What is a Good Science Fiction Book?Credit: Nardsdesign
What is a good science fiction book and how did I conclude that these particular ten were the best ones? To begin, by definition, there’s only room for ten, best classic science fiction books on the list so, of course, I had to leave some deserving authors out of the mix. Secondly, it’s my list and it is completely subjective. Make what you will of that comment.
Nevertheless, if you enjoy science fiction, I hope to give you a semblance of a starting point to see how the modern form of this genre has progressed from its early roots to its modern actualization. It is imporatnt to bear in mind that each and every one of the novels on this list was written over 25 years ago. It is simply a testament to the foresight and writing skills of their authors that these novels are still, not only readable, but also extremely relevant to today’s world. I hope that you enjoy them as much as I did.
Foundation and Empire (1952)
While Hari Seldon and his disciples predict and manage it all behind the scenes, through their use of pyscho-history, the main players, the General and the Mule, struggle mightily to avoid their respective fates. F&E vividly portrays the socio-political conflicts that influence this future society and that permeate our own even now, 60 years after its publication. This novel is, as are its prequel and sequels, eminently readable as pure space opera or as a thought provoking insight into the human psyche.
The Stars My Destination (1956)
Starting as a captured merchant spaceman, Gully Foyle, bespectacled in full face tattoo, endures adventure after adventure as he charms, bribes and blackmails his way across the galaxy. Despite his repeated failures, Gully is special for he learns the secret to “jaunting” across apace and not just planets. Have a little faith and read this spectacular but somewhat unnerving look in to the basest motivations of the human race.
A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960)
Predating the purges performed by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia by a decade, Miller’s description of the Simpletons and their methods is incredibly prescient. Leibowitz, a former Jew turned Roman Catholic, defies this mob and is eventually betrayed and martyred. Leibowitz’s legacy has only begun, however. Mankind does rise again but to what ultimate end? The novel is justifiably renowned for its scholarship, literary skill and its consideration of knowledge, religion and absolute truth.
Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)
One of Heinlein’s more difficult novels to “grok,” SIASL still holds a fascination for those interested in society’s conflicted mores about vice and virtue. Ostensibly raised as a Martian, the orphaned Valentine Michael Smith is eventually returned home to Earth by a rescue party. He is at once incredibly wealthy – he owns Mars – and indescribably naïve. His travels throughout Earth, as he discovers sex, drugs and violence, makes for an unforgettable novel. Be sure to look for the unexpurgated version.
The Man in the High Castle (1962)
Philip K. Dick
While I’ll admit an unwholesome fascination with the alternate history of S.M. Stirling and the Draka, Philip K. Dick is the one author who always provokes some serious thinking regardless of the setting. It is 1962 and the Fascist powers have reigned supreme in WW2. They now conspire and intrigue against each other. The novel is wonderful as a “what if” story but Mr. Dick interlaces it with all sorts of interesting hypotheses. From the draining of the Mediterranean to space travel to Mars to alternate history, novel-within-a-novel, Mr. Dick is at his best.
Imagine a constructed world that is one million miles wide and completely circles their star at the same distance as the Earth circles the Sun. Those facts describe Ringworld and, to put it in perspective, it has approximately three million times more area than our own planet Earth. Almost needless to say, this environment provides endless possibilities which Mr. Niven and other writers have explored in dozens of other novels and short stories. Still, the first time is always the best and the original Ringworld novel is a great romp through a great universe.
The Forever War (1974)
Two soldiers, William Mandella and Marygay Potter, and their comrades always fight, usually die and sometimes survive in this brutally honest but ultimately heartwarming story of war and love. Conscripted in the early years of a war against an alien enemy, the Taurans, recruits undergo a grueling set of training exercises where pass/fail means the difference between living and dying. Unfortunately for those who survive, the worst is yet to come. Since neither side has a faster than light drive, time dilaton has a serious effect. One never knows if he will encounter an enemy with weapons from the past or from the future. The results are typically military, snafu’d.
The Mote in God’s Eye (1974)
Jerry Pournelle & Larry Niven
This novel is undeniably attractive as it is one of the few to posit an alien species with more problems than our own. Throughout their history, the aliens of the planet described as the Mote, have never been able to reliably control their urge to propagate. Combined with relative isolation of their planet, this proclivity inevitably leads to overpopulation, massive wars and a breakdown in civilization. The Moties always plan for this and leave a technological archive behind the “Door.” Can the humans help stop this abominable cycle. Only Crazy Eddie knows for sure.
Not too bad for a first novel, Neuromancer not only won a Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dock award, it also essentially created the entire cyberpunk genre. Henry Case and his savior, Molly Millions, traipse across an ever lighted Chiba City landscape while attempting to outhustle the powers that be. The novel is particularly dark in that in with every success, the protagonists use the gains to disable themselves with old afflictions. An excellent work that has had enormous influence on rue literature but that may have also promulgated interest in the much less palatable graphic novel phenomenon.
Ender’s Game (1985)
Easily the weakest entry on the list, I include it because it is one of the few, excellent sci-fi novels that can be understood by a child. Indeed, the novel is rife with the themes of duty, honor and responsibility. It should be included in the curriculum of every grammar school in the country. It is a far better choice for educating our children than the discredited claptrap of Rachel Carson, the pseudo-intellectual ghost writings of Hilary Clinton and the semi-literate drivel of Maya Angelou. One precaution, however; only read every other chapter.
Rather watch a science fiction movie? Check out this article, "The Best Science Fiction Movies by Decade."
N.B. Yes, I have heard of H.G. Welles, Philip Jose Farmer, Arthur C Clarke, Kurt Vonnegut, Harry Harrison, Frederick Pohl and, of course, Cordwainer Bird – so don’t bother. Thanks for getting this far, I’d love to know what you think about the Best Classic Science Fiction Books. Regards - hil