Ten of the best
I’ve been reading SF, off and on, for the last 45 years, so many of these recommendations may appear very dated now, but here’s ten (in no particular order) to add to your list that I found memorable and / or entertaining…
1) The Demolished Man & The Stars My Destination (aka Tiger, Tiger) by Alfred Bester. He only wrote a few novels but these are classic SF thrillers, both based around mental powers – telepathy and telekinesis respectively. There are lines and rhymes from these books that have stayed in my head for over 30 years.
2) WASP – Eric Frank Russell. Not the greatest SF classic but great fun - how to subvert an entire planet on your own. Surprised the CIA have never banned it.
3) The Riverworld series – Philip Jose Farmer – Mark Twain, Richard Burton and Alice Liddle amongst a cast of several million. Great storytelling based on a wonderful premise of universal resurrection
4) Stand on Zanzibar – John Brunner (in fact most things by Brunner). This blew my mind when I first read it – the style and construction were extra-ordinary, for their time, and I still think it’s worth reading now
5) Day of the Triffids (in fact most things by John Wyndham). Just a classic story, well written.
6) The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. Rightly renowned as a classic (plus still one of the few SF books I found that tackles time dilation as a side effect of space travel)
7) A Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter Miller) – to my mind still one of the best post apocalytic novels
8) Ursula Leguin’s The Dispossessed and the Left Hand of Darkness – intelligent, thoughtful, political – landmark books in SF. Her Earthsea stories are supposed to be for kids, but I confess I found them very entertaining too.
8) James Blish’s Cities in Flight series – perhaps a bit adolescent but I have fond memories of great stories; plus the notion of city-states uprooting themselves and roaming the galaxy free of their home worlds is just wonderful. Also worth checking out: Blish’s unusual A Case of Conscience (shades of Greene).
9) The Dangerous Visions anthologies (edited, long windedly, by Harlan Ellison). Rereading them they now appear patchy and nowhere near as ‘dangerous’ as when they first appeared, but – Ellison’s sometimes wearisome self aggrandisement aside – they are still worth reading. Phil Farmer’s ‘Riders of the Purple Wage’ is a stand-out.
10) A bit off-piste perhaps – but if your french is up to it or you want, like I did, to try and improve it by using material I actually wanted to read, try anything by René Barjaval, a french contemporary – very roughly – of John Wyndham. His ‘Ravage’ provides an interesting comparison with Triffids. A very good modern writer of french SF is Pierre Bordage. Sadly I’ve never seen either author in translation.
Also from the the classic era – anything by Fred Pohl (or Pohl and Kornbluth, e.g the Space Merchants), Cordwainer Smith (C’mell and the cat people etc.), Ted Sturgeon (More than Human is a classic), Poul Anderson, Heinlein (e.g. Stranger in a Strange Land), Bradbury (e.g. Vermillion Sands) and of course Asimov (the Gods Themselves is his best). I’ve forgotten hundreds, but available on the Kindle is ‘100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels’ by Andrews and Rennison – well worth investing in that if you want a comprehensive annotated listing of some of the best SF ever published.
Amongst the more modern stuff then all of Iain M Banks fantastically exuberant culture novels (and ‘Transition’ is very good too). I also enjoyed Gary Gibson’s Nova trilogy – fast paced space opera – and Peter Hamilton’s invention and industry is amazing. Also – they’re not SF (more medieval power play with elements of fantasy) but in terms of great story-telling and characterisation I think George Martin’s Ice and Fire novels (sex, violence, and gratuitous heraldry) are well worth a significant chunk of your leisure time.
P.S. Like PhilipN I also have fond memories of Gollancz’s yellow bedecked SF hard backs in my local library – but the good news is that a lot of those are now available on the Kindle.