Books everyone should read

SF Signal is “mind melding” on this topic , with contributions from a bunch of writers and industry insiders (okay, they said “have on your bookshelf”, but I haven’t got a lot of room for bookshelves). Here’s my fan’s-eye list:

  • The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. LeGuin. I only finally read this a few months ago, but it is undeniably a classic. It tackles an important topic that’s not explored often enough in SF, and it continues to advance its speculations throughout the entire novel.  An absolutely key example of why speculation is the core of science fiction. This was probably the most-cited book by the SF Signal authors, though A Canticle for Leibowitz may have edged it out only because a couple of other Le Guin titles also contend for this list. And for good reason, as to my mind this is the most uncontestable title to be included on any list of exemplary sf.
  • The Forever War, Joe Haldeman. Another favorite of the SF Signal contributors, and the key example of how science fiction comments on the present day.
  • The Fifth Head of Cerberus, Gen Wolfe. Shows all of Wolfe’s genius, but its readable without taking notes.
  • Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson. Sarah Hoyt cited The Diamond Age, but Snow Crash was the book that introduced Stephenson’s frenetic narrative style, and announced that the cyberpunk era was over.
  • The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury. The earliest SF book I can think of that also achieves literary brilliance.
  • Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein. There has to be a Heinlein story in the list, first because he showed the genre that characterization and plot are as important as scientific speculation in making a readable story. Second, because so much later work is written in response to Heinlein’s work, and particularly to this one. Starting with The Forever War, listed above.
  • Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner. The book is (IMHO) under-appreciated, but it is simultaneously a great example of stylistic experimentation and speculations beyond the purely technical, and a precursor to trends that didn’t fully materialize for 16 years after it was written.

And here’s a few that, based on reputation alone, I think everyone should read, but I (shamefully) haven’t read yet myself:

  • Solaris, Stanislaw Lem
  • Dahlgren, Samuel R. Delany
  • A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
  • The Drowned World, J. G. Ballard
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