Sci-Fi Novels

While I love sci-fi and fantasy books, I haven’t found many that I really like (if that makes any sense). So I’m always on the look-out for good sci-fi or fantasy. I think the last book I read was A Kingdom for Sale which was OK. Before that I read William Gibson’s Necromancer (I think that was the title.)

My favorite sci-fi book is probably Ender’s Game. Mephisto in Onyx is up there, as is Dune.

For fantasy, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings triology are in there.

28 Responses to “Sci-Fi Novels”


  1. Mitchell

    Do you mean Magic Kingdom For Sale — Sold! by Terry Brooks? That’s really a fantasy, which I thought was quite good.

    SF books I have loved: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, The Illustrated Man by Bradbury (these last two are really short-story collections, but I think I like SF better when it’s in short-story form), the Stainless Steel Rat series by Harry Harrison, the Incarnations of Immortality series by Piers Anthony, the Time quartet by Madeleine L’Engle, and the Callahan books by Spider Robinson.

    Fantasy: The Belgariad and The Mallorean by David Eddings, the Myth books by Robert L. Aspirin, the first Xanth book by Piers Anthony, The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander, The Harry Potter book by J.K. Rowling, and the juvenile books in the Dragonriders of Pern series.

    Reid, I think you’d really like the Incarnations of Immortality–at least, the first three books. The first is called On a Pale Horse, and it’s about the guy who accidentally kills the Grim Reaper. The rules are that if you kill Death, you have to take his job. The novel deals in an interesting way with how death is sometimes a blessing, and how seriously the man whose job it is to bring it must take the responsibility. The rest of the books deal with the people who assume the incarnate responsibilities of time, war, fate, nature, satan, and God. Those last three really suck, though, so don’t read them unless you feel you must (for closure’s sake).

    You’d also like the Callahan books by Spider Robinson. The characters are lovable and pathetic (in the literary sense), the writing is sharp and witty, and as in the Eddings books, you find yourself continuing to read more out of concern for the characters than curiosity about the story. The first one is called Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon and it’s set in a bar that doesn’t show up on any maps, but makes itself findable by people who “need” to find it because of whatever baggage they’re carrying.

  2. Reid

    Mitchell,

    Thanks for the response, especially the specific recommendations. I think Marc also recommended (or at least he enjoyed) the Incarnations of Immortality. (Then again, it might have been you.)

    I really enjoyed the Prydian Chroncicles, too. And yes, I meant Magic Kingdom for Sale–Sold!. I thought it was OK. I can’t remember the reason I didn’t like it more.

    I read the Belgariad when I stayed in Davis for the summer. Marc recommended that series, and he sort of lied about it, too. He told me that each book was complete in and of itself (i.e. I could read one book and not have to read the others!). Man, 3/4 through the first book, and I was irritated. The next day I went out and bought the remaining four books.

  3. Chris Magnusson

    OK —

    I really like the genre of SF, and can occasionally like Fantasy (though my pride often warns me away from the garish covers — I’m so superficial).

    I just finished reading two really interesting big urban steampunk novels by the British guy named China Mieville. I recommend them both, they are (in order): *Perdido Street Station* and *The Scar*.

    I’ve liked the *Ender Books* a lot; other O.S. Card is pretty inconsistent. Did you all know that a movie is in the works?

    Now, Philip K Dick is the guy, though. He is sometimes a clumsy writer, but there is something special about what he does, especially the later ‘spiritual’ novels where everything is so bent in on itself. If anyone is interested, I could come up w/ a top 5 or 10 Dick novels list.

    Another really incredible fabulist (I don’t know what else to call him) is Tim Powers. I don’t know why he is not more famous. Read *Delare* (Max, did you read this already) or *The Anubis Gates* or *Last Call*. I constantly look for anything new by him. For one of his books, he invented a third-rate romantic 18th century poet as a character, and then liked him so much he started publishing poetry under the guy’s name (and eventually even a cookbook). Anyway, Powers really really dazzles me; his ‘genre’ is unusual & he has dabbled in many things but is well worth it . . .

    Piers Anthony — haven’t read him in a LONG time, though I remember him chiefly for being the author of the first sex scene I ever read, in one of the Xanth books. And I loved the Pern books, but haven’t read one since I was a teenager.

  4. Reid

    Max,

    I tried reading Dick because of your recommendation, but I couldn’t get into the book (admittedly, I read only a few pages). I’m interested in giving him another shot, particuarly the ones that are theological.

    His concepts–that are manifested in the movie adaptations–are really cool, although the movies aren’t that great, imo.

    I did finish reading Declare, and I didn’t really get into it. Then again, started the book, put in down about a third of the way, and then a year later, picked it up and finished it. So that might have had something to do with it.

    I had a hard time visualizing some of the action/suspense scenes, and I think that’s what made it difficult to enjoy.

    Why don’t you talk about Dick? It’s always cool to hear people talk about books that they love. I’d also be interested in hearing more about Mieville.

  5. Chris Magnusson

    His books seem to add up to something profoundly ‘moral’ without having any particularly moral characters in them — that is, shiningly moral. And they are maddeningly ambiguous vis a vis what the heck is real (at least the later novels are). The books are full of actual care, not just tinkering around with ideas; sometimes the writing is great, though it often isn’t.

    The Divine Invasion, VALIS, and Transmigration of Timothy Archer books are great. They are a sort of trilogy, and try to assimilate (in a really abstract way) a mystical experience Dick had: he was in lots of pain from oral surgery, and when a girl came to his door to deliver medication, he saw a christian fish necklace around her neck, then a pink light pierced into his brain, filling him w/ weird images and artwork, and somehow informing him that his son had been mis-diagnosed. He told his doctor what the light showed him, the light was right, and his son’s life was saved.

    So, whatever that means . . .

    Anyway, in those books, there are possibilities that a good God is trying to communicate to people and save the world; that a satellite is beaming the information from a prehistoric alien computer program, that the protagonist is mentally ill, that time stopped around 70 AD and everything is an illusion that we are trying to escape from, that there is an evil cloud surrounding the earth and Elijah has tried to smuggle God past the evil demiurge via a pregnant women in a space shuttle, etc (pseudo-gnosticism, I guess). It’s pretty wild, but somehow compelling.

    He’s also sort of obsessed with President Nixon and the decline of liberty. Several of his novels have a nixon-esque character.

    Hey, I was going to decline to write anything about PKD, but I did anyway. I should really be working on finals, papers, yadda yadda.

    anyone else out there read anything by him?

  6. Reid

    Man, that does sound wild–to the point where I’m not sure I’d like it. It almost sounds like a Vonnegut novel.

    I’ll try to give Divine Intervention a shot, and thanks for your description of his writing.

  7. Chris Magnusson

    Max,

    It’s Divine Invasion.

    I just saw the Korean movie Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and . . . Spring.

    It was pretty good; it has stayed w/ me.

    Chris

  8. Reid

    Oops, thanks for the correction.

    I know you’re busy, but I encourage you to write something about the film. Maybe you could say a little something about it in the “Movies You’ve Recently Seen” thread.

  9. Reid

    The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin

    A lot of people had this on their best sci-fi list at the utne site, so I decided to check it out. (I also like LeGuin’s Wizard of Earthsea story.)

    The basic story is of an envoy from earth sent to a planet where the inhabitants are neither male nor female, except for a few days in the month when their sex drive kicks in, and they become either male or female. Besides this period their sex drive is dormant.

    LeGuin explores what a society would be like for people like this. (They are basically like humans in other respects.) It’s a neat premise, but I don’t know if she fleshes the concept out in interesting ways.

    In a way this novel highlights the huge obstacle faced by sci-fi/fantasy writers: creating a new, real life world–that includes a history, culture, language, behaviors, etc. They must do this as well, as create an interesting story, characters, etc. Very few sci-fi writers can really succeed at the former, imo, and that leaves the stories feeling flat and two-dimensional. The fact that Tolkien (and to a lesser extent Herbert) has created a rich, realistic fantasy world is what makes his work so extraordinary.

    I don’t think LeGuin pulls it off, but the she does explore some of the implications of the biology of these people, and that’s interesting.

  10. Reid

    For what it’s worth, I enjoyed the Belgariad series. My post above about Marc makes it sound like I thought Marc did a terrible thing, but it was really meant to be a funny story. Anyway, the story became like a soap opera–with different characters and their love interests–but I sort of enjoyed that element in the story.

  11. Reid

    Mitchell,

    Do you think I could borrow Incantations of Immortality and Callahan’s Springtime Saloon.

  12. Mitchell

    Yes.

  13. Reid

    I just finished reading Divine Invasion.

    (Spoiler Alert)

    You know when the Satan, in the form of a talking goat, appears to Herb Asher? That’s when the idea that David Lynch would be a great director for a film adaptation of this book. There’s the weird sense of time and reality-dream dynamic going on that Lynch seems to love. Well, there’s an overall weirdness that would make a Lynch a good fit. Still, I don’t know if these films would be interesting as a movie, but Lynch would be the guy if you tried to do it.

    I’m not sure what I feel about the novel, except I agree that it was oddly compelling. I followed the story with interest, wanting to see what would happen next (in the same way as a Lynch film).

    I liked the jumps from dream-world to reality. For example, when Herb is in cryonic suspension, and how he relives his past in that state. Not surprisingly, the whole dream-reality dynamic also reminded me of the matrix.

    I did have some problems with it, though. I didn’t care for Herb’s relationship with Linda Fox. That just seemed like an adolescent fantasy that seems to occur in sci-fi/fantasy novels.

    The scene where Herb is stopped by the cops also seemed unbelievable and silly. And I must say that that was the first time in the novel that I felt that way. The fact that PKD didn’t make me feel that way earlier is an accomplishment given the nature of the story.

    I had problems with the characterization of God as a being that can be chased away from earth and living on another planet. God’s power, at least at this point, seems limited.

    I’m not sure if I’m going to keep reading the other two, unless you think the resolution is really worth it. Do same characters appear, or are there different characters in the same “world?”

    Thanks for the recommendation, Chris. I did enjoy reading the book.

  14. Chris

    I would read VALIS — but maybe skip *The Transmigration of Timothy Archer*. VALIS is really good — it concerns the same set of conditions as *Invasion*. It is also less fantastic.

    The point about God being good but not all-powerful is definitely strange, but it seems like he was trying to implement a ‘gnostic’ cosmology in the book — one which was popular to some degree in early christianity. The idea of this type of gnosticism is (I believe) that there is a pitched battle between a good god and satan–a battle that is real in the sense that it is losable by the good God. There is often a sense of there being a true highest God somewhere, but that God has absconded from the affairs of Earch and human beings.

    The book was theologically interesting because he did a whole ‘what if’ thing with this scenario. And in some ways, for people who are deeply vexed by the problem of evil, this system works out well. Interestingly, the earliest forms of Judaism posit God as the ‘best’ among many gods — the champion God who struggles for dominion in the cosmos and asks for allegiance. Or so some people say. The increasingly ‘untouchable’ omnipotent God eventually wins out over this — more so w/ Greek influences. Not that I don’t believe in God as Almighty, the only existing One, etc. But it is a *concept* that is one among many . . . though not equal among many.

    It is strange how PKD manages to make things somewhat believable. I think it has to do w/ the tarnished messed-up nature of his characters.

    Chris

  15. Reid

    I guess you could say that PKD did a good job of making the book believeable given the fantastic nature of the book. I do believe that the book is very ambitious, particularly that one scene describing Immanuel’s “manipulation” of time. I don’t know if I could visualize the scene or if I understood it completely, but I recognize the difficulty of what PKD was trying to do there.

  16. Reid

    Here are a couple of lists for sci-fi:

    Sci-Fi/Fantasy Book Club’s “Most Significant Sci-Fi/Fantasy (1953-2002)

    Phobos Entertainment’s “100 Sci-Fi Books You Just Have to Read”

    I’m not familiar with either organization. I also haven’t heard of a lot of stuff on the lists, especially the Phobos one.

  17. chris

    Thanks for these lists.

    There is one on there that I would have to put a huge exclamation point on:

    *The Stars My Destination* by Alfred Bester

    This is a thrilling classic w/ cool political overtones. I highly recommend it and want to read it again RIGHT NOW.

  18. Reid

    You sure, you sure? You think I should chance ‘um? 🙂

    Seriously, would you recommend this more than the PKD novels you recommended above?

  19. Chris

    Chance away bra

  20. Reid

    Dude, no way. You owe me some bruskies if it’s not good.

  21. Chris

    Bruskies? Is that one freel? Do you even like bruskies?

  22. Reid

    Max,

    I’m trying to annoy you with my “Cali-surfer-talk” that you love so much. I will check out the book after I finish up the novels I’m working on now.

  23. Chris

    Hey —

    I’ve heard many times that there are a couple of books by Gene Wolf: The Wizard, and The Knight, that are just incredible — that they are supposedly the best of the best of fantasy, they transcend the genre, etc. etc. yadda yadda. Have any idiots out there actually READ these books? I’d hate to waste my time. On the other hand, with Christmas coming up, finals, papers, etc., I’m hungering for some escape. Any opinions out there.

    Here is a link to it at Amazon if anyone is interested in reading reviews or anything . . .

  24. Reid

    I never heard of the author or the books. Some of the reviews at Amazon were less than glowing. I guess, you have to be the “guinea pig” or the “parakeet” for us. 🙂

  25. Reid

    Up for the book nerds.

  26. Reid

    NPR has open voting for the top 100 sci-fi/fantasy novels of all time, and so I thought dredging up this thread would be appropriate.

    Btw, I just re-read my review of Divine Invasion, and I’m drawing a complete blank–to the point where I’m wondering if in some PKD way a body-snatcher came and wrote the review for me or something. (Cue theramin music)

  27. Mitchell

    How consistent am I? 🙂

  28. Reid

    Mitchell,
    ?

    Chris said,

    For one of his books, he invented a third-rate romantic 18th century poet as a character, and then liked him so much he started publishing poetry under the guy’s name (and eventually even a cookbook)

    Max,

    Have you heard of Fernando Pessoa? This quote by you reminded me of him. I never heard of him until recently. He’s a Portuguese writer who has created these characters, that sort of take on a life of their own. For example, he created a poet and then wrote poetry under that characters name (like Powers). I think he also created a character who was a critic and then wrote criticism under that character’s name, etc. I haven’t gotten around to reading his stuff (although I tried looking for some of his stuff while in Seattle).

    Btw, I re-read your description of PKD, and it has got me a little interested in reading him. We’ll see.

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