Science Fiction works empower our imaginations, letting us journey to worlds of possibility, letting us explore alternate realities, and worlds. Here is my personal top ten list of books that really fired up my imagination.
1. Dune by Frank Herbert
No wonder this work won both Hugo and Nebula awards, and is among the best science fiction novels ever written. The story is set on the desert world of Arrakis, which is home to the giant Sand Worms, which create the Spice Melange, a key ingredient for interstellar travel. Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family, surrounded by political intrigues, working to tame the desert planet, and his rise to Messiah status.
Dune is a huge series, I have them all in Paperback on my "Read every few years for sheer enjoyment" shelf in my work room. The books of the series inspired me to become a worldbuilder.
2. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
The Forever War is a classic read, and I confess, I wanted it because of the lime green bas-relief astronaut (Space Soldier) on the cover of the June 1976 Del Rey paperback edition. I could not stop reading this book, even though I was barely 10 1/2 years old. I had never read anything like it, at the time, or since. As a single novel, it is great, but Haldeman also wrote three sequels. Private William Mandella has been drafted into the war with "The skinnies" and propelled through space and time to fight in a distant space war, over a thousand-year conflict, using black holes as travel devices. So much greatness. I talk about this book when anyone asks me, "When did you know you wanted to write science fiction?" "At night, with a flashlight, under the blankets, cutting into my sleep in 6th grade." I wanted other boys to get the feelings of excitement, and adventure, and told myself, I will do this.
3. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? By Philip K Dick
Rick Deckard is a "Bladerunner" living in a mostly-abandoned neo-noir Los Angeles, and his mission is to "retire" rogue android off-world colony worker "Replicants" in the year 2019.
This is famously the inspiration for the blockbuster film Blade Runner (My favorite actor, Rutger Hauer stole the show), and the newer sequel film, which kicked so much ass as a movie that I am saying it, right here. I have to say this is my favorite book and "Bladerunner" is my favorite film of all time, and is one of the reasons that I also write Cyberpunk. If you’re a fan of the movies, get it, and you'll get so much more out of the story. Be aware, though, the films were heavily adapted for the screen, and a lot of it is different. I learned to be a screenwriter by deconstructing the Francher / Peoples Screenplay for the first film.
4. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
This classic is a collection of nine interrelated short stories, set in the same universe about the fictional future history of robots, posing questions such as ‘What happens when a robot challenges it creator?' Asimov penned the Three Laws of Robotics and explores the conflicts between humans and robots. I loved it.
5. Neuromancer by William Gibson
The winner of Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick Awards, Neuromancer is in my opinion, the definitive cyberpunk sci-fi novel of all time. This masterpiece by William Gibson has had a major influence on science fiction since. I discovered this as a computer game, and confused, then read the novel.
Case is a hacker recruited to take on a powerful artificial intelligence. I wish that Cyberspace as described in the novel was what we'd get, but instead, we have the internet, and URLs.
6. Foundation by Isaac Asimov
A science fiction classic, Foundation is the first in a trilogy series that follows the downfall of a crumbling Galactic Empire. This book inspired me to build better worlds for the Science Fiction Roleplaying game, Traveller. The protagonist, Hari Seldon, is a scientist of Psychohistory which predicts the actions of a society using mathematical principles. He establishes a colony of the greatest minds to weather this threat to the Empire.
7. The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov
Published in 1972, my uncle bought it for me, when I was 8 years old in third grade. I ended up using it for show and tell in my homeroom class, and the teacher was amazed that I even understood it, and questioned me closely about the material, and themes. The book is set in the early 22nd century. A handful of characters must convince the world that Earth’s latest renewable energy source derived from an alternate universe (With different physical constants) is killing our planet. If humanity doesn’t stop using this source, the solar system will collapse. So freaky to read about alternate realities, and a race with three sexes. Among my favorites.
8. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Hailed as one of the best novels of all time, Slaughterhouse Five is a time travel tale, as well as an antiwar novel. Billy Pilgrim, becomes "unstuck in time" is able to move both forwards and backwards through his life seemingly at random. Difficult to grasp at first until you realize this is all one big story told out of sequence for effect. 9. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke A famous film by Stanley Kubrick. The book was worked on concurrently with Kubrick by Arthur C. Clarke, and was published just after the release of the film. After uncovering an alien artifact buried on the Moon, a spacecraft is sent to Jupiter to find its origins. But the computer onboard the ship has conflicting orders, causing it to essentially go insane. Most people seeing it for the first time were bored from the extended stargate travel sequences, and the montage-like ending. But do read the book, it conveys more clarity. Stunning ideas here, all through.
10. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
Published in 1895, this novella is another bestseller of the founding fathers of science fiction; it’s one of the best sci-fi novels if you’re interested in the concept of time travel. though the language and themes used at the time of writing seem quaint, it is a powerful story nonetheless. He predicts a world war, cities destroyed, the earth heals, and in the far future, humanity is split into the ignorant of the surface, who willingly serve as food, and the dwellers under the earth, who prey upon them. Most striking to me, is where the protagonist pushes the machine far into the distant future, and sees what is essentially the end of the earth.