Enjoy this guest review from Mark, an avid book reader and all-around nice guy. Since this is my blog, I reserve the right to //jump in with a comment// here or there.
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My Ten Favorite Science Fiction Novels
When I was young, science fiction was my escape. Reading those soaring tales by Clarke, Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein and others lifted my horizons. They helped me realize that there was a larger world of imagination, creativity and ideas beyond the confines of the small town where I grew up.
Of course in those days I had to be very careful about letting anyone know that I was a science fiction fan. This was before geeks took over the world, and in the rural south it was all too easy to commit social suicide by letting on that you were reading the latest by Harlan Ellison, or that you knew “The Three Laws of Robotics.”
That all changed when I left home for college. I took my love of science fiction with me into that larger world, and discovered that there were people out there who loved it too – a lot of them. In my junior year, I even took a class in science fiction; a real college course, taught by a real college professor, for real college credit. Wow.
What follows is a list of my favorite science fiction novels, developed over four decades as an unrepentant fan. The criteria I used is simple –- these are books that made a lasting impression on me. They were not only a pleasure to read, but left me thinking about them long after I had finishing the last page. If you haven’t read them, I hope you will. I can’t guarantee that they will all end up on your own list of favorites, but I can promise that each of them will, in some way or other, stay with you.
#10 – The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin (1969)
An intriguing and imaginative take on the classic sci-fi theme of “first contact”, by one of the genre’s most stylish writers. The story is so engrossing that only after finishing it do you begin to ponder the deeper themes of gender identity, sexuality, politics and religion that LeGuin deftly weaves through the novel.
# 9 – To Your Scattered Bodies Go (Vol. 1 of the Riverworld Series), by Philip Jose Farmer (1971)
Every person who has ever lived is suddenly re-born along the banks of a great river on an unknown planet. Painting on this enormous canvas, Farmer fashions a wildly entertaining tale centered on a quest to reach the source of the river and discover why everyone has been resurrected, and by whom. His characters include many actual historical figures, including Sir Richard Francis Burton, Samuel Clemens, King John and Alice Liddell (the real-life inspiration for Alice in Wonderland). Too big for a single volume, the story eventually expanded to four novels and several short stories. While all of them are worth reading, To Your Scattered Bodies Go was the first and, in my view, the best.
//If you want to read this book, which I highly recommend, ignore the awful Syfy TV-movie version “Riverworld”, which I do not recommend. In fact, even if you don’t want to read this book, ignore the movie.//
#8 — Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1994)
A true classic, generally acclaimed as one of the best science fiction novels of all time. Ender’s Game is the ultimate sci-fi “coming of age” tale, telling the story of young, gifted Ender Wiggin. Ender is the result of a government program designed to breed and train a new generation of military geniuses to fight an interstellar war. What makes the novel really stand out is the emotional depth Card brings to the psychological conflicts and internal pain Ender endures as he is forced to grow up too quickly among people who are ruthlessly devoted to a bigger cause, and who seldom have his best interests are heart.
#7 – The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov; Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952), Second Foundation (1953)
Asimov’s masterpiece revolves around the concept of “psychohistory,” a branch of mathematics that can predict the future on an extremely large scale, and traces the rise and fall of a galactic empire. Intelligent, crisply written and highly influential, the trilogy brims with thought-provoking ideas.
There is, by the way, a small but interesting tie-in between the Foundation novels and Mike Duncan’s “The History of Rome” podcast reviewed elsewhere in this blog. To hear it, listen to the Audible.com advertisement written and read by Duncan at the beginning of THoR Episode 137.
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Stay tuned for Part 2!