I’ve been reading science fiction novels for most of my life; as a kid, consuming them breathlessly on my parents’ couch, clammy-palmed and haunted by the unreal; furtively, in college, instead of the recommended canon, which was, of course, markedly devoid of classics in the genre. What began as a diversion, as a love of pulp, has in recent years mutated into a genuine theoretical obsession. As a future I could never have imaged in my childhood becomes increasingly palpable, I feel overwhelmed by the majesty of science fiction’s seeming dominion over truth. A powerful science fiction novel can change your life. It urges you to look forward, to look around, and, perhaps most importantly, to look again.
It is in this spirit that I am embarking on this project, which a total self-education in science fiction. It may take a very long time, but that’s the nature of a canon. Thanks to the Center for the Studies of Science Fiction, I’ve found a kind of “master list” of classic novels which constitute a basic, but thorough, primer on the genre. They are almost all award winners of some variety — Hugos, Nebulas, Campbells — and they include some, but surprisingly few, books I’ve already read. They run the gamut from the late 1800s to the present day, some fantasy, some hard-boiled, women, men, novellas, feminist utopias, Space Operas, experimental, and four-part epics.
The idea is this: read them all. Read them all. Read others too, even if they aren’t on the list, if they strike me.
Why? Because I would like to become a kind of expert on the subject, and because there are no genuine, bricks-and-mortar institutions where a person can do such a thing. Because I would like to continue striding straight and calm into the future, assured of all possible realities, of how to foil the pitfalls of humanity when faced with sentient clouds, steel planets, and moon pools. And, while the canon of traditional literature forms a majestic, complex image of humanity, the space canon as a culture is as yet lightly-trodden, but full of important, and undoubtedly prescient, ideas.
This website is the basecamp: it’s where the master list (below) will live, and where all my observations, reviews, and speculative insights will live. I invite reading suggestions, comments, and guest entries from SF fans of all stripes. Let us cease our fear of being labeled as escapists and revel in the weird intellectual potency of our chosen genre. Let’s get deep into extrapolation and analysis of these books. Onward!
ADAMS, Douglas. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)ALDISS, Brian. The Helliconia trilogy: Helliconia Spring (1983), Helliconia Summer (1983), and Helliconia Winter (1985). The Long Afternoon of Earth (Hugo, 1962), The Dark Light Years (1964); Barefoot in the Head (1969), Frankenstein Unbound (1973).ANDERSON, Poul. Tau Zero (1971), Brain Wave (1954), The War of the Wing Men (1958); The High Crusade (1960), and Harvest of Stars (1993).ANTHONY, Piers. Macroscope (1969).ASIMOV, Isaac. The Foundation Trilogy (1951), I, Robot (1950), The Caves of Steel (1954), The End of Eternity (1955); and The Gods Themselves (1972 ).BALLARD, James. The Crystal World (1966), The Drowned World (1962).BANKS, Iain. Consider Phlebas (2003).BAXTER, Stephen. The Time Ships, Titan (1997).BEAR, Greg. Blood Music (1985), Darwin’s Radio (2000 Nebula), Eon (1985), The Forge of God (1987), Queen of Angels (1990), Anvil of Stars (1992), and Moving Mars (1993).BELLAMY, Edward. Looking Backward: 2000-1887 (1888).BENFORD, Gregory. Timescape (1980), Great Sky River (1987), Tides of Light (1989), Furious Gulf (1994), and Sailing Bright Eternity (1995).BESTER, Alfred. The Demolished Man (1953), The Stars My Destination (also titled Tiger! Tiger!, 1957), Starlight (1976).BISHOP, Michael. No Enemy But Time (1982), Ancient of Days (1985) and Brittle Innings (1994).BLISH, James. A Case of Conscience (1958), Cities in Flight (1955, 1957, 1958, 1962); The Seedling Stars (1957).BOVA, Ben. Titan, Kinsman Saga , Kinsman (1979) and Millennium (1976).BRADBURY, Ray. The Martian Chronicles (1950), The Illustrated Man (1951), Fahrenheit 451 (1953), and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962).BRADLEY, Marion Zimmer. The Planet Savers (1962), The Sword of Aldones (1962).BRIN, David. Startide Rising (1984), The Uplift War (Hugo, 1987) and Brightness Reef (1995).BROWN, Fredric. What Mad Universe (1949), The Lights in the Sky Are Stars (1953); and Martians, Go Home (1955).BRUNNER, John. Stand on Zanzibar (1969), The Jagged Orbit (1969), The Sheep Look Up (1972), The Shockwave Rider (1975), The Crucible of Time (1983).BURGESS, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange.BUJOLD, Lois McMaster. Falling Free (1988), The Vor Game (1990), Barrayar (1991), and Paladin of Souls (2003).BUTLER, Octavia E. Xenogenesis (1989), Wild Seed (1980).BURROUGHS, Edgar Rice. A Princess of Mars (1912).CADIGAN, Pat. Synners (1989), Patterns (1988), Mindplayers (1987).CAMPBELL, John W. The Best of John W. Campbell (1976).CAPEK, Karel. R.U.R., (1921), War with The Newts (1937), Krakatit (1925); The Absolute at Large (1927).CARD, Orson Scott. Ender’s Game (1985), Speaker for the Dead (1986), Xenocide (1991).CHARNAS, Suzy McKee. Walk to the End of the World (1974), Motherlines (1978).CHERRYH, C. J. Downbelow Station (1982).CLARKE, Arthur C. Childhood’s End (1953), The City and the Stars (1956); Rendezvous with Rama (1974), The Fountains of Paradise (1979), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).CLEMENT, Hal. Mission of Gravity (1954), Needle (1950), Iceworld (1953).CONKLIN, Groff, ed. The Best of Science Fiction (1946).DE CAMP, L. Sprague. Lest Darkness Fall (1941), The Complete Enchanter (1975).DELANY, Samuel R. The Einstein Intersection (1967), Babel-17 (1966), Dhalgren (1975), Triton (1976), Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984).DENTON, Bradley. Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well on Ganymede (1991).DICK, Philip K. The Man in the High Castle (1963), Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), Ubik (1969), Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (1974), and Valis (1981).DICKSON, Gordon R. Three to Dorsai (1975).DISCH, Thomas M. On Wings of Song won the (1979), Camp Concentration (1967), Getting into Death and Other Stories (1976).EGAN, Greg. Permutation City (1994).ELLISON, Harlan, ed. Dangerous Visions (1967), Again, Dangerous Visions (1972).EMSHWILLER, Carol. Carmen Dog (1990).FARMER, Philip José. To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1972), The Fabulous Riverboat (1971), Tarzan Alive (1972), Venus on the Half Shell (1975).FINNEY, Jack. The Body Snatchers (1955), The Woodrow Wilson Dime (1968), Time and Again (1970).GAIMAN, Neil. American Gods (2002), Stardust (1999).GIBSON, William. Neuromancer (1984), Count Zero (1986), Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988), Burning Chrome (1986).GUNN, James. The Listeners (1972), The Joy Makers, 1961, The Immortals (1962); Kampus (1977), The Dreamers (1981).HAGGARD, H. Rider. She, (1887).HALDEMAN, Joe. The Forever War (1976), The Hemingway Hoax (1990), Forever Peace (1998).HAND, Elizabeth. Last Summer at Mars Hill (1995), Winterlong (1990).HARRISON, Harry. The Deathworld Trilogy (1960, 1964, 1968), West of Eden (1984).HEALY, Raymond J. and J. Francis McComas, eds. Adventures in Time and Space (1946)HEINLEIN, Robert A. The Past Through Tomorrow (1967), Starship Troopers (1959), Stranger in a Strange Land (1962).HERBERT, Frank. Dune (1966), The Dragon in the Sea (1956), The Santaroga Barrier (1968).HOBAN, Russell. Riddley Walker (1980).HUXLEY, Aldous. Brave New World (1932).KEYES, Daniel. Flowers for Algernon (1966).KNIGHT, Damon, ed. The Best of Damon Knight (1976), Why Do Birds? (1992).KORNBLUTH, C. M. The Best of C. M. Kornbluth (1976).KRESS, Nancy. Beggars in Spain (1992), Probability Space (2003).KUTTNER, Henry. Fury (1950).LE GUIN, Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) The Dispossessed (1974).LEIBER, Fritz. Conjure Wife (1953).LEM, Stanislaw. The Cyberiad (1974), Solaris (1970), Mortal Engines (1977).LEWIS, C. S. Out of the Silent Planet (1938), Perelandra (1943), That Hideous Strength (1945).LINK, Kelly. Stranger Things Happen (2001).LONDON, Jack. Before Adam (1907), The Scarlet Plague (1915), The Star Rover (1915).LOVECRAFT, H. P. The Shadow over Innsmouth (1936).McAULEY, Paul. Fairyland (1997).McDEVITT, Jack. The Engines of God, Omega (2004), Seeker (2006).McINTYRE, Vonda N. Dreamsnake (1978), The Moon and the Sun (1997).MALZBERG, Barry. Beyond Apollo (1973), Herovit’s World (1973), Guernica Night (1974), and Galaxies (1975).MARTIN, George R. R. Sandkings (1981), Fevre Dreams (1983), The Armageddon Rag (1985).MERRITT, A. The Moon Pool (1919), The Ship of Ishtar (1926), The Face in the Abyss (1931), Dwellers in the Mirage (1932).MIEVILLE, China. Perdido Street Station.MILLER, Walter M., Jr. A Canticle for Leibowitz (1961).MOORCOCK, Michael. Gloriana: or the Unfulfill’d Queen: Being a Romance (1978).MOORE, Ward. Bring the Jubilee (1955).MORGAN, Richard. Market Forces (2004).MURPHY, Pat. The Falling Woman (1986).NAGATA, Linda. Deception Well (1997), Vast (1998), Memory (2003).NIVEN, Larry. Ringworld (1971), The Mote in God’s Eye (1974).NORTON, Andre. Star Man’s Son (1952).ORWELL, George. Nineteen Eighty-four (1949), Animal Farm (1945).PANSHIN, Alexei. Rite of Passage (1968).POHL, Frederik. The Space Merchants (1953), The Age of the Pussyfoot (1970), Man Plus (1975), Gateway (1977).PRATCHETT, Terry. The Colour of Magic (1983).PRIEST, Christopher. The Glamour (1984), The Inverted World (1974), A Dream of Wessex (1977).RUSS, Joanna. The Female Man (1976).ROBINSON, Kim Stanley. Red Mars (1992), Green Mars (1993).ROBINSON, Frank. The Glass Inferno (1975), The Power (1956).ROBINSON, Spider. Stardance (1979), Starseed (1991) and Starmind (1995).SARGENT, Pamela. Venus of Dreams (1986), The Shore of Women (1986), Women of Wonder (1975, 1976, 1978, 1995).SAWYER, Robert. Hominids (2003), The Terminal Experiment (1995), and Mindscan (2006).SCARBOROUGH, Elizabeth Ann. The Healer’s War (1989)SHECKLEY, Robert. Untouched by Human Hands (1954), Mindswap (1966), Dimension of Miracles (1968), Options (1975).SHEFFIELD, Charles. Brother to Dragons (1992), The Web Between the Worlds (1982), Summertide (1990).SHELLEY, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein (1818), The Last Man (1826).SHEPARD, Lucius. Green Eyes (1986), Life During Wartime (1987), The Scalehunter’s Beautiful Daughter (1988).SHIEL, M. P. The Purple Cloud (1901), The Yellow Dangerer (1899), The Lord of the Sea (1901).SILVERBERG, Robert. Dying Inside (1972), Nightwings (1969); Tower of Glass (1970), Lord Valentine’s Castle (1980).SIMAK, Clifford. Cityty (1953), Time and Again (1951), Way Station (1964), A Choice of Gods (1972), The Marathon Photograph and Other Stories (1986).SIMMONS, Dan. Hyperion (1989), The Fall of Hyperion (1990), Children of the Night (1992).SLONCZEWSKI, Joan. A Door into Ocean (1986).SMITH, Cordwainer. Norstrilia (1975), The Best of Cordwainer Smith (1975), The Instrumentality of Mankind (1979).SMITH, Edward E. Gray Lensman (1951).SPINRAD, Norman. Bug Jack Barron (1969), The Iron Dream (1972), The Void Captain’s Tale (1983), Child of Fortune (1985).STAPLEDON, Olaf. Last and First Men (1930), The Star Maker (1937), Odd John (1935).STERLING, Bruce. Islands in the Net (1988), Mirrorshades (1986).STEWART, George R. Earth Abides (1951).STEPHENSON, Neal. Snow Crash (1992), The Diamond Age (1995).STROSS, Charles. Accelerando.STURGEON, Theodore. More than Human (1954), The Worlds of Theodore Sturgeon (1972),Sturgeon Is Alive and Well… (1971),SWANWICK, Michael. Stations of the Tide (1991), The Iron Dragon’s Daughter (1993).TENN, William. The Wooden Star (1968).TEPPER, Sheri S. The Gate to Women’s Country (1988), Grass (1989), Raising the Stones (1990), Sideshow (1992).TIPTREE, James Jr. Crown of Stars (1988), Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (1973), Up the Walls of the World (1978), Brightness Falls from the Air (1985).TOLKIEN, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings (1957).TUCKER, Wilson. The Long Loud Silence (1952), The Year of the Quiet Sun (1970).VANCE, Jack. The Dragon Masters (1963), The Dying Earth (1950), The Languages of Pao (1958).VAN VOGT, A. E. The World of Null-A (1948), The Pawns of Null-A (1956), Slan (1946), The Voyage of the Space Beagle (1950), The War Against the Rull (1959).VARLEY, John. The Persistence of Vision (1978), The Barbie Murders (1980) The Ophiuchi Hotline (1977), Steel Beach (1992).VERNE, Jules. Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (1870), From the Earth to the Moon (1865), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), Robur the Conqueror (1886).VINGE, Joan. The Snow Queen (1981), World’s End (1984), The Summer Queen (1991).VINGE, Vernor. A Fire Upon the Deep (1992), True Names (1981), Across Realtime (1988), A Deepness in the Sky, (2000).VONNEGUT, Kurt, Jr. The Sirens of Titan (1959), Player Piano (1952), Cat’s Cradle (1963), Slaughterhouse-Five (1969).WATSON, Ian. The Embedding (1973), The Very Slow Time Machine (1979).WELLS, H. G. The War of the Worlds (1898), The Time Machine (1895), The Invisible Man (1897); When The Sleeper Wakes (1899), and The First Men in the Moon (1901).WILHELM, Kate. Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (1976), The Downstairs Room and Other Speculative Fiction (1968), The Infinity Box (1975).WILLIAMSON, Jack. The Humanoids (1959), The Legion of Space (1934), Beachhead (1992), Terraforming Earth (2002), Doomsday Book (1992)WILSON, Robert Charles. The Chronoliths (2001), Spin (2005).WOLFE, Gene. The Shadow of the Torturer (1980), Nightside the Long Sun (1993).WYNDHAM, John. The Day of the Triffids (1951), The Midwich Cuckoos (1957), The Chrysalids.ZAMIATIN, Eugene. We (1924).ZEBROWSKI, George. Macrolife (1979), Stranger Suns (1991), The Killing Star (1994), Brute Orbits (1999).ZELAZNY, Roger. Lord of Light (1968), This Immortal (1966), The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth and Other Stories (1974).