SF for the Uninitiated


Frequent guest Brigid asked about Dune when her turn at the SF author quiz turned up that tome’s creator, Frank Herbert. On occasion I run across someone nearly or totally uninitiated to the world of science fiction and they ask about one book or another. Every SF fan will tell you something different, tilted by her or his own tastes, but if I were to put you on the track of science fiction, here’s where your spanking new anti-grav hoverwheels might begin …

(Note: I’m not going to bother linking these authors or books; you have google or amazon and can probably find them yourself.)

Asimov is a utilitarian writer. If you can imagine big ideas without tons of description, you might like him. His robot mysteries, especially Caves of Steel, are good. Every SF fan has read the original Foundation trilogy, the first two books of which were published as shorter works before being combined by his publisher.

Robert Heinlein can be testy if you’re not a libertarian. My favorite of his books is The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, which won the 1966 Hugo for best SF novel.

Arthur C. Clarke rounds out the “Big Three,” and an unofficial web site pins this accurate description on him:

“At the heart of every Arthur C. Clarke novel lies a small puzzle with large ramifications. He is an author who takes an idea and drops it into a quiet pool of thought. There’s a splash – that’s the intriguing nature of Clarke’s scientific genius. Then the ripples spread out, washing up on character, society, soaking the whole book in wonder. He’s a science fiction writer whose imaginings reverberate outside the realm of fiction.”

That said, I can’t recommend any of his novels above the others, though his collaboration with Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey is worthy. His short story “The Star” might be of interest to St Blog’s readers.

After the “Big Three” you have the killer B’s: Benford, Brin and Bear. Three science guys with Big Ideas who just happen to be good writers, too. Brin is my favorite of the three for characterization and an optimistic bent. Brin wrote a good mystery Sundiver, a great fantasy, The Practice Effect, but my favorite is his award-winning Startide Rising. My favorite Bear novel is Moving Mars.

These are sf/fantasy novels somewhat off the beaten path (non-feature film material) I’ve read that were significant (or that I just remember) and that unlike most sf tv, are not weird:
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore
Lost Horizon by James Hilton (ok, well, the only good film version is over sixty years old)
The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson (and his Mars trilogy is great, too)
Alas Babylon by Pat Frank
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
A Case of Conscience by James Blish
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

I will tell you that this year, there is no good sf on television. None whatsoever. If you must watch tv, watch non-sf instead.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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One Response to SF for the Uninitiated

  1. hyperpat says:

    Figuring out what to recommend to someone who has never read SF is a tough problem. It helps a lot if they are regular readers (of whatever), and you have some notion of what their current tastes are. Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed would probably appeal to someone who likes Plato’s Republic, but not to someone who thinks Raymond Chandler is the greatest author ever.

    I like most of your recommendations; I’ll add a few more:

    Nova by Samuel R. Delany
    Macroscope by Piers Anthony
    The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
    Davy by Edgar Pangborn
    Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
    Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
    More than Human by Theodore Sturgeon

    Note: on the SF writer quiz, I show up as Robert Heinlein, nice as he’s also my favorite author.

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