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17 Favorite Science Fiction Works

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After reading last week’s post on science fiction, Erin Feldman asked me to suggest a few books in the genre. Of course, I was delighted. So here are my favorite science fiction books (and trilogies) of all time. You’ll see they span sub genre and era.

1) The Diamond Age (Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer) by Neal Stephenson. If you gave three young girls with different backgrounds a primer based on the the ultimate algorithm-based artificial intelligence, their lives would still end up completely different. And those with the most advantages may have the largest handicaps. Simply brilliant analysis of semantic technologies, and quite a dystopian look at nano-technology, too. Check it out.

2) Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan. Imagine if your soul could be backed up and stored in the cloud. You’d need a chip in your cordial stack to access motor functions, and to identify your soul if the physical body should fail. Assassins could forever wipe you from the face of the earth by destroying your cordial stack chip. This premise drives one of the most bloody and violent books in the cyberpunk genre. I loved it!

3) The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein: Do I need to say anything about this cornerstone of fantasy and science fiction (the trilogy was originally one long book). I’ve read the stories of Middle Earth well over ten times in my life, and loved the movies, too. The compelling battle of good versus evil painted in a dire light still grips me every time.


4) The Half Made World by Felix Gilman: Perhaps the best steam punk book I’ve read, Gilman offers a post modern approach to the genre and adds historical, fantasy, and western elements into a powerful commentary on American society. A captivating read, and one that forces you to consider the archetypes we hold so valuable in the United States.

5) The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. In a world of extremism, what would happen if one side won the battle of public opinion? Margaret Atwood’s dark view of a religious state in the former United States has women enslaved, serving society. Something to consider as political PR becomes increasingly charged with religion and extreme points of view.

6) Neuromancer by William Gibson. An inescapable science fiction masterpiece, anyone who reads this blog can imagine Gibson’s Neuromancer. Plot twists include dark forces acting behind the scenes in a cyberworld, artificial intelligence come alive, and hackers fighting wars between governments and corporations alike. This book accomplished a rare feat by winning three major genre awards, Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick, and is quintessential science fiction.

7) Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey. Leviathan Wakes forces us to consider genetic engineering as a weapon within our solar system, and also bridges the concept of a distant long-departed alien super intelligence. It’s a relatively new space opera with a post-post modern detective plot. I loved it, and thought the tension of the protagonists’ struggles was well done.

8) Dragonlance Chronicles Trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. They say every fantasy book after Tolkein is just a reinvention of Middle Earth. Well, this trilogy was the book series that best mirrored the Dungeons and Dragons craze. In fact, it was part of it. Dragonlance spawned more than two dozen sequels, and of course, several games. Tense and compelling, this is pulp science fiction at its best. Enjoy!

9) Dune by Frank Herbert. The word “epic” doesn’t offer Dune justice. While Herbert and son wrote a series, it’s hard to compare to the original. Space opera, religious impact, prodigal son, feudal society, aboriginal roots, and on and on. One of the rare page turners that captivated me enough to forgo sleep. It’s easy to see why Sting tried acting in the failed movie rendition (see above video clip). Thank God the TV series better served the original novel.

10) Foundation by Isaac Asimov. There are several Asimov books that could have made this list, but the original Foundation trilogy is the series of books that I love most. Asimov is an original hard science fiction master, and fathered the concept of a galaxy populated by man as the only sentient being. It’s an incredible look at math, technology and how we continue to war no matter how advanced we become. Like Tolkein, you cannot consider yourself a science fiction aficionado unless Asimov is in your mind.

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Image by Subarino

11) Pattern Recognition by William Gibson. This is the first book in a loosely knit trilogy about the Blue Ant agency from the father of cyberpunk. Lost in a post 9/11 world searching for agency head “Big End’s” crazy request for information about a video, our heroine Cayce Pollard takes us through a bizarre and poignant commentary of today’s Internet culture.

12) Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein. This 1962 Hugo Award Winner pushed the genre into a new direction, and examined themes such as religion, sex and love. A few years ahead of its time, Heinlein also examines what its like to grow up in isolation and then be admitted into society as an adult, in this case, a by product of early colonization on Mars.

13) Sundiver (Book 1 of the Uplift Saga) by David Brin . How does a species rise to prominence? The Uplift Saga looks directly at what causes dolphins and apes, and yes, even human beings, to rise and become sentient beings. They need Progenitors to help them get there. Great compelling science fiction looking at genetics and space travel. This first book opens the saga, and books two and three Startide Rising and Uplift War both won the Hugo and Locus Awards, and with Rising also taking the Nebula Award.

14) The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks. I almost didn’t include this book because each new addition to the Shannara lexicon seems to water down the value of the story and plot line, turning it into a cheap ploy to sell books. Yet, I have read Sword of Shannara several times, and it is probably the best piece of elf world Tolkein-esque fantasy outside of Lord of the Rings. Read the first book and skip the rest.

15) Black Sun Rising by C.S. Friedman. This may be the least well known book of my favorites, but I really liked it because it deals with fear as a supernatural force. In conquering fear, we survive and prosper, but by feeding it we create darkness. A fantastic fantasy-based metaphor for our very real-world problems.

16) Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Another page ripper, this one deals with some interesting ethics, in particular child soldiers. There are similarities to Handmaid’s Tale in the future vision of society and how people are scripted into roles. Like other books mentioned in this list, the original is phenomenal but I could not get into the larger series. The movie adaptation comes out later this year.

17) Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko. One for the vampire/werewolf crew. I’m not much for this sub genre, but this particular serious is phenomenal and transcends into a bit of magic and fantasy. Sergei’s work is set in present day Moscow, and like other Russian authors of yesteryear offers a gritty view of everyday urban society. I loved every single book in this series.

Some greats like Arthur C. Clarke, Philip Dick and Ray Bradbury are not on the list, but I really wanted to offer books that I Loved with a capital L.

What would you add to the list?

These are Amazon links, but I am not an affiliate and will not profit through any purchases you make. Some of these reviews were featured last year on Spin Sucks.

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  • http://www.jasonkonopinski.com/ Jason Konopinski

    So many good ones here! Dune, Ender’s Game, and The Handmaid’s Tale are some of my absolute favorites in the genre.

    Herbert rivals Tolkien with his skill in building worlds.

    • geofflivingston

      Yeah, Dune may be the best individual piece of world building ever. Brilliant. I was so disappointed in the later books in that series comparitively, but not as much as Terry Brooks’ ensuing works!

      • http://www.jasonkonopinski.com/ Jason Konopinski

        The later books are total turds.

  • http://www.parmet.net/pr David Parmet

    Anything by Neal Stephenson – es The Baroque Trilogy. Anything in the Known Space series by Larry Niven.

    I’m finding though that the older (and further away from the first time I read) Foundation and Dune, they don’t hold up very well. Especially Foundation.

    I’m re-reading Larry Silverberg’s The World Inside and it’s even better than I remembered.

    • geofflivingston

      Ah, the King of Vagabonds. Niven is aweseome, and always offers a decent read.

      I’ll add Silverberg to my list of to reads! Hope you are doing well, David!

  • http://www.writerightwords.com/ Erin Feldman

    Thank you so, so much for this! It’s nice to have some guidance when the genre is such a large one.

    I found a copy of Dune at Half Price last week, so I have that one. I’ve heard of Atwood’s book but haven’t read it. I have, of course, read Lord of the Rings. The rest? The rest are going on my Goodreads to-read list. That thing has no chance of ever coming under control.

    • geofflivingston

      I’ll be interested in your take on Dune as a literary critic. I think it’s fantastic, and gets into some incredible power dynamics.

      • http://www.writerightwords.com/ Erin Feldman

        One of my college roommates and I stayed up all night watching the movie version (VHS!). It shouldn’t ruin things. I don’t remember much except for the crazy blue eyes.

        A literary critic? I think that’s the first time someone’s called me that. I like it.

        I need to finish Holmes before I move onto something else. It looks like that something else will be Dune.

  • Mark Dykeman

    Dan Simmons Hyperion and the Fall of Hyperion. The two sequels, the Endymion books… somewhat less. But really, some of the novellas in Hyperion are absolutely wonderful.

    • geofflivingston

      I’ll check those out. I’ve heard some good things about Dan Simmons!

    • http://www.parmet.net/pr David Parmet

      Agreed about the first two Hyperion books. They were great Simmons seems to have lost his way in the 3rd and 4th books.

  • http://www.laurapthomas.com/ Laura P Thomas

    I think my first introduction to the genre, and still a favorite, would be “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle. Then I borrowed my grandfather’s Dune books and from there I was off to the races. But, the missing series on this list would have to be “Dragonriders of Pern” by Anne McCaffery.

    • geofflivingston

      I have never read McCaffery or Engle! I’ll have to check them out, thank you! Dune rocked.

  • marc zazeela

    Geoff,

    Oh man! So many great reads by great authors. Where to begin? You have filled my reading list for the foreseeable future!

    Cheers,
    Marc

    • geofflivingston

      I feel like the comments are providing as many in return. It’s amazing! Good reads abound!

  • http://joshuawilner.com/ Josh

    Loved the list. I would include The Thomas Covenant stories by Donaldson, Most of the books by David Eddings. Dune was outstanding.

    Terry Brooks has made me crazy. Some of his stuff is so good and some…

    • geofflivingston

      LOVED, Covenant. I thought several times about putting Eddings work in here. I like the first two trilogies, but never got to the third one. Is it good?

  • http://www.craigmcbreen.com/ Craig McBreen

    Amazing list! Thanks, Geoff.

    Love Neal Stephenson. Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash are my favorites. And the guy writes in long-hand.

    Not exactly science fiction, but Kurt Vonnegut is an all time favorite.

    Oh, and Philip K. Dick, of course!

    For fantasy: “A Song of Ice and Fire” series (aka “Game of Thrones”) is my current favorite.

    • geofflivingston

      Some great suggestions here. Both Snow Crash and Crytponomicon were excellent!

      Galapagos by Vonnegut almost made my list, clearly a great futurist and commentator. He was so good. We miss him!

      Thank you for adding Dick and Martin, too!

  • salemonz

    “Wild Seed” by Octavia Butler. Incredible storytelling style. Seriously, she conveys more atmosphere, attitude and drama in the first few paragraphs than many authors do in their first few chapters.

    Thanks for the list though! I need to read a few of these :)

    • geofflivingston

      There’s a new one! Thanks so much, and it sounds like a great introduction!

  • Karl

    Following the general pattern of referencing the series by the first book and picking authors not already present…

    I’d swap:

    * Dragonlance -> Pern

    * Shannara -> Name of the Wind

    * Leviathan Wakes -> A Fire Upon the Deep

    I’d add:

    * Red Mars

    * Rendezvous with Rama (first book only)

    * Wizard of Earthsea (I like it better than Wrinkle in Time)

    Other recent series worth reading:

    * Dragon’s Path (same author as Leviathan)

    * The Spirit Thief

    * The Warded Man

    • geofflivingston

      Some great adds here, and the second vote for the Mars series (the other coming on Facebook). Thanks so much for adding these to the mix!!

  • http://www.indigogirl.co.uk/ Kittie at Indigo Girl

    What a great list, a couple of them are still on my to read list. So many books and so little time.

    The 3 sets of True Game Trilogies by Sheri S Tepper are beautifully woven stories with quite an unusual premise. I haven’t found the same immersion in any of her other writings though.

    The late David Gemmell was an amazing storyteller. One of those authors that you just had to get his latest on the day of release because you’d actually been counting the days since you finished the last one!

    And my third offering Raymond E Feist and his Rift War Saga, starting with The Magician. I even consumed the trilogy written with Jany Wurtz, which was a fascinating deep dive into another part of the story.

    Thanks for this post you’ve got me considering a weekend and summer of reading :)

    • geofflivingston

      I really loved Feist’s Magician/Rift War series. They were fantastic books. Thanks for the other additions, I’ll need to add them to my list!

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  • http://www.WaxingUnLyrical.com/ Shonali Burke

    I thought *I* was a sci-fi fan, but I’m nothing compared to you!

    • geofflivingston

      Welcome to nerdtopia!

  • http://brianvickery.com/ Brian Vickery

    I just read Altered Carbon last year and enjoyed it – tried another one by the same author, and I wasn’t impressed.

    For Fantasy, I still love Susan Cooper, Patricia McKillip and David Gemmell.

    • geofflivingston

      Yeah, with each successive book Morgan seemed to lose a little bit more. Looking forward to checking out a few of these new names you suggest! Thank you!

  • Anna Pham

    Those are amazing works, I love many of them, especially The Lord of The Ring. Others might not be familiar but will try them. Thanks for a great list.

  • Richard Mason

    Some great books in that list for sure. I find it difficult to put together definitive lists of all time favorites because there are just too many but if I think about some of the best reads in recent years, my mind immediately jumps to Bennett R. Coles. He writes military science fiction and I love his style. You get a great sense of place and very relatable characters in his work. He has just published a follow up to Virtues of War called Casualties of War. I can’t praise this book highly enough. He has a really nice website where you can read more http://www.bennettrcoles.com/works/casualties-of-war

  • da1e_e

    I’d have to add either the Gaea series or Steel Beach by Varley and Ringworld by Niven. Honestly I’d hate to have to narrow my choices down to less than 100. I have been a fan of science fiction since my teens and now I’m pushing 60.

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