It's Tuesday, so you know what that means. This week's topic for a Top 10 list hosted by The Broke and the Bookish is an exciting one: Top Ten Books for Readers Who like _______.
I decided to go with Science-Fiction. For those who are already familiar with the genre, this list might seem a little generic but I am hoping that it will benefit those who are new to the genre a little more. Perhaps you are interested in exploring Science-Fiction but don't know where to start? I had the same problem. Granted, I'm no expert and have yet to read many of those classics of the genre but this is not a "top 10 sci-fi books of all time" list but more of a "top 10 sci-fi books to check out that will hopefully inspire you to read more from the genre" type of list.
1. Sirius (Old-school) by Olaf Stapledon: H.G. Wells or Jules Verne might have been more obvious choices but Stapledon tends to receive the short end of the stick. He's one of those pioneers of the genre but is often overlooked or forgotten; many of his works are still out of print! The only copy available for Sirius is in this Dover edition that also comes with one of his other stories, Odd John. I haven't read that one yet. His prose can be very clunky and descriptive at times (reminiscent of the Victorian style) but Sirius is an important novel for laying down the groundwork for other authors to follow. It also happens to be a very intriguing piece speculative fiction. It is about a dog with super-human intelligence who attempts to integrate himself within human society. For dog lovers, this story is bound to be a real tear-jerker.
2. The Foundation (classic) by Isaac Asimov : There are a whole bunch of other novels in the Foundation series, but the first one remains the best. Asimov's influence on the genre is insurmountable and he is a must read for any lover of Sci-Fi.
3. Way Station (Vintage) by Clifford D. Simak: If John Steinbeck had written science fiction stories, it might have turn out to be something like Way Station. Winner of the Hugo Award in 1964, this novel boasts a very cool premise even though it might sound lame: Living on his farm in rural American, the protagonist cannot age and inside his home is an alien designed galactic rest-stop, or Way Station, for aliens all across the galaxy. You would think that with a premise like that there would be tons of action, violence, high-speed chases among parallel dimensions but that is not the case here. This is a slow novel that takes its time to establish the setting and main character; Simak's strengths as a writer reside in his ability to create an emotionally charged story and he succeeds admirably. A lot of science-fiction novels place a much higher importance on the exploration of ideas over character development and story but it is those memorable works like Way Station that are able to find the right balance.
4. The Stars My Destination (Vintage) by Alfred Bester: Science-Fiction really took off the late 50's and 60's and it is authors like Alfred Bester who paved the way. This novel is entertaining as much as it is thought-provoking. Gully Foyle is a fascinating anti-hero who can teleport across galaxies. Pretty darn cool. For anyone who enjoys poetry from the Romantic period, they might get a kick out of this novel because the author uses William Blake's poem The Tyger as an influence on the story. Read review here.
5. Ubik (New-Wave) by Philip K. Dick: Mark my words: it is only a matter of time before Ubik will be adapted into a film. The premise behind this novel is so brilliant, so bizarre and so unique that only Philip K Dick could have written it. Containing some of his craziest ideas and memorable characters, the novel is deeply philosophical but also remains highly entertaining. Not to be presumptuous, but it wouldn't surprise me if Ubik was a direct influence on the Wachowski's The Matrix. I could have picked any number of great novels by Philip K. Dick for this spot but Ubik tends to be underrated and more people need to read it. You can check out my review here.
6. October Country by Ray Bradbury (short-stories): I was tempted to include Fahrenheit 451 but it already receives enough attention. However, if you haven't read it yet, please do so -- the novel is a SF classic classic for a reason. The amount of short-stories written in this genre is astounding but it was important to include at least one collection on this list. I am breaking the rules a bit here but you can't ignore great writers like J.G. Ballard, Theodore Sturgeon, James Tiptree Jr. (alias for Alice Bradley Sheldon) and so many others who have preferred to use the short-story as their main literary form. Personally, Ray Bradbury ranks as the most talented of his peers when it comes to the short-story, but the more I read from J.G. Ballard, the more it seems my opinion might change. Bradbury wrote a ton of short-stories over his long career spanning over half a decade. The Illustrated Man is another great collection that is worthy of this list but I choose October Country because it contains several of my all-time favorites by him: The Scythe, The Man Upstairs, The Lake and of course, The Small Assassin. You can read my review of that one here.
8. Blindsight (hardcore SF) by Peter Watts: I tend to keep away from hardcore science-fiction because it can often feel like sitting through a graduate program science lecture where the professor is going on and on about formulas and technical jargon that makes absolutely no sense. However, Blindsight is one of those rare cases where all of the complicated science stuff does not hinder the actual story. Watts puts his own unique spin on the alien-contact premise that is absolutely mind-blowing. His ideas and the amount of research put into this novel is astounding to behold. He also happens to be a Canadian too.
9. Consider Phlebas (space opera) by Iain M. Banks: Whenever the label "space opera" is through around, it tends to only be associated with negative connotations. Adopting this narrow-minded point of view only prevents the discovery of great science fiction works and brilliant authors like Iain M. Banks. I discovered him far too late and sadly, he passed away in 2013. At least I can take comfort in the fact that he left behind a great body of work. Consider Phlebas is the first novel from his Culture Series and the most accurate word I can use to describe its awesomeness is EPIC. War stretches across the galaxy between an alien race and a technologically advanced civilization known as the Culture (the premise might sound a bit hokey but rest assured, it's a lot more complicated and fascinating than it might seem). Even though the story is very entertaining with plenty of action, Banks also happens to be a really intelligent writer who isn't all about spectacle and can tell a great story. He explores a lot of important issues concerning technology, religion and social structures but the most impressive aspect of this novel is the vast narrative scope. Once again, it is EPIC. He possesses such a wild imagination and some of the concepts and creative ideas he comes up with is literally out of this world. I can't wait to start reading the rest of the series.
10. The Martian (contemporary) by Andy Weir: Chances are you have already read this novel. If not, you have likely heard of it. Either way, The Martian is very accessible SF novel for those new to the genre and looking to get their feet wet. A thrilling, humorous and highly addicting read that had me turning the pages at a feverish pace.
Post-script: Satia made a shrewd observation in the comment section that my list does not include any female authors from the genre. Please do not think that I am a male chauvinist pig because this is not true. The fact is, I just have not come across enough great works by female authors, yet. The key word is YET. I have read Atwood's Handsmaid Tale which was a decent dystopia novel but not one I believe that would be best suited to this particular list. I have also read plenty of great SF short stories by female authors (I mentioned James Tiptree earlier; Le Guin and Butler would be included as well) but obviously need to read more novels. This list would look entirely different in a few months.
Well, that's it for now. Hopefully a few titles managed to catch your attention and you are now ready to take the plunge into the realm of SF where anything is possible. One of these days I hope to compile a top 50 of my favorite Science Fiction novels. Now that would be fun...