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The Best Science Fiction Books (According to Reddit) (blamcast.net)
466 points by chaosmachine 2053 days ago | hide | past | web | 287 comments | favorite

I'm sorry not to see Accelerando by Charles Stross (cstross on HN) on the list. One of the best singularity stories I have read, if not the best.

For those of you interested, it's available as a free ebook here: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/fiction/accelera...

My problem with Stross is that while he has some absolutely fantastic ideas and world-building, his stories fall short of keeping me interested or entertained. It's like there's so much stuff crammed in that the story part just falls out of the equation.

MINOR SPOILERS for Accelerando

I thought Accelerando was great up to the part where it stopped making any sense (about the time they were fighting some alien invaders parasites that teleported from somewhere using communication channels). Maybe I'm just dumb, but I really couldn't keep up with the plot and it got very nonsensical so I stopped reading. Dealing with singularities, the divide between the physical and the abstract is always very fluid. While Stross dealt OK with the abstract reality, I thought his physical reality didn't make any sense to me. Hilarious extrapolations, and such.

His newer books (Jennifer Morgue etc) are better stories; with some of the hell of modern office work.

I'm surprised that there's only one mention. It is an engaging and very fascinating read which explores some of the fundamental aspects of transhumanism.

If you've dismissed any of these based on your reading as a kid, try re-reading. I read Tolkien at 12, loved the wizards and orcs, but as an adult remembered it as nonsense. When I re-read it (to be able to discuss with my 11 year old son), I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. Likewise the Dune books (all but the first are probably beyond any adolescent). Good fiction is complex, and readings fascinated with wizards and swords and knife-fights will miss a lot of thought-provoking stuff. Nothing wrong with a good wizard, but don't miss the rest.

That said, I'm sorry to say that the Zelazny books, especially the later ones, don't withstand re-reading. And I don't see how "Old Man's War" appeals to any one but a teen or an ideologue. (I share the ideology! but the writing is stale as yesterday's cornflakes, and the characters as unidimensional as Heinlein's laziest pulp, without the Heinlein all-transgressive idiosyncrasy.)

Last note: "Starship Troopers" and "Forever War" ought to be read in sequence. I can recall reading Haldeman at 15 and thinking "Hey! He's going after Rico's Roughnecks!" It was my first moment of literature as Great Conversation. And as I read some political philosophy, I could see Haldeman as a Chomsky / Rousseau "it's all socialization!" response to the Locke / Hobbes rationalism of Heinlein. It was an early experience of fiction as thought, and a suggestion of why philosophy alone won't do.

Now I gotta go read the stuff on the list that I've missed.

I must disagree about Zelazny. I find that it handles re-reading quite nicely, except the second Amber series, which didn't take that well to reading even the first time. Lord of Light is especially awesome, and especially awesome on subsequent reads. It's not really SF, of course, but it at least pretends (unlike Amber).

I don't get how Old Man's War makes all these best of lists either. It's simple, and not in a good way. It's the literary equivalent of Red Dawn—awesome to 14 year olds, but lacking in anything deeper than "Old man gets new body and has lots of sex."

Old Man's War is pulpy fun that manages to also explore some interesting aspects of what it would mean to be able to swap your consciousness into that of a wholly redesigned younger "you".

Neal Stephenson really matures between Snow Crash and Diamond Age. I read snow crash after some of his later stuff and it's almost hard to believe it's the same author.

Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon are great books but each has their own style and you would think it was a different author if you didn't know better.

That's why I like Stephenson so much. He takes a topic and researches it so much that he brings it to life.

Whether he's writing for Wired about expats in South East Asia (which dove tails nicely with Cryptonomicon) or extra dimensional aliens in Anathem, he makes the world come alive and the technology and methodologies clear.

He also makes me laugh out loud. Very few books have done that.

"Neal Stephenson really matures between Snow Crash and Diamond Age. I read snow crash after some of his later stuff and it's almost hard to believe it's the same author."

This happens with more writers (and other artists) than many people think. I read Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game and loved both: they're incredibly rich and detailed yet driven by plot; they have the action that a lot of unsophisticated readers crave and content that can still satisfy someone who's read 10,000 novels. Oh, and it made me laugh out loud.

U.S. publishers are now releasing his young adult novels. Two so far, two more to come. And they're terrible. Almost unreadable bad. No plot, cardboard characters, wild improbability poorly embedded in a paranormal universe. You can see flashes of his later skill, but his early stuff is lousy.

I said this in another comment, but I'll say it again here: I just started reading David W. Galenson's Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity, (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0691133808/sr=8-1/qid=13150...), which is where Malcolm Gladwell stole / sourced his New Yorker article "Late Bloomers - Why do we equate genius with precocity?" (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/10/20/081020fa_fact_...). Galenson says that there are two basic modes for artists to follow: the experimentalists who try many things over long periods of time and eventually reach fullness, and the "conceptual innovators" whose sudden insight into a field fuels their work, which is often done at a young age. Under your reading, Stephenson would be the "experimentalist."

Agreed... I read Cryptonomicon first, then Diamond Age (my favorite from him) then Snow Crash, and I found the third book a lot less mature and dated (I read it in 2001, almost a decade after it was published).

Diamond Age painted a very deep and rich tapestry of future vision.

I found Cryptonomicon a painfully long slog. I enjoyed it overall, but only read it because of having read Snow Crash and Zodiac first. I love Stephenson's humor with technical issues. I suppose I should read some of his longer, er, later books.

I've enjoyed every Stephenson book apart from Anathem - obviously a lot of people love it but I couldn't see it all, a smattering of maths & philosophy mixed into an overlong and pretty boring 'students journey' plot. Why do people like it so much?

The first time I tried reading Anathem, I couldn't get into it and put it down for a year. Then, while travelling (read: lots of time on my hands), I picked it up again and couldn't put it down until I finished it. The richness of the world and the pacing of the plot (past page 300 or so) as the mystery is revealed is gripping. I didn't think it was an earth-shattering book, but it was certainly a great read. In the same vein, Ender's Game is just another book about a child prodigy/outcast who saves the day. It seemed far more profound when I was 13 than it did upon re-reading. Some books aren't revolutionary; they're just a good read.

I haven't read Snow Crash or Diamond Age, but I'm about a quarter of the way through Cryptonomicon right now and it's starting to get good. I find Stephensen's books tend to start off slowly then quickly pick up steam.

Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep is really good book. The movie is also nice, but it is almost independent masterpiece in itself. These dresses of Rachel, these rainy streets. Never mind.

Btw, A Scanner Darkly is also good novel by Philip K. Dick, but it never appear in any such ratings. It is almost that dark and depressive as Electric Sheep. ^_^ http://www.amazon.com/Scanner-Darkly-Philip-K-Dick/dp/067973...

As for Zelazny, A Night In Lonesome October is very nice read. http://www.amazon.com/Night-Lonesome-October-Roger-Zelazny/d...

PKD has written so many great books its not surprising everyone has their own favourites. I personally prefer Man in the High Castle, Ubik, Time out of joint and Martian time-slip to Electric Sheep and Scanner. I'm surprised none of these managed it onto the list :(

The most depressing thing about A Scanner Darkly is the author's note about how the novel is mostly auto-biographic, as well as the list of his friends and their punishment. It hit me rather hard at the time.


Obviously with any list there's going to be quite a lot of nits to pick... At any rate, here are mine.

Sad to see Stanislaw Lem completely left out in favor of some obviously inferior books (Anathem!?). Also a curious choice for the obligatory Atwood novel. Surprised that Gravity's Rainbow was not on there- I'd put it near the top (maybe it wasn't "Sci-Fi" enough?)

Good to see Canticle for Leibowitz as well as a fair amount of Asimov and Dick.

I added Stanislaw Lem in the reddit thread, didn't get a single upvote :( He's one of my favorite (sci fi) authors. Deep, absurd, comical. By the way, I think Solaris is some of his weaker novels.

I particularly like The Star Diaries, The Cyberiad and His Master's Voice.

Hear, hear. Any "Best of Sci-Fi" list that omits Solaris and includes Ender's Game is worthless.

Any "best sci-fi" list is like a selection of favorite candies. There's fleeting pleasure and some novelty to the experience, but it is what it is and in quantity it's bad for you.

If you want to read literature, choose something that will at least make you think better, not just dazzle you with future tech.

I've read Solaris few years ago, and Ender's Game few months ago. I like both books and I do not see a reason for bashing EG.

Could you elaborate?

The demise of any social website also seems to coincide with the first mention of Ender's Game. Could this be the end of HN as we know it?

I don't think that's a good rule at all. Ender's game a is popular children's novel and is likely remembered fondly in any techie/nerd/geek setting. It just shouldn't belong at the top of a "best of scifi" list.

My favorites are The Invincible and Fiasco

Gravity's Rainbow: recognized, but not recalled, as science fiction. I don't necessarily object to the classification, but it might not come to mind if I were making a list.

Also, Pynchon's prose is very rich - I expect popular lists to be dominated by lighter fare.

I find it amazing that the geekiest of all books ever written gets put aside in the geek canon in favor or space robots shooting lasers...

try Memoirs Found in a Bathtub if you haven't already. It's like The Man Who was Thursday meets Dr. Strangelove.

Anathem is the second-best Stephenson after Diamond Age in my opinion.

I would mark Diamond Age as "OK" at best. Interesting ideas, terrible and rushed ending. If Anathem is worse than Diamond Age, it most definitely does not belong on the list.

Rushed endings are a staple of Stephenson books. Anathem probably has the least rushed one.

I would add Permutation City. It's about: what's it like to be a digital person in a virtual world? What are the psychological effects of knowing that you're virtual; how do you experience time passing; what are the social implications of changing your appearance at whim, etc.

And, how do different interpretations of data compete to become "real"? For example, if you look at it one way it's a city, another way it's a collection of data cells to be colonized, etc.

For a more complete extrapolation of this concept, check out Diaspora by Greg Egan.

Disapora is a semi-sequel to Permutation City, both are written by Egan

I don't remember enjoying Permutation City that much, but it for sure as hell has stuck in my mind for years (to this day, in fact) for the ideas it brings forth. I think I'm going to reread it.

Glad to see that this time someone else is recommending this too, full of interesting ideas and overall a good hard sci-fi novel. We need more novels about these themes.

Um, hard sci-fi? Some handwavy "upload person to computer" stuff and then "we'll just rearrange the universe over here, don't mind us". I did read it a long time ago, but I don't remember anything that specific in it.

Permutation City is definitely hard sci-fi, albeit less hard than most of Egan's work. Ignoring the "uploading" (it not being the central point of the story, and this not being the place to have that debate), his "dust theory" is very well grounded. That's not to say that I believe it (or that he does, see http://www.gregegan.net/PERMUTATION/FAQ/FAQ.html), but that doesn't automatically qualify it as "magic" either.

I'd re-read it, Greg Egan is perhaps the hardest Sci-Fi writer out there, everything is rigorously thought out. He used to be a software engineer and hacks on some of his more interesting flights of fancy - check out his website http://gregegan.customer.netspace.net.au/ for some interesting stuff, Quantum Soccer anyone? http://gregegan.customer.netspace.net.au/BORDER/Soccer/Socce.... If NH should have an official Sci-Fi author it should be him ;)

Cool, I've played quantum golf before (which is easy) and quantum tic-tac-toe (which I never quite understood), I'll have to play with quantum soccer.

If anyone is interested, here is the list of joint winners of the Hugo and Nebula awards: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_joint_winners_of_the_Hu...

I always find this list tremendously useful when I don't know what to read next.

Another very valuable source of new material for me has been The Year's Best Science Fiction anthologies[1].

Perfect for finding new interesting writers (Bacigalupi was one of the nicest discoveries)

[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Years_Best_Science_Fiction

Dozois has a knack for picking great stories. The saddest part is that it's tricky to get past editions; when I find an old edition I don't have at a used book store it's terribly exciting, especially since the quality has been so consistent over the years.

I've had pretty good success picking them up in digital formats - not sure if you prefer the paperback version, but if you're okay reading it on a screen you can get all of them digital.

> I always find this list tremendously useful when I don't know what to read next.

Likewise - This is how I recently found 'The Windup Girl' by Paolo Bacigalupi; thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it.

I agree. Just finished reading it. An amazing book, and an unusual setting.

I'm glad to see Gene Wolfe just squeaked onto the list, but IMO the New Sun series ranks up there with Dune.

Pohl's "Gateway" and Gibson/Sterling's "The Difference Engine" would have been nice additions, too.

Otherwise, it's a nice starting point. There are a few titles I hadn't heard about that I'll be reading, if I can find the time.

Agreed, I spent the entirety of the list going "Yes, this is a good book, but where's Gene Wolfe?" Anyone who loves literature is doing themselves a disservice by not reading it.

Though I think I prefer Long Sun and Short Sun. :)

Agreed about Gene Wolfe. Wolfe is also much better (in literary terms) writer than most of the entries in the list, and New Sun ranks much higher than Dune in my opinion.

One omission that may fit this crowd well is "Daemon" and it's sequel "Freedom(tm)" by Daniel Suarez


These books are very well written and billed as a 'techno-thriller'. I think they are also near-term science fiction, and have a lot of very interesting ideas.

The books chronicle the rise of a very digital culture and a revolution driven by technology. The technology is amazingly well researched and believable, and the writing is entertaining and fun. At the moment they are quite recent and the technologies aren't there yet, but I wouldn't be at all surprised for some of the technology to fall into that 'oddly prescient' category within the decade.

Love those, probably the only books I've read that deserved the "techno-thriller" label that publishers love. Best extrapolation of the networked society yet.

What? No mention of Lois McMaster Bujold and her excellent Vorkosigan series? Bujold won four Hugo awards for her work, just behind Heinlein (who won five), and I'm always surprised that she isn't better known.

No Connie Willis (11 Hugos!) either, and Roger Zelazny represented by the fantasy series Amber rather than the almost universally recognized as superior science fictional Lord of Light? There are a lot of good books on that list, but a lot of strange choices, too.

Bujold has a noteworthy digital philosophy as well. The entire Vorkosigan series is available online http://baencd.thefifthimperium.com/24-CryoburnCD/CryoburnCD/

... all of it beautifully unencrypted and unencumbered. What’s the catch? This disk and its contents may be copied and shared, but NOT sold. All commercial rights are reserved. That’s it.

From her novel Barrayar:

>"The people’s right to access information shall not be abridged. It’s the first item in the Constitution."

The Foundation series was a great read, I read it when I was young and it influenced a lot of how I viewed the world around me.

Having just reread it, I must say that it shows that Asimov did not really want to write the last parts of the series (i.e. Prelude to the Foundation and Forward the Foundation). Forward the Foundation especially is just trying to tie everything together by whatever means necessary. That being said, the original first four parts are awesome.

Foundation, the book, was absolutely brilliant. Brilliant concept, brilliant structure to the book, and even the sentence-to-sentence writing is better than Asimov's usual (I normally find the actual wordcrafting to not be Asimov's strong suit).

But ugh ugh ugh. Every single book thereafter gets worse and worse, and by the end it's so bad that I actually welcomed the blatant fanservice reappearance of you-know-who.

Voldemort vs. the Foundation? Don't go giving me ideas.

I really love the foundation series. Even Foundation's Edge is really good, I think I read that the fastest of the four, although I haven't read the rest of the series.

I think the original three are so good because they are much less tainted by actual technology in the real world it seems, and it's sort of funny how Asimov, in some sense, describes Wikipedia and the utter importance of trade and consumption in ruling those around you, weaving in technology and concepts that even today sound like real science fiction; far fetched but attainable in the future. More importantly, Asimov does a good job in connecting you with the characters.

Was just thinking that, no matter how George Lucas messes up Star Wars, it can never compare to the damage done to the original Foundation books by Asimov's ham-fisted tying together of everything.

How about more modern science fiction? I loved the Golden Age series by John C. Wright, published around 2004. It's refreshing to read sci-fi where computers and connectivity are ubiquitous, rather than the old masters who didn't foresee the internet. (Stranger has flying taxicabs using magnetic tape for storage, a jarring juxtaposition to the modern reader.)

Golden Age raises some real philosophical questions, as good mind-expanding SF should. Suppose you have an adversary in some endeavor, and you have the technology to perfectly simulate your adversary's mind and predict what he will do. Does that simulation have consciousness? Does it have civil rights? What if it's forked? Very interesting stuff, grounded in real science (no FTL travel.)

Thank you. I believe Golden Age is the series I was trying to remember in a conversation a few weeks ago as an example of extreme use of augmented reality.

I'll toss in my recent favorite space opera: the Polity series by Neal Asher. Similar to Banks in that it has governing AIs, but less omniscient; good adventure stories, with a dash of horror in original hostile species, sentient and otherwise.

I'll 2nd Asher. Just read the prologue of Gridlinked. On par with Game of Thrones.

There's something I actually quite like about strange, dated sci-fi. I'll admit I really have only one strong example of it, and that is Gibson's Sprawl trilogy, but there's something fantastic about a world where information technology is scary and foreign, a world of digital phone booths and fax-newspapers, in which the internet is pervasive and deep, yet in other ways clunky and limited. It's a future arrived at by an alternate-present.

I accidentally happened across the series and couldn't put it down. It explores some of the densest philosophical implications of technology I can recall. Vast arenas, complex growing characters, implications in the concepts that don't hit you for weeks after reading it.

I was particularly struck by the concepts that came from the Atkins character, as the sole entity in the universe's military. The magnificent display of unbelievable power, not as planet cracking explosives, but weapons so precise that individual neurons could be severed from orbit, altering the course of entire conflicts. And the idea of the weaponry and strategy, though controlled by godlike machine minds, still needed the ok of a person to do the precision strike.

The only real weakness I felt was the Daphne character, she was flat, uninteresting and almost misogynistic in her treatment as an unbelievable ignorant and foolish female character. I found myself aggravated during her sections of the work, this stupid character in the midst of such magnificently crafted, almost baroque, prose and ideas.

Both Hamilton's _Pandora's Star_ and Vinge's _A Fire Upon the Deep_ are "Modern" sci-fi (though, definitely not hard sci-fi) where computing and networking are important to the story. The plot being A Fire Upon the Deep involves travelling to a planet lacking modern technology and the changes that brings.

Dune is great..in fact, the original 6, except maybe God Emperor, are all great.

Hyperion is a good book, as is the 2nd in the series The Fall of Hyperion. However, the two last books are really quite bad. Personally, i found Ilium+Olympos to be his best work.

I found the Culture novels disappointing. Except for Consider Phlebas and maybe Excession, you quickly realize that they are pretty much gods and that there's absolutely 100% no risk...it makes it all quite dull/pointless.

I hated Stranger in a Strange land..maybe I should re-read it. All I remember (and it's been about 10 years)..was that I liked the start, an then it turned really weird...all about drugs and sex and cults.

Something Dune accomplishes really well -- and which very few sci-fi books or movies have ever pulled off quite as effectively -- is weaving a lot of background, and culture, and esoteric terminology, into the story without disrupting the story's flow. There aren't lengthy, disjointed sidebars about what X means, or why Y exists. Instead, X and Y are woven into the narrative via context, allowing the reader to pick up quickly on what they are. (There's also a glossary at the back of the book, of course, which helps).

The book's most glaring weakness, however, is that many of its characters suffer from I'm-going-to-spell-out-precisely-what-I'm-about-to-do syndrome (Harkonnen, in particular, has a James Bond Villain-esque penchant for such speeches.)

Regardless, the book has been absolutely foundational to the genre. Nearly every convention of the modern space opera can be traced back to Dune.

It's a pity that no one's ever been able to crack the book's code on film. Understandable, though, as so much of the action is psychological and the drama internalized.

I only read Dune last year (I'm in my thirties), and really disliked it. Your comment, however, emphasizes a virtue I did not sufficiently acknowledge at the time. It _is_ true that Dune was able to weave a lot of background into the story without resorting to technical infodumps. And at the time it was a rare and impressive achievement in SF, deserving of praise. But I don't think I'd agree that things haven't changed since; nowadays careful weaving of background isn't rare. The first two examples that pop into my mind are Banks' books (the Culture series or _Fearsum Enjinn_) in SF and Martin's _A Song of Ice and Fire_ novels in fantasy. It may be reasonable to say, however, that Dune has been foundational in teaching later authors the necessity of doing this.

(Ultimately, I just couldn't handle how bad the writing was. All the characters are utterly cardboard flat. Cliched tags follow them around the book. One character has an inkvine scar on his jaw that eventually ripples in any scene he's in... and then again in the next scene... and again... I felt like instituting a drinking game based on the rippling of the scar. The main hero's mind is filled with a _terrible purpose_ whenever the author feels the need to emphasize a clue or a plot point. And the author just can't handle the flow of information (who knows what how, and whether the reader also knows that and how). This leads to the I'm-going-to-spell-out-precisely-what-I'm-about-to-do syndrome you mention, but goes deeper than that, creating plot holes and distortions, and causing most of the characters to learn most of the important knowledge they need basically by staring into space and having a revelation).

Try again in a year or so. Dune is one of those books that takes a few tries. I think it was my 3rd attempt before I really got hooked and made it through (and savored every page from there on out).

It's kinda like Lord of the Rings in that respect. If you're in the right frame of mind, it's awesome. If not, it's the most boring piece of dullness you've ever seen in print. But once you're in, you're in for good.

Admittedly, the book is more a triumph of imagination than of craft. I won't argue there.

That said, I agree with the comment that it takes a few reads to really appreciate. The writing has its flaws, but it has its real charms. And those charms can be lost on a first read-through. Many of them were on me when I first plowed through the book. (It is not a book to be plowed through, I would later learn).

"Harkonnen, in particular, has a James Bond Villain-esque penchant for such speeches"

The Sci-Fi (pre-SyFy) miniseries runs with this and plays him as a flat-out monologuing villian, and I daresay it works pretty well.

I actually recommend the miniseries. It gets panned by a lot of people, but you need to understand it less as a television miniseries and more as a filming of a dramatic theater play. It heavily uses theatrical conventions, lighting, monologuing, pacing, even very theatrical special effects at some points. Given the low budget and topic material, I think this makes perfect sense, as theatrical conventions allow for more of the internal dialog to come out than standard cinema/movie conventions.

I loved the miniseries (after hating the first film - a travesty). After watching the miniseries, thousands of people chanting "Muad'Dib" came into my dreams and I still remember it today, years later (as luck would have it, my son attends a Jewish school whose day begins with a "Modani" ceremony - guess what that makes me thing of . . .).

The theatrical tricks of this miniseries obviously worked very well on me.

Agreed, the 2000 miniseries was pretty good as long as you keep in mind it's more theatre than film.

> There aren't lengthy, disjointed sidebars about what X means, or why Y exists. Instead, X and Y are woven into the narrative via context, allowing the reader to pick up quickly on what they are.

I feel Vernor Vinge has a good talent at this too. Apropos A Fire Upon The Deep (superb read) exposition is sparse and when required neatly woven into the story so that you almost never realize it's happening when it is.

I was actually surprised that A Deepness in the Sky didn't make it to the list when A Fire Upon the Deep did. Deepness had a lot of themes that satisfy hacker tastes (not just in terms of the technology but also the socio-political ramifications of it).

I had first heard of it when DanielBMarkham highly praised it (http://www.hn-books.com/Books/A-Deepness-In-The-Sky.htm, HN discussion here at http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2170579) and it's definitely one of the best sci-fi books I've read in years.

I'm so glad you mention it! I'm in the process of reading it right now. (Somewhere around 300 pages in; it's a bit heftier than Fire, but so far, well worth the read. I'm thoroughly impressed.)

The first time I read Deepness in the Sky, I felt like the middle was dragging on, because I wanted to get to the end.

Subsequent re-readings have revealed the middle is packed full of content and very good, no filler at all, it can just be a bit much to take in on one shot.

Loved Deepness in the Sky. It did make me cringe, though, every time some War on Terror policy was being discussed (in real life), I couldn't help thinking "Emergent" / "Emergency" :-(

Vice Podmaster, indeed.

"Regardless, the book has been absolutely foundational to the genre. Nearly every convention of the modern space opera can be traced back to Dune."

Examples, please? I haven't read Dune, so maybe there's something here I don't recognize, but I would have said modern space opera traces very directly back to good old (and very much pre-Dune) space opera...

But the irony is that Harkonnen _sees_ himself as that sort of evil mastermind, when he's actually made himself quite stupid.

True. There's a kind of semi-comedic irony that can be read into his character. He's sort of like Wallace Shawn's character in "The Princess Bride" in that sense.

The Wheel of Time series borrows extremely heavily from Dune.

I found both syfy miniseries more than acceptable, no?

re Stranger in a Strange land I think it's a book like Catching in the Rye.

Our (American) culture has changed so much that modern readers think "what's the big deal with this".

The drugs/orgies etc in Stranger in a Strange Land have much less of an impact on a generation that grew up with easy access to hard core drugs and hard core porn.

both to you and jobu:

That's probably it. I remember watching Deer Hunter...maybe in '99 and I just couldn't believe how bad a movie it was. Obviously, to people still in touch with Vietnam (in 78), the impact was...greater.

Deer Hunter is an incredibly good movie and I have no connection to Vietnam. I was born in 1977.

The Deer Hunter is a very strong movie that still stands on its study of how relationships change under stress of war. It's not really about Vietnam specifically, or its time. Perhaps you were too young when you saw it? (Born in 79 FWIW.)

God Emperor is difficult to get into, but worth sticking with. Actually love the opening sequence of that book more than any other, which describes some thieves being chased through a forest by a pack of guard wolves, as Herbert moves expertly from the thoughts of one thief to another as they are gradually caught by the wolves, starting from the slowest runner at the back. Fantastic writing.

Indeed, God Emperor is by far the best of the Dune series. I've re-read it many times and it never fails to deliver.

Goes to show different people like different things? Apparently, I'm more into the psychology and exploration of large-scale social patterns. People who like the other Dune books are presumably more into "action" sci-fi. Nothing wrong with that.

I read Stranger in a Strange land for a literature course in college, and what really helped my understand the book was when the prof explained some of the political and cultural climate that influenced the book.

Hyperion is Chaucer, updated. Took me embarassingly long to twig onto that.

Personally, I found the first and fourth Hyperion books to be my favorites, and the middle two less so, and nearly a separate story altogether.

And Chaucer is the Decameron, rewritten in English with English names and toponyms. And the Decameron is the 1001 Nights, rewritten in renaissance Italian. And let's not forget the 16th century "Cent Nouvelles nouvelles", which is obviously related by format and plot.

TL;DR: These are timeless tales, retold to fit the author's time.

strange, I found God Emperor the most interesting.

Probably the most surprising thing about this list is that whoever made it didn't insert Amazon affiliate links into it.

Anyway, these lists always raise the question of what does "good" mean exactly? Inevitably they're dominated by books that were, in their time, incredibly significant.

You see the same things in computing books. Someone will always recommend "Design Patterns" but (IMHO) it is the dullest, driest book you could ever read. The ideas were important. As a book it's terrible.

Science fiction falls into a number of categories.

The first is space opera. This is basically a tale of adventure in a science fiction environment. Sometimes these books have some kind of message but most of the time they don't. They're typically the "Terminator 2" of books: they can be hugely entertaining, sometimes even really significant, but often don't have much substance.

Don't take that as a criticism. Stephen Donaldson's "Gap" series was, for me, a fantastic series but it really is simply space opera style entertainment.

The second is what I call "hard science fiction". It's the sort of sci-fi where the story is a backdrop for some physics. Ringworld is an example of this (as are most of Niven's works).

This is a genre I thought largely dead (with its height in the 60s and 70s) until I read Alastair Reynolds. His books have more of a story than, say, Niven's but they're still largely rooted in our current understanding of physics.

The third is what I call "literary science fiction". Literature, traditionally, was used as a means of talking about something that normally couldn't be talked about. Plays in the Shakespeare's time filled this role. Nowadays it's not so much that talking about these things is verboten, it's that the story can be an accessible way of discussing a topic that an essay never could.

Stranger in a Strange Land is very much in this category. It's almost only sci-fi by association. It does have the hallmarks of its age, most notably mental powers (a common zeitgeist in 60s sci-fi). This book probably had the same effect on society that, say, Pacific cultures did on Victorian English society.

In the 80s cyberpunk was born. Cyberpunk is largely an expression of fears about an Asian (Japanese more often than not) "takeover" of Western society. It's actually very xenophobic but it does reflect the dystopian fears of the time. Cyberpunk has waned in recent years as the xenophobia has and the realization that this isn't the future.

Does this make pioneering books in this field like Neuromancer "good"? Personally I thought that if you ignore the pioneering part, it was a fairly average book. Here again is the power of nostalgia I think (as I read it some years after it came out).

So I find many books on this list that are (IMHO) overrated, largely for nostalgic reasons.

I also find some authors missing that really should be represented, most notably the prolific CJ Cheeryh whose books Downbelow Station and Cyteen are both noteworthy and stand the test of time.

Some books on this list stand the test of time very well. Ender's Game, any of the Iain M. Banks' Culture novels, Hyperion to name a few.

"Cyberpunk is largely an expression of fears about an Asian (Japanese more often than not) "takeover" of Western society. It's actually very xenophobic"

This is a very weird statement to make, the architects of Cyberpunk (Gibson, Sterling etc.) are Japanophiles if anything, the opposite of Xenophobic. Do you have any evidence to back this statement up?

Cyberpunk was just an extrapolation of the tech scene of the 80s, Japanese tech was massively superior to other countries and, rightly thinking that tech would rule the future, they made Japan the dominant superpower - unfortunately the Lost Decade put paid to that.

The zeitgeist of the 80s had a lot of concern about Japan becoming "number 1" - US manufacturing was falling behind and people thought that Japan was top of the world technologically.

So while the authors are Japanophiles, they certainly tapped into the mood of the time - that the future was strange and asian-influenced.

I'm not sure it would be correct to use the word "xenophobia" here; but for those of us old enough to remember the 80's, what redcap says is very spot-on. There was a LOT of buzz in the 80's about how Japan (and Asian countries in general, to some extent) were kicking the US's arse in a lot of areas: computers, consumer electronics, cars, etc., etc. Talk about "competing with Japan" was used a motivational material to encourage students ("study hard or you won't have a job when you graduate, because you're competing against the Japanese"), and to justify various research programs, government initiatives, etc.

The whole "Fifth Generation Computing" thing really lit a fire under a lot of people back in those days: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fifth_generation_computer

So yeah... I don't necessarily agree that Cyberpunk as a genre is really focused on anti-asian xenophobia of any sort, but I don't think it's a stretch to say that that "80's zeitgeist" thing did influence Cyberpunk.

Just look at Back to the Future 2 (the one where they go into the future and have flying cars and no mobile phones). The older version of main character (Marty McFly) has a japanese boss, and when talking to him on the videophone he drops japanese into the convesation (opens with japanese IIRC).

"Cyberpunk is largely an expression of fears about an Asian (Japanese more often than not) 'takeover' of Western society."

I would argue that this has largely already happened. There is sort of a battle between liberal jewish culture and fundamentalist christian culture for being the official US mythology, but on a day to day basis Japanese culture and values are largely what have filled the power void. I would argue that most of our mainstream institutions, from schools to jobs to pop culture, have become and are increasingly becoming largely Japanese in nature.

While there are definitely Japanese influences in American culture, I don't see that as a "Japanification", certainly not to the extent that was feared in the 80s (cyberpunk had megacorporations, etc).

One of the reasons for the endurance of English-speaking cultures (in particular) is the ability for both the language and the culture (which are distinct yet related) to absorb other languages and cultures.

Take as a counterexample France. There is a Ministry dedicated to keeping the French language "pure". There is plenty of lip service paid to the preservation of French culture. Basically France is acting like its language and culture is under siege... because it is. There are many examples like this.

English as a language seems to have no issue with absorbing the concepts and words of other languages. Once that have been here for centuries have long since been anglicized but more recent adoptees often preserve the original pronunciation.

So what you see as Japanification I see as English-speaking culturue and language simply absorbing another language and culture. This changes the language and culture but both remain firmly "English".

One could even characterize this as "cultural hegemony". It's not really any different to Romanization that took place 1500-2500 years ago.

I would even argue that as much as you might think of this as Japanification that Japan is probably becoming more American/English than we have become Japanese. Japan is still obviously a very different place to the US but many things have changed. There is less of the "job for life" thing that was very popular only decades ago, just as one example.

I would have called bullshit on this until America imported reality shows.

But even then, everything imported is bastardized in some way. For example, Japanese reality shows are about cooperating to achieve a difficult goal (and sometimes failing in that task). The sympathetic emotional content as you vicariously experience their trials and challenges is the appeal.

American reality shows are about fucking each other over in order to be king of the hill. The drama of intrigue, revenge, and defeating enemies to reign supreme is the appeal.

I'm very interested in this idea; I don't think I've ever heard it before. Can you explain further?

Can you offer some examples? I was surprised by this statement.

So I think the fundamentalist christian thing is pretty self explanatory if you've been paying attention. In terms of Jewish culture, it's not really a secret that most of Hollywood, the media, and much of progressivism and culture in general is organized around liberal jewish values.

I'm not really an expert on why this is, but from what I can see protestantism sort of hit its high water mark shortly after WWII. Around this time we had an enormous rise in summer camps, spiritual retreats, folk music, sort of a pre-environmental movement, etc. that was all basically a reaction to the atomic bomb. Not to mention the birth of rock & roll, which came out of protestantism as well. All of this eventually led to the counter culture, which protestantism sort of pulled back from. These loosely affiliated movements were then basically embraced by liberal judaism. So today even though judaism proper is in the background, many of its values have still shaped those of the progressive movement to the point where liberal jewish values and progressivism are largely intertwined.

In terms of Japanification, one pretty clear example in schools is high stakes testing. In the workplace it's characterized by how bureaucratic large companies have become, and the way the people at the bottom are treated. I think it's in the movie The High Cost of Low Prices that there are videos of Wal-Mart employees doing their morning dance or whatever that corporate makes them do every day when they open the store, stuff like that is straight out of Japanese business culture. In general you see an increasing amount of abstract ideas being productized so that they can be sold as part of new fads, whether we're talking about rock band, credit default swaps, politicians, etc. It's essentially a glorification of surface appearances.

From everything I can see, the U.S. is basically becoming like Japan except without the ideas surround honor and the other spiritual norms, and without enough money to facilitate the same level of pop culture fads. Again I'm not a historian so if you want to call bullshit on me then go for it, I'm just calling it as I see it.

While an interesting thesis, and I would never claim Japan has completely failed to influence the US, none of your examples strike me as evidence of Japan -> US influence rather than either convergent evolution, or things that just flat out come from different sources. High stakes testing is a result of the bureaucracy; the bureaucracy requires something to test and measure, and it will create it even if it's impossible, damn the consequences. The US is adopting it due to an increase in sclerotic bureaucracy, many Eastern cultures has histories of sclerotic bureaucracies longer than Western culture itself. Team building exercises and the term itself predate any conceivable Japanese influence. If "productizing abstract ideas", or perhaps rather, "productizing culture" flowed in any direction, it was from US -> Japan, not vice versa! See also the concept of "soft power".

"either convergent evolution, or things that just flat out come from different sources"

I more or less agree with this. At the same time, when you look at Japan everything just looks better -- even though it isn't. So while I think much of it is convergent evolution or things that come from different sources, just having Japan being the way it is vaguely over there seems to be giving US leaders more self confidence to make these sorts of reforms.

Part of it also though is that Japan has a history of taking ideas from other cultures and then perfecting them. E.g. germany invents scientific management, Henry Ford popularizes and commercializes it, and then 60 years later it's getting shipped back to us as TQM and Kanban. So yeah it's definitely all tangled up, all I'm saying is that we're becoming more like Japan currently is, regardless of why we're becoming that way or why Japan is that way.

Part of it also though is that Japan has a history of taking ideas from other cultures and then perfecting them.

As one example, a lot of the "japanese management techniques" stuff can trace its roots back to an American, W. Edwards Deming.


Deming made a significant contribution to Japan's later reputation for innovative high-quality products and its economic power. He is regarded as having had more impact upon Japanese manufacturing and business than any other individual not of Japanese heritage. Despite being considered something of a hero in Japan, he was only just beginning to win widespread recognition in the U.S. at the time of his death.

It doesn't necessarily matter what the culture of the person who had the idea is. It matters who has the courage to do it. Execution trumps idea.

In fact, many things about modern Japanese society - including scientific management and high-stakes testing - were originally copied from Europe. In that sense, it's not really accurate to say we copied Japan; much of the world currently has high stakes testing. For example, the Japanese educational system was actually based on the Prussian model.

  it's not really a secret that most of Hollywood, the media,
  and much of progressivism and culture in general is
  organized around liberal jewish values.
Cross 'jewish' and that line make sense. There is nothing specifically 'jewish' about those values. If anything, they're Greek. We don't owe a lot to the pre-Socratic societies, apart from them inspiring the Greeks to their greatness. In Western civilization, everything after that was inspired by what the Greeks made of what came before them.

I think that what's uniquely jewish is the implicit model of spiritual development that's glorified in so much of modern culture.

That is, in judaism spiritual development comes from fully engaging with the physical and secular world, and immersing yourself in all of its problems and opportunities. In protestantism, spiritual development comes from contemplative experiences (e.g. thoreau) that are set apart from everyday life, that hopefully allow you to connect more fully with both the secular world and your religious values once you get back to mainstream society. And in fundamentalist christianity, spiritual development comes from the active and purposeful rejection of secular society.

I think the reason we have so many extremists in the GOP right now is as a reaction to the existential arrogance of modern liberalism. E.g. not only do fundamentalists see things like Starbucks and Michael Cera / Seth Rogan movies as endorsing an implicit set of values and model of spiritual development, but they see also them as basically purposely shitting all over their way of life just to rub it in. That's partly why we're increasingly getting politicians like michele bachmann and rick perry.

Most traditional religions treated the spiritual sphere as part and parcel of life in the physical world, rather than something to be segregated and distinguished from it. Only a handful of religions, mostly under the influence of Platonic philosophy, have deviated from this. But the concept is no more specific to Judiasm than it is to Catholicism, Hinduism, or Roman Paganism.

The opposing trend, which you might say treats religion as a form of escapism, is something that's really found only in certain strains of Protestantism, Islam, and Buddhism.

True, but in addition to not being especially influential in the US, catholicism and hinduism aren't exactly socially liberal either. E.g. hinduism may not be isolationist, but what you can do in terms of your social life and your career and family is still very firmly prescribed. Plus if all the Hollywood financiers were catholic do you really think we'd be getting movies like Superbad? I feel like even the most liberal catholics like Steven Colbert wouldn't have been responsible for creating that sort of culture had they been in charge.

I think this is rather accurate, and wanted to say so after attacking you yesterday in another topic.

Can you please be more specific about which "liberal jewish values" you are talking about? Similarly can you give specific examples of Japanese cultural values that have taken hold in the US?

I was responding to the Japanification statement as I hadn't thought about it before. I'm not calling BS, just wanted to see what you meant.

I think some of those examples are interesting points although the SF mentioned early seemed to predict an even stronger Japanese influence than what we see today.

"I think some of those examples are interesting points although the SF mentioned early seemed to predict an even stronger Japanese influence than what we see today."

Definitely true, though I think we may see increasing Japanification over the next 30 - 40 years as the education and health of the average American decrease.

With the exception of Hollywood action movies, which are dominated by the Hong Kong action genre.

I'm sorry but I don't think judaism has anything to do with this at all. None of the things you are talking about has anything more to do with judaism than it does with christianity or any other religion.

>the most surprising thing about this list is that whoever made it didn't insert Amazon affiliate links into it.

They did, you just didn't notice them.

That's pretty clever then, what are they doing? Is it the _1-20 at the end?

Yep, his associates ID is _1.

> In the 80s cyberpunk was born. Cyberpunk is largely an expression of fears about an Asian (Japanese more often than not) "takeover" of Western society.

I think this misses a huge part of the picture that Gibson, Dick and and other Cyberpunk authors painted (where it differed from other fiction):

1) (Asian) Corporate controlled dystopia - ie breakdown of western-government-controlled world order

2) Information/Data as valuable asset, even commodity

3) Rise of AI and non-human agents

4) Drugs/computing grantings paranormal/heightened state

I'm sure a number of these might have been present in other genres, but these are the hallmarks of the genre as I can see it.

> Cyberpunk is largely an expression of fears about an Asian (Japanese more often than not) "takeover" of Western society. It's actually very xenophobic but it does reflect the dystopian fears of the time. Cyberpunk has waned in recent years as the xenophobia has and the realization that this isn't the future.

This is way off base, and really does a disservice to those authors. Cyberpunk in the 80s may have inherited some economic xenophobia but there were a lot of other ideas in there that I think were more important and continue to be, around the internet and technology.

It also hasn't waned the way you describe. The Deus Ex games are examples of cyberpunk that doesn't have as much to do with Asian takeovers of Western society as Neuromancer or Snow Crash perhaps does. Aside from the technological themes, the demons are thoroughly all-American: media propaganda, military contractors, corporate regulation, big scary government, war on terror, police actions... I would argue a lot of that came from the dystopias envisioned by sci-fi in the 80s, some of it from the cyberpunk authors.

I agree about Neuromancer being fairly average in quality, and that CJ Cherryh should be on the list.

What I noticed was what seemed to me a distinct space opera bias, combined with all the choices being the "obvious" ones. For example, two Asimov books are on there. Both are his two most famous books, and both are quite space opera-y. I would argue that End of Eternity was his best work and deserves a listing before either of those. Unfortunately, not as many people are aware of it.

In the case of Necromancer though I have to disagree with you. I think that it has held up incredibly well, the parts that were weak when it was released (totally screwy view of technology) are still the weak parts, but the strong parts (the vivid imagery for one) continue to be quite effective.

Then again, I have a strong cyberpunk/modern bias, I'd also recommend a few of Charles Stross's works :)

Anyway, these lists always raise the question of what does "good" mean exactly? Inevitably they're dominated by books that were, in their time, incredibly significant.

I just started reading David W. Galenson's Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity, (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0691133808/sr=8-1/qid=13150...), which is where Malcolm Gladwell stole / sourced his New Yorker article "Late Bloomers - Why do we equate genius with precocity?" (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/10/20/081020fa_fact_...). Galenson says:

There are many common misunderstandings of the history of art, but perhaps none is more basic than the confusion over what determines the quality of art. Although it is of course possible to consider separately the quality of a number of different attributes of an artist's work, the overall importance of art is a function of innovation. Important artists are innovators whose work changes the practices of their successors; important works of art are those that embody these innovations. Artists have made innovations in many areas, including subject matter, composition, scale, materials, and technique. But whatever the nature of an artist's innovation, its importance ultimately depends on the extent of its influence on other artists.

It should immediately be noted that the importance at issue here is not the short run-interest that gains an artist immediate critical or commercial success, but the long-run importance that eventually causes his work to hang in major museums and makes his contribution the subject of study by scholars of art. These two types of success have often coincided, but in many cases they have not. {Galenson "Masters"@2}

There are many possible values a work of art can have, of course, and Galenson is only making clear the set he most plans to consider in his work. Nonetheless, I find his argument intriguing, and I also wonder how many of the works listed in the OP contain some major innovation or innovations then used by other science fiction writers.

On a totally unrelated note, it'd be nice to have HN hyperlinks so one doesn't have to put URLs in parentheses.

> On a totally unrelated note, it'd be nice to have HN hyperlinks so one doesn't have to put URLs in parentheses.

And if it did, it't be nice if the syntax would be putting the url in parentheses.

Hard Science Fiction is alive and well. See works by Greg Bear, David Brin, Vernor Vinge, and other authors in this list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_fiction#Hard_SF

I personally would add Charlie Stross to this list (http://www.antipope.org/charlie/).

I'm a fan of Greg Egan (which is on there). Quarantine and Permutation City are really great books. Schildt's Ladder was good but a bit too hard for me to grok.

I agree with those titles, and would add Diaspora which I just finished. Truly mindblowing stuff, although it may be a bit too abstract and technical for some.

I second Diaspora; his vivid description of artificial intelligence is worth the read by itself.

Egan's stuff divides evenly into near-future and distant future science fiction; the distant future stuff tends to be very abstract. His latest novel, Zendegi, is a very near-future setting, and coincidentally is a more accessible read than most of his other stuff. I'd recommend it to start with.

I wasn't too keen on Zendegi. About a third of it is how a revolution could happy in Iran next year, and seemed a bit too influenced by the Iranian presidential election protests. I was also annoyed at how it wasn't as hard sf as his other books.

Don't miss his short stories, like luminous and dark integers. Egan rekindled my excitement for SF recently, great stuff!

yeah, his short stories are mind blowing. I really liked Distress, too.

Quarantine had me running around in high school reading Quantum Physics books and mostly failing to understand them. Good book.

It's also his most tautly plotted novel because of the detective noir framework. Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan and the earlier Vlad Taltos books by Steven Brust also used detective noir conventions to great effect. It's a writer's crutch, but so many fantasy and science fiction writers suck at plotting and pacing that I'd prefer they lean on crutches occasionally rather than bore their readers to death.

Egan's two most recent books, Incandesence and The Clockwork Rocket, are great if you're a math and physics guy.

Egan looks interesting. Which is a good book to start reading Egan?

Depends on what you like. Permutation City and Diaspora are fan favorites. They are heavy on idea porn but not very good yarns. That goes for most of Egan's books. His short stories are probably his most polished works because the form's constraints force him to keep everything tight. But on the flip side it means he doesn't have time to develop his ideas in great depth.

If you're a programmer, Permutation City would be my recommendation. If you're more mathematically inclined, Diaspora is a good choice. Just so you know what kind of book you'd be in for, the first chapter of Diaspora has a proof outline of the Gauss-Bonnet theorem. His short story The Planck Dive gives a good flavor of Diaspora: http://gregegan.customer.netspace.net.au/PLANCK/Complete/Pla...

Thanks - I'll have to check those out.

First, I'd like to note that your usage of "space opera" is arguably a relatively archaic usage of the term; while that meaning is still in use, there's a more contemporary meaning wherein "space opera" refers to a sort of setting. A setting of broad spatial scope (interstellar/galactic), a setting with war involving starships, a setting full of action. It is adventure, but it can be literary, and it can be hard SF.

Neuromancer isn't just pioneering (which it was), it's incredibly well-written. But like other commenters, I disagree that it's xenophobic, and I don't think its success is rooted in xenophobia in the audience. I also disagree that Gibson's work portrays a "takeover" of Western culture; the ethic ruling the world of Gibson's novels is the ethic of the international mega-corporation, which is hardly a Japanese thing. And also there are lots of non-asian cultural bits: the Turing cops are Swiss, there's the whole cultural slant of Count Zero (not to spoil it for any who haven't read it), the Tessier-Ashpools are French/Australian, etc.

Props for mentioning Cherryh, though. Cyteen is frigging fantastic. Indeed, Cherryh in general is fantastic, although some of her stuff is serious business and some of it is (good) fluff.

As others have commented, hard SF is so very very not dead.

I've always maintained that there are two types of science fiction. There's the "Star Trek" kind that does social commentary, and tries to get the audience to think about something directly by sidestepping the trappings of modern society. Then, there's the "Star Wars" kind that is basically a far-reaching exercise in world building that only has a plot so that you're not reading a technical description.

Stranger in a Strange Land is perhaps the purest example of the former, because it's very meta: the thing Heinlein wanted you to think about is the very idea of preconceived notions and full understanding. He spends the first half of the book explaining that you can understand something intellectually without understanding it emotionally, and the last half systematically questioning more and more ingrained ideas (at least at the time) so that you think about them intellectually.

Most of the list is the other type. I'll pick on Dune, since it happens to be number one on the list. Herbert introduces you to a universe that's really completely unlike any other conceived: people fly around in spaceships and have enormous mental powers, but there are no computers (they are illegal), people still fight with bladed weapons (all others are rendered either useless or too dangerous), and universal government has become feudal in nature (for various reasons). People send messengers. A bioengineering project and a social engineering project (gray projects by the same faction, no less) collide, and turn the universe upside down.

As far as hard SF goes, I'd originally clustered that with the world-building type, basically because every good example I've read happens to be in that category. Now that I think of it, though, it's not strictly required. It's really just a question of how much effort they put into reasoning out the science.

I wouldn't stick Dune solely in the second category. It has a great deal of social commentary, and touches on a number of environmental and ethical issues. Herbert simply went to great lengths to create an extremely detailed world in which to present these ideas.

I think Stephenson's Anathem is a better example of the second category. It's almost purely world-building escapist fiction. There's not any obvious message apart from perhaps a satirical introspective of our own society.

I'm a bit shocked at your statement that there's no message in Anathem. The message I got out of it is to question my assumptions about the flow of history, most specifically about things that "everyone knows are true". For instance, why doesn't everyone know that you have to plan projects in certain ways if you expect them to get done at a certain time? Well, in part because the idea of getting done at a certain time is new to this half century (which is a small amount of time in history) and because the idea of project planning is about as young. Even now those ideas are getting disrupted too by other things that everyone's suppose to know are true.

Basically Anathem introduced me to the historical progression of ideas and the constant forgetfulness of that process as its practiced by at least Western society. You can make the argument that academics know that this isn't the case, but I'm not sure that they're not caught up in the same progressive forgetfulness as the "common person".

Well, I guess it just goes to show that everyone gets something else out of reading a book and categorizing them using sweeping generalizations isn't a good idea :)

I have to disagree with your statement about T2 .. To me at least it is one of the best (true) science fiction movies because it made me think more deeply about what does it mean to be human, what is love, courage, self-sacrifice? I didn't realize I didn't know the answers until this movie.

Earlier examples of cyberpunk exist. For example Tiptree's The Girl Who Was Plugged In is so modern, could have been published today. Dick said that he was greatly influenced by this story as was Gibson for Neuromancer.

The common ancestor is Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination (1956, on the list). World-spanning megacorps, globetrotting anti-hero, bizarre subcultures, explorations in transhumanism – it's all there, rocket-powered. Highly recommended.

not a bad break down - I would say that ratings for me should not be based on nostalgic quality but rather on quality of ideas.

One of the best under rated in terms of "hard" and in terms of quality ideas for me has been Greg Egan (especially his short stories). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greg_Egan

If you enjoyed the Gap series, I can really recommend checking out Leviathan Wakes by James SA Corey. It has largely the same gritty feeling as the Gap does but is a lot closer to us in technology.

The first Culture novel was printed in 1987, and he's still writing new ones. I don't think you can really say yet whether they'll stand the test of time :).

In the hard SF category you may also like Neal Asher's work.

Wow, no classics that so far stand the test of time. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (unbelievable at 18 in 1818!) and as others have mentioned Verne, HG Wells(his insight inspired physicist Szilárd's neutron chain reaction).

Still an interesting list that shows what the mob is looking at. I guess I'll have to give neuromancer another chance(i only skimmed it) also hated heinland's stranger (the jesus complex was unconvincing). And it's easy to see how a list can be skewed by something like hitchhikers (which is so funny & readable) But in 200 yrs how many from this list?

I was pleasantly surprised to see two Neal Stephenson books on the list, but why did the second have to be Anathem? I thought Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle were much better books. Anathem's plot seemed like book-nerd wish fulfillment.

Of course I still read all thousand pages of Anathem in, like, four days. :)

The first 100 pages or so of Anathem seemed like such a chore to get through, mainly because of the tons of exposition required to build the world. It was one of those books, however (Frank Norris' The Octopus being the other for me personally,) that really rewards the reader for taking the time to understand the world that is built. In both cases I read the last few hundred pages straight through to find out how it ended.

favorite stephenson books in order: 1. snow crash 2. diamond age 3. cryptonomicon 4. zodiac 5. baroque cycle

is Anathem kept off your list on purpose ? :)

yes because I couldn't finish it so I don't have a comment.

Anathem is fundamentally about the philosophy of mathematics. To someone like me who's actually interested in it, it was amazing.

Funny thing, I thought it was fundamentally about the nature of humans' interaction with history. (Though it also made me more interested in math.)

Someone who never appears on these list but is one of the rising stars in Scif-Fi isis Ted Chiang. He's not written a full length novel yet but his short stories and novellas are mind blowing, best stuff I're read since early Egan. Check out:

Stories of Your Life and Others http://www.amazon.com/Stories-Your-Life-Ted-Chiang/dp/193152...)

The Lifecycle of Software Objects* http://www.amazon.com/Lifecycle-Software-Objects-Ted-Chiang/...

*if there's a more HN title for a novella ever I haven't heard of it!

I have two give two huge thumbs up to a few books on that list:

* A Fire Upon the Deep - This book manages to capture both galaxy wide conflict and intense personal narrative in a manner that kept me riveted to the end. That and an extremely unique type of alien life form that gains its personality based upon a telepathic summation of individual consciousness of it's members, made for some really interesting reading.

* The Forever War - Take one part Starship Troopers (the book), add a dash of conscription and another of superluminal travel with full time dilation effects, and you end up with this superb novel. I've read it a few times already because it's so damned good and concise.

Missing: Eon by Greg Bear http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eon_(novel)

Good job on mentioning Eon. I just finished it a few days ago and I liked it quite a bit. I bought it a long time ago as part of Gollancz's space opera series. The whole series features awesome cover designs by Sanda Zahirovic http://bookcoverarchive.com/sanda_zahirovic

I highly recommend reading Tau Zero by Poul Anderson and Stone by Adam Roberts.

Anvil of Stars is my favorite Greg Bear book. It's the sequel to Forge of God which is also a great read: http://www.amazon.com/Anvil-of-Stars-ebook/dp/B003XRERB0

Anvil of Stars also my favorite Greg Bear book. Nobody read my review of this book on Amazon, so perhaps this is a better place for it:

I've read hundreds of science fiction books where humans have military conflict with aliens (though not yet the Forge of God). In nearly all of them, there are World-War-II-Naval-like space battles with weapons/ships/shields at near parity. I have always thought this to be highly implausible, and I thought an interesting aspect of this book was to consider three possible battle situations in space:

1) Your ship encounters a ship at a vastly higher tech level. If they detect you before you detect them, you are dead. Period. Your only possibility to win such a battle is to detect them first and destroy them instantly - and your chances of being able to do that are slim.

2) Your ship encounters a ship at a vastly lower tech level. Using the logic above, all that matters is you being able to detect them before they detect you. The technologies of stealth, electronic counter measures, detection, etc. are therefore all extremely vital in order to never be defeated by aliens with a lower tech level.

3) There is a possibility that you encounter an enemy close enough to your own tech level that the battle could last more than a split second. It is only in these instances that all the other things often written in other science fiction stories might matter - amount and type of shielding, weapons systems, quality of personnel, etc. But such battles are very unlikely, because technological progress is so fast. Consider what it would be like for any of today's industrialized nations with a substantial military to combat the most powerful nation on earth from 200 years ago - there would be no contest at all. The universe has been around for billions of years, so the chance of two races encountering each other that are within a few hundred years of each others' technology level is very low.

The above logic also applies to planetary defense as well, though with even more emphasis on not being detected.

This is the only SF book I've read that envisions future military conflict this way, and for that I give the book 4 stars. In my mind, this clearly deserves a place among the top 10 science fiction books in the military SF genre.

However, I did not care for the characters and character development and dialog which occupied the sluggish first half of the book. It wasn't until they started exploring the killers home system that I had trouble putting the book down. I did enjoy the dialog about ethical considerations of what the human ship was going to do, and the aliens they joined forces with were an interesting twist to the story and well done.

Bottom Line - the key to this book for me was an exploration of military encounters in space that struck me as vastly more plausible than the typical SF novel. Rewrite the book to remove most of the first half - and it would have been 5 stars for me.

And pretty much everything else he wrote as well; mostly.

Not surprised to see that "Quantum Thief" isn't on the list - it's probably too new:


Highly praised by Charlie Stross (http://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=cstross), and recommended by me. Be warned, though, bloody hard work - the criticism mentioned in the "Reception" section of the WikiPedia page is accurate. I think it adds to the experience.

I think Speaker for the dead should have made that list. Or at least they should have listed it as Ender's game + Speaker for the dead.

There were a few 'everything by X' comments that got massive upvotes (Philip K Dick comes to mind) that aren't really represented here. The authors appear, but only 1 or 2 of their works. It's worth keeping in mind that this wasn't just a list of books, but of authors as well.

And he wrote lots of good short stories, too.

The only guide you'll ever need (also courtesy of reddit!):


I highly recommend the science fiction of Eric Frank Russell. Especially Wasp (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0575070951/)

Russell is a great writer. And funny.

The Great Explosion (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/088184991X/) is another good one.

Some others I'd recommend:

Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. Loved it.

Flatland. o.O

Isacc Asimov short stories collection (specially "Jokester" "The Golden Man" and "The Last Question")

The Last Question is perhaps the short story with the most mind-bending finale. Highly recommended.


I prefer the last answer.

I found both to be some of the most rewarding stories I read. With both, upon finishing them, I spent another hour just thinking about it. Highly recommended!

A pretty stellar list, except for Altered Carbon which I found cheap and utterly predictable. I'm really not a fan of Revelation Space/Alastair Reynolds, but that's more due to the flaws in the fiction writing, whereas the sci-fi aspect of that book and most of his subsequent books is truly impressive (save for Chasm City).

I'm really surprised Charles Stross didn't get into the list. One of the best futurists currently writing, IMHO.

I also highly recommend M. John Harrison's 'Light' http://www.amazon.com/Light-M-John-Harrison/dp/0553382950.

While I thought Alastair Reynold's Revelation Space was just ok, I really loved his standalone book Chasm City. I picked it up randomly at a book exchange and was blown away. The universe is fiercely imaginative and colorful, the dialog is snappy, the characters are flawed and interesting, the science is just hard enough to be vaguely plausible, but on the whole there's enough silliness for the book to not take itself completely seriously. The mysteries are compelling and the plot winds up nicely.

I highly recommend it over his other Revelation Space books--it's truly a brilliant, self-contained space opera in every sense of the word. It was the first book of his I read and I haven't since read something so brightly imaginative.

Chasm City is my favorite book, but not by far... The first book (Revelation Space) set a very nice backdrop for the character development and story in the 2nd book (Chasm City).

My only gripe with Chasm City is that there is an (not essential to story) interlude which breaks hard sci-fi canon (ie, superluminal travel).

I enjoyed Chasm City more than the Revelation Space trilogy as well. I suppose plausibility is in the eye of the reader.

I really miss Stanislaw Lem from this list.

Or any other non-English writer.

Really, they could have tossed Pierre "Planet of the Apes" Boulle in there, if they knew the name.

Although my favorite Boulle story was "Les Jeux de l'esprit", where scientific rationality takes over the world, and, for entertainment, contests between physical and biological science teams are broadcast. They quickly progress to all out war ...

Like Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, or Jules Verne.

Anyway, who cares, de gustibus something something.

Metafilter has a list of lists of the best science fiction books: http://ask.metafilter.com/127327/What-is-the-best-list-of-Sc...

This is a really interesting list! You've got the predictable ones, e.g. Snow Crash (man, did the conclusion of that one suck!) and juvenile SF, like Startship Troopers (an example of Heinlein's early phase), but really niche ones toward the end (not many would think Atwood as a SF writer).

Two gaping holes: Any SF list that doesn't include Stanislaw Lem (e.g. Cyberiad) is incomplete. Also missing is James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon), who was Le Guin's mentor (read her Love Is The Plan The Plan Is Death, it'll stay with you for weeks.)

Also a series I really enjoyed is Chalker's Four Lords of the Diamond Series, very creative.

Indeed, I've been enjoying "Her Smoke Rose Up Forever" (an anthology of Tiptree's short stories). I'm short on free time lately, so the short story format makes them feel more accessible.

I loved that anthology and was so intrigued by her Wikipedia page that I bought and read her biography, which is excellent. Would have loved to meet her before she was undone by depression, what a woman!

How is Atwood not SF? Have you read Oryx and Crake?

What I was saying is that most people wouldn't consider Atwood as a SF writer, like most of the others on that list. From Wikipedia

"Atwood was at one time offended at the suggestion that The Handmaid's Tale or Oryx and Crake were science fiction, insisting to The Guardian that they were speculative fiction instead: "Science fiction has monsters and spaceships; speculative fiction could really happen."

Later she retracted from this position, but this shows that her understanding of SF is (or was) quite limited.

I'm working on a website called Raunk that crowdsources rankings of anything (including Science Fiction books) and allows you to view best of lists from different perspectives.

It's also a great way to keep track of your favorites and compare them with your friends and the entire internet.

Check it out at http://raunk.com

Log in to make your best Science Fiction Books list here: http://raunk.com/create/82,268

Or view the list here: http://raunk.com/list/82,268

We just launched and are still in Beta, so we'd love to hear any feedback on the site.

Thank you, John Forsythe, for taking the time to do this. This crowd-sourced bestof list is a nice update to David Pringle's "Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels". I love all such lists that have some passion in them, since more often than not I'm introduced to a book and an author that are good reads.

Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels, fan site https://www.worldswithoutend.com/lists_pringle_sf.asp

Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels, amazon http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0786704810

This thread points out the problem with Top 100 lists, of SF or other large bodies of things judged subjectively, which is that there are far too many good ones to stop at 100. In the real world of course one would hope to have the time to read far more than 100 SF novels; fortunately for me I've read several thousand over the past 40 years.

Personally, though, I wouldn't put Dune or any Gene Wolfe on my Top 100 SF novels. Could never get past the first pages. Banks, Stross, PFH, MacLeod, Rudy Rucker, Kage Baker, of the recent vintage, would all be there though ;)

> Personally, though, I wouldn't put Dune or any Gene Wolfe on my Top 100 SF novels. Could never get past the first pages.

Try Wolfe's The Fifth Head of Cerberus and see if you might change your mind. It's very readable, and it's pleasantly short. It's half Borges, half Sturgeon, with a pinch of Ray Bradbury.

It also promotes the utility of such lists -- that they spark discussion! ;)

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is out of place.

It's a good book for what it is: young adult absurdist comedy. But it honestly never occurred to me to classify it in the same genre as the other books in the list.

Thought I might see 'Flowers for Algernon' on here.

The problem there is maybe that the novel length treatment of the idea is not quite as amazing as the original short story.

One author that I find sadly missing from the list is John Brunner. Each of "Stand on Zanzibar", "The Sheep Look Up", and "Shockwave Rider" would arguably deserve a place on this list.

Completely agree on The Shockwave Rider, which I feel is a great precursor to cyberpunk. Extremely prescient book considering it was published in 1975.

Amongst my favorite SciFi books (not on that list) I loved The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin

Many moons ago i was recommended to read The Last Starship from Earth by John Boyd with it being referred to has the often overlooked SF classic. It does occasionally squeak onto a list but is still sadly often overlooked :(

Also no HG Wells, Verne, Silverberg or Bob Shaw books on the list? Certainly would have War of the Worlds and A Time of Changes on mine.

An aside that may be of interest:

From the linked page: "Ever wonder where the term 'Avatar' came from?"

Still amazes me that people think the word Avatar arose out of recent technical advances.

One educated in a perspective beyond just the Western should know that its an ancient Sanskrit word.

More information: * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avatar * http://www.boingboing.net/2010/03/17/bet-you-didnt-know-a.ht...

By the way, both references use the word 'descent', and Wikipedia quotes two western sources claim that 'descent' is more correct than 'incarnation'. I checked with at least two Indian contacts that claim the opposite. [Its a Hindi word also; for those that don't know, Hindi is a derivative language from Sanskrit (just as many Western European languages are derived from Latin).]

I liked the idea of outfitting Zeb Carter's Ford with a "continua" device in Heinlein's Number of the Beast and programming it so it would move through parallel universes via voice command to the onboard computer.

Can't tell you how many times I've sat in traffic and wished I could say "jump deety" and immediately be in the parking lot.

While I am a voracious reader, I have just started reading sci-fi. (Just finished dune, Starting with stranger in a strange land). Just in case anyone's interested, here's a list of the books mentioned in the article and some famous hackers and entrepreneurs who like the books:

Snow Crash - Sergey Brin

Dune - Michael Arrington

Stranger in a strange land -Michael Arrington ,Linus Torvalds

Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy - Michael Arrington

Ender's Game- Mark Zuckerberg

Anathem - Michael Arrington

Source: my hobby site http://vipreads.com

Links to individual people:





Alfred Bester check.

Greg Egan check.

No Peter Watts, understandable Blindsight is relatively recent and unknown. (Seriously though drop everything and read this now: http://www.rifters.com/real/Blindsight.htm)

No Stanislaw Lem you best be trolling.

IMHO Jack Vance should be in the list, be it the Tschai series or some other. Really loved it.

Jack Vance, the forgotten grand master. I love his stuff as well. My choice would be the Cadwal Chronicles trilogy. The problem may be that his signature work, the Dying Earth stories, are generally categorized as fantasy rather than SF.

Lots of great suggestions have already been made (I'm particularly intrigued by The Quantum Thief), but I believe that Startide Rising has gone unmentioned so far, and that's a shame. The rest of the Uplift Trilogy is also great fun.

I'm a big fan of Iain Banks since reading Excession (which still remains my favourite). Also loved Dune, but haven't read any of the sequels yet. I'd also recommend Catherine Asaro's saga of the Skolian Empire to anyone that is into physics/maths.

Read the 6 books by Frank Herbert, skip the other spin offs by his son and the other guy - they're terrible in comparison.

They are absolutely horrible..though they do get better over time. I've read all 16 or so books in the series, and I have two major problems with the (pre|se)quels Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson wrote.

First, rather than just telling a masterful story with compelling characters, they over-explain and lean heavily on disturbing scenes. For example, in the originals, Gurney Halleck was simply (or not so depending on how you look at it) a very loyal and honorable person..it was that simple and beautiful. The prequels go out of the way to explain that the loyalty comes from being tortured and having his sister raped by the Harkonnen's. It's like the stupid Midi-chlorians.

Secondly, every book comes off as though they are trying to make you buy all their other books. Forget about reading their "conclusion" to the original series (book 7 and 8) without reading their Legends of Dune series. They go out of their way to make references to their other books, even when it isn't necessary.

Argg...sorry I got upset there.

I never though much of Dune 2-5 either, but I guess I'm in the minority on this one.

It took me two or three tries, but now I put 2-6 up there with the first book.

I think the reason people have trouble with 2-6 is that they're ultimately a reversal or deconstruction of the Hero myth. The first book is a fairly typical "Rise of the Superhuman Hero" tale, and that's why it's accessible. Book 2-6 explore the dark side of this myth, which is why they're unique, somewhat inaccessible, and really interesting.

I thought they suffered too much from "scope creep". The scope of the first book was nicely limited, but the later books made the story's consequences so far-reaching I couldn't take them seriously.

As regards deconstruction, I think Gene Wolfe does it so much better than Herbert that I don't really consider it a selling point that Herbert tries to do it.

Personally, I thought Teg was a great character..and the transformation of the Bene Gesserit was welcome. The entire Honored Matre sex thing was just out of place and weird though.

Good list, and I've read nearly all of them.

Getting past the first chapter of Pandoras Star is well worth it - Morninglightmountain is one of the most original, minblowingly awesome all time alien baddies, and the trepidation and sense of impending doom in that book and its's sequel Judas Unchained are superb. Would also recommend the Void Trilogy by Peter F Hamilton too - strong mix of scifi and an alternate fantasy world.

Missing in my view would be: Greg Bear - Eon (as people have mentioned, but also: M John Harrison - Light James Blish - Cities in Flight Battlefield Earth (awesome book, hopeless film) Brave New World for my ultimate "classic"

Out of all the scifi I've read over the years, one really stands out to me. Lilith's Brood by Octavia Butler. The reason isn't that I enjoyed it, but rather that by the time I finished it I was inherently disturbed by it.

I've often read stories I enjoyed. Sometimes I read some that are boring. But it's very rare to actually finish something that makes you physically uncomfortable most of the way through.

The story is excellently written and I recommend anyone willing to experience scifi in a different way to read it.

Would also throw in The Windup Girl as another first rate recent novel.

Definitely second the recommendation of Lilith's Brood, I also found it very moving. I bought it based upon the strength of her (much) earlier short story Bloodchild which I found myself thinking about for weeks after I'd read it.

I'm very interested in how the book affected you. When you say you find it moving, can you describe in what ways?

For me, the word "moving" means that I was emotionally tied to the character(s). When they succeed, I succeed. When one dies, its heart breaking. But that's not how Lilith's Brood affected me. At some deep level I was very disturbed by the overtones of rape and subjugation by the aliens, but that at the same time these creatures loved the humans they bonded with in the same deep way we feel when we love another person. There was a big amount of alienation in that humans in the bondings were physically repulsed to be near each other even though they were deeply in love. That human beings could only be close via the alien partner, there was just something deeply wrong with that.

One of the reasons I respect that novel and can recommend it, but can't love it, is that Octavia Butler did such a magnificent job in telling the story in a way that it makes me feel as I do. That's rare.

Interesting to compare it against goodread's list: http://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/science-fiction

I just finished the Commonwealth Saga + The Void Trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton, loved it. Both set in the same universe, the first two in the relatively near future (about 300 years from now), the trilogy in the far future (about 1500 years from now).

The trilogy can get a bit abstract, verging on the fantasy genre at times, but in the end the author manages to give an explanation that "makes sense" for everything, which is the thing I really like about his stories. Highly entertaining.

It's a bit of a dubious explanation of The Void, to be honest (although the "Think of it as an 8-dimensional onion" kind of makes up for it), and the ending is a little weak, but overall I enjoyed the series a lot. The alternating of space opera/fantasy chapters is also done pretty well, and keeps things interesting.

Curious that Roert Silverberg's "Up The Line" did not make this cut. It was the inspiration for Back to the Future and is an entertaining time travel story.

Based on the books I have seen a movie , the key theme is that the charachters resembles perhaps us founders a bit. They feel threatend in their current existance (user issues) and have to venture out into space (Silicion Valley) , into the unknown (the market) to usually defeat something (problems and competition) and in the end become victorious and have peace (some founders). Its Hollywood so in reality many fail.

I'm a bit disappointed to only see English books on there.

Agree, though the only non English science fiction book I've read (translated to English of-course) is Roadside Picnic, which probably would be in my list of the best Sci-Fi books of all time.

Also, don't miss the movie adaptation of Roadside Picnic by Andrei Tarkovsky: "Stalker".

Tarkovsky is actually one of my favorite directors of all time! I love Stalker, Solaris and the mirror!

Stalker is perhaps the best movie of all time.

If you know of any (translated, given my lack of non-English speaking capability) non-English-origin sci-fi, I'd love pointers. I realize a lot is lost in translation, but I love the viewport into other cultures that fiction can provide.

Jules Verne. I'm currently reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and it is fantastic. Originally written in French.

It's his best work, though, especially of the SF genre (I like Miguel Strogoff, but there's nothing speculative about it).

Largely ignored in all these comments is the enormous legacy of Soviet SF. During all the years of SF's Golden Age and the decades after, the main ideological and technological competitor to the US was the Soviet Union.

We're so familiar with the tropes and concepts of US-centric SF, but imagine a whole new world of science fictional ideas - separated only by language! That's Soviet SF...

The finest series of translations was Macmillan's Best of Soviet Science Fiction in the 1980s. Some of the books are now very rare and expensive, but if you're a seeker of ideas, they're priceless (especially any stories by Genrikh Altov).

As an introduction, I particularly recommend World's Spring, edited by Vladimir Gakov. And one of the finest SF novels I've read is Self Discovery, by Vladimir Savchenko (freely available online here: http://lib.ru/RUFANT/SAWCHENKO/savchenko_selfdiscovery_ok-en...).

I have a copy of a collection of soviet stories, including two by Altov (and his wife). It's a Portuguese translation of a French translation, but it's still great (although I wonder how much was lost).

Stanislaw Lem (Solaris, The Cyberiad) is amazing, and some of the English translations are so full of puns and clever turns of phrase it's hard to believe it was originally written in Polish.

I recommend The Black Mirror, an anthology of German and Austrian science fiction: http://www.amazon.com/Black-Mirror-Other-Stories-Anthology/d...

Also German, and 50 years old this year (!): the Perry Rhodan series.[0] It was being translated into English but I'm not sure if it still is. The earlier 1960s American English publications were very popular, I believe.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perry_Rhodan

Obvious one is Stanislaw Lem -- The Cyberiad would be my recommendation.

I Who Have Never Known Men by Jacqueline Harper

The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach

Both are excellent.

I can recommend the Carpet Makers. I've read it in German. The structure of that novel is quite interesting, too.

Does Jorge Luis Borges count?

I'm surprised Slaugher House Five wasn't on the list.

I think I can understand why it wasn't on the list - but I'd rather not explain the reasoning here for fear of spoilers. (...or has the statute of limitations on this book run out?)

FWIW, I loved Slaughterhouse Five, and had nightmares about it.

I see many comments in support of favorite authors here. I'm gratified to see several for personal favorite CJ Cherryh & 1 for another personal favorite, Jack Vance. So in the interest of variety, I'll state this - Hamilton's Pandora's Star doesn't belong on this list. Read it, enjoyed it, but it's just not all that.

Thanks for the list. Nice to see some old friends on there. My all time favorite is Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I think it is his best. First time I read it I was in the sixth grade. That was 45 years ago. I've read it many times since, and will no doubt read it again.

That discussion of Science Fiction heavily disappointed me because it lacked any mention of some books that are full to overflowing of amazing ideas and insights. And well written to boot.

The Uplift Trilogy (the first one) by David Brin

What about Stephen King's Dark Tower Series? Or is this just best single book?

Good list, thanks.

Weird to make the equation (writers / Margaret Atwood) = (bands / (Celine Dion | Nickelback)). I would make the right side (bands / (Tragically Hip | Rush)). There's nothing light weight about Margaret Atwood.

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson should be on there as well! THAT is a book that made me sorry I had finished it. I had lived in it half a year, reading a bit every night before sleeping.

Everybody is going to have their own opinions. For Clarke I would have put The Fountains of Paradise way ahead of Childhood's End, for instance, but to each their own.

Neil Stephenson wrote "The Diamond Age", an amazing sic-fi book as well.

John Twelve Hawks "The Traveler" is also deserving of this list.

There are some great books on this list and they truly speak for themselves.

Great list. Only missed four titles. So glad to see "The Stars My Destination" on the list Wish it had included Zelazny's "Lord of Light". No arguments about the rest of it.

I read some of these as a teenager and some more recently.

Some really have staying power and some really don't hold up. I found Foundation and Mote in God's Eye rather disappointing.

Great list. Only missed four titles. So glad to see "The Stars My Destination" on the list Wish it had included Zelazny's "Lord of Light". No arguments about the rest of it.


Steel Beach begins with perhaps the best ad copy I've ever seen.


I was disappointed not to see any of the real classics (20000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Time Machine, Journey to the Center of the Earth, etc.) on the list.

While they may be old, and show their age, I would have thought that the Lensmen series, by E.E. Doc Smith would/should have made the list.

Not one of Peter Watts' [1] books made it to the list.


Dune number one, yay! I love all six books.

The first book is definitely one of my favorites, but I can't say I would recommend the rest of the series.

This must be the runners up list. The best list is mostly Stanislaw Lem with a sprinkling of Philip K. Dick. :)

Sirens of Titan is on the list hence I feel the list is valid. The relative position might be wrong though...

This kind of list makes me sad, because I've read every book on it (except the classic military SF one).

I wonder if Jacek Dukaj is known outside of Poland? He writes very philosophical SF.

Probably he's not, because nobody translates him. What a shame.

There are some excerpts translated by fans: http://dukaj.pl/English/ReadingRoom/BlackOceans

if you are looking to easily keep your own list of best science fiction books, check out raunk http://raunk.com/list/82,268

Personal favorite: The Space Merchants, by Pohl & Kornbluth.

"Time enough for Love" belongs very close to the top.

I don't see anything to argue against here, actually.

Great list. Only missed four titles. So glad to see "The Stars My Destination" on the list Wish it had included Zelazny's "Lord of Light". No arguments about the rest of it.


No Dhalgren or Triton, by Samuel R. Delany?

I miss "The earth abides".

sort of dissapointed to not see any Stanislaw Lem on there

Thanks for sharing

I missed Huxley's Brave New World in the list, and I noticed that the list contained only English writers. I wonder why the crowd the list was sourced from hasn't been exposed to writers of other nationalities.

Several of the authors on the list are American (e.g. Orson Scott Card, Asimov, etc.). Or do you mean "english-langauage" only.

The first half of "Stranger in a Strange Land" is wonderful, but the second... God in that novel actually exists.

For a truly atheist like me, sometimes I want to read a fanfiction of the Stranger, but without god and the religion bullshit. Centered in the economics and the power.

In science fiction, the sole purpose of God is to be mocked, criticized or denied.

Do I understand you correctly that you cannot even stand the idea of someone talking positively about God?

I am trying to think of another context in which your sentence (In <genre>, the sole purpose of <noun> is to mocked, criticized, or denied.) would make any kind of sense whatsoever.

Is there a particular, articulable reason that this is anything more than running away from concepts that challenge your preexisting mindset?

For example, I disagree with slavery, but I also disagree that in modern art, the sole purpose of slavery is to be mocked, criticized, or denied.

I am a fan of Python and not so much of Java. Nevertheless, I would never agree that in web development, the sole purpose of Java is to be mocked, criticized, or denied.

I tend to disagree with the Republican party on a number of issues, but I would never say that in political discourse, the sole purpose of Republicans is to be mocked, criticized, or denied.

Finally, I spend all day, every day working against patent trolls. They make me frustrated and angry, and are, in my opinion, the symptoms of a broken system. Yet I seek out people who advocate for the current system so that I can understand it. I can't afford to have the patent literature I read circumscribed so that the sole purpose of patent trolls is to mocked, criticized, or denied.

Am I missing the point?

Just try to imagine something so awful, so harmful to <X>, and your horrible generalisation would make sense :)

In particular, what happens when the genre is sci fi and the noun is god?

Clearly, that noun is not to be adored. Religion is for that.

Should sci fi say something nice about that noun? That He really exists, after all? Science is for that, and science until now...

I really think that sci fi should take a clear stance against god.

God has yet to be disproved by science; it's unlikely that will ever happen, actually, no matter the fact of God's existence.

There's also no general framework from science that makes God incompatible with known laws.

So God, in the context of a sci fi book, belongs to the class of things that have yet to be discovered but which are still consistent as possible discoveries.

Even aside from that, you can have concessions made to the willing suspension of disbelief. There are limited concessions made in all but the strictest of science fiction for the sake of making a compelling story.

I can understand if you have such a strong distaste for those kinds of ideas that it ruins a story for you, but that's a matter of taste, not any necessary quality of the genre at large.

"God" will never be disproved by science since there's no real definition of God. Between the thousands of conceptions of God and the eternally moving goalposts (under which god will eventually be (or already is) defined as 'something impossible to test by science'), it's completely meaningless in an empirical pov.

>In science fiction, the sole purpose of God is to be mocked, criticized or denied.

As a normative statement, that would be debatable.

So hackernews is having a discussion about a blog post about sci-fi books that were recommended by a reddit discussion?

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