10 Science Fiction Books That I Love (And You Will At Least Like A Lot)

As the new ‘Sci-Fi guy’ here at LitReactor, it only seems proper to formally introduce myself. I really enjoyed writing my first piece contrasting John Carter as a book and a film, but thought a more expansive entrée might be fun. And rather than the standard recitation of resume and influences, why not throw myself upon the mercy of the comment section and offer a list of my favorite books in the genre?

Lists like these are imperfect in their very conception, so feel free to tell me where I went awry. (My theory: not taking a year off between high school and college to devote myself to becoming Jay-Z’s intern by any means necessary.) Some of these titles are very well known, others less so, but as a whole I think they reflect my admittedly idiosyncratic taste. At best, I’m hoping to provoke passionate discussion and inspire you to check out some truly rad books. At worst, we’re going to have an old-tyme, AOL circa 1996 thermonuclear flame war. To be completely honest, both sound sort of awesome.

Two caveats, then: First, these are in no particular order. Trying to winnow my packed bookshelves down to ten titles was traumatic enough; I’m not going to parse superlatives. And second, my definition of ‘science fiction’ is pretty far-reaching. High, low, near future, alternate history, literary – all are welcome. I’m a big tent kind of guy. Who doesn’t love big tents?

Enough prologue, on to the books!


'Cat's Cradle' by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.Cat’s Cradle 

Yeah, I know, liking Kurt Vonnegut is hardly groundbreaking stuff. But the old Hoosier has been my favorite author since I first starting ransacking my parents’ library in middle school. Of course, choosing one title by Vonnegut is basically impossible (Slapstick almost won out). This pitch-black adventure about a world devastated by a military technology that freezes all the water on Earth really captures Vonnegut’s signature blend of humor and dread. It also boasts an insanely economical narrative - my copy is just 191 pages! And if that's not enough, in Bokononism Vonnegut invented a postmodern religion that substitutes 'calypsos' for psalms. Sold.

Buy Cat's Cradle: A Novel from Amazon.com

 

'The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress' by Robert A. HeinleinThe Moon Is A Harsh Mistress 

Robert Heinlein is a genius at remixing history by combining familiar stories and then setting them in unexpected places or times. Only Heinlein could recast Jefferson as a polygamous, multiracial computer geek; George Washington as a self-aware supercomputer; and Ben Franklin as a horny old man. I mean, where does he get this stuff? I actually grew up with a Revolutionary War battlefield in my backyard, so I especially love this book's retelling of a lunar revolt informed by America's own, along with elements of the French Revolution and Indian Independence Movement. (My hometown even shows up when the lunar delegation visits Earth!) This title is also a founding member of the How Has This Not Been Made Into A Movie Yet? Club.

Buy The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress from Amazon.com

 

'Riddley Walker' by Russell HobanRiddley Walker

One of the best and strangest looks at a post-apocalyptic world I have ever read, this book also features a truly badass invented language (a weakness of mine - as you can probably tell from many of the other titles on this list). The title character is a twelve-year-old boy living in an Iron Age England several hundred years after a nuclear war destroyed civilization. That author Russell Hoban also wrote the Frances The Badger series of children's books only adds to the whole thing’s mind-shattering weirdness.

Buy Riddley Walker, Expanded Edition from Amazon.com

 

'The Mount' by Carol EmshwillerThe Mount 

Speaking of strange, the only thing odder than the premise of Carol Emshwiller’s book is its cover. Set in a distant future society where humanity has been domesticated by a race of aliens, the story manages to brilliantly address both the nature of self and – I swear - the predator/prey relationship. Emshwiller’s prose is the real star here, simultaneously spare and poetic, resulting in a surprisingly emotional story.

Buy The Mount: A Novel from Amazon.com

 

'Time and Again' by Jack FinneyTime And Again 

As you might guess, based on my bio below, I love time travel stories. And this one from Jack Finney, the author of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, is one of my favorites. It takes a unique angle on the genre and posits a version of time travel that forgoes theoretical physics in favor of verisimilitude. The main character journeys back to 1882 through a combination of self-hypnosis, a period appropriate lifestyle, and interior design. Finney also made this a graphic novel by brilliantly repurposing 19th century photographs, using them to 'depict' his setting and characters.

Buy Time and Again from Amazon.com

 

'Dune' by Frank HerbertDune

I mean, if I like invented languages and religions, how can this not be on here? So dense with details it reads like history in the best possible manner (a feeling that was only amplified after I read The Seven Pillars of Wisdom). I love any art form that demands the sort of attention that Frank Herbert’s masterpiece requires, especially when it stands up so well to repeated readings. And let us never forget that John Hodgman referring to Barack Obama as the “Kwisatz Haderach” at the 2009 Radio and TV Correspondents Dinner might have been the Geekiest Moment Of All Time.

Buy Dune (Dune Chronicles, Book 1) from Amazon.com

 

'Snow Crash' by Neil StephensonSnow Crash 

Easily the best book about a hacker with a samurai sword and a skater with a cyborg dog written in the 20th century. It’s also the book that I have bought the most times, both as gifts and because I keep lending it out with such abandon that I never know who has my copy. It's deservedly in the canon for innumerable reasons, but is also one of the most engrossing and fun literary experiences you can have. Right up there with The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress in terms of the HHTNBMIAMY?C. I've enjoyed everything Neil Stephenson's done before and since - particularly The Baroque Cycle - but the tale of Hiro Protagonist will always be my favorite.

 

'Infinite Jest' by David Foster WallaceInfinite Jest

OK, I know what you're thinking: Ease up Korn, we're talking Sci-Fi! But what else would you call a story set in a near future U.S. rife with speculative technology and major geopolitical changes? Add in the undeniable love David Foster Wallace shows for anyone obsessed with math, chemistry, film, RPGs, etymology, or grammar and you’re basically in Geek Heaven. Yes it’s a big boy, page-wise, but hopefully as fellow science fiction aficionados you also share my admiration for long books – more to love, right? Infinite Jest is one of my favorite things ever, regardless of genre or medium, so I'm including it here, dammit.

Buy Infinite Jest from Amazon.com

 

'Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World' by Haruki MurakamiHard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World 

Hey, give me a literary inch and I'll roll in with the whole metafiction posse. (New goal: convincing someone to tattoo 'metafiction' on their torso, where Tupac had 'Thug Life.') Haruki Murakami is another favorite of mine and this early work is a minor classic that often gets overlooked. The narrative is split into two discrete settings - a menacing pastoral and a grim dystopia – both of which get to deeper idea of consciousness while remaining addictively readable.

Buy Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World: A Novel (Vintage International) from Amazon.com

 

The Collected Stories Of Philip K. Dick 

Now I'm really flouting the rules. But I bought this five-volume collection over several visits to the U.K. twenty years ago and I've been rereading it ever since. I'm not ashamed to admit that I love Dick (zing!), and for me his most successful work was in the short form. I'm always amazed by the variety of ideas, techniques, and styles on display here. Not to mention the ever-growing list of adaptations, which range from the relentlessly dreadful Paycheck, through the wonderfully dreadful Total Recall, to Minority Report, which I like enough to list sans adverb.

Buy Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick from Amazon.com


That’s the list, friends. Let me know what you think and remember: Start the reactor - free Mars!

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Comments

Jason Richards's picture
Jason Richards from PA is reading Family Fang March 20, 2012 - 11:47am

Props for Cat's Cradle, but no Hitchhiker's Guide...no Stanislaw Lem...no Huxley? REALLY?
I'm all for serious sci-fi, but there has to be some room for those who give a sly wink towards the future.

Andrew Medina's picture
Andrew Medina from Los Angeles, CA March 20, 2012 - 1:36pm

Don't revoke my nerd cred, but I've never read Snow Crash. It's been on my "to-read" list forever, but I just haven't gotten around to it. Thanks for the reminder. While I don't agree with all of your choices (that would just be weird), I can applaud the reasoning. Also, since you're in LA and a trivia guy, you should come to one of my company's trivia nights! www.actiontrivia.com 

EMA's picture
EMA from UK is reading Fool's Alphabet by Sebastian Faulks March 20, 2012 - 1:39pm

I love 'Hard-Boiled Wonderland...', it was my first Murakami read and I think it's still my favourite. Some new stuff here I'll definitely be checking out.

I personally would add Huxley's 'Brave New World' or almost anything by H.G. Wells.

Fylh's picture
Fylh from from from is reading is from is reading is reading is reading reading is reading March 20, 2012 - 1:46pm

I fucking love Snow Crash. I love it enough to put up with its mood swings, and I forgive it when it eats the last yogurt.

Liana's picture
Liana from Romania and Texas is reading Naked Lunch March 20, 2012 - 2:01pm

I like your list, have to read a few of those, but... but... come on where is Asimov!? The Foundation Trilogy is one of the most amazing books (which as I keep saying, Star Wars ripped off).
Glad Vonnegut and Murakami are on the list.

Jon Harding's picture
Jon Harding from Northwest Territories March 20, 2012 - 2:11pm

Yes!  Vindication!  Thanks, Jon.  I've been maintaining that Infinite Jest is a sci-fi novel ever since I read it last summer, but try telling that to the lit snobs in my creative writing program.  Some people just don't like their "literary fiction" fraternizing with lowly "genre" work.  It makes me sad. 

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Stories of YOUR Life March 20, 2012 - 2:21pm

I'd put Dune on the shelf next to any major work of literature. Such a complex book. Too bad none of the sequels measured up.

Donald Lamb's picture
Donald Lamb from South Jersey is reading Damned March 20, 2012 - 2:33pm

I'm sorry to be the one to have to say this, Mr. Korn, but there's an error in your first sentence.

Jon Korn's picture
Jon Korn from Oakland is reading The Quincunx March 20, 2012 - 2:56pm

Thanks for the great comments here and on Facebook. (I'm not on there, so this will be my soapbox!) Totally agree with all the suggestions of things I missed - limiting mysef to 10 was painful in the extreme.

(And thanks for the note about the typo - fix forthcoming!)

 

 

John Lemon's picture
John Lemon March 20, 2012 - 8:29pm

A great list here, even though I personally disliked The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I think Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven should get honorable mention as a great book that boldy critques social engineering and the law of unintended consequences. 

Jeff's picture
Jeff from Florida is reading Another Side of Bob Dylan by Victor Maymudes March 23, 2012 - 8:33pm

I agree with you, Philip K. Dick's short stories are freakin' masterful.

"Clockwork Orange" by Anthony Burgess is one that I would have included.

Klaatu's picture
Klaatu from Scotland is reading Hotel California April 19, 2019 - 6:31am

Well, this thread may be long closed by now (by now means 19 April 2019) but I only just discovered Lit Reactor today, and by pure chance. All I wanted to add were 6 books (Science Fiction genre) I read in my late teens which all blew me away: 

The Overman Culture (Edmund Cooper)

The Tenth Planet (Edmund Cooper)

Ring Around The Sun (Clifford Simak)

Way Station (Clifford Simak)

The Mote in God's Eye (Jerry Pournelle & Larry Niven)

Lucifer's Hammer (Jerry Pournelle & Larry Niven)

There were others, but these really captured me, took me somewhere else, almost physically.