SF CORE Best Lists
- Best Modern Science Fiction Books
- Best Science Fiction Series
- Best Stand Alone Science Fiction Books
- Top 25 Underrated Science Fiction Books
- Best Science Fiction by Women
- Best Science Fiction Books for Young Adults
- Best Science Fiction Books for Children
- The Alternative Top 25 Best Science Fiction List
- Top 25 Science Fiction Books
- Top 100 Best Science Fiction Books
- Top 50 Best Science Fiction Movies of All Time
- Best Sci-Fi Movies of the 21st Century
- Best Sci-Fi TV Shows of All Time
- Best Science Fiction Graphic Novels
SF ERA Best Lists
- Best Science Fiction Books of 2014
- Best Contemporary Science Fiction Books
- Best New Wave Science Fiction Books
- Best Classic Science Fiction Books
- Best Early Science Fiction Books
- Best Proto-Science Fiction
- Best Modern Science Fiction Classics
SF GENRE Best Lists
- Best Hard Science Fiction Books
- Best Cyberpunk Books
- Best Space Opera Books (OLD AND MERGED WITH NEW)
- Best Dystopian Science Fiction Books
- Best Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction Books
- Best Alternate History Books
- Best Time Travel Science Fiction Books
- Best Robot Science Fiction
- Best Artificial Intelligence Science Fiction
- Top 25 Best Mars Science Fiction Books
- Best Literary Science Fiction Books
- Best Books About Science Fiction
- Best Space Opera Books
- Top 25 Post Human Science Fiction Books
- Top 25 Best Science Fiction Mystery Books
- Top 25 Best Science Fiction Books About the Moon
- Best Non-English Science Fiction Books
- Best Science Fiction Games of All Time
- Best Science Fiction Comic Books
- Best Science Fiction Anime
- Top 25 Military SciFi Books
OTHER Best Lists
Top 100 Best Science Fiction Books
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.
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.
Books in Blindsight & Sequel Series (1)
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.)
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.
Books in Revelation Space Series (4)
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.
Books in The Ender Quintet Series (3)
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.
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.
Books in The Commonwealth Saga Series (5)
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.
Books in Red Rising Trilogy Series (5)
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.
1984 by George Orwell, which you will find elsewhere on this list, is a novel whose details echo much of what occurs in We.
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.
Books in Takeshi Kovacs Series (2)
I would suggest the works of Philip K. Dick, since this book won the award named after him. Dick had numerous dystopian societies.
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.
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.
Books in St. Leibowitz Series (1)
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.
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 Ã¢ 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).
Books in Ringworld Series (4)
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 faÃ?Â§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.
Books in Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy Series (7)
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 Ã?Ã?Â¢Ã?Ã?Â¦, 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.
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.
Books in The Dying Earth Series (5)
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.
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.
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.
One of the few novels he wrote, as opposed to collections of linked stories, was GrÃ?Â¡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. GrÃ?Â¡inne won the BSFA Award.
China MiÃ?Â©ville consistently employs multiple genres in his work, which is why his stories are so exciting and so original.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Ã¢ the only one that really matters Ã¢ 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.
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 Â½ a holiday? & I agreed & that woz how we decided we otter go 2 c Mr Zoliparia in thi I-ball ovthi gargoyle Rosbrith."
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.
Books in Instrumentality Of Mankind Series (7)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Books in The Space Merchants Series (2)
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.
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.
Books in Captain Nemo Series (0)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Books in Riverworld Series (4)
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.
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.
Books in Old Man's War Series (7)
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.
Books in Spin Series (2)
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.
Books in Triffids Series (1)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Books in Barsoom Series (12)
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.
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.
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.
Books in Sleepless Series (4)
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.
Books in Cloud Atlas Series (0)
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.
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.
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.
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 RosnyaÃ®nÃ© 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Books in Karl Glogauer Series (1)
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.
Budrys was never a prolific writer, but he wrote a handful of powerful and disturbing novels that are unlike the work of anyone else.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 MiÃ?Â©ville and others.
You also need to check out the Bas Lag Trilogy from China MiÃ?Â©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.
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.
Books in Skylark Series (3)
"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.