Great Sci Fi for People Who Think They Don't Like Sci Fi

Funny, how I used to love science fiction as a kid. But something happened at about age 15 -- maybe it was the demands of school, or maybe it was the fact that I came of age in the late '60s, when every day was so "out there" that life became stranger than fiction. In any case, from one week to the next I stopped reading sci fi. I began to think about my defection recently, when I noticed long, long lines of passionate sf fans at book festivals. What happened to that early love of mine? And what did I love exactly? Here are my five favorites. Sci fi classics for sure. But people don't always count them as part of the genre. What are your top 5? What have I been missing? Come on, give me the lashing I deserve.

Labyrinths, by Jorge Luis Borges.
This is a collection of stories, among them the unforgettable "The Garden of Forking Paths" and "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius." They're short, extraordinarily hard and you may have to read them more than once before the light dawns, but they're the most brilliant stars in the sf constellation. Why didn't they give this man a Nobel Prize?

Fiasco, by Stanislaw Lem.
Okay, okay. So it was published when I was already in my thirties. I read it because I had to; I worked for the publisher. But how can you beat a story that begins, "Nice landing" . . . and ends, "as the towering spiderweb and the antennas, breaking, fell upon him in flames, he realized he had seen the Quintans." Priceless.

The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells.
It sat on shelves for 40 years before Orson Welles read it aloud on the radio and sent his listeners into a very real panic. Man, I wish someone would try it again. Hello, Garrison Keillor?

1984, by George Orwell.
Don't yawn. I know you were forced to read it in school. But take it out, dust it off, read it again, without Miss Boyle towering over you. It will make your skin crawl. Especially now, in 2007.

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley.
Unlike Orwell, Huxley set his book in a year none of his contemporaries would ever see: 2540. But what foresight! Everything he described has come to pass: the reproductive technology, the biological fiddling, the sleep experiments! And all of it is here, 500 years before he imagined it possible. For this alone, it's worth revisiting.

-- Marie Arana

By Christian Pelusi |  December 13, 2007; 11:16 AM ET Fiction , Marie Arana
Previous: For a Happy Stomach | Next: Books That I Wanted to Throw Across the Room


Please email us to report offensive comments.

My take on science fiction for guys who don't like science fiction begins and ends with Philip K Dick- he had so much stuff in such disparate genre styles that it affected everyone who read it.

But usually I just tell people to rent Lost on DVD and then go to the library.

Posted by: DCer | December 13, 2007 4:55 PM

I like your take on Borges. It kind of makes sense now that I think about it. It is worth reading the Spanish if you can.

Posted by: That Guy | December 13, 2007 6:20 PM

Spot-on commentary on Orwell's 1984.

Posted by: SoxSweepAgain | December 13, 2007 6:40 PM

No Ray Bradbury? No Robert Silverberg? No Bruce Sterling? I can't even empathize with someone who doesn't like sci fi because it has been embedded in my soul. It also seems apparent that all of the above books are for serious readers. Since you asked:

The Stand - Stephen King
Dies the Fire - S.M. Stirling
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - P.K. Dick
Starship Troopers - Heinlein (campy, but a real guilty pleasure)
Burning Chrome - William Gibson

These are straight off the top of my head, and I already want to replace some of them. If you gave me a copy of one of the above and a choice between the book and tv, I'm in the comfy chair reading the book.

Posted by: redwolf | December 13, 2007 6:49 PM

Also, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. A must-read for anyone and everyone!

Posted by: Sarah | December 13, 2007 6:51 PM

I agree with DCer, but I would throw in some Heinlein and Asimov for balance.

Posted by: i8dbbq | December 13, 2007 6:53 PM

Orson Scott Card's


The bast way to get anyone into sci-fi or reading at all for that matter.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 13, 2007 6:53 PM

Ender's Game, perfect for any age and a wonderfull story. I read it for the first time at age 23 and although it was written for adolecent-teens Ender the main character is so endearing I would find it hard to believe that anyone wouldn't be captivated by the story.

Posted by: Eric (IA) | December 13, 2007 6:57 PM

Starship Troopers was a campy movie, but the book is a solid sci-fi read. I cut my sci-fi teeth on Heinlein, and recommend his work to everyone I know. After getting depressed by reading "1984" and "Brave New World", read "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" for tips on how to lead the revolution. And another vote for "Ender's Game". The entire series is good and the "Shadows" spin-off series is also good.

Posted by: DennisM | December 13, 2007 6:57 PM

Dune - Frank Herbert

A Sci-fi, Action, Adventure that touches on religion, politics, ecology, economics, philosophy, and psychology. It's got something for everybody.

Posted by: Someone | December 13, 2007 7:00 PM

Don't forget Larry Niven. :)

Posted by: Space Muncho | December 13, 2007 7:00 PM

I am suprised noone has mentioned the most thought provoking and amazingly vast story ever told in SciFi..

Dune (the entire series)

Absolutely amazing.

Posted by: Slerfer | December 13, 2007 7:00 PM

There are SOOOO many more authors and titles to choose from than this super limited set. In fact, few here I would recommend to a timid or first time reader, especially someone who thinks sci-fi is bunk. You have to connect, or rather the auther has to connect... and that's going to be very personality dependant.

Posted by: LoverofSciFi | December 13, 2007 7:01 PM

McKenny for pulp, along with a variety of stuff by Drake. Bradbury, SM Sterling, Niven, Heinlen, Azimov, and on and on.

Posted by: SciFiLover | December 13, 2007 7:02 PM

Anything by Vernor Vinge. Anything at all. But I especially recommend the "Across Realtime" collection and "A Fire Upon the Deep" along with its prequel, "A Deepness in the Sky."

Ditto for Larry Niven, though his comes with politics, especially when in company with Jerry Pournelle.

Posted by: Speaker-to-Animals | December 13, 2007 7:04 PM

After years of avoiding dragons and wormholes, I found "Red Mars", by Kim Stanley Robinson (first in a trilogy.)

A political saga about the terraforming of Mars, and the scientists and politicians who make it happen, the only fictitious part is history - the science is all real.

If the Martian landscape can be a meta-character, you could even call it a bildungsroman of its biosphere and the human populations who build it: a slow and painful maturation, punctuated by rage, just like a geological record.

Posted by: turingcub | December 13, 2007 7:05 PM

Many of my friends who hate Sci Fi love drama, and will admit they like the old Twilight Zone shows.

With this in mind, I highly suggest the Philip K. Dick Reader as a primer to fun Sci Fi. The stories are all short, beautifully written, the technical jargon is simple in a fun 50's way.

Posted by: What!? | December 13, 2007 7:06 PM

I agree with those who suggested enders game!

Any books by orson scott card for that matter, everyone I have read has changed the way I think. I never liked sci-fi until I read those.

Another author I would suggest is tadd williams. I am reading the "the dragon bone chair" series. amazing!

This coming from someone who never liked the genre before, now it is my favorite!

Posted by: orson | December 13, 2007 7:06 PM

I was at the Radiolab Live show at the Fitz in St. Paul, the same theatre that Prairie Home is produced. Anyways, it was on Holloween weekend and the theme was War of the Worlds. And you are slightly mistaken, it has been rebroadcast to fool people at least three other times. The time it happened in South America the public was so mad they burnt the studio down. Now thats science fiction everyone can get behind.

Posted by: Rafe Stanley | December 13, 2007 7:07 PM

Also, I highly recommend "Monkey Sonatas," a fabulous collection of short stories by Orson Scott Card. Although ostensibly science-fiction, they're really mythology -- they concern themselves with the immortal mythos of the human heart.

Posted by: Speaker-to-Animals | December 13, 2007 7:08 PM

Any book my James McDivett. I especially liked the Omega story. He is such an easy read. For something out there a way, try 1632 by Flint or the area 51 series by Doherty. Both have an interesting story line and take ScFi in a different direction. I never tried the reading the Labyrinths. I think I'll go to the library this weekend and check it out.

Posted by: richNJ | December 13, 2007 7:09 PM

Wow, as I read these comments, I feel like I'm at the world's finest buffet...I really don't know where to start! There are so many good sci-fi memories that I have of all these books.
The one I always recommend to the people who 'don't like sci-fi' is Neuromancer by William Gibson. Real enough to be science, fanciful enough to be fiction...but in these days, only just.

Posted by: Psychomancer | December 13, 2007 7:12 PM

I'm surprised Neuromancer by what's his name isn't up here somewhere, but even more than that, I'd have to recommend "the stars my destination" by Alfred Bester. Written in the fifties there's not one thing in it I would consider outdated and it is truly an amazing story. Transcends the genre, imho. Check it out, some of the later releases were retitled "tiger" or "tiger, tiger" I believe.

Posted by: christian | December 13, 2007 7:15 PM

No Ray Bradbury?

What about him?

Posted by: Bob Loblaw | December 13, 2007 7:17 PM

I'd say Ender's Game, as well. :)

Posted by: Samantha | December 13, 2007 7:18 PM

I gotta give a shout out to the Foundation series by Asimov, or at least the original trilogy. Those still have to be my favorites.

Posted by: Adam | December 13, 2007 7:21 PM

Try "The Best Of Cyril Kornbluth", which I loaned to a friend who "hates science fiction" so he could read "The Marching Morons" and "Two Dooms". He returned it after reading the book from cover to cover, and loved every story.

Posted by: Francois | December 13, 2007 7:23 PM

Some other "sci-fi" for non sci-fi readers:

Twain: "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" and "Three Thousand Years Among the Microbes" -- one of our first sci-fi writers
Heinlein's little known "I will fear no evil" -- murky and not Heinlein's best but presages medical advances to create immortality
Cormack McCarthy: "The Road" exquisite and agonizing tale of a father and son after Armageddon
Neil Stephenson: "Cryptonomicon" code breakers past and present and a great mystery
Norman Spinrad's "Child of fortune" --a classic wanderjahr novel of the future
Richard K Morgan's "Altered Carbon" -- a great sci-fi detective novel

That's a start

Posted by: MDM | December 13, 2007 7:24 PM

Star Dance by Spider and Jeanne Robinson.

Even my 60 year old mother loved it.

When worlds collide, The White Dragon, etc.

All great books that read well while not upsetting the sensibilities of non-sci-fi readers.


Posted by: Rick Macdougall | December 13, 2007 7:28 PM

Just about anything by Poul Anderson, Lois McMaster Bujold, Eric Flint, or A. Bertram Chandler will do quite nicely. I've hooked new vict... er... fellow fans with them.

Posted by: Geoffrey Kidd | December 13, 2007 7:29 PM

Orson Scott Card, Ray Bradbury and Philip K. Dick may be good science fiction authors, but they are NOT great sci-fi for people who think they don't like sci-fi. Anyone who is a devoted reader and dislikes the genre would be turned off by ... well... by the science fiction of these authors.

(Also, I've found it difficult to read Card after his disturbing diatribes against homosexuals: "Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society's regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.")

If I were to add a name to the list, it would be H.P. Lovecraft and risk criticism that I was entering the horror genre. His prose is simple mesmerizing.

(Perhaps I'm a hypocrite for lambasting Card while letting Lovecraft get away with racism. I'm tempted to use the excuse that Lovecraft wrote in a time when everyone in his society was racist, but that's a lousy excuse. His racism is pretty off-putting. I guess I'll just stick with the fact that he's a better writer than Card.)

Posted by: hmmm.... | December 13, 2007 7:32 PM

Science Fiction doesn't get any better than the Dune saga (at least the ones written by Frank Herbert). If you can wrap your mind around Herbert's semiotic fantasy, then you're a cut above most Americans intellectually.

Posted by: Chris in Lexington, KY | December 13, 2007 7:33 PM

Many of my favorites (such as Heinlein, Asimov, etc.) have already been mentioned. I'll add "Sand Kings" by George R R Martin.

Posted by: ben lormat | December 13, 2007 7:34 PM

I would have to recommend the Kushiel's Dart series by Jacqueline Carey. It's always listed in the Sci-fi section at the bookstore, but it's a hot series, if you know what I mean. Whoa!

Posted by: Shadowcaster | December 13, 2007 7:37 PM

HEY, this is great!
And you've all are making me think that I know more than I think I know. . . I really admire Ray Bradbury. And Asimov. And George RR Martin.
But the one name I might have put on my list (and, in fact, considered) was Lovecraft, so thank you to HMMMM . . .
So what do all you smart folks think: Should something like Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" be considered sci fi?

Posted by: Marie Arana | December 13, 2007 7:41 PM

Ender's game is a must read!

Posted by: j.s. | December 13, 2007 7:46 PM

We should not forget Clifford Simak and A.E.Van Vogt in any list of worthwhile sci-fi. My favourite is Simak's "City" which is a collection of loosely linked tales wryly portraying the sunset of humankind.

Posted by: Mori | December 13, 2007 7:47 PM


Actually the whole Ender's series by Orson Scott Card. They are the most imaginative books, impossible to put down.

Posted by: megan | December 13, 2007 7:50 PM

Great list. Love to see Borges and Lem get mentioned. Will say I'm not a fan of Orwell though. Let's swap 1984 for some Clockwork Orange.

Posted by: Matt | December 13, 2007 7:50 PM

A brave new world IMHO is rubbish.
Aldous Huxley was a pompous ass. He wrote like a 15 year old trying to impress his English teacher.
I think that 1984 is a far more provocative and insightful approach to similar material though with an entirely different spin.

Posted by: Meh | December 13, 2007 7:51 PM

A study done awhile back indicated that those who enjoy reading sci-fi tend to possess higher intelligent levels than the norm.

Obviously most politicians are not sci-fi readers.

Posted by: Obbop | December 13, 2007 7:53 PM

So far, a fairly tame list folks, and I have read most of it. My picks:

"Mind Parasites," by Colin Wilson. Difficult to find, probably, and No, you can't borrow my copy.

Jose Phillip Farmer, "River World" where Tom Mix meets Mark Twain. "World of Tiers" Pure pulp, but the author can make you believe anything.

"Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand for best vision of the future to come true, and it did. Ignore the philosophy, and just notice the similarities to our daily lives. "Who is John Galt?"

Jules Verne still amazes me, and treat yourself to his more obscure titles.

Kurt Vonnegut - - just take your pick.

Also the only thing worse than reading Dune, is watching the movie version.

GroK! Water Brothers!

Posted by: pedro | December 13, 2007 8:03 PM

Would Douglas Adams be considered sci-fi or fantasy or in a leauge of his own? Maybe that is why he hasn't been mentioned.

Posted by: microdot | December 13, 2007 8:06 PM

I love how she posted the ending sentence for book #2. Whether or not someone thinks the last sentence spoils anything, I STILL don't want to know.

Thanks a lot... any hint DOES NOT help me.

Posted by: N | December 13, 2007 8:12 PM

I agree with " hmmm...", most of these comments are about books that are hard-core sci-fi.

A better choice of sci-fi for the non-sci-fi reader is "Catacomb Years" by Michael Bishop. It reads like a novel while containing all the typical sci-fi elements.

Posted by: mark | December 13, 2007 8:13 PM

I'm surprised the Hyperion and Endymion books by Dan Simmons haven't been mentioned yet, really amazing.

And Robert Anton Wilson's Schrodinger's Cat Trilogy :)

Posted by: lowkey | December 13, 2007 8:14 PM

Larry Niven: Ringworld
- also great writer on flash crowds,
- the 'sinclair molecue'
- and Nivens axiom on Time Travel

Heinlein: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Featuring Mycroft Holmes.

Tau Zero by Poul Anderson

Hmm. None of these are great for non-sci fi lovers. Yet they're great Sci-Fi for Sci-Fi fans....

Posted by: John | December 13, 2007 8:16 PM

The Nights Dawn Trilogy, starting with the Reality Dysfunction, by Peter F. Hamilton. Incredible series, my first true sci-fi in adult life, 30+ life that is.

Posted by: Mike | December 13, 2007 8:18 PM

Stranger in a Strange Land should be number one on the list.

Posted by: VALENTINE MICHAEL SMITH | December 13, 2007 8:23 PM

Larry Niven wrote two books that are perfect for those who 'hate' science fiction. Not because they aren't about science: these books are great because they don't read like fiction.

Lucifer's Hammer is the story of a huge comet hitting the Earth, and how society does -- and doesn't -- manage to recover from this.

Footfall is a bit more science-fiction traditional, but it's such a great book that nobody minds. Earth prepares to greet an approaching space ship, but it attacks instead, knocking out key parts of military, energy & transportation infrastructure all over the Earth. Then, they demand our surrender, and get it.

The elephant-like beings quickly pacify (slaughter) most of the remaining resistance, and tell the world how their new lives are going to go. The remaining rebels, caught flat-footed by their governments' capitulation, join with elements of the military to design and execute a plan that will either force the invaders to surrender, or ensure Earth's immediate destruction by the aliens.

Both novels combine the elements of great SF with the feeling that this could happen tomorrow.

Posted by: Bob the Liberal | December 13, 2007 8:33 PM

The Lathe of Heaven
The Dispossessed
The Left Hand of Darkness

All by Ursula K. LeGuin, one of the most interesting American sf writers... very literary and well-written, yet not difficult reads. Each one of these is a stunningly beautiful book, and does what sf does best -- speculates what human beings are like in different types of societies.

Highly recommended even for non-sf people...

Posted by: nyc sf fan | December 13, 2007 8:37 PM

I'm a SF writer myself (short stuff, mostly), but I am also an avid reader. There are some real literary gems in the genre field (many of them 10x better than "real" literature).

You should read:

Anything by Gene Wolfe, including the "Solar Cycle" books.

Ursula K. Leguin's "Hainish" series

Jack Vance's "Dying Earth" series.

John Brunner's "Stand on Zanzibar" or "The Shockwave Rider"

William Gibson's "Sprawl" series

Anything by Neal Stephenson, including "Snow Crash" and the Baroque Cycle.

Posted by: Lane Haygood | December 13, 2007 8:46 PM

You're all nerds and virgins.

Posted by: Hern Berford | December 13, 2007 8:48 PM

Definitely Ender's Game, Neuromancer, and The Moon is A Harsh Mistress. Add to that list Bring The Jubilee by Ward Moore and Emergence by David R. Palmer.

Posted by: Igpay | December 13, 2007 9:04 PM

Pat Frank with Alas Babylon - Had to add it. Pull the women in with some of the Andre Norton series, always an edge of magic and romance. Asimov's Robot Detective series, not the muddled carp that was the movie I Robot. Alan Dean Foster's guilty pleasures of the Flinx & Pip novels... So many old friends, so little time to revisit.

Posted by: Bill - Sci-fi | December 13, 2007 9:05 PM

What a great thread for Sci-Fi fans. I whole-heartedly second the vote for Kushiel's Dart series by Jacqueline Carey. This series will leave you breathless. Great writing, complex plot and HOT STUFF!!

Posted by: selinariel | December 13, 2007 9:07 PM

Ian M. Banks is my current favorite. If you haven't read Consider Phlebas, make that one the next on your list. Excession and Look To Windward are also very good.

Posted by: Brian | December 13, 2007 9:16 PM

Neal Stephensons "Snow Crash" rocked me in 92'

Posted by: Bayou Boogie | December 13, 2007 9:31 PM

Heinleins's "Stranger In a Strange Land" is and will be a classic.

Of the current crop of writers, Jack McDevitt's "Ancient Shores" is a good start.

Posted by: Charles | December 13, 2007 9:33 PM

I have read about 80-90% of all the books mentioned above. My vote for best author, and must read goes to GENE WOLFE. His works are of the highest order of difficulty but reward you with the highest level of satisfaction. Multiple readings recommended (and often required!).

Posted by: jackcrow | December 13, 2007 9:34 PM

"The Mote in God's Eye" was wonderful, as was Pat Frank's "Alas, Babylon". An easy entry to the genre would be a good collection of short stories, like "Love Ain't Nothing but Sex Misspelled" by Harlan Ellison or "Red as Blood" by Tanith Lee. Brin's "Uplift" saga was very good, but a bit heavy for noobs to Sci-fi. McMaster-Bujold and McCaffrey are great story-tellers, too...blah blah blah.

I. Am. Geek.

Posted by: Scidog | December 13, 2007 9:34 PM

A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr. Haunting, haunting...

Murray Leinster, Clifford Simak, Frederic Brown, Asimov (Eyes Do More Than See), Clarke (The Nine Billion Names of God). Giants, all.

Posted by: Gil | December 13, 2007 9:40 PM

The name of Zelazny is unaccountably missing:

Doorways in the Sand
Lord of Light
The Amber series.....

Posted by: GFH | December 13, 2007 9:41 PM

You've gotta be kidding me. No one mentioned Stephen King's f***ing amazing series The Dark Tower. This book is for everyone, even if you hate Stephen King. It took him 30 years to complete the series and it's basically his magnum opus. You'll cry at least once per book, swear your life was changed by the end, and promise to your friends they'll never put it down after the first book.
The protagonist lets a 13 yr old boy fall down a ravine in the first book for crissake, who write's this?
King when he was 19 of course.
Sci-fi, western, horror, suspense, I'm not even doing it any justice. Want to be surprised? Pick it up.
~Long days and pleasant nights

Posted by: mordredmustdie | December 13, 2007 9:41 PM

+1 for Stranger In A Strange Land. Harlan Ellison's work is very much worth checking out.

Posted by: unlined4string | December 13, 2007 9:41 PM

Stop browsing for a second: The greatest science ficture book ever written was the classic: Arthur C Clarke's 'CHILDHOODS END'.

Followed closely by 'THE POWER' & 'THE DEMOLISHED MAN'. Strongly recommend to read these if you read nothing else.

Posted by: richard | December 13, 2007 9:42 PM

One of my favorite Ian M Banks was "The Player of Games"...I'm on my fourth copy.

Also, must admit to being in the "Dune" armada. Although I still just enjoy the first book, not really concerned with the others.

Plus, the "Childe Cycle" by Gordon R Dickson which ate up an entire summer for me.

Gotta stop now or carpal might set in. :)

Posted by: sklutch | December 13, 2007 9:46 PM

Some of Bradbury's most approachable SF short stories were published in The Saturday Evening Post in the 50's, often making it into their annual 'Best of' anthologies alongside work by William Faulkner, William Saroyan and Conrad Richter. Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide is a great place to start. Light humor, at times poignant and full of insight into human nature.

Posted by: Karl Ziellenbach | December 13, 2007 9:46 PM

In a list with "1984" and "Brave New World", you should include "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes.

I would also highly recommend Jeremy Robert Johnson's collection of short stories "Angel Dust Apocalypse"

Posted by: D | December 13, 2007 9:47 PM

Eric Flint - 1633 (a great starter)

John Ringo - A Hymn Before Battle (a bridge for those military thriller readers)

Max Brooks - World War Z (nifty Zombie novel - not exactly scifi but still entertaining) is a great place for free addicting books :-)

Posted by: Brian Hert | December 13, 2007 9:48 PM

The Dark Tower by King

You have forgotten the face of your father.

Posted by: QDaddy | December 13, 2007 10:03 PM

Chuck Palahniuk - Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey

Posted by: momo | December 13, 2007 10:07 PM

Wasp - Eric Frank Russell - a recipe for a one man societal take down.

A Mirror for observers - Edgar Pangborn - A battle for the soul of an ethical person

"Far Seer", "Fossil Hunter", "Foreigner" - Robert Sawyer --- A 'fun' romp... Intelligent Dinosaurs --- the hero 'discovers' the concept of evolution and struggles against the prevailing wisdom of Creationism (Can't imagine why I put this one in the mix)

Prince Ombra - Roderick MacLeish --- A novel about the nature of Evil

Posted by: Darkumbra | December 13, 2007 10:23 PM

To any list I'd have to add these:
Glory Road - Robert Heinlein
Armageddon 2419 - Philip Nolan
(aka) the seminal Buck Rogers story
The Toxic Spell Dump - Harry Turtledove
Star Man's Son - Andre Norton
all the I Robot series - Isaac Asimov

Posted by: Jim | December 13, 2007 10:29 PM

Red Planet
Have Spacesuit Will Travel
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
The Cat Who Walked Through Walls

Posted by: BB | December 13, 2007 10:30 PM

Went through about 85% of these comments before someone FINALLY mentioned A.C. Clarke. Just one of his books became a franchise (The Sentinel).

Childhoods End - great!

Wasn't it Clarke who first started the notion about those things called satellites? Geosynchronous orbits?

Sci-Fi home of the real futurists.

Posted by: Gildersleeve | December 13, 2007 10:37 PM

The Stainless Steel Rat series by Harry Harrison. A super criminal of the future who gets caught and has to work for the government. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever; The Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through by Stephen R. Donaldson. Donaldson's heroes are very flawed people who are put into fantastic situations. The World of Tiers by Philip Jose Farmer. Brilliant!

Posted by: RAF | December 13, 2007 10:56 PM

Early Vonnegut.

Nuff' said.

Posted by: Herself | December 13, 2007 11:01 PM

Not one person has mentioned "Gulliver's Travels." What's with that?
And, by the way, how about fantasy fiction?
Off to bed, where I'll consider more . . .

p.s. William Gibson!

Posted by: Marie Arana | December 13, 2007 11:01 PM

Lucifer's Hammer


Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle and their best:
"The Mote In Gods Eye"

Posted by: Wes | December 13, 2007 11:03 PM

I can't say they're Top Fives of all time, but the two books I've published in the last three years that your reviewers liked the most are both sci-fi: Jamestown, and Oh Pure & Radiant Heart.

Posted by: Richard Nash (Soft Skull) | December 13, 2007 11:15 PM

Nice list. Fiasco is the greatest sci-fi book I've read, but a bit "hard" even for fans of sci-fi, who tend to enjoy the soft stuff like Asimov, Clarke and King. I would've put Dick's VALIS on the list.

Posted by: Per | December 13, 2007 11:34 PM

Surprised to see Spider Robinson only once. Robinson was asked to finish one of Heinlein's unfinished manuscripts, for chrissakes. (Variable Star) "The Callahan Chronicles" was the first Spider Robinson book I read; I would certainly recommend it to any of my friends who want to start reading sci-fi, or don't know if they like it.

Ender's Game has also been vouched for many times; I'll second it because it leads to one of my favorite books, Speaker for the Dead. I've worn out my first copy of it--it's in worse shape than Stranger in a Strange Land: both have pages falling out because of how many times I've read them.

Posted by: Xaandria | December 13, 2007 11:36 PM

No mention yet of R.A. Lafferty. In the late '60s and '70s, many anthologies featured stories by both Borges and Lafferty, and it was always a tough call for me which to read first. Nine Hundred Grandmothers (if you can find a copy -- it's been out of print for decades) is a great place to start. For hard sf, David Brin's Uplift series belongs right up there with Asimov, Herbert, and Heinlein. And Tim Powers, Neil Gaiman, and James Morrow, while not always strictly science fiction, are some of the most imaginative and creative writers in any genre.

Posted by: fudd | December 13, 2007 11:42 PM

Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons are 2 of the most amazing books that I have ever read.

Posted by: me | December 13, 2007 11:46 PM

This is a topic we discuss quite often on the Read More Science Fiction podcast.

1)1984 (Orwell)
2)Foundation Series (Asimov)
3)Dune Series(Herbert)
4)Uplift War (Brin)
5)Anything by Larry Niven

The podcast can be found here:

Posted by: ReadMoreSciFi | December 14, 2007 12:00 AM

If you don't like Sci-Fi, skip Endor's Game, skip the Foundation series, skip the Dune series, and instead start with A Canticle for Leibowitz.

Posted by: Samuel | December 14, 2007 12:13 AM

I am surprised that no one has mentioned John Scalzi's OLD MAN'S WAR. I have passed that book around to a bunch of my friends who were "meh" on sci-fi and they loved it.

Posted by: WLD | December 14, 2007 12:15 AM

Two novels, often published in one volume, by Olaf Stapledon:
-- Last and First Men
-- Star Maker

Posted by: pyriphlegethon | December 14, 2007 12:45 AM

My first exposure to sci-fi was Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time." Just enough science to intrigue a 9-year old, and plenty of emphasis on relationships to make it appealing beyond the science.

Posted by: jake3_14 | December 14, 2007 12:45 AM

There have been some very good sci-fi books and authors listed here. It has been pointed out that some of it is more for the already hardcore sci-fi reader and thinker. I agree with that assessment.

The assignment here is not to tout the very best sci-fi authors. It is to interest the non sci-fi people. To tantalize them as if you getting them addicted to a candy like drug. Like any drug, you first give them something sweet to taste. Something that titillates their mental palate.

How about that great Space Opera author David Weber and his "Honor Harrington" series. He also co-wrote a series with John Ringo that is quite good called the "Empire of Man" series.

Keith Laumer and his "Bolo" series is very entertaining if repetitious after awhile. Eric Flint starting with "1632" and David Drake with his "Hammers Slammers", "Lt. Leary, Commanding", and of course, his very best "Redliners".

I could go on and on about Lois McMaster-Bujold and Elizabeth Moon (who actually will answer a fans email which is pretty cool).

These are the authors to help someone come to know and love true hard sci-fi. Fantasy sci-fi is a totally different thing entirely and there are definitely authors for that as well.

Posted by: Wysiwyg101 | December 14, 2007 12:54 AM

Read it, read it, need to re-read it , forgotten that I had read it, need to read it. Thank you; scanning the comments was a trip back through the literare of my youth. Let me just add Joe Haldeman's " The Forever War" and Robert Reed's " Down the Bright Way" to this list.

Posted by: Bryan | December 14, 2007 12:57 AM

Joe Haldeman's "The Forever War."

+5 for "Lucifer's Hammer."

+10 for anything by Jacqueline Carey, but really, she's not SF.

John Ringo rocks.

But for the - my opinion - be-all, end-all intro-to-SF book:

Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson. All his books are great, but Pattern Recognition redefines the playing field, and remains totally accessible to anyone. My wife reads pulp romance novels, and loved Pattern Recognition.

Posted by: Xeno | December 14, 2007 1:01 AM

Stranger in a Strange Land should be number one on the list.

Posted by: VALENTINE MICHAEL SMITH | December 13, 2007 08:23 PM

strongly agree

Posted by: David Lo Pan | December 14, 2007 1:07 AM

Some tough books. For people just getting into it, too tough, I think. For interesting space adventure, for young women and men, I recommend any of the several books each by Elizabeth Moon, Lois Mcmasters Bujold, or S.M.Sterling and for people with an offbeat sense of humor, Terry Prachett (Diskworld)

Posted by: mike1942f | December 14, 2007 1:14 AM

What a shame that no one seems to know about the sci-fi work of the most recent Nobel laureate for literature: Doris Lessing.
Her "space fiction" series, Canopus in Argos is one of the most brilliant works of any type of fiction in any time.
I grew up on Heinlein, Asimov, Herbert, et al. But when I was an adult I read Lessing ;-)

Posted by: G | December 14, 2007 1:16 AM

Necromancer is by William Gibson and the first sci-fi book I ever read. I also recommend Octavia E. Butler for women because so few women write sci-fi and it has a different feel

Posted by: Plushpuppy | December 14, 2007 1:42 AM

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift isn't sci-fi but a satire and criticism work of English Lit.

Posted by: Plushpuppy | December 14, 2007 1:46 AM

"Childhoods End"
Seriously, do it.

Posted by: Kate | December 14, 2007 2:00 AM

Ender's game is good, but there is better.

A.C. Clark "Childhood's End", "Rama"
Wells "The Time Machine"
Niven "Ringworld"

Posted by: mikey | December 14, 2007 2:04 AM

Ender's Game was terrible, poorly written, predictable, and worst of all, boring. The fact that so many people love it is tribute to two things. People have different taste than I do, and I have good taste. :) Thought I'd start folks fuming before I agreed with "G." Read Doris Lessing. That is good stuff. Also, read "Brave New World" alongside "Entertaining Ourselves to Death" by Neil Postman. Also, try Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" or "Oryx and Crake" for some dystopian delight. Also try M. L'Engle. Also try reading other genres. :)

Posted by: Batman | December 14, 2007 2:35 AM

Frederik Pohl, anybody?

Posted by: ttyymmnn | December 14, 2007 2:43 AM

I was gratified to see both Niven's Ringworld and Bradbury's totality exalted here but I must ask...

Nobody here thinks Douglas Adams brought Sci-Fi to the mainstream?

Seriously, you guys are so unhip it's a wonder your bums don't fall off!

Also it was really cool to see Zelasny mentioned, not so much the Amber series but Lord of Light and Creatures of Light and Darkness are HUGE.

...and you call yourselves nerds.... for shame!

Posted by: Zaphod | December 14, 2007 2:56 AM

"A brave new world IMHO is rubbish."
Posted by: Meh | December 13, 2007 07:51 PM"

Brave New World is rubbish.

Early teen readers are more probable than not to enjoy it, but Brave New World is not a well written book, and it's not fit for adults.

Posted by: senorglory | December 14, 2007 3:01 AM

Ahhhhh, my people. Sci Fi readers are such a good bunch. I went through the comments, and sure enough, every intelligent thing to say was said. Foundation Trilogy, Ender's Game, and everything Heinlein ever wrote including some shopping lists.

1984 and Brave New World are not something I would give anyone to read to understand Scifi. They are great books but their authors never really belonged to the genre. For the same reason I wouldn't include Player Piano (Kurt Vonnegut).

Posted by: Lazarus Long | December 14, 2007 3:35 AM

I'm really amazed that only one other person has mentioned Octavia E. Butler. Her writing has such an emotional, organic feel to it, you can't help but get sucked in.

I was started on the first book of what is now being sold as Lilith's Brood, and it was good. However, I might introduce someone to general SciFi with a collection of short stories called Bloodchild.

Also, for anyone who enjoys a good bit of silly in their reading, Spider Robinson has my vote. As you read more and more of his stuff, you realize it's the same story over and over again. Though, at first, it's a seriously fun thing.

Posted by: A.Terra | December 14, 2007 4:16 AM

Only one reference to Arthur C. Clarke? Rendesvous With Rama anyone? Anything by him is a good choice. Any Larry Niven "Known Space" titles including the Ringworld series.

Posted by: Speaker to Animals | December 14, 2007 6:15 AM

Try the Titan, Wizard, Demon trilogy by John Varley. It is amazing the with all of these fantastic books, Hollywood is re doing old SF movies again al la War of the Worlds, The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Posted by: Sirocco Jones | December 14, 2007 6:19 AM

Dig up a copy of Moderan by David Bunch, so good! Less obscure but also great are The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe and The Man in the High Castle by Philip Dick.

Posted by: W. Kiernan | December 14, 2007 6:57 AM

1. "Snow Crash" by Neil Stephenson
2. " Neuromancer " by William Gibson
3. Anything by Bruce Sterling, but especially his Shaper/Mechanist stories and his Leggy Starlitz stories ( THE great unsung literary character )
4. " The Left Hand of Darkness " by Ursula K. Leguin
5. Any hard-science epic by Niven, Bova, Benford or Bear--" Ringworld ", " Eon ", or "Timescape" or something in that vein.

I usually don't bother getting to know people who " don't like " science fiction.
These are people who " don't like " to use their brains,their hearts, or their souls.

Posted by: davekat | December 14, 2007 6:58 AM

I would recomend Heinlien's Stranger in a Strange Land (often hailed as Sci-Fi for those who don't like Sci-Fi) and Varley's Steel Beach.

What's the deal with the comment about Dean Foster books being a good read for women? I myself didn't care for the ones I read. Seems to me that some of the best utopian fictions are writen by men who assume that women share an equal intelligence.

Posted by: Dana | December 14, 2007 7:04 AM

Armor by John Steakley is a Sci-fi Great!

Posted by: Chris | December 14, 2007 7:30 AM

What about Leigh Brackett...."Reavers of Skaith" not to mention his work with "Star Wars"

Neill Stephenson does rock..."Diamond Age" is the absolute best... and I'm old school Asimov and Herbert fan.

Posted by: Rednektek | December 14, 2007 8:51 AM

Personally, I think the original list reads like a literary geek thinking he's into sci-fi. Too stuffy. That's the stuff that people read and say "I don't like sci-fi".

They need something fun and quick.
Douglas Adams is really the top for this. Forget the stupid American movie, the books are fantastic and really draw you in. Plus, it's silly enough that people don't try to wrap their heads around it.

Another book "Conquistador" by S.M. Stirling is good for non-sci-fi people because it doesn't have space ships and stuff. It's just an alternate gate story.

Neuromancer- Although one of my favorite books of all time, is tough for non-sci-fi people. It's just too out there.

One author I didn't see here is H.Beam Piper. Not the greatest writer, but his stuff is pure old-school sci-fi and are quick reads. "Space Viking", "Junkyard Planet (the cosmic computer)" and "Lord Kalven of Otherwhen" are all fantastic books that don't clobber you with sci-fi. They actually have characters, etc.

Oh- and Alistair Reynolds- "Revelation Space" series is the best.

Best sci-fi novel ever? My vote is for "Schismatrix" by Bruce Sterling.

Posted by: Rich Macialek | December 14, 2007 9:10 AM

My recommendations for folks new to and skeptical of science fiction would be Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age, Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, or Isaac Asimov's I Robot.

Posted by: John | December 14, 2007 9:20 AM

Check out Paul DiFilippo's Ribofunk, for a stimulating anthology collection with a near-future biotech flavor. I read it and loved it.

Posted by: Jay | December 14, 2007 9:20 AM


Posted by: Anonymous | December 14, 2007 9:20 AM

One of the great one two punches in science fiction is Starship Troopers. First read the book, then watch the 90s film. The book underpins so much of today's works it is amazing, at the cost of being inherently anti-democratic and pro-fascist. This fact was lost by many readers until the movie was released which takes great joy in pointing out the pure absurdity of the novel.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 14, 2007 9:23 AM

It has been said many times on the comments already. But it is so true. ENDER'S GAME

Posted by: Henry | December 14, 2007 9:30 AM

Iain M Banks
His Culture novels are sublime and the dyslexic Feesum Enjin is very clever yet readable.
Not to be confused with Iain Banks (same bloke) who writes awful pseudo literature.

Posted by: Whoever | December 14, 2007 9:31 AM

Sci Fi for people who think they do not like Sci Fi?

Almost anything by Jules Verne springs to mind ...

Posted by: Anonymous | December 14, 2007 9:33 AM

It has been said a couple times, but it must be repeated. Many of Kurt Vonnegut's works are pure Sci Fi, but when reading them you never feel like you are reading a Sci Fi.

Sirens of Titan- Takes place on Earth, Mars, Venus, Earth again, and ends on Saturn's moon Titan.

Slaughterhouse Five- arguably Kurt's most well know has a Time Traveling protagonist that spends a part of his life on an alien zoo.

Posted by: Brad | December 14, 2007 9:38 AM

i like the books where wookies ride unicorns

Posted by: s. | December 14, 2007 9:39 AM

I was one of the people who didn't think I liked SciFi...

What bridged it for me was a book by Roger Zelazny called Lord of Light.

For my wife, Gibson's Neuromancer did the trick.

Another really sneaky trick to get someone into SciFi is to have them start with short stories, which Bradbury is great for. The problem is patience with a fantasy plot, which for some reason many have difficulty with that suspension of disbelief. I think short stories help bridge that gap.

Posted by: Jay | December 14, 2007 9:45 AM

I have one word for you:


Posted by: Stephen Falken | December 14, 2007 9:45 AM

Dan Simmons - Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion

Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle - The Mote in God's Eye

Gene Wolfe - Shadow and Claw, Sword and Citadel

Posted by: Chris | December 14, 2007 9:47 AM

Earth Abides - George R. Stewart
Hitchhiker's Guide (Series) - Douglas Adams
Otherland (Series)- Tad Williams
Great Apes - Will Self
After The Blue - Russel Like

Posted by: | December 14, 2007 9:49 AM

No Michael Crichton? I'm sure most hard-core sci-fi buffs would pass his work right over, but he can really weave science into his stories in a very convincing way. I mean you actually could see how Jurassic Park could really happen. His newer stuff is getting political, which I dont like, but all his older stuff is great.

Posted by: Blake | December 14, 2007 9:50 AM

More votes for KS Robinson's Mars trilogy as well as Dan Simmons Hyperion-Endymion saga. And John Brunners Shockwave Rider.

Posted by: wonfuji | December 14, 2007 9:52 AM

The problem with a lot of this is it is what Science Fiction fans like... many of my favourites on here. For non sci-fi readers, Richard Morgan (altered carbon is the best starting point), Tad Williams (otherworld, memory, sorrow and thorn), John Shirley (The eclipse series is the actual birth of cyberpunk, if you don't believe me just ask William Gibson and Bruce Sterling...), Peter F. Hamilton (pretty much any of his series). I have tried to get non sf people into Clarke, Asimov, Herbert, even Douglas Adams, and had almost no success. I have then recommended Richard Morgan and had them come back trying to read everything he has written. For Fantasy, Brandon Sanderson is probably the guy to beat right now.

Posted by: Traverse Davies | December 14, 2007 9:52 AM

Neal Stephenson should be at the top of the list.

Posted by: RA | December 14, 2007 9:53 AM

Hyperion - Dan Simmons

If you like Ender's Game - this is your next step.

Posted by: Jason | December 14, 2007 10:01 AM

Ilium and Olympos - Dan Simmons

These were so good I tracked down copies of the signed leather bound editions just to have them in my library

Posted by: Nitrox | December 14, 2007 10:03 AM

Alfred Bester's "The Stars, My Destination" (a.k.a. Tyger, Tyger) is a novel that I have re-read many times. Compelling humnan drama, by turns hilarious and poignant, packed with ideas. It would make a phenomenal film, in the right hands.

Incidentally, it's pleasing to see how this list has generated so much passion for good books. How many of us sat back and had a wee think about those that really got through to us?

Posted by: Chris Yule | December 14, 2007 10:04 AM

This is indeed a list of SF for those who don't like SF. It is hardly a list for those who WANT to like it. All of the books (stories) you listed are thinly veiled social commentary. Heck, the only reason Lem wrote SF was it was the only way to get his social commentaries published under his communist government. And don't get me started on Huxley and Orwell... 1984 reads like a Bush Administration training manual now-a-days.

Now if you want to start with REAL SF...

"The Mote in God's Eye" - Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

The best "true" SF book ever written. A "first contact" story of truly epic size and characters. (Then read everything else the two have ever written)

"A Scanner Darkly" - Philip K. Dick

A truly visionary author. Everyone has a favorite "dick" and this one's mine.

"The Stars, My Destination" - Alfred Bester

Also know as "Tyger, Tyger" outside of N America. Bester wrote few novels, this and "The Demolished Man" are pinnacles of the art.

War Against the Chtorr - David Gerold

Not really a book. It's is a series. But what list of SF would be complete without at least one series. First book is "A Matter For Men". Earth is being invaded by aliens that are not only kicking our butt, they barely even notice us.

And no list of SF is complete without a book by one of the holy trinity of SF... Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.

I have picked a minor classic of Heinlein as my choice.

"The Door Into Summer" - Robert A. Heinlein

A sweet story about love and betrayal. Everyone in my family has read this one at least twice. My youngest son lists it as his favorite book of all time on MySpace. He has written many better books ("Stranger in a Strange Land" and "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" to name but two of them), but this is my favorite. I have re-read this book more times than any other book save for one (and that one is non-SF) and it never fails to bring a tear to my eye.

There's MY list and it's five books (okay... okay.... four books and a series... sheesh!) only because of the original provocation. If it was my list it would have to be longer. From the very first day that I picked up "The Runaway Robot" by Lester Del Ray, I have been hooked... first on SF and then on reading itself. Because of my love of SF i have visited worlds unimagined by most people. I have walked with Heroes and talked with Conquerers. I have sat and watched the suns rise on alien worlds and seen the end of the Universe in the blink of an eye. SF is the literature of unlimited possibilities.

Now go forth and enjoy!

Posted by: Barsoom | December 14, 2007 10:06 AM

Have to come in with a shout-out for Connie Willis. I've read four of her books now and each one is simply amazing. Probably the one to start out on is the one I just finished, "Passage," which is set in pretty much present-day. Then it would be "Doomsday Book" -- which I can not share enough love for -- and "To Say Nothing of the Dog." The last one I can personally recommend is "Lincoln's Dreams," particularly id you're trying to get someone to read sci-fi who also has a love of Civil Wat history.

Posted by: abjaxx | December 14, 2007 10:06 AM

A lot of people are mentioning Douglas Adams. Douglas Adams always hated the fact that his books were considered Sci-Fi. He used to complain in interviews that any book with a robot or spaceship was immediately banished to the Sci-Fi section of the library. Douglas Adams always laughed about it, stating that he felt that the Hitchhikers series were the perfect books for people that claimed to hate Sci-Fi, but that they would never read them, because they were in the Sci-Fi section.

Posted by: D | December 14, 2007 10:08 AM

Don't forget Vinge's Rainbow's End.

Posted by: | December 14, 2007 10:14 AM

Tunnel in the Sky; by Heinlein for all high school Freshmen.

The Forever War; by Halderman for any one considering enlisting in the military.

All the Marching Morons; for anyone considering running for public office.

The Eight; for all conspiracy buffs.

The Bible, The Koran, and the Book of Morman: for anyone wanting to be a shamin, preacher, priest, imam, or nun.

Posted by: farmboy | December 14, 2007 10:28 AM

Timothy Zahn's "Night Train To Rigel" series reads like a good detective novel with sci-fi elements effortlessly woven in. I couldn't put it down 'till the end.

Posted by: Code Foo | December 14, 2007 10:31 AM

I just wanted to make a correction to a post made by "Whoever" above: Iain M Banks and Iain Banks are the same writer. He just uses different pseudonyms for his sci-fi and non sci-fi work. But I agree his sci-fi work is top notch. I just wish he was currently concentrating more on his sci-fi work.

He also happens to be Ken Macleod's mentor, who is one of my favorite modern SF writers. Actually, I'm quite surprised no one mentioned Ken Macleod before on this thread. His work is very political (in a refreshingly original and non-preachy way) and would probably be of interest to non sci-fi readers.

Posted by: FitoGordo | December 14, 2007 10:36 AM

Wow, all of the suggestions so far are great. Rather than restate them, I'll add to the list:

* The Disappeared by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Reads like a pulp detective novel set in a sort of Heinlein-ian / Star Trek-ish future. Very accessible. Worth a look. The books in the series follow a timeline, but stand alone as well.

* Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett
Take comedic genius and dose it heavily with Shakespeare. Monty Python wishes they were this good. All Pratchett is wonderful, but this one provides a good intro for the novice.

* Altered Carbon by Richard K Morgan
Rougher than some, perhaps even a bit gruesome, but has actual plot. Embraces many modern issues without trying to solve them. Ranks up there with William Gibson IMO.

* Timescape by Gregory Benford
One of the best time-travel treatments I've ever read. Benford is a legit physicist and his writing shows it. I also loved Artifact, Cosm, and the Martian Race.

* Armor by John Steakley
A great derivative of Starship Troopers. Where Troopers discussed moral imperitives of the state, Armor digs into the life on a single "super soldier" fighting the war and how the war affects him.

* Old Man's War by John Scalzi
Another very enjoyable derivative of the Starship Troopers and Armor genre. An easier read with a good sense of humor.

Posted by: CameraGeek | December 14, 2007 10:39 AM

The original Dune and some Phillip Dick, as has been mentioned, but this list is for people who don't like science fiction.
Vernor Vinge, Larry Niven, Clarke and Asimov- heresy, these guys are the masters of real science fiction, hardly suitable for people who can't appreciate the genre.
Let em read Robin Cook, serves them right.

Posted by: Jimmy Trout | December 14, 2007 10:40 AM

I think Iain M. Banks has only been mentioned once (although his name was spelled wrong). His Consider Phlebas, Use of Weapons, and Player of Games are all outstanding. He also writes "straight" fiction under the name Iain Banks (no "M") and that's excellent stuff too. Dead Air and his first book The Wasp Factory are probably my favorites.

Posted by: Z | December 14, 2007 10:43 AM

Yeah, yeah, everyone things every year is the coming of 1984 and every leader is the coming of Big Brother. Oh how insightful you are for agreeing with my political perspective!

Posted by: jackass | December 14, 2007 10:47 AM

Xanth series by Piers Anthony is a must read. Fantasy with barbs a reality.
Well written and extremely funny.

Posted by: painter | December 14, 2007 10:52 AM


William Gibson:
Burning Chrome

Gibson's view of the cyberpunk, near-future cyberworld has never dated, and remains a valid and compelling vision. (Neuromancer was written on a typewriter at a time when laptops had not yet been invented).

People looking for literary value but who feel SF to have worn itself out as an interesting genre should like these best works of Gibson. He re-vitalized SF in much more fundamental way than any of the other so-called cyberpunk writers, and is a far superior stylist.

Posted by: wdef | December 14, 2007 11:03 AM

Some gem's in the comments, heres some of the ones I liked:

The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula le Guin
Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
Fire in the Deep, Vernor Vinge
Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut
Consider Phlebas, Ian M Banks
Raising the Stones, Sherry S Tepper
Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C Clarke

btw all of these authors have many other great books - these are just to wet you appetite!

Posted by: Solly | December 14, 2007 11:03 AM

People don't like sf for a variety of reasons (or maybe better, "perceptions"): too technical, not "literary" enough, too juvenile, too geeky, to name a few. With all due respect to the fans, as a longtime bookseller I submit that not many of the titles mentioned here are likely to change those attitudes. Sf has its audience, and sadly it seems that for the most part either you get it or you don't. I like Philip K. Dick, and Robert Anton Wilson, and I have great respect for Doris Lessing's efforts. Vonnegut is a genre unto himself, I think. But I've not won many converts over the years in spite of my enthusiasm.

Posted by: Paul G. | December 14, 2007 11:04 AM

Sci Fi for people not already into Science Fiction... It all depends on the reader!

If we're talking about the "Harry Potter" age range, send them to the Heinlein juveniles: "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel", "The Rolling Stones", "Red Planet", etc...
For folks looking for a quick laugh, go to Spider Robinson's, "Callahan's Crosstime Saloon" or Asimov's "Tales of the Black Widowers".
If they're literary types, try P.J. Farmers "Riverworld" series.
If they like mysteries, try Asimov's robot novels, like "Caves of Steel".
For quick intros, try short story collections, like "I, Robot" or Heinlein's "The Past Through Tomorrow", or a great anthology is Harlen Ellison's "Dangerous Visions"

Posted by: Matt | December 14, 2007 11:06 AM

I am always on a quest for "good" sf and I got several recommendations for "Ender's Game" by Card, just as I see many on this blog. Well, I could not have been more disappointed. It reads like it was written by an adolescent (half the words are dedicated to detailed combat maneuvers). And it was the single most predictable book I've ever read. Were we supposed to be surprised by the ending? I saw that coming just part way into the book and I am usually very good about shutting off my brain and just going with the flow. Does the rest of the series get better? Is this like the Harry Potter series where (as I understand) the first books are written at a low level on purpose to mirror the main character and then grow with him? I don't know if I have the patience for Ender to grow up. Anyway, the message of the book is a positive one. I was somewhat interested to find out what happens next but I don't want to wade through more of Card's prose if it stays at that level.

Posted by: confused | December 14, 2007 11:16 AM

John Scalzi's Androids Dream is a great starter sci-fi book. kinda like Jason Bourne, in the future, but funny.
It's the kind of book you can't put down for 2 days.
I like Scalzi's other stuff too, but right now Android's my favorite.

Posted by: Joshua | December 14, 2007 11:20 AM

Sci-fi readers looking for great books that they haven't read should check out David Gerrold's _When HARLIE Was One_. This outstanding book's primary focus is on the emergence of Artificial Intelligence. Gerrold's vision of how AI develops and how it will be accepted is amazing - I suspect our culture will soon go through the exact debates that this book predicts. Check it out.

Posted by: Jim O'Hara | December 14, 2007 11:21 AM

Ender's game. I've given it to all my friends to read. Not one bad review. Its always "Well its a Sci-Fi book but its not really".

Posted by: Felix | December 14, 2007 11:24 AM

so many good suggestions - here's mine....

"The Legacy of Heorot" (with Sequel "Beowulf's Children") by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Steven Barnes is a fantastic read.

Pioneers on a new planet begin building on their idyllic new world, and realize that there is more danger than they had accounted for. Dangerous apex predators, sudden and horrific violence, and absolutely gripping storytelling without being a ho-hum Alien clone. 1st book is wonderous and tense, 2nd book is just as magnificent.

Posted by: Maggie Ahrens | December 14, 2007 11:33 AM

Like the author of the article, I was a sci-fi fan as a teen. I too moved away from the genre. I often try to get back to it, because I love being transported to other worlds, future or alien.

Here's my problem, and I think it's shared by other people like me: if you get hooked on "literary" writers -- Updike, Cheever, Carver, etc. -- it's very hard to appreciate most sci-fi and fantasy. You become addicted to language and nuanced, subtle characters.

Of course there are great exceptions, but so much genre writing contains lackluster prose at best and cliche-ridden prose at worst. Clunky dialogue, inept metaphors, poor turns of phrase, etc. And the characters tend to be "types." Even if you love sci-fi's ideas and exotic settings, it's tough to swallow its sub-par prose if you've fed yourself a steady diet of "The Great Gatsby" and "Cold Mountain."

(It's easier to find stylish mystery novels. For whatever reason, good stylists and good character writers seem to be more attracted to that genre than to sci fi.)

And it's hard for someone like me to get good recommendations from hard-core sci-fi fans. Such fans tend to care more about the ideas and the cool stuff (cool action, etc.) than word choice. That's not a criticism. I can totally understand someone saying, "Fine, it's not Shakespeare, but the ideas are so fascinating that I don't care..." It's just a matter of preference and what you're used to. Many sci-fi fans rarely stray from the genre. They've never read Updike or Carver. So they can't recommend something that a "lit" person might like.

One way in, for someone like me, is to find sci-fi that is actually written by the "lit" crowd. Such novels are usually not the favorites of the hard-core people, but that's fine.

I think the article did this: Wells, Borges and Orwell are all-around great writers. But their stuff isn't contemporary. By which I mean that I've read it already. I dearly love "1984," but I've read it several times. I'd like to know who is writing literary sci-fi NOW.

So for readers like me -- and I hope we don't come across as snobbish -- I recommend...

"The Handmaid's Tale" and "Oryx and Crake" by Margaret Atwood.

"The Road" by Cormac McCarthy

"Children of Men" by P.D. James

"Acacia" (fantasy) by David Anthony Durham

"This Perfect Day" by Ira Levin

These are all writers who should be known to the type of people who read Joyce Carol Oats (has she written any sci fi?) and Charles Frazier. Sci-fi buffs may consider them impostors, but they're way more palatable to me than Heinline or Asimov.

Posted by: grumblebee | December 14, 2007 11:43 AM

You have to mention Stephen R. Donaldson and the Thomas Covenant Unbleiver septology. Much better than than the Trilogy.

Posted by: WSBlue | December 14, 2007 11:48 AM

"Snow Crash" is an amazing book, highly recommended.

Anything by Heinlein, though some of his stuff can get out pretty out there. Some of the books with Lazerus Long ("Time Enough for Love", "To Sail Beyond the Sunset") are fantastic, as well as "Starship Troopers" and "Stranger in a Strange Land".

Phillip K Dick was amazing, and anyone who's seen Blade Runner, Total Recall, or any other Dick story made into a movie owes it to themselves to read the stories. They are fantastic.

Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke..........all incredible.

I'm re-reading Larry Niven's "Flatlander" right now, which is a collection of his short stories about Gil "The ARM" Hamilton. Detective sci fi at it's best!

Posted by: Johnny | December 14, 2007 11:51 AM

The Stand by steven king. Read the longer non-annotated version if you can (beware, it's LONG)
Ender's game- if you liked the religious connotations of the matrix you will appreciate this book, it's for children beware
Venus on a half-shell (it's rare and it was written by kurt vonnicut under his pen name Kilgore trout. Beware, very very british but very very funny)
Hitchiker's guide to the galaxy- and subsequent books by douglas adams. THEY ARE NOT LIKE THE MOVIE IN ANY WAY. they have an entirely different message and feeling.

Posted by: Brittany | December 14, 2007 11:54 AM

Not that anyone will read comments this far down the page but I'll give it a shot.

Without rehashing everything that has been said, you have to look at who you are recommending to.

I find the vast majority of serious readers who are "not into scifi" say that because they believe that it is juvenile and non literary writing.

You also have to make the assumptions that these types of people will have only the most cursory introductions to the "rules" of sci-fi. Some people might be geniuses when it comes to interpreting The Bard, but just don't GET concepts like hyperdrives, or neural interfaces. So you have to work with something that is approachable. It also shouldn't FEEL like scifi, because thats what makes people feel like they're reading something outside of their realm of comfort.

With all this in mind, my mother is a high school english teacher and I am acquainting her with Scifi slowly.

I started her off on Lovecraft. No buts about it, he is THE genius of the horror genre, and many people don't realize how many of the standard concepts in today's fiction derived from his writings.

Right now I have her on Dune. It is probably THE masterpiece of so called "hard" scifi and should be required reading in high school, its too damn good for almost anyone not to see the merits of.

Next she's going to read Cryptonomicon. It is true scifi but feels more like a techno thriller, and the diversions and complexity of his writing style (in addition to multiple converging timelines) really make it feel literary.

She's already read all of Vonnegut, but he is probably the quintessential "scifi for literature buffs" type writer.

After Cryptonomicon comes Snow Crash and then Neuromancer. If I've got her by then, she's ours forever!

Posted by: Sam | December 14, 2007 11:59 AM

Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy. A must-read.

Some others, off the top of my head:

M.K. Wren's "A Gift Upon the Shore" (post-apocalyptic)
"A Canticle for Leibowitz"
Philip Jose Farmer's "Riverworld" series
Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land" of course

Posted by: Professor Pan | December 14, 2007 12:00 PM

James P. Hogan - earlier is better. William Gibson's Neuromancer and Burning Chrome - again, earlier is better (much better.) Larry Niven's Protector. James Blish's Cities in Flight. Keith Laumer's Galactic Odyssey. My favorite Ursula LeGuin remains A Wizard of Earthsea after reading everything novel-length she has written - don't go by the wretched television attempt. Lastly, not so much for SF newbies but for those of you looking for something really spectacular, David Wingrove - start with Chung Kuo and I absolutely guarantee you'll be foaming at the mouth for the other 7 or 8 books in the series.

Posted by: Ben Williams | December 14, 2007 12:03 PM

No list would complete without something from the Sci-Fi writer who has won the most awards: she has won, among other awards, nine Hugo Awards and six Nebula Awards.

What !!! Never heard of Connie Willis ?????

Shame !!!

Posted by: Michael | December 14, 2007 12:15 PM

Akira the Graphic Novel by Katushiro Otomo. I know it's a graphic novels but it has a lot of big ideas and amazing illustrations.

Posted by: Larkin | December 14, 2007 12:17 PM

Alan Dean Foster - Any of his Common Wealth books (Adventures of Pip and Flinx) ...and a little known book that he ghost wrote for some director.. think it was called Star Wars - Episode IV - A New Hope.

Douglas Noel Adams - The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

Orson Scott Card - The Worthing Saga

Robert Asprin - Phule's Company

Posted by: Mr Vandemar | December 14, 2007 12:21 PM

Cordwainer Smith!
In his own words: "You will never be the same"

Great post, and great comments!
There are so many great science fiction classics it is impossible to write a top five, without leaving at least another five books worthy of the same.

Some of my favourites:
Stranger in a Strange Land - R. A. Heinlein
Rendezvous with Rama - A. C. Clarke
Distress & Axiomatic - Greg Egan
The Uplift War - David Brin
Across Realtime - Vernor Vinge

+1 to Ender's Game & the Ender Saga

Posted by: EyesWideOpen | December 14, 2007 12:25 PM

Good picks & posts here.
My wife, never into sci-fi before, discovered the 'Rama' series by
Arthur C. and couldnt put it down.

So- to get the uninitiated into it,
anything by Arthur of couse.

And 'Lathe of Heaven' (LeGuinn) is indeed a classic,
and most of her other work is wonderful.

'Cats Cradle'-another most 'newbies' would enjoy.

Heinlein is awesome- but tends to be 'hard' science for some.

And of course...Douglas Adams.

Posted by: BT Pritchett | December 14, 2007 12:40 PM

two have already commented; two is not enough.

A Canticle for Leibowitz

Posted by: forddorr | December 14, 2007 12:42 PM

Stranger in a strange Land
BEST book for non scifi people.

A wrinkle in time
Great for kids and adults

the ones mentioned weren't even on my radar. What was the author thinking?

Posted by: scott | December 14, 2007 12:42 PM

I've tried to read two Lem books and found them very difficult. I might try Fiasco though...

Posted by: Jeremy | December 14, 2007 12:56 PM

The House on the Strand, by Daphne duMaurier, is an excellent Sci-Fi/Fantasy read.(I know she is usually not considered a Sci-Fi writer, but give The House a try)

Posted by: Kat | December 14, 2007 1:16 PM

"I am Kinnall Darival and I mean to tell you all about myself."

If you recall this opening line, then you read the entire book. How can you not be moved to mention Robert Silverberg and "A Time of Changes"?

Posted by: Mark | December 14, 2007 1:37 PM

I'll suggest William Sleator for some quick reads: Interstellar Pig is still a fave after all these years as is Singularity, Fingers, and House of Stairs.

I don't think Ender's Game needs another plug but it's a fave, too.

Tess Gerritsen's Gravity is an entertaining book as well.

Posted by: luckycanucky | December 14, 2007 1:44 PM

Jack Vance's "the Face" from his Demon Princes series. A wee bit pulpy, but tasty just the same.

Posted by: Fred | December 14, 2007 2:00 PM

Theodore Sturgeon short stories, as well as Frederic Brown's.

They're short but complex, enjoyable more the next time you read them.

The Synthetic Man (The Dreaming Jewels) was what got me to read science fiction, though I'd been enjoying sci-fi on tv and movies before that.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 14, 2007 2:15 PM

Richard Paul Russo is a great up and coming Sci Fi writer -- Ship of Fools is scary as hell, and the Rosetta Codex is pretty neat. Books on first contact.

Posted by: Andrew Mitchell | December 14, 2007 2:15 PM

dan simmons is the single most underrated scifi writer (any writer, even) of our time.
the 4 books in the Hyperion series, as well as Ilium/Olympos are some of the most beautifully written and inventive creations I've *ever* come across in any genre.
His short stories are also masterful.

Posted by: karmapolice | December 14, 2007 2:28 PM

i've seen several deserving mentions of ender's game by orson scott card, but none of the follow-up books in the ender quadrilogy. speaker for the dead, xenocide, and children of the mind are superbly written, and dare to tackle issues (the moral development of humanity for one) few others even touch.

Posted by: khedlar | December 14, 2007 2:40 PM

For beginners: Start with short stories to discover your favorite writers.

My recommendations are two terrific short stories,
"Unaccompanied Sonata" by Orson Scott Card, and
"The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula Le Guin (a fellow Eugenean).

Posted by: Della from Eugene | December 14, 2007 3:07 PM

I want to say pre-sci-fi readers should print out this entire thread, so many wonderful books mentioned, spanning the vast range of material this genre encompasses (seasoned readers might find a missed or forgotten gem as well).

I'd have to agree with the few that cited Connie Willis, especially "Doomsday Book". A hardened sci-fi naysayer I gave the book to completely fell in love with Willis.

Perhaps barely crossing the sci-fi threshold but a good read nontheless is "The Time Travelers Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger.

Posted by: attom | December 14, 2007 3:07 PM

What is the demographic mix of WP readers? Almost all the books mentioned are 20+ years old! I'm guessing many of the posters are recalling books from their teens and twenties. SF didn't die in the 80's. Some is better now than ever and much of it will stand the test of time as well as the Old Masters.

Recent strong books:
Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson (he's getting stronger with age)

Non-genre authors who COULD be classified as sf:
David Mitchell
Haruki Murakami

I believe that great sf is about ideas. As such it is particularly well suited to the short story format. I strongly recommend any volume of Gardner Dozois' The Year's Best Science Fiction

And for grumblebee and others who think SF isn't literary. The same is true for non-genre fiction as well. Try anything by Ursula LeGuin or Gene Wolfe.

That said, I agree with the posters above who say that Ender's Game is a great first book for non-sf readers. My girlfriend far preferred the Doctorow though.

Posted by: Brady | December 14, 2007 3:19 PM

A Fall of Moondust: Arthur C. Clarke.

Just your standard disaster type like:
The Towering Inferno.
The Flight of the Phoenix.
The Poseidon Adventure.

Posted by: foxinhand | December 14, 2007 3:25 PM

RednekTek: Leigh Brackett wasn't a 'he', she was a great science fiction writer, but also an accomplished screenplay writer.

I would recommend anything by Cordwainer Smith (Paul Linebarger), it's imaginative, far beyond what more people think of as science-fiction. It's also has a lot of canny and uncanny elements such as some extrapolations of molecular biology technologies that are somewhat reasonably accurate.

Posted by: James. | December 14, 2007 3:31 PM

"Venus on a half-shell (it's rare and it was written by kurt vonnicut under his pen name Kilgore trout. Beware, very very british but very very funny)"
This was written by Philip Jose Farmer. I would NOT recommend it to start someone on science fiction, but it is funny.

I recommend Theodore Sturgeon, Godbody is quite beautiful.

Orson Scott Card's Enchanted is also a wonderful book. I got my step-father hooked on sf with this one.

Posted by: Adrienne | December 14, 2007 3:39 PM

I have a poul Anderson book from the library right now along with Gordon dickson.I think Clarke is the GURU of all sci-fi hell he is still making dreams come true...Saberhagen is good nevin is so good I drowl when I can get his books.The stars are my destiny made me a sci fan when I was 8 years old.the cronicles of thomas convanent are mey hope to become a sci-fi series on the scifi channel I write to them all the time telling them to look into it.The instrumentality of mankind from "Cordwainersmith"is so thoght prevoking it changed how I look at the world.You know he was a spy for the CIA in China during the 40-50's.How about some historical sci fi I love barry sadler's "Casca "series.Wow so many books so little room.looking for scifi ebooks can any body direct me to them?

Posted by: love sci-fi books | December 14, 2007 4:17 PM

Amazing comments. It's like Sci Fi 101 on steroids. Thanks for all these wonderful postings.

Now, I just want to remind you that I didn't say "sci fi for people who don't like sci fi." I said sci fi for people who THINK they don't like sci fi. That's a different concept entirely, because it takes on the genre's reputation as well as the nonsf reader's perceptions.

Has anyone mentioned Ursula LeGuin's "Left Hand of Darkness"? It's beautifully written. And it confronts a host of interesting subjects: sex, gender, colonialism, race. It's all about connections and love, ultimately, but with some dazzling sf storytelling along the way . . .

Posted by: Marie Arana | December 14, 2007 4:22 PM

Larry Niven. "The Mote In God's Eye."
Orson Scott Card. "Ender's Game."
Neal Stephenson. "Snow Crash."

Posted by: Niali | December 14, 2007 4:37 PM

For those who don't like "sci-fi" I have to give John Brunner another mention. These 3 books always amaze me:

-The Sheep Look Up - check this if you haven't, it's a great one.
- The Shockwave Rider
- Stand On Zanzibar

And Vonnegut of course, everyone should read his books.

Great list everyone!

Posted by: Anonymous | December 14, 2007 4:38 PM

As someone who still thinks she does not like sci-fi, I will agree that Ender's Game was a fabulous read that I would recommend to anyone. However, I still consider myself someone who does not (usually) like science fiction.

Posted by: Kat | December 14, 2007 4:52 PM

"Oryx and Crake" by Margaret Atwood is another great "literary sci-fi" novel.

Posted by: Matt | December 14, 2007 5:01 PM

This is weird but.. "Idoru" by Gibson is one of my favorites and I can't really explain why but I'm a little obsessed with it which is ironic considering the protagonist. Anyone else a Gibson fan who thinks this rather understated book is a gem?

Also while I love "Snow Crash" I think "The Diamond Age" is slightly superior and more mature/realistic so to speak.

Another rec for Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle" which IMO was far more interesting and better paced than "Slaughterhouse 5".

Posted by: coz | December 14, 2007 6:08 PM

Iain M Banks anyone? Having read through the many wonderful suggestions I am both amazed and appalled that no post has thought to mention Iain M Banks. Having read the majority of wonderful stories and authors named in many of the other posts here I couldn't resist adding his name to the weight of gifted writers who help paint pictures in our imaginations with their words of wisdom. For anyone who enjoys Vinge, Clarke, Gibson etc take the time to absorb some of his stories.

He also writes as Iain Banks for fiction and so crosses the void to illuminate both worlds...

Posted by: haff | December 14, 2007 6:11 PM

Robert Anton Wilson was my favorite writer; Illuminatus! and Schrodinger's Cat are dense reads, much influenced by Joyce, not fully digested until at least the third or forth close reading. Lem, too, is challenging but immensely entertaining. Fiasco, like Solaris, said a lot about the difficulty of talking to alien life. An easier place to start is his Cyberiad.
Bester's Stars My Destination is indeed wonderful. I've read much of the SF listed in comments, and this is a good cross-section. Card (for all his peccadilloes) writes beautifully; his Unaccompanied Sonata is one of the world's great stories. Another great book not already mentioned is Greg Bear's Blood Music.

Posted by: Tom Buckner | December 14, 2007 7:48 PM

The Charlie Chronicles by O'Meara.
No Entrance by Michael Sorce.
Finally, "The Taint" by Brian Lumley is a good collection of Lovecraft-inspired stories.

Posted by: Ringo | December 14, 2007 8:24 PM

I was fortunate when I branched out into new genres that I got a taste of some of the masters, which, as others have said, drew me further in. I clearly remember remember the impact they made on me even these 40 years later.

"Fear is the Key", by Alistair Maclean just blew me away (OK, adventure, not SciFi - hang with me here)

"The Illustrated Man", by Ray Bradbury. The story of the safari room gave me the creeps all over again when I reread it last year, as I empathized with the family who's husband/father had fallen into the sun.

"Dune", Frank Herber, a masterful weaving of politics, religion, unrest of an oppressed people, into a great story. Unfortunately, IMHO, the later books did not measure up to the original genius.

"Lord of the Rings", J. R. R. Tolkein (yeah, a deviation into Fantasy, but so what?)

"Stranger in a Strange Land", by Robert Heinlein. Written in 1961, it built on the attitudes that became the hippie culture. And "grock" is such a great word!

"Sackett", by Louis L'Amour - a deviation into the genres of historical fiction and westerns.

The entire "Sharpe" series by Bernard Cornwell, another deviation into historical novels, along with the navel stories by Patrick O'Brian, of which the recent movie "Master and Commander" was an adaption.

I'm going to go back through these entries, picking out new books/authors to delve into.

Thanks for the list, and the comments!

Posted by: fingerling | December 14, 2007 10:29 PM

I'll put in another vote for James P. Hogan's body of work. Good fiction, absolutely first-rate hard science, and an excellent set of cautionary tales on the value of learning how not to be fooled by charlatans in any field, be it science, politics, or other. Also, the 'Falling Stars' tetralogy by Michael Flynn, and the 'Ukiah Oregon' books by Wen Spencer. Anything by Randall Garrett, (Lord Darcy, anyone?) who left us much too soon. I have a million others, but everyone here has already covered them well. Good thread! Civil, nice discourse, very low percentage of discourtesy. Thanks!

Posted by: Bill Swallow | December 14, 2007 11:09 PM

Here's a couple that haven't been mentioned:

Kate Wilhelm's where late the sweet birds sang.
Steven Brust's Jhereg (fantasy not science fiction).
Midnight at the well of souls by Chalker.
Laumer's Bolos (for some readers).

Posted by: Mike M. | December 14, 2007 11:42 PM

A book that changed my view of what SF is:

DHALGREN by Samuel R. Delany

Somewhat surprised not to see Delany anywhere in these comments.

Also surprised not to see Mary Doria Russell's THE SPARROW.

Simply mind-bending.

Other recommendations from other contributors are spot on.

Nice job, all!

Posted by: gdb | December 15, 2007 12:00 AM

Great list.

My favorite SF book for many years was Heinlein's "Moon is a Harsh Mistress". I never did see the fascination with "Stranger in a Strange Land", I thought it was moderately boring.

However my more recent favorite is "Ender's Game". Apparently it's the favorite of many others as well. I think this would be a very accessible book for somebody who isn't heavy into Science Fiction.

Posted by: Tim | December 15, 2007 12:10 AM

I began reading s-f when I was 9 with
Tarzan and John Carter by E R Burrows.
Im 77yrs old and I find s-f better than ever. S-F is entertaining ,thought provoking instructive and just down right good fun .

Posted by: D Hacking | December 15, 2007 12:24 AM

I never knew there were so many of you out there!

The older stuff is very good: Orson Scott Card, Niven & Pournelle, Sturgeon, Ellison, Van Vogt, Wyndham...and a VERY good short story by E.M. Forster called "The Machine Stops" written at the turn of the century.

Posted by: Don A. | December 15, 2007 1:05 AM

If you've made it this far through the posts, you might be a little overwhelmed by the breadth and depth of suggestions for further reading. Personally, I'm a time travel fan, and if you'd like to ease into the genre without jumping in face-first, you might want to try Dean Koontz' "Lighting," as good an SF story as you're' likely to find, even though the author is known mostly for his horror work. Don't expect a lot of scientific explanation for how it's done; just revel in the sheer pleasure of his prose.

Posted by: MAC | December 15, 2007 1:53 AM

One particular that I got signed by Jack McDevitt would make a decent introduction to science fiction, Infinity Beach:

Female protagonist of the non-hero type, futuristic but dealt with contemporaneously, good social commentary about societal stagnation, and reads enough like a good mystery to likely take in a few mystery readers.

I'll also pitch in a vote for Cryptonomicon, which has made a few people really keen on visiting the Philippines for some reason :)

If you want to suck in a salmon researcher, then Julie Czerneda's Species Imperative series is strangely appropriate, the first book in particular.

Niven's Tales of Known Space was one of the first encounters in the library that sucked me into science fiction, though it was mighty weird to see one of the stories adapted for the animated Star Trek series.

Posted by: Ritchie Annand | December 15, 2007 5:09 AM

The article is about Sci-Fi for people who think they don't like Sci-Fi, and among the suggestions in the comments I would have to agree with adding Vonnegut, PK Dick, Zelazny. I would add Jonathan Lethem, Thomas Pynchon, Steve Erickson, Samuel Delany, and Haruki Murakami

Posted by: Mark | December 15, 2007 5:27 AM

Ender's game- Sat in a chair for 5 hours and enjoyed every second.

Posted by: tom | December 15, 2007 8:54 AM

For me S.F. is window to our future. When you read
Jules Verne 'Twenty Thousands Leagues Under the Sea' or 'From the Earth to the Moon', you can compare it with next 150 years of human history, and see what predictions were correct.

Stanislaw Lem 'The Cyberiad' - what can be more fantastic than machine which can make 'nothing'

Posted by: Superborsuk | December 15, 2007 6:30 PM

I have to say that I usually come away from the scifi section of a book store empty handed. I am, however, always on the look out for good authors that I have not read yet, and this thread has provided some suggestions that I'm going to follow up on.

I was introduced to hard scifi by my father and was raised reading some what are now considered classics, i.e. Asimov, Bradbury, Clark... to mention a few.

My current favorite authors are:

Dan Simmons, Hyperion is the best

Frank Herbert, Dune series

Iain M. Banks, Lots to choose from but I loaned my sister 'Use of Weapons' and she said she threw the book across the room at the end of the book and was mad at me. It's one of her favorites too.

Alastair Reynolds, the Neutron Star used as a computer for simulation, and other cool ideas in Revelation Space series.

Jack McDevitt, whose name I did not see in this thread, also a very good read.

Posted by: Marty... | December 15, 2007 7:28 PM

A great book and subsequent series that's always in the sci-fi section but isn't too out there for non sci-fi readers is the Crystal Cave. Its an Aurthurian saga that i just couldn't put down.
Also one of my favorite series of all time is "his dark materials" by Phillip Pullman. It's supposed to be for young adults but with all the metaphors and religious undertones you get more out of it being older.

Posted by: vandwnbytheriver | December 16, 2007 2:22 AM

Orson Scott Card: Homecoming Saga -- brilliant!!!! Forget Ender's Game.

Posted by: Papp | December 16, 2007 7:37 AM

How about this glaringly missed classic: "City", by Clifford D. Simak?

Posted by: Cliff | December 16, 2007 11:10 AM

I hear everyone recommending Ender's Game, but let me suggest that the second book in the Ender series, "Speaker for the Dead," is just as good and likely better. Also, any list like this must include "A Canticle for Leibowitz" by Walter Miller. extraordinary.

Posted by: Carlos | December 16, 2007 11:43 AM

As a reviewer, I cover more fantasy and "weird stuff" than SF, but as a long-time reader I agree thoroughly with the recommendations of works by Iain M. Banks, Alfred Bester, Octavia Butler, R.A. Lafferty, Ursula Le Guin, Cordwainer Smith, Olaf Stapledon, and Jack Vance (among other worthies already mentioned, including Terry Pratchett for slyly satiric fantasies).

Some recent goodies, for readers who can stand an unconventional trilogy or series: alternate histories "Farthing" and "Ha'penny" by Jo Walton (where WWII ended in a tie); Liz Williams' antic books set in a futuristic Singapore 3 (where Chinese magical creatures also pop up); and three books that particularly blew me away, the "Engineer" trilogy by K.J. Parker (set up like fantasy but *minus* any magic or archaic language, and she deals with both historical forces and human character with remarkable insight).

Posted by: Faren Miller | December 16, 2007 12:36 PM

Another good one is "Left Hand of Darkness" by Ursula K. LeGuin. That Ender series and the Dune series are not only good sci-fi, but some the best fiction ever written period.

Posted by: RPMurphy | December 16, 2007 2:27 PM

I was one of those 'literary snob' types, having studied Russian lit in college. I read Gene Wolfe's 'Book of the New Sun' and it was all over for me. Big fan of SF now, and I've read much of the above. Ursula Leguin is a favorite of mine. Don't know if anyone's mentioned M. John Harrisson, but he's another favorite of mine.

Posted by: ian | December 16, 2007 3:03 PM

Lots of folks missing the point here. This is supposed to be about getting people who are already prejudiced against "that sci-fi stuff" to read something in the genre. For that, you need one of two things:

1) A book which, although clearly science-fictional, is NOT IDENTIFIED as such by the mass media. Fortunately, these are becoming easier to find, as science-fiction concepts move into the mainstream while the label itself stays securely in the ghetto. The Road is an outstanding choice; I've already seen half-a-dozen flamewars on as many different sites about whether or not the book is science fiction (with the "not" side generally basing their argument on the fact that there are no aliens and no death rays). If you're willing to include fantasy in the definition, anything by Christopher Moore works too; despite it being about vampires, you won't find You Suck on the sci-fi shelves!

2) Something set in the near future, on Earth, with recognizable people and technology. I recommend The Jericho Iteration by Allen Steele. It's set in nice, familiar St. Louis (albeit after a catastrophic earthquake half-destroys the city when the New Madrid fault lets go), and it's got some of the most cinematic writing I've ever seen -- I could practically see the action movie displaying in my head as I read it.

The one thing you absolutely want to avoid is cultures with weird character names. I kid you not; unofficial surveys by various science fiction authors (including Lois McMaster Bujold) have repeatedly come up against "I can't understand the names" as one of the main reasons people don't read science fiction.

Posted by: Lee | December 16, 2007 9:43 PM

Got my wife hooked on SciFi with H. Beam Piper's Fuzzy series; she got me hooked on Fantasy with White Dragon, etc. by Anne McAaffrey. Cheers.

Posted by: JJinNC | December 17, 2007 11:39 AM

I only saw it briefly mentioned once, but Ender's Shadow is just as good, if not better than Ender's Game.

Also, only saw one mention of This Perfect Day by Ira Levin. It's a little more "hard core" sci-fi than Card's stuff, but never fails to grab my attention every time.

Posted by: Maulie | December 17, 2007 12:28 PM

(1) Anything by Spider Robinson, especially the Callahan books
(2) Anything by Harlan Ellison, especially "Strange Wine"
(3) The "Fuzzy" series by H Beam Piper
(4) Anything by Robert Heinlein
(5) Anything by Isaac Asimov

Posted by: lunasatic | December 17, 2007 1:50 PM

I recommend that anyone wanting to read SciFi should just print out this post and its comments. More than enough material for anybody.

For a newbie to science fiction I have to agree that the books that will entice a person to read more are probably these:

Ender's Game & Speaker for the Dead

The rest although great SciFi don't tend to entice - and I think that is the point.

Posted by: Krudant | December 18, 2007 12:50 AM

Wow, good I need to think back 25 years or so...

Mockingbird - Walter Tevis
Dhalgren - Samuel Delany (reread many times)
Cuture Series of books by Iain Banks
Riddlemaster series by Patricia McKillip
Little Big - John Crowley
Dernyi series by Katherine Kurtz

Just picked up Joe Abercrombie's new series, quite good as well!

Posted by: Bombay guy | December 18, 2007 5:52 AM

Snow Crash and Diamond Age are two of the most over-rated novels of 'this' age. I can appreciate the depth and zeal of the author to make his 'worlds' fleshed out (clearly he's intelligent and has really thought things through on a technical level)...but the way he writes his characters, especially the women characters...he comes off sounding like an immature teen. He's a fast-food writer, appealing to the masses. Saturday-morning anime. Nothing that spurs deep thoughts or contemplations. If he was writing fantasy he'd be typing out Harry Potter stuff. That, and he can't wrap up a story that is satisfying. He may be the guy that is carrying the torch since 'Gibson', but he's no Godlike entity that everyone is foaming over.

Posted by: Sir Ranto | December 18, 2007 12:42 PM

I started reading Sci Fi before it was "popular". How about Arthur C. Clarke, Isacc Asimov, Roger Zelazney, Ray Bradbury, E. E. Doc Smith, Cordwainer Smith, Henry Kuttner, David Keyes (Flowers for Algernon), Gordon R. Dickson, James Blish, Philip K. Dick, Fritz Leiber and any back issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction edited by John W. Campbell Jr?

Posted by: Old Sage | December 18, 2007 1:06 PM

Hear hear to all of the great suggestions. However, I have to say that Gene Wolfe (whom I love) is not going be the 'bridge author' that brings non-sci-fi readers into the community. His work is stunning, and imagery from it lingers in the mind for years, but he is a tricky writer and not for people just sticking their toe into the sci-fi waters for the first time.

Of Wolfe, my faves are: the Soldier of Arete series (about a solder with a brian injury that makes him forget tomorrow what he learned today, and the reader has to put the pieces together just like the hero/soldier). A phenomenal piece of work. Also, the Torturer trilogy. Also complex storytelling, a master of his craft at the top of his game.

My entryway into sci-fi was short story anthologies; specifically, Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions collections. As a 13-year-old kid, read some eye popping stuff that I still remember vividly to this day. Will probably never completely recover from reading "In the Barn."

So that's my recommendation--for newer readers to read a few "Best of" short stories and see where that leads them.

Also, the short stories by the writers of sci-fi during it's golden period: Asimov, Bradbury, Tiptree, Kornbluth, Clarke, et al.

Also, Jerome Bixby's "It's a Goood Life." If that doesn't give the novice some idea of why sci-fi can be fun, thrilling, thought-provoking, worth exploring further, then they are probably hopelessly impervious to the genre.

Posted by: NW DC | December 18, 2007 4:18 PM

I have to say: I got exactly what I wanted (and needed) from all you commenters! A reading list for a lifetime. I had read Lovecraft, Bradbury,Banks, Asimov, King, Atwood, and a few of the better known ones. But this list is so deep, it will be an education. I'm starting with Miller's "A Canticle for Leibowitz." after which I'll try to correct the whole, sad deficiency.
Thanks a million!

Posted by: Marie Arana | December 18, 2007 5:29 PM

I don't like Sci Fi, but i think i'll buy 1984...

Pierluigi Rotundo

Posted by: Pierluigi Rotundo | December 18, 2007 6:42 PM

but war of the words is the same story of the film (with tom cruise)?

Thank you!
Pierluigi Rotundo

Posted by: Pierluigi Rotundo | December 18, 2007 6:42 PM

Has anyone mentioned J.G. Ballard? Stretched the boundaries of sf, a unique prose stylist and formally challenging.

Though not for the squeamish....

Posted by: Paul G. | December 19, 2007 6:20 PM

I recommend Clifford Simak's novel The Way Station. This is a gentle, pastoral novel by an author who really knew how to draw characters. Simak's book is a must-read. It has all that wide-eyed innocent Midwestern childlike quality about it, that same basic decency that makes much of Bradbury worth reading. In my opinion, The Way Station is better than anything I've read by Bradbury.

On the other hand, I can't recommend A.E. Van Vogt. I understand that he may have been popular in the 1950s, but his books just haven't aged well. The writing is overwrought and it is very rarely of any quality, and if you asked me for a sci-fi writer that general fiction readers should AVOID, I would have to choose Van Vogt.

Posted by: Ken Miller | December 22, 2007 9:32 AM

1) The first four books of the original "Dune" series (Frank Herbert).

2) The following by Vernor Vinge: "A Fire Upon the Deep", "A Deepness in the Sky", and "Rainbow's End".

3) William Gibson's last two: "Pattern Recognition" and "Spook Country", though these bend the genre a little- more like techno-thrillers from the day after tomorrow.

Posted by: mgurbada909 | December 29, 2007 4:31 AM

Add "We" by Yevgeny Zamyatin - the first great anti-utopian novel.

Posted by: CCJustice | December 30, 2007 11:11 AM

P.D. James, The Children of Men, an amazing dystopia (made into a striking film). She is beloved as a mystery writer, so this was quite a different turn for her.
Jack Finney, Time and Again, explores time travel into an earlier time, with more of an nostalgia perspective, set in New York City. (somewhat of a slow read, but does introduce the time travel conundrums in a more artistic treatment versus a hard technology treatment. (These are not my favorite sci fi or time travel books but more in the named category, sci fi for the non-sci fi reader.)

Posted by: Txskeptic | January 2, 2008 7:06 PM

Cryptonomicon - Neal Stephenson

Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card

The Fire and Ice series - George RR Martin

Conquistador - SM Sterling

Dark Tower Series - Stephen King

This may be crossing genres, but if you want the fantastic AND loss of sleep, then ANYTHING written by HP Lovecraft.

The Nantuketer Series - SM Sterling

My fiance swears by anything written by Anne Rice, so I will include that here, too.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 10, 2008 10:34 AM

Surprised that there were only a couple of mentions for Kim Stanley Robinson. Some of his stuff is certainly very sci-fi (The Mars books are very sci-fi, sorry! And The Memory of Whiteness is just plain trippy), but a lot of it is extremely accessible for the non-SF crowd. I'm thinking the recent Capital trilogy (Forty Signs of Rain and its two sequels) in particular. DCers should love it-particularly if you were here for the flood a couple of summers ago. The Years of Rice and Salt is technically alternative history, I suppose, but its handled so deftly you never get that awful, contrived writing that most AH relies on (if I never stumble across another "Hitler won the war..." book, I'll be happy). If you can possibly get your hands on Escape from Kathmandu, do so, and you can thank me after your sides stop hurting from laughing so hard. And the Three Californias set is extraordinary and very un-sci fi.

Posted by: Birdie | January 10, 2008 3:52 PM

good choice of books

Posted by: harry | January 13, 2008 7:55 AM

Here's my list of straight up Science Fiction:

1) Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert Heinlein
2) Foundation - Isaac Asimov
3) Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card
4) The Snow Queen - Joan Vinge
5) Lucifer's Hammer - Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

Posted by: jldorn1 | January 14, 2008 11:17 AM

No one mentioned Avram Davidson!!! He is America's Borges, a deeply learned writer, better at short stories than novels (although his short novel Virgil in Averno is extremely good), and one of the great minor American writers of the 20th Century (irrespective of genre). Michael Dirda wrote a long appreciation of Davidson that is easy to find on the internet.

Posted by: jeff gorsky | January 14, 2008 3:12 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company