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Best Modern Science Fiction Classics

Best SF Between the 40's and 70's That Covers Golden and New Wave Periods

What makes some SF 'great' and other SF less so? Tough call. Still, despite some disputes that sometimes amount to nitpicking, there's some kind of consensus about the books on this list. Most of them anyway. With others, you might say "Huh? Where did that come from?" Well, not everything 'generally' considered 'great' necessarily is that, and a huge amount of what's not considered 'great' actually is-and in another time and under the diktat of different literary and genre fashions, it might well have been acknowledged as such.

So, here are some 'greats'; those with lots of awards and accolades and those with fewer or even none. In some way all of these stories exhibit one or more of a number of attributes such as: great storytelling (hugely important); exerting significant influence on other literature or even culture; tackling high concepts with excellent follow-through; dealing brilliantly with the core tropes of the genre; successfully breaking or crossing genre boundaries; using SF as a medium to tell parables. These books might also be called science fiction masterworks -- or the great classics that were highly influential on the genre, covering part of the Golden Age and most of the New Wave era's of science fiction.



Note, this is a complement list to our Best Classic Science Fiction lists, which covers the strictly Golden Age period from the 40's to 60's. This list is more broad, covering the 40's to the 70's. Both lists will give you a good overview of the best of the best 'classic' science fiction works you must read.

The order of arrangement in this list is not entirely arbitrary, but by necessity it's based on the choice and personal preferences of the reviewer. Yours might, and indeed probably will, be different. That's fine, too, because we're all different, and look for different things in what we find of value and worthy of spending a portion of our lives on.

Note that this Classic period covers the "tail end'' of Golden Age of Science Fiction. It also encompasses entire New Wave Period of science fiction

If you want another list that covers Classics from the Golden Age (40's to 60's), check our Best Classic Science Fiction list.

You can view the crowd-ranked version of this list and vote on the entries at the bottom of this page.

Can you predict how human society will develop using that grand tool of everything known as 'Mathematics'? Hari Seldon, mathematician and psychologist extraordinaire invents the discipline of 'psychohistory', based on the premise than human development is indeed subject to reliable prediction, as much as physical processes. Using this tool, Seldon attempts to save the Empire from entering a prolonged dark age through the creating of a compendium of all human knowledge, but his very predictions that the Empire needs saving make him into a kind of future Galileo. He's exiled, but gets to oversee the project anyway. By the way, as you find out in one of the two sequels in the original trilogy (Second Foundation and Foundation and Empire), Seldon was wrong with his assumptions. All it takes is one individual with special abilities, appearing at just the right time, to consign all predictions to the trash. But you probably guessed that.

Why it's at the top of this list:It's probably the pinnacle of Asimov's work, combining many elements of his robot-infested future history with 'space opera' of dizzying scope, and spanning huge swaths of time and vast regions of human-colonized space. You really can't get grand, galaxy-spanning hard- and psychosocial SF all wrapped up in one package. One of the great classic of the genre. And, in this case, the (first two) sequels are organic parts of the full story. Hugo Award for 'Best All-Time Series' in 1966.

Read if you like:Seriously big space opera.

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Long before 'jihad' became an official cause celebre-unleashing uncounted 'muckers' (see #8 on this list for an explanation of the term) on the world-Frank Herbert introduced us to the concept in the first of a series of novels centered around the desert planet, Arrakis, which provides a resource to starfaring humanity just as important as fossil fuels are to contemporary vicilization. The similarities are pretty much in-your-face, though they're soon forgotten in the general melee of politics, intrigue, murder, monomaniacs and sociopaths, hints of incest, supernormal powers acquired through the intake of drugs, orders of manipulative nuns, huge corporations, giant sandworms and the Fremen (i.e. Free-men; the local version of Bedouins), who are going to kick the butts of everybody who stands in their way.

Why it's on the list:

Because it's an involving tale. Huge in scope and complicated enough to make your head spin like a top, this is a major classic that has influenced many a writer since then. There's also a plethora of sequels-none of them coming even remotely close to being as good and as much fun as the original. Dune, and, to a lesser measure, its sequels, make George R. R. Martin look like an amateur (plus it's 'real' SF). The novel was Hugo nominated in 1964 and won the Nebula in 1965.

Read if you like:

Big, high-concept stories with lots of just about everything to keep you riveted. Avoid those sequels not written by Herbert.

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Big Planet is BIG. Really big, but with a surface gravity about equal to that of Earth. It was colonized by a whole bunch of colorful characters, ranging from rebels, misfits and criminals to weird cultists. Over the centuries they lost their technology, mainly because the planet provides few metals, and that kind-of puts a damper on the construction of WMDs and stuff like that. So, what we have is a vast array of miniature nations, some ruled by all kinds of odd social arrangements, while the majority ended up in the forms of the usual common-garden warlord-doms.With his ship sabotaged and crash-landing on the planet, Claude Glystra - who has come to fix up some of the chaos here and take care of the worst of the tyrants - is forced to start on a 40,000-mile trip to a safe Earth-enclave, pursued by agents of the very tyrant he's meant to bring to justice. And just in case you're wondering: 40,000 miles on this planet is just a skip and a hop.

Why it's on the list:

It's a story of a journey, with intrigues and murder along the way, as Claude Glystra's team is decimated by the enemy. Along the way, Vance invents a giddy array of landscapes, means of transport, plus a few societies that have found strange alternative ways of creating as 'society'. Arguably, the novel is a model for a plethora of other 'planet' novels, including Arrakis (Dune, #2 in this list) and Majipoor (Lord Valentine's Castle, #21 on this list).

Read if you like:

Jack Vance, his imagination, exquisite use of language, mordant wit and observation of human nature and its myriad quirks as expressed in the societies we create. And Big Planet is a fascinating character, who swallows up all the colonists like the insignificant gnats they are.

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Aristotelian logic for dummies 101: "X results of necessity from Y and Z if it would be impossible for X to be false when Y and Z are true." Clear as mud? Nonetheless it's the basis for most thinking labeled as 'logical', and thus for much of science.

General Semantics, a thought discipline invented by the Polish-American Alfred Korzybski, proposed that it isn't necessarily the kind of logic that leads to the determination of truth; mainly because Aristotle's assumption that all things have an 'essence' is mistaken, and therefore, since we can't actually really 'know' what X, Y and Z are, we can't reliably perform Aristotelian deductions.

World of Null-A (non-Aristotelian logic) is all about the powers one can derive from stepping outside the Aristotelian way of thinking. Suitably convoluted and great fun. With sequels.

Why it's on the list:

Van Vogt tackled the topic of non-Aristotelian logic explicitly and with gusto. Others also, did, but usually not by making it into a major theme of a novel (e.g. Heinlein, Asimov and Herbert). Also profoundly influenced was the famous editor John Campbell, who in turn had a major influence on the development of SF in its early years. Also, for this reviewer, the book was a revelation of sorts; so maybe it'll be for you as well.

Read if you like:

Philosophy. Convoluted plots with people who have special powers because they think differently.

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This is the first corner of the quincunx of novels made up of 1984 and the four following in this list. If you think that 'Big Brother' is just a reality show, think again. In truth, it's a nightmarish concept from this novel, together with all-pervasive surveillance of citizens, thoughtcrimes (=independent thought), twisted language that makes truth look like lies and lies like truth, historical revisionism following the dictates of a political elite, a Ministry of Truth. Add to that a state of perpetual war against anybody suitable for 'enemy' status.

1984 was translated into more languages than most of us could name, and its significance has escaped very few. That the world nonetheless goes on it current merry way appears incomprehensible. Talk about denial of the obvious.

Why it's at this place the list:

This book and the four following could have been at the top of this list, but they do not necessarily deal as openly with 'science' fiction themes as do the ones before it. Having said that, these books are immensely influential, prophetic and, yes, chilling. Social and psychological 'future' fiction that makes you wonder sometimes if these writers had supernormal premonitions, or if what's happening in the world right now was completely predictable to anyone with more than two interacting brain cells.

Read if you like:

Chillingly prophetic future fiction that has profoundly influenced other writers, and some of whose concepts have made it not only into our vernacular, but also into the entertainment industry - one of the worst offenders when it comes to themes tackled in the next book on this list.

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The second corner in what you might call the 'chilling prophecies' quincunx. Cheating a bit here, because it was actually written in 1932; but there's no way it could not be in this list. When one looks at the prediction in this book, it's a bit like listening to Peter Falk as the grandfather in The Princess Bride, rattling off all the cool things in the novel. Brave New World hits all the high points, including genetic manipulation and its consequences (think Gattaca), mind control through advanced psychological techniques, the dumbing down through entertainment and consumerism, as well as the downgrading of individuality and the value of 'family'. A predictive litany of woe, which unfortunately has proved to be far more than speculative fiction. And death, of course, is something to be welcomed. After all, it's all as it should be. When your time's up, it's up.

Why it's on the list:There are arguments as to how people are really being massively dumbed down today; through statist manipulations and mind-control, or through the all-pervasive bombardment with brainless 'entertainment' - the modern versions of Emperor Nero's 'bread and circuses', that distracts us from the things that truly matter. In fact, combining Orwell's and Huxley's scenarios, we have a fairly spot-on mirror of our current world.

Read if you like:Ditto, as for 1984.

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The third corner of the quincunx. 451 degrees is understood in the novel as being the temperature at which paper will combust spontaneously. This books is a tirade against censorship and those who feel at liberty to tell us what we, as intelligent creatures capable of making decisions, ought to read and what we ought to be protected from. It also casts a critical look at the results of shortening our attention span as a result of the re-conditioning of our brains through the all-pervasive exposure to 'media'. Mercifully, Fahrenheit 451 ends on a hopeful note. We can get ourselves out of this hole we've dug ourselves; but it won't be easy. As usual, it'll require thought, doubt, non-acceptance of accepted standards, rebellion and courage. Plus a goodly portion of luck.

Why it's on the list: Well, you're reading this, aren't you? And maybe you'll buy a book as a result. And maybe that book isn't 'safe', but will lead you into ways of thinking that aren't conducive to what has been decrees as being the 'public good'. Well then, read the damn thing and appreciate the power of books in particular and words in general. And if someone tells you that you shouldn't read this or that, make sure that you do!

Read if you love: Books.

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Awards Won:1969 HUGO, 1969 BSFA
Award Nominations:1968 NEBULA

The fourth quincunx corner. Whenever I hear of someone going around randomly killing innocent people for no possible motive qualifying as 'reasonable', I immediately think of this novel and one of its creations, known as 'muckers' (slang for people running amok); who do precisely that: they lose the plot and go out and do some serious murdering, preferably of as many people as they can manage before they're mowed down themselves. Reminds me of a certain culture of monomaniacs on Jack Vance's Night Lamp, as well as suicide bombers and school shooters. The world of Stand on Zanzibar (name of an island with the approximate area required to hold the 7 billion people projected to be alive in 2010; very close to the actual numbers!) is full of muckers and other absurdities, and the book's structure, which is really a series of loosely-connected vignettes, does a good job or mirroring the chaos; using a large ensemble cast to tell the tale.

Why it's on the list:

Because, again, it does an uncanny job of predicting the scenario in the world today from the point of view over 40 years back. When I read it in the early 70s, I thought 'no way!' Yeah, I wish!The novel was awarded several times: Hugo 1969, BSFA 1969, Prix Tour-Apollo 1973.

Read if you like:

To see how stupid people really are - because all of this could have been avoided. Could'a, ought'a, should'a. Sorry, peeps, I guess I'm thinking of another universe.

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The center of the quincunx, because it looks at an element lying at the center of our humanity: the sexes and their relationship and interdependence. From one moment to the next all the women disappear from the world of men - and all the men from the world of women - which in some instances would have made for interesting sitcoms. But The Disappearance is not about eliciting cheap laughs. In the aftermath of the disappearance, civilization in both worlds, the male and female, disintegrates: physically, spiritually, socially. Wylie focuses on one affected couple to perform a profound analysis of the fundamental and indispensable dependence of the sexes on each other, in the process revealing the absurd way in which almost all societies view male-female relationships.

Why it's on the list:

Because it belongs with the four novels immediately preceding it. The others focus on the external world-society and how people are manipulated by social forces and those who would control societies for the sake of their power and ideologies - and how this impacts on individuals. This novel inverts that causal sequence and starts with the relationship between women and men and how this in turn shapes society and the world we live in.

Read if you like:

To think about the roles of men and women. 'Personal' stories. Parallel worlds tales.

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Awards Won:1967 NEBULA
Award Nominations:1967 HUGO

The Sapir-Worf (no relation to Klingons!) hypothesis basically states that the grammatical and semantic structures and conventions of language influences the way we see the world, because it defines how propositional thought is structured, and what kind of logic and reason we are capable of. Any multilingual person, especially those speaking widely divergent languages (e.g. English and Japanese) will recognize the truth of the idea that language determines how we think, value, and even feel about things. Language will therefore also influence our actions.

The theory is not without its critics, but ignore them - because it's true. And it's not too far a stretch of the imagination to conceive of the possibility that an appropriately-constructed language can be used to weaponize a mind. Teach it to someone and it might make him do anything, including turning him or her into a traitor.'Babel-17' is such a weapon-language, and the novel explores its use in this intriguing futuristic thriller.

Why it's on the list:

Because it took some moxy and solid imagination to follow the notion of a weapons-language to its potential conclusions and consequences. Delaney does a brilliant job at it. A classic example of taking an idea and running with it. First class psychological science fiction. If you're not into the psychology or philosophy of language, this book might well stimulate your interest sufficiently to have a closer look at this.

Read if you like:

Language.

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Freeman Dysonfamous physicist, mathematician and astronomeronce pointed out that the most efficient way to get all the energy from a star would be to build a solid sphere around it and live on the inside of that. Short of a solid sphere, the next possibility would be to construct a ring, say in the orbit of Earth, with a wall on its sides to hold in the atmosphere. Set it rotating, and bingo: space for literally trillions of people. Night and day is provided by an inner rotating ring of shadow-casting rectangles, connected by super-strong wire. Well, the Ringworld Engineers (subject of a sequel to this novel) built one of those things. The story of this book concerns humans and an alien spacefarer crashing on the Ringworld and trying to find a way to get away again. Like in Big Planet (#3 on this list), the 'world' itself is one of the characters in the book, as Niven thoroughly explores this unusual habitat.

Why it's on the list: Because Niven thoroughly imagines a very novel engineered habitat, and manages to combine its exploration with a believable story about its inhabitants and the alien+human story that goes with it.

Read if you like: Grand hard SF in the traditional vein, with stuff happening in space and other worlds; with this one being possibly one of the most unusual ones, at least from an engineering point of view.

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Awards Won:1972 HUGO
Award Nominations:1972 LocusSF

First novel in the Riverworld series. Along the winding river valley in a place somewhere no on Earth or maybe not even in this universe, people (dead people) awake, bald as eggs, at a physiological age of 25, un-aging (except for those who dies before 25, who'll age to that point and then stop) and mostly immortal. Nourishment is supplied through a process that is at once simple and yet gives rise to an unexpected number of social behaviorisms, making it clear that what motivates human beings is vastly more complex than mere nourishment. Throughout the cycle of novels in this series, we observe the development of various social configurations and follow the individual adventures of protagonists and antagonists (sometimes hard to distinguish) alike. The rationale behind what's happening here is eventually revealed, and unsurprisingly involves aliens with their own clever plans and tricks.

Why it's on the list: An amazing mealange of science, post-life mythology, speculation about the nature of the 'soul', and browsing through human history by using and abusing historical personages. The novel was awarded the Hugo in 1972. There was an aborted TV series and a long movie as well. The novel's subjects bear a resemblance to Seahorse in the Sky (#17 on this list), but Farmer and Cooper have very different takes on the subjects they deal with.

Read if you like: Speculations about the nature of the science of the 'soul'. Aliens messing with our minds like we do with rats in mazes.

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While we associate Clarke with stories about, or set in, space, this one's set underwater in the 21st century. Oceans are fenced off like fields and whales are cattle. Wardens control their migrations; and Walter Franklin, PTSD sufferer after a traumatizing event while in space, becomes one of them. Fearsome giant creatures of the deep play the role of wolves; and there seems to be something much worse and frightening lurking down there as well.

After a while, Franklin comes to doubt the righteousness of this type of farming through his increasing awareness of cetacean intelligence.

Why it's on the list:

Clarke, in his novels. always focused more on the external world and the concepts than the characters. This one here is an exception, with Walter and his friend Don being far more deeply-realized characters than he's created anywhere else.

Also, the book leaves us with a disturbing thought. Suppose 'advanced' aliens were to come to Earth and judge us by the way in which we treat our fellow creatures, and especially 'intelligent' ones. (Think 'scientific whaling' or the mass-killing of dolphins by certain nations in Asia as well as Scandinavia.) Suppose that were used to assess how we ought to be treated Doesn't make one feel too comfortable, does it?

Read if you like:

Cetaceans. Stories involving the seas and its wonders and perils.

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Awards Won:1962 HUGO

Valentine Michael Smith is human, but he was born on Mars and raised by Martians. Think Mowgli from The Junglebook, only different. In many ways Michael does face the same problems though, because on one hand he has that human DNA and is built according to our basic matrix, but he also sees everything from another point of view, unfettered by the cultural elements that bombard us all from day one of our lives. Thing is, Michael isn't Mowgli. He got special powers, bestowed on him by his upbringingand in that sense he is more like a Christ-figure than the wolf-boy. His coming here eventually leads to a transformation of who and what humans are, but as usual there's a price. His demise at the hands of a mob is inevitable, and there's a strong suggestion that he may have been an incarnation of one of the Bible's premier angels; issued with unusual not-tongue-in-cheek by an author who otherwise doesn't have much time for religion, except to satirize it.

Why it's on the list: They usually put Heinlein's Starship Troopers on the 'great' SF lists, because that's got the 'hard SF' element in it. This novel here, however, made a far greater splash in literary history, crossed over into 'mainstream' fiction and became a significant element of the counterculture and even the hippie movement. It won the Hugo in 1961.

Read if you like: Heinlein's 'soft' SF. Milestones in the genre and beyond.

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Award Nominations:1960 HUGO

This is an important book in the sub-genre of military fiction, and the first published novel in what ended up as a kind of future-history known as the 'Childe Cycle', proving yet again that future-history creation seems to be like an occupational disease among a lot of SF writers. The eponymous Dorsai inhabit a resource-poor planet and earn their foreign income by providing other worlds with high-quality mercenaries. (Talk about planetary specialization!) The novel follows Donal Graeme, who is a kind of super-dude, with major earning potential. His career is close to meteoric as he breezes through subsequent engagements. And there's a good reason for that, because Donal is not just a good soldier, but possesses other talents as well.

Why it's at this place on the list: Hugo nominated in 1960, but losing out to Starship Troopers, this novel and its prequels and sequels are a major contribution to the military SF subgenre. Dickson is a great storyteller and the novel is a quick and easy read, as are the others. Still, I liked this one best, as is so often the case with novels that have before-and-afters attached to them.

Read if you like: Military SF.

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A.K.A. The Plague From Space or The Jupiter Plague. The explorer ship Pericles returns from Jupiter. The single surviving crewman is infected with a deadly plague that has the potential to wipe out life on Earth. The plague soon starts spreading, despite all attempts to quarantine it, because it's carried by birds. Bird flue. Something like that. Don't want to give away more of the plot, because it would spoil it. Besides, its not terribly complicated. This is a small snazzy thriller, written with Harrison's consummate skill for writing fast-paced action stuff; with good characterizations. Short and snappy, as a lot of novels from that period wereunlike today where anything under 200k words seems to be considered to be unfit for serious consideration.

Why it's on the list: Because it's much more fun that Michael Crichton's Andromeda Strain, which deals with a similar topic and might have been on this list if it hadn't been for this book here. And, let's face it, for completeness's sake you've got to have a plague-from-space-intended-to-wipe-us-out novel on this list. It's the storytelling that makes The Jupiter Legacy 'great'. It focuses on characters rather than procedure. Some of the technological elements may look antiquated (the books was first published in 1966), but it doesn't matter. In case you're interested, McDevitt's The Hercules Text tackles a similar subject from another angle.

Read if you like: Harry Harrison, who also penned the Deathworld series. Apparently-unstoppable-epidemic tales. Great entertainment.

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Like his later novel, Transit, this here is a story ofwhat looks likean abduction of a bunch of humans by aliens (in this instance from the interior of a transatlantic plane). After the abduction, the abductees awake in coffin-like capsules. When they emerge from unconsciousness, they find themselves in what looks like a simple movie-set town, which includes a store with food supplies. It's surrounded by a vast expanse of grass and that's that. Though the abductees are from different nationalities, they find that they understand each other perfectly. Not knowing what to do, they hang around for a while, then some go off to explore. They find a fantasy world populated by knights, primitive warriors and other creatures, including unpleasant giant metal spiders. Why are they here? That's what they must find out; as well as how they'll survive this strange environment. And how will they cope with the final revelation about who they really are?

Why it's on the list: Alien abduction story! Aliens experimenting on people like we do with rats in mazes. A bit like #12 on this list, but all wrapped up into one book, rather than extending over a whole series.

Read if you like: Alien abduction stories. SF involving the solving of riddles.

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Award Nominations:1970 HUGO

Probably the most significant of Piers Anthony's SF (he did mostly fantasy). The Macroscope floats in orbit; it's like a super Hubble Space Telescope, only that it doesn't use light, but particles called 'macrons', which allow the device to act as a telescope with no distortion, basically arbitrary resolution. Better even, it can see through matter (unlike light), can be focused on anything at any distance, and the information is transmitted instantaneously. The ultimate snooping device, that would give the NSA and its ilk everywhere instant hard-ons. Needless to say, that's what the device is being used forplus a fig-leaf of science, to keep things respectable. Since macrons can be artificially generated, they can also be used for instant communication. And it looks like someone's communicating all right! There's a powerful macron signal pervading space that carries information, which, when deciphered by a sufficiently advanced intelligence results in driving them insane. Makes you want to stay dumb!

Why it's on the list: This is an underestimated classic, dealing with the power of information and knowledge, and what they can do to the minds receiving them. It constructs an intriguing universe, based on a simple premise (that something like a macroscope can exist), and weaves an engaging and thrilling story around it. It's packed with ideas and driven by a small cast of believable and well-drawn characters. Hugo nominated in 1970.

Read if you like: Space stories. Imaginative SF. A dash of romance. Reading just for fun.

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On the rocky planet Aerlith, humans have managed to gain a spotty foothold. They live in the valleys with fertile soil and fight occasional battles for territory and general dominance. Said battles prominently involve the semi-intelligent 'dragons', who are specialized for particular combative functions through breeding programs that have been conducted since time immemorial. At regular intervals, a spaceship with aliens, called 'grephs', appears, abducts humans with impunity because of their superior technology, and takes them away breed their own warriors who fulfill a similar function to the dragons. The time for the next greph visit is nigh, and Joaz Banbeck is about to marshal his colorful array of vicious dragons; not only to fight his rival from a neighboring valley, Ervis Carcolo, but also to face down the grephs and show them a thing or two.

Why it's at this place on the list: It's only this far down on the list because it's a novella. But it's a tight story that not only rattles a lot of 'social' cages, but also tackles a whole bunch of moral questions and races along at breakneck pace. The irony of the two-sided slave-warrior breeding programmes on both sides of the conflict (the dragons are custom-bred descendants of a few captured grephs from previous invasions) is supreme. The story is proof, if it were needed, that a good writer doesn't need a tome to tell an involving tale. Hugo for best short story in 1963.

Read if you like: Jack Vance, or if you need an introduction to his work, depth, enchanting use of language and mordant commentary on human nature and society.

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This novel is not just a first-class piece of military fiction and action, but even more so a look at the soldier's relationship to society and the results of being exposed to extended periods of combat and coming home, only to find that society has moved on since one has left and that one ends up, through one's experiences and just the passage of time, of being a different kind of stranger-in-a-strange-land; leaving one to wonder what it was that one originally went off to fight for; especially when one was conscripted, instead of, as in Heinlein's Starship Troopers, a volunteer.

Why it's at this place on the list: Some might argue that this book should be ranked higher than the other military-SF entry in this list, Dorsai. You maybe right. Matter of taste. The Forever War is 'military' but it's so completely different from Dorsai that one is almost inclined to create more subcategories for this sub-genre. It just goes to show that there are many different ways of looking at 'war'. Haldeman fought in Vietnam, and this no doubt left profound marks on his views. Dickson by contrast has been described as a 'romantic', and you can see how that would produce drastically different perspectives. Won: Nebula 1975, Hugo and Locus 1976. Followed by two related novels; not quite 'sequels'.

Read if you like: Military SF with a grimsome might say 'realistic'patina.

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Awards Won:1981 LocusF
Award Nominations:1981 HUGO

First novel in the 'Majipoor' series, comprising a total of 11 novels and novellas. Majipoor is, one might argue, direct offspring of Vance's Big Planet (#3 in this list); a large planet with Earth gravity, settled by a whole bunch of alien races and humans for millennia. (Looks like there's a lot of alien species needing exactly the same atmospheric composition as human do. Strange, that.) There's also the indigenes, who were invaded several times, didn't like it much and still don't. Who can blame them?

Unlike Big Planet, Majipoor has a governmental structure, combining an uneasy arrangement between the various races. That, and the various characteristics and abilitiessometimes psychicof the inhabitants, make for a colorful matrix of interactions and potential and real conflicts. Valentine is a wandering amnesiac, who only knows his name, finally starts to recall that he is the Coronal Valentine, the supreme executive ruler of Majipoor. So, why is he where he is, and who put him there?

Why it's on the list:

Silverberg is one of the better world-building authors, and this series is his magnum opus. Awards: Hugo nominated 1981; Locus 1981.

Read if you like:

Seriously complex worldbuilding SF with a good underpinning plot. Large series, that keep you reading for a while.

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Award Nominations:1978 HUGO

There are a number of big-object-hits-earth novels, but this one's my favorite. It starts with the discovery of a comet that's anticipated to zip close past Earth, proceeds to a space-mission to visit it, then the devastating realization that the damn thing is going to hit anyway; which it does, breaking up into a bunch of pieces that pretty much trash everything.

The ensuing panic only aggravates the disaster, with politician and the military superpowers figuring prominently in the cluster-screwups that complete the job of the original impact. The book has a huge cast of characters, though it revolves around the few whose stories extend from the very beginning to the end. Having been battered and nuked back into the stone-age, it's clear survival for humans is not just skill but also a matter of random luck. Most of our past-times, often considered signs of high culture and civilization, are revealed as basically meaningless, with only science remaining as something that might bring us back from this dismal brink. One might see the now-irrelevance of the legal profession as a positive outcome of sorts. Even so, there's no final conclusion as to what is likely to happen, though the book ends on an optimistic note.

Why it's on the list:

It's very, very cool and believable post-apocalypse; thrillingly told.

Read if you'd like:

To read a book that Frank Herbert described as 'shudderingly believable.

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Awards Won:1966 HUGO

If this novel were written in the paranoid political and social climate of today, it's doubtful that it would be published. Its herowho tells the story in the first person, as Zelazny's heroes often doafter all used to be a terrorist. But then again, he did it for 'us', against the Vegan invaders who have taken possession of the Earth, and so maybe he's one of the good guys. Conrad, as he calls himself (though he's also Karaghiosis, a trickster-type figure from Greek folklore) is a bit of a demi-god, what with being immortal and having been kicking around for quite a long time. And now the future fate of the Earthwith all its pathetic 4 million-odd Earthling survivors after the nuclear waris in his hands.

Conrad, with the help of his beloved wife, Cassandra, cooks up a desperate scheme to force the aliens to leave Earth alone. And its not only the Vegans he has to deal with, but some of his old terrorist buddies from long ago as well. They have their own agendas, that might well destroy any hope for Conrad to succeed with his devious plan.

Why it's on the list:

It's one of those amazing, short but totally gripping, Zelazny tales. It also won a Hugo in 1965. And if that isn't enough, it also contains the most harebrained scheme to defeat the invaders' intentions, making best use of their weakness.

Read if you like:

Roger Zelazny. Which you should.

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This story is about an event strikes that renders people blind. It's also about a species of semi-intelligent, poisonous, carnivorousand unfortunately mobile!plant species, the Triffids, which comes into its own when everybody gets put out of action. All except for a few that is, who were fortunate enough not to look up into the sky when that beautiful green meteor shower struck the Earth's atmosphere. Billy Masen, who works with Triffids is one of those. After accidentally being sprayed with Triffid poison in his eyes, he ends up in hospital, only to come to the next day with total chaos all around him as civilization falls into ruin and people revert to a state where far more of them show their worst than their best. (Sounds like the first episode of The Walking Dead? Indeed it does.) During the events that follow, extending over a period of years, the Triffids effectively take over the Earth, and the few remaining humans are forced to flee to an island to establish a base from which their can re-conquer the world from the plants.

Why it's on the list: It's an influential classic and a nailbiter. The word 'Triffid' has become a recognizable part of 'anglo' culture. Though the Triffids are plants, they have definite similarities with currently-fashionable post-apocalyptic zombies.

Read if you like: Post-apocalypse stories. John Wyndhamwho also wrote other 'classics' like Trouble with Lichen, The Kraken Wakes, The Chrysalids, and The Midwich Cuckoos.

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Awards Won:1965 HUGO

This is what you might call a 'curious' novel, that mixes elements you might have expected from the old pulp magazines with 1960s 'contemporary' sensibilities and genre fashions. The aliens are large felines, some of them telepathic, and they don't travel around in mere spaceships but, listen to it!, planets! One such appears, the eponymous Wanderer, and eventually gobbles up our moon. Human and aliens make contact with some bizarre consequences, including sexual intercourse; despite the alien's definite racism toward what to them are just naked apes. The irony is that the aliens' societies mirror our own, despite them being significantly 'advanced', Just goes to show that 'advancements' doesn't necessarily bring with it wisdom and good judgment.

Why it's on this list (though at the bottom):

Because underneath all the pulp-ish inconsistencies, tropes and stereotypes lurks a social parable and morality tale; and it's clear that that's what The Wanderer is meant to be. It could be argued that this applies to much of SF, but here it's kind-of more obvious. The story often is just so plain-weird and riddled with the unsurprising and stereotypical that one has to ask oneself why a highly intelligent and perspicacious writer like Leiber would pen such a tale. But when one understands that this is indeed a parable, everything begins to make sense. Won the Hugo in 1965.

Read if you like:

Any damn thing, really. It's worth it, despite it superficial flaws.

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