A Classical Education: 10 (or more) Sci-Fi Books You Should Read

A while ago, Nathan Bransford asked, "What book are you embarrassed not to have read?" A lot of classics were mentioned (and a lot of people haven't read Lord of the Rings, which astounds me), but it made me think: What books should a science fiction author(/critic/fan) have read?

Some caveats: (1) this is not a top 10 sci-fi novels of all time, nor is it my favorite 10 sci-fi novels; (2) I haven't read all of these (in particular, I haven't read #7, and #5 is waiting on my shelf); (3) I totally cheated because I couldn't pick just 10, so I'm giving you some options.

Without further ado, here's my list of 10 (or more) novels any sci-fi fan should read:
  1. Journey to the Center of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, or Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne. The first father of science fiction, Verne thought of things that didn't happen for 100 years, but they happened. That's like the heart of science fiction.
  2. The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, or The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. The second father of science fiction. Apparently also the father of table top war games.
  3. 1984 by George Orwell or Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Classics in dystopian fiction. Really, you ought to read both.
  4. Dune by Frank Herbert. I consider Dune to be the Lord of the Rings of science fiction, largely for its scope and themes. Unlike the other novels above, Dune is more about the characters and the story than the science. It's one of the best examples of what character-driven, epic sci-fi can be.
  5. The Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov. As mentioned, I haven't read these yet, but they're on my shelf. I have read very little Asimov, and I know this series is a must from a great science fiction author.
  6. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury or Red Planet by Robert Heinlein. If Wells and Verne are fathers of sci-fi, Bradbury and Heinlein are like their sons, or grandsons or something. These two classics explore the colonization of Mars before we realized there was nothing on it. (Alternatively, try Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land).
  7. Neuromancer by William Gibson or Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. I haven't read either, but I've heard so much about them that I want to read both. Both books deal with the idea of cyberspace before "cyberspace" was a word my mom used. A lot of ideas seen in sci-fi since have come out of these stories.
  8. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. I couldn't make a list of sci-fi books without mentioning my very favorite. Like Dune, Ender's Game is more about the characters and psychology than it is about science, but that doesn't make it any less scientific. I don't care if you're a sci-fi fan or not, you have to read this book.
  9. The Giver by Lois Lowry. More dystopian fiction, but more contemporary and accessible than either Orwell or Huxley. Plus, I have a soft spot in my heart for young adult fiction. It's a good book. Try it out.
  10. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. One thing about science fiction is that it's often really, really serious. Adams takes care of that, and I think any fan of sci-fi ought to be exposed to the funnier side of the genre.
So I guess that's over 20 books. That's fine, they're all worth reading. But hey, this is just my opinion, and any top 10 list is going to be missing something. So what do you think? What books would make your list?


MattyDub said...

Wait, you haven't read Snow Crash or Neuromancer? How did I not know that? You must have wisely been hiding that information from me for fear of the tongue-lashing I would give you.
I read Foundation (just the first one) in college, and was underwhelmed. I guess I should give it another try, but it's the opposite of character-driven - it's more like a series of short stories that take place over millenia than a single book.
I haven't read any Verne or Wells, that I recall. I should probably read one or two of those. I guess.

MattyDub said...

I mean, if I'd known when you were here that you haven't read Snow Crash or Neuromancer, you wouldn't have left without them. Heck, I might have made somebody else drive just so I could read them out loud to you on the drive down.
Also, Stephenson's The Diamond Age is one of, if not the, best-known sci-fi books on nanotech. It's also the only one of his books I've read only once - I can't find my copy!

Adam Heine said...

I haven't read them yet. I almost picked up Snow Crash with my birthday gift certificate back in September. I forgot what won over it, but it was real close.

And regarding Foundation (and possibly Verne and Wells), I have to reiterate that these aren't the most awesome sci-fi books, but they are books that every sci-fi fan should have read.

Like 20,000 Leagues has whole pages that are just descriptions of various species of fish and seaweed. Fortunately, all those Verne and Wells books I mentioned are short too.

The ones I remember liking are Center of the Earth and War of the Worlds, but that's just my opinion.

Unknown Blogger said...

I just finished Snow Crash. It currently ranks as the worst novel I've ever read.
I see the attraction to the "cyberspace" part of the book. That was interesting. BUT it wasn't well enough explained (if you're sword fighting do you need to move your entire body to make your avatar sword fight, or is it a joystick or is it just a mental exercise?).
The insane infodump about the Sumerian language and Asherah were mind-numbing.


Adam Heine said...

Hm, good to know, Andy. I still think I ought to have read it, but if it's no good...

Unknown Blogger said...

if you're reading it for the cyberspace description, then I think you can read the 1st 100 or so pages & get the idea.

The story is really, really bad though - but at least the ending is totally UNsatisfying, so you have that to look forward to as well.

Christine Tyler said...

Ah yes. It's so good to know the roots of your genre! I feel like a lot of people, when they write cliches, can't quite put their finger on where they picked up the cliche from, so they excuse themselves.

I think it's just that these classics make their way into pop-culture, and then into the common psyche. When you read the original, it's a lot easier to spot when you're being *unoriginal.*

Matthew MacNish said...

I'm shocked there's a book on this list I haven't heard of. But then ... based on Andy's description of it, maybe I know why.