John's Science Fiction Reading List

Science fiction is getting a bum rap from many people these days because it's associated with overzealous Trekkers and endlessly recycled fantasy series (full of elves and goblins and princesses and...).

The science fiction I would recommend to anyone who hasn't tried it, or who has had bad experiences with the kinds listed above, is the classic sort that has proven to be timeless.

Mass-market paperback
Audio cassette
Out of print / hard to find
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Moving and Thought-Provoking

Title Amazon and ABE Links Author John's Review
A Canticle for Liebowitz Walter M. Miller, Jr. My favourite book of all time. In The post-apocalyptic American midwest, a monastery plays politics to canonize a Jewish physicist. Three novellas trace the rebirth of civilization with the Church intrigue as a backdrop.
Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home James Tiptree Jr. This was my fourth SF book, from when I was 12. A collection of short fiction, from alien worlds to time travel to social commentary about the Viet Nam war. Each story is a gem in itself.
The Stars My Destination Alfred Bester A spacer left to die seeks revenge, with action and a twist on time travel.
The Demolished Man Alfred Bester A rich man commits murder -- but how to get away when the police can read your mind?!
Childhood's End Arthur C. Clarke Benevolent aliens oversee a golden age. But how long will it last?
Imperial Earth Arthur C. Clarke A coming-of-age story set on Saturn's moon Titan. Spacefaring realism similar to 2001.
Norstrilia Cordwainer Smith A novel set in the same universe as Smith's short fiction, where genetically engineered cats serve as slaves and an immortality drug makes one planet's inhabitants super-rich.
The Instrumentality of Mankind Cordwainer Smith A future history arc set in the Norstrilia universe. Since this one is hard to find, you might try instead: The Rediscovery of Man: The Complete Short Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress Robert Heinlein A revolution on the moon challenges Earth's power, with the help of a sentient computer. Lots of social commentary from Heinlein.
Stranger in a Strange Land Robert Heinlein An Earthman who grew up on Mars returns, bringing a religion of love and understanding. As we know, this usually doesn't go over too well. Lots of social commentary from Heinlein.


Title Amazon and ABE Links Author John's Review
The Sheep Look Up John Brunner Brunner extrapolates the logical endpoint of rampant consumerism, commercialism, and pollution.
The Shockwave Rider John Brunner Brunner extrapolates the over-cyberization of society.
Stand on Zanzibar John Brunner Brunner extrapolates world overpopulation.
Starship Troopers Robert Heinlein Is it pro-war or anti-war? The only thing everyone agrees is it's a lot better than the movie. A young soldier grows up under fire in an interstellar war.
The Space Merchants Frederik Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth In the future, society is controlled by advertising. Watch out for those banner ads.
The Age of the Pussyfoot Frederik Pohl Catapulted forward in time, a man struggles to adjust to a future society that's looking more and more like today.
The Gold Coast Kim Stanley Robinson Three novels with alternative views of a future California. (I read the dystopian one on my first trip to San Diego!)

Fantasy Done Right

Title Amazon and ABE Links Author John's Review
Night's Master Tanith Lee A lavish, erotic weave of several storylines centring on the interactions of demons (particularly Night) and mortals.
Death's Master Tanith Lee A lavish, erotic weave of several storylines centring on the interactions of demons (particularly Death) and mortals. #2 in a series, so naturally I read it first.
The Magic Goes Away Larry Niven A group of magicians tries to stave off the end of the Age of Magic.
At the Edge of the World and other works Lord Dunsany Top-notch fantasy from the Irish peer, reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft in his less-horrible works. The only Dunsany title that Amazon lists as in print is 5 Modern Plays.
The Worm Ouroboros E. R. Eddison A sweeping action epic reminiscent of Lord of the Rings meets Xena.

Surreal Humour

Title Amazon and ABE Links Author John's Review
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas Adams Monty Python-esque humour with a similar following among the SF crowd. Just remember -- always know where your towel is, and don't panic!
The Cyberiad, Stanislaw Lem Trurl and Klapaucius, duelling robot constructors, wander the cosmos re-engineering planets, endangering reality, and speculating whether robot created man, or man created robot. Includes the all-time great SF poem Love and Tensor Algebra. Translated from Polish to boot!
Inferno Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle A science fiction author is consigned to hell. But being a curious sort he refuses to stay put in his assigned circle. Cameo appearances by famous figures (some named, some not), plus the world's first bureaucrat.

If You're a Techie

Title Amazon and ABE Links Author John's Review
Protector Larry Niven I consider this the centrepiece of the Known Space tales. A spacer learns the secret of the origins of humanity, the hard way. Required reading before tackling Ringworld et al. I remember buying it in Churchill Square when I was 14.
Ringworld Larry Niven A mammoth constructed world features enough room for everything Larry Niven can dream up. Also available is The Guide to Larry Niven's Ringworld.
The Ringworld Engineers Larry Niven Louis Wu and crew in more adventures on the Ringworld. The third of the trilogy, which I haven't read, is Ringworld Throne:
A Fire Upon the Deep Vernor Vinge A wide-ranging novel featuring an interstellar Internet and a region of the galaxy where technology barely works and everyone is stoopid. (Guess which planet happens to be in that region.)

Science Fiction Books on Tape

If you are interested in a list of science fiction books that you can enjoy no-hands, in your car or in your walkman, I have a list of titles that are available from

Robert J. Sawyer

In the summer of '97 I took a science-fiction writing class at Ryerson Polytechnic, taught by none other than Robert J. Sawyer (Nebula winner, Hugo nominee). At the end of the course, my first story was 85% of the way there. I can now safely say it's 87% of the way there. Well, I got sidetracked by a couple of other stories that I also haven't submitted. I'd better stop before I violate all of Heinlein's rules of writing!

Title Amazon and ABE Links John's Review
Frameshift A scientist threatened with a fatal disease battles danger on all sides, including a former Nazi concentration camp guard. I got to hear the first section read by the author, who does an outrajeous franch occent. :-)
Illegal Alien
Starplex A space station with a mixed human/alien crew tries to save the galaxy from destruction, encountering some rather big creatures and one very old one.
The Terminal Experiment A murder mystery where the killer is a computer simulacrum of the hero's mind. Bonus points for being set in Canada.
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