Science Fiction I've Known And Loved
I've been reading SF for over thirty years now. Here are some books
Metropolitan and City On Fire by
Walter Jon Williams.
In the far future, the Ascended have left the rest of humanity
and surrounded the Earth with an impenetrable Shield. Thousands of
years later, the planet's surface is wall-to-wall city with a staggeringly
huge population, and skilled Mages use a geomantic power source
called Plasm to create, change, and destroy. I enjoyed City On
Fire, the sequel, even more than Metropolitan.
Marooned In Realtime by Vernor Vinge. From the
author of True Names, a sequel to The
Peace War, which introduced "bobbles": indestructable, spherical
stasis fields that can be constructed to last for nanoseconds or
millions of years. It's a murder
mystery set 50 million years in the future, among a gathering of
refugees who were accidentally or maliciously bobbled out of their
home eras. Full of fun, cool techno toys (polka-dot paint?), this is
easily his best book. Other Vinge worth reading includes
A Fire Upon The Deep (features an interstellar
USENET) and Tatja Grimm's World.
Stations Of The Tide by Michael Swanwick. "The
bureaucrat fell from the sky." A wry, spare, beautiful novel of
magic and hard technology that gets better each time I read it.
Kaleidoscope Century by John Barnes. The main
character is not a nice guy, but maybe that's how he survives
the "interesting times" of the next hundred years. Extremely violent
in places, but a fascinating speculative look at the future from an
Rendevous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke. A massive
alien spacecraft enters the solar system, and the only human spacecraft
that can manage an intercept is ill-prepared and has little time to
explore. Perhaps Clarke's best novel, with a killer ending. Read
this and just try to forget that any sequels were ever written.
Permutation City, Axiomatic, and
Diaspora by Greg Egan. Egan is the hardest SF writer
out there today. Axiomatic is an amazing collection
of short stories spanning genetics, mathematics, computer science,
physics, and horror. Permutation City is a remarkable
book about a near future where sentient Copies of people, afraid of
losing their "life", look for a way out. And find it. Just when you
think this book can't get any more fantastic, it does -- although I
suspect a background in computer science may be required to fully enjoy
it. Even more so with Diaspora, which
takes the notion of Copies living inside of a computer even further,
beginning in a time when machine life has almost completely replaced
organic life on Earth, and now they're beginning to explore space.
Contains some totally new concepts of first contact with alien races. The
end is a bit unsatisfying, but the journey makes up for it.
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Satan's
child is sent to Earth to bring on Armageddon, while a demon and an
angel collaborate to prevent the big event because, well, they like
it here. A hilarious and heart-warming send-up of The Omen.
Grunts by Mary Gentle. Blackly humorous fantasy
about an army of Orcs that stumbles across a large cache of American
military equipment and are magicked into US Marines. Gruesome and
most definitely not for everyone; some people may find it offensive.
Starrigger, Red Limit Freeway, and
Paradox Alley by John DeChancie. The "Starrigger Trilogy",
a light, fun adventure in a galaxy where travel and commerce moves
between planets on an ancient system of roads left by an unknown race.
But nobody has a map, and it's easy to get lost . . .
The Reality Dysfunction and The
Neutronium Alchemist by Peter F. Hamilton. The first two (massive)
volumes of a trilogy. 700 years in the
future, in a galaxy full of humans, aliens, and artificial intelligences,
the dead find a way to return to life by possessing live human bodies. It's
space opera with a touch of Stephen King. A huge cast of characters
and lots of intricate plot twists. And everyone speaks British.
When Gravity Fails, A Fire In The Sun,
and The Exile Kiss by George Alec Effinger. The
adventures of Marid Audran, low-class hustler who is unwillingly made
over into the right-hand man for a local crime lord. Sorta like
Raymond Chandler, but set in Islam a century from now.
The Last Stand Of The DNA Cowboys, Their
Master's War, and Necrom by Mick Farren. Farren
is a colorful, nihilistic writer with a great imagination. I think a
number of his books would make great movies.
DNA Cowboys follows the infamous threesome through
adventures in the Fractured World left when conventional reality simply
fell apart. In TMW, humans are enslaved by aliens
to fight in an endless, meaningless war. And in Necrom,
a washed up rock'n'roll star gets involved in an intrigue of demons,
multiple universes, elder gods, and Aztecs with high technology.
When Heaven Fell and Dark Sky Legion
by William Barton. Despite the repellent nature of their main
characters, both of these books are highly memorable. WHF
concerns a mercenary employed by the Master Race that has enslaved
humanity. This is not your typical "humans versus alien invaders"
describes a future in which the human race reigns supreme . . . but humans
aren't very nice. The teleportation mechanism they matter-of-factly
accept and use is fascinatingly macabre.
Ubik, A Maze Of Death, and
A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick.
Everyone has their favorite Dick novels; these are mine. The first two
are in what I think of as his "light" style. AMD has
an especially killer ending.
ASD is semi-autobiographical and is written in more of
prose style. To try to describe these books further would be to give away
most of the fun.
The Player Of Games, Use Of Weapons, and
Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks. These books deal with a
utopian human and machine civilization called the Culture,
which has no money or laws -- yet everyone lives like a king.
Extremely well-written, and they have a certain dark humor
about them. UOW, in particular, is one of the best SF
novels I've read in the past 10 years.
Tuf Voyaging by George R. R. Martin. Originally a
series of short stories, the book follows one Haviland Tuf, Ecological
Engineer, as he makes his way around the galaxy in his 30 kilometer long
starship solving various and sundry eco-problems -- but his "solutions"
are often not what his clients asked for . . . Martin has always been at his
best in the short story (he also wrote "Sandkings"), and these
were written when he was in his prime.
Hyperion and The Fall Of Hyperion by Dan Simmons.
Hyperion won a Hugo, TFOH won a nomination
the next year. Hyperion follows seven pilgrims to the world of
Hyperion, as each relates their story ala Canterbury Tales
in styles ranging from Bradbury to Cyberpunk to "classic spacewar".
Amazingly good and difficult to put down.
The more conventional straight prose style of TFOH is a bit
less enthralling, but you'll definitely want a copy of TFOH
on hand when you finish Hyperion.
Spares by Michael Marshall Smith. Dark, sad, disturbing, creepy,
and funny, sometimes all at once. A ruined cop attempts to save a
group of "spares", people who have been grown for the express purpose
of providing spare parts for those rich enough to afford it.
Word is that Disney has optioned this for a movie; I'll believe it
when I see it.
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. "Tonight, we're
going to show you eight silent ways to kill a man" reads the first
line. The "companion" book to Heinlein's Starship
Troopers, Haldeman's Vietnam experiences have fueled an interesting
look at future space warfare.
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. A child military prodigy
goes through training as Earth battles an alien threat. I'm not
a big fan of Card's, but this is a really good book (but avoid
Speaker For The Dead and Xenocide, the sequels).
The zero-gee military training sequences are awesome fun. Word
has it that Card will actually be involved in the production of
a movie version
Real Soon Now. I'm not convinced that SFX technology is quite good
enough yet...but hey, go ahead and prove me wrong!
Blood Music by Greg Bear. I believe this won a Hugo and a Nebula. A
genetic engineer accidentally splices up some intelligent blood cells. Madcap
The Forge Of God and Anvil Of Stars, also by Greg Bear. In
Earth is assaulted by hostile alien Von Neumann automata. In AOS,
humanity gets to do some payback. AOS has some really interesting / kinky
science stuff in it.
Eon and Eternity, yet again by Greg Bear.
In Eon, an artifact from an advanced future civilization
takes up orbit around the Earth; inside the artifact is one end
of an infinitely long cylinder. And it's inhabited...
Eternity, the sequel, is best enjoyed by those who really
Redshift Rendezvous by John E. Stith. If you want really
hard SF, this book is for you. It's about a starship on which the
speed of light is 30 meters/second. A fun read, but probably difficult to
Contact by Carl Sagan. When I first heard of this, I thought "oh,
yeah, right, ya got this Big Name science guy who decides to write an
SF novel and yer mainstream audience gets real excited, but it's full
of cliches and stuff that's been done a thousand times before and bores
the hell out of us Professional SF Readers." Boy was I wrong:
seems Sagan was a bigtime SF fan himself. He pulled it off and
wrote a really excellent novel. If you've seen the movie, you owe it
to yourself to read the book, which contains so much more.
Doorways In The Sand by Roger Zelazny. An alien artifact on
loan to humanity disappears, and everyone thinks the protagonist
knows where it is. Zelazny's wit and sense of humor make this
book simply lots of fun.
Lord Of Light also by Roger Zelazny. A Hugo (and Nebula?)
winner. Mahasamatman (he prefers just "Sam") fights the Powers
That Be, who've set themselves up as the Hindu pantheon of gods on a distant planet.
Larger-than-life heros and villains, infused with Zelazny's droll wit.
Software by Rudy Rucker. Sorta like Neuromancer-lite: not
so "technical", but some interesting speculations on consciousness
and machines. And the anarchist lunar machine civilization is just plain
fun. Rucker has written a number of sequels (including
Wetware and Freeware)
which are definitely not for everyone.
Inferno by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. A science fiction
writer goes to hell. A wonderful rewrite of the most interesting
portion of Dante's Divine Comedy.
Job: A Comedy Of Justice by Robert Heinlein. More fantasy than SF, but
personally I think it's one of the best things he ever wrote. Hard
to put down once you start it, and even though it was written only a few
years before he died, it manages to stay away from that annoying nudism/free
sex obsession stuff that showed up in so many of his later works. Borrows
freely and easily from James Branch Cabell's Jurgen: A
Comedy Of Justice and Twain's "An Excerpt From
Captain Stormfeld's Visit To Heaven", plus it
has one of Heinlein's better endings.
-- Craig Becker