50 "Must-Read" Science Fiction Books

Discussion in 'Classic SF&F' started by clovis-man, Jan 8, 2010.

  1.  
    clovis-man

    clovis-man Prehistoric Irish Cynic

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    This is not a topic I would normally delve into. However, I just picked up a copy of the 2006 book edited by Emma Beare, entitled 501 Must-Read Books.

    There is a section devoted to Science Fiction which contains 50 titles along with descriptions and other notable books by the listed authors. It should be observed that no author is listed twice. I guess that is supposed to tell me that no SF writer could possibly pen more than one "must-read" tome.

    The list appears to me to be highly conservative in nature and, despite it's reasonably recent publication, not exactly burgeoning with writers whom I would exclusively associate with the genre or ones that are noted for works published in the last couple of decades. I'd be interested in other opinions.

    Here's the list (the SF section covers numbers 352 through 401):

    •352. "The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy," Douglas Adams
    •353. "Hothouse," Brian Aldiss
    •354. "Brain Wave," Poul Anderson
    •355. "I, Robot," Isaac Asimov
    •356. "The Handmaid's Tale," Margaret Atwood
    •357. "The Crystal World," J.G. Ballard
    •358. "The Demolished Man," Alfred Bester
    •359. "Who Goes There," John W. Campbell
    •360. "The Invention of Morel," Adolfo Bioy Casares
    •361. "Planet of the Apes," Pierre Boulle
    •362. "The Martian Chronicles," Ray Bradbury
    •363. "The Sheep Look Up," John Brunner
    •364. "A Clockwork Orange," Anthony Burgess
    •365. "Erewhon," Samuel Butler
    •366. "Cosmicomics," Italo Calvino
    •367. "2001: A Space Odyssey," Arthur C. Clarke
    •368. "A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder," James De Mille
    •369. "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch," Philip K. Dick
    •370. "To Your Scattered Bodies Go," Philip Jose Farmer
    •371. "Neuromancer," William Gibson
    •372. "Stranger in a Strange Land," Robert A. Heinlein
    •373. "Dune," Frank Herbert
    •374. "Brave New World," Aldous Huxley
    •375. "Two Planets," Kurd Lasswitz
    •376. "Left Hand of Darkness," Ursula K. LeGuin
    •377. "Solaris," Stanislaw Lem
    •378. "Shikasta," Doris Lessing
    •379. "Stepford Wives," Ira Levin
    •380. "Out of the Silent Planet," C.S. Lewis
    •381. "I Am Legend," Richard Matheson
    •382. "Dwellers in the Mirage," Abraham Merritt
    •383. "A Canticle for Leibowitz," Walter Miller
    •384. "Ringworld," Larry Niven
    •385. "Time Traders," Andre Norton
    •386. "Nineteen Eighty-Four," George Orwell
    •387. "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket," Edgar Allan Poe
    •388. "The Inverted World," Christopher Priest
    •389. "The Green Child," Herbert Read
    •390. "The Laxian Key," Robert Sheckley
    •391. "City," Clifford D. Simak
    •392. "Donovan's Brain," Curt Siodmak
    •393. "Lest Darkness Fall," L. Sprague De Camp
    •394. "Last and First Men," Olaf Stapledon
    •395. "More than Human," Theodore Sturgeon
    •396. "Slan," A.E. Van Vogt
    •397. "A Journey to the Centre of the Earth," Jules Verne
    •398. "Slaughterhouse-Five," Kurt Vonnegut
    •399. "The Island of Dr Moreau," H.G. Wells
    •400. "Islandia," Austin Tappan Wright
    •401. "The Day of the Triffids," John Wyndham
  2.  
    Rodders

    Rodders |-O-| (-O-) |-O-|

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    Crikey. I've been a life long SF fan and i've only read 10 of those.

    Better get cracking i suppose.
  3.  
    Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

    Jayaprakash Satyamurthy Knivesout no more

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    I've read 36 of these titles. 'Who Goes There' is a short story, and thus a bit of a stretch but certainly an important milestone for the genre. A mostly safe list with some interesting choices, certainly nothing that I'd exclude from a course of reading aimed at gaining a good overview of the genre.
  4.  
    Rodders

    Rodders |-O-| (-O-) |-O-|

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    Anything you'd add or remove if it were a personal list?
  5.  
    iansales

    iansales Active Member

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    I've read about half of them, but some I've never even heard of - which sort of makes me doubt their importance to the genre...
  6.  
    Fried Egg

    Fried Egg Active Member

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    I've read the following:

    •353. "Hothouse," Brian Aldiss
    •355. "I, Robot," Isaac Asimov
    •357. "The Crystal World," J.G. Ballard
    •362. "The Martian Chronicles," Ray Bradbury
    •369. "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch," Philip K. Dick
    •371. "Neuromancer," William Gibson
    •372. "Stranger in a Strange Land," Robert A. Heinlein
    •374. "Brave New World," Aldous Huxley
    •376. "Left Hand of Darkness," Ursula K. LeGuin
    •381. "I Am Legend," Richard Matheson
    •382. "Dwellers in the Mirage," Abraham Merritt (Suprised at this one's inclusion on an SF list?)
    •384. "Ringworld," Larry Niven
    •386. "Nineteen Eighty-Four," George Orwell
    •395. "More than Human," Theodore Sturgeon

    And I have the following on my shelf waiting to be read:

    •358. "The Demolished Man," Alfred Bester
    •399. "The Island of Dr Moreau," H.G. Wells

    A few others I certainly intend to read soon...
  7.  
    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    I own about 40 of the 50 odd listed here and I'm not even a major self professed SF fan or at least it's my weakest suit in realm of speculative fiction, so get with the program Rodders...:p

    Having said that unlike Knivesout I haven't read many of those I do own yet, something I'm hoping to address this year with a greater emphasis on SF than ever before. I may be getting one off that list this weekend.

    Thanks for posting, I'm always interested to see what other folk are claiming to be the greatest of this or that.
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2010
  8.  
    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    Which ones in particular Ian? I would regard most of those, from what I've read regarding the Genre, as being in the classic class. Bear in mind though that several are not ncessarily marketed as SF in bookshops etc. but rather appear on the "literary" shelves or found in so-called Classic collections e.g. Christopher Priest's Inverted World is part of the excellent NYRB classic series and I admit I would not have heard of this title except for it appearing in that series and that when I already had almost all of Priest's "fantastic" novels.
  9.  
    iansales

    iansales Active Member

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    These ones are unknown to me, and I considered myself pretty well-read in sf:

    •360. "The Invention of Morel," Adolfo Bioy Casares
    •368. "A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder," James De Mille
    •375. "Two Planets," Kurd Lasswitz
    •382. "Dwellers in the Mirage," Abraham Merritt
    •389. "The Green Child," Herbert Read
    •392. "Donovan's Brain," Curt Siodmak
    •400. "Islandia," Austin Tappan Wright

    (although I've heard of the film "Donovan's Brain")


    EDIT: "read" not "red", although my politics do lean to the left...
  10.  
    Fried Egg

    Fried Egg Active Member

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    Ian, I'm not surprised you haven't heard of "Dwellers in the Mirage". I've read it and I can't think for the life of me what it's doing in an SF list. Definitely fantasy in my opinion...A tribute to Lovecraft as well I believe...
  11.  
    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    Well Invention Of Morel funnily enough is another on the NYRB list and a classic from an Argentine author, Latin America being an area I specialize in. It's also listed under literature not SF. Dwellers in The Mirage is a classic by Abraham Merritt. I have all of his novels BUT I think you'll find it's normally classified more under the general tag of Fantasy/Horror. Islandia I have. It's another classic of Utopian fiction but not something you see in too many bookshops. Like you I heard of the film Donovan's Brain but that's about it. A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder is a fantasy romance dating from the 1880s but that's not a book many people would know of here I suspect, in fact I've not read it but it rings vague bells....

    The other 2 Green Man and Two Planets I've never heard of but I wiki'd Lessitz and he's apparently considered to be the father of German SF, so that may be a book I wish to source.

    If those are the only ones you've not heard of then you're doing pretty well I would have thought Ian.
  12.  
    iansales

    iansales Active Member

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    I have vaguely heard of Lasswitz, but I wasn't aware any of his books had been published in English.

    I also find it odd that the most recent book on the list is 25 years old, as if sf either ceased to exist then or has stagnated ever since...
  13.  
    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    Yes well I suppose it's what they are defining as "classic" Some people have the view that a book needs to have been around for several decades with either a sustained or regained/rediscovered high regard before it can be truly called a classic. Hence the more modern novels which seem destined to be mooted as classics aren't always seen as such except in retrospect by the wider audience. I'm not saying I agree with this viewpoint or that's it's even that widespread a premise but it is something I have sensed.
  14.  
    Tillane

    Tillane Left-minded

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    I've read twenty-one of those, and have a further six sitting on my TBR pile. Like Ian, there are a good few I've never heard of (more or less the same as he listed, in fact). There are also a couple that seem like odd choices - particualrly Bester's entry. I'd have expected to see Tiger! Tiger!/The Stars My Destination rather than The Demolished Man.

    Oh, and no Samuel Delany? Scandalous.
  15.  
    iansales

    iansales Active Member

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    The list is, on reflection, pretty poor. You'd do better with Gollancz's SF Masterworks, and that has notable titles missing because they don't have paperback rights to them.
  16.  
    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    Funnily enough I own the entire SF Masterwork collection to date, which is a pretty good list considering the "rights" issue Ian brings up.

    I'm no expert on SF but it's probably the best SF series I've so far encountered and quite good value for money.

    Night all...
  17.  
    Fried Egg

    Fried Egg Active Member

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    And the Masterworks list ommits certain titles because they were readilly available elsewhere I believe (even though they should probably be included on any definitive list). No 1984 for instance. Not to mention the gross over representation of Philip K Dick too...

    What is interesting though is the authors that are included on this and the Masterworks lists but they've picked different books.

    A few examples:

    Brian Aldiss, "Hothouse" vs. "Non-Stop". Both great books in my opinion.
    Poul Anderson, "Brainwave" vs. "Tao Zero". Not read "Brainwave" but it would have to be damn good to beat "Tao Zero".
    J.G. Ballard, "Crystal World" vs. "Drowned World". Both good but I prefer "Drowned World".
    John Brunner, "The Sheep Look Up" vs. "Stand on Zanzibar". Not read either.
    Robert A. Heinlein, "Stranger in a Strange Land" vs. "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress". Only read the former but I think I'm going to like the latter more. :D
    Kurt Vonnegut, "Slaughter House Five" vs. "Siren's of Titan". Only read the latter but I'm under the impression that the latter is more SF...
  18.  
    iansales

    iansales Active Member

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    I think SF Masterworks focuses on books which were published as sf. Which Nineteen Eighty-Four wasn't.
  19.  
    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    In one way it's good though F.E. as it provides people with a greater level of variety and as you say in general both choices per author are worthwhile.

    It is interesting though how different editors see things from different perspectives.... Ian will have further insights on this I'm sure.
  20.  
    iansales

    iansales Active Member

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    That almost sounds like a threat :)

    I did realise after I posted earlier that Nineteen Eighty-Four wasn't published as sf, that Sirens of Titan may not have been either. The first edition cover on Wikipedia here certainly looks like a sf novel, but... Certainly Vonnegut didn't identify as a sf writer for much of his career.

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