Friday, May 27, 2011

Help Create A Summertime Sci Fi/Fantasy Must-Read List

by Sara N.

Not pictured: Me. Her hair is far too straight and shiny.

Photo by 2daydesign at stock.xchng

Memorial Day weekend is almost upon us. That beautiful three-day span heralds the arrival of summer and the lazier, more relaxed pace that it entails, particularly for those of us in education.

This summer, I have a plan for my free time: I'm going to sci fi/fantasy boot camp. You see, I'm a relative newcomer to the genre, and I'm severely lacking in the fundamentals of the SF/F oeuvre. Sure, I've dabbled in Tolkien and Bradbury and Banks. I'm fluent in George R.R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss. I'm well versed in Harry Dresden-ology, and I'm a big fan of Mercy Thompson. Nevertheless, my cultural gaps are vast, particularly when it comes to the staples of the genre.

Hence, I'm creating a summer sci fi/fantasy boot camp reading list, and I need your help with what classic genre novels to put on it. Here's what I have so far:

Ender's Game
The Handmaid's Tale
Fahrenheit 451 (Yeah, I don't understand how I didn't read it in school either.)
Robin Hobb's assassin series
Some David Eddings and Raymond E. Feist

In addition, I'd like to pick up some newer books, including Joe Abercrombie's works, and I'll definitely devour the sequels I'm dying for (hello, Mira Grant and Jim Butcher!). And I'm sure I'll get distracted by other shiny new books in a variety of genres as the summer rolls along. But I'd like to stick to my SF/F personal edification plan as much as possible.

So help me, S4 readers. What classic novels belong on my summer sci fi/fantasy boot camp reading list? What do you consider to be the "must reads" for a person who wants to be well-versed in the genre? And hey, if enough of you are as lacking as I am in the classics of the genre, I'd love to put together a summer book club!
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  1. Does Heinlen count as SF/F?

    I've read some Eddings. My guess is that you're going to find it rudimentary as compared to what you're reading now. Once I moved on to some of the newer writers I found I couldn't go back to Eddings. Though I did enjoy one of his contemporary novels, Regina's Song, written with his wife Leigh.

  2. My favorite Heinlein novel is I Will Fear No Evil. It's about a rich old man who gets his brain transplanted into the body of a lovely young woman. I know a lot of women hate it, but I loved it so much - I think Joan Eunice does it right, which kind of says something about me, I think. I'd be very interested to see what you thought of it.

  3. You need some Stephenson in there. Snow Crash, Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon are musts. If you haven't read Azimov's Foundation and Robot series, you should. There should be some Sterling in there. His latest, The Caryatids was quite good. If steampunk counts you should read the foundational The Difference Engine by Gibson & Sterling.

    As for fantasy: Pratchett. You can really pick up anywhere, but Making Money and Going Postal are good. For more modern fantasy it's hard to beat Neil Gaiman; American Gods is quite good, and I think I heard something about a movie or TV series soon. Good Omens, which they wrote together, blends both wonderfully and is hilarious.

    Some techno-optimistic literature is on order. Charles Stross' Accelerando goes without saying. Glasshouse is less foundational but very good. Some people think Cory Doctorow's first book Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is weak, but I liked it. Makers was also good.

    Space Opera cannot be forgotten. I personally prefer the sort that obeys the universe's speed limit, so something from Alastair Reynolds like Absolution Gap or Pushing Ice would do. Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky is also quite good.

    Actually Vernor Vinge deserves special mention all on his own. His near future stuff like True Names and Rainbows End pretty much defined the singularity, and his, er, Time Opera titles The Peace War and Marooned in Realtime can't be missed.

    Hmm, that's a lot. Come back next week an I'll give you more.

  4. mrkirkland, your list will definitely cause my reading to spill over into fall (and winter and maybe spring)!

    I should say I've read some Pratchett and some Gaiman (the Tiffany Aching series, along with "Good Omens" and "American Gods") and I really should've put Asimov on the list to begin with. He's kind of the granddaddy, isn't he?

    I'll also grab some Heinlein. I have tons of his books at my fingertips right now, but not "I Will Fear No Evil," naturally.

    Keep the suggestions coming!

  5. The first book I can remember reading that lured me into sci-fi/fantasy was "The People" by Zenna Henderson. I was just a kid but it blew me away and I couldn't wait to find more. IMO it's a classic beginning.

    Her work is now sold in a collection, "Ingathering: The Complete People Stories of Zenna Henderson."

    Excerpted comments from Amazon's Publishers Weekly and Booklist reviews:

    The People, the best-known creations of the late SF writer Henderson, are humanoid refugees who have landed in 19th-century America after the destruction of their own planet. Their abilities of telepathy, levitation and other apparently magic talents help them survive, yet mark them as different. This useful and enjoyable collection reprints all of the People stories, including four that didn't appear in Henderson's two People books (Pilgrimage: The Book of The People; The People: No Different Flesh) and one that is new to print. One of the few female writers during SF's earlier years, Henderson provides a warm, emotional voice, prefeminist yet independent, examining issues of identity, loneliness, nostalgia and caring.

    And -

    Bound together by a series of vignettes about one human's encounter with the People, the 28 stories chronicle the People's adventures from the crash to their settlement in rural Arizona and their problems using their levitational and mind-reading skills in human society while seeking a new planet to replace the home they left behind. These tales may seem mawkish and dated by today's more sophisticated sf standards, yet they retain their raw emotional power thanks to Henderson's masterfully lucid prose. They will always occupy an important place in sf history for their treatment of parapsychological themes.


  6. What?! I feel faint. No one has mentioned... WILLIAM GIBSON?! Put Neuromancer on that list, Sara N., or I'll never speak to you again.


  7. Your husband HAS made you read Zelazny, right? I mean, you can't go wrong with him. And the Thieves' World books are excellent, in terms of fantasy, giving you a number of authors to enjoy. The MYTH Adventures series by Robert Aspirin is side-splitting joy, combining classic fantasy and adding technology randomly to confuse and amuse you. Quite fun.

    Gibson is a must, though I might recommend Philip K. Dick as well, and I could just go on and on. If you've not read Lovecraft, I mean, come ON. And Moorcock, I mean, ANYTHING he wrote is just fun, though Elric, Corum and Hawkmoon especially. And I'll just stop there, as I'm considering going downstairs to consult my library, and then I'll be here for another hour...

  8. The list grows and grows! And yes, Megan, I don't know how I missed William Gibson in the first post.

    Jesse, you and my husband are the same person, I swear. Those are pretty much all the authors he's been talking to me about for years. I have to admit, I've watched him read many, many of those books but haven't picked them up myself. I will, I will. He's the reason Eddings and Feist are on my original list, too.

  9. My favorite Heinlein is "Friday" although I also love "Farnham's Freehold" . Friday really is awesome though.

    Anne McCaffrey "Sassinak" very good. I may be spelling that wrong--it's been a long time.

    Robin McKinley is fabulous, for a taste try "Sunshine"

    Steven Brust has many I love, but one I consider classic is "To Reign In Hell" which he wrote many years ago.

    There are so many newer authors to try. One I think is leading the crowd and changing the face of UF (which doesn't have much mention so far) is Stacia Kane. I like many others, but her stuff is brilliant.

  10. Great tips, Amy! I loved "Sunshine." What a perfect gem of a book! Part of me wishes McKinley would revisit that universe, and another part of me is afraid that subsequent books would diminish in quality, as those things often do. Maybe best to leave well enough alone.

    Get back to us about UF -- we've got loads of coverage coming up. And Stacia Kane has much love around these parts! Chess Putnam is one of my favorites heroines going right now, flawed yet likeable and never annoying or Mary Sue-ish. Good, good stuff.

    I'll be sure to check out your other suggestions!

  11. Lots of good suggestions here! I could just say ditto to everything mkirkland said, those are some great books, and many of them were the ones I was thinking about, especially Asimov and Charles Stross.

    I am not a huge Heinlein fan, but I was as a teenager, and he is definitely one of the basics. Stranger in a Strange Land is a big one.

    Ursula K. Le Guin is brilliant, and one of the rare women with early success. The Earthsea books are good, but I really like The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness.

    There are many great feminist sf authors (and I could go on about those forever, possibly), but Joanna Russ is one of the most prominent. If you can find anything by Joan Slonczewski, she is awesome as well.

    If you are looking for fundamentals, Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern books are definitely necessary, although they are not her highest quality writing. The concepts are interesting, though, and she definitely got better as she wrote more.

    I hope you are a fast reader, with all of these suggestions!

  12. A great, classic SF series is "The Real Story" by Stephen R. Donaldson. NOT LIKE HIS FANTASY. I say that because there were things he did with his better known series I didn't care for. His heroine in TRS is rock solid.

    Totally forgot that one. I needed brain food.

  13. Put some Steampunk on that list:
    The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
    Souless,Changeless, Blameless by Gail Carriger
    Boneshaker, Dreadnaught by Cherie Priest
    The Difference Engine by William Gibson

    Some modern urban fantasy:
    Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
    The SERRAted Edge (Born to Run) by Mercedes Lackey
    The Hollows (Dead Witch Walking,etc) by Kim Harrison
    The Secret Histories (Man with the Golden Torque), The Nightside (Something from the Nightside) by Simon R. Green

    Some fairytales with a twist:
    The Fire Rose
    The Fairy Godmother
    One Good Knight

    Some classics:
    The Screwtape Letters, Chronicles of Narnia (start with the Magician's Nephew NOT Lion, Witch and Wardrobe) by CS Lewis
    20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
    War of the Worlds by HG Wells
    The Man of Bronze by Kenneth Robeson (Also check out Philip Jose Farmer's Escape from Loki if you can find it. It gives a good background to the character)
    John Carter of Mars series (A Princess of Mars) by Edgar Rice Burroughs

  14. I know I'm awful late in this list-- and let me tell you how fantastic it was to find people recommending GOOD books to add to my own reading list! (I'm always surfing around for new ones, and always worried, because with three children under seven, I hate to waste money on a book I end up finding below average, or not up to my own particular standards-- the curse of the writer?)

    I noticed, with Sunshine on the list, and Mercy Thompson being a mention, I wonder if you would appreciate more urban fantasy/modern books as well? I recently went through a series and found myself wanting to read the last book slower and slower so it didn't end. After finishing, I was terrified to pick up a new book that would just not come close in the same genre. Please do check out the Downside Ghosts series by Stacia Kane. Not only is it a freaking interesting concept-- (The Church of Truth-- truth being magic and knowing the answer to the question: What happens when we die? A job title: Debunker; someone who works for the Church of Truth, investigating claims of hauntings-- and if someone has a TRUE haunting, they receive monetary compensation for their pain and suffering? If they are faking the haunting, they go to jail? In the 1990s, the veils between worlds had shattered, and bloodthirsty ghosts were released into the world to kill more?)-- but also, a kick-ass heroine, named Chess, who is a witch and a drug addict? And a hero who is ugly as sin, covered in scars, and beats up junkies for the dealer and protects the prostitutes? Ah, yeah.

    Give it a shot-- the first book is Unholy Ghosts.

    1. Ellie, that's a great suggestion — and one many of the S4 writers are already big fans of! If you click around, you'll see plenty of Stacia Kane/Chess Putnam love around these parts.

      May I make a suggestion in return? I finally picked up Seanan McGuire's Toby Daye urban fantasy series, and they're fantastic! I think they might be right up your alley. :)