SF Book Project: Unsent Books

April 18, 2011

Anyone who has been following this series might have noticed some obvious classics of SF and fantasy were missing from the shipments. Because I’m curating this specifically for Ed, I’m not sending him books that he’s already read, nor books by authors he’s already encountered extensively. The following books are those I’d certainly send anyone interested in learning more about SF, but which weren’t necessary to send Ed.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien. A hobbit and his companions set off on a journey to destroy a magic ring and defeat an evil threatening the existence of all free peoples.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Card’s masterpiece. Ender is a small boy with a prodigious talent for military strategy and tactics. He is admitted to Battle School where he trains alongside other children in preparation for fighting an alien race of bug-like creatures. The “military trainee” subgenre is a fruitful one, producing such classics as Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers,” Haldeman’s “The Forever War,” and Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War.”

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. A young man raised by Martians returns to Earth. His unorthodox thinking and strange powers shake up human society. Much has been written about the impact this novel had on our own society as well as the SF literary tradition.

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick. I’m a huge fan of Dick’s work and “A Scanner Darkly” is probably his best novel. An undercover police officer begins spying on himself while running surveillance on a drug case. The novel is informed by Dick’s experience in the drug culture of the 1960s and explores the deep connection between criminals and police. Other PKD novels I especially like: “Radio Free Albemuth,” “Flow My Tears The Policeman Said,” and “VALIS.”

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K LeGuin. Set on a colder than average planet, the humans of Winter have evolved into a single sex. LeGuin uses the setting to explore the nature of gender and friendship.

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds. A seminal novel in the post-2000 revival of space opera, Reynolds mixes an epic star-spanning plot, an intergalactic menace, an archaeological puzzle, and some truly deplorable characters into a fantastic first novel.

Neuromancer by William Gibson. The novel that started the genre cyberpunk and invented the word “cyberspace.” Famously written before Gibson even owned a computer, this novel inspired hackers and computer enthusiasts around the world to create virtual realities and artificial intelligences. Much of the technology seems laughable today, but it is hard to overstate the impact this novel had on science fiction.

Dune by Frank Herbert. An ecological “hero’s tale.” Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Paul Atreides must overcome the evil Harkonnens who murdered his father, unite the disparate Fremen bands, and bring down the entire intergalactic empire. The literary style is based on counterpoint, since each scene with Paul has parallels with his antagonist, Feyd Rautha Harkonnen.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman. A man named Shadow is released from prison but has several interesting experiences with old world gods, culminating in a great battle between old gods and new. Essentially a novel about the experience of immigrants in America, Gaiman hits upon the true nature of American culture in a way that only an outsider can.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K LeGuin. A young wizard named Ged makes a terrible mistake as a young man. The evil shadow he’s unleashed haunts him and threatens to spoil his life until he comes to terms with his mistake.

The Golden Age by John C. Wright. In this post-singularity novel, Phaethon Prime Rhadamanth finds evidence of a civilization-threatening conspiracy in the outer reaches of the solar system. However, he must find to prove the existence of the threat in a society where it is easy to create your own truth and your own memories.

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Ed: 2011-04-18 11:23:16

I like most of these books, for the record. :)

Matt Belcher: 2011-04-18 15:58:18

Yeah it is hard not to like these ones. I just didn't send them cause you'd already read them.

Jordan: 2011-04-18 18:18:43

Pardon my bad memory, but has John C. Wright made the list yet?

Matt Belcher: 2011-04-19 07:29:48

No, and he certainly should have been on this one. I loved the "Golden Age" trilogy. I don't think Ed would have liked it though which is the only reason it hasn't appeared previously. Thanks for the reminder! Jordan, have you read the "Chronicles of Chaos" series?