TALK STORY

Greatest SF novel of all time? And why?

POSTED BY: FREESOUP
UPDATED: Sunday, March 31, 2024 14:23
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Tuesday, October 7, 2003 3:03 AM

FREESOUP


What, in your view, is the greatest (most well-written, most affecting, most life changing, most influental, any criteria desired) SF novel of all time, and why?


I'll start off with my choice: the five parts of a combined work by Gene Wolfe, published origianally as four novels and another novel coda, called in general "The Book of the New Sun", namely:

The Shadow of the Torturer

The Claw of the Concilliator

The Sword of the Lictor

The Citadel of the Autarch

and the coda The Urth of the New Sun, which together comprise the work.


Why? Gene Wolfe is recognized by other SF writers as simply the best and most ambitious prose stylist who also has a lot of stuff going on at every level of this multilevel work.

For example, the story is told by an unreliable narrator after he becomes the ruler of one of the smaller nations on Urth, as our world is known in the last few centuries before the Old Sun, now too dim to hide the stars in the daytime, gutters and goes out.

The story is told using unfamiliar but suggestive vocabulary, yet every word is English, and every name is that of a human who has already lived and died before our own time: Dorcas, Dr. Talos, Jolenta, Baldanders, Agia, Valeria, Jonas. The words suggest but do not fully describe this world. For example, the beasts that pull the phaeton taxis in Nessus have sharp teeth and claws, eat meat, and can run very, very quickly. They are not horses, or if so are their much modified descendents, and are called destriers, a word used in the time of cavalry charges before our era to describe fast horses. The aristocracy, who may come from partly extraterrestrial settlements of lower gravity, are very tall and pale and are called "Exultants". The alien visitors to Urth are called "cacogens", and at least some of them appear to be travelling, and aging, backwards in time, and they seem accordingly to know a great deal about different and even contradictory or mutually exclusive futures.

It reads like a fantasy novel, because Severian, our narrator, is an uneducated man in the Ancient Future, at a time when the Urth is so old that it takes him years to realize the tower he and other children were raised in is actually one of a host of old spaceships left to rust slowly on the landing field that makes up the Citadel in the sprawling and decrepit city of Nessus. He has been raised since a very young age by the Guild of the Seekers for Truth and Penitence, commonly known as the Guild of Torturers. Severian is not a nice man, and he lies. He also claims to have a perfect memory.

Yet the obvious story conceals many things. For example, travel through space faster than light in the ships that ply between Urths of other suns also allows for travel through time. The future will diverge depending on whether a Champion of Earth can win in a far Court across the seas of space the prize of the return to youth and power of the Urth's Sun. If Severian were to become this Champion, would it be because some in the future want him to succeed, or to fail?

Severian as a young man commits a crime against the Guild, allowing a "client" that he loves to die too soon, and by her own hand. He is exiled to become the Lictor of Thrax, or Prison Warden and Executor in a distant city. Thus begins a strange and unexpected journey that results, as he puts it in the first chapter, in him "backing into the throne". One of the major questions in the novel, then, is not whether he becomes Autarch, but how he gets there, why, and what will happen when he does. For it is clear that the events of the story are like a many-times revised draft. Many actors capable of affecting changes over time and space attempt to influence, aid or destroy Severian, and cause is often preceeded by effect.

Severian's world is strange, and becomes stranger as we appreciate it more. The moon is green, because forests have been planted there after massive terraforming and scientific advances unimaginable in our own day. When Severian sees a painting from our Era of a man in white armor and golden visaged helmet standing on a grey plain in bright sunlight under a black sky, holding a strange striped standard, he does not understand this is a reproduction of the image of an Apollo astronaut on the Moon because he does not know how the forested Moon used to look. Indeed, our entire Era is so far back in time that we are barely even mythical to the scholars of the day.

Later in the book, he arrives at the foot of a mountain. It is only gradually that we realize that so much time has passed that all of Urth's mountains have been carved into the full body likenesses of past Autarchs, so that he is literally standing by the foot of an immemse, mountainous statue. Indeed, the Urth is so ancient that Severian observes that "the kind of sand that the artists call polychrome, because of its many colours, is actually not sand at all, but the glass of the past, now pounded to powder by ages of tumbling in the clamorous sea."

And Severian's companions are not always who they seem to be. One, Jonas, for example, who becomes perhaps Severian's only true friend, seems at first a man repaired by mechanical aids. It is only later that Severian realizes that his friend, damaged long ago when his ship crashed on "the shores of Urth", is actually a mechanical being repaired by the organic parts of a man killed when the ship crashed. When the friend becomes briefly delusional in a strange, dark holding cell underground, Jonas is at first afraid the lack of air movement means "the ship" is dead, but reassures himself that power remains because he can "still feel" the presumably artificial gravity, failing to remember that he is not on his old ship, but rather on Urth. The ship that Severian took as a sailing ship was actually an advanced space ship that travelled between stars on journeys so warped by relativity that Jonas may be one of the first of the artificial intelligences that may be created in what is to us the very near future.

There are layers and layers to this story, which is wonderful the firs time you read it and far, far better each of the many times that you will again follow Severian on his strange journey through time and space.

And I have not even begun to discuss who Severian really is. Or what he does. Or why.


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Tuesday, October 7, 2003 6:18 AM

HJERMSTED


Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, baby!

My favorite novel since I first read it in 1988. I re-read it every so often to absorb something new. The unabridged version is just as good if not better than the orginal.

Why? you ask. My answer: read it, dammit! That is if you haven't already.

Honourable mention: OS Card's Treason (easily his best stand alone novel), Ender series and Alvin Maker series; David Brin's Postman (damn Costner to Hade's if he's cost this fine novel even a single reader); Zelazny's Amber series; and, of course, Heinlein's Friday and Job: A Comedy of Justice.

Honourable mention (not sci fi but fantastical): All works by Tom Robbins, Kurt Vonnegut, and Richard Brautigan.

mattro

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Tuesday, October 7, 2003 1:19 PM

ARCHER


Good topic, hard call.

In terms of creating a future society, complete with detailed and deep cultures that are somewhat familiar from their millennia-old roots yet strikingly alien...

Frank Herbert's Dune.

Standard selection for this sort of discussion, but well-earned. Unlike a lot of science fiction, Dune has aged very well, because at this point in time it still represents a plausible future.

(Well, as plausible as space-warping and psychic powers are, anyway.)

Brian Herbert's recent "Dreamer of Dune" gives a fairly good picture of the creation of the novel and its successors.



We don't know who put this cup of life into our hands. But when we go our bones will bake upon the burning sands. 'Cause we walk but once among the living, so no regrets and no forgiving- it's hard to dance when you're down upon your knees. And these are dark days indeed.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2003 3:07 PM

SUCCATASH


Hey Free Soup, thanks for the recommendation. I just bought all of the books including Urth of the New Sun, I got a good deal on them used today.

I just finished reading Stranger in a Strange Land and also Starship Troopers and I have to say I was disappointed. So many Browncoats love it so I tried it.

I guess the reason I read scifi and fantasy is to simply escape and be entertained by a creative story. I don't want to be preached at or lectured to, and I don't really want a life changing experience. Seems to me that Heinlein lays it on a bit too thick.

For example, I loved the first half of "Stranger" -- the Man from Mars, the goverment cover up, the main characters. But I got bored during the second half when it was all about Religion and Free Love and just too much sex and theorizing going on.

George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" is my current favorite series, although he's not really Sci Fi.

Starship Troopers was a good read. As I've heard others say, it's nothing like the movie. Holy shit, NOTHING like the movie.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2003 4:29 PM

VETERAN

Don't squat with your spurs on.


How about Mary Shelley's Frankenstein?
It's one of the first true science fiction stories. In a way it's still pertinent today, what with cloning and stem cell research in the news and all.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2003 5:56 PM

BOBOTHEBRAVE


I'm gonna have to second freesoup and vote for Wolfe's Book of the New Sun (I haven't read Urth of the New Sun, the coda volume; but from what I've heard the first four were the ones originally conceived of as a single long novel, with Urth being a separate continuation). I don't think that there's a single SF novel (and very few "literary" ones) that can match it for the sophistication of its telling, the richness of its world, and the depth of its feeling. As the layers of the story are peeled away and the world's secrets revealed, there's just an indescribable sense of exhilaration.

I'll also mention The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, which is the perfect example of how you can use SF as thoughtful social discourse.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2003 7:31 PM

LOTV


Certainly a tough choice here.

I'm going to have to go with "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" trilogy by Douglas Adams...(whew.. almost said Scott Adams there.)

I know its a series and not a novel, but I really can't think of the series any other way than as one huge great novel. I read the whole series in 5 days; I just couldn't put it down. Its funny and well written, and has just the right tweak of everything to make it irresistable.

In second, I would have to say Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, and if anyone complains that its a collection of short stories and not a novel, then I'll say Farenheit 451, by the same (though I feel the ending falls a little weak).

LOTV: Ima-who-whata-whoichy-whoda-whazza--huh?

Garapagosu Last Update: 6/24/03

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Tuesday, October 7, 2003 8:04 PM

MANIACNUMBERONE


The Bronze Ring. By Andrew Lange. Not Sci-fi so much as fantasy.
It's in a book of fairy tales, and it's quite long for one... over 100 pgs.
It was great and twisted and I lost the book and I have never seen it since. I can only find chapter one on the internet.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2003 8:20 PM

NORUDDINWAY


Roger Zelazny's Amber novels..nothin' beats em.

You know you only need to scare him...

Pain is Scary.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2003 10:38 PM

DRAKON


I am going to vote for my favorites which is "Starship Troopers". Maybe its from coming from a military family and all that, but that book really spoke to me.

I would recommend all the Heinlein "juveniles" Have Spacesuit, will Travel, Doorway into Summer, Magic Inc. Citizen of the Galaxy, Rocketship Galileo, The Rolling Stones, etc.

I would like to tell folks who loved "Stranger" that some folks have gotten together, and without Admiral Bob's permission, started the "Church of All Worlds". That makes him, (as far as I know,) the second SF author to have spawned a legally recognized religion. Unlike L. Ron, however, he only wrote the book.

"Wash, where is my damn spaceship?"

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Tuesday, October 7, 2003 10:42 PM

DRAKON


Quote:

I guess the reason I read scifi and fantasy is to simply escape and be entertained by a creative story. I don't want to be preached at or lectured to, and I don't really want a life changing experience. Seems to me that Heinlein lays it on a bit too thick.


Damn, don't make me agree with you.

Actually that is exactly why I like Heinlein, he makes me think, makes me want to challenge his arguments. I find that entertaining, while more escapist fantasy and scifi, just don't appeal to me.

Oh well, if everyone were the same, nobody would be different.

"Wash, where is my damn spaceship?"

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Tuesday, October 7, 2003 11:44 PM

CALHOUN


I cant really pin down the "greatest SF novel of all time" i've read so many damn good books in my time.

What I will say is that I just finished a series of books called "The Honor Harrington series" by David Weber and gorramit! this series of books kicks ass! No really, you guys have got to read them and rave on with me.

The books follow a young female spinxian as she rises through the ranks in the Manticoran military. The spaceship physics are so believable. I would really love to go into great detail about it all here but i prolly wouldnt do it any real justice..

Read Them! if you love Sci Fi and space battles Read Them! and message me thanking you for getting you onto them.. great books..

First book in the series is called "On basilisk Station" check it out!


Wash - "Did he just go crazy and fall asleep?"

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Tuesday, October 7, 2003 11:54 PM

ARCHER


Drakon:

I was rather torn myself. I ended up coming down on the line question of 'book as art' in terms of best SF novel ever, and for my money nothing Heinlein did exceeded Dune artistically.

Now, as me who my favorite SF author of all time is, and his initials would happen to be RAH. However, I would lean toward The Moon is a Harsh Mistress over Starship Troopers, but then my family got out of the military and became anarchists.

One that I'm eagerly awaiting the reprinting of is Beyond This Horizon. Ever pick that one up?

We don't know who put this cup of life into our hands. But when we go our bones will bake upon the burning sands. 'Cause we walk but once among the living, so no regrets and no forgiving- it's hard to dance when you're down upon your knees. And these are dark days indeed.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 12:01 AM

TALONPEST


Veteran, just so you know, I took a literature class a couple of years ago in which we read MS's Frankenstein, and I got shouted down by the class and the professor when I called it science fiction rather than "gothic." They were complaining that "Noooooo! It's gothic literature because of the setting! It's got castles and stuff! Wah! Science fiction is stupid! Wah!" And no matter how many times I pointed out that "Look, the guy animated a bloody corpse in his basement using science that doesn't exist in real life," they refused to accept even my offer of a compromise in calling it gothic with science fiction elements.

Personally I think that they're all a bunch of literature snobs who have marginalized the genre of science fiction so much that they can't accept that something they liked could possibly be scifi, regardless of how many corpses are reanimated without use of magical powers.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 12:59 AM

FREESOUP


Hope you enjoy them.

You should be aware there are also four books in the related The Book of the Long Sun, and a trilogy sequel, The Book of the Short Sun.

I would also recommend his novels PEACE, The Fifth Head of Cerberus and FREE LIVE FREE and his various short story collections.

Remember, the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction calls Wolfe a "trickster", and he's playing a very deep game indeed.

BTW, you were apparently the fellow behind the welcoming porn for people from the Official Board (and now back up again, so please everybody come visit: I've lured Adam Baldwin back: he's currently in Greece filming a movie: www.thefreediver.org if you're interested.), and I can neither find the thread of welcome, nor could my sweetie and I make out what the two women were saying on the video clip. Are they fellow Browncoats? And where do you get the Blue Sun T-shirts they were wearing (my sweetie really wants to know).

Thanks.

Oh, and I'm a longstanding fan of George "Railroad" Martin myself since I first met him at the 1977 WorldCon in Phoenix, Arizona, not long before that really horrible divorce and him sleeping in Roger Zelazny's garage in New Mexico for a year. The next trilogy will be published soon if you check his website. "Winter is coming", indeed.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 1:04 AM

FREESOUP


Ayuh. Brian Aldiss (authour among many other things "Frankenstein Unbound") describes Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as the first true work of SF.


And recall that she wrote it in a contest to write the scariest novel at a country home with the other guests, including her husband Persse Bysse Shelley ("Ozmandias") and Lord Byron among others. Not bad for a teenage wife!

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 1:04 AM

FREESOUP


Ayuh. Brian Aldiss (authour among many other things "Frankenstein Unbound") describes Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as the first true work of SF.


And recall that she wrote it in a contest to write the scariest novel at a country home with the other guests, including her husband Persse Bysse Shelley ("Ozmandias") and Lord Byron among others. Not bad for a teenage wife!

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 1:06 AM

FREESOUP


Quote:

Originally posted by bobothebrave:
I'm gonna have to second freesoup and vote for Wolfe's Book of the New Sun (I haven't read Urth of the New Sun, the coda volume; but from what I've heard the first four were the ones originally conceived of as a single long novel, with Urth being a separate continuation). I don't think that there's a single SF novel (and very few "literary" ones) that can match it for the sophistication of its telling, the richness of its world, and the depth of its feeling. As the layers of the story are peeled away and the world's secrets revealed, there's just an indescribable sense of exhilaration.




Have I ever mentioned how talented, intelligent and wise you are? EXCELLENT choice!

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 1:06 AM

FREESOUP


Quote:

Originally posted by bobothebrave:
I'm gonna have to second freesoup and vote for Wolfe's Book of the New Sun (I haven't read Urth of the New Sun, the coda volume; but from what I've heard the first four were the ones originally conceived of as a single long novel, with Urth being a separate continuation). I don't think that there's a single SF novel (and very few "literary" ones) that can match it for the sophistication of its telling, the richness of its world, and the depth of its feeling. As the layers of the story are peeled away and the world's secrets revealed, there's just an indescribable sense of exhilaration.




Have I ever mentioned how talented, intelligent and wise you are? EXCELLENT choice!

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 1:06 AM

FREESOUP


Quote:

Originally posted by bobothebrave:
I'm gonna have to second freesoup and vote for Wolfe's Book of the New Sun (I haven't read Urth of the New Sun, the coda volume; but from what I've heard the first four were the ones originally conceived of as a single long novel, with Urth being a separate continuation). I don't think that there's a single SF novel (and very few "literary" ones) that can match it for the sophistication of its telling, the richness of its world, and the depth of its feeling. As the layers of the story are peeled away and the world's secrets revealed, there's just an indescribable sense of exhilaration.




Have I ever mentioned how talented, intelligent and wise you are? EXCELLENT choice!

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 1:06 AM

FREESOUP


Quote:

Originally posted by bobothebrave:
I'm gonna have to second freesoup and vote for Wolfe's Book of the New Sun (I haven't read Urth of the New Sun, the coda volume; but from what I've heard the first four were the ones originally conceived of as a single long novel, with Urth being a separate continuation). I don't think that there's a single SF novel (and very few "literary" ones) that can match it for the sophistication of its telling, the richness of its world, and the depth of its feeling. As the layers of the story are peeled away and the world's secrets revealed, there's just an indescribable sense of exhilaration.




Have I ever mentioned how talented, intelligent and wise you are? EXCELLENT choice!

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 1:06 AM

FREESOUP


Quote:

Originally posted by bobothebrave:
I'm gonna have to second freesoup and vote for Wolfe's Book of the New Sun (I haven't read Urth of the New Sun, the coda volume; but from what I've heard the first four were the ones originally conceived of as a single long novel, with Urth being a separate continuation). I don't think that there's a single SF novel (and very few "literary" ones) that can match it for the sophistication of its telling, the richness of its world, and the depth of its feeling. As the layers of the story are peeled away and the world's secrets revealed, there's just an indescribable sense of exhilaration.




Have I ever mentioned how talented, intelligent and wise you are? EXCELLENT choice!

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 1:09 AM

FREESOUP


Ayuh. "If it's good, it can't be SF. If it's SF, it can't be good."

See: Logic, circular.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 3:15 AM

DRAKON


Quote:

I was rather torn myself. I ended up coming down on the line question of 'book as art' in terms of best SF novel ever, and for my money nothing Heinlein did exceeded Dune artistically.


Now there ya go. I just could not get into Dune. I did not see the big themes he was trying to espouse on, or anything. The whole Messiah stuff, well, that puts a craw in my gullet anyway.

[Essentially, you can wait around for someone to save you. Or you can get up of your butt and save yourself. I have a lot more respect for the latter over the former.]

Different folks like different things for different reasons. I mean I like Dali, but Picasso looks like crap to me.

Quote:

Now, as me who my favorite SF author of all time is, and his initials would happen to be RAH. However, I would lean toward The Moon is a Harsh Mistress over Starship Troopers, but then my family got out of the military and became anarchists.


Both great. And someone's gotta keep the anarchists from being eaten "Moon" is a great handbook for how to start a revolution.

I have read Beyond This Horizon, however I thought it was Beyond the Blue Event Horizon. I think we are talking the same book, (genetic engineering, "an armed society is a polite society")


"Wash, where is my damn spaceship?"

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 3:46 AM

SARAHETC


Quote:

Originally posted by Talonpest:

Personally I think that they're all a bunch of literature snobs who have marginalized the genre of science fiction so much that they can't accept that something they liked could possibly be scifi, regardless of how many corpses are reanimated without use of magical powers.



As a reforming literature snob, hey, sorry. That bites that they wouldn't even let you have an opinion. It's very sad that a novel that is both science fiction and artistically brilliant can't be considered "literature" because it is popular or uses nonfamiliar genre tropes. I think we all know people who are those literary snobs who wouldn't be caught dead reading Hitchhiker or anything like that but also never read anything that truly moves them.

Does anybody else read Douglas Coupland? He struck it very big with books like Generation X and Life After God. When he moved on to books like Mircoserfs that edged a little into science fiction (just a little) and Girlfriend in a Coma (Can we hear it for the Smiths!?) that's a little fantasy and a little scifi, the critics reamed him. He'd lost his jaundiced eye for zeitgeist and started telling actual stories. I think that's a lot of what that is-- so many of the literary tastemakers wouldn't know what to do with a good story if it walked up and gave them a nuclear wedgie.

And learning about the genre as a whole now that's what I see-- a lot of really good stories that are, for the most part, deeply engrossing and strikingly well written. And they're often written with hope--even Heinlein at his most didactic is writing toward a more perfect future rather than wallowing in the perceived distresses of the present and past.

And I don't know if there's anybody else out there like me who's just discovering this stuff-- didn't read Tolkein until two years ago and didn't read Heilein until this summer-- but these threads are great. It's good to have a reference so that the next time I go to the bookstore, I can get a specific book or author and not just wander aimlessly around the scifi section looking like a dork.

And since Bamadave isn't around to say it, I'll say that I really liked Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson, even though the ending is really disappointing. On deck for me: Neuromancer, Stranger in a Strange Land, and something by Neil Gaiman.


I'm a dying breed who still believes, haunted by American dreams. ---Neko Case

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 4:13 AM

FAHQ


First on my list: Heinlein's Starship Troopers.

Great story, really made me think and put into words things I had already believed for some time. There is a good chance I wouldnt have considered the movie an overflowing septic tank if they called it something else. What a rotten load of bilge.

Also very well done are Weber's Honor Harrington series as stated in a previous post here. Another worth mentioning is one of Weber's first novels; "The Path of the Fury". Great sci-fi adventure. Nothing that really stirred conciousness, but a seriously fun read.

Some of the more rabid Heinlein fans should read "Grumbles From The Grave" which is essentially a memoir. It will put the misguided souls who turned "Stranger in a Strange Land" into a religion into a better perspective, along with giving major insight into what kind of person Heinlein was.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 5:25 AM

JUGGERNAUT


I'll throw in a curveball -- it's not a hoity-toity book, and I don't even think it's the greatest of all time, but it's in my top five:

Neuromancer by William Gibson.

That man has his finger on the throbbing pulse of pop culture. The guy not only coined the term "cyberspace," but his brilliant work and gritty Tokyo-universal-brand-name-pop style spawned an entire decade's worth of cheap crappy knockoffs (Shatner's "Tekwar," anyone?). His prose has a unique rhythm and great visual/tactile descriptiveness. ("The sky was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.")

He's since moved away from Cyberpunk, but his new work continues to gel out our collective conciousness. I don't want to use the word "prophet," but the way his 25-year-old science fiction unearths the values of today's society (not the technology so much, but the emotional feel) is eerie cool.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 6:04 AM

CPTBUCK25


I'm really up in the air about this. I'm going tohave to say that there's a tie in my head between Moving Mars by Greg Bear and Redliners by David Drake.

Moving Mars has an intricate storyline that builds it's roots in the first few pages where most other novels are just introducing characters. The technology and environment used in the novel create a complex and wonderful topography for the plot to play out on. The politics that play a large supporting role in the book are beleiveable but also easy for a laymen to follow, and all of the above intertwines beautifully with the story of two individuals as they shape together a world they hope is better.

Redliners is a military SF book about war and the infantrymen who wage it, ala Starship Troopers. And, like Heinleins masterpiece, although the technology and the setting make this novel science fiction, the characters and the story have analogs that could be found anywhere, anywhen.

That's my two cents. If you haven't read these books, find them, they're worth a try.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 6:33 AM

JOHNNYREB


I am so torn. I would have to say, Brave New World, Do Androids Dream Electric Sheep, and 1984. I am a huge fan of books with a distopian/anti-utopian setting.

Fox sucks! Viva Firefly!

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 8:36 AM

KAYTHRYN


I don’t read much sci-fi but fantasy’s kinda like sci-fi, right? Ah well, my favorites would have to be Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen, by Garth Nix. They might be a little young for most of us around here, but they were great a few years ago. 1984 was good too, but kinda depressing and irritating as hell.

-------------------------------------
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
Aristotle

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 8:46 AM

CAPTBAGGYTROUSERS


Greatest? Yikes. My favorite might well be any of these three:

Snowcrash, The Diamond Age (both by Neal Stephenson)

or

Dune by Frank Herbert (already mentioned I see).

And no matter how much they insist it isn't Frankenstein is a science fiction novel, sorry. What a bunch of jerks.

As an aside, I love how Frankenstein and Dracula (which is straight up horror, no sci-fi there) bookend the 19th Century.

History repeats the old conceits

http://topshelftvshow.com
Updated! Improved! Shiny!

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 9:35 AM

HINERMAD


Greatest SF novel? There's only ONE? (Grin)

Seriously, I can't name just one, but I have a short list:

Starship Troopers (as mentioned before) - helped me understand why America's so screwed up. I also like the idea of powered armor.

War of the Worlds - the science was secondary to just trying to save our own butts.

Neuromancer (also mentioned before) - very forward-looking.

I also have some favorites - almost guilty pleasures - that would never be considered great, but I like them anyway: the Lensman and Skylark series (serieses?) by E.E. "Doc" Smith, and most of Andre Norton's SF and fantasy books.


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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 9:44 AM

KETHRYVERIS


OK, I had to put my two cents worth in. I'm a big Heinlein fan. The reason I'm where I'm at today is "The Menace from Earth". I wanted to be Holly Jones, spaceship designer. I got close. However, I do agree with whoever said above that he's a bit too preachy with the politics and sex and free love stuff. I liked it when I first read it but when I look back now I don't have much patience for it.

Anyone for "The Foundation" series by Asimov? I've reread them a lot and still enjoy them.

I also was surprised to like "Neuromancer" by William Gibson.

Another longtime favorite is "Stardance" by Spider Robinson.

I could go on and on and on and . . .

Kethryveris

P.S. If you recognize my screen name you know what my favorite fantasy (sword and sorceress) stories are.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 10:09 AM

IAMJACKSUSERNAME

Well, I'm all right. - Mal


My personal favourites are Douglas Adams' The hitch hiker's guide to the galaxy (funny funny, and I like the physics), all 4 of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars books (lìngrén jingyì, and I felt for Clayborne), and Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's The mote in God's eye (for the ideas).

But then, what do I know: I didn't like the much praised Ursula le Guin's novels, nor Gibson's Neuromancer. OT: I also couldn't get into Catcher in the rye.
--
I am Jack's username
"Were there monkeys? Some terrifying space monkeys maybe got loose?" - Mal

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 12:13 PM

DRAKON


Oh Man! How could I forget the classics. Verne, Wells, H.P. Lovecraft (okay maybe not), Edgar Rice Burroughs.

I was raised on Asimove, Heinlein, Bradbury and Clarke. I hate to say it, but I don't know many of these new writers ya'll talking about.

God I feel ancient. (sigh)

"Wash, where is my damn spaceship?"

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 1:12 PM

VETERAN

Don't squat with your spurs on.


Talonpest,

I'd wouldn't listen to those gorrmam overliterate snobs, they're probably well on their way to becoming Fox programing executives by now. Rutgers offered Science Fiction as a course when I was in undergrad and Frankenstein was required reading.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 1:13 PM

MANIACNUMBERONE


I'm glad you mentioned Bradbury. I had forgotten all about "The Veldt." Ray is the man.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 2:22 PM

CCT


It's funny, I thought about trying to start a very similar discussion on SlashDot- I had to move my bookshelf a while back, and piled my books up by author, and was surprised when I looked at it- it was like a bar chart graph from a survey, in this case of me and my reading habits. I had a nearly two foot tall pile of Heinlein, followed by over a foot of Walter Jon Williams, then a little less Michael Crichton, then Neal Stephenson and William Gibson. Obviously quantity /= quality, but I was rather surprised and interested by the result of my "bought, and held onto" poll. For many of us our "favorite author" might not have written our "favorite book".

Other observations were "most beaten from use", from re-reading and lending out. The winner in that category wasn't sci-fi- "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" won that one.

A lot of people have commented on Heinleins writing style- I think it's important to remember when these books were written, and the insecurities, fears, and ambitions of that time. His books don't really fit in todays world- they are rooted in the 50's and 60's. When we had the bomb, and were RIGHT, damn it! :)

I think Stephensons "Snow Crash" is a good one, as well as "Cryptonomicon" (which noone seems to have mentioned).

I guess my favorite is "Hardwired" by Walter Jon Williams. I'm afraid I'd have to concede that there's no way everyone would agree on that (or any book, for that matter), but it grabbed me. Actually, I like his writing style, his protagonists are often very flawed, so much so that you find yourself a little troubled by it. For example, in "Days of Atonement" the hero is a hard-ass small town cop, rather corrupt, who ends the story hunting down the "bad guy" while chanting "arm and sword of the lord". Right, but for the wrong reasons... do you support him or not?

Now, not only do I want to re-read about a dozen books I own, I've collected a bunch of suggestions for new books! Good thing winter is coming!

cct

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 5:12 PM

BLACKSTAR


Oh, boy, tough subject. Umm, here go my top three.
1) Midshipman's Hope, by David Feintuch. This is the first of seven books about the life of one of the most realistic characters I've ever read about. I'd recommend this book to anyone, even those who aren't sci-fi fans.
2) The Night's Dawn Trilogy, by Peter F. Hamilton.
This is one of the most expansive universes I've read in sci-fi, one that I feel rivals Dune in politics, uniqueness, and depth, if not as creative. Beware, though, that this is no easy read. Even though it is a trilogy, all three parts of the trilogy are 2 novels, meaning 6 in total. There are even deeper meanings in the story, if you need that kind of thing....
3) Icarus Hunt, by Timothy Zahn. In contrast to the last two, this is a stand alone novel, that's just plain fun. It's the kind of novel you can read without having to think of the deeper meaning behind the storyline.

Honorable mention includes Starship Troopers, as mentioned above, the Honor Harrington books, as mentioned above, the Herris Serrano/Esmay Suiza series by Elizabeth Moon, and Warchild by Karen Lowachee. Oh, and the Star of the Guardians/Mag Force 7 books by Margaret Weis.
All of the above are excellent reads, I recommend them all. Anyway, thus ends my sci-fi mini rant.
-Blackstar, Can Do.

Oh, my God! Who's flying this thing? Oh, right, that would be me...

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 5:48 PM

EMBASSY


There are a large number of ways to attack the "Best SF Novel" question, as you browncoats upthread have offered. And one can certainly pick nits of all sorts with any of the ones mentioned here. Rather than annoying everyone by saying something like "Snow Crash is full of blantantly expository bits where there should be storytelling," or "Starship Troopers never addresses its own didactic lessons," I'll throw in a few books I've liked, sentimental favourites really, for discussion and to draw your ridicule.

1: The Door Into Summer by Robert Heinlein. It's a romance, basically, and Embassy is a sucker for a good romance. Our hero is shanghaid by a wicked woman and his business partner into 30 years of cold sleep, in which future he finds a place for himself and a way back to the past he left. Also contains the best feline character ever.

2: Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper. Piper's writing career was tragically cut short by his own hand around the time I was born in the early 1960s, but Little Fuzzy stands out as his classic take on the question "What is a person?". Piper's 'verse is a fun place, with plenty going on (one of his books has a back story remarkably similar to Firefly's). In Little Fuzzy, the Chartered Zarathustra Company owns a Class IV uninhabited planet, lock, stock, and barrel, until a fairly intelligent creature walks out of the forest and calls the company's charter into some legal doubt.

3: Mother of Storms by John Barnes. This is a huge book, with a lot of fascinating ideas running around. There is a really large storm, virtual reality run amok, a love story, and a crime tale.

4. Household Gods by Judith Tarr and Harry Turtledove. This is a rare time travel tale where the 20th century protagonist goes back to Roman times and instead of improving the past, the past improves her.

5. Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold. The story of a man who conceals a weakness from those who need to know about it, lies about it, and is caught. The resultant disgrace significantly changes and matures the character. Origin of one of the saddest lines I have ever read: "The only thing you cannot give up for your heart's desire is your heart."

Okay, these are just some more or less randomly selected favourites of mine. Favourite novels outside the genre is a very different list, of course, but that's a conversation for another time.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 10:11 PM

DUTCH


My favourite would be Dan Simmons' Hyperion series.

Hyperion
The Fall of Hyperion
Endymion
The Rise of Endymion

These books mix science fiction with religion and philosophy into a really deep and moving story about the history and future of mankind. It blew my mind.

I think computer viruses should count as life. I think it says something about human nature that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive. We've created life in our own image.
--Stephen Hawking

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Wednesday, October 8, 2003 10:11 PM

DUTCH


Now why did it post this twice?

Oh, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card is also excellent and deserves some mention here.

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Thursday, October 9, 2003 4:42 AM

SPACEANGLER


Thanks Somebody for mentioning "The Mote in God's Eye!" One of my favorite sci-fi novels that never gets recognition.

But my favorites:

Dune
Ender's Game
Stranger in a Strange Land
American Gods by Neil Gaiman (Sorta sci-fi)

I read Hyperion, but I just could never get into it.

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Thursday, October 9, 2003 8:11 AM

BARNEYT


Wow, this question is hard! I'm trying to think of even a short-list and I'm getting nowhere...


Definitely Little Fuzzy as mentioned earlier.

I also have very fond memories of the Sector General series by James White - I loved the whole day-to-day, ordinary working life, just on a space station populated with aliens and different atmospheres. Those books (and the Fuzzy stories) were defintely the ones to get me hooked on sci-fi. I couldn't pick out any particular title though...


Off now to place a book order on amazon...





---
"I think the right place to start is to say, fair is fair. This is who we are. These are our numbers." Mr Willis of Ohio - The West Wing

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Sunday, October 12, 2003 9:15 AM

ALIENZOOKEEPER


Now, as me who my favorite SF author of all time is, and his initials would happen to be RAH. However, I would lean toward The Moon is a Harsh Mistress over Starship Troopers, but then my family got out of the military and became anarchists.

I have to agree with Archer there, with an honorable mention of Citizen of the Galaxy. Thorby's father figure there is a lot like Book.

Another honorable mention to Lois McMaster Bujolds' Memory. The Miles Vorkosigan series is great Space Opera (read it!) & the Vorkosiverse is another rare 'verse with no aliens. Both Joss & Her Ladyship believe in doing the worst possible thing to their hero(ine)s. It makes for good plot & great action.

Also, Wash would die for a line like- "I was so afraid for you, i forgot to be afraid for your enemies."

Vince the alien zookeeper

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Sunday, October 12, 2003 9:58 AM

EVANS


Not of all time, but of my time, The Mote in God's Eye, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Fantastic first contact.

m.
------------------------------------------------
"But ... not boring, like she made it sound." Wash, in ARIEL
"None of it means a damn thing." Mal, in OBJECTS IN SPACE

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Sunday, October 12, 2003 10:50 AM

TRAGICSTORY


BEST SCI FI NOVEL/SERIES of all time: RED DWARF! The absolute funniest thing ever written. Dave Lister is my idol.

BEST SCI FI NOVEL/SERIES that has message: Starship troopers. Great commentary on our society and where it is going. (nothing like the movie, but I think everyone here already knows that)

BEST SCI FI NOVEL/SERIES that saterizes life: Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy. Full of wizdom that will never let you down!


Runner ups:
Dune series-- Just got too wierd for me.

Battlefield Earth: good idea, but taken too far. Fron caveman to intergalactic banker is pushing it.... (fun read though)

some others too, but I don't feel like typing anymore.

-----------
"Societies are supported by human activity, therefore they are constantly threatened by the human facts of self-intrest and stupidity." --Peter Berger

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Sunday, October 12, 2003 10:58 AM

CALHOUN


Its good to see a few other people who have read and enjoyed the Honor Harrington series, damn good reads.

Also someone above mentioned E.E.Doc.Smiths Lensman and Skylark series, these are a bit dated but also enjoyable reads. One of Smiths other series I enjoyed was the De'Alembert series.

Read the Honor Harrington series if you havent.

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Sunday, October 12, 2003 12:04 PM

WILLIAMX


Tough question . . .

it's a toss up between Gibson's Sprawl novels, Voice of the Whirlwind -> Walter Jon Williams or The Forever War -> Joe Haldeman.

Since there's much discussion of Starship Troopers here I'm suprised noone has mentioned Haldeman' Forever War.
When I was a kid I loved Starship Troopers, but after my three year light infantry commo dude tour FW triumphed because it captured the military experience much more faithfully and was also a much better description of humans under extreme stress in the face of the unknown.
that aside it's also much harder science and that gives it a frightening realism. If you've not read it you should.

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Sunday, October 12, 2003 1:12 PM

FREESOUP


I agree that Haldeman's "The Forever War" is worthwhile, and won RAH's admiration expressed by him personally to Joe in 1976 or thereabouts at a WorldCon.

Some see it as a rebuttal to "Starship Troopers", but both Joe and myself think it's more that RAH never had combat experience and was in the Navy, not the Army. YMMV.

What else do you think qualifies, and did my post pique your interest in "The Book of the New Sun" a tad?

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