What every well-read Science-Fiction fan should read-maybe. (very long!)

A while ago, I was in a discussion with a friend and he asked what it took to be “really well read” in Science Fiction. I’ve been tinkering with this list for a while and, given Marvel’s excellent Ten Best SF Books Thread, I was inspired to post this.

I’m trying to focus on important books more than on my personal taste, and I’m really trying to steer away from Fantasy. I’m also limiting my “self-indulgent” choices. (There are lots and lots of books that I loved that aren’t on this list because they weren’t influential enough)

(Note, before the flames start: I’m not saying you have to read this stuff to be “well read”. I am saying that if you HAVE read this list, you are well read in Science Fiction. I’m sure there are a large number of possible parallel lists with little overlap.)
I’d like some comments, criticism, additions, subtractions, suggestions, etc.


Dante’s Inferno (World building)
Gulliver’s Travels-Swift
From the Earth To the Moon-Verne
20,000 Leagues under the Sea-Verne
The Invisible Man-Wells
The Time Machine-Wells
Island of Dr. Moreau-Wells
The Master Key-L.Frank Baum (Yeah, the guy who wrote the “Oz” books: This is a self-indulgent choice. A good early “Electricity will someday run the world” type book)
A Princess of Mars-Burroughs
Ralph 124C41±Gernsback (kinda self-indulgent choice. It’s a fun book, but I admit that Gernsback got the Hugo named after him for his editing, not his writing…but it’s sooo much fun. Also out of print :frowning: )
Either First Lensman OR Skylark of Space by “Doc” Smith (I prefer Skylark)
A Martian Odessey and Other Stories- Weinbaum
Before the Golden Age-Asmiov ed.

Campbell to the 50’s
The Past Through Tomorrow-Heinlein
I, Robot-Asimov
The SF Hall of Fame, Vol 1-Ben Bova (ed)
Adventures in Time and Space-Healy, McComas(?) ed
Dark Carnival-Bradbury (ha-ha. It’s a $600.00 book. Long out of print. It’s supposed to be reprinted, but until then, The October Country and R is for Rocket instead)
The Unknown-Stanley Schmidt ed. Reprints from Unknown Magazine

The '50s- Juvies and more
Citizen of the Galaxy-Heinlein (or Have Spacesuit, Will Travel: I’m torn. Citizen is probably better, but Have Spacesuit is so much more FUN. )
Puppet Masters-Heinlein
Tunnel in the Sky-Heinlein (A response to Lord of the Flies
The Demolished Man-Bester
Caves of Steel-Asimov
The Lovers-Farmer
They’d Rather Be Right- Clifton & Reilly. Sooo bad it has to be read to be believed
With These Ashes- Brown (Collects ALL his short stories. Failing that, Nightmares and Geezenstacks
Atlas Shrugged-Rand (because, regardless of what you thought of it, it influenced a LOT of people)
Gladiator-at-Law Pohl/Kornbluth
A Treasury of Great Science Fiction vol 1 and 2-Bester ed
Day of the Triffids-Wyndham
Robots Have No Tales-“Lewis Padgett”: Self-Indulgent choice, but the Gallagher stories are possibly the funniest SF from the '50s.
A collection of Sturgeon-maybe Caviar?-Sturgeon

The 60’s
Starship Troopers-Heinlein
Stranger in a Strange Land-Heinlein
Moon is a Harsh Misteress-Heinlein
Canticle for Leibowitz-Miller, Jr
Sirens of Titan-Vonnegut (maybe. I don’t like Vonnegut, I hated Cat’s Cradle but I had to choose something
Flowers for Algernon-Keys
Lordof Light-Zelazny
Pilgrimmage: The Book of the People-Henderson (Kinda self-indulgent, but I don’t care!)
A collection of Sheckley short stories-Coming soon from NESFA

The 70’s
The Dispossessed-LeGuin (far better than Left Hand of Darkness, IMO)
Dragonflight-McCaffery (important for how much it inspired-note that the story first appeared in '67)
Forever War-Haldeman
Mote In God’s Eye-Pournelle and Niven
Tales of Known Space-Niven
Neutron Star-Niven
Rendevous With Rama-Clarke (My favorite Clarke!)
Dangerous Visions-Ellison ed
Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon-(NOT a self-indulgent choice. The first story “The Guy With the Eyes” was a breakthrough story for Analog. It was a complete shift of the oldest SF magazine’s
Midnight at the Well of Souls-Chalker (My last self-indulgent choice. I loved this book.)

The 80’s
The Barbie Murders-Varley
Uplift War-Brin
Ender’s Game-Card
Neuromancer-Gibson (Yuk: I don’t care for this, but it’s important to the genre)
True Names and other Dangers-Vinge (Waaay out of print and collectible, but important)
Mirrorshades-Sterling ed

The 90s and beyond
aargh…the collection of Xeelee short stories-Baxter
A Fire Upon the Deep-Vinge
To Say Nothing of the Dog-Willis
one of Bujold’s Miles books…dunno which. Mirror Dance, maybe?-Bujold

I’ve missed a ton of the “New Wave” writers of the late-'60s, early '70s because…well…I don’t like New Wave stuff much. Still, there should be a Brunner (Stand on Zanzibar?), a Dick (not Man in the High Castle, dunno what). There also needs to be a collection of Ellison, but one collection that stands out. They’re all pretty good.

Please feel free to add to, subtract from and debate this list, but
#1) No more than 5 self-indulgent choices
#2) Enjoying the book is far less important for this list than the book’s importance to the genre, (which is why there’s so much less modern stuff in my list. There hasn’t been time for them to influence stuff yet.)

I’ve also got too much Heinlein in the '50s, but I don’t know what to cut. Maybe Tunnel?

Anyway, I’d appreciate comments/help.


well Fenris the thing that leaps out at me from that list is that I’ve read a whole lot more of them than I’d have expected (not being a fan of the genre) - as in the HG Wells stuff, Flowers for Algernon, Ayn Rand, Verne, Shelly, Swift, Vonnegut etc. and I certainly wouldn’t consider myself well read sci/fi.

(another hijack, I may need your expertise in this genre since SO is such a fan - he especially has appreciated a series by ?? about an alternate history of earth from WWII with some lizard type creatures interferring with WWII??? anyhow we now return you to your thread, already in progress)

Actually, that’s useful to know. (And at some point, I may post this list somewhere. I really think it’d be useful when someone says “So why do you like SF anyway?”)


Harry Turtledove, the World Warseries. There’re ummm…4 (5?) books in the original set.

The basic upshot is: What if aliens, with tech just above what we have now (but very limited resources) invaded in the middle of World War 2. It was a good series with (IMHO) a very weak ending. Another book or so has been added.

Anyway, you didn’t say what you needed my expertise for, but you know I’m always happy to help you ;). Either post, or e-mail me.


thanks! (it wouldn’t be of interest to the full board) I’ll get w/mags and get yr. addy. :slight_smile:

(and glad I helped even in a nonhelpful way)

First - great list. I’ve read and agree with a great many of your choices. The two notable changes I would make to my own list are to replace “The Dispossessed” with “The Left Hand of Darkness”, and “The Uplift War” with “Startide Rising”. Probably just a matter of personal preference or state of mind when I read them.

Nice to see someone else has read Cordwainer Smith, although I prefer his short stories to “Norstrillia”. If short stories are permitted, I might replace that novel with “Scanners Live in Vain” or “Alpha-Ralpha Boulevard”. I don’t know about their individual importance to the field, but collectively they must have had a pretty strong influence on the writers and aspiring writers who read them.

I question the inclusion of “Princess of Mars”, but only because I wouldn’t consider it science fiction. Same with “Dark Carnival”, dearly as I loved it. They seem much more fantasy.

I would add “The Martian Chronicles”, and I’m sure there are others, but they just turned off the a/c at work, so I have to run.

err…how about Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? My vote would be for Clans of the Alphane Moon, but you’re probably going to insist on one that people actually read…

For Brunner, how about Shockwave Rider, instead of Stands…? Shockwave Rider is a little more approachable, as I recall.

You don’t mention Sherry Tepper or Connie Willis - too new?

Not a bad list…

I think War of the Worlds should also be up there, though – it’s the classic alien-invasion story. Also, Brave New World and/or Nineteen Eighty-four, and maybe R.U.R. And as far as Dick goes, how about Ubik? (That’s the one we were assigned in my SF survey course.)

I’d love to include We, also (predates both BNW and 1984) – maybe as a self-indulgent choice. :smiley:

Fenris, thanks for doing this. I’ve only read about a quarter of these – having a list to work from will help.

You mentioned a Dark Carnival reprint. It should be out this fall, from Gauntlet Press, and I think the price is a paltry $125. There will be five additional stories that have been reprinted but infrequently. And the book will include the original Weird Tales cover art.

They’re taking orders at http://www.gauntletpress.com.

lucie: I included A Princess of Mars because I’d consider it a “Scientific Romance”. It’s just [sub]barely[/sub] SF, but it’s influential enough that I felt I’d have to.

You’re right on Dark Carnival and I think I’ll take your suggestion and swap it for The Martian Chronicles. I’m also gonna add The Illustrated Man: “The Veldt”, “Kalidoscope”, he’s got some great SF there.
bashere: Got Connie Willis: check the end of the list: To Say Nothing of the Dog is listed. Tepper, I dunno…I don’t I don’t know that her stuff (the bizarre, wonderful Marianne series would be my first choice) is important/influential enough yet (I haven’t read much of her more modern stuff yet).

Urk. I can’t believe I forgot War of the Worlds (maybe lose Invisible Man or Dr. Moreau?), 1984, and (maybe)R.U.R… Consider them added. (Brave New World, though? I dunno. It’s important, but…is it as important as 1984?)

If we include We by …um Zmumble, then I want to add Anthem by Rand. It’s an interesting take on the same concept.

Auntie Pam: I believe you’ve mentioned this before, and again: THANKS!! :slight_smile: I can’t wait for Gauntlet to reprint this.

When the thread seems to die, I’ll repost the final version of the list. As can be seen above, I missed at least a few crucial ones!


Great list, Fenris. I’d add the following:

Dark Matter ed. by Sherri R. Thomas ( a collection of speculative fiction)
ANYTHING by Octavia E. Butler
Eyes of Amber, Psion, The Snow Queen and other books by Joan D. Vinge
Jaran, His Conquering Sword, An Earthly Crown, and The Law of Becoming by Kate Elliott
Welcome Chaos and other sci fi novels by Kate Wilhelm

This is all I can think of for now.

[nitpick] Flowers For Algernon - Daniel Keyes will be easier to search [/nitpick]

Also, anyone who mentions Science Fiction Hall of Fame I and IIA/B in either thread knows the score.

Wonderful! Wonderful! So many of my favorites!

Swift, Verne, Ellison! And I thought I was the only person around who considered A Canticle for Liebowitz a must-read.

I might include something by Crichton, possibly The Andromeda Strain.

I just wanted to second Fenris on this - simply put, it’s the best SF complilation I’ve ever read. It’s also way out of print, but there are used copies out there. Go buy one.

BTW, Fenris, why recommend The Demolished Man, but not The Stars My Destination? Huh? Whyfor you do this? :confused:

I read quite a bit of SF, but I still don’t consider myself well read. Your list pretty much proves it to me.

I will suggest some others though:

First, I fully understand 1984’s importance to the genre, but the first 100 pages were like wading through concrete. I liked Animal Farm much better.

Red, Green, and Blue Mars (three different books) by Kim Stanley Robinson. The first was a Hugo award winner in 1995 IIRC.

Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Don’t tell me this book didn’t change the entire way mainstream SF could be written [sub]What? Jack Vance? shut up! No one asked for your opinion[/sub]

Further along those lines, I haven’t read any of these, but what about the Discworld series by Pratchett?

Also, Dr. Schmidt has been writing since the '50s? Weird. I just know his work in Analog.

As far as short stories go, here are three I like that haven’t been mentioned:

I have no mouth and I must scream and “Repent Harlequin!” said the Tick-Tock Man by Harlan Ellison.
Bicentennial Man by Asimov

And speaking of Asimov, did you know that he wrote over 400 novels in his career? That’s a novel every month and a half for FOUR DECADES! Some of these were technical and scientific novels that actually required, you know, research. This man pretty much bitch slapped Stephen King right across the typewriter.

When I saw the first list of books - broken down by decade, no less - I could only say “Holy Sh*t.” Impressive, Man! You should teach a college course on this genre! And thanks for digging my Top Ten SF thread - I’m amazed at how many people posted less than 24 hours after I asked for help!

Humbly Yours,

Hmmm, maybe I’m nitpicking, but wasn’t the first Dangerous Vision published in the 60s ?

Nothing by Clarke?

Oh, I see you’ve got Rama. Excellent choice. I’d like to throw in The Fountains of Paradise and * Childhood’s End*.

How about:

The Naked Sun - Asimov
Ringworld - Niven
The Chronicles of Amber - Zelazny
The Book of the New Sun - Wolfe
Lord Valentine’s Castle - Silverberg

I think that Brave New World is becoming increasingly relevant in today’s GM world.

Okay, someone did pick Red, Green and Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. Some of my favorite sci-fi books ever.

How about Necromancer by William Gibson

Excellent book, the first of many good books by him. When it came out there was a hubbub of talk about it.

Couple I’d add…

Somebody suggested Jack Vance deserves a look in, so let’s have, as a good example, the Planet of Adventure series (consisting of City of the Chasch, the unfortunately named Servants of the Wankh, The Dirdir and The Pnume. But I have the omnibus one-volume edition, so it’s one book. So there.)

And I’d add my personal favourite hard SF novel, Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero.

From the 1930s, I will continue to plug Olaf Stapledon (Star Maker,Last and First Men).

I liked Gibson’s Neuromancer, but I’ll add one from the opposite end of early cyberpunk: Rudy Rucker’s Software. Very strange, very enjoyable.

(Oh, BTW, “Zmumble”, author of We = Evgeny Zamyatin.)

I think Stephenson should be on there somewhere. Since we’re talking influence, Snow Crash is superceded by Neuromancer, (Cyberpunk be fairly well mined out by that time) but The Diamond Age is the best approach to Nanotech I’ve seen so far.

If you’re going to have Bujold, you ought to have Weber as well. I nominate On Basilisk Station.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, by Jack Finney, is one of the archetypical sf stories.

Lovecraft was an important figure in the early days of sf, when it was often hard to distinguish between horror and science fiction. At the Mountains of Madness is, I believe, on of the earliest sf stories to rely on real, or “hard”, science.

A.L. Meritt was another important early writer. The Moon Pool is a pretty good Burroughs-esque story.

L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is one of the books that brought me, and a lot of other people, to sf. It ought to be included.

Hmm, can’t think up any more right now. Excellent list. Glad to not be the only sf fan who doesn’t like Vonnegut.