I get asked all the time what my favorite science fiction books are so I’m going to take a stab at giving you an answer. There are hundreds of great books out there, but these are 10 that left a mark when they hit. I won’t swear you’ll like them as much as I did, but they’re damn good reads:
1. Dune by Frank Herbert
Big ideas, epic scope, compelling characters, well written and full of giant frakking sandworms that people ride into battle. Dune pretty much has it all.
2. Neuromancer by William Gibson
Neuromancer put near future, gritty, realistic sci-fi literature on the map for me when it came out in 1984. Although Gibson has said the lack of cell phones is a glaring omission for today’s readers, I recently had a chance to reread Neuromancer and it holds up just fine.
3. Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Seven pilgrims travel to the planet Hyperion and its mysterious Time Tombs to reach the Shrike, an enigmatic creature that legend says will kill all but one of them. Why would they do that?!? Because the Shrike will grant the survivor any wish he or she chooses. Maybe.
4. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Faced with a third and probably final (in the not good way) invasion by insectoid aliens known as the Formics, humanity creates an orbital Battle School where the best and brightest children are taught how to wage war. Ender Wiggin is the youngest and brightest of the recruits, but also mercilessly bullied for being a “third,” the third of three siblings in a society where you’re only supposed to have two children. He may be able to save the human race…if he can survive his training.
5. A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
I’ll let Wikipedia explain this amazing (and amazingly complex!) book: “A Fire Upon the Deep is a science fiction novel by American writer Vernor Vinge, a space opera involving superhuman intelligences, aliens, variable physics, space battles, love, betrayal, genocide, and a conversation medium resembling Usenet.” Hell yeah!
6. Anathem by Neal Stephenson
Good luck describing any Neal Stephenson book in a sentence or two. Just go read it.
7. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
This is Miller’s only book, but wowzers it’s a great one. How great? It’s on a ton of “classic” and “best” lists and has never been out of print. That great. Be warned though, it may feel a bit dated as it deals with the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust on Earth. Following the “Flame Deluge” humanity undergoes the “Simplification” where all learning is shunned, being literate can get you killed, and scientific knowledge is rejected. An order of monks founded by Isaac Edward Leibowtize secretly preserves what knowledge they can and the usual hilarity ensues.
8. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
This is not only the iconic tale of alien invasion, it’s the only SF novel I know of that mentions my hometown of Basking Ridge, N.J. Well done Mr. Wells!
9. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
This book is actually a bunch of short stories held together by an overall narrative that makes it a “half-cousin to a novel” according to Bradbury. Whatever you call it, it’s the story of how mankind reaches Mars, discovers Martians and…well, I’ll let you find that out for yourself.
10. The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
This is an awesome sci-fi crime thriller about a world where the existence of telepaths has eliminated murder. That of course doesn’t stop the unbalanced but wealthy head of a global cartel from committing and covering up a murder, which kicks of a great cat-and-mouse game between him and Police Prefect Lincoln Powell, a super powerful telepath determined to see justice done.
So that’s my list for you. I realize I’ve left off vast swaths of science fiction literature for sure. Greats like Asimov, Clarke, Le Guin and Delaney aren’t represented because I read them so long ago the memory of their books has largely faded. Others simply aren’t coming to mind, and then of course there are many I’ve never read at all. But if you wanted to know my favorites, this is a solid attempt at putting them down.
P.S. My 13 year-old-self is furious that I’ve left works like Hammers Slammers by David Drake and Bolo by Keith Laumer off the list. For that version of Craig, science fiction + tanks = bliss.
*Just my opinion