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Top 100 Best Science Fiction Books

Top 100 Best Science Fiction Books of All Time

This list is a direct continuation to the Top 25 Best Science Fiction list...started from the 26th book.

It's always a tricky proposition to suggest the best of anything. My best, quite simply, will never be the same as your best. 

Because a 'Top 25 Best of the Best Science Fiction Books' list is not broad enough to include ALL the outstanding science fiction works that have been released over the past century, we've decided to list the Top 100 books, starting from #26 to #100. 

It was quite a challenge creating this list because, well, there were so many science fiction books that HAD to be included. But with only 75 spots available, stuff still had to be left off. But if you did NOT see a certain work in the Top 25 list, it's probably in THIS list.

The Top 100 list tries to encompass both old and new science fiction from every genre and from both male and female authors. We (Paul and I) spent a very long time arguing about each and every single entry on the list -- so I assure you, this was not a haphazardly created list. There's a lot of thought behind each book entry.

With that said, THIS is the list covers that we feel comprehensively recommends the greatest science fiction books ever written. 

If our curated picks are not enough, please look at the CROWD RANKED version of the list where YOU, the INTERNET, decided on the book positions. You can even submit your own entries to the list -- we have nothing to do with that list.

NOTE: THIS IS #26 on the TOP 100 LIST. The first 1-25 entries are found on THE TOP 25 BEST SCIENCE FICTION LIST. Dhalgren is one of the peculiarities of science fiction, a novel that is insistently experimental in form and content, pushing the genre in direction to which it is normally resistant, yet it was a best seller almost from the moment it was published, has remained very popular ever since, and regularly appears on lists of the best science fiction. It remains a novel that people scratch their heads over (to this day, no one is quite sure exactly what the title refers to), yet it is a novel that people return to again and again.The setting is Bellona, a Midwestern city that has somehow become cut off from consensus reality, a place where strange things happen. At one point there are two moons in the sky, at another the sun apparently fills half the horizon, and time does not follow a regular or consistent pattern. A young man who may or may not have escaped from a mental hospital and who does not even remember his own name, enters the city. There he joins the city's down and outs, joins a gang that wears projection devices to make them appear like massive animals, and becomes an acclaimed poet.But the novel opens in mid-sentence and ends in mid-sentence, suggesting everything is circular. There are hints that what we are reading is taken from somebody else's notebook that the kid cannibalises for his own poems. And echoes of the Greek myths keep breaking through amid the violence and explicit sex. It's an extraordinary novel that will keep you guessing and keep you enthralled. Why It Made the ListThis is a book you will either love or hate. Harlan Ellison threw it against the wall; Theodore Sturgeon called it a literary landmark. The one thing you cannot do is ignore it. This is, quite simply, one of the most important novels in the history of science fiction.Alternative ChoiceAn equal alternative choice for #26 on the Top 100 is Nova.Nova is a roller-coaster of a space opera that was one of the most important precursors of cyberpunk. It's got it all: the space jockeys are plugged directly in to their computers, they use drugs, and even use the tarot; all of which found their way into cyberpunk (and William Gibson included several very specific references to the novel in Neuromancer). It's the story of a spaceship captain who gathers together a crew of misfits in a race to harvest a substance that will change the balance of power in the galaxy, it's also a story that very closely follows the model of the Quest for the Holy Grail.

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Delany has written a bunch of amazing stuff (and also, frankly, a bunch of stuff you probably don't want to bother with). But here are some you really don't want to miss, including our Alternative choice.

Nova as suggested is our Alternative Choice for this position. If you've read Dhagren, read THIS.

Babel-17, which won the Nebula Award, is the story of glamorous spaceship captain Rydra Wong who is on the trail of the enemy code when she realises that it is actually a new language, one that can actually change the way you think, and she finds herself turning into a traitor.

The Einstein Intersection, which also won the Nebula Award, is a haunting story of an Earth in which humans have died out, but a race of aliens have taken on human form and play out mythic roles such as Billy the Kid, Orpheus and Ringo Starr, in an attempt to understand what humans were like.

This novel has been hailed as one of the best hard sf stories written this century. It's an awesome novel, packed with invention and new ideas and challenges to the way we think. You have to keep your wits about you when reading it, but it is well worth the effort.In the near future, all sorts of genetic engineering and viral plagues have created a variety of posthumans, including Vampires, an ancient but very intelligent predator, and Zombies, who are highly effective and very obedient as soldiers. Then, signs start to be detected of an alien presence on the outskirts of the solar system. The story mostly concerns the journey of a ship, the Theseus, to investigate the aliens. The ship is captained by a vampire and crewed by transhumans with an AI, plenty of opportunity for intercrew conflict along the way. But things really hot up when they reach the Oort Cloud and find a vast starship whose crew have no individual consciousness, but who operate as a sort of hive mind which makes them far quicker to respond and therefore far more dangerous than the humans.Consciousness, it turns out, is bad news. Human self-awareness generates a noise that threatens the normal intelligence of the universe, so the aliens are here to quarantine the Earth as they would for a plague. The book as a whole raises a host of intriguing questions about the nature of consciousness and the possibilities and cost of transhumanity. I guarantee, you'll come away from this book with your mind buzzing.Why It Made the ListCutting edge ideas, challenging questions, a stunning action-packed story: what more do you want from your science fiction? This is the true quill, and pretty damned good it is too.

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Echopraxia is a kind of sequel to Blindsight, though it shifts our attention to characters who played little or no part in the first book. What we get is one of the biologists who unleashed the zombie plague is on a field trip in a remote wilderness when intruders force him to retreat to a strange monastery. Then, when the monastery is attacked, he finds himself aboard a spaceship heading towards a spacestation near the Sun. When we discover that this, too, has been infected with an alien slime mold, we start to question how much of the first novel we can really believe. (Incidentally, Blindsight and Echopraxia have now been published together in one book under the title Firefall.)

Throughout its history, one of the strongest and most interesting aspects of science fiction has been its use in satire. And this is just about the most stunning of contemporary satires, one that is still remarkable apposite. It's set in a near-future America where the Christian right has won. Civil rights have been eroded, and in particular the rights of women have been completely removed. Following the coup, a family try to escape from America but are captured; the woman is separated from her husband and child (who she does not see again) and becomes a handmaid, that is a concubine. Her name is changed to "Offred" because she is literally the property of Fred. The novel reveals the workings of this dystopian state through the experiences of Offred in this household as she is alternately helped and misused by Fred and by his wife, and also her growing awareness of a resistance movement, though how helpful that movement might be is left ambiguous at the end of her tale. Why It Made the List The Handmaid's Tale won the very first Arthur C. Clarke Award and was also shortlist for a host of other science fiction and mainstream awards. It has since been made into a film and into an opera. This is one of the most powerful works of feminist science fiction you are likely to read, an absolutely essential book. Alternative Choice Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in which three male explorers happen upon an isolated community consisting entirely of women, who have long since learned to reproduce by parthenogenesis. The story concerns the very different attitudes towards women of the three men, and the ways they come to terms with the utopian society that the women have established.

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At the time, The Handmaid's Tale looked like an oddity in the career of an important mainstream writer. But since then Margaret Atwood has not only written a book about science fiction, she has also incorporated science fiction elements into her novel The Blind Assassin, more significantly she has written a science fiction trilogy, Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood follow two different sets of survivors, which are brought together in the final volume, MaddAddam. Interspersed throughout the novels are long flashbacks to the polluted, heavily industrialised world before the crash, leading up to the deliberate release of a genetically constructed virus that wipes out a large proportion of the population. Some commentators reckon that these books are more ambitious and more powerful even that The Handmaid's Tale.

There are quite a few other utopian and dystopian novels that explore the position of women. For example, The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri  S. Tepper is set 300 years after a nuclear war has destroyed the United States. Women's Country is an ecologically sustainable matriarchy where the women live within walled towns while the men live in warrior camps outside the walls. But in the novel one of the women finds herself captured by a misogynistic Christian community where women are treated like slaves.

Throughout its history, one of the strongest and most interesting aspects of science fiction has been its use in satire. And this is just about the most stunning of contemporary satires, one that is still remarkable apposite. It's set in a near-future America where the Christian right has won. Civil rights have been eroded, and in particular the rights of women have been completely removed. Following the coup, a family try to escape from America but are captured; the woman is separated from her husband and child (who she does not see again) and becomes a handmaid, that is a concubine. Her name is changed to "Offred" because she is literally the property of Fred. The novel reveals the workings of this dystopian state through the experiences of Offred in this household as she is alternately helped and misused by Fred and by his wife, and also her growing awareness of a resistance movement, though how helpful that movement might be is left ambiguous at the end of her tale. Why It Made the List The Handmaid's Tale won the very first Arthur C. Clarke Award and was also shortlist for a host of other science fiction and mainstream awards. It has since been made into a film and into an opera. This is one of the most powerful works of feminist science fiction you are likely to read, an absolutely essential book. Alternative Choice Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in which three male explorers happen upon an isolated community consisting entirely of women, who have long since learned to reproduce by parthenogenesis. The story concerns the very different attitudes towards women of the three men, and the ways they come to terms with the utopian society that the women have established.

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House of Suns is another epic, set six million years in the future, with long-lived clones who regularly circumnavigate the entire galaxy and a race of sentient robots, there are ambushes and betrayals, and a high-speed chase that lasts thousands of years and takes us as far as the Andromeda Galaxy. If that's not enough to excite your sense of wonder, you really shouldn't be reading science fiction.

Reynolds's most recent work is also on a grand scale. The Poseidon's Children trilogy starts, in Blue Remembered Earth, in a near future when Africa is the world's leading technological power, and two members of a powerful African clan gather cryptic clues that lead them to the outer reaches of the solar system. By the time of the second volume, On the Steel Breeze, it is 200 years later and a fleet of generation starships are approaching a world where mysterious signals have been observed, but there's treachery afoot, while the legacy of events from the first volume still linger. The third volume, Poseidon's Wake, takes us yet further into the future and out to other stars to encounter the mysterious aliens hinted at in the first two books.

If you're in to space opera, don't forget the granddaddy of them all, E.E. "Doc" Smith, whose seven volume Lensman series begins with two galaxies colliding, and just gets bigger. By the end of the series suns and planets are being tossed about as weapons in a massive interstellar war.

Science fiction doesn't always handle the emotions very well, there's a tendency for sentiment to become sentimentality. But one novel really gets to the heart without any false mawkishness. Flowers for Algernon is science fiction's most sublime tragedy, and I defy anyone not to be moved by the story.It's the story of Charlie Gordon, who is educationally subnormal. He has a job at a bakery, where he is the butt of spiteful jokes by his fellow workers though he doesn't realise this, and he tries hard to better himself by attending school. Then he has the chance to take part in a revolutionary new procedure that will radically improve his intelligence. The story is told in Charlie's own diary, and we can see the procedure starting to work as his spelling improves, and the writing becomes grammatically correct. In fact, he becomes a genius, giving up his job at the bakery after catching his colleagues cheating the owner, then joining the researchers. He particularly observes the mouse, Algernon, who underwent the new procedure before he did. Then, just as the results are about to be announced publicly, he realises that Algernon is becoming confused again, and that the effects are only temporary.Frantically, he tries to find a solution, but we witness the writing in his diary slowly begin to revert to the ungrammatical and ill-spelled style it was originally. At one point, Charlie visits a local asylum, which he sees as a place of horror, but we know that he is inevitably going to end up there. If you don't choke up with the slow terror of the ending, there's something wrong with you.Why It Made the ListFlowers for Algernon was originally a short story that won the Hugo Award, when it was expanded into a novel it also won the Nebula Award, and it was then made into an Oscar-winning film, Charly.

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Frankly, Daniel Keyes never wrote anything to match the power of Flowers for Algernon, though you might want to check out his non-fiction novel, The Minds of Billy Mulligan, a journalistic account of the first person to get off a murder charge because of multiple-personality disorder.And there is really nothing else quite like Flowers for Algernon, it is unique.
What do you get when mix together a card carrying-homophobe and science-fiction? Ender's Game. Now it's an ethical struggle these days to decide what to do with the great writer OSC and his fiction, but it happens that he wrote one of the best space opera sci-fi novels of all time. So much so, that even the American military seems to agree with this. Ender's Game has been awarded fifth place on our list for one of the most popular and well-written novels space opera novels. The book has been critically acclaimed and is suggested reading for the U.S. Marine Corps. It won the 1985 Nebula Award and the 1986 Hugo Award. Ender's Game ranked in second place on the Damien Broderick's book Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010 list.Ender's Game was also made into a well received big budget movie in 2013 as well, though the book is a richer and much deeper reading experience.

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Give Pierce Brown's awesome Red Rising trilogy a read (starting with Red Rising). It takes some of the concepts introduced in Ender's Game (group of younger individuals pitted against each other in a kill or kill game of survival) and do so with panache. 
Czech is hardly a widely spoken language, and in the years immediately after the First World War Czechoslovakia had barely gained its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire which had largely swamped Czech culture to that point. This was not exactly a promising source for a play that became a world-wide phenomenon, and one of the most influential texts in the history of science fiction. But within three years of the first performance of R.U.R. in January 1921, it had been translated into 30 languages, and the new word "robot" had become so familiar that it was already being used in English newspapers of the time. Why it's on the list If you know the word "robot" it is because of this play. It is derived from the Czech word "robota", meaning forced labour, and the robots in the play were biological creations closer to cyborgs than the metal creatures that came to dominate sf. But it was here that robots entered the world's consciousness.

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Karel Ã?apek was a prolific journalist, playwright and critic. As Arthur Miller said: "There was no writer like him...prophetic assurance mixed with surrealistic humour and hard-edged social satire: a unique combination...he is a joy to read." This unique combination is not just evident in R.U.R., but also in his amazing science fiction novel, War With The Newts. Like R.U.R., this is a story about the way people exploit others, in this case a race of intelligent newts discovered on a remote Pacific island. At first the newts are enslaved by an industrialist, but eventually clashes start, and the newts begin to destroy the landmass in order to create more living room for themselves.

Science fiction isnât always meant to be comfortable or easy reading. Quite the opposite, any literature so based on ideas must challenge the reader, make them think differently (if only for as long as it takes to read the book), and that is what Octavia Butler did with her fiction. Being both black and a woman shines out in her work, which constantly makes us rethink our notions of gender and race. This pattern of daring us to think the unthinkable comes out particularly in the three volumes, Dawn, Adulthood Rites and Imago that make up this sequence, later retitled Lilithâs Brood. It starts with military adventurers unleashing a nuclear war that wipes out most of Earth. The few survivors are rescued by an alien race, the Oankali. The Oankali are physically repulsive, instead of eyes, ears and other familiar sense organs, their bodies are covered with tentacles with which they perceive the world. Moreover, they have three sexes, male, female, and a third sex, ooloi, who are able to directly manipulate genetic material. When, centuries later, the humans are roused from stasis, they find the Oankali have made the Earth habitable again. The Oankali are ready to help the humans survive on the planet without their old technology, but in return they want to interbreed and raise a hybrid race. The balance between the repulsiveness of the aliens and the survival of humanity lies at the heart of the work. When the Oankali and the humans do settle on the renewed Earth, the ooloi make sure that humans are infertile so that the only children born are hybrids. This leads to inevitable tensions between the two races until, by the end of the trilogy, the genetic value of the hybrid race is proved.  Why It Made the List Octavia Butler received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the PEN American Center and a MacArthur Genius Grant, which shows how highly regarded her work was. And this really is a genius of a story that makes you think harder than just about any other science fiction.

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The themes that run through all of Octavia Butlerâs work are perhaps at their clearest in Kindred, a time travel story in which a black woman from the present finds herself back in 19th century Maryland, where she meets Alice, a black woman who was born free but forced into slavery, and Rufus, a vicious white slaveholder, both of whom prove to be her ancestors.I

f you are interested in the ways that biology can shape us, you should also try A Door into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski. Set on a world entirely covered by water, the inhabitants of Shora are all women, who use genetic engineering to control the ecology of their world. But when contact with an alien race threatens their society, they have to find out if someone from outside can adopt to their way of life in order to protect their world from invasion. A Door into Ocean won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.
If Xenogenesis explores the emergence of posthumanity through exogamy, Blood Music explores it through infection. A renegade biotechnologist faces having his research shut down, so he injects himself with the “noocytes” he has created. These are biological computers that quickly multiply inside his body, and then become self aware. At first the noocytes improve his health, but in time they don’t just take over the researcher, but everyone else they can infect, until the whole of North America becomes one biosphere. Why it’s on the list: Expanded from an original novelette that won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, Blood Music is both a terrifying and an exhilarating account of how something so small can have such a monumental effect.

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Greg Bear also dealt with nanotechnology in Queen of Angels and its sequel, Slant. In the near future, nanotechnology has been used in psychotherapy so that now the vast majority of people have gone through the technique that ensures they are well-integrated, happy and content. Then a famous writer commits a gruesome murder, the sort of crime that should not exist in this therapied world. At the same time, an AI operating a space probe discovers signs of life around Alpha Centauri and simultaneously achieves artificial intelligence.  The two novels together tell a fascinating story in which questions of identity, who we are and how we got there, are always central.

Bear has also written some monumental hard sf, of which the best is probably Eon, in which a mysterious asteroid comes close to earth and is revealed to contain mysterious tunnels and long-abandoned cities, and at the end the corridor opens out way beyond the physical limits of the asteroid, taking us into an extraordinary pocket universe.

The Commonwealth Saga is a vast, sprawling space opera that is spread over several novels and short stories. In a precursor to the main series, Misspent Youth, a rejuvenation procedure and memory crystals allow the people of the Commonwealth to live virtually forever. But the series really gets going with Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained, which are set some 300 years later when humans have discovered wormhole technology which has allowed them to colonise scores of planets across hundreds of light years. Then astronomers discover that two distant stars have been enclosed within Dyson Spheres virtually simultaneously.When a ship is sent to investigate, they unleash an alien race that believes the only way to secure its own future is to wipe out every other sentient creature in the universe. What follows is a desperate, devastating war in which the humans are finally able to lock the aliens within their Dyson Spheres once more, but only at tremendous cost.Set 1200 years after these events, the Void Trilogy, The Dreaming Void, The Temporal Void and The Evolutionary Void take the story further with an object called the Void at the heart of the galaxy. Although the Void resembles a black hole, it is not a natural object, and the Raiel believe it threatens all life in the galaxy. So when an expedition from the Commonwealth wants to enter the Void, it sets in motion all sorts of conflicts.Most recently, The Abyss Beyond Dreams is the first of two books set between the original Commonwealth series and the Void Trilogy. It concerns an attempt to infiltrate the Void and rescue humans trapped there, only to discover that the laws of physics are different and the key to escape is held by a race of merciless killers. Why It Made the List"Space Opera doesn't get much more epic," one reviewer said at the end of the Void Trilogy. A cast of thousands, a vast span of time and space, spectacular storytelling, science fiction really doesn't get much meatier than this.

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Peter Hamilton specialises in what Brian Aldiss called "wide-screen baroque", big sweeping sagas that guarantee the gosh-wow effect. And you'll find it just as much in his other great epic, The Night's Dawn Trilogy. These three huge novels, The Reality Dysfunction, The Neutronium Alchemist and The Naked God, along with a collection of stories, A Second Chance at Eden, are set in a distant future of sentient cities, nanonics, faster than light drives and a host of other amazing technologies. But in this galaxy-spanning future, humanity finds itself at war with its own dead, who are returning to life through a form of possession.

Red Rising is the kind of story that takes traditional science fiction ideas, mixing them with allegory and metaphor, and then puts it all together in a form that emphasizes strong character development and tight plotting. Here, we are given a strictly-enforced division between people of different ‘colors’. The elite are the golds, while the reds toil as workers beneath the surface of Mars, mining helium-3 so that the golds can terraform the Red Planet. Class tensions burn, and Darrow, a Red whose wife was hanged for treason, is disguised as a Gold to infiltrate and bring them down from within. The shades of The Hunger Games are obvious, but Brown manages to infuse a lot more roman mythology, and an impressive amount of tactical detail in the warring fortresses maintained by the Houses. The battle between the Houses is incredible, especially when viewed in light of classic science fiction works like Dune, only put into a context that appeals to newer readers of the genre. Those battles and intrigue show that Red Rising is steeped in the military science fiction tradition. Why it’s on the list One of the most popular novels of the last few years, and one that will appeal to lovers of science fiction of all forms.

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For more action-packed dystopian science fiction that's going to captivate YA readers, the obvious choice is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. In a post-apocalyptic America ruled by tyranny, 12 boys and 12 girls are chosen by lot each year to take part in a televised fight to the death. Over the course of the two sequels, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, the victory of our heroine Katniss in the Hunger Games turns into a rebellion to overturn the oppressive government.

You can't help but compare Red Rising to Ender's Game -- a group of talented youngsters forced into military games of life and death to prove their competence. Absolutely read Ender's Game if you like Red Rising.

Billy Pilgrim was unstuck in time. It sounds like a fairly conventional time travel story. But this is Kurt Vonnegut, and nothing he wrote was ever conventional. In fact, the novel opens with a chapter that lays out how Vonnegut came to write the novel, so we know from the start that this is a true story with an exaggeratedly fictional overlay.Vonnegut was in the American Army in 1944. Captured during the Battle of the Bulge, he was imprisoned near the ancient city of Dresden. He was in the city during the notorious allied bombing raid that resulted in a devastating firestorm, and he had to help with rescue details and clearing up afterwards. Those experiences are at the core of the novel.Vonnegut's alter ego in the novel is Billy Pilgrim. Young and naïve during the war, he goes on to become anoptometrist, have a not particularly happy marriage, and be kidnapped by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. But because he is unstuck in time, he has no control over the sequence in which he experiences these events. Although he returns again and again to the war, he will then abruptly shift to his imprisonment on Tralfamadore with a pornographic movie star, or the tragi-comic experience of his wife dying of carbon-monoxide poisoning as a result of a car crash as she rushed to visit him in hospital, or his earlier introduction to the works of science fiction writer Kilgore Trout.The result is one of the most intoxicating novels of all time, a smorgasbord of science fiction and comedy, memoir and tragedy. So it goes. Why It Made the ListSlaughterhouse Five regularly appears on lists of the 100 best novels of the 20th century, and if you ever go to Dresden you can take a Vonnegut Tour of the actual Slaughterhouse Five. It's the blend of the real and the fictional, the terrible and the hilarious that makes this a totally unforgettable novel.

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The Sirens of Titan is the novel that introduced us to the Tralfamadorians. After Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut tended to distance himself from science fiction, but before that he was a very highly regarded sf novelist. And The Sirens of Titan is the novel that made his reputation. There is someone cut loose in time, in this instance trapped in a �¢chrono-synclastic infundibulum�¢; there�¢s a war between Mars and Earth that is dotted through the narrative; and there is a Tralfamadorian who has been stuck on Titan for hundreds of thousands of years. It turns out that the whole of human history has been manipulated in order to get an earthman to Titan with the small part necessary to repair the Tralfamadorian craft. Full of sly, cynical humour, surreal juxtapositions, and a jaundiced view of humanity, this is another novel that demands to be read.
In the early 1920s, the manuscript of Zamiatin's novel, We, was smuggled out of Soviet Russia to be published in the West. One of the people who reviewed that novel was George Orwell, who would later write his own version of the story in 1984. But the novel that came first, and according to some critics the better book, was We.The One State, a dictatorial world government, everyone lives and works in glass buildings so that the secret police can see everything that they do. Like Jeremy Bentham's idea of the Panopticon, everyone must behave because at any moment they might be under observation. It is a world where there is no such thing as individuality, everyone wears identical clothing and people are known only by numbers. D-503 is an engineer on the spaceship that is meant to carry the rule of the One State to other planets. He meets a woman, I-330, who is a free spirit disobeying the normal rules of the One State. D-503 is fascinated by her and so cannot bring himself to denounce her to the secret police. He finds himself drawn into a rebellion against the state, but after an operation that removes all human imagination and emotion he becomes a fervent devotee of the Great Benefactor. Why It Made the ListWeis one of the greatest of all dystopias, a wonderful novel that helped to inspire Brave New World, 1984 and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. It is hard to imagine the dystopian fiction of the twentieth century without We.

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1984 by George Orwell, which you will find elsewhere on this list, is a novel whose details echo much of what occurs in We.

It is the summer of 1816. Mary Wollstonecraft is 18, and is travelling through Europe with her lover of two years, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. The couple arrive in Geneva in May to stay with Lord Byron, who has rented a villa there along with his mistress, Claire Claremont, and his young doctor, John Polidori. But it turns out to be a miserable summer, and they spend the rainy evenings telling each other ghost stories. Then, they challenge each other to make up new stories. Polidori produces The Vampyre, a precursor of Dracula. Mary, after a nightmare, and recalling the current experiments by Galvani, comes up with Frankenstein. The novel was published, anonymously, two years later, then a revised edition under her name appeared in 1831.The novel is the story of a young and impatient scientist, Victor Frankenstein who, experimenting with electricity, manages to bring life back to dead flesh. He makes a living being from bits of dead men, but he sees the creature as ugly and so abandons it. Alone and terrifying anyone who sees it, the creature still manages to teach itself to speak and to read, and eventually he seeks out Frankenstein to persuade him to make a mate. Frankenstein agrees, but destroys the female before animating her; in revenge, the creature kills Frankenstein's fiancÃée on the eve of their wedding. Eventually the two, creator and created, disappear into the wastes of the North Pole. Why It Made the ListAccording to Brian Aldiss, Frankenstein was the first science fiction novel. Even if you don't accept this, there's no denying that it was one of the most influential books in the entire history of the genre. Everything from Jeckyll and Hyde to Isaac Asimov's I, Robot, owe a debt to Frankenstein.

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Frankenstein has been called the first science fiction novel, but there are several other contenders for that title. For instance, you might try Utopia by Thomas More, the original work about a perfect land, and a book that has been even more influential than Frankenstein.

Or there's The Man in the Moone by Francis Godwin, about an anti-hero shipwrecked on a remote island, who tries to escape by building carriage powered by wild geese. But the geese, as it was then believed, migrated to the Moon, so he is swept along, experiencing weightlessness along the way, and then discovering a noble society on the moon.

Or, again, there's The Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish, in which a lady is kidnapped by pirates, abandoned at the North Pole, finds another world joined to ours at the pole, and in time becomes empress of that world.

Meanwhile, Frankenstein has inspired very many books as sequels or variations of the story. There is, for instance, Frankenstein Unbound by Brian Aldiss, in which a 21st century politician is transported back to Geneva in 1816 to meet both Mary Shelley and Victor Frankenstein.

Or there's Brittle Innings by Michael Bishop, in which the immortal creature survives the Arctic wastes and reappears in the Deep South of America during World War Two playing minor league baseball.

The concept for the book is rather involved. Peopleâs souls and memories can now be digitized and stored. Once stored, if something happens to you, the soul and memories can be put into a different body, which is now called a sleeve (and explains the title). Not everyone is in favor of eternal life in different bodies. The problem is that much like a computer back-up, the last few hours of data is lost since it has not been backed up as of yet. Thatâs the situation for Laurens Bancroft, whose death is labeled a suicide, but he thinks that someone deliberately killed him. He hires Kovacs who has been trained as a member of an elite military group and now works as a detective. The book is violent, since Kovacs was trained to take a beating, but the bookâs hook is worth the violence. Why It Made the List For starters Netflix announced that this will be a 10 episode series in 2016. It also won the Philip K. Dick Best Novel award when it was released. Read It If You Likecyberpunk, dystopian societies.

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I would suggest the works of Philip K. Dick, since this book won the award named after him. Dick had numerous dystopian societies.

In the 1960s, when overpopulation was a common worry for the future, it was often said that the entire population of the world could stand on the Isle of Wight. John Brunner imagines a future in which it would take a much bigger island to accommodate the world's population.The book is a kaleidoscopic account of life in this bustling, busy, crowded world. To capture the clamour of it all, Brunner adopted the technique that John Dos Passos used in his great modernist trilogy, USA. So, in the sections headed "Context" we find newspaper headlines, classified ads, extracts from books that give us an idea of all the different things going on in the world. The sections headed "The Happening World" are just a mass of single sentences: a line of description, an overheard remark, part of a conversation, all the noise of the world that is going on around us all the time. "Tracking with Close-Ups" gives us brief glimpses of what minor characters are doing, or a glimpse of events away from the main action. Finally the main storyline is contained in the sections headed "Continuity".Throughout it all we get a dramatic sense of the impact of high population. Society is fracturing, eugenics legislation is being introduced, extremist politics is on the rise, there are shortages and wars and terrorist atrocities and advances in bioengineering. At the heart of it all, a big multinational corporation is in the process of taking over a small African country, while an American spy is investigating a technological breakthrough in South East Asia.No work of science fiction before this had been so inventive, so exciting, so engaged with the modern world. And it is still a damned good book that feels every bit as fresh and as new as it ever did. Why It Made the ListThis novel made John Brunner the first ever British writer to win a Hugo Award for Best Novel, and it also won the BSFA Award and the French Prix Tour-Apollo. Even today it is still being acclaimed for its originality and its dazzling accomplishment. It remains one of the great sf novels.

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Stand on Zanzibar was the first of four novels that Brunner wrote that changed the way we looked at science fiction, because they presented crowded, clotted worlds where the background was as important and as fully realised as anything in the foreground.

The Jagged Orbit is set in a future America where racial tensions are at breaking point, and a major corporation is busy trying to sell arms to both sides at once, fomenting war in order to improve their business. It won the BSFA Award.

The Sheep Look Up is another dystopia, this time concerned with damage to the environment. At a time when corporations effectively control the government of the United States, pollution has got so bad that it results in poor health, poor sanitation, poor food supply and, eventually, civil unrest.

The Shockwave Rider is recognised as one of the ancestors of cyberpunk, it is also the novel that introduced the idea of a computer virus, though in the novel it is called a "worm". It is a novel about future shock, in which a programming genius uses his computer skills to go on the run in a world dominated by computer surveillance.

For other novels that confront issues of overpopulation, you should also check out The World Inside by Robert Silverberg, in which people live in three kilometre high tower blocks where order is only maintained by everyone sharing everything, including sex (it is considered a crime to refuse any invitation for sex). It's a brilliant picture of a very disturbing world.

Another classic of overpopulation is Make Room! Make Room!by Harry Harrison (which was filmed as Soylent Green). It's set in a future New York that is so crowded that water and food are in ever shorter supply, people have to share single room apartments, and theft and rioting are daily events.

Another novel that makes brilliant use of John Dos Passos's structure is 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson. Using extracts from science journals, political journalism, history books and more, Robinson creates an extraordinarily vivid picture of everyday life three centuries from now when humanity has spread out across the solar system but the Earth is suffering from ecological collapse. The immediacy of the technique really makes it feel like we are there in the city that rolls around Mercury on rails, or in the hollowed-out asteroids that travel between the planets, or when long-extinct animals are returned to earth. 2312 won the Nebula Award.

Queen City Jazz was the first novel by Kathleen Ann Goonan, and the first volume in her Nanotech Quartet, which deals with a future America radically transformed by nanotechnology. In this first volume, it seems as if the world has suffered a bizarre apocalypse, with exotic creatures and plants all over the place, and with an unexplained Silence imposed upon the world. The heroine, Verity, is a clone who sets out on a quest to resuscitate her dead boyfriend and also to find her telepathic dog. The quest continues in the second volume, Mississippi Blues, reaching its climax in a transformed New Orleans. The third volume, Crescent City Rhapsody, is a prequel to the series, detailing the gradual sequence of events that led to the nanotech transformations and also to the imposition of the Silence. Finally, in the fourth volume, Light Music, we learn that all that has happened is not a catastrophe but a moment of transcendence, as humanity prepares to take its place among the stars.As the titles of the four volumes indicate, each bookrecapitulates the rhythm of a different style of music. But what we mostly remember from the books is visual, the richness of colour and life that is a direct result of the nanotech transformations wrought in the different novels. This is a world you will not forget. The Nanotech Quartet has received glowing praise from a host of top sf writers, ranging from Joe Haldeman and Gregory Benford to Kim Stanley Robinson and William Gibson. It's a rich and delirious story that introduced us to the notion of nanopunk.

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There's jazz underlying her two most recent novels also, In War Times, which won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, and its sequel, This Shared Dream. In the first, Goonan used her own father's genuine wartime diaries as the core of a story about an army engineer stationed in Germany at the end of the war who is given access to mysterious technology that he can't quite get to work and that seems to have strange effects. He continues working on it in the post-war years and eventually discovers it is a way of changing the past. In the sequel, his children recall their mother disappearing when she set off to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy, without quite understanding the nature of the alternate history they now inhabit and the forces arranged against them.

During the 1950s and 60s, as the Cold War constantly threatened to heat up into nuclear exchanges, science fiction writers more and more turned to imagining a post-apocalyptic world. This novel, the only one that Miller published in his lifetime, is surely one of the absolute best.It starts some 600 years after the nuclear holocaust that is known as the Flame Deluge. The survivors had set out to destroy all learning, fearing that it would lead to a return of the forbidden nuclear science, but a Jewish electrician, Leibowitz, had founded a religious body dedicated to preserving books from before the war. Now a young monk in the Order discovers an ancient abandoned fallout shelter with writings that may have belonged to Leibowitz himself, including a handwritten shopping list. The survival of these documents is seen as emblematic of the survival of humanity itself.600 years later, and a renaissance is just beginning. But as the monks of Saint Leibowitz share their accumulated knowledge with local leaders, they find themselves being used as pawns in a war of expansion. Another 600 years pass, and scientific knowledge has returned more or less to where it was before the Flame Deluge. But the political differences and petty wars continue, and it soon becomes obvious that nuclear weapons will again be used. So the Order of Saint Leibowitz builds a starship in order to escape the holocaust and continue their mission of preserving knowledge. A Canticle for Leibowitz won the Hugo Award. Miller was one of the few sf writers of the time to use religious themes in his science fiction, and it helps to give this novel an intellectual depth and an emotional richness that are quite exceptional. This is regularly and correctly recognised as a masterpiece.

Books in St. Leibowitz Series (1)

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Shortly before his death, Miller wrote a sequel, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, which was completed by Terry Bisson. Unfortunately, like many belated sequels, it doesn't really have the power or the quality of the original.

Among the post-apocalyptic stories from around the same time, you should also check out Davy by Edgar Pangborn, a beautifully written and quite enchanting account of a young man growing up in a pseudo-medieval society centuries after an atomic war, where the all-powerful Church actively suppresses technology.

Whenever you put a list of books together, you'll always get disagreements. But this could well be the most controversial choice of all, because J.G. Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition has always been controversial, ever since the stories that make it up were first published in New Worlds.The stories that make up The Atrocity Exhibition were what Ballard called "condensed novels", stories that were reduced to intense, often hallucinogenic images, with much of the normal connecting material we expect in fiction removed. The effect was maddening and intriguing, flashes of lucidity and passages of weird insanity. Put together, they constitute an account of a descent into madness brought on by the incessant imagery of the modern world.The protagonist, if we assume it is the same character across the different stories, is variously called Traven or Travis, Talbot or Talbert; he is a doctor in a mental hospital who is himself going mad. The mass media and the cult of celebrity, events such as the death of Marilyn Monroe, the assassination of President Kennedy, the space race and the threat of war, all contribute to his psychosis, and he is constantly trying to recast them in ways that make sense to him. Some of the condensed novels, for instance, have titles such as "The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race," "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan" and "Plan for the Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy" demonstrate how violent these delusions are, as if only the start of World War III will make sense to him. No work better represents the character of the New Wave in science fiction, a literature of radical experiments (not always successful, but generally very interesting), and a literature in which the landscape of the mind ("inner space") is at least as important as anything in the outer world. This is challenging, disturbing, often irrational, and one of the most extraordinary achievements in the whole of science fiction.

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Ballard wrote a load of books that easily merit a place in any Top 100. These are just a few of the works that we offer as Alternative Choices.

Crash is every bit as controversial as The Atrocity Exhibition. One of the stories in The Atrocity Exhibition was called "Crash!", and not long after Ballard organised an exhibition of Crashed Cars as well as making a short film on the topic. The novel brings all of these ideas together. The narrator is called James Ballard, and following a car crash he comes into contact with a group of people who become sexually aroused by staging car crashes that replicate those in which celebrities were involved.

Vermillion Sands is a collection of stories concerning the rich and decadent people in a luxurious resort, where various weird art forms are practiced, including sculpting clouds ("The Cloud-Sculptors of Coral D"), singing plants ("Prima Belladonna") and mood-sensitive architecture ("The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista").

The Crystal World is the fourth of four exotic catastrophe novels that Ballard wrote early in his career â The Wind from Nowhere, The Drowned World and The Drought being the others. In this, a doctor is making his way into the African jungle while all around him the jungle and its creatures are being crystalised (an effect that recalls Ian McDonald's later Chaga novels).

In a move that most of us would think is unprecedented in the science fiction world of famous authors, Larry Niven has done something unheard of: admitted to an error in his plot. Niven wrote, 'If you own a first paperback edition of Ringworld, it's the one with the mistakes in it. It's worth money.' Louis Gridley Wu celebrates his 200th birthday at the start of the novel. It's 2850 AD, so this age isn't particularly unusual. But as the vampires in Ann Rice's world found, when one gets to this age, one gets rather fucking bored with life and its experiences. Louis decides to take a trip beyond Known Spaceship on his own. Nessus, a Pierson's Puppeteer, offers him a spot on an exploration voyage with Speak (a Kzin) and a young human female, Teela Brown. They travel to Ringworld, an artificial ring about one million miles world and the diameter of Earth's orbit.They unsuccessfully try to contact the Ringworld but their ship is disabled by its defense system. With important systems on their ship destroyed, the crew has to find out how to get back into space as well as explore Ringworld. Forced to land due to sickness, they encounter Ringworld's indigenous people who seem to be human and living in a primitive human manner. They mistakenly think the crew is the creators of the Ring, treating them as gods. Proving it's never good to get in with fundamentalists, the Ringworlders go a bit feral. If you think things are already intense, plots, secrets and machinations are revealed and inter-species love happens. This is definitely one of the most intriguing space opera novels written and well worth your time. And did we mention that Ringworld won the Nebula, Hugo and Locus Awards?

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Niven wrote three sequels to Ringworld, The Ringworld Engineers, which is the best of them, The Ringworld Throne and Ringworld's Children, but as usual none of them have the thrill or the sense of wonder that the original generated. There's also a bunch of related novels that Niven co-wrote with Edward M. Lerner, but unless you're a completist you can probably leave these alone.

However, some of the earlier Known Space works, such as The World of Ptaavs, Protector and the collection Neutron Star are well worth reading.

However, our Alternative Choice is the first novel Niven co-wrote with Jerry Pournelle, The Mote in God's Eye. This is one of the great stories of first contact, a big, rambling space opera full of twists and sudden discoveries that will keep you on the edge of your seat all the way through a long book. An encounter with an alien craft sends a human expedition to the sun known as the Mote, where they discover a curious race of technologically advanced aliens who, at first, seem very peaceful. Slowly, however, we discover the devastatingly violent secret that lies behind this fa�§ade.

If you love the idea of the Ringworld, you should also try Orbitsville by Bob Shaw. The Ringworld is essentially a slice taken out of a Dyson Sphere, but Orbitsville is a full Dyson Sphere. The story, which won the BSFA Award, and its two sequels, Orbitsville Departure and Orbitsville Judgement, concern the mystery of a habitable shell completely surrounding a star, and what it might mean for the humans who discover it.

It began as a radio series on the BBC. It was quickly adapted for television (with many of the same cast), and much later there came a film version (though the less said about that the better). But it is now probably better known as the novel, which became a trilogy, which in turn became a trilogy in five books, only now there's a sixth book as well (not to mention the various towels and computer games and stage shows and so on).What it is, is easily the funniest work of science fiction ever written. Frankly, if you don't laugh at this, you're not going to laugh at anything.We all know the story, even if Douglas Adams did keep making changes in each new version of the work. Arthur Dent wakes up one morning to find his house is about to be demolished, but as he tries to protect his home he discovers that his best friend, Ford Prefect, is actually an alien from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse, and that the Earth is about to be demolished to make way for a hyperspatial expressway. From that point, Arthur is whisked away on a series of increasingly absurd adventures that include Vogon poetry, the Infinite Improbability Drive, ZaphodBeeblebrox former President of the Galaxy and wanted criminal, Marvin the Paranoid Android, the answer to life, the universe and everything, which happens to be 42 but they forgot to ask what the question was. And on, and on. Don't panic, the whole thing is infinitely improbable and gloriously hilarious. Check it out. There isn't very much science fiction comedy because it's incredibly hard to do, and even harder to do well. This is on the list for the very simple reason that it is laugh out loud funny whether or not you're an sf fan, and that makes it just about unique.

Books in Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy Series (7)

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Douglas Adams died ridiculously young and didn't write anywhere near as many books as we'd like. But he did have ideas for a sixth Hitchhiker book shortly before he died, and that book, And Another Thing ��¢��¦, was written by Eoin Colfer. Okay, it's not Adams, but it's a worthy conclusion to the series.

As for Adams's own work, you really don't want to miss Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and its sequel, The Long, Dark, Tea-Time of the Soul, which Adams himself described as "a kind of ghost-horror-detective-time-travel-romantic-comedy-epic, mainly concerned with mud, music and quantum mechanics." Even if they're not as good as the Hitchhiker series, they're still head and shoulders above anything else you're likely to come across.

If you want a taste of other science fiction comedies, it's worth taking a look at The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison, about an interstellar criminal who finds himself working for an elite law enforcement agency headed by the galaxy's greatest crook. The first book is pretty good, but there were endless sequels that each get progressively worse.

And don't forget that before he turned to fantasy, Terry Pratchett wrote Strata. It features a flat planet very like the Discworld, but this is actually taking the piss out of Ringworld. And it's by Pratchett, so you know it's going to be funny.

Synners are jacked-in outlaws, hooked on the astonishing worlds of virtual space as an escape from the grim, depressing industrial reality around them. But, hot-wired in to cyberspace, they have unleashed a wildfire virus that doesn't just trash the system; it can trash your brain as well.The battle between streetwise cyberpunks and the emergent AI that is starting to kill off their friends and colleagues makes for one hell of ride. It's a world overwhelmed by the sheer noise of what is going on, an incessant pounding of information and rock music and advertising that makes for the dark, mean, dystopian streets of this thriller. A vision of the future that feels far too close to reality today.Intricately plotted, fast paced, utterly convincing, this is the epitome of the cyberpunk thriller. Synners won the Arthur C. Clarke Award. It is everything that cyberpunk set out to be but so rarely achieved, a brilliant thriller and a chilling vision of a digital world not that far from our own.

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Pat Cadigan is one of the most important science fiction writers of the last 30-odd years, so it is, frankly, a disgrace and a mystery that she didn't win a Hugo Award until she picked one up for her novelette, "The Girl Who Went Out For Sushi", in 2013. But at least she made up for this oversight by being the first person to win two Arthur C. Clarke Awards. Which brings us to our Alternative Choice.

Fools was the novel that Cadigan wrote after Synners, and it is filled with the same dense detail, the same confident handling of its digital future, and the same ability to whip up a gripping adventure plot. It's set in a world in which memories can be bought and sold. When one woman wakes up with a memory of a murder that she didn't commit, she has to find out who's memory she has, while trying to dodge the assassins who are now chasing her. But in this world everyone can have several different personalities lodged in the brain and it's not easy even for Marva to know who she is.

There aren't that many sf novels that give their name to an entire subgenre, but Jack Vance's The Dying Earth did just that.The original volume is a collection of loosely linked stories, set at a time when the Moon has disappeared, the sun is fading, and the various civilisations that still survive on the Earth have all collapsed into decadence. It's a bleak and a barren world, cold and grim, where monsters roam. Science has long since failed as a guiding principle for life on earth, and magic has reasserted itself, though much that seems most weird and strange might be the aging consequences of evolution and genetic engineering. Nevertheless, the role of magic in this far future world helps make The Dying Earth one of the defining works of science fantasy.The picture that emerges through this book and its sequels, The Eyes of the Overworld, Cugel's Saga and Rhialto the Marvellous, is of a world of unaccountable ruins, of marvellous technologies whose secrets have long since been lost, and of a fatalistic people who regard curiosity as highly suspect. Most of the stories that make up the series involve anti-heroes trying to steal or cheat, while all around them is an essentially uncaring world. Vance is a writer often given to rather ornate prose that you'll either love or hate, but for those who love it, he is undoubtedly one of the greatest of all science fiction writers. Much of his work has been influential, but these stories are particularly so.

Books in The Dying Earth Series (5)

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There have been many sequels by other hands to Vance's stories, perhaps the best of which is the Dying Earth story, A Quest for Simbilis by Michael Shea.

Many writers have written stories in the Dying earth subgenre, the most startling and innovative of which is The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe.

You should also check out the Dancers at the End of Time sequence by Michael Moorcock, a sequence of novels and stories of frankly variable quality which describes the adventures of decadent immortals at the end of time who indulge in elaborate games, petty duels, and extravagant romances.

Pavane is a sequence of linked stories set in the 1960s in a world in which the Spanish Armada had succeeded, Catholicism had defeated Protestantism, and the Church ruled Britain in a way that limited all technology. Although there are signs of modern life, such as road trains and semaphore signal stations that criss-cross the country, there is still a form of feudalism in place. The different stories each provide a vignette of ordinary life that together build up into a powerful and impressive portrait of the world.A young man operating a road train is cheated by his best friend, who attempts highway robbery. A signalman at a remote station is injured and as he lies dying is visited by a fairy (who did not flit from Britain with the coming of Protestantism). A monk who witnesses the tortures of the Inquisition starts to tour the country as an itinerant preacher recounting visions that seem to bear a resemblance to our own world. A young woman from a depressed and blackened town, sees a white boat that she imagines will be her passport to a better life, but it turns out to be smuggling forbidden technology and she ends up betraying it to the authorities. A woman related to the family who run the road train in the first story marries into the aristocracy, but discontent at the rule of the Church grows and she ends up leading a rebellion that may be doomed to failure. Keith Roberts was one of the finest writers ever to produce science fiction in Britain, his work is moving and vivid, with a wonderful evocation of landscape and a detailed knowledge of small, everyday technologies. All of which comes out in what many consider to be his best work and which the Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction rates as the finest of all alternate histories.

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Roberts was a brilliant writer who was at his best in linked stories that built into a novel and that worked as a kind of mosaic.

The Chalk Giants is another mosaic novel, more ambitious in scope though some would say less successful in detail than Pavane. It starts with a sad, lonely, failure of a man fleeing an unspecified catastrophe. Depending on how you choose to read it, he either succeeds in escaping to a refuge in southwest England, or is overtaken by the disaster and the rest of the novel is his dying vision. From this present, the novel shifts future history, pausing at the diseased and mutated victims of nuclear war, at a primitive community, at something equivalent to the dark ages, and at the arrival of an analogue of Christianity. The various components of the novel varyn in quality, but at their finest, such as the immediate post-apocalyptic "Monkey and Pru and Sal", they are easily among the best work of his career.

Alternative Choice
Roberts always worried about the way he had made the Church the villain of Pavane, and his later mosaic novel, Kiteworld, can be seen as a response to that. It is set in a post-catastrophe world in which watchmen on the borders are hoisted aloft on giant kites to watch for signs of "demons". The details of day to day life in a world that is slowly running down is what makes this such an effective novel. One of the constituent stories, "Kitemaster", won the BSFA Award.

Alternative Choice
One of the few novels he wrote, as opposed to collections of linked stories, was Gr�¡inne, which is largely autobiographical in detail, recounting his life in art school (Roberts was a very talented illustrator) and in advertising. But alongside this conventional, realist story there are persistent encounters with the titular femme fatale who leads the book eventually into a curious technological future. Gr�¡inne won the BSFA Award.

There's a long tradition of science fiction using crime story plots, but this is surely the most startling, the most original and the most satisfying of all.It begins with Inspector Borlu of the Besźel police investigating the murder of a foreign student. There are plenty of buildings around the site where she was found, but nobody there would have seen the murder, because the buildings are in UlQoma. Besźel and UlQoma share the same territory, but they are two separate cities, and by long tradition the inhabitants of one city do not see those in the other. They could be walking down the same street, and to the resident if one city it would appear empty and to the resident of the other city it would be crowded. This unseeing is rigidly enforced, not least by Breach, an extra police force that operates between the two cities and that has the power to make anyone who breaks its rules disappear.This is no problem for Borlu, not seeing UlQoma is second nature to him. Unfortunately, the more he investigates the crime, the more it involves both cities, and it leads Borlu to investigate things that are taken for granted, the underlying assumptions of both cities, the things that are not seen. The City and the City won China Miéville's third Arthur C. Clarke Award, along with a Hugo Award, BSFA Award, Locus Award, World Fantasy Award and a Kitschies Red Tentacle. It's an intriguing crime story, and an absolutely fascinating account of an extraordinary place.

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China Mi�©ville consistently employs multiple genres in his work, which is why his stories are so exciting and so original.

Alternative Choice
Perdido Street Station, which won his first Arthur C. Clarke Award, for instance, is a potent mixture of science fiction, horror, fantasy, steampunk and politics. It is set in the sprawling city of New Crobuzon, where all sorts of alien beings exist side by side. When an eccentric human scientist accidentally unleashes an horrific monster upon the city he has to find a way to stop it. The crowded police state with Victorian-era technology and curious magic is a creation that will hold any reader spellbound.

Anyone fascinated by the combination of crime story and science fiction in The City and the City might also want to look at Jack Glass by Adam Roberts. This is a very knowing combination of golden age science fiction and golden age detective story. Set in a distant future with the criminal and revolutionary Jack Glass as the central figure, the story is told in three parts. In the first he is imprisoned in an escape-proof prison situated within an asteroid, and manages to escape. In the second there is an apparently impossible murder, and he needs to find out how it was done. And the third is a classic locked room mystery relocated to outer space. Jack Glass won both the BSFA Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

Going further back, you might also want to check out The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov, in which a human detective and his robot partner investigate a murder that seems to have been committed by a robot, even though the three laws of robotics mean that that should be impossible.

The words have become so commonplace we hardly realise we are using them: Big Brother is watching you, the Ministry of Truth, Room 101, Newspeak, thoughtcrime. George Orwell gave us a language for describing our fear of any controlling and intrusive government.Winston Smith is a minor clerk in a future where the world's three great power blocs are constantly at war with one another, though alliances shift daily, and his job is to rewrite old newspaper articles so that the historical record always supports whatever is today's party line. It is a world where everyone is under surveillance all the time; the ubiquitous telescreens are always on, always spouting the party line, and always watching you. Winston meets a colleague, Julia, and realises that they both share the same distrust of the regime. They begin an affair that would be forbidden by the state, but the agents of the state are watching them all the time. Eventually they are arrested and Winston is taken to Room 101 to be tortured into betraying Julia and swearing his love for Big Brother. Nineteen Eighty-Four is regularly listed among the best novels in the English language; it is also one of the scariest. No other account of a totalitarian regime has so captured our imaginations. It's a chilling book, but absolutely brilliant and unforgettable.

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Animal Farm is Orwell's other great dystopian novel. Disguised as a rather charming fable about animals taking over the running of their farm, it is really a chilling account of Soviet Russia as the pigs, particularly Napoleon, become all-powerful rulers indistinguishable from the humans they have displaced. And the great rallying cry: all animals are created equal, is subtly changed to read: all animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others.

We by Yevgeny Zamiatin (which appears elsewhere on this list) is the inspiration behind much of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (which also appears elsewhere on this list) is the other great dystopian novel of the period.

One by David Karp is set in a near-future America that believes itself to be approaching perfection, though it is in fact a dystopia. An incredibly complex bureaucracy is in place to keep control of all citizens by encouraging a vast network of informers, but when one informer falls foul of the system he finds himself rounded up and subjected to torture.

Alternative Choice
The Trial by Franz Kafka gave us the word "Kafkaesque" for any nonsensical bureaucracy which gives no reasonable way forward. Although it is a contemporary mainstream novel, the way that the protagonist, Josef K, finds himself arrested for an unspecified crime by agents of an unspecified force, and brought to trial in the attic of a huge tenement building where the procedures remain ever mysterious to him, all adds up to a powerful and haunting dystopia.

Carl Sagan was a prolifically talented astronomer, astrophysicist and astrobiologist, as well as being one of the best science popularisers of his age. He was particularly important in considering questions relating to extraterrestrial life: his work was central to demonstrating how hot the surface temperature of Venus is; he demonstrated that amino acids could be generated from base chemicals by radiation; and he was responsible for the messages intelligible to extraterrestrial intelligence that were aboard Pioneer and Voyage. And all of that experience he poured into his only work of fiction.Contact is about what might happen if humanity starts to receive messages from more intelligent extraterrestrial life. Ellie Arroway is a researcher on SETI when she discovers a message coming from the Vega system. Gradually, Ellie and her colleagues learn to decode the message, and find it is the plans for a space vehicle. When it is built, Ellie is one of the five passengers who are transported via wormholes to a place near the heart of the Milky Way, where she meets an alien who appears to her as her dead father. On her return to Earth, Ellie is able to prove that intelligence is built into the structure of the universe itself.This really is science fiction: that is, fiction with real science built in. Reading this is like getting a glimpse of how interstellar communication might actually work, and what the actual ramifications of contact with another race might be. It's the sort of novel that makes you thrilled about science again. Contact won a Locus Award for First Novel, but it's not really about awards. It's on the list simply because this is the best example of how science and fiction can meet and work together.

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Science fiction is crowded with stories about first contact with aliens, but from The War of theWorlds by H.G. Wells onwards, they've mostly been about which side can most effectively destroy the other side. Stories about learning to understand the alien are much rarer.

You might, however, want to check out Stories of My Life by Ted Chiang. It's a collection of short stories, all of which are excellent, but the title story, "Story of My Life", is about a language specialist brought in to learn to communicate with aliens. The aliens have two languages, one spoken and one written, and when the specialist finally learns to understand the written language it actually affects the way she perceives time. The story won both a Nebula Award for Best Novella and a Sturgeon Award.

After a whole string of stories about global warming, biotechnology, gene hacking and other ways we can threaten our global food supply, which together virtually defined the new subgenre of biopunk, Paolo Bacigalupi then took the ideas another stage further with this stunning novel.It's two centuries from now, the sea levels have risen, fossil fuels are exhausted, and biotechnology has created as plagues and pests that have devastated world food supplies. So any genetically pure stock of seeds is a precious resource. Thailand may have just such a stock, and the AgriGen agent in Bangkok will do anything to get his hands on it.This is the setting for a story that involves a sexually-exploited humanoid "Windup Girl", a rogue GM elephant, a deadly new plague, smuggling, extortion, murder, embezzlement, and a coup.It's a vivid, vicious, terrifying and utterly convincing portrait of the future. You'll keep reading because there's so much going on you just have to know what happens next, but every time you put the book down you shiver and think that's exactly what the world is going to be like. The Windup Girlwon the Nebula Award, the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, and tied for the Hugo Award with China Miéville'sThe City and the City. It's a fabulous novel that will keep you up nights.

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It's worth reading this novel alongside Bacigalupi'sbiopunk stories, which are collected in Pump Six and Other Stories, which won a Locus Award for best Collection, and contains such seminal biopunk stories as "The Calorie Man", "The People of Slag and Sand" and "Yellow Card Man" which serves as a prequel to The Windup Girl.

If you're interested in biopunk, you also need to check out Ribofunk by Paul Di Filippo, a collection of stories in which he argues thatthe next revolution â the only one that really matters â will be in the field of biology.

Also worth checking out is Heavy Weather by Bruce Sterling, in which one of the consequences of climate change is not just the effect on our food supply, but also the effect on our weather. It's a chilling novel in which, in the very near future, the planet is lashed by storms of unprecedented ferocity.

There were the golosses of millicents telling them to shut it and you could sloshy the zvook of like somebody being tolchocked real horrorshow. Alex and his droogs are out for a good time, which in their case means an evening of ultra-violence and rape. Which is great until the droogs turn on Alex and leave him out cold at the scene of a murder. So he ends up in prison, where they offer him a way out: the Ludovico Technique. This is supposed to turn him into a good, clean, model citizen; it's a sort of aversion therapy which makes him sick at the thought of violence. Unfortunately, it also makes him sick at the music of Beethoven, which used to be the one good thing in his life before. And when they let him out of prison he doesn't have any defences when he meets up again with his old gang, or with his former victims. Short, to the point and unrelenting; this is a book that's as hard hitting as its antihero. Told in a made-up language called Nadsat that combines bits of Russian criminal argot and rhyming slang, it takes you into a dystopian world that will leave you shocked and chilled. Yet at the end of it, as much as we hate Alex's casual attitude to violence, we end up asking ourselves whether it is morally right to deprive someone of their capacity for evil.   A Clockwork Orange has won prizes and been banned in almost equal measure. The bravura use of language means it never grows stale, and it provides a direct link into the mind of an extraordinary character.

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If there is one novel that matches the awesome inventive language of A Clockwork Orange it has to be Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban. Set far in the future after society has collapsed, it is told in a broken and deformed language that suits the setting:  On my naming day when I come 12 I to gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the laswyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen. Read it aloud, and you really get the sense of it, and the authentic voice of young Riddley, the tribal priest who interprets the messages of the "Gummint" communicated through Punch and Judy puppet shows. The novel won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, is perhaps the most original post-apocalyptic tale ever written, full of riddles and mysteries and echoes of things long past that pull you in and hold you enthralled.

Also, you shouldn't miss FeersumEndjinn by Iain M. Banks, a sharp and witty tale of the end of the Earth. The dead are digitally stored in the crypt, but as the Earth approaches "the Encroachment" that could end life on Earth, four characters within the vast edifice that is the crypt attempt to activate the fearsome engine of the title that could solve the problem. Part of the story is narrated by Bascule in a broken language that resembles text messaging: "Spoke wifErgatesthi ant who seditzjuss been wurkwurkwurk 4 u lately master Bascule, Y dont u ½ a holiday? & I agreed & that woz how we decided we otter go 2 c Mr Zoliparia in thi I-ball ovthi gargoyle Rosbrith."

Earth Abides is something of a rarity among the work of George R. Stewart. He wrote mostly biographies and studies of American history, and when he did write fiction, as in Storm or Fire, they tended to be accounts of natural disasters with few or no human characters. Earth Abides was not just the only work of science fiction he produced, it is also the only work that concentrates on human relationships. Yet it was recognised as a classic from the moment it appeared.Like Storm and Fire, Earth Abides is a novel of natural disaster, but the main focus of the novel is on showing how unfitting modern civilisation is for coping when things go wrong. Ish Williams is a resourceful young man out in a remote part of California who falls ill from a strange disease. He manages to pull through, but when he gets back to civilisation he finds that by far the greater proportion of the population has been killed by that same disease, and many of the survivors aren't coping very well. One is drinking himself to death, another couple seem to have gone mad, and so forth.Slowly, Ish begins to gather a small community around him, but as the conveniences of modern life break down the younger members of the community grow ever more suspicious, while reverting to old ways, like making bows and arrows or hunting with dogs. Eventually, in old age, Ish recognises that the old ways are gone for good and hopes that the new society will not get around to reinventing civilisation.(Although not a science fiction author, there is an oblique connection to the genre in the book. The name "Ish" is a reference to the Yahiindian, Ishi, who was the subject of anthropological work by Alfred Kroeber, the father of Ursula K. Le Guin.) Earth Abides is a classic that has barely been out of print since it was first published. It was one of the first works of science fiction to introduce ideas of ecology and anthropology to the genre, and still today it is recognised as one of the most influential of all science fiction works.

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The idea of a small community surviving a disaster by reverting to old ways while every modern convenience they have got used to stops working became a model for much of the post-apocalyptic fiction that appeared in the decade or so after Earth Abides. However, in most cases the apocalypse was not natural but nuclear.

One recent example that's well worth reading is Slow Apocalypse by John Varley. Set in and around Hollywood, it tells of a genetically manipulated virus that renders all of the world's oil unusable. Slowly, modern life grinds to a halt, communities must grow small simply to survive. It's a very modern take on Earth Abides, but that just shows the strength of the original and the power of this late variant.

Practically all of Cordwainer Smithâs fiction belongs within a future history that starts just a few years from now and extends for tens of thousands of years into the future. At the heart of this, and the core of his very best work, was the Instrumentality of Mankind, the body that ruled an elegant, utopian realm that extended across space. But what makes these stories interesting in posthuman terms is the Underpeople. These are genetically enhanced animals, such as the cat-derived CâMell in âThe Ballad of Lost CâMellâ or the dog-derived DâJoan in âThe Dead Lady of Clown Townâ, which are originally treated as slaves, but gradually revolt and win their freedom. By the time we come to the stories set furthest in the future, they are fully integrated into the social order. Why itâs on the list:One of the persistent themes of posthuman fiction is that the future does not belong to humankind. Time and again we are shown that something else will replace man, or at least share the world with our descendants. This may be robots or AIs, or, as here, it may be evolved or enhanced animals. And nobody has shown those enhanced animals with as much elegance and delight as Cordwainer Smith.

Books in Instrumentality Of Mankind Series (7)

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Apart from his spectacular stories, Cordwainer Smith wrote only one novel, Norstrilia, which is also set in the future of the Instrumentality of Mankind, and which is also eminently readable. The hero amasses the biggest fortune in the history of the universe thanks to stroon, a drug that allows people to live extended lifespans. He is so rich that he is rumoured to have bought Old Earth, the legendary home of humanity. Touring Earth in the company of the bewitching cat woman C'Mell, he puts his immense fortune towards campaigning for the rights of the under people.

If you are looking for other distinctive voices in science fiction, you would do well to try the stories of R.A. Lafferty, for instance in Nine Hundred Grandmothers or Does Anyone Else have Something Further to Add? Idiosyncratic, wacky, weird, his stories are funny but unsettling, as if the only way to make sense of what happened is to accept that the world doesn't make sense. In the superb, "Narrow Valley", for instance, an old indian preserves his land from unscrupulous dealers by folding the landscape so the valley can only be seen by those who know it's there. Or in "Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne" a group of scientists use a time machine to change the past, but because everything has changed they don't realise it was successful, so they try again, and again.

In the late 1960s stories suddenly started to appear from a writer no-one had heard of before, and no-one had met. But the stories were just too good, too quirky, too powerful to come from a complete novice. So all sorts of rumours began to spread. Because the stories came from Langley, Virginia, Harry Harrison decided that the author must work for the CIA. Robert Silverberg, meanwhile, declared that there was something ineluctably male about them, a view that, to be fair, most other people agreed with, even those who were in communication with the mysterious James Tiptree. Then, inevitably, the truth came out: Tiptree was really Alice Bradley Sheldon, daughter of a writer, who had worked analysing reconnaissance photographs during the war, had briefly been an unsuccessful chicken farmer, and was currently studying to become a psychologist. She was also the most original, most surprising and most powerful short story writer in the genre.Her Smoke Rose Up Forever is as close as we have to a definitive collection of her short stories. It includes all her award-winning fiction, including "The Screwfly Solution" which won the Nebula Award for Best Novelette and which suggests that male violence against women is actually the result of a virus; "The Girl Who Was Plugged In" which won the Hugo Award for Best Novella is a precursor of cyberpunk, it tells of a cruelly deformed girl who becomes a global media celebrity thanks to an avatar that she controls remotely; "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novella, it tells of the three male astronauts whose ship is somehow displaced in time, who return to Earth to find that all men have been wiped out and they have to come to terms with a peaceful all-female society; and "Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death" which won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story, which tells of an alien creature that tries to resist its violent primal urges.The collection also includes other classics such as "The Women Men Don't See", in which, following a plane crash in the Amazon, two women choose to go off with aliens rather than stay with their male companions; and "And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill's Side", which explores sexual obsession with the alien. Tiptree won a fistful of Hugo and Nebula Awards and was, for a while, the most celebrated writer in science fiction. Her work is individual, explores gender issues in a way that no earlier writer had ever done, and is consistently challenging and absorbing. You don't forget a Tiptree story.

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Her Smoke Rose Up Forever is a wonderful collection, but it doesn't come anywhere near to giving you all of Tiptree's inimitable stories, so you'd be very well advised to seek out all her original collections, especially Ten Thousand Light Years from Home, Warm Worlds and Otherwise, Star Songs of an Old Primate and Out of the Everywhere.

Tiptree was primarily a short story writer, but she did produce two novels. The better of them is probably Up the Walls of the World which describes a psychic invasion of Earth by aliens, while an entity larger than the solar system becomes tangentially involved. But to be honest, the novels really don't match the stories.

We all know what happens when aliens invade: there's a big fight and then the aliens are driven off, or humanity is reduced to servitude. Well, no. We've got enough experience of colonisation to know it's not usually like that. And the Aleutian Trilogy is the best work to date to consider alien invasion in the light of colonised and coloniser.In the first volume, White Queen, the Aleutians arrive quietly in Africa, but their arrival has severe political repercussions throughout the world. In particular, we see the world as exhausted, running down, and opposition to the mysterious, technologically advance newcomers is neither as complete nor as energetically pursued as most alien invasion stories would lead us to expect.By the second volume, North Wind, the Aleutians are more established but no less mysterious. One of the key features of this trilogy is that Jones has created truly alien aliens, beings whose motivations and intentions cannot readily be understood in human terms. But, typically, the human response to the invasion has been to splinter and war against themselves. We begin to see that one of the underlying themes in the trilogy is to reimagine gender terms. Now "men" refers to anyone, male or female, who is aggressive, attack-oriented; "women" refers to anyone who adopts a more peaceful, nurturing role; and there are "half-castes" who attempt to be as much like the Aleutians as it is possible to be.In the third volume, Phoenix Café, the aliens are preparing to leave, but humanity has become so dependent upon their masters that this loss of leadership could be devastating. The world has been transformed by the biotechnology that the Aleutians brought, while more and more humans are having themselves surgically altered to look as much like the aliens as possible. The inevitable conspiracy is more a sign of desperation than anything else, the colonised don't want to be free of the coloniser, they just want to remake themselves into their own image of the coloniser. White Queen won the James Tiptree Award, an indication that this is one of the finest works of science fiction that explores and rethinks gender issues. But it does so in a colonial context that makes it one of the most subtle, original and powerful works of alien invasion ever written.

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There's a pendant to the Aleutian Trilogy, though it is only obliquely connected to the original. Spirit, or the Princess of Bois Dormant is set long after the Aleutians have left. The Earth is now a place of emperors and warlords and grubby little wars, but it is also now a key player in interspatial politics. Spirit is, like Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination, The Count of Monte Cristo rewritten as space opera, though Jones is far more faithful to the original. We get the innocent victim of political skulduggery who is imprisoned for 20 years, but manages to escape against all the odds and in the process acquire an immense fortune which is used to exact revenge on all those responsible for the original betrayal. It's not as tight or as intriguing as the original trilogy, but it's still a fascinating book.

Much better is Divine Endurance, Jones's first novel for adults, set in a complex and despoiled South East Asia where matriarchies hold sway, but the arrival of an android called Chosen Among the Beautiful, and the cat, Divine Endurance, upsets the delicate power balance. Intricate political positions, changes in gender status, upsets to the status quo are consistent features in all her novels, perhaps most clearly shown in Kairos, set in a dystopian near-future Britain where fascism holds power, but in which a new drug literally changes reality.

If you are fascinated by the complex relationship between humans and aliens, colonised and colonisers, in the Aleutian Trilogy, you should also check out Sacrifice of Fools by Ian McDonald, in which sexually ambiguous aliens arrive in Northern Ireland, so that the response to the newcomers is coloured by sectarian strife and by the puritanism of community leaders.

The barriers between science fiction and fantasy are porous, but even so it is usually pretty clear whether you are reading one or the other. But Lord of Light is a science fiction novel that reads like fantasy (or perhaps it is the other way round), an intentional ambiguity that is typical of the work of Roger Zelazny.The crew of the "Star of India", refugees from vanished Earth, find themselves on a planet where the indigenous people are hostile. To survive, the crew use electronic equipment, biofeedback and other techniques to give themselves greater powers that allow them to subjugate the natives. As a result of these powers, including a form of identity transfer that gives them virtual immortality, the crew begin to take on the attributes of the Hindu pantheon. But one of the crew revolts against the idea of being a god. He decides to bring the benefits of technology to all mortals, and so takes on the role of Buddha, effectively recapitulating the story of the arrival of Buddhism as he gradually works to cripple the power of the gods. Zelazny, on form, was always a colourful writer, using mythological structures to tell highly complex psychological tales. Of these, Lord of Light, which won the Hugo Award, was easily his most sustained and effective.

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Zelazny was always prolific, and much of his work was therefore of variable quality. Creatures of Light and Darkness, for instance, recapitulatesLord of Light with Egyptian gods replacing the Hindu pantheon, but without a tenth of the style and vigour of the original. But when he was on form his books sparkled. As, for instance, in This Immortal, winner of the Hugo Award, in which the Earth has become a theme park for aliens, and the immortal Conrad turns out to be the human zoo keeper. Or The Dream Master, which won a Nebula for Best Novella in its original version, which tells of a psychiatrist who enters and shapes the dreams of his patients, until he becomes trapped when one of his patients begins to take control of his dreams.

Zelazny is probably best known for the Amber series, of which the first sequence, consisting of Nine Princes in Amber, The Guns of Avalon, Sign of the Unicorn, The Hand of Oberon and The Courts of Chaos, is easily the best. In the series, Earth is just one of a vast number of shadow worlds that lie between the true world, Amber, and Chaos. The sequence tells of the struggles within the ruling family for control of Amber. As with so much of Zelazny's work, they are novels that can be read as either fantasy or science fiction.

When the black monolith appears in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001, A Space Odyssey, or the demons in Childhood's End, that is Uplift. But what if humanity has reached into space and yet somehow avoided uplift? That is the premise of David Brin's Uplift sequence.In the universe of the six novels that make up this sequence, galactic civilisations uplift races that are capable of space travel. In a highly structured and hierarchical society, the patron races then have certain rights over the races they have uplifted. But humans have no patron, though it remains unclear whether their patron abandoned them or whether they achieved interstellar travel all on their own. The lack of a patron makes humans the weakest of the many races that make up the Civilisation of the Five Galaxies, but because they have themselves uplifted chimpanzees and dolphins, they have become a patron race in their own right and therefore are theoretically free of interference by other races.It's a crowded universe, with many different races each vying for territory and for status, which means that the novels tend to revolve around duplicity, betrayal and conflict, with the rough and ready, anti-hierarchical approach of the humans tending to win out, though often only with the help of their chimpanzee and dolphin companions. It is skilful, varied and convincing portrayal of so many different aliens, each with their different customs and motivations, that is the real strength of this series.The series begins with Brin's first novel, Sundiver, but this really acts as a prologue to the series with the action confined to our solar system. It is with the second book, Startide Rising and its sequels, The Uplift War, Brightness Reef, Infinity's Shore and Heaven's Reach that the series really gets going, with continuing characters and a canvas that takes in many different worlds and races. Startide Rising won the Hugo, Nebula and Locus Awards, while The Uplift War also won the Hugo and Locus Awards. It was a big series that marked the arrival of a major talent on the sf scene.

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Brin has established himself as one of the most significant of contemporary hard sf writers, but even within that compass his work has been interesting because of how varied it is. There is, for instance, the post-apocalyptic scenario of The Postman, in which a wanderer in devastated Oregon finds a postman's uniform and puts it on for warmth. But as a symbol of the old world, he becomes a focus around which the struggling communities can begin to cohere and build towards a renewal of civilisation. The novel added to Brin's impressive tally of awards with the Locus and John W, Campbell Memorial Awards.

Or there's Kiln People, set in a world where people can manufacture cheap, short-lived duplicates of themselves ("dittos") which can be used for boring, routine or dangerous tasks. At the end of the day you can download all the memories of the ditto, then manufacture a new one next morning. The story involves a detective investigating the suspicious death of the person who founded Universal Kilns, only to unravel a conspiracy that takes him right to the heart of the organisation.

If the galaxy-spanning hard science of Brin's Uplift sequence appeals to you, you shouldn't miss the majestic Galactic Center sequence for Gregory Benford, beginning with In the Ocean of Night. It starts with an astronaut discovering alien artefacts on an asteroid heading for Earth, and leads to communication with an alien species who confirm that organic life is inherently unstable and eventually commits suicide, but the machines they leave behind live on. As the series progresses humans, or rather a species of post-humans, spread out across space, but always in conflict with the Mechs.

He had reached the age of 650 miles. With its very first words, Inverted World tells us we are in a very different world. In fact, this is one of the great unique inventions of science fiction. Helward Mann, who is 650 miles old, lives on Earth. But Earth is a city set on rails that must forever move forward. Ahead is a spike that rises to infinity, and anyone who gets too far forward of the city finds themselves becoming elongated. Behind them is a flat, featureless plain where every feature they have passed, every person they have passed, is squashed smaller and smaller. Only by staying at optimum can the city avoid either fate, but since the ground is constantly moving, they have to keep the city moving too, taking rails from behind and repositioning them ahead of the city so that regardless of the obstacles they can trundle a few precious yards further forward.With incredible skill and grace, Priest very gradually reveals the truth about this hyperboloid world, providing at the very end a twist makes us re-evaluate every single thing we think we have learned. Inverted World won the BSFA Award. It's a novel that is universally recognised as being breathtakingly original and leading to a devastating psychological breakthrough. After reading this, you'll never see things the same way again.

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Alternative Choice
The Dream Archipelago is a sequence of novels and stories connected only by their setting, and by the powerful psycho-sexual charge they have. Priest's work has consistently undermined our notions of reality, demonstrating that our conceptions of the world around us are built on shaky foundations. And that is particularly true in these very different works. The Dream Archipelago is a chain of islands that stretch right around the equator. The countries in the northern continent have been at war for centuries, but they fight all their battles in the uninhabited southern continent. The islands of the Dream Archipelago provide a neutral zone, a place for leave (with prostitutes and police all over the place), for runaways, for tourists. But the sexual allure of the islands is matched by dangers. The stories collected in The Dream Archipelago explore that, while the novel The Affirmationmatches someone suffering psychosis in this world imagining the Dream Archipelago, and someone in the Dream Archipelago imagining this world. The Islanders,which won the BSFA and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards, is a gazetteer of the Dream Archipelago, with stories of horror and murder and sexual infidelity hidden within it. Most recently, The Adjacent describes war from 1914 through the Second World War and on to the near future, but it concludes with its varied recurring characters brought together in the Dream Archipelago.

The Prestige, which won the mainstream James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the World Fantasy Award, is about two rival stage magicians at the turn of the twentieth century, whose rivalry turns deadly and, through the effects of a machine invented by Nikola Tesla, goes on to affect their descendants down to the present day.

In his pioneering study of science fiction, New Maps of Hell, Kingsley Amis argued that The Space Merchants was possibly the best science fiction novel ever written. In the fifty-odd years since then, little has happened to change that judgement.The Space Merchants is a coruscating satire that just gets more relevant with every passing year. It's set in a world where all the real power is held by corporations. As a result, the most important business in the world is advertising, convincing people that each new product is making their lives better and better, even though necessities like fuel and water are in increasingly short supply. Does that sound like the world today? You bet it does.Our hero is a top copywriter who has been given the job of attracting colonists to Venus, even though the planet is so inhospitable that it will be generations before it is fully habitable. But there are conspiracies going on that he is not aware of, and in time he is shanghaied and his identity stolen. Nevertheless, his copywriting skills make him a powerful propagandist for the revolutionaries, and eventually he is able to unravel all the lies and mysteries that have been going on. Kingsley Amis was right: this is still one of the best sf novels ever written, an unsurpassed example of science fiction as satire that you just have to read.

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Together and apart, Pohl and Kornbluth were absolute masters of sharp, effective science fiction. Their wonderful collaborations include Gladiator-at-Law, which makes a great companion piece with The Space Merchants, only in this novel it's the lawyers who rule the world, with gladiatorial contests staged to please the masses.

Kornbluth's best solo novel is probably The Syndic, in which America is ruled by rival criminal gangs, although for most people daily life is pretty much unchanged so long as their protection money is paid on time.

Pohl's solo novels include Man Plus, which won the Nebula Award. It's the story of a man being altered to allow him to survive on Mars, but the more he is changed the more distant he becomes from his human self. However, Pohl's very best novel is our Alternative Choice.

Alternative Choice
Gateway, which won the Hugo, Nebula, Locus and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards, is one of those fascinating novels, like Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama, which explores the alien without any aliens actually appearing. Gateway is a space station built by a long-vanished race, the Heechee. There are hundreds of alien craft abandoned around Gateway, but humans have no idea how to operate them. Slowly, by trial and error, they learn to master some of the controls, but the results can still be disastrous. The novel tells the story of one volunteer who becomes phenomenally rich as a result of his mission, but only at the cost of his friends and colleagues being sent into a black hole. Gateway was the first of the Heechee novels, with five other books following, but like the Rama novels the series becomes far less interesting once the actual aliens put in an appearance.

When Hugo Gernsback wanted to define "scientifiction" in the very first issue of Amazing, he called it the "Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells type of story". It puts Verne right at the core of science fiction, a place that he still holds.From the appearance of his very first novel right up to his death, Verne was easily one of the most popular and successful writers in Europe, acclaimed in particular for his "Voyages extraordinaire", carefully researched stories that took his adventurers into strange and dramatic places, usually pushing at the technological possibilities of the time. From outer space to the centre of the world, from extraordinary flying machines to even more extraordinary submarines, he took us to places we'd never seen before and made it all convincing and exciting. One of his greatest successes explored an underwater world that no-one had seen before.Hunting what is rumoured to be a giant sea monster, Professor Aronnax and his companions are surprised to find themselves taken aboard a submarine of incredibly advanced, not to say luxurious, design. Here they meet the enigmatic Captain Nemo, the archetypal Jules Verne figure, a great scientist who is also a bold adventurer and driven by a thirst for revenge. Aboard the Nautilus they travel right around the world, seeing everything from coral reefs to Antarctic ice shelves, from sunken vessels to the Transatlantic cable.Okay, Verne's books are more journey than plot, but the journeys are always marvellous, and, because he took such pains to get everything right according to the scientific knowledge of the day, absolutely convincing. Verne is one of a very small handful of writers about whom we can safely say that, without them there would be no science fiction. He's not always been well served by his English translators (which is one reason they have often been presented as books for children), but even so they have gripped generation after generation, and more than a few later writers owe their inspiration to Verne.

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Verne was, if anything, too prolific, and there's quite a lot of books that will really only be of interest to completists. But the ones that have survived tend to be those that are most science fictional, because great ideas always last. And any one of these would make a perfect Alternative Choice.

Alternative Choice
A Journey to the Centre of the Earth takes his team of adventurers into the crater of a volcano in Iceland, to discover tunnels that take them ever deeper, where they encounter an underground ocean, petrified forests, giant plants, prehistoric dinosaurs, and giant prehistoric humans.

Alternative Choice
From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon tells the story of the Baltimore Gun Club who build a giant cannon in Florida (pretty close to our Cape Canaveral) from which they fire a massive projectile into space with three adventurers aboard. The second volume recounts their adventures as they go into orbit around the Moon before plummeting back to Earth.

Alternative Choice
Off on a Comet begins with a comet grazing the Earth, and carrying off a small chunk of land around Gibraltar. A group of people find themselves carried away on the comet, and in the course of the novel we see their various experiments to see how things behave differently with a lower gravity and thinner atmosphere.

Alternative Choice
Robur the Conquerer is like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, but with a magnificent and luxurious flying machine. At a time when flying clubs were arguing the respective merits of heavier than air or lighter than air vehicles, mysterious, enigmatic and brilliant Robur shows up with his huge heavier than air craft that is able to circumnavigate the world in three weeks.

In 1952, a young Philip José Farmer wrote a novel for a contest, and won. Unfortunately, the prize money was misappropriated, the novel was never published, and Farmer nearly gave up writing as a result. But more than a decade later he began reworking the material from that unpublished novel, first as a novella, which later still became part of To Your Scattered Bodies Go, which in turn became the first volume in a series that would go on to contain four more novels and a collection of stories.To Your Scattered Bodies Go begins with the British explorer, Richard Burton, dying on Earth and waking up on the shore of a mysterious river. There are others there, figures from different periods of Earth's history including a Neanderthal, an alien who wiped out all life on Earth in the 21st century, and Alice Liddell, the original of Alice in Wonderland. Burton sets out to explore the river, and almost immediately finds himself fighting Hermann Goring who has set up his own kingdom on one part of the riverbank. Burton finds out that when he is killed he is reborn at a different point on the river, and he uses this device to continue his journey and eventually come face to face with the Ethicals who created the Riverworld.In subsequent volumes, The Fabulous Riverboat, The Dark Design, The Magic Labyrinth and Gods of Riverworld, an ever-expanding cast of characters, including Samuel Clemens, Eric Bloodaxe, King John, Cyrano de Bergerac, Tom Mix, AphraBehn and Jack London, further explore the river, and come ever closer to solving the mystery of the Riverworld. To Your Scattered Bodies Go won the Hugo Award. Basically this is just one big epic adventure that gives Farmer an excuse to throw in any historical figure he likes at any point in the story. There's no great depth to the story, but it is great fun.

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The Lovers was a short novel that was one of the first things Farmer published, and it earned him a Hugo Award as Most Promising Newcomer. It also has an important place in the history of science fiction, because its story of sex with aliens broke one of the great taboos of American sf magazines, and became one of the key works for later writers trying to explore new and controversial subjects.

Dayworld, the first of a trilogy of novels, is expanded from the splendidly named short story, "The Sliced-Crosswise Only-on-Tuesday World", in which the Earth is so grossly overpopulated that people live only one day a week and are placed in suspended animation for the other six days. When someone starts to cheat the system and move into other days he finds that each day has a very different social system and style.

Ever since H.G. Wells, time travel has been one of the great staples of science fiction, but few writers have approached the subject as grittily or as thoroughly as Connie Willis. In her loosely linked sequence of novels, time travel is a device used by students at a near-future Oxford University, who travel back for practical experience of the period they are studying. There are limits, points in history that the time machine will not penetrate because the past might be altered or periods that are considered too dangerous to visit. One such period, of course, is the Black Death.Kivrin is sent back to study rural England in 1320, a period safely before the plague struck, but something goes wrong and she arrives more than 20 years later than intended, just as the Black Death reaches the village in Oxfordshire that she is visiting.At the same time, a new strain of influenza hits Oxford just after her departure, incapacitating the time travel technician, leading to the entire city being quarantined and meaning that no-one is aware of exactly when Kivrin is.Alternating between these two times and these two plagues, we get two rather different stories. In 21st century Oxford there's a race against time as people battle illness to try and discover where Kivrin is and how to rescue her. But far more moving is the story set in the 14th century, a harrowing account of the onset and effects of the Black Death, in which Kivrin has to helplessly stand by and watch the villagers, people who have cared for her and who she has got to know, dying one by one. Until finally she is on her own, not strong enough to dig the last grave. Doomsday Book won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, and is easily the best of the time travel stories Willis has written. For once, the past that is visited is not prettified, is not colourful and romantic, but harsh, ugly, terrifying and real.

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Willis's other novels about time travellers from Oxford University include To Say Nothing of the Dog, the only one of the time travel novels written as a comedy. In this instance an attempt to recreate Coventry Cathedral as it was immediately before the German air raid that destroyed it somehow ends up in a recreation of Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat in the 1880s. The novel won both the Hugo and Locus awards.

The other time travel work is the diptych Blackout and All Clear, in which three students become trapped in London during the Blitz, where they fear that any change to history they make might affect the outcome of the war. The two books together are far too long for the story they have to tell, nevertheless they won the Hugo, Nebula and Locus Awards.

Willis's other major book is Passage, in which researchers into the phenomenon of near-death experience finally unlock exactly what the brain is trying to do in the moments between death and revival, research which takes us back repeatedly to the Titanic at the moment of disaster. The novel won the Locus Award.

John Scalzi is one of the shining lights of today’s science fiction landscape. His first novel, Old Man’s War, was an incredible introduction, bringing Scalzi to international attention, as well as a Hugo nomination for Best Novel. The story of a fighting force comprised of genetically enhanced senior citizens fighting a war in space is an exceptionally fun bit of work, and takes so many classic science fiction methods. There’s incredible technologies, like a fun faster-than-light travel method, and neural implants, and excellent use of run of the mill genetic engineering and thought consciousness transfers. When you look at Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series, Zoe’s Tale, The Lost Colony, and other shorter works, they’re all a combination of 1960s and 70s science fiction ideas, the kind you’d get from Heinlein or Bester, along with seriously funny prose you’d find  from Vonnegut or Sturgeon. That marvelous combination, and the power of his plotting, is a major part of why Scalzi is seen as one of today’s most beloved, and highly awarded,  of all scifi practitioners! Why it’s on the list Old Man’s War is the best of both worlds, old time science fiction fun with contemporary prose styling!

Books in Old Man's War Series (7)

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Old Man's War was the first volume in an ongoing series consisting, to date, of The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, Zoe's Tale and The Human Division, with further novels promised. These follow the continuing adventures of John Perry and Jane Sagan, who was created from the DNA of Perry's dead wife. As conflict with varied alien races continues, the pair become increasingly disillusioned with the war, eventually learning that Earth has been kept in ignorance of what is going on, leading eventually to a new alliance with the aliens.

Just as Old Man's War contains echoes of Heinlein, Scalzi has played with ideas from other works of science fiction. Fuzzy Nation, for instance, reboots ideas from the Little Fuzzy stories of H. Beam Piper; while Redshirts, which won the Hugo and Locus Awards, is a comedy built around the idea that it is always the redshirts on Star Trek who die.

One night, when he is 12 years old, Tyler Dupree and two friends witness all the stars in the sky suddenly disappearing. It turns out that a membrane has been placed around the Earth. An artificial sun allows daily life on Earth to continue as normal, but the membrane has had a profound effect upon time: one year passing within the membrane is equivalent to one hundred million years outside. So people on Earth don't have too long before the sun grows big enough to destroy the planet.It's a bravura opening, the sort of startling, big concept idea that creates a genuine sense of wonder. And Wilson really follows through. All the way through Spin and its two sequels, Axis and Vortex, there are moments that just stop you dead in your tracks.At one point a ship penetrates the membrane and delivers colonists to Mars. Just two years later Earth time, Mars has a sophisticated technological civilisation, and a membrane is thrown around that planet too.Eventually we discover that the membrane is the work of intelligent von Neumann machines, dubbed Hypotheticals, who do it to slow down time for societies close to collapse to allow time for a solution to be found. No sooner do we discover this than in another brilliantly vivid moment a massive arch opens up in the Indian Ocean which serves as a gateway to another world.Axis takes us to that other world, but more puzzles about the Hypotheticals soon emerge, and with them more time dilation. Which becomes extreme in Vortex, where the storylines alternate between 40 years after the events of Spin and 10,000 years after the events of Axis. Spin won the Hugo Award, and was one of the most widely talked about novels of the day, simply because it is so awesome at creating amazing vistas and startling events.

Books in Spin Series (2)

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Julian Comstock is a post-catastrophe story in which America has become rigidly hierarchical, with an hereditary president and fundamentalist Christianity ruling the land. Julian is the nephew of the President who is spirited away as a child to escape assassination. Raised in a rural community, he becomes a war hero and, following a coup, is declared President. In that position he immediately starts to ease censorship, reintroduce the ideas of Darwin, and downgrade the influence of the Church, all of which raises powerful forces against him, which become even more powerful when he comes out as gay. It's a fable about illiberality in Aerica that is one of the best things he has written.

Burning Paradise is yet another very different story. In this instance it is an alternate history in which the discovery of a "radiosphere" has resulted in a less technologically oriented but more peaceful world. But the radiosphere turns out to be a kind of alien hive mind.

In Billion Year Spree, his epic history of science fiction, Brian Aldiss coined the term "cosy catastrophe" for the sorts of novels that John Wyndham wrote. Well, they are certainly catastrophes, but they are far from cosy.The first and best of them is surely The Day of the Triffids, in which there is actually a double catastrophe. Triffids are tall, carnivorous plants that are capable of locomotion and that there probably bioengineered in the Soviet Union before escaping into the wild. At first they present no danger, but then there is a curious meteor shower which is assumed to be connected to atomic weapons, and everyone who sees it is rendered blind. Now the triffids become especially dangerous.Only a few people retain their sight, one of which is the narrator, Bill Masen, who makes his way through a devastated landscape, menaced by triffids at every turn. The sighted are enslaved by the blind; tentative communities grow up and then fall apart; despotic military governments emerge. It's an amazing vision of a world falling apart almost in an instant. The Day of the Triffids was the first of the great British catastrophe stories that appeared in the years after the Second World War, a novel that has gone on to be taught in schools and dramatized for film and television, so it is one of the few science fiction classics that is familiar to people who never read the genre.

Books in Triffids Series (1)

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Wyndham wrote a string of engaging catastrophe stories, of which one of the best if least typical is probably The Chrysalids. Set in a post-apocalyptic Labrador, where a technologically limited religious society is in place and anyone who displays mutations, known as "Blasphemies", is cast out, it concerns a group of children who discover they have telepathic powers, which leads them to question the nature of their society.

Telepathic children also feature, rather more eerily, in The Midwich Cuckoos. A small village in England is cut off for a day by strange gas that renders everyone unconscious. When the gas dissipates, everything seems to return to normal until, some months later, every woman of child-bearing age in the village finds she is pregnant. The children are all pale, with golden eyes and telepathic abilities, and they mature remarkably quickly. It's obvious that they are not human, but how can they be dealt with when they can control anyone who threatens them?

The sort of catastrophe that Wyndham wrote about can also be found in the work of several other British writers, including Keith Roberts, whoseThe Furies is clearly modelled on The Day of the Triffids. Nuclear tests go wrong, disrupting the landscape, while at the same time giant alien wasps invade.

In The Death of Grass by John Christopher, the catastrophe is a mutated virus that attacks all forms of grass, including wheat and barley, leading to a devastated landscape and mass famine.

The Wanderer
The Zombie Apocalypse has become one of the most pervasive themes in sf and horror over the last few years, so much so that it has escaped genre and become a commonplace idea. What dread is being disguised by this is hard to say, but more and more writers have taken up the theme. But this is where it really started.Max Brooks has structured his novel like a report by the United Nations Postwar Commission. It consists of a series of interviews, conducted by an agent of the commission called Max Brooks, which piece together the story from the initial outbreak until the devastating end of the conflict.Zombies are the victims of an incurable virus. They have no intelligence but an uncontrollable urge to eat living flesh, and they can only be killed by destroying the brain. The outbreak is traced back to a boy in China, but it spreads rapidly. Wars of steadily increasing ferocity break out as different countries react differently to the situation: there's a civil war in Israel; Pakistan and Iran blow each other up in a nuclear war; millions flee to the Arctic because the zombies cannot survive the cold, only to die of hypothermia. Eventually the US military goes on the offensive against the zombies, with limited success. By the end of the novel many of the old political problems in the world seem to have been resolved, but at the cost of nearly wiping out life on Earth. When published, World War Z became an international best seller, and revitalised a tired sub-genre of very limited appeal.

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Following on from World War Z, the idea of a zombie apocalypse has become common, and a number of writers from both genre and non-genre backgrounds have written well received novels on the theme.

One of the most interesting is Zone One, by Pulitzer Prize nominated novelist Colson Whitehead. It is set after the apocalypse, when the zombie threat has been contained, and tells the story of the people patrolling New York, eliminating any remaining zombies and making the city inhabitable again.

The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey is the story of a 10-year-old girl who has been infected with the zombie virus but who has retained her genius-level IQ. When the base where she is kept is attacked, she and her teachers have to escape across country, learning devastating details about the infection along the way.

One persistent aspect of posthuman science fiction is that the future may not belong to humanity. It might be our creations, robots, that inherit the Earth; or it may be another creature that evolves to take over our ecological niche. Both appear in Simak’s best work. As humanity becomes ever more isolated and eventually dies out, their robot servants become ever more important, until it is the robots who eventually lead the few surviving humans to a new world. Meanwhile, it is the dogs left behind who build up a new, more peaceful civilisation, and whose stories about the near-mythical humans form the substance of this book. And all along, the ants are building up their own industrialised society. Why it’s on the list: The winner of the International Fantasy Award, City expresses a view common in the science fiction immediately after the Second World War that humanity would never be able to get along peacefully together. The idea that others might take our place is therefore a hopeful vision of the future.

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Another contender for the title of Simak's best novel has to be Way Station, which displays all the features characteristic of his best work: a love of the pastoral, a preference for quiet country people who relish their isolation, and a sense that humanity is inherently violent. In this case a Civil War veteran who has a small farm in Wisconsin has been given immortality in return for allowing his farm to be used as a way station, a transit point for aliens travelling across the galaxy by matter transmission. Nobody notices this until, a hundred years later, the government begins to wonder why he hasn't aged. Government action reveals factions among the aliens, while an alien gift to the farmer allows him to foresee the possibility of nuclear war. Winner of the Hugo Award, and regularly placed among the best all-time sf novels, Way Station is typically quiet and engaging while raising some very thorny questions.

Despite his credentials championing hard, rational science fiction, John W. Campbell was a fervent believer in psi powers. Perhaps because of that, whenever telepathy appeared in science fiction, as in Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man, it was almost invariably presented as a talent, a power, usually a good thing. But what if it isn't, what if it is of little real value and perhaps even harmful? That is the premise of one of Robert Silverberg's most powerful novels.David Selig is a telepath, but it hasn't really done him much good. He makes a precarious living hanging around colleges writing essays for students, and using his telepathy to check the details, to get it right. But the power is waning, and since so much of his sense of identity is tied up in his telepathy (useless as it may be), so this loss of power is equated with losing his grip on reality. One critic complained that Silverberg had made the science fiction elements of the novel pedestrian, but that is precisely the point. The waning powers represent a loss of joy, a loss of creativity, it really is life becoming pedestrian. And the novel is beautifully and movingly written to convey exactly that point. For a period between the mid-60s and mid-70s, Silverberg produced work of the highest quality, and this was undoubtedly the best of the bunch, a novel that combines an intriguing sf idea with psychological insight and brilliant writing: how could it fail!

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Silverberg's had an odd career. For the first decade or so he was producing clever but not world-shattering sf; and after a brief retirement in the late-70s he wrote stuff that varied between expansions of Isaac Asimov stories, and the vast, colourful Majipoor series, beginning with Lord Valentine's Castle. Set on a huge planet with a mixture of human and alien races, with a low level of technology and suggestions of magic, the sequence, which currently amounts to six novel and two collections, lies somewhere between high fantasy and Brian Aldiss'sHelliconia Trilogy.

But between these two was a period of ten years or so when he wrote a string of novels that combined science fictional invention with mainstream literary sensibilities. We could list a host of these titles here, but these few will serve as an introduction.

James Blish said of The Book of Skulls that it came "as perilously close to poetic beauty as any contemporary sf novel I've ever read," which gives you an idea how good it is. It concerns four students who agree to undergo an initiation that will give them immortality, on the understanding that two of their number must die in the process.

Tower of Glass concerns a rich inventor who has created a race of androids which he uses to build a tower of glass with which he intends to communicate with a distant star. Unknown to him, the androids worship him as a god in the belief that he intends to free them, but all goes wrong when the androids discover what he really thinks of them.

Son of Man sends a 20th century man billions of years into the future, where he meets the descendants of humanity who can take on many strange forms.

We never know exactly what has happened, an apocalypse of some kind that has covered the landscape with ash and destroyed all animal life, but which has left most houses intact. There are human survivors, grubby, ragged, scrounging for what they can get from the houses they come across, or reverting to cannibalism.Two such survivors are a father and his son, heading south to avoid the coming winter with all their meagre possessions bundled into a shopping trolley. They survive attacks, avoid cannibals, lose most of what they have, then discover a secret cache of food that keeps them going. The father is dying, he thinks about nothing now but keeping his son alive. We are the good guys, he tells him, we keep the flame.The prose is spare, the story bleak and harrowing, but with the slightest hint of salvation at the end. It is a haunting, terrifying, magnificent book that will keep you up nights. The Road won a host of mainstream literary prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, yet it also received near universal praise within the science fiction community.

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The picture that The Road paints is harsh and unsparing, and there are some few other accounts of our doom that have the same effect.

Golden Days by Carolyn See is a novel about the lives of a group of comfortably off women on the fringes of medialand in contemporary Los Angeles. But off stage, crises lead to World War Three, and the glamorous life is suddenly torn apart by nuclear devastation. What follows is a bleak, uncompromising account of the aches and sickness and hunger and horror of the few people struggling to survive, with prospects every bit as dismal as those in The Road.

This is the Way the World Ends by James Morrow imagines that the few survivors fleeing from World War Three are put on trial by those souls who would never be born because of the nuclear devastation. It proves to be a hauntingly effective way of conveying the anger and the horror of nuclear war.

There have been a host of novels about the last man on Earth, but usually they are isolated, exploring a world denuded of people. But what if the last man wasn't alone? What if the others had risen as if from the dead and were all around him?When a pandemic strikes, Robert Neville is immune, but everyone else falls victim. But the disease doesn't kill, rather it turns people into something resembling vampires. By night, Neville barricades himself in his home, using garlic, mirrors and crucifixes to keep away his vampiric neighbours. But since exposure to sunlight kills those infected, he can spend the days out and about, scavenging for food and researching the causes of the disease. He becomes a successful vampire killer, until a new strain of vampire emerges, ones that can bear short periods in the sunlight and who are attempting to build a new society.In a sense this is just an updating of Bram Stoker's Dracula, or a very early precursor of the zombie apocalypse novels ushered in by Max Brooks'sWorld War Z; but it is also a variant on the last man novels that go back to The Last Man by Mary Shelley or After London by Richard Jeffries. Whichever way you read it, I Am Legend is itself a legend, a story that has entered our consciousness, a story that will keep you reading. In 2012, the Horror Writers Association declared I Am Legend the vampire novel of the century. Though really, there's no contest. It's a startling, visceral, thrilling read that stands head and shoulders above any other vampire novel.

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Richard Matheson wrote not one but two indisputable classics of the genre. Alongside I Am Legend you also have to read The Shrinking Man. After accidentally being exposed to a radioactive spray, Scott Carey begins to shrink at a rate of approximately 1/7th of an inch every day. At first the loss is so gradual that he hardly notices, but in time, because he is shorter, he starts to lose the respect of his family and is subject to taunts by local youths. But the shrinkage continues, until he is chased by the family cat, attacked by a spider, and engages in a vicious battle with a towering black widow spider. And still the shrinking continues.

There's an idea you sometimes come across that the dividing line between mainstream "literature" and genre fiction is rigid and unbreakable. That's nonsense. Writers have always crossed backwards and forwards across the line as the spirit took them. One of the most successful has been Michael Chabon who, alongside his Pulitzer Prize winning fiction, has also produced a YA fantasy, steampunk, a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, a comic and this brilliant alternate history novel.The Jonbar point is early in the Second World War, when a temporary settlement for Jewish refugees from Europe is established at Sitka in Alaska. As a consequence, only two million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, but the state of Israel fails. But now, at the beginning of the new century, a new President is determined to end the temporary settlement.The story focuses on Meyer Landsman, a Sitka detective whose investigation of a murder leads to a rabbi who is also Sitka's leading crime boss, and to a conspiracy to blow up the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Murder, religious identity, politics all get mixed up in a complex story full of mysteries and sudden revelations. It's a deep and absorbing work, but it's also great fun. The Yiddish Policemen's Union won the Hugo, Nebula, Locus and Sidewise Awards; it is unprecedented for someone from outside the genre to win so many of the major genre awards.

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Another novel that illustrates how permeable the barrier between mainstream and genre really is, is Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Indeed, according to the critic Brian McHale, there is a feedback loop by which Gravity's Rainbow influenced William Gibson's Neuromancer, and Neuromancer went on to influence later novels by Pynchon. Set towards the end of World War Two, the novel is a phantasmagoria of ideas and puns and weird coincidences. For instance, the sexual exploits of one American soldier map precisely onto the targets of the V2 rockets. Meanwhile there's a mysterious "black device" whose secret is at the heart of the novel.

Also known as No Blade of Grass, this was one of John Christopher's classic cosy catastrophes, although there is very little that is cosy in this post-apocalyptic tale.In Asia, a new disease starts to affect rice crops, leading to widespread famine. Soon, the virus mutates and starts to attack all forms of grass, including such staple food crops as wheat and barley. The result is anarchy and panic, amid which John Custance tries to lead his family and friends safely across England to where his brother has a potato farm. Along the way, as their entourage grows, they find themselves abandoning all their old morality in order to survive, including committing murder. The portrait of a society disintegrating in the face of starvation is what makes this such a compelling story. Cosy catastrophe, the rather demeaning name for a strand of British science fiction in the 1950s and early 60s, was actually a continuation of the scientific romances that imagined various forms of the destruction of the familiar world. Christopher was a master of this, picturing far from cosy worlds in which his protagonists have to become increasingly hardened and ruthless in the face of a fragile environment.

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The Tripods is a young adult sequence that is probably Christopher's best known and most successful work. It is set in a world enslaved by aliens, who are seen only in their giant Tripod walking machines (reminiscent of H.G. Wells's Martians) through which they exert their authority. Human technology has mostly been pushed back to a medieval level, most people live only in small rural villages, and they are kept docile by implanted "caps". But there is a resistance, and the teenage heroes of the novel escape being capped and join the resistance.

Christopher's other catastrophe novels include A Wrinkle in the Skin, in which massive earthquakes dramatically change the landscape. The story follows a trek across what was once the English Channel in an attempt to find survivors. The World in Winter suggests that a reduction in solar radiation results in a new ice age, with survivors from Britain fleeing sounth to Africa whwere they find themselves treated as second-class citizens.

In the latter years of the 19th century, astronomers detected lines on the surface of Mars, and before long these were being identified as irrigation canals, suggesting notm only that the planet was habitable, but that it had an older and more advanced civilisation than our own. These ideas fed directly into works such as The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. By early in the 20th century, the idea of canals had mostly been abandoned, but the romance of an ancient Mars continued, and it was this romance that Edgar Rice Burroughs caught perfectly in his colourful adventure stories beginning with A Princess of Mars.In this first novel, Civil War veteran John Carter is fleeing from Indians in Arizona when he is suddenly transported to Mars. Because of the lower gravity, he finds he has super powers, which he puts at the service of the warlike Tharks, the six-limbed green Martians. Then he meets and falls in love with Dejah Thoris, Princess of the humanoid red Martians. He goes on to play a leading part in the political conflicts between the various tribes of Mars, or Barsoom as it is known.Carter returned to Mars for ten further adventures with his wife, Dejah Thoris, the last of them cobbled together from previously published material long after Burroughs's death. Let's be honest, this isn't great literature. It's crude pulp adventure full of villainous villains and noble heroes, hairs-breadth escapes, abrupt coincidences. It's written in broad strokes and bold colours, but if you want something to keep you turning the page, this is it. And if you find yourself recognising bits and pieces, that's because an awful lot of better sf writers have borrowed from this series.

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Burroughs churned out his pulp adventures at a tremendous rate. As well as going to Mars in the Barsoom series, there's the Pellucidar series of hollow Earth stories, or the Amtor series set on the waterworld of Venus.

Burroughs may have been the originator of what became known as planetary romance, but there were an awful lot of other writers doing something similar, most of them an awful lot better.

For example, you should seek out Northwest of Earth by C.L. Moore, a collection of stories about Northwest Smith, who is effectively a cowboy in space, with a raygun instead of a six shooter. Look out especially for the first of the stories, "Shambleau", an absolute classic in which Smith encounters a medusa-like alien.

You also need to check out the Eric John Stark stories by Leigh Brackett, an Earthman raised by the aliens of Mercury who aids those fighting against the tyranny of earth.

A more recent example is the Darkover series by Marion Zimmer Bradley, set on a lost human colony where psi powers have developed but technology has regressed.

If you want to know what hard sf is really all about, then this is the novel you have to read. Hal Clement didn't believe in having human antagonists in his novels, he reckoned that the universe is big enough and bad enough as it is to provide all the opposition you need to make a gripping story. And when you read this, you'll see why. Antagonists don't come much bigger or badder than the planet Mesklin.Mesklin is highly oblate, which means it is flattened at the poles. This affects gravity, which is three times earth normal at the equator, but a massive 700g at the poles. So when a human probe is lost near the pole, the only way they can recover it is with the help of the locals.They hire a trader, Barlennan, to find the probe in return for vital information about the planet's weather, which can be dangerous for the Mesklinites. These are low, centipede-like beings who have learned to move slowly and carefully, and who are terrified of a fall under any circumstances. The novel follow's Barlennan's journey, and is mostly devoted to exploring how it is affected by the different conditions shaped by the varying gravity along the way. Mission of Gravity is one of the definitive examples of worldbuilding. It's a story we trust because we trust all the scientific thinking that went into devising such a planet. Still today it is the novel you'd point to as an example of how to do hard sf properly.

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Hal Clement wrote two further novels set on Mesklin, Close to Critical and Star Light, which form a loose trilogy with continuing characters. But it is still the original that is the most startling and effective of the three.

His other novels tended to follow the same pattern, with a competent hero (who may be human or alien) solving the problems inherent in an extreme environmental situation. For instance, Cycle of Fire, which may be read as a precursor of The Helliconia Trilogy by Brian Aldiss, is set on a world where the seasons each last forty years.

Other examples of hard sf include Cities in Flight by James Blish, in which flying cities powered by a kind of antigravity device known as a spindizzy tour the universe looking for work and encountering a variety of conditions. Or Tau Zero by Poul Anderson, in which a ship incapable of faster than light travel finds itself, as a result of an accident, incapable of stopping acceleration. The novel is full of the technical ramifications of issues like time dilation and relativity.

With The Centauri Device, M. John Harrison provided the foundation text of the British Renaissance, or the New Space Opera, or both (depending on who you listen to). Then he turned to writing fantasy while writers as varied as Iain M. Banks and China Miéville built on that foundation. With the Kefahuchi Tract Trilogy, he returned to space opera with a work that took it to a whole new levelIn the first volume, Light, Michael Kearney is a serial killer in contemporary London who is also a theoretical physicist who is working with his partner on calculations that will eventually pave the way for humans to get into space. At one point their black and white cats seem to pass through the screen of their computer, and of the characters at the centre of the other two strands of the novel Seria Mau is associated with a white cat while Ed Chianese is associated with a black cat. These two strands take place 400 years in the future in a region of space known as the Kefahuchi Tract where all sorts of strange alien technology has washed up.The second volume, Nova Swing, takes place in Saudade City where an edge of the tract has touched down. The zone has a strange effect on the city, where people seem to appear as if from nowhere then fade away after a few days. Meanwhile some adventurers try to enter the zone for the mysterious technology to be found there, but at tremendous cost.Finally, in Empty Space, all of these strands come together with a story that again ricochets between the present and the future, or rather that collapses the differences between present and future. The Kefahuchi Tract is an extraordinary invention, but in the end we are left wondering how much of it simply exists within the minds of Harrison's characters.Light won the Tiptree Award and Nova Swing won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, yet in a sense winning science fiction awards is a curious thing, because the books destroy our expectations of science fiction and rebuild them as something else. They are complex, self-referent, full of puzzles that seem to mean something different every time you re-read the books. It's a work, in short, that makes you think and then makes you doubt what you're thinking.

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First of all, you do need to read The Centauri Device, an exercise in New Wave space opera, two science fictional forms that really shouldn't go together, but here they work perfectly. In a run-down future, John Truck is chased by a strange assortment of characters because he is the last Centauran and therefore the last person with the genetic make-up to arm the doomsday weapon of the title.

Then you need to read some of the myriad science fiction stories that Harrison drew on in his work, or that in turn drew on his fiction. For instance, The Centauri Device is clearly the inspiration for the Lazy Gun that is at the heart of Against a Dark Background by Iain M. Banks.

In Light, Seria Mau's body is broken and distorted and squeezed into a box in order for her to link directly to the controls of her ship, the White Cat. This is inspired by The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey, in which a person born with severe disabilities is encased within a shell and plugged in to a ship through which she lives.

Nova Swing contains a direct reference to Clans of the Alphane Moon by Philip K. Dick, in which the moon is a former psychiatric institute where the one-time patients live on, divided into clans according to their particular psychosis.

How much more could you do if you didn't have to sleep? That's the simple question that starts this superb trilogy.In this near future world, a philosophy that is becoming ever more dominant is known as Yagaiism, after its originator, Yagai. It's a world view based on the ideas of Ayn Rand, and argues that someone's worth is a measure of their contribution to society. Against which, Kress asks through one of her characters, what do we owe to the beggars in Spain, the poor and helpless who have nothing but their need. This contrast between selfishness and generosity is dramatized in the trilogy by the conflicts arising over sleeplessness.Genetic modification has allowed some people to live without the need for sleep. Since they can spend a much greater portion of the day productively, the sleepless inevitably learn more, more quickly as children and become more productive and richer as adults. There are other advantages, as well, such as longevity. But there are disadvantages, mainly caused by the increasing resentment and suspicion of the sleepers. For instance, a sleepless athlete is banned from the Olympics because her extended training regime gives her an unfair advantage over other athletes. But as the sleepless band together, so the sleepers find themselves more and more becoming second or even third class citizens. Over the course of the two subsequent volumes, Beggars and Choosers and Beggars Ride, Kress catalogues the increasing discrimination and the political disintegration that follows on from the division of the country into sleepers and sleepless. It is one of the most carefully thought out and most compelling accounts of the near future you're likely to read. The original novella, that became the first part of the first volume, won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards. Its account of emerging technologies, particularly in the area of genetic engineering, is carefully researched and absolutely convincing.

Books in Sleepless Series (4)

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The Probability Series, which comprises Probability Moon, Probability Sun and Probability Space (the last of which won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award) concerns an expedition to a world where the natives have developed a form of telepathy. An alien artefact has landed on the planet, and though its powers aren't understood, it could prove the key in a war against an aggressive race known as the Fallers.

Given that Beggars in Spain is a reaction against the ideas of Ayn Rand, it might also be worth taking a look at Atlas Shrugged, so long as you don't take the Objectivist philosophy too seriously. It's a dystopian novel in which the government of the United States acts against the best interests of industry until John Galt organises a strike by the bosses which immediately brings the government to its knees and ushers in a sensible capitalist regime.

Inevitably, there is a continuity between past and future. The present is not a cut-off point between one and the other, but simply a sliding scale in the process of moving along the line. Of course, science fiction novels set exclusively in the future, and historical novels set exclusively in the past, do nothing to display this continuity. Which is what makes David Mitchell's novel so intriguing and so successful. It starts in the mid-19th century with the journal of an American on a sailing ship in the Pacific who slowly comes to realise that the doctor treating him is actually poisoning him. Then there are the letters of a young chancer in the 1930s who becomes the amanuensis to an old composer and starts an affair with the composer's wife. Next is a thriller set in California in the 1970s as a journalist begins investigating events at a nuclear power plant. In the present day there's the comic story of a publisher on the run from gangsters who finds himself trapped in an old people's home. A clone in a dystopian future Korea confesses to her part in plotting a rebellion by the fabricants. And on a post-apocalyptic Hawaiian island an old man relates, in a broken language, his meeting with a woman from a more sophisticated society. With the exception of the last, each of these stories breaks off at the mid-point, only to be picked up again in backwards order in the second half of the novel. The central character in each story reads the earlier text, but some of the early texts contain echoes of the later stories. Past, present and future, in other words, interconnect and feed off each other in a story of human predation that gains much of its power from the resonances across time.   There is no other work that is structured like this, there is no other work that so deftly combines elements of historical fiction and science fiction. Cloud Atlas is beautiful, absorbing and totally unique.

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Like a greatly extended Cloud Atlas, all of Mitchell's novels feel very different, for instance there's a crime story set in contemporary Japan, the story of a boy growing up in 1970s England, a historical novel about European traders in 18th century Japan. Yet in all of these novels, characters recur, images are repeated, there are distinct and deliberate links. All of this interconnection becomes explicit in The Bone Clocks. What we learn in this novel is that there are two warring clans of immortals, one survives by killing ordinary people, one survives by their consciousness passing into another body when they die. Their war ends up revolving around a young woman whose brother disappeared mysteriously when she was a child, who goes on to become a well-known author, and who ends her days in post-apocalypse rural Ireland. It's not the best thing Mitchell has written (that remains Cloud Atlas) but it is fun and fascinating, and in the way it ties all his other books together it becomes like a big intriguing puzzle.

Almost as important as Greg Egan’s work in describing posthumanity is Bruce Sterling’s sequence of Mechanist and Shaper stories in which posthumanity is divided between those who use mechanical means to augment the human body and those who use biology to shape the body. And that sequence reaches a glorious climax in this novel. The novel follows two one-time friends who become bitter enemies in the on-going battle between the Mechanist and Shaper factions to control the Solar System. In a novel filled with betrayals, assassinations, battles, alien encounters and much more, the central story concerns the constant reimagining of what it is to be human and still cope with the wildly varying conditions of life throughout the universe. Why it’s on the list: To some extent, all four of the routes to posthumanity come into play in this novel, which is a vast, panoramic vision of what humanity may become in space.

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The political nuances that play such an important part in Schismatrix are also there in much of his other work. For instance, Distraction, which won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, is a subtle account of the different political factions at play in a balkanised future America. While Heavy Weather looks at how climate change leads to extreme storms, and the knock-on political and social effects of this change.

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Mirrorshades, which Bruce Sterling edited, is the definitive cyberpunk collection, containing William Gibson's story "The Gernsback Continuum", along with work by key cyberpunk authors including Pat Cadigan, Paul Di Filippo, Lewis Shiner, James Patrick Kelly, Rudy Rucker and others.
The Shaper/Mechanist stories had a profound influence on many of the writers who have emerged in the new century. Perhaps the most significant of these is Accelerando by Charles Stross, which won the Locus Award. A series of linked stories take us from tomorrow's 24-hour online society to a space voyage as digitised information, to the dismantling of the planets to make a vast, solar powered computer.

This huge, panoramic novel takes us from the present, where we First Men are confined to Earth, to the 18th Men of the far distant future. In between we see evolution and technology produce incredible changes on the nature of humanity, as different forms of humankind rise and fall, adapt for life on other worlds, take on extraordinary new shapes, destroy themselves and rise from the ashes. No other work in the entire history of science fiction has such an extraordinary sweep, taking the story of mankind onward over millennia after millennia, and out across the solar system. Why it’s on the list: This is simply the most comprehensive, the most gobsmacking, the most awesome account of posthumanity you are ever likely to encounter.

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Last and First Men is grand enough and awesome enough in scale for anyone, but Star Maker is even grander, it is nothing less than the entire history of life in the universe. It begins on a small scale with one man in contemporary England who is somehow taken up into the universe where he explores another civilisation on a planet not unlike earth. Then his mind merges with one of the people from this world, and they go on to explore another, then another, each time the cosmic mind grows until eventually they meet the Star Maker himself, and realise that this universe is only one among many.

Two other books by Stapledon are well worth checking out. Sirius is the story of a scientist who creates a dog with human-like intelligence that is raised alongside the scientist's daughter as if they are brother and sister. Odd John, on the other hand, is about a super-intelligent human, homo superior (this is the first appearance of that phrase), and about the conflicts this intelligence creates with ordinary humans.

Two other works deserve to be read alongside Odd John. The Hampdenshire Wonder by J.D. Beresford is one of the earliest stories of this type, being a biographical account of the upbringing of a deformed but preternaturally bright child. Another World by J-H Rosnyaîné is the story of a mutant child whose extraordinary perception allows him to see another order of life existing alongside our own, both unaware of each other.

Is this novel science fiction? Or is it fantasy, or a straight historical fiction? It could be any, depending on how you choose to read the famously enigmatic ending of the novel. But however you read it, it is a beautiful and fascinating work.A white woman walks into a camp of Chinese workers in the Pacific Northwest in the 1870s. She doesn't speak, maybe she can't speak, but she does utter birdlike sounds that leads the Chinese labourers to christen her Sarah Canary. One of the Chinese tries to take care of her, which leads the two on an odyssey among the outcasts of American society at the time, encountering blacks, the insane, feminists and artists among others. At the end, Sarah is transformed into something indescribably and disappears. Was she an alien? Was she a figment of the imagination?Silent to the end, however, Sarah's journey shines an extraordinary light into murky corners of American history, and gives a voice to those who were usually voiceless. Sarah Canary is an emotionally powerful work, beautifully crafted, delicious to read, that makes us question our own notions of genre. It is undoubtedly science fiction, unless you decide otherwise.

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Throughout her career, Karen Joy Fowler has flirted with genre rather than embracing it full bloodedly; practically all of her novels and stories have an enigmatic quality to them that means it is never decisively clear whether they are science fiction or not, but they feel as though they should be. Typical of this quality is We are All Completely Beside Ourselves, in which a scientist raises a chimpanzee as part of the family, before circumstances force him to remove the chimp. The reasons are never fully explained to his youngest daughter, who spends the rest of her life blaming herself for the disappearance of her "sister". What makes it science fictional is that the story does not concern itself with what the chimp learned from living with a human family, but rather what the daughter learned from living with a chimp. As always with Fowler, the writing is exquisitely good.

If you are fascinated by the enigmatic form of first contact represented by Sarah Canary, you should also look out for A Maggot by John Fowles. Set in the 1730s, the story revolves around various conflicting accounts of a journey taken by an aristocrat and a small group of companions. Gradually, as we sort through the mysterious story, we realise that what the travellers encounter on their journey is a spacecraft, or possibly a time machine, and they are given a glimpse of highly advanced technology and the world it might create, but from their 18th century experience they are not able to make sense of what they see.

By the late 1980s, British science fiction was ready for the kick-start that would become the British renaissance. And that kick start came from two unexpected writers. One was Iain M. Banks, who had a reputation as an anarchic talent in mainstream fiction, but now burst out with a rip-roaring space opera. The other was Colin Greenland, who had written a handful of elegant if rather anaemic fantasies, but suddenly produced the wild, colourful space adventure of Take Back Plenty.This was a novel that brought together some of the oldest, hoariest ideas in science fiction, and made them fresh. It was a planetary adventure that wasn't afraid of presenting Mars or Venus as frontier territory, rough and dangerous; there are tough spaceship captains forever in danger of losing their precious ship; and there are competing alien races who happen to control the solar system. All this feels like cliché, but it is written with an exuberance that emphasises the devil-may-care fun of space opera.And Greenland undermines enough of the clichés to make us sit up and take notice. Most notably, his rough, tough spaceship captain is a woman, Tabitha Jute, who is a lot less responsible than her intelligent ship, the Alice Liddell (named after the model for Alice in Wonderland, which illustrates something of what lies behind this story). She accepts a seemingly innocuous job, transporting a wheeler-dealer and his band from Mars to the alien space station of Plenty. But things rapidly become more complex, and once started the action barely lets up. Take Back Plenty won the BSFA and the Arthur C. Clarke Awards. It's a knowing rehash of old sf tropes that makes space opera fun again, which is why this is one of the founding texts of both the British Renaissance and the New Space Opera.

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Greenland took the story of Tabitha Jute on through two more novels, Seasons of Plenty and Mother of Plenty plus a collection of stories, The Plenty Principle. They are fun to read and very entertaining, though they don't quite match the flair of the original.

Other authors whose work was essential in stimulating the New Space Opera include Paul McAuley, especially his early trilogy of Four Hundred Billion Stars, Secret Harmonies and Eternal Light, which, as the title of the first volume might suggest, take the entire galaxy as the backdrop for stories of interstellar warfare, genetic engineering, immortality, and a dramatic journey to the very core of the galaxy. The novels marked McAuley out as one of the major new writers of hard sf, and are still wonderful reading today.

During the Cold War, little of the science fiction being written in the Soviet Union managed to reach the West. The one exception was the work of the brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, who wrote getting on for 20 novels between the late 1950 and the late 1980s. Most, though by no means all of these were translated into English, the most prominent of which were Hard to be a God, The Final Circle of Paradise, Snail on the Slope and especially Roadside Picnic.This is the story of a forbidden region in a remote part of the Soviet Union where aliens had briefly landed. What they left behind was probably no more than the garbage we might leave behind after a roadside picnic, but to Earth it represents a glimpse of an impossibly advanced technology. Which is enough to prompt some people to brave both the Soviet guards and the dangers of the alien technology to investigate the Zone.Why it's on the listRoadside Picnic proved to be an incredibly influential work, largely because of the film version, Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky (with a screenplay by the Strugatsky brothers), which has influenced works as varied as M. John Harrison's Kefahuchi Tract trilogy and Jeff Vandermeer's Area X trilogy.

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Although the Strugatsky brothers wrote some optimistic, utopian fiction early in their career, most of their best work has a much darker feel to it. Hard to be a God takes observers from a utopian Earth to a medieval world where they find themselves unable to act against the rise of a fascist dictatorship and a militant religion. In The Final Circle of Paradise an investigator arrives in a seaside resort where there have been a series of unexplained deaths. He finds a city totally given over to decadence, but as he explores further he finds that at the root of it all is an electronic component known as a Slug that creates an utterly addictive virtual reality that is more intense than normal reality.
There was a time when stories of isolated communities surviving after the apocalypse were all over the place. There was also a time when stories of clones were everywhere, driven by the curious uncanny interest in what it might be like to meet yourself. But it took Kate Wilhelm, in what is easily her finest novel, to bring the two ideas together.There is no one cataclysmic event that destroys the world, just a series of problems, viruses and wars and increasing levels of radiation, that slowly become insoluble. The Sumners, a wealthy extended family, decide to ride out the cataclysm in their remote farm, until they discover that one of the side effects of the various problems in the world is that they have all become infertile. In order for the family to survive, they decide to clone themselves, imagining it is a temporary measure and that some years down the line the clones will be able to breed naturally again. But the clones have other ideas. They quite like being clones, and choose to continue cloning, creating anything from four to 10 offspring from each individual. The consequence of this is that the clones lose all sense of individuality, they become dependent on each other, tied together by an empathy that is almost telepathic. Eventually, they lose their creativity, their ability to cope with changing circumstances. Only an offshoot community that has restored natural childbirth and with it the sense of individuality continues to thrive. Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang won the Hugo Award. A humane, sensitive work, typical of Wilhelm at her very best, it is one of the most interesting treatments of cloning in science fiction. U. A humane, sensitive work, typical of Wilhelm at her very best, it is one of the most interesting treatments of cloning in science fiction.

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Other than Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, Wilhelm was probably at her best at shorter length. Try her collection The Infinity Box, particularly the title novella. This is a disturbing story in which a man finds he is able to enter and control the mind of a vulnerable woman who moves in next door. But the more he controls her, a psychologically abusive sexual relationship, the more he slips into madness.

There are any number of other novels about cloning. Among the more interesting, Cloned Lives by Pamela Sargent is worth reading. It tells of an experiment with cloning told from the point of view of different clones and the father, and it is interesting that it doesn't stress the similarity between the clones but the differences.

More recently, stories of cloning have concentrated on the idea of the clone being harvested for organs and body parts to keep the original alive. This notion crops up in Spares by Michael Marshall Smith, in which the clones go on the run; and in Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, in which the clones are raised to feel honoured to donate parts.

Sense of place is, to be honest, not particularly strong in a lot of science fiction. We get identikit urban futures, or rural redoubts that could be anywhere, or other worlds that can be described any way that the author finds convenient. But one of the particular enchantments of Pat Murphy's The City, Not Long After, is the way San Francisco is a character in the story, its quirks and oddities lovingly described. And, of course, the whole story turns on the particular characteristics of San Francisco natives. The story is set not long after the Plague, which has drastically reduced the population, terminally disrupted the governance of the United States, but has not overly inconvenienced the survivors in San Francisco. They seem to have plenty of food, grown locally and sold at markets around the city, and most of them seem to be using their post-apocalyptic leisure to become artists. In other words, San Francisco has reinvented itself as a sort of utopia. But that sort of anarchistic life cannot be allowed to continue by those seeking to reimpose order. In particular, General Miles, who has decided that a military government is needed, that everyone must be made to work together to rebuild the country, and that dissent must be stamped out. The clash of worldviews is inevitable. What makes this such a delightful novel is the way the artists of San Francisco are busy reimagining reality, and base their resistance upon this. Their opposition to the General has a surreal quality to it, works of art are ranged against armies. Might must win in the end, but before we get there some very interesting things are happening.   Underneath it all, The City, Not Long After is a very traditional, very familiar story: the threat of a military dictatorship being imposed in the wake of some disaster. But in the way it is told, in the way the characters respond to the disaster with art, and above all in the portrayal of San Francisco, the familiar is made new.

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A Mask for the General by Lisa Goldstein occupies very similar territory to The City, Not Long After. Economic collapse has enabled The General to seize power in America, imposing a harsh police state in which many foodstuffs are unavailable, curfews are imposed and work camps established. Again, the rebellion has an artistic aspect. The "tribes", updated hippies, wear animal masks which somehow reflect the character of the wearer and affect their behaviour. The central thrust of their rebellion against military rule is to deliver such a mask to the General.

San Francisco also plays a major part in the Bridge Trilogy by William Gibson, which consists of Virtual Light, Idoru and All Tomorrow's Parties. Central to the trilogy is the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge, which has become a shanty town after a devastating earthquake. The anarchistic community that grows up on the bridge, like the artists of The City, Not Long After, becomes a centre for reimagining the world through the development of nanotechnology and cyberspace.

The future is here, William Gibson once said, it's just not evenly distributed. That unevenness of distribution is especially apparent in what we still call the Third World, those countries still scrambling to keep up with the effects of Western technological change while holding on to their distinctive character and traditions. It is that conflict that lies at the heart of Ian McDonald's monumental and brilliant novel.It is set in India on the 100th anniversary of independence, but India is no longer a unified state, it has been balkanised into a number of competing states. Here AIs that might pass the Turing Test are banned, but some states are not above working with them covertly. Meanwhile severe water shortages threaten the stability of the various Indian states. Both basic needs and modern technological developments, therefore, play their part in the chaos that is starting to overwhelm the subcontinent.Telling the story through a variety of different viewpoint characters ranging from a genderless "neut" who works on a popular soap opera, to a would-be stand up comedian who suddenly inherits control of a major energy company, McDonald provides a panoramic account of the many different cultural, social, political, technological and religious differences that all play a part in the brewing conflict.In a collection of stories, CyberabadDays, that acts as a pendant to this novel, McDonald provides further perspectives, both before and after the events of River of Gods, that help to make this comprehensive portrait of near-future India even more convincing. River of Gods won the BSFA Award, and "The Djinn's Wife" from Cyberabad Days won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette. Together the books provide a rich and vivid portrait which makes it clear that the future is not just limited to one portion of the globe. Hugo Award for Best Novelette. Together the books provide a rich and vivid portrait which makes it clear that the future is not just limited to one portion of the globe.

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McDonald has been something of a globetrotter in his fiction. For instance,TheChaga Saga, which consists of Chaga, Kirinya and Tendeleo's Story (which won the Theodore Sturgeon Award) takes us to Africa, where an alien plague starts to transform the landscape. The story concerns the conflict between the First World response, trying to close off and control access to the Chaga, and the reaction of local people who are more comfortable adapting to the transformations and benefiting from the nanotechnology inherent in the plague.

Brasyl, which won the BSFA Award, tells three interlocking stories set at different times. One concerns the early days of colonial intrusion into Brazil, another concerns a reality TV producer in contemporary Brazil, while the third is set in the mid-21st century with the introduction of quantum computing which goes on to break down reality in such a way that the three different timestreams interact.

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Perhaps the most successful of these examinations of a non-Anglo-American future is The Dervish House. Intermingling the stories of several different residents of an old house in Istanbul in the near future. The plot starts with a terrorist bombing that, strangely, has no victims other than the bomber, but goes on from there to involve an investment scam, a quest to find a legendary religious relic, a religious awakening, among others. They come together in a complex mosaic that illustrates a way that Istanbul might embrace the new and preserve the old. It's a brilliant novel that won the BSFA and John W. Campbell Memorial awards.

Throughout its history, many of the finest and most important works of science fiction have been short stories. Magazines and anthologies have been the lifeblood of the genre for at least 90 years. Magazines like Amazing or Astounding or Asimov's, anthologies like Universe or New Dimensions or Orbit, all deserve a place in any top 100 of the genre. But of all the short story collections the one that surely can't be ignored is Harlan Ellison's groundbreakingDangerous Visions, along with its even more massive companion, Again, Dangerous Visions.The 33 stories in Dangerous Visions won two Hugo Awards and two Nebula Awards; the 42 stories in Again, Dangerous Visionsadded another couple of Hugo and Nebula Awards. But the awards really don't tell the full story.What you find here are writers as varied as Frederik Pohl, Robert Bloch, Larry Niven, Roger Zelazny, Carol Emshwiller, Theodore Sturgeon, Norman Spinrad, Joanna Russ, Gene Wolfe, Kurt Vonnegut, Gregory Benford, Josephine Saxton, Thomas Disch, James Tiptree, Jr., and so on. It's a who's who of the very best science fiction writers, producing some of their very best work."Aye, And Gomorrah" by Samuel R. Delany, in which neutered spacers exploit their androgyny as a sexual fetish for others, is undoubtedly one of the finest stories he ever wrote. "The Word for World is Forest" by Ursula K. Le Guin, in which humans try to exploit the resources of an idyllic world uncaring of the harm it will do to the native inhabitants, is a glorious piece of work.Because Ellison encouraged his contributors to break taboos, to try things that science fiction hadn't done before, it resulted in some of the most original, challenging and brilliant stories in the genre. The two collections together were groundbreaking. Science fiction hadn't seen anything like them before, and hasn't seen anything like them since. The collection defined the American new wave, and changed the genre for a generation.

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There is nothing quite like Dangerous Visions, but any of these original anthology series you can lay your hands on will be well worth your while.

Orbit edited by Damon Knight published a host of award winning fiction by such regular contributors as Gene Wolfe ("The Fifth Head of Cerberus"), Kate Wilhelm ("Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang"), R.A. Lafferty, Ursula K. Le Guin and others. There were 21 volumes in the series.

New Dimensions edited by Robert Silverberg contained such award-winning stories as "Eurema's Dam" by R.A. Lafferty, "The Girl Who Was Plugged In" by James Tiptree, Jr., "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula K. Le Guin and "Unicorn Tapestry" by Suzy McKee Charnas. There were 12 volumes in the series.

Universe edited by Terry Carr included such award winners as "Good News from the Vatican" by Robert Silverberg, "The Death of Doctor Island" by Gene Wolfe, "If the Stars Are Gods" by Gregory Benford and Gordon Eklund, "The Ugly Chickens" by Howard Waldrop, "The Quickening" by Michael Bishop and "Paladin of the Lost Hour" by Harlan Ellison. There were 17 volumes edited by Terry Carr and a further three volumes edited by Robert Silverberg and Karen Haber.

The internet changed our lives in ways that, even now, we probably don't fully appreciate. But what is the effect of the internet? To what extent are we different from how we were before this instantaneous contact with the world? In Air, Geoff Ryman takes us to a remote village in Central Asia, a village that is aware of the modern world but is not part of it and, so far as it is aware, has no need of it. Meanwhile, a new advance on the internet is being developed, something called "Air" that gives you a direct mental connection to the world. By pure chance, Chung Mae, an illiterate peasant woman, gets Air downloaded into her brain before anyone else in the world. She is smart, running her own little fashion business which makes her the automatic repository of the hopes and worries if the other village women. Once she gets used to this strange thing that has happened to her, she sees how much it is going to affect life in the village. Slowly, she starts to prepare her fellow villagers for a transformation she sees as inevitable, but in the process unleashes social and personal troubles that affect her and everyone she has ever known. Air recounts the wrenching transformation of an ancient, ageless way of life into hyperfast modern connectivity. It is a painful, moving, and in the end beautiful account of the terrors of our fast-moving and uncaring world, and of what is lost in any abandonment of tradition.   Air won the Arthur C. Clarke, the BSFA and the James Tiptree Jr. Awards. It is a prime example of the movement Ryman himself has dubbed "mundane sf", fiction that focuses on the world around us and the everyday consequences of contemporary science and technology.

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The Child Garden, which won the Arthur C, Clarke and the John W, Campbell Memorial Awards, is set in a future where global warming has transformed the world, and where everything is bioengineered so that houses are actually life forms. So prevalent is the reliance on genetic engineering that viruses are used for everything, including education. The story is centred on an actress who is immune to these viruses, and whose attempts to stage an opera based on The Divine Comedy brings her into contact with the gestalt mind that rules the world.

Anyone interested in the idea of mundane science fiction would be advised to seek out When It Changed: Science Into Fiction edited by Ryman. For this project, 15 writers were paired with 15 scientists and wrote stories inspired by their ideas and research. Authors featured include Gwyneth Jones, Ken MacLeod, Adam Roberts, Liz Williams, Simon Ings and Justina Robson.

In June 1968, the magazine Galaxy carried two advertisements on facing pages. The left-hand page declared support for the Vietnam War and was signed by 72 prominent sf authors and editors; the right-hand page opposed the war and was signed by 82 people. The war divided science fiction every bit as much as it divided American society as a whole. But although an occasional science fiction story was clearly influenced by the war (The Forever War by Joe Haldeman is the prime example), it would not be until Lucius Shepard started writing, getting on for 20 years later, that a body of work was produced directly addressing the traumas of Vietnam.Of these, easily the best was the novel Life During Wartime. Here the setting has been transposed to Central America in the near future, but the intense heat of the jungle, the disorientation experienced by the soldiers, blatantly recalls Vietnam.The American soldiers know nothing of why they are fighting or what the war is about; they know even less about the people whose lands they have invaded. Most of the soldiers, most of the time, are high on drugs which are not just freely available, they are actually distributed by the military. Meanwhile the elite forces, such as the helicopter pilots we meet on several occasions, are so engaged with their heads-up digital displays that they are completely dissociated from the real world around them. This is high-tech, very science fictional warfare.Their opponents, however, are effectively magic realist; at one point an American pilot is killed when he is suffocated by hundreds of butterflies. The central character, David Mingolla, is an artillery specialist recruited into Psicorps, but when he meets and falls in love with the rebel Debora the two go AWOL, penetrating the Latin American jungle to discover that the whole war is actually a continuation of an ages-old rivalry between two Panamanian families, who have managed to manipulate the different armies to their will. "R&R", the novella which became the starting point for the novel, won the Nebula Award. The novel, atmospheric with a vivid sense of how oppressive the jungle can feel, is surely one of the finest accounts of the experience of war that science fiction has produced.

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Shepard's great strengths as a writer, the colour and feel and smell of the jungle, the way that characters barely hang on to their sense of identity in the face of mysterious and overwhelming threat, the vivid image of the world as a place where people don't really belong, is often best displayed in his novellas and novelettes. So you are well advised to look out for his collections, such as The Jaguar Hunter which includes such classics as "The Jaguar Hunter", "Salvador" and "A Spanish Lesson".

A good place to start would be The Best of Lucius Shepard, a patchy collection that doesn't always live up to the title, but stories like "Shades", "Delta Sly Honey", "Radiant Green Star", "The Arcevoalo", "Jailwise" and "Stars Seen Through Stone" all display how brilliant Shepard could be at his very best.

The grandfather paradox – which states that if you go back in time and accidentally kill your grandfather you will never be born, so you cannot travel back in time to kill your grandfather, and on endlessly – is the central problem of time travel stories. Some authors ignore it, some embrace it; but what if the purpose of time travel isn't to go back and change history, but rather to go back and put history right? That is the intriguing idea behind Michael Moorcock's Behold the Man. In contemporary London, Karl Glogauer is a misfit, neurotic, homosexual, and with a messiah complex. Indeed, at one point in his childhood, he had himself crucified on the fence of the school playground. Unable to cope with modern life, he builds a time machine and travels back to meet the man he dreams of being. But when he reaches 1st century Palestine, he discovers that the historic Jesus is a drooling idiot. But Glogauer is so committed to the idea of Jesus that he starts taking on the role, repeating the parables he can recall and using psychological tricks that pass for miracles. In the end, determined to see his impersonation through to the end, he even connives in his own betrayal and execution.   The original novella won a Nebula Award. There is a line in the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: "when the legend becomes fact, print the legend." Behold the Man is a powerful novel about preserving the legend in the face of the facts.

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As editor of New Worlds, Moorcock had already done enough to claim an essential place in the history of the new wave, but he then went on to write definitive new wave fiction in the form of the Jerry Cornelius sequence: The Final Programme, A Cure for Cancer, The English Assassin and The Condition of Muzak (which won the prestigious Guardian Fiction Prize). Hip, sexually ambiguous, Cornelius is a harlequin-type character who changes identity and appearance at will. Loosely identified as a secret agent in swinging London, he is embroiled in an increasingly wild set of adventures that involve a recurring cast of characters and usually end in some massive transmogrification.

Some of these characters, sometimes under different versions of their name, recur also in the Dancers at the End of Time sequence (An Alien Heat, The Hollow Lands and The End of All Songs), a science fantasy extravaganza of decadence and time travel.

Other novels that deal with the paradoxes of time travel include Up The Line by Robert Silverberg, in which a courier on a series of time tours keeps having to patch things up as tourists constantly change the past. The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold  is the story of a college student who inherits a "timebelt" and ends up constantly meeting different versions of himself. Corrupting Dr Nice by John Kessel is modelled on screwball comedies with lots of paradoxes and anachronisms twisting things around to comic effect.

A massive alien structure is discovered on the moon. In order to explore it, volunteers are scanned in a matter transmitter on Earth and their doppelgangers are projected onto the moon while the original is able to experience everything that the doppelganger does. Unfortunately, the doppelganger is killed almost as soon as they enter the structure, and experiencing vicarious death is enough to send the volunteer mad. Then an adventurer, Al Barker, comes forward. The doppelganger is killed, but Barker retains his sanity. He goes again, and gets a little further into the structure before being killed. Then a little further, and a little further. But the experience of dying, over and over again, has an effect. Against this stark background, Budrys weaves a story of manipulation, sexual jealousy, a quest for thrills and a quest for power, all of which are reflected in the solitary experience of dying and dying and dying again for the sake of a few more feet inside a structure that remains enigmatic to the end.   Rogue Moon is one of those stories that stays with you. The repeated agony of death remains as a powerful image that you can never quite get out of your mind. It may not be a story that you re-read much, but it's a story that you'll always remember.

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Budrys was never a prolific writer, but he wrote a handful of powerful and disturbing novels that are unlike the work of anyone else.

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Who? Is a Cold War thriller that keeps its secrets right to the end. There is an explosion in an American research establishment close to the Soviet border, and a Soviet rescue mission gets there first. They take away for treatment Dr Martino, the head of the secret project. Months later, they return a man they claim is Martino. But he now has an artificial hand and arm, his head is enclosed within a featureless metal skull; there is no way of identifying him conclusively as the real Martino. The struggle to work out who is behind the iron mask is complicated by the fact that the person who may be Martino has undergone an existential crisis and is no longer sure of his own identity.

Another novel well worth reading is Michaelmas, in which a popular newsman is secretly in control of the world through an evolving AI he has created. But the world peace he has established is threatened by an alien presence.

What would you do if you could live your life over and over again? It may not be as idyllic an option as it sounds, as Claire North demonstrates in this gripping novel. There are among us, there have always been among us, people who, when they die, are born again at the exact same time and in the exact same circumstances as their original birth. Because they carry memories from their previous lives, they are usually able to bet on winning horses and so give themselves a comfortable life. And after one or two lifetimes they also tend to discover others like them, the so called Cronos Club, who provide a support network. But other than that, there are those who seek religion and those who live lives of debauchery, and those who basically live fairly ordinary lives. Then a message is passed back from the future, whispered by a child to a dying man, who in turn as a reborn child will whisper it at someone else's death bed: the end of the world is getting earlier. Thus Harry August discovers that there is someone who is trying to destroy the Cronos Club, and at the same time initiate so many technological developments that it changes the character of the world and accelerates the end of the world. The search, and the subsequent battle of wills with his opponent, takes several lifetimes.   The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a vivacious, endlessly inventive story that constantly makes us see our world afresh.

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Claire North's novel is one of a number of works recently that have presented numerous different versions of the same person, all of which deserve attention.

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Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is the story of Ursula Todd who is born one snowy morning in February 1910 and instantly dies, or she dies in the influenza epidemic after the First World War, or she is killed by a brutal husband, or she bombed in the Blitz, or she dies a lonely death in the 1970s. At each death, the story is reset back to that snowy February, and Ursula takes a different path in life. She doesn't remember her other lives, but there is an awareness that helps her avoid repetitions of the same death. Her lives are mostly ordinary, a mid-level clerk, an ARP warden in the war, but they work constantly towards a course of events in which her beloved brother is not killed in the war. Written with humanity, compassion and a wonderful eye for detail, this is an extraordinary account of one woman's lives in the 20th century.

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My Real Children by Jo Walton differs from Atkinson's novel by starting not at the beginning of life but at the end. Patricia Cowan is an old woman in a nursing home whose memories seem incoherent and contradictory. Then we flash back to a fateful phone call when her boyfriend called to ask her to marry him. If she said yes, she entered a troubled marriage in which she raises four children but is disappointed in life, but the world is more peaceful than our own; if she said no, she developed a passion for Italy, wrote best selling guide books, and had a long-lasting lesbian relationship, but the world was less peaceful and more threatening. In both lives, she faces limitations and restrictions simply because she is a woman, which is what makes this such an interesting book.

If there is one overused cliché in science fiction, it is the alternate history novel in which Hitler won the Second World War. But this is a novel about the Nazis triumphant that is not clichéd for the very simple reason that it was written even before the war began.Burdekin was an early feminist writer who saw fascism as an ideology that extolled the masculine, and following Hitler's proclamation of the "thousand-year Reich", she wrote the novel to show just how far such an ideology might go in a thousand years. The novel was published under the name Murray Constantine, a pseudonym designed to protect her family from the sort of attack her strong condemnation of fascism was likely to generate. It was 20 years after her death before it was discovered that Constantine was really Burdekin.It is 700 years after the Nazis won the Twenty Year War, and Hitler is revered as a tall, blond god who personally won the war. The Jews have been eliminated long since, Christians are marginalised, and women have been deprived of all rights. The rise of a misogynistic society has led to the physical degeneration of women, and with that the race has declined, becoming ever weaker so that they are struggling to continue their perpetual wars against the only other superpower, Japan. This is, quite simply, one of the finest works of science fiction from between the wars, a stirring, passionate denunciation of fascism at a time when appeasement was popular.

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There are many tales of Hitler winning the war, some of the more interesting examples of which are:

The Sound of His Horn by Sarban tells of a British Prisoner of War who is transported to a Nazi dominated future where genetically-modified women are hunted for sport.

The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad presents an alternate history in which Hitler failed as a politician and became a pulp novelist, whose sf novel The Lord of the Swastika reflects much of Hitler's ideology in the form of a lurid post-apocalyptic tale.

Fatherland by Robert Harris is set in 1964 when a detective, investigating the murder of a high-ranking Nazi official, uncovers a conspiracy that leads him back to the Final Solution. There's a similar plot in SS-GB by Len Deighton, in which the investigation of a murder in Nazi-occupied Britain leads to a plot to help the king escape.

Resistance by Owen Sheers is set in a remote Welsh valley where all the men have gone off to join the resistance and have presumably been killed, leaving the women to tend the farms and cope with the occupying German troops.

Trilogies have more or less become the default form of science fiction these days. But even so, producing all three volumes of a trilogy in a year is not exactly a common occurrence. That, however, is what Jeff VanderMeer has done, and in doing so he has produced something genuinely spooky, intriguing, unexpected and oddly beautiful.Area X is a part of Florida where something strange happened years ago. Since then, the area has been closed off under the oversight of the Southern Reach Authority. Every so often they will send a team in to investigate, but the teams don't always return, if they do return they're not always in their right minds, and if they do report it doesn't always make sense. So mostly the Area is left to return to what passes for nature here.In the first volume, Annihilation, a team of four women is sent in. It is obvious from the start that something in the zone is affecting their perception, or at least their understanding of what they see. Because from the very first sentence we are seeing a tower that does not rise into the air but rather plunges into the ground. Later we will find a form of lichen on the walls of the tower that grows in such a way as to form cryptic messages. The second volume, Authority, concentrates on the Southern Reach Authority itself, a bureaucracy made helpless by the fact that it has no control over Area X at all. The barrier that closes it off, the lone doorway into the zone, all were created by unknown forces, possibly aliens although no-one seems to want to acknowledge that possibility. And the helplessness of the bureaucracy leads to Byzantine infighting and lots of ineffectual spy business.Finally, in Acceptance, the narrator of the first volume, presumed dead, reappears but insists on calling herself Ghost Bird, and we return to the zone itself to find a solution to some but by no means all of the mysteries. Jeff VanderMeer is one of the leading exponents of what is called "New Weird", a hybrid form that combines elements of horror, fantasy and science fiction. If, in this trilogy, the science fiction seems to predominate, the whole trilogy is still inflected with a perfectly balanced sense of the strange and wonderful and disturbing. It's a work to savour, even if it is not a work to be fully understood.

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Area X clearly owes a debt to Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and Nova Swing by M. John Harrison, both of which you will find elsewhere in this top 100.

Other key works of New Weird that definitely should be read include Viriconium by M. John Harrison, a set of three short novels and several stories that tell of a city at the end of time that is almost forgetting its own existence, a place where an army from the past might rise up, where aliens can invade and can hardly be noticed, and where strange debilitating diseases sweep across the city. Haunting, spare, full of unexpected juxtapositions, this a work that inspired writers as varied as Iain M. Banks, Simon Ings, China Mi�©ville and others.

You also need to check out the Bas Lag Trilogy from China Mi�©ville, which consists of Perdido Street Station which won the Arthur C. Clarke and the British Fantasy Awards, The Scar which won the Locus and British Fantasy Awards, and Iron Council which won the Locus and Arthur C. Clarke Awards. Set in a world where horror and science fiction blend seamlessly, where there are people with steampunk contraptions grafted on to them, where aliens of every kind mingle, where building a railway is an act of political dissent. The novels are vivid, full of action and so richly described that every scene is crystal clear.

Is there anything new to be done with a post-apocalypse scenario? Well, read Station Eleven and find out.In a performance of King Lear, one snowy night in Toronto, the leading actor, Arthur Leander, collapses and dies. A child actress, Kirsten, watches in horror as a trainee paramedic, Jeevan, tries and fails to save Arthur's life. Later, leaving the theatre, Jeevan hears about a virulent strain of flu and instead of going home heads for his brother's apartment where the two can barricade themselves in against the collapse of society.This is the central point of the novel, the hinge around which everything turns. From here we go back in time to witness Arthur's career, and we leap forward in time to when Kirsten is a member of a troupe of players travelling between remote communities. There are many of the familiar devices of post-apocalyptic fiction here, the small-town dictators, the religious fanatics, the simple struggle to survive. But these are not the point of the book.Rather, the importance lies in the links that Mandel draws out between the world before the collapse, and after. With a hand-drawn comic, "Station Eleven", providing the connection as it somehow survives the apocalypse. Station Eleven has already made the shortlists for a variety of mainstream and science fiction awards, an indication of the quality of the book. From the very first sentence you will be captivated by the sheer beauty of the prose. It is, above all, just a marvellous book to read.

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It may be a sign of the times, but the collapse of society has come back into fashion in current science fiction. There are several examples of the form, of which these are probably the best.

Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson is set in an extremely balkanised Europe, where city blocks or country parks or even train lines can declare themselves independent statelets. Suddenly Europe is criss-crossed with new borders. But there is always a need for goods or money or people to be transported secretly across borders, and with so many new borders the need is more acute than ever. Which is where the coureurs come in: a secret organisation dedicated to getting anything across any border. When Rudy, a chef, is recruited by the coureurs, however, he finds himself involved in a secret world that is far more deadly than he had ever imagined, because it turns out there are borders that no-one even knew about.

Wolves by Simon Ings is the story of two childhood friends whose friendship is tested as the world falls apart around them. One of them, Micky, is so convinced that the end times are coming that at one point he even builds an ark at his home, and he goes on to write a novel about a flooded world; but when the rains do come, the novel proves to be eerily prescient. Conrad, on the other hand, wants to know who killed his disturbed mother; while his father's invention of a device to help blind servicemen see doesn't stop him falling through the cracks in society and ending on the breadline. It is a world that is slowly falling apart, and the natural catastrophe that is just beginning as the novel ends is only the final act in a long process of disintegration.

"Space opera" was a disparaging term coined by Wilson Tucker for the sort of brash interstellar adventure that has been the staple of science fiction magazines before the Second World War. But the person who actually invented space opera is probably E.E. "Doc" Smith.The first space opera was The Skylark of Space, in which an inventor, Seaton, discovers a workable space drive. His rival, DuQuesne, steals the drive, kidnaps Seaton's girlfriend, and heads out into space, hotly pursued by Seaton and his partner. They catch up with DuQuesne, rescue the girlfriend, then set off on a tour of exotic planets and meet strange aliens, before finally returning to Earth. There were two further Skylark novels. Skylark Three has DuQuesneagain being the black-hearted villain who draws Seaton into a space war with a variety of aliens, only for Seaton to single-handedly conquer entire planets. Much the same happens in the third book, Skylark of Valeron. There was a fourth volume, Skylark DuQuesne, which was the last thing Smith wrote, some thirty years after the original trilogy, and in which DuQuesne reforms and joins Seaton in stopping an intergalactic genocide.The stories are tosh, the writing is sloppy, and yet there is something joyous about their sheer love of scale. Don't read these as great literature, but if you're looking for something light and quick and fun, they could be just right. The books may have been rubbish, but they were massively influential. A huge number of authors were inspired by Smith (most of them much better writers), and they made space opera one of the most important sub-genres of science fiction. A status they still enjoy today, though with the New Space Opera they form has improved markedly.

Books in Skylark Series (3)

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"Doc" Smith wrote another ludicrous space opera series, the Lensman novels, consisting of Triplanetary, First Lensman, Galactic Patrol, GrayLensman, Second Stage Lensman and Children of the Lens. Triplanetary opens with two galaxies colliding, and things just get bigger from there on in. By the end of the series, planets and suns are casually being tossed about as weapons in a galactic war. To say it is improbable is an understatement, and the characterisation makes cardboard look lively, but it is still a lot of gosh-wow fun.

Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers by Harry Harrison is a funny parody of "Doc" Smith, as if the original wasn't parodic enough.

For rather better space opera, try the Gap series by Stephen Donaldson, The Gap into Conflict: the Real Story, The Gap into Vision: Forbidden Knowledge, The Gap into Power: A Dark and Hungry God Arises, The Gap into Madness: Chaos and Order and The Gap into Ruin: This Day All Gods Die. The Gap is a faster than light drive, which allows the stories to cover great areas of interstellar space as we follow the machinations of the United Mining Companies against a backdrop of war with the alien Amnion.