Guest post by author Ian Lahey and the FunFiction Group
Science fiction is where it’s at, or at least where it will be. Some science fiction has long since passed us by, being set in years which we have, in the meantime, breezed ahead of, too busy looking at Instagram to notice, so in that case, I suppose it’s science fiction that’s where it has been. Anyway, some predictions were way off the mark, while others proved to be uncannily accurate.
But there are some timeless and memorable books which have gone beyond that. They have forever altered the future by inspiring or even warning us of its possible outcomes. Here it is, curated by a Facebook group of people who love fiction, especially sci-fi and fantasy.
1: The HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
Well, we are a FUNfiction group, aren’t we? And HH2G is just a ton of fun under all aspects, all the way to its very own existence, because it is a four-book trilogy. No, five. Actually Amazon says there are six books in this trilogy.
Reality itself shifts as it is warped by the sheer funniness of this book. But that is not the only reason why it is up there at Number One, no siree. The Guide has imprinted itself into society, to the point that many, if not all, now are relieved to know that the number 42 is indeed the Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything, and that a towel is the single most useful item to have, and we even celebrate it on May 25th: National Towel Day.
2: Dune, by Frank Herbert
I know, I know. There’s a debate about whether Dune is actually sci-fi or just high fantasy with a tech fetish. There are many who insist that the powers Paul Atreides gains, (whom will forever have Kyle MacLachlan’s face for us), are more akin to magic than technology. Also, in support of this theory, there IS a princess. Such sterile squabbles I consider akin to those regarding Star Wars, which, on the other hand, is obviously not Sci-Fi, (Please turn to the comments to violently disagree or support). I don’t really care, because that grey area between epic fantasy and soft superhero social sci-fi in which DUNE lurks like a sandworm is what makes it such a great book.
3: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Philip K. Dick
This is it, the book that inspired the visionary motion picture “Blade Runner”, one of the most plausible and upsetting forecasts of our not too far future. How famous is this book, you ask? There’s a hardcover being sold for $400,00 (although I suspect it’s actually a money laundering scheme). If you loved the movie, then this is a significantly better and more articulated voyage into Dick’s dark and rainy dystopian world which, readers maintain, has a measurably higher level of suspense and white-knuckled action.
4: Foundation, by Isaac Asimov
Let me start by saying that this book is number one bestseller in the sci-fi category on Amazon, at the time of writing of this article. That said, what remains to be explained is how come it only ranks fourth here. This list is dedicated to the best works in sci-fi, not the best-selling ones. There is a slight difference. The bestsellers change, based on what the current trend is, for example the news of one book being made into a movie will make it shoot up as many will want to read the novel before seeing the film, so they can bitch about how badly it was rendered. This list is based on more solid and unquestionable grounds, primarily the collective opinion of hundreds of enthusiasts, the unpredictable glitches of Facebook surveys and, ultimately, how much bourbon I’ve had before compiling this here entry.
Solid and unquestionable.
That said, “Foundation” is hard science fiction in its most epic form, driven by Asimov’s unquestionable gift for intricate and brain-buzzing dialogue, this series of seven books will lead you from a not so improbable tomorrow to the wildest future interplanetary conflict, with an endless line of twists and revelations which will undoubtedly make for some great live action.
…They’re making it into a motion picture.
5: The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
This is another novel which, if a live action flick is ever announced, will undoubtedly shoot up at number one. It is classic space opera and science fiction, with gripping action and strong, memorable characters. An amazing mix of tech-explorative fiction and war fiction, with just the right touch of possibility, lurking between the lines and staring at you with drug-augmented ferociousness, told by the dark humored soldier whose life spans the thousand years and more of the bloody conflict which gives its name to the series.
Extremely hard to put down.
6: Rendezvous with Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke
Although not among the most known books, the “Rama” series has captured the imagination of its readers for its hard-science fiction approach to the first contact theme, while simultaneously proving able to reach a bit further, in imagination and wonder, than Sagan’s “Contact”.
The first book in the series is a gripping puzzle which slowly unfolds its secrets, some of which deadly, to the confused explorers who first set foot on this gigantic and ominous spacecraft. The slow but constant revelation of new clues which lead, or mislead, to one discovery after another is sure to put you in a compulsively page turning relationship with this novel. No wonder it’s a trilogy plus one final book titled: “Rama Revealed”.
7: Ringworld, by Larry Niven
Another exceptionally well-written hard sci-fi novel. Niven’s imagination leads us in the exploration of the theoretical megastructure known as a Dyson Ring, A rotating circular construction large enough to encompass a star at a distance which will allow for life. In this artificial setting, land masses and seas are placed along the inner strip which extends up to three million times the surface area of the Earth.
Similarly as with the Rama series, the origins of the Ringworld are unknown as its inhabitants are, apparently, unaware of the nature of the original architects of their world. Here too the exploration leads to new and shocking discoveries, combined with the intricate interactions between the species which populate the artifact. Another example of how imaginative fiction does not have to compromise with solid science.
8: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert A. Heinlein
of my personal favorites, really, especially because of the book’s co-protagonist, a computer named HOLMES which has quietly gained consciousness, and a sense of humor to go along with it. The background to the story is a Heinlein-grade multi planetary colonial society which, as we learn more about it, we realize it just deserves to be torn down. Hailed as Heinlein’s crowning achievement, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is one of those titles which, although it has not produced any relevant motion picture versions, (although there is long-running news of a film being made, called “uprising”) it has influenced other space franchises such as the hugely popular Netflix series “The Expanse”.
9: The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut
Our second favorite sci-fi author when it comes to wit. Vonnegut’s cutting sense of humor is uniquely entertaining, as well as his own take on finding the Question to Everything, and even providing us with an answer. An amusing exploration of the concept of free will, its nature, and how many of the characters have been effectively stripped of it, along with the discovery that humanity has been the plaything of aliens, for an entirely inane purpose. Ridiculously tragic and dramatically whimsical.
10: Contact, by Carl Sagan
The fact that this book is only ranked 10th does not mean it isn’t worth reading. These are the top best ever, and any and all books listed here are either Pulitzer-Prize winners or bestsellers. Or we just really really liked it here in the FunFiction group. Carl Sagan’s clear, wonderfully insightful prose is reason alone to grab a copy. The description of the Message alone is a spectacularly sapient essay on exo-linguistics. A novel which teeters between the genres of hard sci-fi and scientific paper, it will surely be appreciate those among you who are especially keen on a solid scientific base.
11: Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
A little monument of irony, black humor and sentimentality, Slaughterhouse Five contains some of Vonnegut’s signature characters, like the fictional novelist Kilgore Trout and the omnipresent Trafalmadorians. The novel tells the story of Billy Pilgrim, who lives a nonlinear life and keeps experiencing random moments in his life, since he has come unstuck in time. Taking up Billy’s own perspective, the narration becomes as disjointed as his own timeline intersects with history, in particular with World War Two and the bombing of Dresden.
A deliciously complicated novel written in deceivingly simple sentences.
12: I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
One of the great Sci-Fi classics of all time. It has established the global idea that as robots come into existence as no longer fictional science, they will need laws in their programming to protect man from them, but for those who pay more attention, to protect man from using robots against other men, the three laws of robotics:
1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2) A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
With these three, simple directives, Isaac Asimov formulated the laws governing robots’ behavior. In I, Robot, Asimov chronicles the development of the robot from its primitive origins in the present to its ultimate perfection in the not-so-distant future—a future in which humanity itself may be rendered obsolete.
13: The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin
From the book blurb:
A bleak moon settled by utopian anarchists, Anarres has long been isolated from other worlds, including its mother planet, Urras—a civilization of warring nations, great poverty, and immense wealth. Now Shevek, a brilliant physicist, is determined to reunite the two planets, which have been divided by centuries of distrust. He will seek answers, question the unquestionable, and attempt to tear down the walls of hatred that have kept them apart.
To visit Urras—to learn, to teach, to share—will require great sacrifice and risks, which Shevek willingly accepts. But the ambitious scientist’s gift is soon seen as a threat, and in the profound conflict that ensues, he must reexamine his beliefs even as he ignites the fires of change.
14: Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Another award-winning book, it is hailed as one of the best space opera novels available. And not just normal space opera, but deeply complex and combined with a real human themes. This human tale about flawed humans has a full set of diverse and compelling themes of romance, action, space battles, AI gone amok, time travel, and much more.
From the blurb:
On the world called Hyperion, beyond the reach of galactic law, waits a creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all.
On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope—and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands.
15: Neuromancer, by William Gibson
This is the book that started the Cyberpunk vibe. It didn’t invent it – Philip K. Dick did it with his electric sheep, (which is one of the reasons why he’s ranked a bit higher) but Neuromancer most definitely consolidated it into a recognizable genre.
Gibson’s book is a gritty mix of IT and noir action film, set amid the crawling streets and undergrounds of the near future, in the shadow of shifty corporations and corrupt governments.
Here is the blurb of the very first book to win Hugo, Nebula AND Philip K. Dick awards, (which, arguably, not even Philip K. Dick himself ever won):
Case was the sharpest data-thief in the matrix—until he crossed the wrong people and they crippled his nervous system, banishing him from cyberspace. Now a mysterious new employer has recruited him for a last-chance run at an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence. With a dead man riding shotgun and Molly, a mirror-eyed street-samurai, to watch his back, Case is ready for the adventure that upped the ante on an entire genre of fiction.
Neuromancer was the first fully-realized glimpse of humankind’s digital future—a shocking vision that has challenged our assumptions about technology and ourselves, reinvented the way we speak and think, and forever altered the landscape of our imaginations.
Thank you for reading our little list. Do you agree with the rankings? Maybe, maybe not. This list was initially discussed as a survey in our Facebook group: FunFiction. Come on over and join the discussion!
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