Ah science fiction – it’s one of those literary (and multimedia) classifications that sound so cut and dry until you really start to think about how deep the well runs.
It’s our own personal love for the genre that prompted us to form Starry Eyed Press, but in thinking about what a varied and intriguing buffet from which to sample, we thought it only appropriate to ask around to find out the favorites of some of cohorts around here. Here’s what we learned:
Shelly Jarvis: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle was the first sci fi I ever read and holds a special place in my heart. I read it in 3rd grade but still clearly remember the illustration they used to demonstrate the concept of “wrinkling” time/space for travel.
I would also rank highly Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, A Brave New World, The Left Hand of Darkness, and more recently, Artemis by Andy Weir, a moon-based sci fi heist.
Gregg Cunningham: So the first sci-fi book to whet my appetite, eh? So many to choose from, how could I pick one from the shelf without feeling guilty for all the others I have had a fling with over the many years.
Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War?
John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War?
How about War of the Worlds? My old man had that on vinyl and I played that crackling story through my headphones over and over again in my bedroom, fascinated by the idea and hypnotized by Richard Burton’s gravelly voice.
But I’ve gotta say, the story that blew me away was The Gunslinger by Stephen King, man that opening line drew me in like Eddie Dean through ‘the Prisoners’ door. I was hooked.
The Dark Tower was a drug to me, just like it was for long, tall and ugly. I found copies of the books on audio and, like Richard Burton’s hypnotic words, I found Frank Muller to be one of the best narrators I have ever listened to.
For anybody who has never taken the journey to the Dark Tower, I urge you put on spurs and fill your water bottles, then go follow that man in black through the dessert. You will not be disappointed.
The tale is set perhaps a millennia into the future; the Peacekeeping Gunslingers have gone the way of the fallen civilizations before them, leaving the last of their legacy, a man called Roland to wander the rusting wastelands in search of answers as he gathers an unlikely posse.
Think Clint Eastwood as Dorothy, wandering through future techs now abandoned; broken magical totems and science defying doorways left by an advanced society who probably poked the bear to hard and paid the ultimate price. Fallen Cities run by tyrants, isolated towns with Saloons that feed its weary travelers burgers from cattle stock mutated by whatever war caused the earth to shudder. King actually takes his MC to the land of fucking Oz to meet the Wizard!
The idea was so fascinating, sci-fi and fantasy at its best, I couldn’t wait for the next installment- honestly, The Dark Tower literally made me start writing, no shit- The Ka Daddy himself had possessed me – I couldn’t wait another 10 years for King to release his next masterpiece to hear how the next tale would be told, so I decided to write my own thoughts down. It was my first attempt at writing a story.
165 pages of manic research, terrible punctuation and obsession went into the tale which is probably still up somewhere on my blog… yip, still there:
So, why don’t you dip your toe into my madness and see what I got to offer. Honestly, I think I get better with age. I blame the dementia.
Grant P Hudson: It is of course impossible to decide on a single book. But, if forced at blaster-point to do so, I would probably say…
The Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis
(I already cheated by naming a trilogy.)
Why? Because Lewis skillfully uses the entire genre of science fiction to stand the ‘real’ world on its head and flip our viewpoint around about the whole universe. He starts with common assumptions about it, then gradually and poetically subverts everything until, in the final volume, we witness an apocalyptic collapse of an entire worldview. And it’s all so beautifully done, leaving the reader in a kind of trance of transcendence. It’s one of the most magical pieces of literature ever composed (literally, in the sense of accomplishing miraculous change).
Lisa Short: Oh Wow. Well, there isn’t just one! Let me make myself narrow this down otherwise you’ll get a list of 50 books. So, I narrowed it down to two kind of reasonable criteria – the scifi book I remember reading earliest and the one that, in the past ten years, has stayed with me the most/impressed me the most.
The scifi book I remember reading earliest was Harry Harrison’s Deathworld trilogy– I must have been 8 or 9 years old, it was a hardback that I think my parents got through the old Science Fiction Book Club (I don’t even know if that thing’s around anymore!).
I really loved it because the main character was smart – he always ended up being smarter than everyone else and using his brains to triumph, especially in the second book of the trilogy, where he basically starts all sorts of technological revolutions on the primitive planet he’s stuck on – and it might have been my first exposure to intricate multi-worldbuilding as well. Also, if you’ve ever read Harry Harrison, he definitely has a sense of humor.
The scifi book I’ve read in the past ten years that really blew me away was Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikowsky. One thing I haven’t really tried to do to date is write my own truly alien civilization story– I’ve been too intimidated! Alien civilizations in books all too often end up like “Star Trek” aliens: humans in makeup, basically, doing all the human things the same way humans do. But Adrian Tchaikowsky most definitely did not do that with his spider civilization and it was simply amazing. I also loved the millennial scope of the novel and the evolution of what a human civilization would be; that spent those same millennia traveling in hibernation even as more and more of them stayed awake shipboard…just an incredible novel of ideas, combined with being beautifully well-written.
A.S. Charly: My favorite science fiction series so far is The Saga of Seven Suns by Kevin J. Anderson. I love the way it moves from one character to the next with each chapter, always keeping you eager to go on, to meet new people and see the events from different perspectives. It’s really enjoyable that his characters are so diverse, coming from differently structured societies and surroundings, different cultures and believes – and on top of all, a whole lot of cool technology.
Talking about technology, Thariot’s Genesis series is a wonderful read. He’s a German independent author who skillfully integrates many concepts and technological ideas into his stories, using them to forward the plot and not just as fancy extras.
Another thing I love is picking up old books from our local book exchange shelves. It’s interesting to see the differences in writing style and pacing, the different social norms back at the time the stories were written, and the fantastical ideas they already had back then. It feels like many of them are more down-to-earth, revolving about farmer’s on a distant plant having a hard time with their harvest because of technical problems with an atmosphere generator, a mission failed due to gastrointestinal perforation, or alien life settling down right been us, but only is seen as a new plant species.
(Oh, and yes: I do like all of our human feelings, so at times it’s nice to read a rather innocent YA Romance with a sci-fi setting, like Jennifer Wolf’s Starfall. Shhhhhh!)
Jason Russell: These days I’ve been finding Alastair Reynolds’ space opera/ hard science fiction work set in the Revelation Space universe particularly entertaining – perhaps his short story collections even more so than his novels. If I had to recommend you one, I guess the duology of Diamond Dogs & Turquoise Days would have to be it. The former being one of the most intriguing pieces of science fiction / borderline space horror I’ve read in a long, long time.
A second recommendation may be Diaspora by the ever-elusive Greg Egan. It’s not an easy read, or, for that matter, even a particularly entertaining one (weird recommendation, right?) But it approaches concepts like digital life forms in the very distant future struggling to understand their own origins and their relationship with we, the biological blobs who created them initially in such a way that one can’t help but wonder if someday this isn’t going to become the simple realities of existence.
The most influential sci fi for me, though (barring other forms of media – I was raised on a steady diet of Star Wars and Star Trek movies) would have to have been the first time I read Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton shortly after release. Yes, even before Steven Spielberg made it into one of the most recognizable films of all time. The concept of cloning dinosaurs and then creating an island paradise zoo to display them atop a tale of corporate espionage and sabotage was unlike anything I had encountered before – or since.
Crichton himself couldn’t duplicate the lightning in a bottle success of the tale even though he revisited the world he created in the sequel (then ripped off his own plot in Timeline) and the films have all but degenerated into CG-heavy chase sequences, the original Jurassic Park was quite literally a global science fiction game changer.