed to have been written by and for Teletubbies.

Thanks for including Dan Simmons. I read all four books. This is my favorite.

Liu Cixin, The Three-Body Problem trilogy. Again note the first volume is tough sledding for quite a while.

Odd, I found the first volume a very easy, enjoyable read, and the other two volumes much tougher sledding. Then again, I really enjoyed Anathem.

Publisher-driven price increases have led me to spend most of my SF/Fantasy money gleefully buying the affordable ebooks of Poul Anderson, Robert Silverberg, C.L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Cordwainer Smith, Roger Zelazny, Patricia McKillip, Ray Bradbury, Robin McKinley, Andre Norton, Clifford Simak, George Alec Effinger, Barbara Hambly, John Varley, Doris Piserchia, and yes, Robert Heinlein (to skim the cream from my Amazon order history). Anyone who prices their Kindle release at $12.99 is not only saying they're a better read than Poul Anderson, but at least twice as good.

Spoiler: they're not.

I remain baffled at the praise for Three Body Problem; I'm willing to overlook a lot of its flaws as translation or cultural issues, but I kept expecting James Randi to show up and debunk the "alien invasion" hoax that everyone was accepting despite a complete lack of evidence. Honestly, if the two !spoilers! actually existed, they could wipe out human civilization in a day.

By the way, they were working on a movie adaptation in China a while back, and had hired two well-known hot young actresses, which suggested that they'd be taking some liberties with the story...


The Three-Body Problem trilogy has undeniable huge problems with characterization and writing quality (which I hear is actually improved in the translation, if anything), but the books are some of my favourite sci-fi ever despite that. The novels are just packed with interesting, well-developed, and scarily plausible ideas (Book 3 even more so). Unlike a lot of sci-fi, which is good with the hard science but bad with everything else, the books have fascinating explorations of game theory, sociology, psychology, and dozens of other fields. They deliver crazy scenario after crazy scenario and then unflinchingly look at the implications of those scenarios.

I totally understand people who find the books a slog, even if I disagree. I still think it's worth pushing through just in case one of the many "big ideas" clicks with you as you progress.

Yeah, that's what makes Three-Body great. It's good in a host of areas, where one usually finds books that are good in Hard SF but poor in terms of character development and empathy, etc. Fuse the scope of Asimov with the character development of Orson Scott Card, and then add dashes of hard sci fi, intergalactic game theory, etc. It's basically a nicely done gumbo.

Fwiw - and this applies to several books in this thread - if folks find some of them difficult to slog through, they might (if they don't consider the suggestion heresy) give the Audible version a go. I've actually enjoyed some books in one format but not the other. (Ender's Game being one of them...which, for me, is better in Audible.)

"interesting, well-developed, and scarily plausible ideas"? Man, I'd like to read the book you read. My copy of TBP was a third-rate techno-thriller where everything could have been explained by one minor new technology, a small group of dedicated hoaxers, and some really good drugs. Plus the most tedious online game ever created to pass on poorly-thought-out infodumps. The less said about nonsense like "the two protons", the better.

Honestly, it made me want to crowd-fund an effort to translate good SF for the Chinese market.



In a semi-tropical London, surrounded by paddy-fields, the people feed off the sun, like plants, the young are raised in Child Gardens and educated by viruses, And the Consensus oversees the country, 'treating' non-conformism. Information, culture, law and politics are biological functions. But Milena is different: she is resistant to viruses and an incredible musician, one of the most extraordinary women of her age. This is her story and that of her friends, like Lucy the immortal tumour and Joseph the Postman whose mind is an information storehouse for others, and Rolfa, genetically engineered as a Polar Bear, whose beautiful singing voice first awakens Milena to the power of music.

Thank goodness Melania is resistant to viruses.

The Expanse series is excellent. Not sure if it's been mentioned.

I second this, doesn't get nearly as much attention as it deserves, the attention to scientific detail is fantastic.

No love for S.E. Hinton's Time Quintology? Each easily makes my top 10 list.

My latest favorite is "we" by Yavgeny Zamyatin. Not just because it's an anti-communist dystopia, but because of its original style in which the author frequently writes in mathematical metaphors.

"I don’t want √-1! Take it out of me, this √-1"

Another good one:
That irrational root grew in me like some alien thing, strange and terrifying, and it was eating me, and you couldn’t make any sense of it or neutralize it because it was completely beyond ratio.

Here's a whole list:

Zamyatin’s We is terrific.
Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog is one of the best satirical novellas ever written, but one could claim that it’s SF, so I’ll mention it too.

Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained by Peter Hamilton are the best space opera I've read in a while. And I'll put in a plug for Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny as a classic choice.

i enjoyed them, but the story could have been told in half as many words. If ruthlessly edited, they could have been one of my all time favorites.

If we talking Space Opera, Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy is classic. More recently is British author Alastair Reynolds and his "Revelation Space" series. Heavy themes of transhumanism in a post-singularity universe. Lots of fun. Their most recent works, KSR's "2312" and Reynolds' "Blue Remembered Earth" which may as well be the same books, because they tell the same story. Sort of. Still fun to read, though.

Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy may be a classic, but you can't really expect Tyler to give any love to a series in which the obvious author-self-insert character explicitly equates Libertarianism with slavery.

I really like his books too. His characters and world are quite engaging. These two books would make great movies. His action sequences are simply amazing.

Unfortunately, I found the ending of Judas Unchained to be very anti-climatic.

His books on the Dreaming Void are also fun reads. Sort of a fantasy/ sci fi mix.

No mention of Brandon Sanderson?

I wonder what Tyler would think of his The Way of Kings series (although a purist would have him read the Mystborn Trilogy first, then Warbreaker, then The Way of Kings).

I enjoy Sanderson, but I certainly think his writing is far removed from "science"; probably as unscientific as Star Trek, LOL. Sanderson writes fantasy.

"A Canticle for Leibowitz" is a great book, although it should probably be called theological fiction rather than science fiction.

Also worthy of mention is C S Lewis's novel "That Hideous Strength," which I said:

***Trigger Warning: There is something in this book to offend almost everybody. It contains things that will offend technologists and believers in human progress…social scientists…feminists…academic administrators…bioscience researchers…and surely many other categories of people. It will probably also offend some Christians, for the way in which Christian theology is mixed with non-Christian magic. By the standards now becoming current in American universities, this book, and even this book review, should be read by no one at all.***

The review is here:


I go to church, er, religiously, but I prefer my fiction to keep the theology embedded and implicit rather than hit me in the head with regular bombastic sermons. Hence I do not much like Lewis' works.

That Hideous Strength is pretty bad; it's Lewis trying to combine Charles Williams's theological horror novels with G.K. Chesterton-style commentary on social issues. Oh, and David Lindsay's "A voyage to Arcturus." I liked it, but it's the weakest of the space trilogy since so much of it is him aping others. He even throws in a Tolkien reference, as if Numenor really existed in semi-real 1950s England.

These comments are bizarre, it's like no one's read any current science fiction, instead mainly discussing books from "masters" that are 50 years old in most cases. E.g., "A closed and common orbit" is truly moving and insightful on human/AI relations, someone mentioned Watts, who's very good, Alistair Reynolds (revelation space books) are as good as the old masters in many respects, there are all sorts of one offs like "a darkling sea" and the one act play in space whose name I can't remember (Kindle makes it very difficult to remember names of books). Even things like "the dark world" are better than most of the old science fiction. And that's ignoring all the dystopian and speculative fiction that some might say isn't akin to the type of science fiction TMC seems to be considering, but clearly is science fiction of a sort.

Completely agree, I can get through at most maybe 30 minutes of H.G. Wells in modern times but cannot put down the Expanse series. If the list were "all time greatest" then it may have some merit to be dominated by older works but "ten current favorites" should have more (not all) current books.

That’s because modern sci fi is painfully bad. Clarke, Heinlein, and Wells are more sophisticated and better writers than any modern sci-fi author, which isnt saying much. Modern sci-fi writers come off as superficial, as though they do internet research for their books.

The science fiction genre alienated a bunch of people, I think. Like Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars gets brought up a lot, but the village-atheist caricature of fundamentalists turned me off, and for a bit the whole genre seemed like that. SF always was transgressive/progressive, but it seemed recently to close the wagons around itself, and a lot of people felt on the outside. Something like Ian Banks Culture novels sound like they are making a utopia out of a dystopia for me; the author's values sound so opposed to mine I don't see how I could stomach it.

A Mirror for Observers by Pangborn
The Demolished Man by Bester
A Canticle for Liebowitz by Miller
Stand on Zanzibar by Brunner
The Year of the Quiet Sun by Wilson Tucker
Flowers for Algernon by Keyes
Wild Seed by Octavia Butler
Timescape by Benford

I'll put in a honorable mention for Tad Williams' "Otherland" tetralogy. It involves a fantastically complex (and often bizarre) virtual reality system in the near-ish future which is the focus of an intense plot by assorted plutocrats and dictators, with a cast of characters that spans continents (France, South Africa, China, Australia, the US, Columbia...) with vignettes involving WWI, the War of The Worlds, the Wizard of Oz, the Iliad and all manner of children's tales.

I like Williams a lot, but he deserves to be condemned as the first SF/F author who wrote a book so long that it had to be split into part one and part two for the paperback edition- To Green Angel Tower. Otherland has the same issue, he needs 7 books to write what others do in three.

Toward the end of To Green Angel Tower Time is magically stopped in the plot- -and it felt like the spell was so powerful it affected the author and the reader too. The end is interminable, which is too bad since I liked most of the series. (He's begun writing a sequel series set a generation later). I didn't have the same problem with Otherland since there are so many different threads, both in virtual reality and in the real world, and the book segues back and forth so often it doesn't bog down.

Good list. I would drop the overrated Cixin for Fifth Head of Cerberus or, cheater's pick, A Maggot

I thought Atwood's Oryx and Crake was quite good. Regarding classic authors, most a pretty terrible writers. In terms of writing quality and story telling, Heinlein is probably better than most of the classic authors *on average* but with some variance. Childhood's End is quite good but other Clarke is either stale, navel-gazing, or both.

Some Stephenson is needed here: I’ll nominate Cryptonomicon and Anathem. I also really like Reamde but it’s not really SF.

Why no love for Lovecraft? I know it's not quite SF but great writing.

Scariest monster-undr-the-bed stuff I ever read

Obviously I love Lovecraft :-)

Great short stories and novellas. At the Mountains of Madness is a brilliant short novel.

Yep your handle betrayed you :).
But I WAS a bit surprised that nobody explicitly mentioned Lovecraft.

Olaf Stapledon has an abstracted writing style which I like (and which I find often in Arthur C. Clarke, but in Stapledon it is purer).

But I just can't stand the monstrously tyrannical strain in his thinking. All this alien worlds to explore and all he can think of is "To Socialism and Beyond!". And what for? So that we can all be engulfed in a sort of hive mind?

Nothing for Andy Weir?

Definitely not. He wrote a book about spending billions of dollars to save one man and barely even touched on this moral quandary. Put PKD's middling novels on the list before Weir... at least you'll get something thought provoking.

A great list overall. Kudos for excluding Dick.

My only disagreements are:

1) The comment on Ender's trilogy, which "only gets great at the end of the first volume". That sounds a little bit like people saying that "la chartreuse de Parme" by Stendhal get great in the last five pages, which, it's true, contain more action than the 400 hundred first pages. I think that, on the contrary, Ender's game is great from the beginning to the end, Speaker for the Dead is very good too, and then it goes downhill quite fast, like many series.

2) The inclusion of Liu Cixin's trilogy. There has been already a lot of discussions on the comments of this blog on these mediocre books. In the context on this list, I just note that they are by far the most recent -- I suppose that with the benefits of the hindsight (and when there are better Chinese SF in some future) it would look funny even to Tyler to see Liu Cixin in such a list. (Plus, removing Cixin will open a place for Vinge)

Never Let Me Go
The Book of Strange New Things

I am surprised Tyler list so much old science fiction. While something like Childhood's End has aged pretty well, it's very hard to say the same of many other books in this list. For instance, Foundation is a far worse book today than in was at the time of publication. It's not just that the ideas are nonsense, based on our current understanding of math, but the characters are almost indistiguishable, wooden, and every sub-story is repetitive.

That said, we have to understand that this is someone that finds Ayn Rand underrated, so his requirements regarding characterization are probably very low.

Glad to see Greg Egan, Alastair Reynolds, and Vernor VInge already mentioned. I think The Golden Age by John C. Wright should also be considered.

Barry Malzberg's Beyond Apollo -- the Catch-22 of manned space flight, at one-tenth the length of Catch-22. Malzberg word-for-word is the best writer around for my money, but he's better in small doses than novelistic visions.

Solaris is such a beautiful read I don't want to see the movie versions

Mary Doria Russell's "The Sparrow" was a real stunner for me. I loved the sci-fi/culture-clash/Jesuit-Catholicism mash-up that still leave me thinking ten years later.

Thanks for including Dan Simmons, I liked the first two books but LOVED the pair of Endymion books.

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi, is the most interesting science fiction novel I've read in a while.

Great list, and thank you for sharing. I once heard that people like Dune as teens, love it as college students, and hate it by midlife. I prefer The Scar (gore tax) and The City & The City by Mieville, but even his weaker books are very interesting relative to the field. If you haven't read it, try Pattern Recognition by Gibson. Anathem and The Confusion have become my favorite Stephenson works, though I remember finding it the former quite difficult to read at first. If I were to make recommendations that are not found above... Someone has already mentioned Gene Wolfe, and I also like his Solar books. But the only author who's not on this list that I think TC might not know but should try is Robert Charles Wilson. My favorites by RCW are Chronoliths and Affinities, and he won the Hugo a while back for Spin. They're very readable, but mostly just fun and thoughtful in a way that reminds me of older sf.

I really liked Otherland although I still havent started the third book.

But as far as classics go I think Asimovs robot mysteries were better than Foundation. Wyndham books hold up very well. Heinlein best two are Moon's a Harsh Mistress and Starship Troopers.

Connie Willis Doomsday Book is a magnificent piece of work.

John Varley Stand on Zanzibar got a lot right.

Fredrik Pohl Gateway is fantastic. But like Orson Scott card's Ender series best stop at one.

One of my favorite one offs is a book by Maureen McHugh, China Mountain Zhang. Im pretty sure Tyler would like it.

In case no one mentioned these: (1) Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle. SF about astronomy by a working astronomer. I read it so long ago I don't actually recall what it was about (expanding universe probably), let alone whether it was good or bad, or the other. (2) By a medical doctor (or writer with medical degree), The Andromeda Strain (Micheal Crichton). I seem to recall it was pretty good, but that was a long time ago. (3) Another MD: The Lost World (by A. Conan Doyle, better remembered for his other stories). Also don't recall much about it, Professor Challenger and all that, dinosaurs, no doubt.Italy's Trump made a movie about it a while back.

+1 for the Black Cloud.

How about Robert Forward, Dragon's Egg too?

I like Charles Stross's Saturn's Children and Neptune's Brood. Post-human android economics anyone?

I mostly agree with the list, except for The Three-Body Problem, as others noted above.

But I miss at least a mention to Iain M. Banks' Culture series.

Given that most people's fondest memories of music are from ages 13 and 14, one should apply a discount factor to TC's favorite sci-fi books from that age -- i.e., to Asimov's Foundation and maybe some others.

Having said that, as a contrarian, I'll mention my fave sci-fi book from when I was that age, which I reread recently and still find excellent -- Lester Del Rey's Pstalemate. I've not read a plot like its since. Its themes are core to Octavia Butler's Mind of My Mind and Dawn. I'd bet she read Pstalemate. https://www.amazon.com/Pstalemate-Lester-del-Rey/dp/0425022927

"What was the Golden Age of Science Fiction?"


What about Brian W. Aldiss and Helliconia Spring, Summer, Winter?

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