More Than Human is widely lauded as the first literary science fiction book, and it won the first Hugo back in 1953. Seventy years later, it holds up.
While the premise sounds a little like X-Men—young outcasts with superhuman powers—this is in no way a superhero book. These are damaged people with inexplicable abilities who are trying to make their way in the world without revealing what they can do. The focus on character and the skill of the writing hasn’t aged at all, making this story an absolute classic.
Recommendation: Read it.
Written in 1959, A Canticle for Leibowitz is one of the first real literary science fiction books, and an enduring, if not exceptionally well-known, classic.
The story takes places several hundred years after a nuclear apocalypse, and civilization barely exists. It’s a leisurely read that thoughtfully deals with the aftermath of a post-apocalyptic world through the lens of the denizens of a monastery in the Utah desert.
In this monastery are bits of scientific knowledge that the monks do not understand, and keep to themselves amid their trials and squabbling.
As the story occasionally skips forward in time hundreds of years, you don’t get to really settle in a consistent group of characters, but you do experience their civilization advancing.
Interestingly, during World War II, author Miller was a tail gunner in a bomber crew that participated in the destruction of the 6th-century Christian monastery at Monte Cassino, Italy, founded by St. Benedict, and recognized as the oldest surviving Christian church in the Western world. It’s generally assumed that this experience heavily influenced his writing this story.
Recommendation: Read it, if you’re in an old-school cruising mode. If you’re after something modern or space-opera-y, keep looking.
Dragon’s Egg is a fun, clever look at life evolving on the surface of a neutron star, where one hour of human time is the equivalent of hundreds of years on the alien star.
While the extreme physics of the story may be accurate, Dragon’s Egg contains some of the most stilted dialogue I’ve come across in a long time, especially in the beginning. I found myself thinking that author Robert L. Forward must have talked to a human woman at some point in his life, but if so, that knowledge did not find its way to his book.
However, this is not a story you read for its character development. Dragon’s Egg is all about examining an alien race evolving on a sphere with a gravity of 67 billion Gs, and living at a million times the speed of humans. The story is most believable when it’s dealing with aliens, and it’s still a fun ride.
Recommendation: Get it at the library. Power through the first chapter and you’ll be fine.
In The Drowned World, the sun’s become too hot (130°F on a good day), and the cities of the world are submerged. Humanity is now collected down in Antartica or above the Arctic circle.
(This was written in 1962, so way before the current climate change troubles.)
“Best” is a hugely subjective term, and not to be trusted. So here, “Best” means, “a consensus based on dozens of other lists, infused with my own personal bias.”
Sneak preview of forthcoming graphic novel.
Written almost 50 years ago, Dune is the world’s best-selling science fiction novel. As recently as 2012, the readers of Wired magazine voted it the top science fiction novel of all time. Continue reading