Science Fiction

Have I read more fantasy than science fiction? I don't know. I think I go through phases. Certainly I started with science fiction, and while there is less science fiction than fantasy these days, I think that the quality is now better than it ever was (with the exception of Heinlein, of course). You can find many SF pages at this site .

  1. Douglas Adams The success of `The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy' has been eclipsed by Terry Pratchett's success, but every book Adams wrote was brilliant. I include the Dirk Gently books, and also (especially?) The Meaning of Liff. I know what a trispen is, do you?
  2. Brian Aldiss. `Hothouse' was one of my favourites as an adolescent.
  3. Poul Anderson. For his Flandry series, he is allowed to commit any crime hereafter with an automatic forgiveness.
  4. Steven Barnes. Not just for his delightful collaborations with Niven and Pournelle, but for "Gorgon Child" and its sequels---powerful, personal martial arts and dark futures---great stuff!
  5. Greg Bear. `Eon' was excellent. There's a prequel out, now, which I want to read.
  6. Gregory Benford. Good, solid science fiction.
  7. James Blish. `The Cities in Flight' was a masterwork.
  8. Ben Bova. `Mars' is his best so far.
  9. Marion Zimmer Bradley. Her Darkover series is classic science fiction. She writes more fantasy now, but her early works were seminal. Notice that most of the writers on this page are male? Well, modern science fiction has even fewer female authors now than in previous decades, while they dominate the fantasy scene. But MZB was one of the first popular female SF authors (ok, one of a handful: James Tiptree Jr, C. L. Moore, and others came first) and very definitely one of the first to be explicitly feminist. This was back before that became a swear-word, of course. (I incline to Naomi Wolf's view, myself: see the Nonfiction section.)
  10. David Brin. Uplift, uplift, uplift, more, please! "Infinity's Shore" was as good as any of them.
  11. John Brunner. His politics I can't stand anymore (though he would be grossly insulted to have it pointed out, his advocacy of control of humanity for Its Own Good by a morally superior elite makes him a fascist). But there is no question of his writing talent, and I would recommend Stand on Zanzibar to anyone. And The Shockwave Rider is remarkably prophetic of our own computer world. His accuracy there makes his predictions of ecological disaster in The Sheep Look Up much more frightening.
  12. Anthony Burgess. A Clockwork Orange belongs here, I think. Cross posted with the Literature section.
  13. Edgar Rice Burroughs Ohh, nooo! How could I put him on a list of the "best"? Quintessential pulp! And yet, and yet, there's something enduring about it all---John Carter of Mars gets a delightful acknowledgement in Heinlein's "Number of the Beast"; and I always loved the "Center of the Earth" stories.
  14. F. M. Busby. How could I forget the author of Rissa Kerguelen? This brilliant book is one of my all-time favourites. My copy is falling to bits; I've read it more than a few times.
  15. Jack Chalker. Want to explore possibilities of transformation? Chalker's your man. The Well-Worlds series was his best, though his recent lucre-inspired revisit wasn't as good.
  16. Arthur C. Clarke. Another Grand Old Man. He and Charles Sheffield came out more or less simultaneously with books on Skyhooks, or space elevators, or whatever you want to call them. An interesting idea. My friend Aaron Kennedy has an even more dangerous idea along similar lines---perhaps he'll write about that one day (Aaron can really write, and I hope that he puts that talent to use). Anyway, I remember best the scene with the butterflies from Clarke's book. And of course we have him to thank for the Nine Billion Names of God, and 2001.
  17. Hal Clement. `A Mission of Gravity' was the first real science fiction (as opposed to space opera) that I ever read, and all I can say is, thanks.
  18. John Cramer for `Twistor'.
  19. Michael Crichton. For `The Andromeda Strain'. His recent books aren't so bad, either.
  20. Arthur Byron Cover for `An East Wind Coming'. The BEM's are memorable.
  21. Samuel R. Delany. With the exception of Patrick O'Brian, Delany is the finest writer alive. `Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones' has no equal in short stories (though Zelazny's `Divine Madness' comes close). And Delany's novels Nova and Dhalgren do something impossible---they are different books on re-reading: that is, they multiplex . Delany talks about multiplexing in the books, so I know it is deliberate. It's also impossible. I can't say I enjoy all of his works, but this man is a star.
  22. Gordon R. Dickson. This asthmatic from the Prairies has carried out a Grand Plan, at least as extensive as Michael Moorcock's; and in most important ways he has done it much better. It's illogical to be proud of another Canadian asthmatic's talents, but there it is.
  23. Philip José Farmer. `To Your Scattered Bodies Go', though antireligious to the extreme, was excellent.
  24. Robert L. Forward has the distinction of being the worst writer, in a story-telling sense, on this list. However, his grasp of existing science and hard grounding in the real world, together with his imagination of what we could really do right now , puts him on this `Best Of' list. His books are important, and some of them are good enough to read as stories, too.
  25. David Gerrold His novel (with Larry Niven) ``The Flying Sorcerers'' was superb. I burned one of his books, though---I don't do that often. I didn't read any more of his until ``The Man Who Folded Himself'', which was the first novel containing any sort of homosexuality that I had ever read. [It seems to be much more fashionable now, but you have to remember I am from the small town of Red Neck, British Columbia.]
  26. William Gibson. His first novel won the John W. Cambell award, a Hugo, and a Nebula. Quit while you're ahead, man! A Vancouver author, which illogically makes me proud to be Canadian. (It's illogical because just because one Canadian has solar amounts of talent doesn't necessarily mean any other Canadian does!)
  27. Steven Gould for `Jumper' and `Wildside'---both excellent and subtle. His latest is "Helm", which justifies, completely, my earlier high opinion of him.
  28. Harry Harrison. In some sense the political opposite of Jerry Pournelle. Bill, the Galactic Hero is very anti-war; but the Stainless Steel Rat is his best creation, a sort of civil-disobedience anti-hero for the next millenia. But oh, oh, oh, ``Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers'' is wonderful as a send-up of E. E. Doc Smith's books. If you read nothing else of his, read that.
  29. Robert Anson Heinlein. He was The Master. His juvenile books gave me a love of mathematics before I knew what mathematics was; I loved every one of his novels right through to To Sail Beyond the Sunset. (Sumaya couldn't finish that one---too much incest. But she liked Friday, which is in some ways my favourite, too). We'll miss him forever. There's lots of stuff on the net about Heinlein; here's a link to a tribute .
  30. Frank Herbert. Ok, ok, Dune was alright, though the sequels really spoiled it. But he's here for Whipping Star and The Dosadi Experiment, which are first rate.
  31. Fred Hoyle. I believe this man's vertical transmission theory for viruses (this is science, as opposed to fiction---Hoyle is a well-known astronomer and scientist). It makes sense that viruses, some at least, would be able to survive in space, and arrive via space debris (meteors) to the Earth. And it does explain some otherwise puzzling features of viral distribution. And Hoyle's science fiction is pretty good, too.
  32. James P. Hogan for "The Genesis Machine", for "The Gentle Giants of Ganymede", and for many others. I read TGM in 1st year university and it's with me yet---terrific book. "Bug Park" was ok, but his last one---I forget what it was called, even---stank so bad I couldn't finish it.
  33. Daniel Scott Keyes for the classic Flowers for Algernon. This one is as good as it ever was. Thnx to Gord Swaters for reminding me of this one.
  34. Keith Laumer. `A House in November' was my favourite of his, though his Retief (best: Diplomat at Arms) and Bolo novels are also right up there. But his later work is not so good.
  35. Ursula K. LeGuin. `The Dispossessed' was for many, many years my all-time favourite book. It's time to read it again, maybe.
  36. Stanislaw Lem. I never read him until I went to Warsaw, and Jacek Rokicki gave me `Tales from the Cyberiad'. Hilarious!
  37. C. S. Lewis for Out of the Silent Planet, Voyage to Venus, and That Hideous Strength.
  38. C. C. MacApp for Recall Not Earth, if for nothing else. Superb!
  39. John D. MacDonald . What's he doing here?? Travis McGee on the Moon? No (pity!) but see Wine of the Dreamers--- very nice!
  40. George R. R. Martin for `Fevre Dream' and many others. His most recent, namely "A Game of Thrones" is so rich and tasty that I have been counting the weeks till the next one is available.
  41. Walter M. Miller, Jr. `A Canticle for Leibowitz'. I heard a rumour that he was not allowed to write any more fiction or else he'd be fired from his job as a professor. I haven't got a clue if that rumour is correct. Haven't yet read `Saint Leibowitz and the Horse Woman' or whatever it's called.
  42. L. E. Modesitt, Jr. His fantasy work is better, but his SF is pretty darn good. Most recently, Adiamante---powerful.
  43. Elizabeth Moon for Heris Serrano and Esmay Suiza---there is a new one out, and I'm going to get it, you can bet. The book titles are "Sporting Chance", "Once a Hero", and a couple of others... "Remnant Population" is terrific.
  44. Larry Niven. Early this century, it was said there were three great English mathematicians: Hardy, Littlewood, and Hardy-Littlewood. In the 1970s-80s there were three great hard science-fiction writers: Niven, Pournelle, and Niven- Pournelle. Niven doesn't do much anymore, but the creator of Ringworld doesn't owe us anything. But my favourite of Niven-Pournelle's is Oath of Fealty. It's about an arcology in Los Angeles; it's where the phrase `Think of it as evolution in action' comes from. A metaphor for our times if ever there was one. Ok, ok, so he proved me wrong!! The Ringworld Throne is wonderful, as is The Children of Heorot. Welcome back, Mr. Niven!
  45. H. Beam Piper. Why, oh, why did he have to commit suicide? With Robert E. Howard's suicide, this ranks as one of the great tragedies of SF/Fantasy. His books are still superb.
  46. Jerry Pournelle. His stories of Sparta are great. Stop writing that column for Byte (if you're still doing that ---haven't read BYTE in ages) and get back to what you do best!!!!
  47. Terry Pratchett. I read `The Dark Side of the Sun' when I was in high school, or shortly thereafter, long before Pratchett became famous for the Discworld series (see the Fantasy section). I spent many frustrating years searching for anything else written by him. He's good (in the sense that Kathleen Turner is a good actress, or Stephen Hawking is a good mathematician). `Strata' makes an interesting counterpoint to the Discworld series... More discussion of Terry Pratchett
  48. Mack Reynolds. His series on Pan-Africa were enlightening. A workmanlike writer.
  49. Spider Robinson. Haven't read much lately though he has been producing; don't know why I haven't. But I just realized now on reading a Globe and Mail column by Spider Robinson---apparently every third Monday he does this---that much of the way I think (and certainly a lot of the stories I tell---just used the nonvegetarian deer-scarer story last weekend) comes from this man. I do acknowledge the "more unnecessarily redundant than absolutely called for" quote whenever I use it...maybe I like this man's writing or something. Update 28/8/97: just read another Globe and Mail column, ``Burning the Sambuca'', in which Spider invents the word ``Kelpless". This means we lack Andy Kelp (Dortmunder's friend---see Westlake in the humour section). It's true, we are all Kelpless, and the worse off for it! Also just read Lifehouse, the first novel set in Vancouver that I have ever liked.
  50. Fred Saberhagen, for the Beserker books.
  51. Charles Sheffield. This man is also a real scientist. He is, however, a real writer first (whether he thinks of himself that way or not). His `Proteus' books are really good.
  52. Robert Silverberg. Another master: and he keeps getting better. Lord Valentine's Castle was wonderful.
  53. Clifford Simak "Way Station"
  54. E. E. `Doc' Smith. Why is he on this list? [Indeed, his was the first name I put on the list---it was only later that I sorted the list alphabetically.] Well, in spite of all his faults, he was the one who got me hooked on space opera, which led to science fiction, which led to who I am today. And his characters aren't as wooden as they seem: in particular, Dr. Marc C. DuQuesne (the Bad Guy in the Skylark series) is worth a second look. I collect Smith's books, and I believe I have them all. But I don't recommend them to adults, and the racism/class distinctions inherent in Smith's era may make them unsuitable for adolescents... but I don't think they did me any lasting harm, and I know for certain they did some good.
  55. Norman Spinrad. This man is prolific and famous; perhaps my favourite of his is `The Pink and Blue War', where he puts forward an interesting view of sexism and sexuality.
  56. Brian Stableford. His stories of the Hooded Swan, Grainger, and the wind (an alien symbiote who lived in Grainger's brain) were haunting.
  57. Neal Stephenson. `Snow Crash' and `Zodiac' are delights, but The Diamond Age is probably his best.
  58. Theodore Sturgeon. His horror shorts still make me afraid of dark basements. His novels are warm and finely crafted. We'll miss him.
  59. Mark Twain, for all kinds of craziness---An extract from Captain Stormfield's visit to Heaven, for one.
  60. Ian Wallace. His `Croyd' superhero and his avatar `Pan' were wonderful.
  61. David Weber. A newcomer, and we love Honour Harrington. Oops, I guess that should be Honor. Honor among Enemies, in hardback. Darn, this gets expensive. Worth it, though. Now finished "Echoes of Honor"---superb---and the book of short stories "More than Honor".
  62. Walter Jon Williams for Aristoi and for Days of Atonement. Second only to Vernor Vinge, if to anybody. His funny books are great too (I love the elvii).
  63. Gene Wolfe for the Torturer. A valuable lesson about communication.
  64. John Wyndham. `Day of the Triffids'. `No Blade of Grass'.
  65. Joan D. Vinge. I liked `The Summer Queen'. I think, now, that her ex-husband Vernor Vinge (I think I have the relationship right, but don't count on it) is by far the better writer; but he writes better than anyone else in SF at the moment.
  66. Vernor Vinge. He is the current best hard science fiction writer, and I would stack `A Fire Upon the Deep' with any other SF novel, without question. More!
  67. Kurt Vonnegut. He doesn't think he writes science fiction, and neither does a large segment of the public (now). But Piano Player most definitely was, and so was the Sirens of Titan, and Cat's Cradle, and Slaughterhouse 5 (well, sort of). Breakfast of Champions wasn't, but was great.
  68. Roger Zelazny. I've read `Lord of Light' four or five times. We'll miss Zelazny, you can be sure. `Donnerjack', with Jane Lindskold, was wonderful, and heartbreaking---because it's the last.