Piers Anthony is an amazingly prolific author. I think his work suffers for
it, much like Stephen King's. However his light style is very readable, often
very humorous, and usually refreshingly original. This is certainly not great
literature or deep thought-provoking hard sci-fi!
- Blue Adept trilogy
I read these in high school and really enjoyed them. He presents a world with
a believable variety of magic and brings a protagonist over from a non-magic
world who discovers he's a very powerful magician with an important destiny.
- (many others)
I often pick up books of his at random when I'm bored and too tired to do
something intelligent. I find it lightens my spirits just a little and gives
me enough energy to do something else more worthwhile.
Asimov is certainly one of the greatest sci-fi authors. He started to get a
little wacky with old age, but his earlier works are all without exception
worthwhile reading. Several are among my all time favorites.
- Foundation trilogy
This is probably his best. I have philosophical issues with his dogged
insistence on a deterministic universe, but if I shove that aside, this trilogy
is one of my favorites. An economist discovers how to predict the future of
civilization with incredible accuracy, and sets about subtly influencing its
course. It is spectacular in scope and originality. It is replete with the
dramatic plot twists that are so characteristic of Asimov. I've been warned
not to read far past the original trilogy, so I've been too scared to try any
others lest it detract from the first three.
- In Memory Yet Green (autobiography)
Wow, the man loves talking about himself! But he has such a good sense of
humor that it's worthwhile reading. Besides, he was very much a self-made man,
and as such there is something there for dullards like me to learn from.
- (a few robot stories)
These are fun, but rarely deep enough to make it worth reading in my opinion.
- (many short stories)
I think Asimov's best medium is the short story. And he produced many!
- Consider Phlebas
It's hard to find in the US, but it's worth it. Several friends rate Banks as
their favorite. I don't go that far, but I certainly enjoyed this one a great
deal. It is rather original adventure among the stars, and the ending is so
intense, that I highly recommend it.
This is a book with a grand scale, but which deals with the practicalities of
politics and characters at the same time. I think Bear could have done more
with what they eventually find, but then again I haven't read the sequel
Eternity yet. It starts off reminiscent of Rondezvous with Rama,
but it goes much much father.
- Fahrenheit 451
Here is another all-time classic. I would mention this in the same breath
as 1984. I desperately need to reread it before I comment on it.
- Martian Chronicles
This is not, perhaps, the best hard sci-fi ever written, but as literature it
is superb. It is a series of snapshots of periods during a long history of
Mars. It is very original and very bleak. I found it extremely
thought-provoking. Who cares if there's much actual "science" in it?
Talk about grand scale: this impressive book starts off as merely superb
sci-fi, but escalates repeatedly until it enters the realm of simply being
wacky. I think most people agree that he got a little carried away with
himself here. Don't read the last few chapters and you'll probably walk away
thinking Earth was a great book!
This one also starts well, but ends a bit too bizarre for my tastes. It begins
as a very good post-apocalyptic novel, but soon they find a super-intelligent
computer and super-human mutants before arriving at the ridiculous climax.
- Startide Rising
"Uplifted" dolphins (ie. engineered to be intelligent) make up about half the
main characters in this novel. Brin has neat plot twists and a tendency to
escalate seemingly simple stories to the grand scale.
- Sun Diver
This is the first of three novels in a group, including Startide Rising
and Uplift War. They are only loosely related. Sun Diver is
essentially a mystery novel that takes place in the corona of the sun(!) Brin
does a great job with his aliens, and I was fascinated with what he found in
- Uplift War
A small human colony world finds itself a target as galactic forces align
themselves against Earth. Brin still treats his aliens very thoroughly (his
five main characters were each of a different species), but I found it hard to
really get into this book for some reason.
Orson Scott Card
- Ender's Game
This is one of my favorites, despite the preachy final chapter. Alas, even I
had "figured it out" before the tremendously climactic final battle. But all
criticisms aside, I can scarcely imagine how Card could have written it any
better. It's a superb story of one man (boy, really) rising to the top by good
old-fashioned American hard work and cleverness.
- Midnight at the Well of Souls
This is the only Chalker I've read, so I don't know how it compares with his
others. Chalker has a classic pulp style and a brilliant imagination. But
this story was pure fluff. Good fun reading, but don't look too deep.
Arthur C. Clarke
This is one of the best all-around sci-fi novels ever. It aspires to a grand
scale, has superb characters (including a computer), and makes a damned good
attempt at describing First Contact -- of describing the indescribable. It is
very thought-provoking and engrossing reading. (I think Kubrik did a pretty
fair job of capturing the essence of it on film, in addition to elevating it
to an even higher form of art in the process.)
- Childhood's End
Shoot, I remember that I really liked this, but I can't remember a thing about
it except the appearance of the aliens (which I can't divulge without giving
away an important twist in the novel.)
- In the Light of Other Days (with Stephen Baxter)
This is Clarke's most recent, I think. He has not lost anything to the wear
and tear of time. This book follows the premise of discovering how to control
a miniature worm hole and use it to see through tremendous distances in space
and time. The result is a novel of tremendous scope, with a fascinating
ending that'll really take your breath away.
- Rendezvous With Rama
Many people complain that this novel is too slow and nothing happens. True.
But Clarke does such a superb job at realistically describing what would happen
if an interstellar probe entered our solar system, that it is totally worth
plowing through. Think of the slow pace as adding suspense... I'm still
debating reading any of the sequels, as I'm afraid of spoiling the memory of
Don't bother. Something about a bunch of nanobots that go feral in Nevada
and threaten humanity. I was desperate, and it was the only book on hand.
Phillip K. Dick
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
This is (supposedly) the basis for the cult classic film, Blade Runner.
Be that as it may, this is a bizarre book. What the heck was up with the guy
walking up the mountain the whole book??
This is a collection of short stories. There were several that were extremely
good. I think Egan performs especially well in the short-story medium. I
particularly liked "Infinite Assassin", "Safe Deposit Box", and "The Sphynx".
He's got a good imagination and some really thought-provoking ideas here.
This novel takes a similar premise to Permutation City, but Egan takes
off from where that one ended, and leaps to incredible new heights. I can't
think of any novel that even approaches the scale of this one. The climactic
"joy ride" at the end literally took my breath away. The plot, such as it
was, couldn't really keep up with Egan's leaping mind, but I was completely
carried away by the force of his vision and couldn't have cared less.
This is a creative novel that somehow comes to the conclusion that discovering
the Grand Unified Theory of physics would somehow literally unravel the very
fabric of space time. Okay, so that sounds silly. It was. But it was
still an interesting story.
- Permutation City
This spectacular, far-seeing, grand-scaled novel explores the premise that
everything that makes a human human can be duplicated on an enormous computer
simulation. Egan introduces the idea slowly and carefully, but soon he gains
momentum and launches into a fascinating visionary realm. Egan can take any
premise and leap directly to the logical conclusion faster and more
dramatically than any other author I know. In this novel he has carefully
orchestrated dozens of situations that effectively crystallize the results of
his relatively simple premise.
This is another creative novel. It goes from the premise that undisciplined
conscious thought collapses wave functions around the universe
indiscriminately, until some day the "rest of the universe" wraps our solar
system in a gigantic quarantine sphere. I found it a bizarre, but oddly
compelling idea. You certainly can't fault Egan for lack of ambition. Like
everything else of his, it was very thought-provoking if nothing else.
C. S. Friedman
- Black Sun Rising
This one takes place in a fascinating world where colonists' thoughts and
dreams literally influence reality via a special force call the "fey" present
on this world. It is an entertaining story of a quest, involving a few very
interesting characters (especially the "evil" dude in the forest). Not my
favorite, but very enjoyable.
- Madness Season
I liked this one a bit better. I thought the author did a great job getting
the reader into the minds of the bizarre main character and the other alien
races. The alien races are all very non-human and extremely interesting. I
can't remember the plot, but I don't think that was really so important. Here
again, as in Black Sun Rising, the author did a very good job with
This is the original cyber-punk classic, I believe. It has some very amusing
characters (like "Maully" who has razor blades implanted into her fingers that
can spring out at will). It is, of course, very dark. It was also very
difficult to follow and had a few more references to reggae culture than I
would've liked. However, it had a very original and vivid (at least at the
time) visualization of the internet (whatever he called it I've forgotten).
And I thought a brief paragraph buried close to the end made all the pain
worthwhile, when Gibson allowed himself to momentarily lapse out of the pain
and drear of his gritty world and let a glimmer of Grand Purpose stab through
right into my heart. I won't give it away, but hopefully those who have read
it will know what I'm talking about.
Here is another of sci-fi's all time great writers. I've enjoyed most of what
I've read of his. I guess his political slant may be a bit too
arch-conservative, but I'd never let that interfere with my enjoyment of his
- The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
This is a superbly realistic and exciting story about how the moon was
colonized and the resulting war of independence from Earth. It's one of
- Puppet Masters
This is a creepy story of an alien invasion on Earth where the aliens can
attach themselves invisibly to their victims and control them. It is very well
done; an engrossing read.
- The Unpleasant Profession of Johnathan Hoag
This is a short story with an extremely bizarre premise that he reveals through
immaculate use of suspense and drama. I can't say much more without giving
away important information.
The main character flees to the secretive mystic desert people on his planet to
discover his important destiny, and eventually leads a revolution to take over
the world. It is a very original setting. He went a bit heavy on the politics
for my taste. I've been warned not to read any of the sequels.
King is perhaps the most prolific author on the face of the planet. Ever. But
hidden like jewels in amongst the rest of the chaff from his typewriter are
some spectacular stories. They are all told in his characteristic bold,
steady, engaging style: I find even the worst of his works to be oddly
I don't remember the movie, but the book was great. He develops a compelling
plot and sympathetic characters around the premise that a little girl is
born with the power to start fires telepathically.
- (several others)
I can't begin to name all the books of his I've read. For some reason I can
only remember Firestarter at the moment...
- Lathe of Heaven
This is a very good novel based on the premise that one man is cursed with the
power that all his dreams come true. I remember being a little disappointed,
thinking Leguin could have done more with the idea, but enjoyed it greatly.
(There were aliens involved at one point: they seemed a wee bit unnecessary...)
This is such an amazing collection of stories! They're sort of sci-fi geek
fairy tales. He has an incredible imagination and a fantastic sense of humor.
If you've studied math or physics at a college level you will recognize all
sorts of really clever word-play on technical jargon.
I think this is the standard against which all other novels should be judged
when it comes to describing an alien species. Not only that, but the
characters were strikingly real, and I was pulled in mind and soul to their
psychological struggles, which were so integral to the nature of the alien
life involved and the resulting compelling story. I felt "creeped out"
every time I put the book down.
- A Canticle for Leibowitz
I read this in French, so I've never been able to decide whether the reason I
liked it so much was because it really was good, or whether I understood so
little of it that it was like seeing through a rosy haze that made it all seem
sort of dreamlike and mysterious. At any rate, being forced to read it very
slowly, I had lots of time to read all sorts of (probably nonexistent) deeper
meaning into it, and ended up enjoying it tremendously. Certainly, the premise
is very cool: the records of the pre-apocalyptic technological society are kept
alive as illuminated religious tomes in a desert monastery. The story goes on
to describe how a new society builds up, and eventually comes full circle as it
ends up poised to destroy itself yet again.
Here's an author with fantastic imagination and creative vision, who
unfortunately doesn't have an ounce of writing talent. However, as my friend,
George, has pointed out, you get the best of both worlds whenever Niven worked
with Jerry Pournelle, who, I'm told, can write but is as boring as a tax
manual. Together they produced some great novels, such as A Mote in God's
- Integral Trees
This was the only Niven-by-himself book I will ever subject myself to. The
idea was cool. Being a Caltech physicist (I don't think he graduated, though),
he undoubtedly got the science just right. But the plot and characters were
so painfully bad I very nearly couldn't finish it.
- Mote in God's Eye (with Jerry Pournelle)
This, on the other hand, was spectacular. The "Moteys" are a fascinating
alien race, and the action was exciting enough to carry the reader through
the story effortlessly. I was warned not to read the sequel, The Gripping
Hand, but I think I will someday, anyhow.
Kim Stanley Robinson
- Red Mars
After reading this I was completely convinced that colonization of Mars will
someday be feasible. The breadth and detail of this work are exceeded only by
the breathtaking (literally in my case) drama of a handful of climactic scenes.
Even the characters, ethnic tensions, and politics are dealt with as
impressively as the science. Hundreds of hours of research must have gone into
this classic. I'm ashamed I haven't taken the time to read the other two in
the trilogy yet.
Eric Frank Russell
This is a very realistic story of one man being sent on an incredibly dangerous
mission to infiltrate a multi-planet alien civilization to create instability
to allow Earth to prevail in a war where we are otherwise outmatched and
doomed. It is written by a man who'd drawn up exactly such a plan in a think
tank during World War II. Since we didn't use it then, he figured he could
at least use it as the basis for a sci-fi novel. He succeeded brilliantly.
Mary Doria Russell
This is a study of how well-intentioned missionaries can turn a first-contact
situation into a breath-taking disaster due to fundamental cultural
incompatibility. Russell describes the whole process of discovering ET life
and follows the expedition to first contact absolutely brilliantly. I felt
like I was there; it was tremendously exciting. The "downside" is I felt the
subsequent descent into hell equally strongly.
Here is a true classic. This tells a fascinating story of a creative future of
Earth. It reminded me an awful lot of Bradbury's Martian Chronicles.
There are 1000 year old sentimental robots, intelligent dogs and ants, ebbs and
flows of entire civilizations, all taking place over millennia.
- Hyperion trilogy
Simmons created a superbly original universe for this trilogy. At the center
of it all is a bizarre planet called Hyperion of poetical beauty, but home to
the most bad-assed killing machine ever conceived by mortal mind. Each novel
is strikingly different in character, yet each merges into a single
extraordinarily twisted time-travel plot that makes the circular family tree in
the "Terminator" look like child's play. Along the way Simmons visits a
multitude of crazy planets and funky life-forms. I strongly recommend
rereading your Keats before reading this trilogy, as there is a tremendous
number of allusions to his works (as the title might suggest).
E. E. Doc Smith
- Lensman series
I think many people would say this is one of the best sci-fi works of all time.
It is a series of grand scope and vision, essentially chronicling the history
of Earth's space exploration, starting very modestly and escalating to
tremendous space battles where planets are literally hurled across the galaxy.
One of E. E. Doc Smith's strengths is a superb eye for realism and drama. He
excels in both in these stories.
- Snow Crash
The protagonist is named "Hiro Protagonist". That should give you a pretty
good idea of the tone for this cyber-punk novel. Someone creates a computer
virus that can literally core-dump the user. Yeah, it's silly, but go with him
a bit, it's a worthwhile read.
Verne doesn't need any commentary. I read all of his as a kid, so I really
have no idea if I'd even like them any more, anyway. These were my favorites.
- 20000 Leagues Under the Sea
- Around the World in 80 Days
- Journey to the Center of the Earth
- Mysterious Island
- Slaughterhouse Five
Does Vonnegut really belong in sci-fi listings? I guess there are aliens and
time travel and other shit going on in this spectacular novel, but it really
isn't about sci-fi: it's about the author's first-hand experiences in the
infamous fire-bombing of Dresden at the end of WWII. It is a very
weird plot, but it really suits the subject matter perfectly. How do you
make rational sense out of such a meaningless vast waste of human life, anyway?
(I'm not making a political comment: it is "meaningless" because it was a case
of mistaken intelligence -- the allies had no intention of bombing Dresden
which was well known to have no military value.)
I don't like Tad Williams's overly-long-winded style. Granted, he does fill
all those thousands of pages with tons of interesting details, it's just
that I would prefer he tried to make those details have some bearing on the
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- Otherland #1
This is the first one I made it all the way through. I enjoyed the bushman
character and his treatment of the South African cultural dynamic. I was a
little annoyed at being misled into thinking there was a fantasy component,
which turns out just to be another virtual-reality story. (Maybe that was
my fault though.) Too bad I'll never read the other books to find out what
is actually going on.