Friday, January 20, 2012

David Brin's List of "Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy Tales"

Many folks have created tallies of favorite Science Fiction novels.  I've already weighed in with my Top SF for Young Adults . For more insight into Science Fiction, see also these essays: A Comparison of Science Fiction vs. Fantasy and How to Define Science Fiction.

But now let's try something much more ambitious -- a bigger, broader reading compilation.  This is still just a sampler - for something comprehensive, see the Science Fiction Encyclopedia or the user-friendly Worlds Without End. But any person who has read all the books and stories and authors noted here (and I admit they are heavy on "classics") can come away with bragging rights to say: "I know something about science fiction."

For this list I divide the novels authors and stories in my own quirky manner, according to categories...


These novels and shorter works have drawn millions to ponder many different kinds of danger that may lurk down the road ahead. Among our possible tomorrows, so many might be dreadful-but-avoidable - from tyranny to ecological deterioration to some tragic failure of citizenship.  A few of these books even attained the most powerful status any work of fiction can achieve ... changing the future, by alerting millions, who then girded themselves, discussing the problem with neighbors, becoming active, vowing to help ensure the bad thing never happens.

The following examples of self-preventing prophecy stand out. All of them help us focus on something that we may desperately miss, if it were ever gone

Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell.
The Sheep Look Up, by John Brunner
A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Make Room! Make Room!  by Harry Harrison (basis for the film Soylent Green)
Brave New World,  by Aldous Huxley
"Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
On The Beach, by Nevil Shute
We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin
The Cool War, by Frederik Pohl
The Disappearance, by Philip Wylie
Flood, by Stephen Baxter
The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Unincorporated Man, by Dani Kollin & Eytan Kollin
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

... plus almost anything by Alice Sheldon (James Tiptree Jr.), or Nancy Kress or Octavia Butler... I leave it to others to decide whether my own apocalyptic warning novel, The Postman. belongs on this list.


These tales offer something almost as important as warnings... a tantalyzing glimpse at (guardedly and tentatively) better tomorrows. It's actually much harder to do than issuing dire warnings! (That may be why there's so little optimism in print. Most authors and directors are simply too lazy.)

Stand on Zanzibar, by John Brunner
Beyond This Horizon, by Robert A. Heinlein*
Rainbows End, by Vernor Vinge
Consider Phlebas,  by Iain Banks (and his Culture Series)
Island, by Aldous Huxley
Pacific Edge, by Kim Stanley Robinson

... plus the entire sub-genre known as Star Trek, among the few places where you come away feeling envious of our grandkids - the way things ought to be....


Some tales simply rock readers back with wondrous stories that also broaden their perspective... from strange cultures to alternate social systems to unusual ways of thinking.

Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny
Dune, by Frank Herbert
The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
Courtship Rite, by Donald Kingsbury
The Years of Rice and Salt,  by Kim Stanley Robinson
A Deepness in the Sky, by Vernor Vinge
Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie the "Nine Worlds" series of John Varley and the brain-twistings of  Samuel Delaney...


Take me someplace new.  Boggle me with possibilities grounded in this strange-real universe of science! Almost anything by these authors will give you tons of the real meat of SF.

Timescape, by Gregory Benford
Eon, by Greg Bear
The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov
FlashForward, by Robert Sawyer
Tau Zero, by Poul Anderson
Ringworld, by Larry Niven
Diaspora or Quarantine, by Greg Egan
To Crush the Moon, by Wil McCarthy
Vast, by Linda Nagata
Anti-Ice, by Stephen Baxter
The Web Between the Worlds by Charles Sheffield
Spin, by Robert Charles Wilson

... plus many works by Joe Haldeman, John Varley, Elizabeth Bear, Charles Gannon, Jack McDevitt....


Just because there's magic and wizards and kings and such...  doesn't mean it has to be lobotomizing.  There really are exceptions!

The Drawing of the Dark, by Tim Powers
The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien (yes, there are Elfs. But JRRT was exceptionally smart and honest about the attractions and  drawbacks of nostalgia)
Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, by Eliezer Yudkowsky (only available for free, online)
Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
The City and The City, by China Mieville
Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest
The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemison
Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor

... plus "urban" fantasies by Emma Bull, Nalo Hopkinson, Geoff Ryman...


Or... what if things were different?

The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester
Dying Inside, by Robert Silverberg
Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke
Brain Wave, by Poul Anderson
The Yiddish Policeman's Union, by Michael Chabon
BlindSight, by Peter Watts


Explains itself. Just go along for the ride.

The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
Gateway, by Frederick Pohl
The Mote in God's Eye, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
Old Man's War, by John Scalzi
The Great Time Machine Hoax or Earthblood, by Keith Laumer
The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
Genus Homo & The Incomplete Enchanter, by L. Sprague De Camp

... plus anything at all by Poul Anderson.  I mean it.


Extra points if it seems plausible that this might-have-been really might have been. And even more points if the reader goes, "That world seems likelier than this one I'm living in!"

The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick
1632, by Eric Flint
Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
The Great War (series)   by Harry Turtledove
Bring the Jubilee, Ward W. Moore
Lest Darkness Fall, by L. Sprague deCamp


Here the biggest test is whether you can offer a new or surprising logical twist. Bring on them paradoxes!

The Man Who Folded Himself, by David Gerrold
Up the Line, by Robert Silverberg
Run, Come See Jerusalem, by Richard Meredith
The Big Time, by Fritz Leiber
Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
The Technicolor Time Machine, by Harry Harrison
"All You Zombies" and "By His Bootstraps" by Robert A. Heinlein


The hardest thing of all to do well.   Someday I might dare to try this most-difficult type!

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
Bored of the Rings, A Parody of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, by the Harvard Lampoon
Hoka! Hoka! Hoka! by Poul Anderson and Gordon Dickson
The Colour of Magic, by Terry Pratchett
"Blued Moon" in Fire Watch, by Connie Willis
The Flying Sorcerers, by David Gerrold & Larry Niven
Star Smashers, and Bill the Galactic Hero, by Harry Harrison
Split Heirs, by Esther Friesner

... plus snorkers & groaners by Mike Resnick.

Forget science, logic and other superficialities.  Just love it.  The words... the words...

The Martian Chronicles,  by Ray Bradbury
Gravity's Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon
Riddley Walker, by Russel Hoban
Hyperion, by Dan Simmons
The Book of the New Sun, by Gene Wolf
The Rediscovery of Men, by Cordwainer Smith
More than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon
"'Repent Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman" by Harlan Ellison anything by Robert Sheckley (one of my all time favorite authors).


Going farther back ... hey it's a kind of time travel!

The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne
Last and First Men, by Olaf Stapledon
Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, by Aldous Huxley
The World, The Flesh, and the Devil by JD Bernal
When Worlds Collide, by Balmer & Wylie well... you aren't truly steeped in the genre till you've wallowed in Doc Smith and Edgar Rice Burroughs.. and Conan!


We SF authors often disclaim any intent to foretell the future.  We explore it, test possibilities, perform gedankenexperiments, even warn or entice.  But predict?  Well, at times we do try... and even keep score! My fans maintain a wiki tracking hits and misses from my most predictive near-term book to date - Earth. Here are some looks-ahead that have been impressively on-target.

Shockwave Rider, by John Brunner
Beyond This Horizon, by Robert A. Heinlein*
"The Brick Moon" by E. E. Hale (1865)
Neuromancer, by William Gibson
Age of the Pussyfoot, by Frederick Pohl at least half of the tales ever written by Jules Verne!


Or for those young at heart. (See my separate list of Young Adult Recommendations.)

Rite of Passage, by Alexei Panshin
Little Fuzzy, by H. Beam Piper
The Door into Summer, by Robert A. Heinlein
The High Crusade, by Poul Anderson
A Spell for Chameleon, by Piers Anthony
Orbital Resonance, by John Barnes
The Chanur Saga, by C.J. Cherryh
The Ship Who Sang, by Anne McCaffrey
The Disappearance, by Philip Wylie
Pilgrimage, by Zenna Henderson
Emergence, by David Palmer
Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow
Leviathan, by Scott Westerfield

... plus anything by Andre Norton, H. Beam Piper...  and check out my Out of Time series!


Wool, by Hugh Howey
Dark Eden, by Chris Beckett
Semiosis, by Sue Burke
Medusa Uploaded, by Emily Devenport
The Murderbot Series, by Martha Wells
The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Quantum Thief, by Hannu Rajamieni


Accelerando_(book_cover)Charles Stross, Kay Kenyon, Syne Mitchell. Paul McAuley, Howard Hendrix, Charles Gannon,... but also explore on your own!

International contributions to this genre are undeniable. Indeed, it would be churlishly socio-centric to ignore great titles like Roadside Picnic (Arkady and Boris Strugatsky), The Cyberiad (Stanislaw Lem), The Paper Spaceship (Tetsu Yano), The Three Body Problem (by Liu Cixin) and Japan Sinks (by my Worldcon co-GoH Sakyo Komatsu).  In fact, this is a whole 'nother category deserving a whole 'nother list! And your suggestions are welcome.

ScienceFictionYoungAdultListOkay... that will have to do.  Eccentric and opinionated and far from comprehensive, this is hardly more than a sampling and a biased one too. Yes, there are a fair number of older classics, but also a sampling of marvelous works by new, upcoming authors.

(Note: surely there will be many suggested titles pushed in followup discussion!)

Still, I am confident that if you went thoroughly through this list, you'd at least have made a good start getting a taste of the boldness, the excitement, the intellectual verve and challenging ideas to be found in this, the most unabashed and courageous of all literary forms.

* Regarding Heinlein's Beyond This Horizon, it is in the thoughtful second half of the book that you get amazingly insightful ruminations about what a smarter human civilization might be like. This requires wading through a much more pedestrian and even silly "action" half. But it's worth the effort.

See more Speculations on Science Fiction

David Brin

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Acacia H. said...

I've an odd little question for you, Dr. Brin. In your book "Foundation's Triumph" you stated that a combination of the tachyon rift and the radiation device used on Earth caused an increase in uranium oxide. However, the way you described it suggested that it was increasing the half-life of uranium oxide (thus allowing the uranium to exist for a longer period of time). In that case... wouldn't that decrease the radiation caused by the uranium oxide?

When I remember the science fiction stories (or maybe high-quality fantasy, I'm blanking) I'll post those as suggested readings.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Stefan Jones said...

I've read an awful lot of these. I don't agree with the "best-worthiness" of all of them, but most are well worth a read.

Kiln People and Glory Season belong in there somewhere.

Nothing by Stapledon, eh? His writing style is somewhat dated, and nearly character-free, but in addition to standing on the shoulders of Bernal and Wells he was utterly fearless and incredibly well-informed. I remember, reading Larry Niven books, being impressed by the description of the "starbow" effect that a traveler on a near-lightspeed ship would see . . . and being doubly impressed when Stapledon described it in The Star Maker (1938).

William said...

No Ken Macleod or Iain Banks? Any specific reason for those omissions?

Also I've found George RR's comprehensive and exacting attack on fantasy's bundled sociological and narrative tendencies far more intellectually engaging than JRR.

Stefan Jones said...

@William: Banks' "Consider Phlebas" is on the list. (I would have picked the slightly lighter "Player of Games.")

Harmon said...

Yiddish Policemans UNION. Not Daughter.

rewinn said...

I must second the recommendation of Leviathan; I stumbled across it last week and enjoyed it cover-to-cover; it's only downside (if one doesn't mind Young Adult fiction) is that it's forcing me to find the sequel asap (...clever author!)

IIRC, "Stand On Zanzibar" has one of the smartest last scenes in literature (... although there may be some problem deciding which page is the last one is; one could write a whole novel on such a problem ...)

Under "Humor" I'd add L. Sprague de Camp's "The Falliable Fiend", as the best of this comic fantasies.

I noticed a paucity of short-story collections, but I suppose a list of "The Best of ..." would be tedious.

As for Conan, I would specify the earlier works only; the later stuff is to the earlier as the pre-Daniel Lewis Bond films are to the Ian Fleming thrillers.

David Brin said...

Robert, did I talk about the radiation effect in FT? I don't recall, though you sound right. In fact, that was an invention of Asimov, in order to explain the "radioactive Earth" in PEBBLE IN THE SKY and why Earth was mostly evacuated.

Because he did not want it to have been for the original reason, nuclear war.

William, Iain Banks is in the list, did you miss it?

duncan cairncross said...

Superb list
I will add the ones I haven't read to my wish list

Ken MacLeod, David Weber,
L M Bujold, A Budreys, R L Forward,
P F Hamilton, D Kingsbury,
Cordwainer Smith,

Anonymous said...

The Tor 2011 Readers' Choice Awards voting process is complete. Regardless of the outcome, I can't thank all of you enough for your support.

Paul451 said...

The Postman doesn't belong on the list of self-preventing dystopias and apocalypses. The novel wasn't about the end, it was about the new society being created. Using a single idea or image (of the mail carrier), to unite the disparate island-fortresses into a single society, by invoking something larger than themselves. The fact that it was set in a post-apocalyptic world, and that the idea/image was of the previous world, is irrelevant.

Ian said...

Firstly, David, thanks for the list - I've read approximately 90% of it but the other 10% will keep me happily occupied for a good while.

Now the inevitable list of omissions:

A for Anything by Damon Knight

A juvenile work by John Christopher: I'd recommend either The Guardians or the Sword of the Dpirits series over the better-known Tripods series.

Geta by Donald Kinsbury

A Wind from Bokhara by M.J. Engh

The Triffids by John Wyndham

The godwhale by T.J. Bass

Tim H. said...

Zenna Henderson's pilgrimage is lovely.
Unseriously, if there was a "Bored of the ring" movie, who would you like to see as Tim Benzedrino and Hashberry?

Tacitus said...

Not multi counting things like LOTR, nor counting stuff I started and could not make it through, I seem to be at roughly 25/110 regards the specifically listed works.

I hang my head in shame.

This says something disturbing about my life priorities.


David Brin said...

Tacitus, you are busy being useful.

Maybe play audio versions in the e-room?

Henderson, Kingsbury & Cordwainer Smith... all good suggestions....

Anonymous said...

Just so you know, the first link you have to "The Disappearance" is broken. The second link works.

cdaveb said...

Interesting list- there's definitely some on there I haven't read and will have to try.

Not sure what category I'd put it in, but I do think a list of great science fiction should include John Scalzi's "Old Man's War".

Trish Fraser said...

No Sturgeon in the "Sheer Beauty", or Tepper in the "Fantasy with Brains"? You might be missing out...

Debra K. said...

Like others, I've read many on your list and am curious to check out the ones that have escaped me. And I have a couple of others to suggest:

R. Scott Bakker completely blew my mind with The Darkness That Comes Before and the rest of that trilogy.

The thing I always loved about this genre was stumbling into new ideas, new environments, new concepts. Things I never thought to think before. Asimov - the Gods Themselves, Ellison - pick one, Niven and Herbert for their abilities to create entire worlds.

The Helliconia Trilogy by Brian Aldiss. Clifford Simak - City. know, I shouldn't have even begun this list. I could go on and on. I'm sure we all could. :)

David Brin said...

Thanks will consider the Sturgeon and Scalzi suggestions... but I find Tepper to be immoral, alas.

Ahcuah said...

I find "The Door into Summer" an odd choice for a Heinlein juvenile. There was a bit of creepiness there with the age difference between Davis and Ricky (even if it was ameliorated a bit with some time travel). To me, the top two are "Have Space Suit, Will Travel" and "Citizen of the Galaxy".

My personal story about "Have Space Suit, Will Travel". When I was a kid, maybe 11 or so, I checked it out of the library. Back then I had no idea who Heinlein was. By high school, I was reading science fiction like crazy, and knew of all the big names. And of course, Heinlein was a favorite of mine. Now, in the back of my mind I kept recalling the plot of "Have Space Suit" and wanted to read it again, but had no idea whose it was or how to find it.

Then they started re-releasing older Heinleins in paperback. Imagine my delight to discover that this favorite, a favorite that had stuck in my memory as, well, memorable, for all those years was yet another Heinlein.

skm said...

I was shocked to see Stand on Zanzibar in your most hopeful list, and then realized that all this time I thought The Sheep Look Up was its sequel. mind blown.

Anonymous said...

I think "The Handmaid's Tale" belongs on this list as a dire warning of those who would save us by giving us freed from choice.

Christopher R. Vesely, PharmD, RPh said...

I would add Harlan Ellison to the list, were it up to me. Thank you for all the great suggestions, Dr. Brin.

stefan said...

I wonder why not a single book by the Strugatsky brothers is mentioned. They are (were ?) very prolific, and their work belongs to the finest in the SF category.

Unknown said...

Tad Williams Otherland is good science fiction. For many, they will consider it cyber-punk; however there is a deeper layer to it as well...if you care to go there. It takes a dive directly into philosophy of existence.

Can AI provide the fountain of youth and answer to the quest for eternal life? If I transfer my experiences, memories, personality, and dreams to an AI, is that me?

Brings me right back to Philosophy 101 and the Star Trek Tele-transporter theory that Will Riker demonstrated.

Daniël said...

enders game?
perdido street station?

TheMadLibrarian said...

May I suggest Robert Forward for hard speculative science fiction, firmly grounded in what we know of physics?


mogrou: too many will eat you even faster!

David Brin said...

just realized, I am missing a category of international, non-English SF! Though by necessity works that have been translated and are available in English!


Dan Sutton said...

Stanislaw Lem... "Memoirs Found In A Bathtub", "The Futurological Congress" or "Fiasco".

Dan Sutton said...

...and maybe Saramago. It depends on whether you think it's science fiction (I do)... "The Cave" is definitely a type of alternative reality, and "Death With Interruptions" might be: there was definitely an aspect of science fiction to everything he did... but then again, there was an aspect of just about everything to his writing.

Larry Atchley, Jr. said...

Robert Sheckley wrote a really great and fun to read story, "Death Freaks" that was included in the shared world anthology, Prophets in Hell, which is in the Heroes in Hell/Damned Saga series created and edited by Janet Morris.

Jonathan Stover said...

International sf, dystopia division...WE by Evgeni Zamyatin.

There are other Tim Powers novels, DECLARE being his best since LAST CALL.

Charles Stross's short story "A Colder War" is a great example of third-generation Cthulhu Mythos stuff, as he manages to use Lovecraft's cosmology in a hard science-fiction story and keep the whole thing scary.

gg said...

What a great, great list. I heartily agree on the "anything by Poul Anderson."

As far as humor I would add Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat series.

gg said...

For non-English I would say check out The Carpet Makers by the German writer Andreas Eschbach. A book that ranges from a medieval society on a backward planet to a galaxy ranging empire. I really wish more of his work would get translated.

scotteb said...

Great list, and a lot of books here that I'm going to put on my "To Read" list. But the most glaring omission I've found in in your Time Travel list. You don't have THE ANUBIS GATE by Tim Powers, one of my all time favorite novels and the best time travel novel I've ever read.

Acacia H. said...

Yes, you did, Dr. Brin. When talking about the tachyon space-time rift you suggested the rift was increasing the amount of uranium oxide which would mean that the increased radioactivity was inevitable, and that Giskard's use of the device probably increased the currently ongoing effect which would mean Robots were not nearly as liable as they thought.

The problem is of course that you either have creation of uranium oxide from nothing (or being drawn through the rift, though that would then result in that being the most radioactive spot, not the least), or you have an increased stability of uranium atoms and thus an increase in the half life of uranium.

Yeah. I'm currently rereading it. I was in the mood. Though whoever edited putting that book into e-book format should be shot, patched up, drawn and quartered, sewn back together, and then smacked so hard that their teeth come out. The font jumps from size to size in different paragraphs for no rhyme or reason. I have seen amateur ebook attempts that look far better than the "professional" editing this underwent. Just saying.

Rob H.

stefan said...

Yeah, two very important authors you have missed are the Strugatzky brothers (Boris and Arkady), and Stanislaw Lem. At least a couple of their respective works should be available in a number of languages, including English. Lem's most popular (though by no means most important) work is Solaris.
From the Strugatskys I'm not sure which book(s) are available. I recommend at least "Roadside Picnic" (which was later adapted by Tarkovsky into the film "Stalker") as well as "Hard to be a God".

Ian said...

International SF: 1985 by Gyorgy Dalos.

It's a satirical sequel to 1984 by someone who lived throguh the collapse of the Soviet system.

In the sequel, the Inner Party is divided over whether Oceania can afford to continue the war with Eastasia and Eurasia as the economy nears collapse.

O'Brien as the advocate fro a negotiated peace reinvents himself as a liberal reformer.

Winston's diaries are circulated as Samizdat with the implicit approval of O'Brien's faction and Winston himself is rehabilitated - and will stay that way as long as he sticks to the script provided by O'Brien.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Oh yes, for humor we might want to add Spider Robinson. His Callahan's Crosstime Saloon series is full of real groaners, although not all of his work is humorous.


muctre: the sludge at the bottom of a compost heap

Ian said...

Pierre Boulle: Monkey Planet.

I swear to god I used ot own a copy of a book by Boulle called "Threshold" regardign the dsicovery of a new species of hominid in New Guinea called Threshold.

It's a great book and I was going to add it to the lsit but none of the references I can access easily online even mention its existence.

Christian J. Schulte said...

Doctor Brin, I am moved to ask about your opinion of Sherri Tepper's immorality! I haven't read anything of hers since high school, so I don't have any particular recollection of what might create such an opinion...

Nick de Vera said...

Little, Big by John Crowley is the best fantasy novel I've ever read, and that's from a hard sf fan who hates most fantasy. And it still boggles me why Little, Big isn't as famous as LotR.

Nicholas MacDonald said...

Regardless of his own weirdness and your disagreements, John C. Wright's GOLDEN AGE trilogy ranks among the best science fiction I've ever read. Reading it at 25, it made me feel like I was 13 again, tearing into sci-fi anthologies (and Vernor Vinge) for the first time after living on a steady diet of Star Trek for too long. The book builds some intriguing responses to many transhuman dilemmas, shows how a judicial system and market economy could function in a barely-imaginable future, and makes an excellent case for Stoic morality (with a little Objectivism here and there- but I won't hold that against him.)

Neal Stephenson's ANATHEM is among the most ambitious novels I've ever encountered... he tries nothing less than to reimagine the entire history of western philosophy if it had developed in an parallel universe (quite literally, as one finds out late in the book). While some of my friends couldn't get through it, I think it might be Stephenson's crowning achievement.

Sadly, I wish I could recommend some Chinese science fiction, but I know of none that has been translated into English (at least that's of any quality or popularity).

Stefan Jones said...

Anathem is a demanding, astonishing work.

Another Stefan recommends the Strugatsky brothers. I need to reread their stuff, which I took on many years ago.

Tim H. said...

Charles Harness's "The Catalyst" has organic chemistry, corporate politics, love and death. You may like it.
Michael Swanwick's "Vacuum Flowers" is an entertaining bit of cyberpunk, with a borg-like culture.
James P. Hogan's "The Proteus Operation" has time travel, NAZIs, commandos and alternate universes. Like Tom Clancy, but with better writing and more imagination.

sibylle said...

"the Master and Margarita", by Mikhail Bulgakov. Perhaps stretching things to call it SF, but a fantastic read.

Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars by KS Robinson

David Brin said...

Thanks Nicholas. To keep the list short - or from being gigantic - I tried to mention each author once. Except in some cases, (e.g. Brunner and Anderson) that was simply impossible. I figure folks who're please will look into others by the same writer.

I have long intended to read GOLDEN AGE. But I must confess, I have not yet, hence my failure to mention Wright is not personal. It is the same reason I l;eft off several very bright authors. I simply haven't read em yet! WHo has time to read?

Stefan, I mention Arkady & Boris in the new version.

Adam said...

Rainbows End doesn't have an apostrophe--that's actually one of the (admittedly minor) plot points.

Nicholas MacDonald said...

You and me both! I find time for only a handful of novels a year these days... if it was easier to acquire decent science fiction novels over here, I might read more, though.

(And don't say buy a Kindle. Don't even get me started on Kindle... the biggest missed opportunity in publishing history, easily.)

Sibylle mentions two that are worth remembering; the Mars trilogy and Master and Margarita (though, the latter is arguably fantasy- but a fascinating one, as it juxtaposes the atheistic rationalism of the early Soviet Union with the backlash presented by creative romanticism. What happens when reason goes too far? Well...)

Acacia H. said...

I would never say buy a Kindle.

No. I'd say buy a Nook. =^-^=

Rob H.

flizzins: I don't know what this is, but it sounds like the cat's meow. ^^

Debra K. said...

I'm also very curious about your comment about Tepper being immoral. I got to thinking about it last night and I'm not sure I understand.

“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.” Oscar Wilde

...which was my first thought. Is her /writing/ immoral? Sure, she often deals with issues of society, and one of her books used eugenics as part of the theme, and, yes, there's reoccurring themes of patriarchal structures, women's roles and religion and so forth, but how is a book immoral?

And if you mean that she, the writer is immoral, then, in what regards does that affect the value of her writing?

So I'm curious about your meaning.

Acacia H. said...

By the way, Nicolas, I must admit some curiosity: what lost opportunity do you see in the Kindle and related e-book readers? Because while I am slightly miffed that certain authors I enjoy greatly (Zelansky, a lot of Eddings, Sandy Mitchell and Dan Abnett... just to name a few) aren't available on the Nook, I also know that eventually those authors WILL appear.

Though I really want to see a third-party e-reader software become the industry standard. ePub seems decent but no doubt there needs to be something to create unique fingerprints for each e-file created so that copyright violations (theft) can be tracked quickly. After all, if you can track the sale of a book to John H. Smith as the start of a bunch of pirated copies, then you can go directly after John H. Smith for the copyright violation... or even enact coding in the eReaders to fail to read efiles with that "fingerprint" (which would in fact be more effective than lawsuits - if John H. Smith complains that his copy of David Brin's Earth won't work on his eReaders any longer, they inform him that pirated copies were found that started with the sale to him. But he can always buy a new copy if he wants...)

In the long run the latter process is cheaper than lawsuits. You target specific individuals and have a format that is built around the copyright protection. While hackers might eventually program their own version of the eReader that ignores the fingerprint, that violates the warrantee on the eReader in turn....

LarryHart said...

Nicholas MacDonald:

Neal Stephenson's ANATHEM is among the most ambitious novels I've ever encountered... he tries nothing less than to reimagine the entire history of western philosophy if it had developed in an parallel universe...

Being suitably impressed with the same author's REAMDE (which I'm a third of the way through, and which has already changed directions so many times that I'd be hard pressed to answer what the book is "about"), I'm inclined to try that one as well, but probably not for another year or so. Too much of a good thing and all.

David Brin said...

DebraK. Fair enough. Let me try to parse it.

As a realist about human nature, I consider rage to be justified at times, but seldom from pampered westerners. Sure, writing a warning dystopia is fine. But the utter hypocrisy of rebelling against sexist stereotypes... by inventing and raging opposite ones... well that's hypocrisy at minimum.

We have spent a couple of centuries finally weaning ourselves of the worst human habit, but one that is so deeply woven into our natures that breaking it was very very hard. That bad habit is to lazily assume that a boy or girl inherits some obligate limitation on her or his potential, simply by nature of being an involuntary member of a group or type.

Note that I said "obligate." That says nothing about whether ALL woman are as combat-ready as men, or all men have the same endurance as women. Malarkey. There may even be differences in the average of some sub-types of intelligence or proclivities. But those averages have no bearing on an individual person's right to prove "I am an exception!" America now has women astronauts, fighter-pilots, ultimate fighters and a secretary of state. A burden of proof is on any reformer who spews spiteful resentment at THAT kind of progress...

... while preaching (in fiction) that whole swathes of humanity shall be pre-judged according to their gender, treated as a separate species and lower caste and consigned to limited lives, because of a stereotype. That's flat-out immoral.

Oh it goes on. Can you name for me one feminist utopia that does not begin upon the ashes of a holocaust?

Please understand, I LIKE feminist utopias! I subscribed to FemSpec and I know most of the Tiptree Award winners. I even wrote a feminist utopia! But over time I started noticing some things that became irksome. e.g. that every single one... without exception!... began with a premise that society had collapsed in violent horror somehow and the New Design being offered by the author emerged out of the following maelstrom of death and pain.

Think about that. WHY would every single one of these feminist utopian prescribers follow the same exact pattern, in setting up their "better" world?" Why is the new, improved world never the result of planning by radicals who depart from regular society with calm intent and a clear design? Why the lazy cheat-resort of ALWAYS assuming a holocaust?

The answer, alas, is blatantly obvious:

1) It lets the author erase any old patterns people might have wanted to keep.

2) It justifies any degree of transformation or coercive new tradition as necessary for survival.

3) It creates a major crime in the past that can be blamed universally upon the despised group or type - often males - necessitating their repression forever and ever and ever and ever.

Oh, yes. There is one exception. I can think of one feminist utopia in which radical feminists calmly and scientifically go off some where to create a new society free of holocaust, agony or emergency-driven hatred, simply trying out a new type of female-centrered life without limiting others out of raging, endless hatred. Can you name that exception for me?

What's bizarre is THAT kind of thought experiment ought to be the more common one! "Hey ladies! Let's all go someplace and start fresh our way!" But that almost never is the basis. Instead, the NEw Order emerged not only from mountains of pain, but also ACCIDENT!! Happenstance plus a few inspired, desperate leaders. A gift of fate, not planning. A result of overwhelming events, not skill and application of human science.

Passivity. The good thing is received from the author and from history. It was not hand-built. Not made. That's what makes these things so disappointing. But when an author combines ALL of these traits, with endless, bilious, rage-drenched denunciations and jeremiads... well... "immoral is a soft word.

Rob said...

David, that's not even close to the sense of things I got from reading Sheri S. Tepper.

Care to drill down into some specifics? I've read "Raising the Stones" and "Grass", as well as her finale book from the "Raising the Stones" universe, but I can't remember its title. (Alas, it was years ago, and Tepper's writing isn't as memorable as others.)

Rob said...

"Rainbows End" was bemusing to me, which I thought was one of the author's points. Should I reread it?

Nicholas MacDonald said...

Larry Hart:

REAMDE and ANATHEM are totally different beasts. The first is a thriller (albeit a doorstop of a thriller, written in an amusingly postmodern idiom); the second is a deeply hermetic work written partially in a jargon of the author's own creation (there's a 200-word glossary at the end of the book, explaining what everything means). It's fascinating to me, but some of my friends gave up on it after 50 pages. It's well worth the slog, though.

On eReaders:

The problem with e-books is that they are books- greyscale, plain-text books, the lowest common denominator of books- which misses the potential of ebooks completely!

Sitting at my desk I can see three books that are utterly distorted or warped by the Kindle format, if available at all: the Core Book for the Pathfinder RPG; The Four-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss; and Urbanatomy 2008 (one of the coolest city guides ever created; if you don't fall in love with Shanghai after reading it, I don't want to know you). These books all, in one way or another, push the envelope of what books can be (even though I haven't played RPGs in years, I still buy a book now and then just because they're some of the most innovative works of design and editing in all of literature. Seriously.)

But the Kindle format utterly rapes good book design. Mangles it beyond belief. Every well-designed book I've picked up in Kindle format has been uglified- and not only that-
it's just a book.

I read an intriguing (though, sadly, rather poorly written) "manifesto" called "Goodbye Gutenberg!" several years ago, which was published in the sort of format that some of the aforementioned contemporary books are. It pointed out that, before the printing press, books were illuminated- they were objects of beauty, and the illumination was often as much a part of the context of the work ("The medium is the message", as McLuhan put it.) The coming of the printing press did away with this- the limitations of print forced all our books to become plain, bare black text.

With modern publishing, those days are long gone. And yet - outside of a few genres (instruction books, games, and, interestingly enough, textbooks!), this "neo-illumination" is seen as something for kids - or, in the best case scenario - nerds.

Authors, editors and publishers remain stuck in an utterly conservative mindset. There is so much more potential for literature today...

Yet the Kindle format isn't helping matters.

Now, I'm not saying all e-book formats are bad. PDF is pretty good, though still not up to it's full potential. HTML is revolutionary, of course, though websites have a transience about them; they lack the "permanence" of a book.

But right now, books - both paper and e-books - have a chance to "come alive" in ways they haven't before. I simply find it strange that literature meant for entertainment remains primarily in an ultraconservative format, while instruction books, guidebooks and textbooks - genres one would think would be even more conservative - are embracing multimedia potentials with gusto.

Sorry if that was an incoherent rant. But it's been bothering me for awhile now. As I watch people talk about books and publishing as dying industries, I just go, "NO! NO! NO!" They should be evolving industries, transforming industries. Books should be works of art; useful luxury items that embrace all the potentials of the technology now available.

Tony Fisk said...

A little late to the table, I think, but here are my offerings:

- Gattaca (if we allow films) Consider, you golden breed, the ramifications of a piano piece that can only be played by someone with six fingers.

- In 3001: The Final Odyssey, Clarke depicts a 'better' society, but also questions whether *we* would fit into it.

- Neil Gaiman weaves a lot of quirky reality into his tales. eg his Sandman series begins by linking the capture of Dream to the encephalitis lethargica epidemic. Also look for the tempting of Emperor Norton in 'Brief Lives'

- The Fountains of Paradise. Issues of geography aside, Clarke shows how to (or perhaps how not to) build a space elevator.

- Three Hearts and Three Lions (Poul Anderson)
- Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. They're silly farce and shrewd satire, interspersed with startling pieces of wisdom.
- The later Earthsea books by Ursula LeGuin (Tehanu, Earthsea Tales, The Other Wind). The original trilogy was interesting but somehow dark and morbid. Read these to see how LeGuin resolves the problem.

This covers just about any sf, so I'm not sure what to put here.

- I second Anderson (action stories, *with* brains! My favourites: The Man Who Counts, People of the Wind, Flandry stories)
- Scalzi's 'Old Man's War' continues the space marine traditions of Heinlein and Haldeman in spades
- Sean McMullen's Mirrorsun trilogy (So? I'm a sucker for semaphore towers!)

- Anderson's Time Patrol series
- Ursula LeGuin's 'Lathe of Heaven'
- 'His Dark Materials' - Philip Pulman. A steampunk world, daemon familiars and sentient polar bears are just the beginning!
- ...anything but Pavane (even with semaphore towers!)

- 'There Will Be Time' (Anderson, yet again. Has a great scene of a fight in 4D)

- Pratchett & Gaiman's 'Good Omens'

- Gaiman's Sandman: the images, the images! (the words are pretty amazing too)
- Terry Dowling's Rynnoseros series. The Australian outback after at least two singularity events (the rise of AI, and the psionic 'Haldane' breakout of the Ab'O tribes, I think! The belltrees would know.).
- Richard Cowper's 'Piper at The Gates of Dawn'



Harking back to my childhood, so you can think of these as 'quirky classics' as well
- John Wyndham's 'The Chrysalids'
- Alan Nourse 'Star Surgeon'


* OTHERNESS (New classification): on how well alien POV is depicted
- Poul Anderson's aliens and their cultures are fascinating studies in their own right (the Diomedians and Ythrians in particular: two different and believable winged races.)
- Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy shows a race that is both benevolent and profane.
- The 'Piggies' in Card's 'Speaker For the Dead' (Card also gets credit, in this Ender novel, for devising a taxonomy of otherness)

orsem: there's quite a bit alluded to in this post!

Tony Fisk said...

On e-books:

HTML and cascading styles should be able to depict any book as intended (check out sites like the 'CSS zen garden'). This has been regrettably held back by IE's vestigial support for such common formats (you *need* asp and silverlight!...) Fortunately, whoever isin charge of Explorer development encountered the cluebat and the situation has been rectified in IE8. (Now for SVG support...)

The real problems with ebooks are:
- passing on saving in overhead (same cost as for a hard copy is missing the point and being greedy)
- providing the same convenience as a book. I would like to be able to share a book. How to allow this in a readily copyable medium? (I think a 'token' arrangement with a central server, allowing you to set up your own bespoke public library would suffice.)

Note that I'm not addressing theft. I don't think I can. But I think the issue would be much reduced if you make it easy for people to pass the right to read the bought copy around to people who probably wouldn't buy the thing anyway.

duncan cairncross said...

On E-Books

I have a Kindle
I love it!
I like to read a book, I don't want fancy decorations and funny colors making it more difficult to read!
I love the fact that when I am tired but want to finish a book I can increase the font size.

The Kindle is lousy at arranging my books and you can't just look at a book and see what it is about -

I am storing my e-books (I have 163 so far) on my computer so that I can arrange them the way I want, this is so much more convenient than my physical library

I have some Amazon books but most of my books are DRM free from other "publishers" - not because I want to share or sell them but just so I can store them where I want and not have to go through a Chinese fire drill when I want to read them
What will happen to my Amazon books if Amazon goes bust?
My reading of the law is that it would be a serous offense to mess with the DRM even if the company had gone

Overall love the thing - wish I had all my books on it

One other teensy little niggle
Reading in the bath?

Tony Fisk said...

Duncan, if you can get waterproof casings for cameras....!

David Brin said...

Good stuff Tony. Hidden rule in my own list was to tray to give one example of each author. In the case of Brunner & Anderson that was impossible.

LarryHart said...

duncan cairncross:

One other teensy little niggle
Reading in the bath?

Or reading on an airplane during the times when all electronic devices must be turned off.

sociotard said...

Regarding the "Dire Warnings and Self Preventing Prophecies":

The War on Democracy
It is as if writers as watchdogs are extinct, or in thrall to a sociopathic zeitgeist, convinced they are too clever to be duped. Witness the stampede of sycophants eager to deify Christopher Hitchens, a war lover who longed to be allowed to justify the crimes of rapacious power. "For almost the first time in two centuries," wrote Terry Eagleton, "there is no eminent British poet, playwright or novelist prepared to question the foundations of the western way of life." No Orwell warns that we do not need to live in a totalitarian society to be corrupted by totalitarianism. No Shelley speaks for the poor, no Blake proffers a vision, no Wilde reminds us that "disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man's original virtue". And grievously no Pinter rages at the war machine, as in "American Football":

Praise the Lord for all good things . . .
We blew their balls into shards of dust,
Into shards of f***ing dust . . .

Into shards of f***ing dust go all the lives blown there by Barack Obama, the Hopey Changey of western violence.

Acacia H. said...

Going off of science fiction for a moment, here's two articles I figure might be of interest to people. The second even has a tie-in with scifi!

The Supreme Court ruled that GPS tracking devices on vehicles require a search warrant from a judge, and that just placing them on a vehicle to track it is in violation of the Fourth Amendment Rights of people. I know there were some people concerned about this... and it's nice to see that the Supreme Court decided to consider the constitutional rights of people over the ever-increasing power of the State. The cynic in me wonders if it'll matter though given that it's quite easy to consider someone a terrorist these days....


Next, and much closer to science fiction, Russia is in talks with the ESA and NASA over a joint project to build either a lunar space station, or an actual manned habitat on the Moon. While I know Dr. Brin considers returning to the Moon to be a boondoggle, the Moon (and bases on it) has long been a core aspect to space-based science fiction.

What's more, by sharing the costs, it requires a much reduced initial investment by the three agencies. Indeed, much of the initial infrastructure construction would likely be done via remotes and robotics. This would also force Republicans in Congress to confess if their urging for a lunar base is political theater... or if they think it's important. After all, by working with Russia and Europe to build a base, it's not an example of American Exceptionalism but rather a joint project much like the International Space Station. And what's more, it gives the NASA Heavy Lift rocket a long-term purpose (as there would be multiple launches to the Moon to build either a station or a base).

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

I'm not sure how much science is required for an alternate history novel to be considered science-fiction. For plausibility and decent world-building (not to mention a good political/action/mystery plot), I'd like to nominate Robert Harris's "Fatherland", a tale set in 1964 Nazi Germany in a world in which WWII ended in a stalemate/detente/cold war with America.

It's most definitely an alternate history. I'm not sure it counts as science-fiction, though. It's a straight political action thriller with a murder mystery thrown in. The point of departure from our world seems to be as simple as Reinhard Heydrich surviving a 1942 accident.

The novel shares many similarities with Dr Brin's short story "Thor Meets Captain America", which also takes place in the early 1960s of a world in which WWII never really ended. But Dr Brin's version, in addition to being an alternate history, is also a sci-fi story. The point of departure from actual history rests on a fantastic premise (the existence of "Thor" et al) which is then essential to the entire plot of the story. Even if that story had been written IN 1944, it would have been sci-fi. I'm not sure the Harris novel fits the category in the same manner.

Yet, "Alternate History" is clearly one of Dr Brin's suggested categories, and "Fatherland" was interesting enough for me to read it three times, so I'm throwing it out there.

BTW, would "1632" really count as alternate history, since the preciptating event IS the time travel itself? I mean, the modern people don't go back into an ALTERNATE past, they go back into the past and ALTER it. Nitpicky, I'm sure, but there you have it.

David Brin said...

Points well taken.

Say, does anyone have the exact quote of how David Friendman preposterously interpreted that quotation from Adam Smith?

I am referring to where Smith said:
"All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind. As soon, therefore, as they could find a method of consuming the whole value of their rents themselves, they had no disposition to share them with any other persons."

And Friedman claims that the only thing Smith was referring to was the oligarchs declining ability to hire bullies to enforce feudal rule. Anyone have access to that statement by Friedman?

Trevor Vass said...

Hi David, I just finished reading Flash Forward, and I'm not sure I would include it on any best of list. The whole idea of the Universe needing an observer to decide on the state of "now" didn't really hit me as a substantial enough reason for humanity to be stuck together for eternity (i.e. not spreading among the stars).

I understand the quantum physics he's citing (at least at a layman's level) but it just doesn't seem to be "reality" to me. I'm I off on this? Does quantum physics really suggest this?

Thanks for the list!

beo_shaffer said...

I would suggest the Yukikaze novels for the non-anglo saxon and sheer beauty sections. The the wordsmithing is hard to describe, but is very good. I think this is partially due to the translation (successfully)trying to retain the "feel" of Japanese as a language. The overall themes and plot are fairly similar to what you would expect out of Philip K. Dick.
I'd also put forward "Three worlds collide" by Eliezer Yudkowsky. Its free online
and has been described as "The kind of classic fifties-era first-contact story that Jonathan Swift might have written, if Jonathan Swift had had a background in game theory."(Peter Watts).

There are many many more that I could recommend but I think that is enough for now.

Robert said...

Loved your post. For an almost perfect take on bad fantasy, you might enjoy this:

Also, please don't let The Gate to Women's Country, which I'm guessing is what you read, throw you off her good stuff. Grass and Beauty are magnificent.

I don't know if you've seen this, but Ursula K. Le Guin has a splendid put-down of anti-SF snobs.


Bob P.

Robert said...

The author I referred to in the middle of my last post, was, of course, Sheri S. Tepper. Sorry about the goof.

Bob P.

Anonymous said...

Hi, David Brin. I believe the stuff below is what you had in mind when you asked about a David Friedman response to a quote of yours from Adam Smith.

I'll have to break it up into pieces: 4096-character limit.

Found in comments at


-- ToddR

Anonymous said...

David Brin's post:

You'll recall a while back that professor David Friedman taunted me that I had no quotation from Adam Smith directly attributing the Owner Caste as responsible for almost every instance in the last 4000 years when markets and freedom and competition were quashed.

To most people, that seems obvious. But Friedman did not deal with the plain historical fact of it. Evading that fact - by far the most important and glaring problem with property-fixated libertarianism...

...he instead went neener-neener over and again because he thought my attribution to Adam Smith himself was weak. No one agreed with him. Everybody else took it to be obvious. Since the Georgian nobility of Smith's time OWNED the East and West India Companies and other "merchants and manufacturers of the day. But David neenered, then went away happy.

Well, it took me a while. Sifting Wealth of Nations for just one fellow - even a guy who (in some ways) I find impressive -- was a low priority, but I finally found one.

"All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind. As soon, therefore, as they could find a method of consuming the whole value of their rents themselves, they had no disposition to share them with any other persons."

[WN III.iv.10. p 418]

There it is. Not only the owner caste... explicitly and decisively the one caste that were "masters" in "every age of the world"... but very explicitly those who derived their wealth from the lowest and most parasitical kind of investment. in Smith's mind, the passive, uninvolved "rents" that he despised.

Read the rest of that passage. In it, Smith calls the passively distant owner-class to be even worse than other owner-oligarchies. Indeed, Marx quotes Smith extensively, crediting him as having foreseen and foretold the process of oligarchic decadence that would lead to Karl's scenario.

Exactly the difference between Venture Capitalists, who are involved in creating new enterprises, and who should get low cap gains taxes... and those who today fit Smith's description to a T.

Alas... Libertarianism SHOULD be a movement centrally determined to maximize what Smith approved-of... the most creative force in nature... fair and transparent and open COMPETITION.

Instead, the movement has been diverted into an utter obeissance and idolatry to propertarianism, without limit or restraint, even though that is precisely how you get a repeat of the calamity that killed competitive enterprise in every other civilization.

Even though our nation's founders went to GREAT lengths to break up excess accumulations of dangerous, lordly property. Indeed, they were more extensive and ruthless, by far, than Franklin Roosevelt.

Bah. Ayn Rand - that close disciple of Marx - helped to make her scenario come true! By sabotaging what should have been a great movement and turning it into a cult aimed at bringing back the Olde Enemy.

-- ToddR

Anonymous said...

David Friedman's response:

David Brin continues his attempt to attribute his views to Adam Smith.

To begin with, Brin's original claim was:

"But anyone who actually reads Adam Smith also knows that he went on and on about that "fair and open" part! Especially how excessive disparities of wealth and income destroy competition. "

The passage he has quoted says nothing at all about the destruction of competition. As Brin would know if he actually read Smith instead of looking for bits he could quote that he thinks agree with him, this is the passage where Smith is explaining not the destruction of competition but the destruction of feudalism--the famous "diamond shoe buckles" passage.

The particular masters of mankind Smith is discussing are the feudal lords, who got their power not from owning land but from functioning as mini-governments. They maintained that power by spending their income on retainers, which provided them with private armies.

Once trade developed, they could spend their income more directly on themselves by buying luxury goods. But doing that meant that their income was supporting producers scattered around the world, quite unlikely to fight for them, hence they had bartered away their power in exchange for luxury. Their desire to spend the money directly on themselves had what Smith regarded as a good effect, not a bad effect--and, insofar as it had any effect on competition, it increased it by providing a market for foreign trade.

So Brin has still been unable to find a single example of Smith making the argument that Brin claims he went "on and on about."
7:26 AM

P.S. I should have added that the reason I saw Brin's latest contribution to the argument, and so had an opportunity to respond, is that David B., to his credit, emailed me to tell me it was there.

-- ToddR

David Brin said...

Bob P. the LeGuin link does not work:

ToddR thanks much for finding David F's exact words.

Anonymous said...

I just have to contribute to the list of 'books I think should be in the list' -- the Warrior's Apprentice, by Lois Bujold. I'd put it under the 'great storytelling' end of things.

It's the story of a midget with weak bones who fails a military academy entrance exam, who manages to get up and soldier on... turning the tables on his opponents and winning all the marbles.

And even then... That isn't the end of the story!

Stephen Hughes-Jelen said...

Dr. Brin, I appreciate having a list of this magnitude available, and thank you very much for all the great selections.

There seems to be a category that is missing, which has been a vital part of SciFi for a long time - Alien Encounters. There have been many great stories that have this as part of their core, but I'd like to nominate Spider Robinson's Stardance for this category.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Bob P. the LeGuin link does not work:

It does if you add an "l" at the end...

Debra K. said...

Thank you David, I appreciate you taking the time to explain your thoughts, I think I understand what you meant now.

David Brin said...

You are welcome, Debra. Please do understand that my feelings about this are based upon disappointment, not dislike. I happen to LIKE alternate society experiments and feminist ones included.

If anybody has a perfect right to ponder ways to redesign society - and possibly limit the harm done by the worst varieties of male - it's women! Indeed, read the last theirs of The Postman and you know I am willing to ponder the value of female empowerment!

Hence my disappointment that the Tiptree Award finalists and such tend to often be so tediously the same. (Actually, I have noticed a small shift in the years since I started criticizing this sameness publicly. Has somebody listened? ;-) Still, it is glacial. I'd love to see more boldness and variety! Less lockstep adherence to unnecessary plot tropes.

Thrive on!

TheMadLibrarian said...

I must second Stephen Hughes-Jelen in the category of Alien Encounters, but I would suggest the caveat that the 'aliens' must stand alone on their own merits and be a significant part of the story, not just show up for an Honorable Mention.

I suggest (among others):
Wyndham: Day of the Triffids
CJ Cherryh's Atevi
Niven's Kzin, Puppeteers,
Saberhagen's Berserkers
Heinlein's Martians
Edgar Rice Burroughs' Martians
Alan Dean Foster's Thranx
again, Childhood's End
and of course probably the best known 'other' species, the Vulcans, with the Klingons running a close second place.


dight: fingertip lighting device

blinky said...

charles stross for sure, very good stuff: singularity sky is worth a mention.

also, very quirky scifi (and not enough of it, alas, as he went on to "normal" crimi stuff): "only forward", "spares" by michael marshall smith (now writing as michael marshall).

something i enjoy immensely is neal asher and his ian cormac series. maybe not the most literary of writing but damn good stories.

Acacia H. said...

I don't recall the story, but I remember one short story that was an interesting First Contact story in I think the Crab Nebula where humanity meets a race of equal technology. Both are paranoid of how to proceed, especially with concerns of being followed home (and then being invaded).

They end up switching ships (and being sure to destroy all photographic evidence or the like that could lead the other aliens (human/nonhuman) to their homeworld). And agreed to meet again at the Crab Nebula at a different time.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Sorry for the off-topic, but can anyone explain what's going on in the comments section of the previous (libertarian) post? At the bottom of the main post, it says "221 comments", but when I click through to the comments section, it says "200 comments" and doesn't display the option (which was there yesterday) to page ahead to comments 201+ .

Very frustrating, as I was hoping to make it to 300. And some good rebuttals to Stephan Kinsella had already taken place in those now-inaccessible posts.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Points well taken.

It isn't clear at all that you were responding to my post about alternate history, but presuming for the moment that you were...

When I brought up the question of whether "alternate history" counts as a form of "sci-fi", I didn't mean to assert that it DIDN'T. I was raising a question that I hoped might generate more discussion.

I can argue the pro side as well. Alternate history is most certainly SPECULATIVE fiction, which is also what a lot of sci-fi is. It shares much in common with speculative near-future stories such as "Earth". It's just that the speculation is about a possible future going forward from a point in the past instead of from today.

And yet...

Both "Earth" and "Thor Meets Captain America" speculate on technologies which play major parts in the plot. They are both clearly science-fiction stories APART from the alternate history aspect. Whereas, it's hard for me to think of "Fatherland" in the same category, as there is no special science, technology, or even magic involved in the imagined world.

Still, I'd have to put "Fatherland" high on any list of suggested alternate world stories, and "alternate world stories" does indeed seem to be...well, if not "science fiction" per se, then at least a "science fictiony" thing to do.

I don't claim to be giving a final answer here.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

If anybody has a perfect right to ponder ways to redesign society - and possibly limit the harm done by the worst varieties of male - it's women! Indeed, read the last theirs
[???] of The Postman and you know I am willing to ponder the value of female empowerment!

Your take on feminism in "The Postman" has some aspects in common with Kurt Vonnegut's in "Bluebeard"--that after men had run up two destructive World Wars, it was now "the women's turn" to run things for awhile.

I'm not saying that the two of you are exactly on the same page, but I see echoes of one in the other and vice versa.

Picking a "favorite" Vonnegut book is a little like picking one's favorite child, but if I absolutely had to pick a favorite, it would be "Bluebeard". And if I had to pick a favorite Brin novel, I'd be hard pressed to unseat my first one, which was "The Postman".

LarryHart said...

Sorry for the off-topic, but can anyone explain what's going on in the comments section of the previous (libertarian) post? At the bottom of the main post, it says "221 comments", but when I click through to the comments section, it says "200 comments" and doesn't display the option (which was there yesterday) to page ahead to comments 201+ .

Well, I found a sort of work-around. If I locate the libertarian post in the blog "archives" rather than off of the main page, and from THERE go to comments, I can then see a link to posts 201 and up. I even posted a new one. But I'm not sure all of the appropriate commenters will know to do that.

Skato said...

RL Forward's Dragon's Egg should definitely be on the list. Hogan's Giants series was fun.

I'd also add Lucifer's Hammer and possibly several other titles by those two, Niven and Pournelle, under hard sci-fi. No alien's, but a well thought out description of a collision with a comet and the aftermath. Their stuff seems day after tomorrow plausible. I guess everyone's mileage varies.

Have to say, I agree with the assessment of S. Tepper, but I only read Gate to Women's Country. I liked it, but never read any more of her books. Perhaps I should try Grass.

sociotard said...

I'm not convinced [I]The Postman[/I] is all that feminist. Yes, Dena is combat ready, but her only purpose in the novel is to get kidnapped so the hero can rescue her.

I'm also thinking the book fails the Bechdel Test.

LarryHart said...

sociotard, the claim wasn't that "The Postman" is a feminist novel--just that feminist ideas were duly represented.

But if you think Dena's only purpose was to get kidnapped and be rescued, I suggest you read the denoument again--the entire chain of cause and effect which led to victory was laid out by the speech near the end which contained "The women made me do it!"

Peg said...

Thanks for this list Mr. Brin. I have an 85 year old science fiction loving father that is hard to buy books for as he has read EVERYTHING!!!!

I'll use this for future reference for my reading list and his.

If could get my dad to a computer, he'd love your blog too, but for some reason - he refuses to learn any new tricks at this stage.

sociotard said...

This may be a predictive hit:

A citizen with a drone exposes a river of blood discharged from a meat packing plant.

That said, I'm not too worried. As industrial wastes getting discharged into rivers go, a biodegradable material is pretty close to the bottom of my worry list. Yes, pig blood may contain diseases, but so can all the fish poop. Don't drink from the river kids. Any river.

David Brin said...

Larryhart I am sorry I do not know what happened. I consider the thread conversation systems that people are used to to be utterly abysmal. My patented new conversation methods would allow for many better things.

Re alternate histories, yes I do include them. Because science fiction was badly mis-named! It should have been called "Speculative History"... !!! Think about it.

Dena in The P{ostman is not STANDARD feminist is the assumption that women must be equal to or better than men in all things. You put society in to gut-knifing dangerous mode and watch how fast division of roles returns!

No, Dena is feminist in that she demands that women not be passive. She never pretends to be as good at fighting. She insists that they take an aggressively assertive role, which includes getting the best men to do their jobs and the worst ones to die.

sociotard said...

It wouldn't have mattered if Dena was a super-lethal butt-kicker. Her role is too marginal in the story. She exists only insofar as she relates to men.

Take How to train your Dragon. The love-interest girl is violent and dangerous. She is far more deadly than Hiccup. However, she exists only to be a romantic reward for Hiccup when he saves the day.

Whether a story is feminist or not has little to do with how competent the women are and more to do with what the story uses them to accomplish.

Compare HP:MoR Hermione with Canon Hermione. They're equally competent, but the former is more Feminist than the latter because she serves a different purpose in the story.

Nicholas MacDonald said...

Oh, and another one for the "Fantasy with Brains" section... no nod for Michael Moorcock? Sure, he's a mixed bag... but when your literary career spans a hyper-prolific, genre-spanning half a century, there are going to be hits and misses (really, even Stephen King has books he's sure he wished he never published).

IMHO, Moorcock's best work was THE DANCERS AT THE END OF TIME. Combines colorful, steampunk-tinged fantasy, time-travel, moral and physical gedanken-experiments... and influenced many novels that came after it!

Oh, and international science fiction? Three words for you: Jorge Luis Borges. If we're including Huxley and Orwell in the sci-fi camp, then he should get in without a problem. Amazing stuff.

Tim H. said...

Norman Spinrad's worth looking at, Child of Fortune was fun to read, He Walked Among Us might be more to the taste of some here.

Paul451 said...

"category of Alien Encounters, but I would suggest the caveat that the 'aliens' must stand alone on their own merits and be a significant part of the story, not just show up for an Honorable Mention."

Yes, but....

"I suggest (among others): Wyndham: Day of the Triffids " If the aliens are just "The Creeping Horror", or "The Monster in The Shadows", then it might as well be a horror novel. Or in the case of Triffids, a zombie novel. That said, if people want a category of SF monster, or SF horror...

Also, can I suggest a differentiation between pop-corn and steak when people make recommendations. Space opera vs Mind-fsck. While most (all?) adolescent novels are easy reads, I don't just mean juvy. Peter F. Hamilton's 3600 page trilogies aren't exactly "child friendly", but they are child's play to race through. Uplift novels are easier than Earth. If I'm after a easy fun escape, I don't want to pick up Anathem for the first time.


If you lose the libertarian thread again, add "?commentPage=2" after ".html" in the url. (Don't forget the question mark.) Ie,

(Re: reaching 300. I did want some of my questions about practical libertarianism answered, but I think I'm done with it. Kinsella's aggressive style is getting on my nerves, especially after him whining about how he was being treated. Maybe it's just me, but for a philosophy that frowns on unprovoked "aggression", a lot of libertarians seem to by shouty jerks. Thin skinned shouty jerks at that.)

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

No, Dena is feminist in that she demands that women not be passive. She never pretends to be as good at fighting. She insists that they take an aggressively assertive role, which includes getting the best men to do their jobs and the worst ones to die.

The essence of Dena's brand of feminism (as I read it, anyway) is that men can be superheroes or supervillains (that's not how Dr Brin or Dena would put it, but I'm using shorthand), and that women's correct social responsibility is to encourage and nurture the former and to discourage and (if necessary) prune out the latter.

Sociotard, I still disagree with your sense that Dena's role was simply as reward for Gordon. At the risk of spoiling the ending for anyone who hasn't read the book--the mass defection to the enemy and the "night of long knives" was Dena's plan. The plan per se failed miserably, but the plan as a STORY spread to Sugarloaf Mountan and worked its magic on THOSE women, who in turn forced the circumstances which led to the climax of the book. Dena's role is much more subtle and complex than you give Dr Brin credit for.

LarryHart said...

Paul451, thanks for the work-around to commenting on the libertarian thread.

I agree in all you have to say about Mr Kinsella, but his own words make our point for us: "Behold the true face of libertarianism." I do intend to keep posting there and ask the questions that don't seem to have been answered yet, so it would be nice if others like yourself stayed around as well.

In deference to Dr Brin's wishes, that's all I'm going to say about it here.

Acacia H. said...

Here's a rather fascinating article concerning an experiment in which scientists modeled Trojan satellites in the solar system using electrons in a potassium atom. When you consider the speculation that our universe is in fact a simulation... you have to wonder then: are we the inhabitants of an electron in a similar experiment, who are unable to view the macro-scale and thus only see the interactions of sub-subatomic particles which cannot be perceived otherwise? And did that atom likewise have inhabitants?

It would make for an interesting short story... or even a novel. Consider the inhabitants of the potassium atom... if they managed to communicate with God (the experimenters) and begged to have their existence continued past the experiment?

Just some idle speculation here. ^^

In a related note, during the Republican debate in Florida, Gingrich and Romney were asked about NASA and the space industry budget. Their responses seemed to suggest they won't increase spending for NASA and instead will try to encourage private industry and the military to pick up the ball instead. Or, in Gingrich's case, firing all the management in NASA and use the savings to increase spending of space programs instead.

Rob H.

stefan said...

Robert, and even if we were part of such an experiment. What difference would it make to us, assuming that we were separated from that "outer" world by a real "event horizon" ?

Acacia H. said...

Easy: The experiment's end. For instance, imagine for a moment that the Mayan calendar was in fact a measurement of quantum effects suggesting the experiment's end would manifest at that point of time... meaning either everything would cease to exist, or that the solar system would alter significantly in the wake of the experiment's end, and not in a way that is conducive for life. So then, wouldn't there be incentive by some to try and get the experimenters not to end things?

Think of it as an experiment in speculative fiction... which is an integral part of science fiction.

Rob H.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Paul451, noted and logged :) I probably ought not to have put the triffids in there, because they have no true alien agenda aside from making the earth their private hothouse, in a plantlike fashion. Let's go with alien civilizations, then, where the aliens can and do have things happening offscreen when they aren't interacting with humans.


tenuthu: lesser known minion of Great Cthulhu, ia, ia!

Paul451 said...

"For instance, imagine for a moment that the Mayan calendar was in fact a measurement of quantum effects suggesting the experiment's end would manifest at that point of time... So then, wouldn't there be incentive by some to try and get the experimenters not to end things?"

Didn't one of the Golden Age SF authors (Asimov/Clarke/Heinlein) do this? Researchers were working on a force-field that would protect cities, rendering nuclear weapons worthless. As the prototype developed, suicide rates amongst researchers increased, including the lead researcher. Another researcher wondered if it was due to outside influence. Whether we were an experiment, and like bacteria on an agar plate, we were surrounded by a psychological "anti-bacterial" agent, whenever civilisation expanded past a certain point, war or greed would escalate until civilisation "reset", suicide was the final ring. The force-field was pushing us too deep into the psychological barrier, but most of us had begun to develop an immunity. Only some, like the suicidal geniuses, were still sensitive.

David Brin said...

From my story "The River of Time":

I have contemplated the possibility that the Universe at one time truly did circle around the Earth ... that ancient philosophers were right in their cruder models of reality, with their simple crystal spheres and pinholes in a velvet sky. Perhaps there were powers which, once mankind was about to understand his cage and find out the rules, frustrated him by the simple expedient of expanding the range of the possible.
It makes one wonder.

Acacia H. said...

I'm not sure if you were aware of this or not, Dr. Brin, but your name has been invoked concerning a discussion of "Return of the Jedi" - specifically in the comments board, and concerning the revelation that Luke and Vader are son and father. It sounds like a rather interesting conversation, and I'm sure you'd be amused that your thoughts and comments on "Star Wars" are being utilized here. :)

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Yep, the HISHE site's sendup of Return of the Jedi is funny and catches a few of the drooling sillynesses of that film let-down. In fact though, ROTJ was less of a betrayal than most of the third movies in series, through the 70s, 80s and 90s. The third Trek, Aliens, Terminator and several others were grotesque mockeries of everything that the far-better 2nd films gave us. In contrast, ROTJ could have been repaired with just ten minutes of altered dialogue and maybe two minutes of special shots! Ah well.

David Brin said...

Does anybody have advice for me about how to view old copies of JOYSTIK Magazine circa 1982? One of my earliest stories (inspired by video games and Battlestar Galactica) was in there and I don't have a copy.

A crude little thing but it shows I had the premise of The Last Starfighter long before the movie...! And I envisioned multiplayer games almost before anybody!

The downloads are offered at:

(or see: )

but the files are corrupt, it seems. I would rather pay the original owners but... what does copyright mean when there are no apparent owners trying to exploit their own rights anymore?

Interesting question.

Paul451 said...

Speaking of copyright getting in the way...

Commercial photographer creating box-art used the old gimmick of a red London bus against a monochrome London background... then got sued for copyright violation by a second photographer who had taken a similar (similar!) photograph... and the second photographer won.

Includes the decidedly non-identical images.

Go into any major gallery and you'll see art students sketching famous paintings... Be careful you get the public domain ones, kids.

ipad bingo said...

It is a very interesting topic that you’ve written here.
The truth is that I’m really related to this, and I think this is a good opportunity to learn more about it.

Thank you for such a wonderful post.
I enjoyed every bit of it.

Ian said...

Transcranial direct current stimulation is a simple, cheap, fast, safe non-invasive process which appears to increase intelligence and creativty and improve memory - the effects, if not permanent, are long-lasting.

Recent research in Oxford and elsewhere has shown that one type of brain stimulation in particular, called transcranial direct current stimulation or TDCS, can be used to improve language and maths abilities, memory, problem solving, attention, even movement.

Critically, this is not just helping to restore function in those with impaired abilities. TDCS can be used to enhance healthy people’s mental capacities. Indeed, most of the research so far has been carried out in healthy adults.

TDCS uses electrodes placed on the outside of the head to pass tiny currents across regions of the brain for 20 minutes or so. The currents of 1–2 mA make it easier for neurons in these brain regions to fire. It is thought that this enhances the making and strengthening of connections involved in learning and memory.

The technique is painless, all indications at the moment are that it is safe, and the effects can last over the long term.
"This technology overcomes some standard objections to enhancement: It is not a set of cheat notes," says Julian. "You require effort and hard work to learn. It is just that you get more out of your effort. And because it is cheap, low tech, easily affordable, it could be widely available. This addresses the objection that it will introduce inequality and unfairness. It could be available and should be available to all, if it is safe and effective."

The researchers’ concern is more that the technology is such that people could assemble all the components needed at home reasonably simply. Roi clearly says that this is not warranted yet with our limited current knowledge about the technique’s use: "The message should very much be 'Don’t try this at home'."

Tim H. said...

A few issues of joystik here:

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Re alternate histories, yes I do include them. Because science fiction was badly mis-named! It should have been called "Speculative History"... !!! Think about it.

Ok, now I think you're going TOO far. Sci-fi stories that extrapolate into the future could conceivably be labled speculative histories. Certainly "Earth" fits the bill, possibly "Kiln People" and you could probably lean way over, squint a bit, and fit "Foundation" into that category as well.

To me, though, that's not what makes those stories "science-fiction". Sci-fi to me is (or at least has to have room for) stories about science and/or technology beyond what exists at the time of writing.

"Out of the Silent Planet" is sci-fi because it had a self-contained spaceship flying humans to Mars in the 1940s. Asimov's many early robot stories are sci-fi because they are about robots (duh!). "The Invisible Man" has invisibility. None of these stories are primarily about how overall HISTORY is altered. The element in common which recommends them to fans of "science-fiction" is the science-y/tech-y element.

I have a hard time thinking of those as a speculative HISTORY tales, at least no moreso than ANY work of fiction could be called that.

I guess what I'm getting at is that fiction IN GENERAL could be called speculative history. I don't quite see that science-fiction in PARTICULAR has any GREATER claim to that categorization.

Rob said...

No ya didn't, David. Mancala is a multiplayer game. So is poker.

Acacia H. said...

It'll be interesting to see if more of these miniature protests start cropping up, especially in places where the Occupy Movement has been banned. And I can just see the court cases concerning the removal of these Occupy Legoland (as I'm calling it) and First Amendment Rights. =^-^=

As a brief aside, it's a superbly amusing way of bypassing Russian government restrictions against protests. Most innovative.

Rob H.

Acacia H. said...

Here's an article in the New York Times on a classic science fiction story that's 50 years old now. But you might not think of it as SciFi.

"A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle. Other of her books that include science fiction themes include "Arms of the Starfish" which involved espionage and intrigue to try and get research concerning starfish regeneration and its applications for human regeneration and "Troubling a Star" which has more espionage and intrigue concerning experimental rotor technology while the main character was on a trip to Antarctica (though the latter has this technology play no part and is only part of the setting - borderline scifi). Other of her books were definitely on the soft side of scifi such as "A Ring of Endless Light" which involved communicating with dolphins using a form of telepathy.

I'm particularly fond of L'Engle as "A Wrinkle in Time" ignited my interest in science fiction when I was a child. And it included a cool and understandable description of just what dimensions are - at least, the first to fourth dimension, and theories on what the fifth dimension could allow.

Rob H.

Jumper said...

A while back I realized some of the stuff that blew me away in my youth was not really high quality. This includes books and music too. Yet I don't disparage my younger self for this; I just forgive that fellow who was me. But I also don't urge those works on others as classics. An example would be Anthony's SOS the Rope, serialized in F&SF when I got my first subscription. I was enthralled and blown away. I'm not sure now that it was "great" though!

Having said that, for pure fun I did enjoy the Ringworld stuff, and the first few Riverworld books.

Paul451 said...

The question is, if you met a kid today who reminded you of yourself at that age, would you try to push "quality" ("Worthy literature"), or would you just offer them your collection of juvy and bubblegum?

(ghtsil: Mixed lights.)

duncan cairncross said...

Paul said
"The question is, if you met a kid today who reminded you of yourself at that age, would you try to push "quality" ("Worthy literature"), or would you just offer them your collection of juvy and bubblegum?"

I think there are two parts to a story
The idea
The craftsmanship used to express it

Some of the books I enjoyed when a lot younger had the idea but the craftsmanship was "low quality"

I would recommend first those that had both,
Then those that had a good idea.

Books (fine literature) that have the craftsmanship without the idea... good for lighting fires

David Brin said...

From SEJ:

"For every bunch of dubiously photogenic fetal-alcohol-syndrome cases from New Jersey who get on the TV for ten minutes, there are ten times as many people at MIT inventing the future." -- Warren Ellis

From an interview here:

Jumper said...

Well, I DID finally give up my copy of Sos The Rope to a youngster recently, with my recommendation. And of course I recommend "Jumper." (btw, David, you were right about the movie.)

I read Wells and Verne as a kid. Retro and not of my time but I enjoyed it. Don't know what this means to this conversation though.

Some SF outgrows its sell-by date, I guess I'm trying to say, too. Stories about 1995 we read in 1965 might be pointless to recommend now to a new reader. And some SF's IDEAS faded away. Mandelbrot killed Hari Seldon.

David Brin said...


Carl M. said...

Where's the Kornbluth! Kornbluth was about as idea-prolific as Heinlein. 'Twas a tragedy he died young. Put "His Share of Glory" (complete short story collection) under dire warnings or gedankenexperiments.

And where is the Spinrad? You call yourself a left-libertarian and left out Spinrad. He wrote several harbingers of hope worthy of your collection: "Child of Fortune", "Songs from the Stars", and "A World Between."

I'd add Jack Vance's "The Demon Princes" to the utopian list as well, though it is not a utopia you would approve of entirely. Unlike many utopia novels, the utopia is well placed in the background of a crime/revenge story, and the characters don't all approve of the utopia's masterminds.

Your brainy fantasy list needs Patrick Rothfuss' Kingkiller Chronicle series. Even in its incomplete form, it is some of the best written fantasy I have encountered, and you would like its dontrodden-class/pro-science perspective.

I would add C.S. Lewis' Narnia books to either the brainy fantasy list or the kid list.

For the young adult list I can think of several better Heinlein choices: "Tunnel in the Sky", "Orphans of the Sky", or "Between Planets".

I'll second the motion to add "The Futurological Congress" to the humor list. Also add "Door Number Three" by Patrick O'Leary. Both are two orders of magnitude funnier than Pratchett.

I'm rather shocked you gave H. Beam Piper a blanket endorsement. Have you read "Space Viking?" I would think you would lump it in with "Star Wars" on your hate list.

Anonymous said...

If we're mentioning Moorcock, I can recommend the trilogy consisting of Blood, Fabulous Harbours, and The War Amongst the Angels.

I can't honestly tell what's happening in those books, but reading them was an awesome ride nonetheless.

Would also add China Mieville to the list, but someone mentioned it already.

Cheryl said...

War with the Newts by Czech author Karel Čapek. Wonderful, funny story with great social commentary. He manages to insult everyone in the whole world.

Unknown said...

Nice to see some John Brunner listed.

Anonymous said...

No Terry Goodkind listing for Sword of Truth series ? Or am I just missing it ? If not, how sad.

Kevin said...

I'm glad to see the Methods of Rationality inclusion.

A few suggestions:

Peter F. Hamilton's Commonwealth Saga belongs under "Harbingers of Hope."

Replay, by Ken Grimwood, is a superlative time travel novel.

Carolyn Sorensen said...

I have 3 tall bookcases full of SF and have maybe 2/3 of your lists included. Wow. I will never buy one of those kindle-thingys, give me the comfort & smell of a paperback. I ditto the recommendations for Dragon's Egg and the Mars series by Robinson (his climate series is great too, though in part I found it interesting because I live in DC.)

May I suggest a new series that would be helpful to all? 'Best new SF this year' would be terrific. Hard to keep on top of new books. Thanks for posting on G+!


D.A. Trappert said...

If it doesn't include Eric Frank Russell's Wasp, the most enjoyable book ever written, it isn't much of a list. :-)

crf said...

Lemprière's Dictionary, by Lawrence Norfolk.

DaveC said...

Way Station by Clifford D. Simak - one of the very best... (I've read them for 50 years.)

Douglas Moran said...

Hm. Well, I think "Beyond This Horizon" is by far one of Heinlein's weakest books, so I'm surprised to see it included here. And I would think you might include one of his Juveniles on your list of Young Adults books. (And "Beyond This Horizon is really not for young adults, either.) "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel," say.

juliangreenfield said...

Can I buy or download the E-version of sheep look up?

Retinol complex

Gorgonos said...

Very interesting list! Thank! I'd like also to suggest any book by Andrew Crumey (they fit in 2-3 categories for certain, at least in my mind)!

Gary Mccoy said...

I really like this list and how it's organized. I would definitely add a few more Brits and Aussies myself, but that's being picky. I haven't read much beyond the native english writers, but would be interested to find a gateway non-western scifi writer. I do think that some of the magical reality of Latin America nearly qualifies.

Unknown said...

Hi Dr. Brin. Upon finishing Existence (which I enjoyed very much and also had a friend to purchase as his first science fiction attempt)and the Afterword, I was excited about your list of authors who eschew warp drives in favor of Einsteinian physics. Having already read much Bear and Niven, etc., I picked one of the other authors on the list that I'd never read in hopes of discovering a new favorite. I picked the top Amazon selection from Iain Banks (assuming I got the right Banks). Unfortunately I was only two pages into The Hydrogen Sonata when hyperspace was invoked. Would you mind terribly resubmitting the list, but this time adding a work (or works) from each author that serves as an example of the statement?

Dinky said...

Under beautiful words (or fantasy, if you prefer, or even quirky classics) I'd put Macbeth.

Under fantasy with brains, I'd put Steven Erikson's "Gardens of the Moon" (and the nine or more books that follow it). The Malazan series supplanted LOTR as my favorite fantasy series.

I am reluctant to suggest science fiction favorites I think missing because I suspect that your tastes differ from mine rather than you had not read them. I've read almost all of these, but then at one time I could with some legitimacy state that I'd read every fantasy and science fiction book in the Los Angeles Public Library System. Those days are long past; in the past 30 years we have seen an enormous number of genre books published. Just as this is a golden age of animation, so too is it a golden age of fantasy and science fiction. But I think it would be fair to suggest that some of the Pohl and Kornbluth collaborations deserve mention, as does A. E. Van Vogt, Jack Williamson, and especially Jack Vance. You (well, I) don't read Vance for plot; I do read him as one of the best creators of different societies and cultures every to write. Of course, you yourself do pretty well at that.

Anonymous said...

Yikes! No Samuel Delaney or Michael Moorcock??????
That is frightening and an enormous oversight.
Two of the best.

Paul Harper said...

Daemon and Freedom by Daniel Suarez. Search online for his talks at Google, TED, and Long Now. His stories are dystopian and warn about concentrations of power.

Cacogen said...

No Phillip K. Dick?

GTF said...

Thanks, great suggestions! Watch out for the Three Body Trilogy when it is available. Excellent SF, currently only available in Chinese but hopefully soon to be translated -

sci fi said...

That's a good list, but imo, you're missing a couple of the very best hard science fiction.

science fiction list said...

Mr. Brin made a new list of the best near future science fiction!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful list. Consider under thought experiments AE Van Vogt's short story The Monster.

Anonymous said...

"And SF isn't only Anglo-American"... said the man who then listed five -yes, a paltry five- non anglo books altogether.

It would have been better to say "this is a list of great Anglo-American sci-fi books" from the start.

James Simmons said...

Under the humor category I'd recommend adding anything by Ron Goulart. The Hellhound Project is a pretty good one to start with.

Unknown said...

I like the list here and feel is is a pretty good starting place for anyone who is looking to start reading the genres or for some who have simply missed any of these. I have been lucky enough to read nearly everything listed with varied degrees of 'like'. Of course I could suggest other authors/novels but this is YOUR list and YOUR choices.

The best part of this, for the most part, is reading the following discussions and responses. Not only has it been informative, it's been entertaining.

Thanks a lot.

JamesK said...

Mr. Brin, your link to your Top Ten Science Fiction Novels is a dead end.

Can you please post them again.
Thank you.