10 Books You Need to Read if You Love Sci-Fi Part 2
And here’s the rest of that list!
This book is about aliens. The best book about aliens, probably. A human colony is forced to prematurely deposit its people on an already inhabited world. The natives, while very human like in appearance (aside from being 9 foot Drow) don’t operate in the same way humans do. The natives have no actual concept of emotional bonding as do humans. Their primary drive is something akin to loyalty, a “need to follow,” and math comes as naturally to them as does breathing. Needless to say, horrible, irreconcilable culture conflicts happen, and the human colonists are confined to a small island where they are allowed to live. The story follows the single human allowed to live with the natives as an interpreter-ambassador. The book is fascinating as it continuously compares the native aliens to humans, how they are so seemingly similar one moment and totally unknowable the next. Seldom have aliens ever felt so…truly alien to me.
Don’t care about science, or deeper truths, or what it means to be human? You’re in luck, because Bujold writes some of the best damn space opera I’ve ever read. Shards of Honor is the first book in the Vorkosigan Adventures, well, going by publication date it is. Chronologically Falling Free is first, but aside from being in the same universe it has little connection to the rest of the series, though it is also a very good read. Shards of Honor has everything you could ever want: Cordelia, a plucky captain of a science survey vessel, captured by the captain of an enemy ship who has been left stranded by his own mutinous crew. The two become unlikely allies as they struggle to survive the wilderness of an alien world and make it back to civilization all while their own planets go to war. Action! Adventure! Romance! Intrigue! And by GOD, it’s fun.
Peter F. Hamilton writes the best galaxy-spanning adventures. His worlds are rich, and well thought out, and multitudinous. He would be the Tolkien of sci-fi, except Tolkien never wrote this big. Pandora’s Star is the first half of the first story in the Commonwealth Saga, followed up by Judas Unchained. You’ll need to read both. I’m not sorry. To give you an idea of how good Hamilton is at world building, in Pandora’s Star people travel to other planets by train, and it makes perfect sense. Against his amazingly epic galactic backdrop, he spins an amazing and complex yarn of conspiracy and alien invasion through at least a dozen different points of view. Each character, even if they never meet any other major character is intrinsic to the plot. Together a massive cast builds and weaves together a truly epic space adventure.
And here you thought Douglas Adams didn’t write anything other than the Hitchhiker’s Guide. It’s true, the Guide is by far his more popular book, owing largely to the bold friendly letters on the cover. In The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul, Dirk Gently, a holistic detective (he solves the whole problem, you see) goes about trying to solve why random acts of god are happening and which god is responsible. It is as if Douglas Adams attempted to write American Gods. It’s a strange sort of sci-fi that could be called fantasy if you chose to look at it kind of cock-eyed. But whatever it is, it’s good.
Robinson is thought of by many to be a sort of protege of Heinlein’s. Either that, or Heinlein’s biggest fan. Ultimately, he was chosen to write Heinlein’s last novel, as Heinlein was dead at the time; so it seems either title would be apt, and I like to think Mr. Robinson would agree. Like I, Robot, Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon is a series of short stories that all take place in Callahan’s bar: a bar too good to be real. Callahan’s is like the platonic ideal of bars. It’s the bar you desperately wish your favorite bar was, but you settle for your favorite bar because what you really want can’t exist. Even as a kid, I knew Callahan’s was something special. Something impossible. Something magical. Something I desperately wanted to be real. That’s the real magic of the book right there. It’s a book that believes that people can care for each other, that total strangers can love, and that we as people, together, can make the world alright. It’s is the place that gave us the Callahan’s Law: “Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased—thus do we refute entropy.” Also, there are puns. Lots and lots of puns.
There are, of course, literally hundreds of other excellent sci-fi books out there. I like to think I’ve read a lot of them, but I know I’ve missed my own fair share. If you guys like this list, I’ll make a point of collecting others that I think are 100% worth your time. And if you’ve got a book that you feel is worthy of the list, lemme know what it is! Until then, if you haven’t read all the books listed above…you know what you need to do.