What should be my first science fiction novel?

At least, I think it would be my first. Background: I’ve done a good bit of reading in my time, but science fiction has never called to me, at least in book form. Favorite (non sci-fi) authors include John Irving, Mark Helprin, Cormac McCarthy, and Don Delillo; some favorite books include “A Confederacy of Dunces” and “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay”, and “A Prayer for Owen Meany”.

Moving now to sci-fi TV and movies…I liked Battlestar Galactica quite a bit, never saw a full episode of Star Trek, never saw Dr. Who or Firefly. The original 3 Star Wars were OK, the others, meh. I love the original Twilight Zone episodes (not considered strictly sci-fi, probably). I like Aliens, Avatar was all right, 2001 not so much.

Two recent movies I loved: “District 9” and “Moon”.

So…I know who the major science fiction authors are, but I don’t know which should be my first, or which particular book.

Help a brother out?

The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein, is a good place to start. The dean of the genre at the height of his powers.

While you’re waiting for people to respond in this thread, you could take a look at these old threads:

Recommend a sci-fi book for someone who has never read science-fiction
Ten S-F Books for Complete Beginners…
What is the quintessential science fiction novel?

Guessing from your OP,

Stranger in a Strange Land
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Seconding Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Not only is it a good book, well reflective of what’s best in sci-fi, but it is a good opening into the Heinlein-verse. Poke around there but save Time Enough for Love until you’ve got a few under your belt. You also can’t go wrong tangenting to Stranger in a Strange Land.

Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination. Better characterization the Heinlein, better writing in general, more fascinating society, no political digressions, classic plot.

Bester’s The Demolished Man is almost as good. Since Bester was ahead of his time, they hold up very well.

This is an excellent list:

What are the classics of science fiction? Who gets to decide? Do the fans know best, or the critics?

I decided to use the wisdom of crowds. I gathered polls where fans voted for their all-time favorite books, found critics who wrote books on science fiction and included lists of their critical favorites, discovered books by science fiction writers recommending books that influenced their writing, added lists of award winners, and even made a list of which science fiction books have been made into movies, and put them all in a database. I ended up with 28 lists. From there I generated a new list, using any book being on at least seven of the original lists, and I called the results, The Classics of Science Fiction.

One of my personal favorites is The Forever War by Haldeman.

The first sci-fi book I ever read, I think, was Ender’s Game. I don’t know if that’s a great starting point, but I really enjoyed the book way back when.

The best sci-fi book that immediately comes to mind is probably Dune. That has some themes that might kinda sorta correlate well with District 9.

Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut, but I’m betting you’re going to come back saying, “Ok, what should be my second science fiction novel?”

I’ll recommend a couple of Roger Zelazny books: Lord of Light and This Immortal (aka …and Call Me Conrad).

They both won the Hugo award for best novel of the year. Lord of Light is rich and deep, while Immortal is a charming trifle. Zelazny was one of SF’s better prose guy and more philosophically sophisticated than myself.

Meaning, I loved it so much I want more?

Or it was so bad I couldn’t get through it?

I think they were betting you’d already read it, and hadn’t thought of it as science fiction at the time.

Oh, hell no.

Stranger is an awful place to start, for anything. Start with The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress or Rendevous With Rama.

Exactly right. A lot of people think of science fiction as pulp without much literary merit. Slaughterhouse-Five has serious literary cred though, and consequently, it’s often not perceived as science fiction.

You realize you’re agreeing with me, right?

I’d also disagree. Stranger in a Strange Land is good if you’re really into Heinlein at his most Heinleinesque - but it’s no book to use as an introduction to the SF genre. I’m not sure I’d even recommend The Moon is a Harsh Mistress for that. If I were picking a Heinlein book as an introduction to science fiction, I’d go with Double Star.

I haven’t read The Voyage of the Space Beagle so I can’t comment there.

But it’s time for us SF fans to admit the uncomfortable truth: Isaac Asimov was a hack. Which doesn’t make his stuff worthless - if you like SF you can read his work and love it despite the hackiness. But there’s no way he should be used to introduce anyone to science fiction.

It was bound to happen sooner or later.
I blame Goibniu.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.

Great, amazing book. I would compare it to “District 9” in that it raises both practical and philosophical questions about what might happen when humans encounter intelligent aliens, for realsies. the plots are not similar though.

Personally, I actually don’t think most of the “classics” are very approachable if you’re over the age of 13 and have never read SF before. I would recommend against Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, etc.

Since you have 2 of my all time favorites listed right there, I’m guessing we might just share similar tastes. With that in mind, I’m going to recommend Ray Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles”. I predict you won’t be disappointed.

Based on the OP’s choices, I wouldn’t suggest anything along the lines of the Asimovs, Heinleins, or the like. He’s listing literary novels and Asimov, to use him as an example, was not literary.