Clark's Favorite Books Part 1: Science Fiction

Print This Post

Clark

Clark is an anarchocapitalist, a reader, and a man of mystery. He's not a neoreactionary, but he is Nrx-curious 'til graduation. All he wants for Christmas is for everyone involved in the police state to get a fair trial and a free hanging. Follow him at @clarkhat

164 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    I've read the first five you listed, and loved all of them. Probably means I should get around to reading the other three.

  2. Salty says:

    Having read TMiaHM, I'd hardly call it the seminal libertarian novel. Heinlein points out the inevitable end to such a situation without the outside pressure that created it in the first place.

    Also, that shot at Jim Butcher was both cheap and pathetic, given that he's actually capable of writing novels that sane people don't hate.

  3. ketchup says:

    Anathem is the best Sci Fi I have read in the past few years. Anyone who attempts to write a book that includes " deep history, parallel worlds, medieval monasteries, formal logic, quantum uncertainty, cross-polar chase scenes, orbital mechanics, starships" (Anathem) or history, cryptography, Sumerian language, the Metaverse (successor to the internet, archaeology, and politics (Snow Crash) in a single book is either a lunatic or a genius. Stephenson is definitely the latter.
    I'm looking forward to the books on this list that I have not yet read. Thanks, Clark!

    By the way, as of this comment, none of the links to Amazon in this post are working. They all return 404 errors.

  4. Kirk Taylor says:

    Directive 51 is awesome – the series goes downhill…

  5. Steven H. says:

    Vernor Vinge writes a new novel whenever he decides he wants another Hugo… ;-)

  6. Ivraatiems says:

    None of the Amazon links are working for me, either, but I'm pleased to see Larry Niven on this list!

  7. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    I would propose HELLSPARK by Janet Kagan, a woman who died entirely too early. It's a novel I buy copies of regularly because I tend to give them away.

  8. Ken White says:

    THE LINKS DON'T WORK. You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!

  9. sharw1 says:

    Clark, I'm a little bit in love with you right now. I'm sitting here saying "Yes! Yes! Yes!" and my boyfriend just looked at me, saw it was a SF book thing and rolled his eyes (he's great in other ways, just not an SF reader). Great choices! I'd add _The Years of Rice and Salt_ by Kim Stanley Robinson, because I think it's a good fit with the rest. Thanks!

  10. ULTRAGOTHA says:

    Anatham is the best SF book published in the last 10 or more years. Bar none. I love it. I loved every single made-up word and how totally appropriate they were. I love the monastic maths. I love the culture surrounding the maths. I love the sly commentary on our own culture. Go Stephenson!

  11. KR says:

    I love the books of these that I've read (especially Anathem), so I will check out the others.

  12. picklefactory says:

    Excellent picks.

    No Gene Wolfe? I'm astonished.

    How about Iain M. Banks?

  13. Anglave says:

    I own and have enjoyed the first five on this list. I'm looking forward to consuming the rest.

  14. Wick Deer says:

    Nice list. The only entry on the list that I have read, but didn't love, was Lucifer's Hammer. Enjoyed it, but it was not a favorite.

    Mote in God's Eye was fantastic. I would warn readers; however, that the sequel is every bit as bad as the original was good.

    I'll have to try the ones I haven't read. Thanks.

  15. Brandon says:

    Curious about libertarianism in the Heinlein one, since the only book I read by him (Starship Troopers) was quite fascist, and almost seemed unironically so (unlike the movie version).

  16. Salty says:

    Curious about libertarianism in the Heinlein one, since the only book I read by him (Starship Troopers) was quite fascist, and almost seemed unironically so (unlike the movie version).

    Heinlein was a man who wrote his societies from a great deal of positions, though his later novels tended to reflect his actual ideals. Go read Stranger In A Strange Land to get a good idea of what he actually subscribed to. It's more or less required reading anyways.

  17. phanmo says:

    I'm looking forward to the next instalments; with Lucifer's Hammer at the head of the list and Mote, Snow Crash, Harsh Mistress, and Anathem following, it's bound to be good.

  18. David says:

    I think I'm the resident Gene Wolfe fan.

  19. Frank says:

    Brandon is making the same mistake Verhoven (may the fleas of a thousand camels infest his crotch) made. The society in ST is not fascist. Fascism has a specific definition, the society of ST does not meet it.

  20. Frank says:

    While I'm here, may I suggest as a more modern post-ap series, the series by John Ringo that begins with Under A Graveyard Sky. Ringo is a military SF author who swore he'd never write a Zombie Ap novel, then began the process of writing four.

  21. Al Pastor says:

    Lucifer's Hammer was my favorite book when I first read it. Moon is a Harsh Mistress was my favorite book when I first read it. Snowcrash was not my favorite book when I first read it only because I read Cryptonomicon first. Anathem is now my favorite book. Looks like a lot of us have the same taste.

    Maybe it's time to re-read Mote. And, I'm buying the rest of the lot shortly.

    I'd recommend SF books by Richard K Morgan (not the fantasy)

  22. Dylan says:

    "In the mid 1980s the Scottish Big Three exploded on the American science fiction scene: Ian Banks (RIP), Ken Macleod, and Charlie Stross."

    Stross didn't publish his first novel until 2003. He did publish a few short stories in magazines in the mid to late 90s.

  23. Roscoe says:

    Heinlein was a man who wrote his societies from a great deal of positions, though his later novels tended to reflect his actual ideals. Go read Stranger In A Strange Land to get a good idea of what he actually subscribed to. It's more or less required reading anyways.

    People trying to pigeonhole Heinlein might be surprised to learn he was working on Stranger in a Stranger Land and Starship Troopers at roughly the same time. In fact, he stopped working on an early version of Stranger to write Starship Troopers.

    BTW, this blog's spellchecker thinks "starship" isn't a word. Dumb machine.

  24. Salty says:

    People trying to pigeonhole Heinlein might be surprised to learn he was working on Stranger in a Stranger Land and Starship Troopers at roughly the same time. In fact, he stopped working on an early version of Stranger to write Starship Troopers.

    Eh. He was vast, he contained multitudes.

    I doubt that I could believe that claim that To Sail Beyond The Sunset wasn't very much influenced by his…(dreams/ideals/desires) though.

  25. Clark says:

    @picklefactory

    Excellent picks.

    Thanks!

    No Gene Wolfe? I'm astonished.

    Gene Wolfe, with Michael Swanwick, is one of the best authors now writing.

    That said, I'm not sure that any of his novels stand out in my mind as best novels.

    "There Are Doors"…perhaps.

    How about Iain M. Banks?

    I love every page I read by him.

    …but, I admit, I can't remember the plot of one book from the next.

    I agonized over leaving him off…but I did.

  26. Allen Garvin says:

    I've always thought someone should rewrite Lucifer's Hammer, except instead of a set of encyclopedias and a wealth of science and engineering tests, Forrester should have a complete print-out of all Yahoo! Answers. That would be what they would rebuild civilization with.

  27. Clark says:

    @Salty

    Having read TMiaHM, I'd hardly call it the seminal libertarian novel. Heinlein points out the inevitable end to such a situation without the outside pressure that created it in the first place.

    Should not the seminal libertarian novel address libertarianism honestly? The fact that Heinlein ends it as he does is perfect, I think.

    Also, that shot at Jim Butcher was both cheap and pathetic, given that he's actually capable of writing novels that sane people don't hate.

    This may be true but I have seen no evidence of it. I have read the story that he wrote the first Harry Dresden novel as, basically, a dare, to prove to his writing teacher that the "rules of sellable fiction" were a guide to pure hackish bullshit. The fact that the writing teacher turned around and helped him sell the novel does not, IMO, invalidate his original statement.

  28. Clark says:

    @Steven H.

    Vernor Vinge writes a new novel whenever he decides he wants another Hugo… ;-)

    He also wrong "Rainbows End". :-/

  29. Clark says:

    @Ken White

    THE LINKS DON'T WORK. You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!

    My bad. Added the affiliate link wrong. Fixed.

  30. Clark says:

    @sharw1

    Clark, I'm a little bit in love with you right now.

    I'm used to it, but still, thanks.

    I'm sitting here saying "Yes! Yes! Yes!" and my boyfriend just looked at me, saw it was a SF book thing and rolled his eyes (he's great in other ways, just not an SF reader). Great choices! I'd add _The Years of Rice and Salt_ by Kim Stanley Robinson, because I think it's a good fit with the rest. Thanks!

    KSR has not written any novel that makes it onto my "best novels" list, but KSR does make it onto my "best authors" list.

  31. Clark says:

    @ULTRAGOTHA

    Anatham is the best SF book published in the last 10 or more years. Bar none. I love it. I loved every single made-up word and how totally appropriate they were. I love the monastic maths. I love the culture surrounding the maths. I love the sly commentary on our own culture. Go Stephenson!

    Concur. Once you read Stephenson / Swanwick / Gene Wolfe / Mieville, etc., and really pay attention to what's going on, you'll be ruined for lesser writers. I.e. 99% of what's published.

  32. Clark says:

    @Wick Deer

    Nice list.

    Thanks!

    The only entry on the list that I have read, but didn't love, was Lucifer's Hammer. Enjoyed it, but it was not a favorite.

    Re-read it several times before the age of 25. Not sure I'd still love it so much now. Not saying I wouldn't, just saying that I'm not sure.

    Mote in God's Eye was fantastic. I would warn readers; however, that the sequel is every bit as bad as the original was good.

    Concur.

  33. James Pollock says:

    Not Farnham's Freehold?
    (Personally, I think Heinlein was at his best when he had good editing, and when he got big enough to start blowing off his editors his published work suffered. Which is not to say he was wrong to blow off editors… it's hard to imagine Stranger in a Strange Land surviving editing for mass-market, and they ruined Podkayne by giving it an upbeat ending… but he got harder to read in his later published works.)

    I'm surprised to not see H. Beam Piper represented. His Jack Holloway is pretty much the ideal representation of John W. Campbell's "capable man". In fact, the only more "capable man" who comes to mind is Kimball Kinnison (Lazarus Long is disqualified for being too old.)

  34. Careless says:

    A story ive told before elsewhere: Christmas 2004 I was on an airplane about to leave the gate when my fiancée called saying there had been a big earthquake.

    It was a long flight, and Lucifer's hammer was book #2. Got through about 2/3 of it. (Also read some of Footfall) 22 hours later I landed in Medan, the capitol of North Sumatra and the base for the relief effort.

    Never finished either of those two books,and I don't think I ever will.

    Anathem depressed me because, well, bad things are going to happen in the future there.

  35. Clark says:

    @James Pollock

    I'm surprised to not see H. Beam Piper represented.

    Read his Little Fuzzy stuff. Enjoyed it, but don't recall it as Earth-shattering. Have not read anything by him beyond that.

  36. Clark says:

    @Brandon

    Curious about libertarianism in the Heinlein one, since the only book I read by him (Starship Troopers) was quite fascist, and almost seemed unironically so (unlike the movie version).

    Heinlein, like Macleod, can look at a problem fairly from multiple different angles. All of his work stresses both freedom and responsibility. MiaHM focuses on freedom. ST focuses on responsibility and the martial virtues. One can, I assert, be a proper libertarian and still have respect for the "ride, shoot straight, tell the truth" aspects of character.

  37. Clark says:

    @phanmo

    I'm looking forward to the next instalments; with Lucifer's Hammer at the head of the list and Mote, Snow Crash, Harsh Mistress, and Anathem following, it's bound to be good.

    By the way, seeing the juxtaposition of "next installment" and "Lucifer's Hammer", I am reminded that Niven or Pournelle hinted a year or two back that they're working on a sequel titled "Lucifer's Anvil". No further details are available.

  38. Clark says:

    @Frank

    While I'm here, may I suggest as a more modern post-ap series, the series by John Ringo that begins with Under A Graveyard Sky. Ringo is a military SF author who swore he'd never write a Zombie Ap novel, then began the process of writing four.

    Read it. Wanted to love it. Didn't.

    Too much fan service for my taste. I'd like to read a Ringo book some day where the hero's love interest doesn't have big tits and a good knowledge of firearms tactics.

  39. Clark says:

    @Al Pastor

    I'd recommend SF books by Richard K Morgan (not the fantasy)

    Read "Altered Carbon". Wasn't thrilled.

  40. Careless says:

    Skeptical that Niven and/or pournelle will ever put out another good book. It's been a long time since the last one I can think of.

  41. Clark says:

    @Careless

    Skeptical that Niven and/or pournelle will ever put out another good book. It's been a long time since the last one I can think of.

    Concur. Niven's latest "magic goes away" book was terrible. The Ringworld prequels are terrible too.

  42. James Pollock says:

    Read his Little Fuzzy stuff. Enjoyed it, but don't recall it as Earth-shattering. Have not read anything by him beyond that.

    The three Fuzzy novels are Piper's best-known works, but he was under-appreciated in his lifetime despite excellent efforts all around. Note: "Omni-lingual" is a better first-contact story than "The Mote in God's Eye".

    Apparently, Piper was influential in Pournelle's early career.

    Also note that last time I checked, Little Fuzzy was available in the Amazon Kindle store for the very affordable price of $0.00.

  43. James Pollock says:

    The Ringworld prequels are terrible too.

    I disagree, although it's unclear how much this actually has to do with Niven, and how much it has to do with the co-author who (I'm guessing) did most of the writing. The only thing that's certain is that it has nothing to do with Pournelle.

    One of the their other joint works, the "Dream Park" sequels, has gone downhill from an excellent first novel. Too bad, there was a lot of premise for exploration in Dream Park's universe.

  44. perlhaqr says:

    I've read everything here except the MacLeod.

    I liked it all except Directive 51.

    Seriously, the bad guys in the book are people I consider bad guys in real life and even I thought they were written over the top. Not to mention all the really stupid techno bits. Ugh.

  45. Joel says:

    I'm surprised you listed Mote as the seminal first-contact novel. IMHO, Footfall was a better first-contact novel by the same authors. Although it wasn't as good a post-apocalyptic novel as LH, so I guess that is a point against it. Still my favourite of their works.

  46. Everything on the above list that I haven't already read, I shall endeavour to read.

    How come no John Brunner though? I'd've thought at least one of Shockwave Rider, Stand on Zanzibar and The Squares of the City would stand well next to the others listed.

  47. Joel says:

    Is it odd that I'm more offended by Clark's offhand slam at Jim Butcher than I am at many of the things that he writes about that I disagree with… you know, things more more important than a Sci-Fi favourites list?

    hmm, that might be saying something about my priorities in life…

  48. SIV says:

    Spinrad's The Men in the Jungle and kw jeter's Dr Adder make my short list among much more better known and widely highly regarded works.

  49. Clark says:

    @Joel

    I'm surprised you listed Mote as the seminal first-contact novel. IMHO, Footfall was a better first-contact novel by the same authors.

    Footfall is a strong novel, no denying it. The ending is pretty damned operatic as well.

    I wouldn't be able to strongly disagree with anyone who replaced "Mote" with "Footfall" in their version of this list.

  50. Clark says:

    @Matt S Trout (mst)

    How come no John Brunner though?

    I've read Brunner, and it's all awesome stuff. The thing is, it's half a generation before my time, and I think that a lot of the SF that I loved had already incorporated Brunner and moved on.

    I suspect that younger kids won't get the same thrill from Snowcrash for the exact same reason – everything it pioneered is now normal.

  51. Clark says:

    @SIV

    Spinrad's The Men in the Jungle

    I respect Spinrad; he can write.

    I haven't read that one though.

    and kw jeter's Dr Adder

    Haven't read that.

    Have read "Farewell Horizontal", and parts of it still haunt me.

  52. Clark says:

    @Joel

    Is it odd that I'm more offended by Clark's offhand slam at Jim Butcher

    What in Butcher do you find that is original or interesting? I find nothing.

  53. Joel says:

    @Clark

    I don't find it original or interesting in the same sense as say hard sci-fi like most on the list. I'm not sitting there after reading and thinking about the big ideas behind the novel.

    But I do find the Dresden Files entertaining to read.

    Is it mass market entertainment? Sure. But just because I enjoy fine dining doesn't mean I don't occasionally crave a big mac.

    Same thing for reading, especially since I read 3-4 books a week. I can enjoy Stephenson and also enjoy a Shadowrun novel.

    That being said, his fantasy series (codex alera) is stronger as a series than the dresden files, and the weakest novels in the dresden files are the first three. They got better once he started taking it more seriously rather than as a challenge in his writing course.

  54. jtf says:

    Happily concur, 100%, Michael Swanwick is one of the most talented and underrated authors out there.

    Mieville on the other hand… I can see why some people appreciate him, but he seems less able to keep a coherent plot than Kim Stanley Robinson and prone to fits of "look at me! I can do something brilliant with my style! Teehee!"

  55. Salty says:

    Should not the seminal libertarian novel address libertarianism honestly? The fact that Heinlein ends it as he does is perfect, I think.

    True, and not something I admit I had thought of at the time I posted that. It's still one of my favorite Heinlein novels, but I think more of that comes from his intensely non-standard Lunar culture and the people he creates than the sociologial aspects of it.

    This may be true but I have seen no evidence of it. I have read the story that he wrote the first Harry Dresden novel as, basically, a dare, to prove to his writing teacher that the "rules of sellable fiction" were a guide to pure hackish bullshit. The fact that the writing teacher turned around and helped him sell the novel does not, IMO, invalidate his original statement.

    Given that I (and many others) feel that the first Harry Dresden novel is incredibly weak compared to all the rest of them (my personal opinion is that the series really starts getting good at the third one, but eh) that may in fact be the case. I'd argue it doesn't mean shit when it comes to the quality of the majority of his work, though.

    What in Butcher do you find that is original or interesting? I find nothing.

    You are of course entitled to your opinion, but I'd argue that originality in good writing is less important than you might at first think (at which point I'll note that I'm admitting nothing about Butcher's originality, since I don't know your quibbles with it), and I certainly find his characters and dialogue interesting. Especially his dialogue, if I'm going to be honest.

    Besides, you compared the man to Stephanie Meyer. That's waaaay out of line.

  56. Sam Paris says:

    I figured that Orion or no Orion, Humanity would eventually out compete the aliens in Lucifer's Hammer. They were somewhat crippled.

    The Moties, on the other hand, while remarkably friendly, were scary as hell.

  57. Kirk Taylor says:

    My current guilty pleasure are SF double novels from the 50's and 60's. I acquired an extensive collection and despite the fact that they are amazingly, racist, sexist and homophobic, as well as painfully patriotic and anti communist, they are a fascinating glimpse into the minds of the past.

    I

  58. PeeDub says:

    Eery, eery list! Captures most of my absolute favorites. Where do you stand on The Forever War, Neuromancer, and A Canticle for Leibowitz?

  59. Mark - Lord of the Albino Squirrels says:

    Continually amazed by Neal Stephenson, but have to admit to frustration and disappointment with his early (Zodiac) and late (rEamDe) work. Heck, I dug the whole of the Baroque cycle, but just found those two to be indulgent and predictable.

    Also really like seeing Spinrad and Jeter get some love in the comments. Bugjack Baron and Agent of Chaos will always have a place on my shelves. On the Jeter side, I loved Farewell to the Horizontal and Infernal Devices – even thought of The Glass Hammer when I first saw Lucifer's Hammer here.

    Excellent list, Clark. Thank you.

  60. Nick Russell says:

    Clark, this is an excellent list. I love Stephenson, and especially loved The Diamond Age, possibly because it was the first novel by him that I read.

    I'm curious if you have read The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, and if so what you thought of it.

  61. Jay Goodenbery says:

    Re: Beam Piper…I agree the man could write, but his best work was actually his short stories, not his novels. I did enjoy the Fuzzy books, ditto Uller Uprising.

    Re: Gene Wolfe…I don't know if it counts for your definition of sci-fi (though it is definitely speculative fiction), his Latro series (Soldier of the Mist, et al) was superb. I also liked the Book of New Sun, though not everyone does.

  62. Utterly Clueless says:

    Anathem. If you haven't read this book on the list, get a copy. It is one of those books that on the second or third reading you'll get something new and fresh, which has always been my standard for an outstanding read. In a way, it reminded me of another great read: Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose."

    Then, once you want to get a feeling for some of the concepts that the book continually returns to, I suggest Roger Penrose's book "The Emperor's New Mind." It's dense, heavy on science, math, physics and computational theory, but definitely worth it.

  63. Clark says:

    @Kirk Taylor

    My current guilty pleasure are SF double novels from the 50's and 60's.

    Please. The phrase is "Ace Doubles". You're among nerds here; details matter. :)

  64. Clark says:

    @PeeDub

    Eery, eery list! Captures most of my absolute favorites. Where do you stand on The Forever War, Neuromancer, and A Canticle for Leibowitz?

    All are excellent novels and worthy for consideration on this list; their exclusion basically means I didn't think of them while compiling this.

  65. Clark says:

    @Mark – Lord of the Albino Squirrels

    Continually amazed by Neal Stephenson, but have to admit to frustration and disappointment with his early (Zodiac) and late (rEamDe) work. Heck, I dug the whole of the Baroque cycle, but just found those two to be indulgent and predictable.

    Zodiac was an early – and weak – novel. REAMDE was hack work done to make a mortgage payment (or, rather, "to buy a vacation home"), IMO.

  66. Clark says:

    @Nick Russell

    Clark, this is an excellent list.

    Thanks!

    I love Stephenson, and especially loved The Diamond Age, possibly because it was the first novel by him that I read.

    It is a very good novel. It didn't quite resonate with me the way it resonated with many, but I think the flaw is in me, not in the book.

    I'm curious if you have read The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, and if so what you thought of it.

    I have not, but I've heard excellent things about it and it's been on my must-read-someday list for close to forever.

  67. Clark says:

    @Utterly Clueless

    Anathem. If you haven't read this book on the list, get a copy.

    Concur.

    It is one of those books that on the second or third reading you'll get something new and fresh

    I have not yet had the pleasure of re-reading it, but I look forward to it.

    it reminded me of another great read: Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose."

    Concur. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Stephenson was, to some degree, intentionally channeling the latter.

    Then, once you want to get a feeling for some of the concepts that the book continually returns to, I suggest Roger Penrose's book "The Emperor's New Mind." It's dense, heavy on science, math, physics and computational theory, but definitely worth it.

    A very good book which I am considering putting in Part Four of this list.

  68. perlhaqr says:
    I'd recommend SF books by Richard K Morgan (not the fantasy)

    Read "Altered Carbon". Wasn't thrilled.

    I recommend "Market Forces". Interesting take on the "vehicular combat" theme.

  69. perlhaqr says:

    Joel: Is it odd that I'm more offended by Clark's offhand slam at Jim Butcher than I am at many of the things that he writes about that I disagree with… you know, things more more important than a Sci-Fi favourites list?

    I think the most offensive thing about the cut at Butcher was that it was in the section praising "Directive 51". I mean, seriously, when a rabid anarchocapitalist is sitting there reading the book and internally going "Oh, come on! The eco-terrorists and statists in this novel are just too one sided as characters!" then I think it's a sign that the book has some serious issues.

    I've read all the books in the Dresden Files three or four times. I eagerly await the next one in the series. Likewise, I've read "Footfall", "Mote", "Hammer", "Ringworld", "Mistress", "Snow Crash", "Diamond Age", etc numerous times each as well. But I didn't even bother to read the rest of the series after "Directive 51".

    Kirk Taylor: Directive 51 is awesome – the series goes downhill…

    Well, now we know what the tunnel boring machine in Seattle ran up against. The rest of the "Directive 51" series. Deep, deep underground.

  70. Rob says:

    Great List!

    I know that this is a list for novels but some of the best science fiction are the short stories written by Asimov, Clarke, and Bradbury.
    I may be misremembering the title, but The Reluctant Orchid is a fun story by Clarke.

    For novels, Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, though dated, is worth reading and I was always partial to Clarke's A Fall of Moondust or Childhood's End.

  71. Clark says:

    Note: I have only read the first Jim Butcher "Dresden" novel, and many folks above have said that it is the worst.

    I retract my blanket condemndation of Butcher pending further research.

  72. Clark says:

    @perlhaqr:

    when a rabid anarchocapitalist is sitting there reading the book and internally going "Oh, come on! The eco-terrorists and statists in this novel are just too one sided as characters!" then I think it's a sign that the book has some serious issues.

    Recall that in Directive 51 many of the characters are in the grip of weaponized memes. The Greens are not your neighborhood Prius driver…they are people who have been taken over by a fierce mind virus.

    It might help to have read John Barnes' earlier books in the Kaleidoscope Century series to understand his view of futuristic highly lethal memes.

  73. coyoteblog says:

    so many of these match my favorites I will have to read the rest. as a long time gamer i enjoyed iain banks player of games (though i also like a lot of banks stuff)

    Leaving out the classics, i might have added in dan simmons Hyperion series and, for fun, bujolds miles vorkosogan books. the latter are perhaps less deep than some of these others a lot of sci fi roolts are the swashbuckling space opera and she does it very well. (sorry abouy the lower case but on my phone on vacation)

  74. coyoteblog says:

    Oh, and the Wool series. Sortof came out of nowhere, but the most interesting new scifi I have rad of late

  75. picklefactory says:

    @Clark:

    That said, I'm not sure that any of his novels stand out in my mind as best novels.

    The Book of the New Sun will always have a place for me at the top of the heap, though I enjoyed Wizard Knight a great deal as well. The Fifth Head of Cerberus and Free Live Free have also stuck with me for a long time.

    …but, I admit, I can't remember the plot of one book from the next.

    With him it does feel sometimes like individual scenes stand out more strongly (indelibly, even) than whole plots.

  76. Clark says:

    @coyoteblog

    Leaving out the classics, i might have added in dan simmons Hyperion series

    Yes, those clearly qualify as Great Books.

    Oh, and the Wool series.

    Fun stuff. I wouldn't call it Great, but I'd call it fresh and eminently readable. I found the First Shift prequel a bit unrealistic. Wool was, as I understand it, created in an impressionistic way, and the world and justification evolved around the first story. That would explain why the prequels are a bit implausible.

  77. Clark says:

    @picklefactory

    The Book of the New Sun will always have a place for me at the top of the heap, though I enjoyed Wizard Knight a great deal as well. The Fifth Head of Cerberus and Free Live Free have also stuck with me for a long time.

    All are excellent novels – perhaps better, in sheer literary virtue, than anything I've listed above. That said, while I respect Wolfe to the utmost, I rarely enjoy Wolfe all that much.

  78. Astra says:

    Have you read Peter Watts? I might put Blindsight as the best SF I've read in the past decade (and not just because he cited his scientific references in the endnotes).

  79. perlhaqr says:

    Recall that in Directive 51 many of the characters are in the grip of weaponized memes.

    Hrm. I caught some of that, but… yeah. Maybe it's not as clear if "Directive 51" is the first book of his one is reading.

    And yes, if the only Dresden Files book you've ever read is the first one… well, I had much the same reaction. "Why are people whose opinions I trust crowing about this!?" It gets a lot better.

  80. Azathoh says:

    @Clark
    I agree that Walter Jon Williams is underrated, but I haven't enjoyed any of the John Barnes books I've read. Maybe I should give him one more try.

  81. lelnet says:

    Including Anathem was a bold choice, I have to say. I tend to think of it, in relation to Stephenson, much as you (correctly, I think) describe Heinlein in relation to the whole of mid-century SF. That is, every Stephenson tendency that is a good thing, it does more of than anything else he's written…and every Stephenson tendency that is a bad thing, it also does more of than anything else he's ever written. (Except for his infamous issues with "endings"…Anathem is his first novel to feature anything like a proper denouement.)

    All in all, a good list, I'd say. Like just about everyone here, I have an entry or two which I'd add to it, if it were mine, but nothing I'd take away.

  82. bill. says:

    lelnet, Anathem is the only Stephenson ending I haven't liked. Basically read to me as if Stephenson was thinking, "Think my books finish with too many loose ends? Fine, I'll put them on a stage waving good-bye just like in Star Wars. Is that hacky enough for everyone?"

  83. Grifter says:

    Clark, have you read anything by Philip K. Dick?

  84. Clark says:

    @lelnet

    Including Anathem was a bold choice, I have to say.

    That's just how I roll.

  85. Clark says:

    @Grifter

    Clark, have you read anything by Philip K. Dick?

    I have; several short stories, and among his novels: Ubik, The Man in the High Castle, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

    He's masterful, but none of his novels meet my criteria to be called "favorite".

  86. Grifter says:

    I'm not gonna lie…I'm kinda a PKD fanboy despite the crazyness at the end there.

    Maze of Death is my favorite…though Flow My Tears is definitely good ol' fashioned police-statery.

  87. sonic_toothbrush says:

    Thanks for the great list, Clark. Very serendipitous. I had just been gifted with a new Kindle, and have a long trip ahead of me. I'm busy downloading a couple of your recommendations.

    Have you read any of Alastair Reynolds' work? I'm surprised nobody has voiced any opinions.

  88. Mick the Destroyer says:

    Thanks for the list, Clark. My vacation is now not as rudderless as it was yesterday.

    But, I'm a simple man with simple needs, so Jack Vance remains firmly at the top of my list.

  89. luagha says:

    I also did not like my experience with REAMDE until several months after reading, I think I figured out what was going on.

    The villain in the real world is clearly a roleplaying-world villain. He survives clearly killing attacks by using 'villain points' to deflect deadly strikes onto his minions, and does the kind of things you expect movie-thriller villains to be able to do.

    In return, the good guys manipulate reality by sympathetic magic via manipulating the reality of the World of Warcraft-like code world that many of them also reside in. They use this power to blunt the effects of the real-world villain's inevitable comebacks and such.

  90. ldouglas says:

    Thoughts on Peter Watts? Blindsight is still one of the best things I've ever read, with the most genuinely alien aliens as well. And all his books are available for free on his website!

  91. ldouglas says:

    Re: Reamde, I just felt like it was two totally separate books stitched together, with the seams very visible; all the MMO-related plots get dropped halfway through for a terrorism-related plot that came literally out of nowhere (the characters randomly stumble into a terrorist's apartment, by coincidence, on page 600 or so).

  92. Mark - Lord of the Albino Squirrels says:

    @Grifter

    I'm not gonna lie…I'm kinda a PKD fanboy despite the crazyness at the end there.

    Always been a fan of Clans of the Alphane Moon. Now, I won't say it's a great book or possibly even a good book, but there is a certain type of book where it feels like the author is…. losing it? "It" not being their talent but maybe their narrative control or seriousness; the author is just messing around, if you like.

    Clans is an okay example for PKD. China Mieville's clinical case study of Buscard's Murrain would be another. Alfred Bester's Computer Connection might be the best example. Maybe it's just me, but I enjoy when authors just go wild – even when it is not even close to their best work.

  93. Clark says:

    Re this:

    @sonic_toothbrush

    Thanks for the great list, Clark. Very serendipitous. I had just been gifted with a new Kindle, and have a long trip ahead of me. I'm busy downloading a couple of your recommendations.

    Have you read any of Alastair Reynolds' work? I'm surprised nobody has voiced any opinions.

    and this:

    @Mick the Destroyer

    Thanks for the list, Clark. My vacation is now not as rudderless as it was yesterday.

    But, I'm a simple man with simple needs, so Jack Vance remains firmly at the top of my list.

    Interesting, a few days after writing the list, I find two regrets bubbling to the surface: I didn't include any Alastair Reynolds or Jack Vance.

    I'm going to fix the list right now.

  94. GP says:

    Not a bad list, but, as with every other opinionated commenter here, I feel there are some glaring omissions:

    1. The Dispossessed (Ursula LeGuin) – Sci-fi meets anarcho-utopian theory.

    2. Red Mars (Kim Stanley Robinson) – hardest of the hard sci-fi. It reads like a documentary.

    3. Rendezvous with Rama (Arthur C. Clarke) – How could you leave this out?! This book has no villain – it's all about the spirit of exploration and wonder.

    4. Startide Rising (David Brin) – Talking dolphins flying spaceships.

    5. Excession (Iain Banks) – Hyper-intelligent sentient spaceships conspiring in a post-scarcity technological utopia. Great fun.

    6. Foundation (Asimov) – This has to be on any best sci-fi list.

  95. MasterAaron says:

    I have only read about half of this list (Mote, Snowcrash, Moon, Anathem, Jack Vance), but if the others are in the same league, I have some catching up to do. I'm a little surprised not to see Dune here, though. It's a well-known and well-respected entry to most "SF favorites" lists, so perhaps it was just too obvious, but it's beyond excellent. Dune has the most interesting and original approach to world-building this side of Neal Stephenson, and is practically an introductory course in ecology and mystic philosophy.

    @Clark: Definitely give Jim Butcher another shot. I read the first Dresden Files book and decided that it was trash, and I stand by that opinion. However, it leads into greater things. Butcher isn't an Ideas Guy like Stephenson or Heinlein, but he's a fun read, and his setting and arc plots are complicated enough to be worthy of speculation. The Dresden Files is one of my favorite series, in spite of the solidly mediocre first entry. They really start to ramp up around the fourth book, but the first three (and especially #3, which introduces the main plots of the next nine books in one way or another) are important to set things up.

  96. A. Nagy says:

    Clark: "Note: I have only read the first Jim Butcher "Dresden" novel, and many folks above have said that it is the worst.

    I retract my blanket condemndation of Butcher pending further research."

    They are wrong the second book is far far worse :(. 3rd one starts to pick up but it doesn't really get kicking until 6-7 books in. I struggled though based off recommendations and now I really enjoy the series.

    People have better opinions of good sci-fi in this post then on most sci-fi sites I have been on, I'm impressed. I can't add too much to the list except.

    The Lensmen series(Doc Smith): I feel the series is under read for how defining it was in the space opera and sci fi genre. It's not fantastic but it just feels right to read a book where an elite space spy jedi Lensmen uses a special spy ray to listen in on a conversation taking place on a super spaceship.

    Everyone should be using this site as well http://www.goodreads.com It has a pretty solid recommendations engine. Plus the book giveaways are quite winnable.

  97. Grifter says:

    @Mark – Lord of the Albino Squirrels:

    Oh, the way his books go off the rails is my favorite part!

    I was more talking about near the end of his life, when he thought a beam of pink light was talking to him. VALIS is semi-autobiographical.

  98. I was Anonymous says:

    If Clark is right about "Lucifer's Anvil", I'm not looking forward to it.

    I loved Niven's Inferno. However, the 30-years-later-sequel, Escape from Inferno, not so much.

    I've read quite a few of the books on Clark's list, and agree with most of them. Though I found "Directive 51" depressing. I agree, with the statement that the sequels are not-so-good.

  99. We seem to have similar tastes in SF; though Reynolds is too dark for me to really enjoy. You did miss Greg Egan somehow. And Dune (a book which has never been made into a movie, and has no sequels). Well, perhaps we don't entirely agree.

    Have to join a previous poster in wondering if you like Doc Smith. Weirdly, I rank him as one of my favorite, formative, and most reread authors, but I don't actually rank any of his books in my top 5.

  100. Kinsey says:

    I love Stephenson; Anathem's been sitting on my Kindle for a couple years but I haven't gotten to it yet. I'm sure I won't find it too wordy or long, but I've found that I tend to get bogged down in the middle of his books and have to really struggle to stay interested enough to keep going–the struggle is always rewarded, though. Not sure it happened in Snow Crash b/c it's been so long since I read it. Definitely happened in Cryptonomicon, and the Baroque Cycle itself bogged me down. Definitely happening in Reamde right now; I just want those fucking terrorists to hurry up and die and for Zula to get out of the goddamned RV because it's gone on for way too long.

  101. cthulhu says:

    Tidbit: Niven and Pournelle were actually working on Footfall before Lucifer's Hammer; they got so enthralled by the effects of the comet impact that they decided to write a novel specifically about that. Some of the characters ended up fairly similar, especially Mark Czescu (from Lucifer's Hammer) and Harry-last-name-I-can't-remember (from Footfall).

    I confess that I actually liked The Gripping Hand; it wasn't the best book they've written, but if you check your expectations at the door, it's entertaining. Agree with the majority about Niven's Ringworldsequels; they get very tiresome very fast. But if you're looking for a later Niven book that doesn't suck, try Destiny's Road.

    Pretty much everything that Heinlein wrote after TMiaHM is bad; he was having serious health problems when I Will Fear No Evil was being edited, nearly died then and in the late '70s after Time Enough for Love, and succumbed to "I can write any shit I want to and people will buy it!" syndrome. Focus on the juveniles and some of his '50s novels, particularly The Puppet Masters and The Door Into Summer – plus TMisHM of course.

  102. I'm no anarchocapitalist, but I'm going to have to read some of this stuff anyway. There are several books and authors in your list that I too like very much, which suggests that I should check out some of the rest. Neal Stephenson, Ken McLeod, John Barnes… here I come!

  103. Clark says:

    Re

    @MasterAaron

    @Clark: Definitely give Jim Butcher another shot. I read the first Dresden Files book and decided that it was trash, and I stand by that opinion. However, it leads into greater things.

    and

    @A. Nagy

    Clark:

    "Note: I have only read the first Jim Butcher "Dresden" novel, and many folks above have said that it is the worst.

    They are wrong the second book is far far worse :(. 3rd one starts to pick up but it doesn't really get kicking until 6-7 books in.

    OK, Butcher lovers: if I (a) hated the first Harry Dresden novel, (b) want to give Butcher another chance, what should I read? Note: I do not have the patience to read 6 more novels to "properly set up" #8.

  104. Clark says:

    @I was Anonymous

    I found "Directive 51" depressing. I agree, with the [ other commenters who say ] that the sequels are not-so-good.

    The problem with apocalypses is that the entire world catching on fire is always more epic than the grinding slog that takes place later. That's why the first five minutes of the movie World War Z and later the fall of Israel is better than the rest of the movie put together (and yes, I read the book and liked it better, but that's not my point right here).

  105. Clark says:

    @David Dyer-Bennet

    You did miss Greg Egan somehow.

    Egan is great, but I have the same problem with him that some folks have with math-rock music: "where's the soul?" It's all genius stuff (how can one not love an author who provides javascript code examples to illustrate points in his book?), but I never once identified with a single character. Too much Hal Clement, too little Robert Heinlein.

    And Dune

    A really good book. Doesn't quite make my top-ever list, but close. I'd have respect for any list that had Dune on it.

    wondering if you like Doc Smith.

    Never read any. Should.

  106. David Bakin says:

    Good list, and good comments. But … where is The Stars My Destination? The Demolished Man?

  107. Clark says:

    @cthulhu

    if you're looking for a later Niven book that doesn't suck, try Destiny's Road

    Eh. I found the stakes particularly small, and have always found the M Night Shyamalan "simple villager doesn't realize that his world is really PLOT DEVICE" genre to be overly taxing of my suspension of disbelief.

  108. Clark says:

    @GP

    some glaring omissions:

    1. The Dispossessed (Ursula LeGuin) – Sci-fi meets anarcho-utopian theory.

    Love it in theory. The actual book felt as warm and exciting as a hospital waiting room.

    2. Red Mars (Kim Stanley Robinson) – hardest of the hard sci-fi. It reads like a documentary.

    Great stuff. Mad respect for the left-libertarian-ecology thing (I'm a right anarchist who actually likes reading left utopians like Varley, Banks, Macleod, etc.)

    3. Rendezvous with Rama (Arthur C. Clarke) – How could you leave this out?! This book has no villain – it's all about the spirit of exploration and wonder.

    You mispelled "the spirit of Fortran programs on old punch cards…with extra mustiness."

    4. Startide Rising (David Brin) – Talking dolphins flying spaceships.

    Loved this, and the entire series, at the time. Have grown disenchanted with Brin's left-totalitarianism and his nascent anti-semitism (re-read Earth and tell me that someone who wants a populist army to route the Jews bankers out from their hidden undeground fortresses and kill them all is a live-and-let-live guy).

    5. Excession (Iain Banks) – Hyper-intelligent sentient spaceships conspiring in a post-scarcity technological utopia. Great fun.

    Banks delivers more fun per paragraph than anyone else. He's one of my favorite authors. The thing is, I can't really recall the plots of any of his books. I soured a bit on his politics once I realized that the Ships and the Minds stand in for Banks and his fellow lefty Eurocrats, and mere humans stand in for…mere humans.

    6. Foundation (Asimov) – This has to be on any best sci-fi list.

    Enjoyed it a ton at the age of 10. Slowly turned against it once I realized that Harry Seldon and the members of the soundation stand in for Asimov and his fellow intellectuals, and mere humans stand in for…mere humans.

  109. Salty says:

    OK, Butcher lovers: if I (a) hated the first Harry Dresden novel, (b) want to give Butcher another chance, what should I read? Note: I do not have the patience to read 6 more novels to "properly set up" #8.

    If that's the case, then I'll echo an earlier commenter and recommend you pick up the first book of his Codex Alera series, Furies of Calderon.

    It's him as a mature writer, and you don't have to wade through his sophomore efforts at the beginning of the Dresden Files to get set up for the rest of the series.

    If you insist on it being the Dresden Files though, Summer Knight (the fourth novel) is the safe bet. Butcher sets it up so that previous novels aren't required reading, but it's the earliest one that's unanimously agreed upon as good.

  110. A. Nagy says:

    Second starting on summer knight. If you go with Codex I feel like the first book in it is a bit weak, not as weak as the first 2 Dresden books but after that it is pretty consistantly good.

    Ever read any of Lois Bujold's Vorkosigan saga? I feel it varies in quality from some books being meh, and others being fantastic.

  111. Kinsey says:

    I think Miles Vorkosigan is one of the most fully realized characters in all of genre fiction. The "maniacal dwarf" gets up and walks off the page.

  112. Timothy says:

    I don't think I had ever read science fiction novel until Baen published David Weber's War of Honor in 2002. The only reason I bought it was because Baen was including a CD with all the previous books in the series bound into the cover of the hard back. I didn't buy it because I wanted to read the book. I bought it because I wanted to encourage the business model. I'm currently on my third time through the series.

    For the most part I'm a complete science fiction neophyte. I have no idea what "good" science fiction vs. "bad" science fiction is. I'm guessing because his name hasn't appeared in this conversation that David Weber doesn't fall into the "good" science fiction list so I'm curious about why that might be.

    As an aside, why can't publishers bundle a digital version of their book with the hard copy?

  113. A. Nagy says:

    @Timothy
    I like David Weber he tends to be a bit formulatic and generic but he pulls it off well, I would put him as a solid B list author at least. He just falls in an odd place where he is too new to be classic like Foundation, but not good/unique enough for people to wave him on high. Now that we are on the topic of Weber the Safehold series seems sorta Clarkish. With rising against the religious anti-technology dystopia by characters who strongly believe in their faith.

  114. RKN says:

    It's interesting to know I read some of your favorites (1, 2, & 4) when I was much younger. And you raise an interesting point re: "One mark of a good book is whether you remember scenes from it years later." I suppose that's true, but I don't think the opposite is true, namely, if you can't recall specific scenes from a book you've read then it musn't have been a very good book. Because I recall liking 1,2, & 4 when I read them, over 25 years ago, but I can't even recall the main plot elements of any of those books anymore.

    Concur with the comment upthread about Spinrad, I liked his books, too. Haven't read a sci-fi book in years, though.

  115. Phil Smith says:

    LeGuin's Lathe of Heaven, and Left Hand of Darkness, are better than The Dispossessed for my money.

    Ben Winter's The Last Policeman is worth a read too.

  116. Palimpsest says:

    I prefer the Niven of Ringworld to the Niven/Pournelle collaborations.

    Lord of Light by Roger Zelazney

    Dune (sequels not included)

  117. Careless says:

    Reynolds populates his books with irrationally violent and hostile assholes. Same thing Lost did. Forces conflict.

  118. HandOfGod137 says:

    @Clark

    I sometimes read some of your more overtly political stuff and think that your ideal society is reminiscent of the immediately pre-transcendence civilization hinted at in Vinge's Marooned in Realtime. Any mileage in that idea?

  119. Clark says:

    @Careless

    Reynolds populates his books with irrationally violent and hostile assholes. Same thing Lost did. Forces conflict.

    You've put your finger on a really excellent point. I took a writing class in college (this was back in the era of pay phones and email addresses that had exclamation points in them) and recall a few rules. One was "conflict is exciting". That said, I think that conflict is realistic only when it arises from fundamentally different axioms, premises, and goals. Lost was absolutely guilty of always having everyone at each other's throats for no good reason…and, yes, now that you mention it, Revelation Space has some of the same problem.

    In reality, most people don't go thunderdome on each other …for good reason. The game theory pay off of cooperation is so high that polite society self-assembles. This is, by the way, one of the reasons that I'm an anarchocapitalist. There is no prisoner's dilemma with out a State to create the prison.

  120. Clark says:

    @HandOfGod137

    @Clark

    I sometimes read some of your more overtly political stuff and think that your ideal society is reminiscent of the immediately pre-transcendence civilization hinted at in Vinge's Marooned in Realtime. Any mileage in that idea?

    The novella "The Ungoverned" is, in fact, an ancap classic, and very much how I'd like to see society organized.

  121. David Bakin says:

    The novella "The Ungoverned" is, in fact, an ancap classic, and very much how I'd like to see society organized.

    You'd contract out your rights? Or go armadillo?

  122. James Pollock says:

    (Dune)
    A really good book. Doesn't quite make my top-ever list, but close. I'd have respect for any list that had Dune on it.

    Dune is a great book unless you stop to think about it. (like the commenter above, I think it's best to consider it a book that has never been made into a movie and has no sequels, although the prequels are readable) But Dune has a gaping plot hole in it: The Spacer's Guild needs melange to warp space and travel between stars. So… how did they get to Arrakis? There's a lesser complaint, in that the power of the great houses of the Landsraad comes from control of atomic weaponry, but, as Heinlein pointed out, as well as Niven and Pournelle, the ability to drop rocks from high enough produces similar destructive power.

    Note that a plot device in Doc Smith's Lensman involves the destructive power inherent in the ability to move whole worlds. (Arisians play for keepsies!) However, Doc Smith is a tough read because the style is… well, not modern. Also, it's a bit sexist; there is only one Lenswoman. In all of history.

    If it's space opera you want, it's hard to wrong with "Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers", by Harry Harrison. Harrison is one of those "good writers but no single great novel" types.

  123. Salty says:

    Oh god, Harrison.

    I still remember Bill the Galactic Hero.

  124. Careless says:

    So… how did they get to Arrakis?

    Slower methods, presumably.

    he power of the great houses of the Landsraad comes from control of atomic weaponry, but, as Heinlein pointed out, as well as Niven and Pournelle, the ability to drop rocks from high enough produces similar destructive power.

    And then there is the laser+shield explosion, which was supposed to be similar to an atomic blast IIRC, and that I believe Herbert himself wrote of as being used for similar purposes later in the series

  125. Mark - Lord of the Albino Squirrels says:

    But Dune has a gaping plot hole in it: The Spacer's Guild needs melange to warp space and travel between stars. So… how did they get to Arrakis?

    Computers – which were banned after the whole robot rebellion Butlerian Jihad thing – did the Navigators' job before. It's right there in the books.

  126. A. Nagy says:

    James Pollock: Also, it's a bit sexist; there is only one Lenswoman. In all of history.

    It's more then a bit, I just chalked it up to timely.

    Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers

    Looks like a fun read.

  127. Shelby says:

    I haven't read McLeod or Barnes; I've read and loved all the others, except other things by Vance. (My first SF: Have Spacesuit Will Travel. An amazing number of people I've asked say the same.) I just bought Directive 51 on your recommendation, through this site. If I don't like it, we're through forever. ;-)

  128. MasterAaron says:

    @James Pollock:

    The Spacer's Guild needs melange to warp space and travel between stars. So… how did they get to Arrakis?

    As Mark said, computers. The use of wibbley-wobbley timey-wimey is comparatively new to the setting.

    There's a lesser complaint, in that the power of the great houses of the Landsraad comes from control of atomic weaponry, but, as Heinlein pointed out, as well as Niven and Pournelle, the ability to drop rocks from high enough produces similar destructive power.

    Not really touched on in the series that I'm aware of, but the implication is that the Spacing Guild's control of most space travel would let them stop it. The Guild has a vested interest in ensuring a stable society and preventing asteroid attacks, and even the threat of losing interstellar travel privileges would be enough to stop most people who could do it from making the attempt. Atomic weapons, by contrast, don't require any involvement from the Guild, and function as a sanctioned deterrent against open warfare.

    Basically, space is not nearly as accessible as you might expect from the general tech level. Herbert posited a civilization that had a largely-unspecified but really unpleasant brush with techno-dependency and reacted by smashing their machines entirely. Their interactions with space are limited by their refusal to use most forms of automation.

    @Careless

    And then there is the laser+shield explosion, which was supposed to be similar to an atomic blast IIRC, and that I believe Herbert himself wrote of as being used for similar purposes later in the series

    It's actually described as extremely unpredictable. It ranges from hand grenade to bigger-than-nukes, depending on a complex array of external factors that would be nearly impossible to anticipate in the field. I never managed to get past Dune Messiah, so I don't recall anyone actually trying that dumb trick, but it's clearly a dumb trick.

  129. James Pollock says:

    "the Spacing Guild's control of most space travel would let them stop it. The Guild has a vested interest in ensuring a stable society"

    But they do move armies around. Those legions of Sardukar don't get to Arrakis by hitchhiking.

    It's actually described as extremely unpredictable. It ranges from hand grenade to bigger-than-nukes, depending on a complex array of external factors that would be nearly impossible to anticipate in the field. I never managed to get past Dune Messiah, so I don't recall anyone actually trying that dumb trick, but it's clearly a dumb trick.

    Not if you're not there. They broke the conditioning on the Duke's doctor (drawing a blank on his name at the moment); they could condition anyone to pull the trigger. Meanwhile, I'm conveniently on a different planet…
    The possibility of this would make wearing a Shield unpopular.

  130. Tim Robinson says:

    Obviously a lot of this is subject, but I can't believe you think Charlie Stross dried up after only a few good books!

  131. MasterAaron says:

    But they do move armies around. Those legions of Sardukar don't get to Arrakis by hitchhiking.

    The Guild's apparently okay with that sort of warfare. They discourage it in part through economic controls, apparently – troop transport costs are mentioned as being extraordinarily high. This lets the already-strong hold force over the heads of the weak. Not nice, but definitely stable. It's not a major focus of the story, though, so Herbert doesn't expand on it in enough detail to be sure of the dynamics.

    Not if you're not there. They broke the conditioning on the Duke's doctor (drawing a blank on his name at the moment); they could condition anyone to pull the trigger. Meanwhile, I'm conveniently on a different planet…

    The conditioning angle is definitely tricky. The Bene Gesserit could certainly program an assassin like you describe. However, they don't get involved in politics on anyone else's behalf, so it wouldn't be a tactic that most people could anticipate.

    Other people may or may not have the ability to do it, but there's another factor: a lasgun/shield explosion is a nuclear reaction, which can't be readily differentiated from atomic weapons after the fact. They actually consider this sort of thing as a potential Harkonnen tactic in Dune, but describe it as unlikely because A) if anything blows up the Atreides, everyone will blame the Harkonnens no matter what, and B) nobody could tell afterward that the Harkonnens hadn't just nuked them.

    This one definitely has a role in the setting, but I wouldn't call it a plot hole. Possibly just a blind spot that many people share.

    The possibility of this would make wearing a Shield unpopular.

    Actually, it made lasguns unpopular. They're famously temperamental weapons anyway (see previous notes about rejecting automation – their quality control is probably shit). Given a choice between weapons that could just stop working or blow up on their own, and weapons that worked reliably but had a bit less juice and some more limitations, people went with reliability. The use of them in an assassination/suicide wasn't a major factor in most people's considerations.

  132. Timothy says:

    @A. Nagy

    Thanks for that bit of insight, I appreciate it. I think the thing I like most about Weber is that he is good at creating bad "good-guys" and good "bad-guys." It's quite possible to be a decent, noble human being and be on the "wrong" side of a conflict.

    I am really enjoying the Safehold series and eagerly awaiting book seven. Having come out of fundamentalism there are some things that speak very deeply to me in Weber's analysis of faith. He did something very similar with the Grayson's in the Honor Harrington books.

  133. cthulhu says:

    @all-commenting-on-Dune-about-the-Spacing-Guild-and-the-spice:
    Spoiler Alert
    When Paul is facing down the Spacing Guild (among others) in the book-ending confrontation, he says that there are other awareness-spectrum narcotics that the Guild navigators could use, but once they use the melange-derived drug, the others don't work any more. This clearly provides a path for Spacing Guild transport prior to the discovery of Arrakis. As somebody else mentioned, there were also mechanical computers prior to the Butlerian Jihad.

    @Clark: Part of what I liked about Niven's Destiny's Road was precisely that it was "low stakes": what's important is the character development and the detail about the fictional world. The plot twist isn't annoying to me because it had believable all-too-human psychology behind it – totally unlike an M. Night Shamalamadingdong because-I'm-the-writer-that's-why offense.

    Finally, after re-reading it recently, I would have to put Asimov's The End of Eternity on my personal top-10 list. An innovative twist on the time-travel genre, probably the best character development he ever did, and a genuinely moving ending make this my favorite Asimov. In the right hands, could be a killer movie; maybe somebody should option it and get Harlan Ellison to write the script while he's still kicking.

    And speaking of Ellison and movies, somebody should option the script he wrote for the never-made Costa-Gavras adaptation of Spinrad's Bug Jack Barron; it's supposed to be amazing. I actually have a paperback of BJB that says "soon to be a major motion picture from Costa-Gavras"…

  134. Jerry says:

    Just for variation, I'm going to suggest some lesser-known. older authors whose books I remember fondly. May be out of print but these days you can generally find anything if you look long enough.

    1. Edward Llewellyn. A post-apocalytic series of about 6 novels. Llewellyn wrote them "backwards": The first, and the best though all are good, was The Douglas Convolution, which starts with time travel a hundred or so years into the future, revealing a very odd world. The remains novels go back a step at a time revealing just how things ended up the way they did. They should be read in the order they were written. Llewellyn was a biochemist who I believe started writing when he retired, so the science is very realistic.

    2. George Turner. An Australian writer. His best is Brain Child. Most SF these days is based on a relatively small number of basic plots; the joy is in the way the mainly familiar stories are told. Turner's work is … different.

    3. Fred Hoyle. (Yes, the astronomer.) October The First Is Too Late is probably his best. The Black Cloud isn't quite as well written, but is a great story. Other books are also good. But beware: He let his son use his name on a series of books by "Fred and Geoffrey Hoyle". They're terrible.

    4. Charles Sheffield. Also a physicist; his work is perhaps better known. Cold As Earth/Dark as Day (two books) are excellent, as are Sight of Proteus/Proteus Unbound.

    5. An oddball: Green Eyes but Lucius Shepard. A unique take on the zombie novel. I have this as one of a series of "New Science Fiction Specials" edited by Terry Carr in the mid-80's. I don't recall ever seeing anything else he wrote.

    6. Tim Powers. The Anubis Gates and Dinner At Deviant's Palace are both wonderful, unusual takes on time travel in the case of the first and a post-apocalytpic world in the second. I was never able to get through another of his books, The Stress of Her Regard (I think). I believe he writes pure fantasy these days.

    7. Parke Godwin and Marvin Kaye wrote two books of what was clearly intended to be a post-apocalytic trilogy: Masters of Solitude and Wintermind. Unfortunately, they never wrote the third. (Both authors are still active separately. You'll see references to a book called A Cold Blue Light as the third part of the trilogy, but they are mistaken.) I've always wished they'd finished the trilogy, but the first book is excellent and the second is good.

    Carl Sagan's only book, Contact, is actually quite good. The movie is good but misses some of the main points of the book.

    Moving on to better-known authors: I'm surprised to see no mention of Stephen Baxter. He can get long-winded, but for classic wonder and scale, you can't beat Ring. I've always been partial to Zelazny's less-known To Die in Italbar. It would make a wonder movie. David Brin seems to do better with his one-offs: The Postman, Kiln People; the recent Existence if full of surprises and well worth the read. And going the the other extreme of age, Hannu Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief (there's a very recent follow-up I haven't read yet) is great fun.

    OK, I have to stop somewhere, so it'll be here.

    — Jerry

  135. A. Nagy says:

    @Timothy

    Speaking of good bad guys Manpower is one of my favorite villains for being so not villains while being quite evil.

    Hopefully you have checked out some of his other books.
    Excalibur Alternative
    In Fury Born
    Dahak

    Are probably my favorites from what remains.

    Check out Jack Campbell as well, pretty much everyone I know who likes the Honorverse also likes Lost Fleet.

  136. James Pollock says:

    Not mentioned yet:

    Gateway
    Flowers for Algernon
    The Space Merchants

    And anything John Wood Campbell wrote. He is, of course, best known as editor, but he could write, as well. Start with "Who Goes There?", and then read anything of his you can find.

  137. John Finn says:

    A third vote for starting at Summer Knight for the Dresden series.

  138. Adrienne says:

    This list just explains SO MUCH about Clark, I cannot even express it properly.

    Additionally, I'm spectacularly irritated by the statement that The Mote In God's Eye is "the single best First Contact story ever written". Without even trying hard I can name at least five better ones: Grass, Hellspark, The Sparrow, Embassytown, The Color of Distance. (Of course, four of the five of those are written by women — a class of authors which is utterly (and unsurprisingly) missing from this list of Clark's.) Oh! Also the Xenogenesis trilogy and Ring of Swords.

  139. Adrienne says:

    On an entirely different note: @Jerry — as a fellow fan of the criminally under-known books by Kaye & Godwin, I am pleased to be able to tell you the third book of the trilogy is titled Singer Among the Nightingales, and Mr. Kaye reported at about this time last year that it had been finished despite Mr. Godwin's untimely death. I believe it's still hunting a publisher.

  140. Careless says:

    Without even trying hard I can name at least five better ones: Grass, Hellspark, The Sparrow, Embassytown, The Color of Distance. (Of course, four of the five of those are written by women — a class of authors which is utterly (and unsurprisingly) missing from this list of Clark's.) Oh! Also the Xenogenesis trilogy and Ring of Swords.

    So aside from Xenogenesis (which isn't close to as good as Mote, IMO), I hadn't read any of those. Looking them up, three of them aren't in any library in northern Illinois (an area of ~9 million people).

    Then there's The Sparrow, a book that sounds like reading it would make me very angry with the person who recommended it and the author.

    Grass, which I will read next week, and the Mieville one, which I might get around to in a couple of months, round out the list.

    That does not sound like a murderer's row stomping all over TMIGE

  141. Careless says:

    Huh, I had no idea that Octavia Butler died the day before I got married.

  142. James Pollock says:

    That does not sound like a murderer's row stomping all over TMIGE

    There's an argument to be made that "Mimzy were the Borogoves" is a better first-contact story than TMIGE. What makes TMIGE so good is that the aliens have a coherent, fully-realized psychology that is different from ours, because it arose from different physiological bases, but it still makes sense. However, it suffers from flaws, including a deus ex machina ending. Moties, Pak protectors, and Jedi all have the same "intuitive and immediate understanding of machinery" that strains the suspension of disbelief, as well.

    I'd also throw "The Gods Themselves" into the ring for "best first-contact novel". Like TMIGE, it offers fully-realized aliens who have different psychology that still makes sense.

  143. Eli Rabett says:

    One offs in SF are always better than series, at least the later books in the series, because maintaining consistency becomes too difficult. Dune was great, Dune Something or Other just weird. The last three Brin books in the Uplift series really suffered from this. Just could not hold it together.

  144. JTM says:

    Here are some that I've enjoyed recently, that haven't been mentioned yet:

    Engraved on the Eye, by Saladin Ahmed. A short story collection, mix of fantasy and sci-fi.

    Tales from the White Hart, by Arthur C. Clarke, and Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, by Spider Robinson. Short story collections about sciencey guys sitting in bars telling yarns about sciencey stuff. Spider Robinson has several sequels that are on my "read someday" list.

    Deathworld, by Harry Harrison. Also, all of the Stainless Steel Rat stories.

    Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series. The Warrior's Apprentice is a good place to start, since it's the introduction of the main character of the series (although it's not first in the series chronologically, which is Falling Free). There have been a whole lot of omnibus editions that make it somewhat difficult to know what to read next. Check the author's guide at http://www.dendarii.com/reading_order.html. She has the reader start with some of the prologue books, though, which I think should probably come after you've gotten to know the series a bit.

    Old Man's War, by John Scalzi.

    The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury.

    For fantasy, Lois McMaster Bujold's Chalion series and Sharing Knife series were both very good. Also Robin Hobb's Farseer trilogy, Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel books, Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastard series, Alex Bledsoe's Eddie LaCrosse books, Joe Abercrombie's First Law series, and just about anything by Neil Gaiman.

    Next up in my queue is the Xenogenesis series by Octavia Butler, but I haven't read enough of it yet to have an opinion.

  145. If you can find a copy, The Phoenix Legacy trilogy (Sword of the Lamb, Shadow of the Swan, House of the Wolf) is exceptional.

  146. JTM says:

    @Harry Johnston

    Looks like the author is self-publishing the Phoenix Legacy series as ebooks through Amazon. Pretty cheap too, first one is $.99.

  147. Jerry says:

    @Adrienne: Thanks for the news about Singer Among the Nightingales – though when I searched around for information about it, I learned of Parke Godwin's sad illness. The book doesn't appear to have been published yet.

    Godwin also wrote an unusual short story that's stuck with me for man years: The Fire, When It Comes. It's a ghost story – told from the side of the ghost. (I read it in some "Best of" collection, but I've now learned that it's also the title story of a collection of Godwin's short work. Have to go pick it up – used, long out of print.)

    — Jerry

  148. Adrienne says:

    @Jerry: No, it has not been published yet. I just went checking and the most recent news online still seems to be that it's finished and hunting a publisher. I'll ask around — I have a couple of second-degree-of-separation connections to Mr. Kaye — and see if I can find out anything more concrete.

  149. Jack says:

    Out of curiosity, is Vonnegut left off everyone's list and recommendations because A) He just didn't quite make your cut, or B) You don't consider him an SF writer?

  150. Vorkon says:

    OK, Butcher lovers: if I (a) hated the first Harry Dresden novel, (b) want to give Butcher another chance, what should I read? Note: I do not have the patience to read 6 more novels to "properly set up" #8.

    I'm going to vote against all the people saying to start at book 4 and tell you to start at book 3.

    True, it's not quite as good as book 4, but it's still significantly better than the first two books, and more importantly it introduces basically all of the most important characters and conflicts that the next 10 or so books revolve around. Even though Butcher does do a very good job of making each book a standalone story, I think book 3 in particular is important enough that I would have enjoyed the subsequent novels somewhat less if I hadn't read it.

    I think everyone will agree that book 2 can safely be skipped, however. I don't think it's WORSE than the first one, but it's still pretty lackluster.

    The thing to remember about the Dresden Files is that virtually EVERY book in the series is better than the last. Because of that, you'll see a lot of disagreement as to when they start "getting good." When someone says it really picks up in books 6-7, they mean that's about the point in the series where it starts getting into "HOLY SHIT THIS IS THE BEST FUCKING THING EVER" territory, and it just keeps getting better and better, up to and including the latest one. I can't think of many other series that run so long that manage to keep up that same level of quality the whole way through. But by books 3-4 it's starting to come into its own, and most people would agree it's still pretty good.

    All the people suggesting you start with the Codex Alera series are on the right track, though. I wouldn't exactly describe it as Butcher at the top of his game, (Dresden books 12-14 are Butcher at the top of his game, and I'm not convinced he's even quite reached the top yet) but it doesn't have the awkward start that the Dresden Files did, and if you're into epic fantasy you'll definitely enjoy it.

  151. JTM says:

    I rather doubt that Clark would enjoy any of the Dresden Files books, since he seems to prefer his books to be "original or interesting" or to have deep thoughts, and that's not what Jim Butcher is about. I love the Dresden Files, but they're character-driven Urban Fantasy fluff.

    Even Butcher's Codex Alera series hits just about all of the fantasy stereotypes. It's darn good fun, but not particularly thought provoking.

    I'd recommend both series to a lot of people, but it seems to me that Clark looks for different things in his books.

  152. Xennady says:

    I'd like to recommend the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka. They're in the same genre as the Dresden Files, but they've got a harder edge and I think they're better written.

    Also- "Turing Evolved", by David Kitson. The Black Company series by Glen Cook, along with his Garrett novels. I'm also a fan of the Vorkosigan novels by Bujold. Charles Stross is another fine author, and I especially "Saturn's Children" and "Neptune's Brood."

  153. Xennady says:

    Ugh. I especially like "Saturn's Children" and Neptune's Brood."

    Why can't the Popes of Popehat give me an edit button, to save me from myself?

  154. A. Nagy says:

    @JTM

    I agree, I think the later parts of the series start to do a few more interesting things but as a whole extremely well written generic stuff is his stick.

    While we are recommending similarish things to Dresden, read Worm by Wildbow.

  155. DEKH says:

    I find it strangely gratifying how many of the books and authors on this list are treasured favorites. Clark, as someone who finds your political beliefs to be abhorrent, it's nice to know that good taste is entirely separate from politics.

  156. Clark says:

    @DEKH

    I find it strangely gratifying how many of the books and authors on this list are treasured favorites. Clark, as someone who finds your political beliefs to be abhorrent, it's nice to know that good taste is entirely separate from politics.

    Probably 2/3 of my favorite authors are somewhere between corporatist-FDR-democrats and outright communists. Yes, art must be judged on its own merits.

  157. DEKH says:

    In terms of books I would add to the list:

    David Brin's Glory Season which has themes of feminism, parthenogenesis and social engineering. Probably one of the most original books I've read.

    Also by Brin, Kiln People, which deals with a world where consciousness, identity and disposable bodies have changed our morals in strange and unpleasant ways.

    The Night Sessions by Ken Macleod, because what's better than a world where religion has been outlawed and robots have achieved sentience?

    Karl Schroeder's Ventus, which combines nanotechnology and fantasy in a fascinating way.

  158. Clark says:

    @DEKH:

    David Brin's Glory Season which has themes of feminism, parthenogenesis and social engineering

    I liked Brin's earlier work, but (a) I've heard from multiple people that he's a massive dick in person, (b) those three things you list are pretty much my trifecta of "will not read".

  159. Ecurb says:

    Just skimmed the front page of Brin's blog. He calls me and my family insane mass-murdering Koch-brainwashed psychopaths at least ten times in his "Happy New Years" post alone.

    Not somebody I would read no matter how desperately I needed my fiction fix.

  160. cthulhu says:

    @Jack: Vonnegut strenuously resisted the label of SF writer, although he definitely fit into Harlan Ellison's definition of speculative fiction. I see no need for SF to claim him to gain literary bona fides, so I leave him alone on these kind of lists.

  161. WhangoTango says:

    What, you mention Williams but didn't recommend "Hardwired"? HW is the book that "Snow Crash" is parodying!

    As for "Zodiac": "Zodiac" is to the techno-thriller / "men's adventure" / Clancy-Bond-Coyle-Brown genre what "Snow Crash" is to cyberpunk. It's a satire, but it still attempts to work as an independent story.

    And it makes a little more sense when you do bring in some author-context: Stephenson, before he wrote Zodiac, had been a ghostwriter / guest-writer for actual techno-thrillers.

  162. physics geek says:

    I like your list. There was at least one entry that I had not only not read, but had not heard of. In my defense, the last dozen years or so have been busy raising 3 small children and my reading time has been curtailed. I will add that I'm glad to see Jack Vance represented here. Most people give me blank stares when I say "I am Chun the Unavoidable".

    They're quite dated now, but I would suggest that you read some E. E. "Doc" Smith, specifically the Skylark and Lensmen series. Space opera may or may not be your cup of tea, but I think that Smith did the genre better than almost anyone.

  163. Li says:

    "Snow Crash" is a fantastic book! I'm going to need to check out some of the rest of these rec'ed in the post and in comments.

    Off the top of my head, my favorite scifi books (or at least the ones I've read over and over) are Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, CS Friedman's "This Alien Shore", and Eric Flint's "Mother of Demons".

  164. Dicrostonyx says:

    I realise that I'm a bit late to this discussion, Clark, but I'd love your opinion on a couple of other authors/ series. I'm not suggesting that these are likely to be on your favourites or best of lists, just wondering if you'd read any and if so what you thought of them?

    1. L. Neil Smith.
    A series of libertarian SF novels from the 80's that won several Prometheus awards. The books themselves are not well written from a technical stand-point; all of the characters agree as to why libertarianism works and the only opponents use obvious straw-man arguments, but I remember the books as being fun yarns. Of course, the main reason that I remember these books is because I ran into them as an adolescent, so they were my earliest experience with blatant libertarianism in novels.

    2. James P. Hogan
    While not really libertarian, Hogan's books challenge the scientific orthodoxy, with increasingly pseudo-scientific bases for his novels as time goes by. His early stuff wasn't too different from other space opera of the time, but more recent books have explored Velikovski and variant interpretations of evolution. Some of his personal beliefs are pretty offensive (he seems to have been a denialist of both AIDS and the Holocaust), but in his fiction he presents this more as alternate theories to explore rather than as using his stories as a soapbox.

    3. (Bonus) Piers Anthony's Macroscope.
    Most of Anthony's fantasy can be safely ignored as empty and derivative, while most of his SF was clearly trying too hard to push the boundaries of sexuality without having anything new to say, but Macroscope actually has some really interesting ideas. Unfortunately, a lot of the early book is taken up with descriptions of a high-IQ society that fail to understand how highly intelligent people actually interact with each other, but once you get past that into the space opera stuff it's a wild ride with some fun ideas.