Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Science Fiction Top 10

Over at the Science Fiction Writing Yahoo group, folks are posting their top ten favorite SF novels. This was a toughie; how could I leave out Vance (Demon Princes), and Varley, and Zelazny, oh my? But I have to start somewhere. I reserve the right to yank my choices when Pat J. inevitably comes along and sez, "But you forgot . . ." Silverberg's To Live Again, that'll be the first to go. Here's my (current, soon to change) top 10 list. NOVELS, mind you. We'll do short stories some other day (Varley's "Bagatelle" -- number one -- read it now!) Here we go, in no particular order: 1. Frederick Pohl's Gateway. Hop in an alien ship, pre-programmed to take you to your violent death, hideous lingering disease, or fantastic treasures. It's a crap shoot every time. Sure, the computer shrink gets on my nerves to this very day, but the harsh realities of Gateway itself more than makes up for Sigmund. 2. Joe Haldeman's The Forever War. This is one of my favorite anti-war novels. Maybe it isn't as famous or as funny as Catch-22, but I like it much better. Clean writing, great story, great message. 3. Jonathan Lethem's Gun, with Occasional Music. Metcalf is a futuristic gumshoe with an evolved kangaroo after him. This is THE best marriage of Raymond Chandler with science fiction, bar none. 4. Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. Computer nerd as Samurai hero; listen to Reason. Nuff said. 5. Peter Hoeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow. Smilla's only friend is a six-year-old boy who lives in her apartment complex. When he dies, she refuses to believe it's an accident. The ending makes it SF, but Smilla is as hardboiled as they come. Another superbly written novel. 6. Michael Swanwick's Stations of the Tide. How can a novel with lots of sex and allusions to Heart of Darkness not make my top ten list? Speaking of Heart of Darkness . . . 7. Alan Moore's Watchmen. I don't know what to say about Watchmen. If anyone out there hasn't read it, beg, borrow, or steal a copy. Better yet, buy it. 8. Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle. The Axis has won World War II (wait a sec . . . is this fiction?), and America has been divided up between the Germans and the Japanese. Bob Hope is the only comedian whom the Nazis let live. This is Dick's masterpiece, in my opinion, although the Valis trilogy also has a warm place in my heart. 9. Robert Silverberg's To Live Again. The recorded knowledge and personalities of great men and women are available to the living, for a price. This is my favorite of Silverberg's body of work. I'm not sure how well it holds up over the years, but it stuck to my ribs for the last few decades -- more than I can say about a lot of books. 10. Arthur C. Clarke's Against the Fall of Night. In the far, far future of Earth, a kid goes on a journey of discovery, leaving behind everything familiar. One of the first SF paperbacks I bought with my own money loooong ago. I read it many times as a kid. I hesitate to read it as an adult, because I'm afraid the magic will go poof.
Okay -- your turn! And if you're one of those Luuuuuurve™ junkies who has never read SF, make it your top 3 or 4 or whatever favorite SF movies. D.


Blogger THIS! Christine said...

I feel so pedestrian.

Dragonflight ~ Anne McCaffrey
Any of the 'Lensmen' series by (I think) E E 'Doc' Smith
oh and Get off the Unicorn. Also by Anne McCaffrey

don't throw tomatos


11/22/2005 10:32:00 PM  
Blogger Jona said...

I like the corny stuff: (in no order) Childhood's End - Clarke, Rama series - Clarke, Nemesis - Asimov, Orbitsville series - Shaw, Forever War series - Haldeman, Ringworld series - Niven, Blood Music - Bear, Eon series - Bear, Forge of God - Bear, Ring series - Baxter. And if my book shop is correct (which I don't think it is) Cross-stich series - Gabaldon .

11/23/2005 12:20:00 AM  
Blogger Pat said...

Nice list, Doug. I got no nits to pick with you.

Hmmm, my Top 10 would probably be, in no order whatsoever:

A Fire Upon the Deep
Every fifty pages or so, I felt my mind expand to accept another concept.

Stations of the Tide
A bureaucrat, a briefcase, and Tantric sex square off against a "bush wizard".

Dude, let me tell you, the sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

The Forever War
The first twenty times I read it, I didn't know much about Vietnam, but it was easy to see that this was an anti-war war story all the same.

Superheroes done right.

The Golden Age
A one-book trilogy in the same sense that LOTR is one book in three volumes. This is a tour across a solar system preparing for its millenial transcendence, at war with an enemy that may not even exist. Atkins Vingt-et-un General-Issue is possibly the least strangely named character. This is the second-weirdest book I've read to date.

The Gunslinger
The book that started Stephen King's Dark Tower saga, which he himself described as the Jupiter of his solar system of stories.

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town
I just read this. It's freely available for download here. Alan (or Adam, or Adrian, or Ahmet, or...) is the first of seven sons of a mountain and a washing machine. He's trying to live a quiet normal life: write a novel, blanket Toronto's Market district with free wireless Internet, fall in love with a girl with wings; you know, the usual. But his murderous zombie brother has other ideas.

Circuit of Heaven
A Romeo-and-Juliet story, where death is really only the start. Humanity has discovered an immortality, by uploading into the Bin, where death is not possible. But one malcontent on the Outside has just fallen in love with a recently-uploaded woman. The only SF novel that's ever made me cry*. (Maybe it was just a weak moment, though.)

This is the Way the World Ends
Nuclear war! And then the aftermath, with humanity on trial for crimes against its unknowable descendants.

Also: good catch on Bagatelle. "I am a bomb," indeed.

* If we count the Dark Tower as fantasy, that is.

11/23/2005 06:01:00 AM  
Blogger Robyn said...

I'm with you, Christine. I'm a bit more commercial.

I liked Piers Anthony's Tyrant of Jupiter series. Xanth was funny, but I got over it after the fourth one. I can't remember the name of this other series he did! Five seperate books about Death, Time, Fate, War, and Nature. Interesting viewpoint.

I don't know how real sci-fi fans feel about it, but my favorite is Callahan's Cross-Time Saloon by Spider Robinson. Best bad puns you'll ever read.

11/23/2005 06:04:00 AM  
Blogger Pat said...

Whoa, wait, what was I thinking?

Where's Dune?

11/23/2005 06:09:00 AM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Thanks everyone. Stay tuned -- I'm certain there will be more to come.

On the romance-SF fusion front, may I plug the wonderful Shards of Honor by Louise McMaster Bujold? (Gabriele, did I steer you wrong on that one?)

Yeah, Pat, I was certain you'd put Dune numero uno.

Robyn: that's the Incarnations of Immortality series by Anthony. My son has read all but the last one and he raves about them.

Also, Robyn, I like Spider Robinson. He strives for poignancy and I admire that -- it's something SF writers don't often do. I've read several of the Callahan stories.

11/23/2005 08:17:00 AM  
Blogger Stephen said...

There's so much good SF out there. In no particular order I would single out:

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe (OK so I am cheating by going for four novels here, but they are a tightly bound set).

Time Considered As A Helix of Semi-Precious Stones by Samuel R Delany (OK, so it's only a short story, but it has so much more going on than most novels).

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K LeGuin (narrowly beating out The Dispossessed).

Neuromancer by William Gibson (because it started it all).

Hyperion by Dan Simmons (the Rachel's story section is probably the most harrowing thing I have ever read).

The Player of Ganes by Iain M Banks (although all of his stuff is stonking, and you should start with Consider Phlebas).

Foreigner by C J Cherryh (first contact doesn't get much better than this).

Orthe by Mary Gentle (another masterpiece of first contact, and also another multi-novel pick).

Perdido Street Station by China Miéville (fantastic world-building - New Crobuzon is a place that really comes alive in your mind in a way you rather wish it wouldn't).

A Fire on the Deep by Vernor Vinge (because it is just so, so good).

11/23/2005 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Thanks, Stephen. I'll have to take another look at Perdido. I own it, and I think I've read the first 40 or so pages. It didn't grab me. Richly detailed, but I'm enough of a weenie to need a hook. (Now that's a strange image.)

I wonder if I picked up the wrong Banks book -- I have Feersum Endjinn, and I really couldn't get into it.

11/23/2005 12:50:00 PM  
Blogger Lilith Saintcrow said...

Hmmmm...let's see. I totally agree about Smilla's Sense of Snow but have found Mieville's later books start getting pretentious enough that I can't even stay for the worldbuilding. But that's just me.

In no particular order, a few of my faves are:

Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card. Gave me a few ideas, which I can't possibly pull off even half as well...but I keep trying.

Drakon, SM Stirling. My God, but that man is fiendishly clever. Anything by Stirling, especially when he teams up with Shirley Meier, is always a good time.

Tombs of Atuan, my favorite le Guin book, and my favorite Earthsea book. What can I say? If Ged and Tenar had just settled down to make wizard babies I would have been happy. But I'm a romantic. (sigh)

Resurrection Man, by Sean Stewart; some of the most incandescent writing I've ever seen. And the premise, my God, the premise...

Psion and Catspaw by Joan Vinge. Man, I fell in love with Cat. Shivery delight all the way around; urban punk space fantasy at its best.

Darkchild Sydney van Scyoc. Sometimes pretentious but so good I don't mind.

and of course, Fahrenheit 451, my total fave. For me, F451 just encapsulates everything good about sci-fi.

Of course I am much more a fantasy reader, so I have a totally different list when it comes to fantasy. Which I might type out now that you've given me the idea. Curses!

11/23/2005 04:58:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Going off to search for Resurrection Man . . .

11/23/2005 09:17:00 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

Feersum Engine is not the right Iain M Banks. It is a lot more like his non-SF stuff (although some of that is pretty SFnal). Consider Phlebas is the first of his space operas set in the Culture universe of cutely-named spaceships, utopian society and bug-eyed monsters, and is really the best place to start.

There seems to be a New Wave of British Space Opera at the moment: Banks, his mate Ken McLeod (both Scottish), Peter F Hamilton (English), and Alastair Reynolds (Welsh, although currently employed as a rocket scientist in the Netherlands), to name but four.

11/25/2005 03:38:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Thanks for the recommendations, Stephen. I'm knee-deep in Thud! right now (Pratchett's latest). Next up, I'll look for the Banks novel.

11/26/2005 10:12:00 AM  

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