Thursday, February 23, 2012

Best Sci-Fi Novels of All Time - My Failed Top Ten List

I recently applied for an opening with Lit Reacter as their Sci-Fi columnist. If you haven't heard of the site yet, I definitely encourage you to check it out. It's a newish venture from the creators of Chuck Palahniuk's very popular website, and it offers a great combination of articles, writing classes, and forums for hobnobbing with readers and writers alike. In any case, I made it into the final list of applicants and was asked to come up with a list of my favorite Sci-Fi books with brief annotations as to why I picked them. Sadly, I wasn't chosen for the position, but since I put so much deliberation into creating the list, I thought I'd share it here. I've presented it in chronological order as opposed to ranking the books. Am I crazy? Did I leave out obviously better books? Probabably yes and yes, but such is the way of top ten lists. Let me know what I missed in your comments below.

"The Machine Stops" by E.M. Forster - written in 1909, this novella is amazingly prescient--predicting a slew of technologies from video conferencing to the Internet--and it is arguably the granddaddy of dystopian fiction. (Plus, it's the name sake of my blog!)

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs - You can really include the entire series here. These books are just damn fun. They make me wish I could be a kid again and get completely lost in my imagination.

The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov - While Asimov certainly wasn't the first guy to deliver hard sci-fi, these three books exemplify what it means to write "good' hard sci-fi: sound science combined with strong characterization and strong prose.

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury - The breadth of this short-story collection is amazing. From the frightening dsystopian vision of "The Veldt" to the civil rights tale of Mars, "The Other Foot," and the elegiac pastiche "The Exiles," this book is the best Bradbury has to offer, which is saying something.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein - This book seems a little dated now, but not in a bad way. It's like hopping in a time machine to the 60's on an Earth of a parallel dimension. Really fascinating, and while the milieu is one long gone, Heinlein's themes are still relevant.

Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison - Maybe a bit of a cop-out here, since this is an anthology with dozens of writers, but to me it's probably the most important sci-fi anthology ever. It provided a forum for sci-fi writers--both young and new (at the time)--to publish stuff that was too edgy for most of the sci-fi mags to publish. It has great stories from Lester del Rey, Frederik Pohl, Robert Silverberg, and Robert Bloch, just to name a few.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick - I doubt if most casual sci-fi fans realize how indebted we are to Phil Dick. Authors and film-makers still rip him off on a daily basis. I love his short stories and other books, but picked this book because it's the most cohesive long piece of work of his I've read.

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers - We can argue as to whether this is sci-fi, historical fantasy, or steampunk, but it's got a friggin time machine, so I'm including it here. Just a fantastic book, maybe Powers' pinnacle of combining sci-fi, mythology, history, and literature into a crazy masterpiece.

Burning Chrome by William Gibson - Gibson really put the punk into cyberpunk in these stories. The language, the characters, the world are simply shocking, even to this day. I can't imagine what it would have been like to be a casual reader in the early 80's and have picked this book up.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams - I know, this one seems a little cliche (even more so than some of my other picks), but Adams is fucking funny. What can I say? I thought about saying Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency instead (equally funny), just to be somewhat more original, but who am I kidding? Hitchhiker's is a classic and does a better job at taking the piss out of sci-fi fans and writers so we don't take ourselves too seriously.

Well, that's ten already, and I realize I've left out too many fantastic ones, namely recent titles and titles from female authors (sorry, Ursula K. Le Guin!), but that's the way of top ten lists.

-Garrett Calcaterra

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