Tuesday, September 05, 2006

My List of Important (or just Favorite) SF

A friend (you know who you are -- hi!) asked me for my list of Important SF Books. So here it is.

Note: this is a list that skips lots of things; this is my list, after all, and I may well have missed something in my scan of my bookshelves (I reserve the right to add things later!). While I think that all of these are Important, these are also ones I enjoy, so there are other Important books I did not include. Some of these were historically important but are dreadful to read now, or which I wouldn't want to re-read.

Also: there is no fantasy in this list; I'll do that later. (I'll leave the hair-splitting to others about what SF and Fantasy are, and where their boundaries lie. To quote my wife, "I know what I mean.")

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (and next two sequels) by Douglas Adams. Best SF comedy ever.
  • The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov. The classic Galactic Empire story.
  • Nine Tomorrows by Isaac Asimov (collection) -- some of the Good Doctor's best stories.
  • Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks (and the rest of the Culture series). Recent British New Space Opera. Fantastic stuff.
  • The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester. The classic text. See why Alfred Bester got a Psi-Cop named after him in Babylon 5.
  • The Stars, My Destination by Alfred Bester. Another classic novel.
  • Startide Rising by David Brin. What if humans genetically engineered dolphins to drive starships?
  • The River of Time by David Brin (collection). Brin, like many SF writers, is a scientist who writes great short storires.
  • Otherness by David Brin (collection)
  • Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner. A classic of the near-future sub-genre. A fascinating glimpse of what the future meant in 1968, when it was published.
  • Shards of Honor and Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold. The beginning of the Vorkosigan books. Wonderful stuff.
  • The Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold. Grand and witty space opera.
  • Falcon by Emma Bull. A great twist on the superhero canon.
  • Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Another classic, compulsively readable. Skip the sequels.
  • Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh. A major novel, the beginning of Cherryh's Merchanter series
  • Heavy Time and Hellburner by C.J. Cherryh. Set in the same universe as Downbelow Station, but on the other side of the war.
  • The Pride of Chanur, and its sequels, by C.J. Cherryh. Some of the best aliens in all SF.
  • Serpent's Reach by C.J. Cherryh. Hard to describe, but well worth it.
  • Stories of Your Life by Ted Chiang (collection). Nine stories, each of them a polished gem. Highly recommmended.
  • Quarantine by Greg Egan. Quantum Mechanics and a mental patient who can walk through doors go together how?
  • Permutation City by Greg Egan. Absolutely brilliant exploration of what it means to live inside a computer.
  • Axiomatic by Greg Egan (collection). People interested in the Philosophy of Mind love this stuff.
  • Luminous by Greg Egan (collection). More fantastic stuff.
  • Strange Wine by Harlan Ellison (collection). One of Ellison's best collections. Includes "Jeffty is Five".
  • Alone Against Tomorrow by Harlan Ellison (collection). Slice of the best of 1970s New Wave SF.
  • Approaching Oblivion by Harlan Ellison (collection). Slice of the best of late 1960s New Wave SF.
  • Deathbird Stories by Harlan Ellison (collection). Possibly Ellison's masterwork.
  • The Unreasoning Mask by Philip Jose Farmer. A crazed romp through the Pluriverse.
  • Jumper by Steven Gould. A "young-adult" novel which takes the hoary SF trope of teleportation and rings the changes on it wonderfully.
  • Wildside by Steven Gould. Another great trope revival: what if you found a door to another world?
  • The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. Published in 1975 by Vietnam Vet Haldeman, it's one generation's defintive SF war novel.
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein. Possibly the best of Heinlein's novels.
  • Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein. An earlier generation's definitive SF war novel, but also a meditation on citizenship.
  • The Past Through Tomorrow by Robert A. Heinlein (collection). A collection of most of Heinlein's best stories.
  • Voyage from Yesteryear by James P. Hogan. A fun romp through colliding cultures.
  • The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin. A classic cultural/political SF novel.
  • Learning the World by Ken MacLeod. Another of the British New Space Opera novelists, working at top form.
  • Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. The end-of-the-world novel.
  • The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. One of the best First Contact SF novels ever.
  • The Getaway Special by Jerry Oltion. What happens when someone invents the Star Drive?
  • Gateway by Frederik Pohl. The classic (and Hugo/Nebula award-winning) psychological SF novel.
  • Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds. The blazing debut of one of the British New Space Opera's brightest stars.
  • Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds. A semi-sequel to Revelation Space, highly political, and fairly disturbing.
  • Redemption Ark by Alastair Reynolds. The direct sequel to Revelation Space.
  • Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons. Literary SF at its best.
  • The Rediscovery of Man by Cordwainer Smith (collection). 1950s and 1960s SF that is as compelling (and off the beaten track) now as it was then.
  • The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volumes I, IIa, and IIb edited by Robert Silverberg (anthology, picked by the SF Writers of America). The place to start for Golden Age SF.
  • Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. Stephenson's Big Book.
  • The Big U by Neal Stephenson. An early novel, which holds up remarkably well.
  • More than Human by Theodore Sturgeon. Sturgeon's masterwork.
  • The Golden Helix by Theodore Sturgeon (collection). Some of Sturgeon's best stories.
  • Sturgeon is Alive and Well... by Theodore Sturgeon (collection). Many of Sturgeon's other best stories.
  • Millenium by John Varley. A romping time-travel novel told in intertwining first person narratives. One of my absolute favorites.
  • Titan (+ sequels) by John Varley. Great, solid, world-building SF.
  • A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge. A huge, sprawling, epic, Hugo-winning novel.
  • A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge. A prequel to A Fire Upon the Deep, tighter but nearly as epic.
  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Yes, this is SF, although no mainstream reviewer noticed. It's brilliant, but not to everyone's taste.
  • Fire Watch by Connie Willis (collection). Connie Willis' first collection. Some of these stories are very dark, but they're all brilliant.
  • Impossible Things by Connie Willis (collection). Lighter than Fire Watch, but no less brilliant.
  • Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. An amazing novel. Warning: Black Plague.
  • To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. A much lighter novel set in the same world as Doomsday Book
  • Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny. Zelazny's SF masterwork, set on a world where a starship crew set themselves up as gods of the Hindu Pantheon, ruling over the colonists.
  • Eye of Cat by Roger Zelazny. The last Navajo tracker is recruited to foil an interstellar assassination, and sets in motion an amazing story.
  • Doorways in the Sand by Roger Zelazny. A smart-ass "perpetual student" in year 13 of University gets tangled up with interstellar intrigue.
  • The Last Defender of Camelot by Roger Zelazny (collection). Some of Zelazny's best stories.
  • The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth by Roger Zelazny (collection). Most of Zelazny's other best stories.

Anyone looking for good books to start on should look at the Hugo and Nebula Award winners.


  • China Mountain Zhang, by Maureen McHugh. A wonderful debut novel.

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