Special thanks to Megan, blogger of From Couch to Moon who put this list of great science fiction books. Make sure you check out her great blog, looking at “Sci-fi and fantasy reviews, among other things”. I enjoy her reviews which I link to regularly.
Megan first discovered she was a SF nerd when a group of nerd boys sat near her friends in the school cafeteria and she overheard them talking about her favorite books and movies. To her detriment, her friends noticed, too. Nowadays, when she is not managing crises at work, or hanging out with her gorgeous husband, you can find her curled up on the couch reading SF novels. She posts her reviews of these novels on her blog From couch to moon.
Megan’s Blog: http://couchtomoon.wordpress.com
Not all science fiction is pure space opera. From the hard sciences to the soft sciences, SF authors have mined the scholarly fields for theory, research, and educated guesses to enrich their imaginary worlds. This list is by no means exhaustive or faultless, but the following novels employ provocative scientific ideas that have inspired readers and transformed our world. Some of these books may seem outdated, and some have been surpassed by more innovative science, but they have all played significant roles in the SF genre. And, most importantly, they are all great stories.
Swan Er Hong and Fitz Warham jetset around the solar system to track down the explanation behind a strange accident on Mercury. Written as a terrorism mystery of sorts, KSR is at his best when he acts as a tour guide for the solar system… and for civilizations that don’t exist, yet. (Want more? Read KSR’s Mars trilogy.)
Lilith’s Brood(2000): Dawn (1987), Adulthood Rites (1988), Imago(1989) by Octavia Butler
Butler’s evocative storytelling explores the implications of genetics and symbiosis on a human level. When war-torn humanity is dying out, the only hope for salvation is to interbreed with powerful alien beings. Can human parents accept their alien offspring? (Too much to read? Try her creepy short story “Bloodchild.”)
Weird, trippy, and kind of old-fashioned, Gibson’s groundbreaking novel about an AI with an independent agenda gave birth to the cyberpunk subgenre. Some may argue that better novels have followed in its footsteps, but Neuromancer’s historical significance makes it worth the read.
An exotic blend of steampunk and biopunk. Sea-levels have all but drowned future Thailand, but capitalist greed continues to drive innovation with algae-lubricated springs, genetically-engineered fruit, and tick-tock windup girls. Dystopian fiction is all the rage, but Bacigalupi’s writing style surpasses all others.
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (1998)
Chockfull of STEM concepts, this is considered the ultimate nerd novel. Stephenson alternates two storylines about American cryptographers from WWII and their descendants from the 1990’s. At over 1000 pages, it may feel like a meandering infodump, but hey… Alan Turing. ‘Nuff said.
As humanity is all but wiped out and sexual reproduction fails, a cloistered family of doctors and scientists attempt to clone themselves. But the clones seem… different. A haunting tale of human individuality and imagination, this book is a perfect read.
Spin by Robert Charles Wilson (2005)
With the Earth encased in a mysterious “spin membrane,” the sky is blacked out and time moves differently from the rest of the universe, causing human life to face the cataclysm of an expanding sun much sooner than expected. Wilson tests his readers’ understandings of time and space with this character-driven saga.
The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester (1953)
All great science fiction contains elements of brilliant character psychology, but this 1953 classic is a rapid-paced crime novel with icky Freudianisms and telepathic policemen. Experience the mind of a wealthy sociopath as he plots cold-blooded murder and tries to get away with it.
The Robot series (Caves of Steel,1953; The Naked Sun, 1955, and The Robots of Dawn, 1983) by Isaac Asimov – Couchtothemoon Link
Elijah Bailey and his robot partner Daneel Olivaw solve crimes on Earth and beyond in this classic SF series. This is the novel in which Asimov coined the term “robotics,” and gave us his three laws. Plus, any fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation will enjoy reading about this Data prototype.
The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin (1974) – Couchtothemoon Link
Brilliant alien physicist, Shevek, feels intellectually stifled by his anarchist civilization, so he travels to the neighboring planet, a militaristic, capitalist society, and experiences similar struggles. Le Guin allows us to explore the possibilities of an anarchic culture through her beautiful, philosophical prose.