Science Fiction Canonization
HEY! There's a new Stanislaw Lem book! Well, not new
but freshly translated from the Polish original for any
pan-geeks with a taste for things like Solaris, Roadside
Picnic, and Anathem.
Summa Technologiae, reviewed at the Nautilus.
I love science fiction. The authors of the books below have
given me many hours of fun. But part of the fun for me is the
analysis of the works. So, my 2 cents on books for
canonization follows. If a book was really cool at the time
and place when I read it, it makes this list. If you see
something your library doesn't have a copy, nag them until
they get one (non-circulating copies do not count). I,
myself, have had trouble finding copies of several of the
books below even in ``large'' libraries. Better yet, buy
two copies and give one away.
- Tim Reluga
P.S. The internet makes a big world small, and so I need to
pad some elbows. Nobody of consequence will hopefully ever read this,
but if you happen to be one of world-builders mentioned by
name below, you're awesome. I beg of you forgiveness and
deference for this silly pastime of criticism.
- The Difference Engine
- - Bruce Sterling and William Gibson (1991).
World-building at its finest, giving birth to the
steampunk genre. Alas, only 1/2 a story to go along
with the world-building - some plot devices are much
more offensive when than others when they fall short of
- The Adolescence of P-1
- - Thomas J. Ryan (1977).
This science-fiction story of
AI-evolved-from-computer-virus is marvelous today for
it's depiction of state-of-the-art computing in the
1970's, with mainframes, people reading assembly, and
the rudimentariness of the concept of "operating
system", among others. It's worth while for that alone,
but you get the bonus of a well told, if
recognizable-in-hindsight story to boot. Oddly, the
limitations of technology at that time (such as an
absence of sound-processing in computers) levels the
playing field of man-vs-machine, making for a more
believable conflict for me than almost all of the modern
examples of the subgenre. The sense-of-place-and-time
Ryan captures is also quite distinctive, both familiar
and culturally distinct from today (though not all parts
age favorably in my opinion). The 1985 Wonderworks
presentation of the Canadian production of "Hide and
), is only very loosely based on the book,
and better for a younger audience, as the book
contains adult material.
- - M. J. Engh (1976).
If you don't know who you are yet, this isn't the
book to use as guidance. It is the most divisive
work I've ever read, and an unmatched warning for
any who can accommodate it.
- The Quantum Thief
- - Hannu Rajaniemi (2010).
The story on the threshold of the far future, builds
a world with a surprising balance between the human and the
posthuman. It's hard to write transhuman fiction
and keep the science from bending over into fantasy
and magic, but Rajaniemi shows it can be done. He
tells his story a little like Ursala K Leguin's Left
hand of darkness with much richer technological
entanglements. Things feel like they fall over the
edge into fantasy too much for me at the end, but
it's a rich and thought-provoking story along the
- The Martian
- - Andy Weir (2014).
A great contemporary hard-scifi frontier survival story.
- Roadside Picnic
- - the Strugatsky brothers (1971),
translated from Russian.
This is another excellent science fiction novel from
1970's Russia, and a suitable companion work to Lem's
Solaris. It's one of those things that's embarrassing
- I knew about the concept long before I learned of the
book last year. During my senior year of high school, I
took a trip out to Oberlin college, which I was
considering attending at the time. The one night I was
there, the film ``Stalker'' was showing on campus, and a
Egyptian student was wandering the dorm halls recruiting
people to attend with her. I had no idea what to expect
but science fiction was always intriguing, so I went.
It was a miserable 3 hours - I was under-dressed and
cold, siting in a hard wooden classroom chair, and
instead of a special-effects ladened adventure, I got a
tedious foreign film, low on dialog and devoid of
action. And yet, it was still tense and compelling. To
this day, scenes haunt my memory, including the finest
depiction of a rain-shower I've every seen on a movie
screen. The style of the movie, forced into
metaphorical rendition for by financial, technical, and
artistic limitations, languished in a Zone of
introspective psychological cinema for me, with little
connection to emphatic science fiction. I find the book
suffers none of these limitations - somehow, the text
is much freer than the movie, and all those
psychological moments take on tangible expression. I
would love to see a new film adaptation - not one of
our boom-fests or synthetic-world block-busters, but
something subtle and close to the original Stalker.
Just touched up so all that stress over ``what if the
next step is my doom''-moments carry visceral weight.
Anybody brave enough to put the slime, bug traps, and
grinders on screen in a sunny meadow with blue skies?
- - Neal Stephenson (2008).
I breezed through the first 2/3rds of this book like
nothing, really enjoying it. I think this is probably
because of an unusual match between myself and the book. If
you dislike philosophy, or think it's a waste of time, you
probably aren't going to enjoy this novel, and will find it
dull. If you are math grad student, and are interested in
the philosophy of science, no other novel does what this one
does. But I didn't like everything about it. At some
point, the book just seems to lose its aim, and while
there's still fun stuff here and there, I lost interest.
But no great criticism there - Hamlet and Huckleberry Finn
have similar issues, and nobody's questioning their worth.
For an antipodal point, one may investigate Lem's satires,
- Red Mars
- - Kim Stanley Robinson (1993).
First book of a trilogy of hard science imaginings
on the classic topic of Mars. Our popular-fiction
fascination with mars is long and hallowed, tracing
through the works including ``A Princess of Mars'',
``The Martian Chronicles'', ``Stranger in a Strange
Land'', ``War of the Worlds''. Robinson creates a work
with great research and the feeling of authority,
drawing on ideas and insights that, despite their
clarity, remain outside the veins of common discourse,
while touching on recurring scifi issues of utopianism
and pantropy. A great deal of time is spent
with specific characters and their points-of-view, so if
you don't like the characters, it's a haul to read,
but still required.
- The Listeners
- - James Gunn (1972).
First contact novel comparable to Contact, Childhood's
end, and His Master's voice. In this particular
telling, Gunn is systematic, limiting himself to the
ordinary science of the day, and addressing the roles of
people and the implications for society in a careful and
measured manner building on that period in American
history. There is very little action in the story, and
the aspirational style blunts the few tensions in the
novel. Perhaps I would have preferred something with a
hard-science edge, but it is a real-science utopian take
on first contact, and for that I admire it. Gunn is
better known for his excellent anthologies and teaching.
- More than Human
- - Theodore Sturgeon (1953).
The beginning of this novella is beautiful written. Put
with the rest of the book, it's a well-told story,
without the clutter of technology or pseudoscience,
mildly triumphant but more emphatically disturbing in a
depiction of human transcendence. Sturgeon tells
the tale without the naivety of ``Childhood's End'' and with
an impartial eye, leaving the judgments to the reader.
I don't like the world he sees.
- Vacuum Flowers
- - Michael Swanick (1987).
This is the story of the adventures of a young woman in
a solar system colonized haphazardly by humans with
malliable personalities. It doesn't carry the
excitement of an epic and the characters are a little
flat, but the ideas, with strong cyberpunk elements, are
interesting. In particular, as a pre-internet
publication investigating the broader implications of
computer programming. The core premise is that
individuals can voluntarily have their personalities
reprogrammed, and can even buy personalities off the
shelf. Interesting implications abound, but Swanick
doesn't quite capture the internal passions and
conflicts that something like this is sure to generate.
Pay attention to changes in perspective within the
third-person limited narration.
- - John Barnes (2000).
This short adventure is set at the end of the 21st
century, and recounts the War of the Memes and its
aftermath from the perspectives of two old soldiers.
How would daily life work in a human world dominated by
a meme? How would it compare to an Orwellian world?
Can a program really fix the human conflicts of a
Brunnerian world? Can a massive emergent intelligence
be stable, and if not, what kind of instabilities will
Slow at some points, with its back-woods setting,
but also with surprises and some bite.
- Stand on Zanzibar
- - John Brunner (1968).
one needs some comment. It is very under appreciated,
particularly at this point (2005) in history. Brunner's
science was incremental, not prophetic. Today's high
school students know more genetics. Television fades to
the internet. But the scientific details have little
importance. The book's strength is it's societal
breadth. The closest above work is 1984. But where
Orwell gives evil an incarnation in Big Brother, Brunner
depicts more clearly that evil is an intangible. There
is no monolithic Sauron who is the fountain head of all
evil. We can not blame some mythical source of tyranny.
We alone, as individuals and as society, share
responsibility for the suffering and tragedy we decry.
And the questions raised by comparison to contemporary
history are very interesting. Is terrorism an
incarnation of the muckers Brunner predicts. How do we
handle the challenge of species improvement? And what
do we do with so many of us that we do not fit on
Zanzibar? This is a good starting point for
understanding of the world before jumping off into the
battle for improvement, a good read for all college
- Beggars and Choosers
- - N. Kress.
Sequel to ``Beggars in Spain''. Kress's hard scifi depiction
of the near future is alien and uncomfortable despite
her very human characters. A world where the choices of
a few can redefine us all. The originality of this pair
of short novels makes them essential reading for all scifi
fans, and will likely place them in the cannons of many
- - C. D. Simak (1952).
This is an interesting work, and namesake of our local book store.
It didn't enthrall me, but it did hold my interest all
the way to the end. City is a more
process-oriented take on transcendence than Arthur C.
Clark's. And Simak is more concerned with what we leave
behind than where we go. The structure of 8 short stories works very
well to convey the myth of ``man''. Published in 1952, this
work's recent prehistory was WWII and the cold war. The
future City sees is perceptibly colored in
accordance, but is much more balanced and constructive
than ``Canticle for Leibowitz''. Miller tells us
of our doom along one path. Simak does not disagree, but
points out that there are other paths and different
people will choose different paths. My main
objection was that the book's focus was a little too
narrow given subsequent history, but I'm being picky.
It really is a good book.
- The Book of the New Sun
- by Gene Wolfe (1980's). A tetralogy
including The Shadow of the Torturer, The Claw of the
Concilliator, The Sword of the Lictor, The
Citadel of the Autarch, and The Urth of the New
Sun. This dying-earth(far-future, failing
sun, science plus minor fantasy) work has a realized
setting with strong medieval overtones. The style is similar to
that of Zelazny, but the writing is very subtle in places, and
went completely over my head in the first book. Much of the story
lies in the narrator himself, and the story folds back on itself
more than I yet understand. It almost certainly demands a second
reading some day. As a unified work, it was a more satisfying if
less spectacular saga than Tolkien's. There are a few spectacular
sequences in the tetralogy, 1 in the first book and 1 in the third
book specifically, which richly blend emotion, drama, and
adventure. The rest of the work is slow but seldom boring.
In an otherwise solid work, I was troubled with the
author's unnecessary employment of time-travel references in the
final volume. The follow-up book has elements of worth, but
can be skipped without much fuss.
- The Left Hand of Darkness
- by Ursula K. LeGuin.
As the author says, less sci-fi, more thought
experiment. Well written with some good imagery.
Didn't fascinate me as I read it, mostly because it is a
meditation on the human condition and tosses off some
complex scientific issues hap-hazardly as background,
but LeGuin does a good job with the task she set
- Have space suit - will travel
- by Robert A. Heinlein.
This is a very pure space adventure, colored (to its
disadvantage) by standard 1950's postwar attitudes and
science. There is enough real science(and math!) to keep the
work believable. The adventure is fun and well-written,
holding itself together where weaker or more fantastic
authors would have fallen apart. I think it's a good
book for a highschool freshman, but lacks meat for
more seasoned readers.
- Startide Rising, Uplift War
- by David Brin - interesting
idea of genetically engineered future but otherwise a
standard if dramatic adventure piece. I have not read the
originating novel, Sundiver, but have heard it lacks
luster. The sequels(Infinity's Shore,...)
- The Man in the High Castle
- by Philip K. Dick. Skitzoid
alternate history. Too self-referential, perhaps.
- Childhood's End
- - Arthur C. Clark. I don't buy
transcendence, and some issues were resolved unsatisfactorily,
but the story is well told.
- The Crystal World
- - J. G. Ballard. The descriptions in
this story are spectacular. In literature, there are parallels
with The Heart of Darkness. But in the end, I couldn't
identify with the protagonist. I wouldn't have guessed
that before reading the story, though.
- The Fifth Head of Cerberus
- - Gene Wolfe. This very
well written. It consists of 3 intertwining novella's set on
a pair of colony worlds. The stories are deep, with strong
existentialist tones. I don't know what they mean.
The illusions were too vague for me to grasp on a first reading.
Even the significance of the title alludes me.
- Snow Crash
- by Neal Stephenson. A real fun piece of
pulp, but less refined than his more recent works. Probably
would have been cooler if I'd read it when I was 16.
- (first two only) - Isaac Asimov
- The Relic
- - Excellent pulp. The sequel is lower
quality, but still fun.
- - Larry Niven. Good science, lousy story.
- Rendezvous with Rama
- - Arthur C. Clarke. Good science,
not much story.
- A Canticle for Leibowitz
- - Walter M. Miller. This is a decent
work, but the style of the subject matter presentation didn't move me.
The horrors of nuclear war which drive this story are never related in
moving emotional manner they deserve. Written near the dawn of the cold
war(1959?), Canticle focuses on the deeper philosophical currents that
had lead to the existence of a cold war. Its edge is tempered, however,
by our existence in a post-coldwar world, where all that was prophesied
by this work has not come to pass.
Too many of these stories are hard to get a hold of.
- ``By the Waters of Bablyon'' by Stephen Vincent Benét
- ``The Crystal Egg'' by H. G. Wells
(not sure why I liked this so much the first time I read it)
- ``The Good Work'' by Theodore L. Thomas.
(simple, well said, pertinent today still)
- ``The New Prime'' by Jack Vance
- ``The Dragon Masters'' by Jack Vance
(why didn't he make a book of this one?)
- ``This Moment of the Storm'' by Zelazny
- ``Who Goes There?'' by John W. Campbell
(his only good story, legend has it)
- ``The Damned Thing'' by Ambrose Bierce
- ``Dear Pen Pal'' by A. E. van Vogt
- ``The House of Ecstasy'' by Ralph Milne Farley
- ``Lucifer'' by Roger Zelazy
- ``The Last Men'' by Frank Belknap Long
- ``Giant Killer'' by A. Bertram Chandler (an unforgettable story)
- ``Call Me Joe'' by Poul Anderson. This 1957 story is
clearly source material for seemingly contemporary pieces
include Old Man's War, Dollhouse, and Avatar.
In Avatar, very few parts of the story feel
original, and it turns out that the only parts
that MIGHT feel original and innovative are actually
near-exact parallels with this story, and the story
handles them more interestingly!
but wikipedia has forgotten. The places where Avatar diverges
from Anderson's story? Well, they are
swiped from the Strugatsky
who wrote the CLASSIC Roadside Picnic listed above.
See this ethics discussion
- 20,000 Leagues under the sea, by Jules Verne, 1870.
A classic, unavoidable tale for every youth. My
favorite version was the classics-illustrated version.
The book had some of its own hilights. In particular,
there is an interesting nascent tension in Verne between
a rich natural world waiting for the intrepid harvester,
and man's exploitation destroying the very thing it
values, like the Dugong's of the Indian ocean. But the
journey had lost much of its novelty at this point. The
lengthy digressions on marine fauna (which I liked) are
a endearing reminder of a period were entertainment was
harder to come by.
- The water knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi (2015) is
a rich depiction of the near-future of the Colorado
river basin. The first half of the book was
rich and involving, but the story loses its energy
in the second half. With the exception of a few
particular scenes, it feels like a safe story -
all the bumps and bruises heal and
everybody will have an exciting story tell over
hot-coco. Bacigalupi has written a few kids books
recently, which had some cool content but were really
pale shadows compared to ``Windup Girl'' and this story
doesn't quite make it back to that high level.
- Consider Phlebas, by Ian Banks (1987) is a
galactic-scale space opera. The vignettes are intended
to shocking and forward-thinking, but suffer from too
much of the starwars-future-syndrome - the book really
feels like it was written in the 80's and failing to
see past the present into the future. Contrast with the
much better ``Vacuum Flowers'', ``The Urth of the New
Sun'', and ``The Uplift War'', all of which were written
in the same year.
- Starship, by Brian Aldiss (1963) is an adventure
where generations of a ships crew have been reduced to
a hunter-gatherer lifestyle on their vast ship.
Aldiss was probably near the truth with his depiction of
human reversion to primitive behavior after a
catastrophe, and the setting has some interesting
components like hydroponic forests run amuk.
But all the potential surprises are spoiled and revealed
without the thrill of revelation. I keep waiting for
something surprising, but it never arrived.
- The Breach
(2009) and Deep Sky (2011) by Patrick Lee.
Dark scifi covert ops thrillers set close to the present
day, but with some very interesting nuggets of
speculative technology. The nuggets are sparse,
so Lee's not really living up to A. E. van Voit's
standards, but those nuggets offer many opportunities
for interesting story telling. Mr. Lee does a good job keeping
the stories moving and the reader off-balance. The
stories are very rough at times. However, the stories
seem to take the easy ways out - when things start to
get complicated, pull a trick that simplifies everything
back down. I did like the way he ends things, though.
- The Last Colony (2008) by John Scalzi.
A sequal to Ghost Brigades and Old Man's War, this
closes the cycle (well, almost). In this one, Scalzi
reveals his positive outlook, and overconfidence in the
preservation in the power of the individual. Here, he
completely abandons plausibility in favor of the
- Ghost Brigades (2007) by John Scalzi.
This is a second novel with the same setting of Old
Man's War. It pushes the technology presented there a
little farther forward, allowing the cloning of both
minds and bodies. Scalzi takes a topic with some very
dark roots (the exploitation of clones as a counterpoint
to the risk of individual freedoms) and turns it
mundane, which is an accomplishment, I suppose. There
are a few other interesting topics thrown in including
whether a civilization can exist without culture or consciousness,
the process of educating clones with accelerated
development, and conflicts between humans and there
engineered soldiers. There are a few moments of emotion
and tragedy, but mostly, this book consists of a few
interesting seeds of speculative scifi wrapped up in an
- A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin (1968).
Not really a scifi story, but classic fantasy, - the first book in
a magical Earth Sea story cycle like Middle Earth and Hogwarts. I
found the novel disappointing, over all. The elaboration on the
importance of names and language as a tool that gives us power
over the world is enlightening. But the book's core premise is
the shaping of a soul through introspection and self-knowledge,
with shades of predestination, original sin, and Asian concepts of
balance throughout. While introspection is sometimes a useful
tool, and balance is as good a core tenant as any, I find the
concepts of both predestination and original sin
- Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement [Harry Stubbs] (1954).
A hard-scifi study of teamwork between human and alien
species. The tech-level feels 1950's. Insignificant
interpersonal conflict, generally positive outlook. Classified
as an example of early hard-scifi, the
journey-of-discovery sequence has some entertaining
points but felt dated and never really resonated for me.
Given my similar reactions to Red Mars, I guess I don't really
like pure hard-scifi.
- Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1912). The
first of 11 books. A magnificently creative adventure
with a pragmatic take on the complexity of a dying
world, Barsoom (aka Mars). Not intended as science fiction,
perhaps, but avoids the fantastic so cleanly, that it
can be none other than one of the great starting points
of the genre.
- Gateway, Volume 1 of the Heechee saga by Fredrick Pohl (1977?).
Soft scifi focusing on human relationships, and without any serious
speculation. Similarities to ``Space Merchants'', but
with a more conventional setting. I thought it had allot
of potential starting out, but flows off into only a moderately
interesting direction while abandoning other avenues of development.
Perhaps just a more mature work by Pohl or lacking the
tension from a coauthor.
Interestingly, it conforms to the other works of the 1970's,
in it's exploration of the human condition with complete
confidence in the permanence of that condition despite
technological change. The passing depiction of violence
against women left a bad taste in my mouth, but there
are many similar examples from that period,
and their's no reason to blame Mr. Pohl for reflecting
- A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge (1999)
Mid-future hard scifi prequel to ``A Fire upon the Deep''. In many
respects, it's standard fair - three intertwined
stories, heroism, and a simplified moral spectrum. But
in the telling, Vinge fills in Pham Nuwen's history and
reveals some important philosophical perspectives on
galactic colonization and persistence of complex
societies. Understanding these pieces puts ``Rainbow's
end'' in a better context.
- Darwinian by Robert Charles Wilson (1999)
A brilliant aspiration that falls flat when the author
couldn't figure out where to take the story? I lost
interest on reading the first interlude, and hadn't
recovered any when I finished. I'd hoped for something
the same quality as Spin but maybe I was looking in the
- A Fire upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge (1992)
An adventure where most of the action occurs in a
medieval setting. The depiction of powerful AI is
the best part.
- Halting State by Charles Stross (2007).
Told from the perspectives of three narrators from
different corners of the near future, tangled together
by plan and chance, this turns out to be a
Bond-adventure where Jack Bauer is replaced
by Jack-the-computer-geek. Starts with an interesting
premise and has some interesting fun depictions of large
online role-playing games of the future, but fails
to finish strong or with any clear vision of the new
world. The second-person narrative is initially
jarring; I got used to it, but it was never satisfying.
- Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge (2006).
An exciting depiction of life in a networked world of
wearable computers and a patchwork of medical
revolutions. Useful, but ultimately limited in scope.
However, it seems to be the most attractive and
influential near-future work I've bumped into so far.
- Old Man's War by John Scalzi (2005).
Immortalist martial utopian propaganda, but very well
written propaganda. Compare to Haldeman's Forever War.
- Ilium and Olympus by Dan Simmons (2003,2005).
Not great sci-fi, but great fun to read. Simmons
employs some standard tools in his depiction of a
far-future solar setting, but does so expertly, and with
great breadth. The characters stretched far beyond
their initial selves in learning to deal with the world
the author has created for them. The plot is crucially
hinged on a few ideas that I think are fantasy, not
science, but why let that get in the way of a great story.
- Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein (1968?).
An interesting premise that suffers from adolescent-male
syndrome, and sacrifices science in favor of plot
convenience. Maybe most enjoyed by teenage guys.
- Orbital Resonance by John Barnes (1991).
Set on a orbital transfer ship, this is a
coming-of-age story with a social engineering twist.
Uncomfortable at times, but interesting, though
there were some parts I didn't believe.
- Contact, by Carl Sagan (1985).
The original story, upon which the movie of the same
name is based. I saw the movie years before reading the
story, and perhaps that took out some of the umph.
Sagan focuses heavily on the emotional life of a 70's
contemporary protagonist. This is understandable, since
Sagan was a scientist and public figure trying to bridge
the gap into literature. He pull's it off reasonably
well too. But for me, this was a disappointment. I had
high expectations for a depiction of the social and
political complexities of a first-contact scenario. Yet
the story kept turning in on Eli(the main character)
when I kept wanting it to turn out on the world at
large. It's a good story, and I'm happy I read it. The
depiction of a successful female scientist from a 60's
and 70's perspective (many aspects of which probably
still have contemporary significance) is interesting
(though comparison to depictions of the same situation
by female scientist-authors with first-hand experience
of the period seems in order). Still, I'm definitely
looking for a better hard-scifi depiction of first
contact from a global socio-economic perspective.
- To Your Scattered Bodies Go, by Philip Jose Farmer (1971).
The first book in the Riverworld Saga, this book
introduces the reader to an afterlife where all of
human history must live together and that the characters
must learn to make their own. With a heavy dose of 60's
sensibilities, I found this one rather bland, with
flat characters, but easy and fun to read.
- Queen of Angels, by Greg Bear (1990). This is a collage.
The near-future nanotech setting has moments of
brightness, but Bear's narrative
is one of individuals struggling with personal demons
in an impersonal world. I'd place it as a weaker
work in the vain of Helliconia series and Left Hand.
- Limits of Vision, by Linda Nagata (2001). An appropriately
named work. Nagata studies one scenario of how
technology may escape its traditional frame and change
the world. The author deserves credit for a near-future
setting that may come to pass, and depicting the
evolution of a very interesting form of post-human life.
Nagata's depiction of the human characters is narrow,
and has a utopian quality. The story is full of
wonderful imaginings, while also cultivating a degree of
mystery. One of my responses to this vision
was a feeling that the scientific equation was left
unbalanced (a detail that I might overlook usually, but
here it feels like the author walks right up to these
points before turning away). Limits departs in
important and refreshing ways from the presentation
styles of older authors like Blish and Miller, and its
genre broadening efforts are worth while.
- The Seedling Stars, by James Blish(1957).
One of the earliest works focusing on pantropy, though the
author credits Olaf Stapledon and predecessors. The
book juxtaposes the conflicts of man vs. nature and
Christian burning, and nicely closes the cycle. Some
plot devises are far fetched (an all powerful port
authority) if entertaining (particularly the microbial
world). I still don't understand some authors' selective
morality in the depiction of genocide, in this case,
rotifer (see Conan Doyle's Lost World also).
Ultimately, the book relies on a romantic but failing
premise similar to that of GATTACA - singularity of the
human spirit. I think Simak was closer to the truth.
- A Case of Conscience, by James Blish.
where science fiction is used as a crucible for the
study of catholic faith. Not compelling from my
A Canticle for Leibowitz and Childhood's End are of
a related vain.
- Brightness Reef, Infinity's shore, Heaven's reach
- Book of the Long Sun
- Sphere, Harvest(by R. Wilson), Footfall , The Moon is a
Harsh Mistress, Nemisis, Prey
- The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. Originally
left off this list, as I found it fun pulp, but didn't
really think it was noteworthy science fiction. But it
appears on other's lists.
- The Dying Earth, Araminta Station
- Tau Zero by Poul Anderson
- The Forever War by Haldeman (1974). This is mildly
interesting, the main character is engaging, but I
didn't think it was anything special. In context,
though, it stands out from it's contemporaries. While
working from the same human perspective, the
technological considerations of the setting were full of
foresight and innovative.
I've found several sites useful in pursuing this project. Many
have disappeared from the web since I started this project, but I've found
new ones to replace the old.
Here are some links to contemporary scifi culture sites.
- Helliconia Spring by Brian Aldiss. This is an interesting
tale, and finely written, but never caught my
imagination (though the alternate biology is very
the theoretical setting is the far future, on a distant world, the
actualized setting is bronze-age. I classify this work not as
scifi but as lateralist...contemporary protagonists in
different but potentially real world. To its credit, I found myself
surprisingly sympathetic to several of the main characters.
Aldiss's novel enriched my understanding of this place and
time, but never pointed the way forward.
- On the Beach - Shute. Just because it is the end
of the world does not mean it is science fiction.
- A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain.
- Lest Darkness Fall.
This is a romp, without serious
introspection, and a pale shadow of Mark Twain's Yankee. I
wouldn't qualify either of these works as Science Fiction,
- Lost race of Mars by Robert Silverberg and Leonard P. Kessler.
- Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie
- Blindsight, by Peter Watts
- The Time Traveller's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
- The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers
- We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin
- The Dispossessed by Ursula K Le Guin
- Babel-17 by Delany
- The Wanderer by Fritz Leiber
- Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (2003), by Cory Doctorow
- Pattern Recognition (2003), by William Gibson
- Newton's Wake (2004), by Ken MacLeod
- Glasshouse (2006), by Charles Stross
- Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
- The dreaming jewels - Sturgeon
- Songs of distant earth
- Downbelow station
- Helliconia summer
- Chronicles of the Lensmen, volume 1
- Revolt on Alpha C
- The Last Castle by Jack Vance
- The Last and First Men - Stapledon
- Bruce Sterling, Schizmatrix and Holy Fire
- William Gibson, Neuromancer
- Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan
- Peter Watts' Starfish Trilogy
- The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner
- The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner
- Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear
- The Languages of Pao by Jack Vance
- Planet of Adventure by Jack Vance
- Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov
- The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
- The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
- Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds
- Axis by Robert Charles Wilson
- True names by Vernor Vinge
- Norstrilia by Cordwainer Smith
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
- The three stigmata of Palmer Eldritch - Dick
- The Door into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein
- Cities in Flight by James Blish
- Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
- The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One by Robert Silverberg
- Market Forces, Richard Morgan
- In War Times, Kathleen Ann Goonan
- In War Times By Kathleen Ann Goonan
- Rudy Rucker's Mathematicians in Love
- Stephen Baxter's Time Ships
- Joe Haldeman's Accidental Time Machine
- Hunter's Run by George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois and Daniel Abraham
- Downward to the Earth by Robert Silverberg
- Enemy Mine by Barry B. Longyear
- Thirteen by Richard K. Morgan
- The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez
- City at the End of Time by Greg Bear
- Matter by Iain M. Banks
- A World Too Near by Kay Kenyon
TV shows are almost always bad science fiction - even at
it's height, the medium's short form, visual nature, and
economics constrains story-telling and world building
explorations. This is maybe a little different during the
current golden age, but we'll see.
- Black Mirror
- Person of interest (2011-) - AI meets Equalizer/A-Team.
They do not seem to be too shy about the implications of
- Wonderworks was a PBS TV series during the 1980's,
that did a little science fiction. I particularly
remember ``Hide and Seek'' which was an AI story based
on ``The adolescence of P-1'', and an incredibly
compelling version of Ray Bradbury's short story -
``All of Summer in a Day'', which still haunts my
- Firefly - A scifi show with maturity enough to stand on emotion rather
than tech and war, hence cancelled after 1 season.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation - old stand-by
- Terminator: Sarah Conner Chronicles - immensely popular while
combat-driven, deserted like the Titanic when it slowed down enough to think
about the nature of loyalty, sources of human conflict, and
- Babylon 5 - Saved by the British - greatest scifi
TV epic of all time (though it may not have aged
well since its creation).
- Dollhouse - intense show, incredible cast with rare exception, too
strange to draw an audience.
- Cowboy Bebop - jazz noir anima
- Total Recall 2070 - adult themes are not suitable
for American audiences - see Dollhouse.
- Battlestar Galactica (2004) - a smart blond can save even a good show?
- Caprica - Don't try to make a show that considers unfamiliar cultural
norms and is driven by social conflict. Nobody watches TV to experience the
- The 4400 - nobody has the patience to follow a good story arc to
completion, so don't even try.
- Stargate Universe - proof that apes are biased towards dualism.
- Journeyman - better than quantum leap, so cancelled after 1 season
- The Outer Limits - only place that could tell compelling parables of failure on TV
- Lost (great show, but not really scifi)
- Star Trek: Deep Space 9 - fun
- John Doe - fun (nothing more)
- Fringe (Season 1 only) - to save the show, they walked away from serious thought about the future.
- Trinity Blood - plain cool. Some of the art
could be better, and the deliveries are terribly flat, but
that's part of the appeal. Thank the superheros we
have Japan once and a while.