Over at The List Universe, they’ve been bold enough to post a list of what they consider the “Top 15 Great Science Fiction Books”. And I have to say, I agree with most of these. Click through to read what they have to say about each one, then come back and tell me which books you think are missing. My own thoughts about each book in this list can be found below.
The Time Machine (H. G. Wells) – I haven’t read this since high school, at a time when I wasn’t a freak for time travel stories the way I am now. So I really need to revisit this one soon, if only to remind myself of the roots of that particular sub-genre. Although I might have included War of the Worlds instead of this novel.
Stranger in a Strange Land (Robert A. Heinlein) – Other than occasional short stories, I only became exposed to Heinlein in the late 90s, when I read both this book and The Door Into Summer. I’ve since read the latter a handful of times, and while I know that Stranger is definitely the more ambitious novel of the two, I’ve only read it once.
The Lensman Series (E. E. “Doc” Smith) – While I’m aware of this series, I’ve never read any of Smith’s work … unless it was maybe a stray short story in an anthology. But they sound like great fun.
Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury) – There isn’t much of Bradbury’s stuff that I haven’t loved, and this was no exception to that. I’ve read it a few times, starting in high school. It remains one of the seminal examples of literature as social/political cautionary tale, and for a while there after 9/11, this is one of the stories that would often pop into my head as I felt the heat rising all around me.
2001: A Space Odyssey (Arthur C. Clarke) – Loved the movie, but have never gotten around to reading any of the books. I really should, though. Then watch the movie again to see how it compares.
Foundation (Isaac Asimov) – I read the first book in this classic series back in college, and always intended to read the others. Maybe some day, when this internet fad passes and I have more time on my hands. Generally speaking, I haven’t read as much Asimov as I should have, for somebody who claims to be a fan of “hard” science fiction.
Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut) – Brilliant sci-fi from somebody who didn’t even consider himself a science fiction writer. I’ve read this a handful of times since high school, but it’s been a while since the last time. Especially considering that every time I watch Lost these days, I find myself thinking of Billy Pilgrim. Every page that Vonnegut writes is just a masterpiece of pathos and humanity, with just enough humor thrown in to keep you from breaking down in tears.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams) – I can’t even tell you how much I’ve giggled like a little kid reading Adams’ books, while at the same time being thoroughly impressed with his ability to spin an insanely complicated sci-fi story and wrap it all up in the end. Sustained humor is probably one the hardest things in the world to write, but Adams made it look effortless.
The Dune Trilogy (Frank Herbert) – Every time I go to my in-laws’ house, I see my father-in-law’s complete collection of Dune books, and wish I could just freeze time for a few weeks and sit there and read them. But I can’t, so I remain one of those people who read the first novel many many moons ago, but don’t remember if the details in my head are from the book or from the movie with Sting in it.
Neuromancer (William Gibson) – To be honest, I devoured this novel at the time, and remember thinking it was really cool and ground-breaking — and I believe it was — but I can’t tell you a single thing that happened in it, aside from some of the cool concepts it introduced, like “cyberspace”. And by the time Gibson wrote his next one, I wasn’t really interested enough to read it.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Philip K. Dick) – Dick is another one of those authors whose books I haven’t read nearly as many of as I should. But I have some friends who are big Dick fans (heh), and my guess is that they’d put some of his other novels ahead of this one. But this is the story that the movie Blade Runner was based on, so it seems to get the most attention.
Gateway (Frederik Pohl) – Never read this one, but I’m a big fan of Pohl’s short stories, especially “Tunnel Under the World”. And “The Map Makers” could arguably be considered an early predecessor of Gibson’s cyberspace stories, so this guy clearly knew what he was doing.
Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card) – Some folks out there will consider it heresy, but I’ve never read a single book in this series … or even a single Orson Scott Card book, for that matter. I probably should one of these days, although my guess is that I probably won’t unless I come up with that time-freezing machine … and even then, Card won’t be at the top of my list.
Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell) – Like Fahrenheit 451, this is another classic novel of a dystopian future … or at least what was the future in 1949. I sometimes wonder if I would be as aware of this novel as I am if not for the fact that I was in high school in 1984. Possibly, since the reality show “Big Brother” got its name from the book as well. And let’s not forget the awesome Oingo Boingo song! Seriously, though, between this and Animal Farm, nobody was better at making people mistrust their fellow man than Orwell.
Brave New World (Aldous Huxley) – Rounding out the Dystopian Future Trifecta is a novel the content of which is as ironic as the title. Unlike 1984, where nothing is allowed, in Brave New World everything is allowed, to the point where everybody is idiotically happy, over-sexed, and drugged up, and nothing is relevant any more. This all went over my head in high school, but became very profound when I read it in college during my existential phase.
Besides the alternate titles mentioned for some of the authors above, some other books I might have added to this list would be: Kindred, by Octavia Butler; Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley; A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess; I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson; Flatland, by Edwin Abbott; A Canticle for Liebowitz, by Walter Miller; The Body Snatchers, by Jack Finney; and something by Ursula K. LeGuin, maybe The Left Hand of Darkness. And probably 20 others I can’t think of right now.
What are some novels you would include on this list?