io9, the SF blog that never seems to run out of posts or topics, this week comes up with The Twenty Science Fiction Novels That Will Change Your Life. It’s a rather broad title, since the post is really talking about how the books might impact your view of things, whether because “they’ve altered the course of science fiction writing, or simply provide a genuinely alien perspective on ordinary life.”
Here’s the list with a few of my thoughts and links to the author’s blog if they have one. I am not only surprised by the number I’ve not read, but the fact there are several I don’t believe I’ve heard of before.
- Frankenstein (1818), Mary Shelley — Kind of a slam dunk as the book plainly impacted the course of not just SF but fiction as a whole.
- The Time Machine (1895), H.G. Wells — Another slam dunk.
- At the Mountains of Madness (1931), H.P. Lovecraft — I don’t specifically recall having read this but may have amidst a couple Lovecraft compilations I’ve read.
- I, Robot (1955), Isaac Asimov — While Asimov was one of my early favorites and I enjoyed most of the robot series, it wouldn’t rank as my favorite amongst Asimov’s works. But giving it the nod for its three laws of robotics might be valid.
- The Dispossessed (1974), Ursula LeGuin — Perhaps it is a reflection of the time when I read it, I don’t remember being as impressed with the book as others of its era.
- Kindred (1979), Octavia Butler — I hate to say that I’ve never read an Octavia Butler book, something I probably need to remedy.
- Wizard (1979), John Varley — Another author I’ve never read.
- Consider Phlebas (1987), Iain M. Banks — Not only ditto, but one of the books with which I am unfamiliar.
- He, She, and It (1991), Marge Piercy — Both an author and a book I’d not heard of.
- Sarah Canary (1991), Karen Joy Fowler — I read this last year because Fowler was a guest of honor at ReaderCon. While an interesting read, I still have a hard time classifying this as SF. While it clearly provides a different perspective, I don’t know that I would put it on a list like this.
- A Fire Upon the Deep (1992), Vernor Vinge — This has been sitting unread on my bookshelf for far too long.
- The Bohr Maker (1995), Linda Nagata — Another author and book I’d not heard of.
- The Sparrow (1996), Mary Doria Russell — Not only one of my favorite SF novels of all time, it probably ranks among my favorite books of any genre. One of the few books I always mention when someone is foolish enough to ask me to recommend a SF work.
- Cryptonomicon (2000), Neal Stephenson — Not a good excuse, but this is one of those books where I find length an obstacle.
- The Mount (2002), Carol Emschwiller — I am unfamiliar with this title.
- Perdido Street Station (2002), China Mieville — Probably one of the most intriguing books I’ve read over the last 20 years. It totally defies classification but made me an avowed Mieville fan.
- Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (2003), Cory Doctorow — I hate to admit that I am familiar with Doctorow as a result of his contributions to BoingBoing and his devotion to revamping intellectual property laws but have yet to read any of his fiction. That is probably inexcusable given his insistence on giving it away for free under a Creative Commons license.
- Pattern Recognition (2003), William Gibson — Gibson is undoubtedly one of the creators of cyberpunk but I am not a big fan and this is not amongst the novels of his I’ve read. I am surprised this made the list rather than Neuromancer.
- Newton’s Wake (2004), Ken MacLeod — Given his revolutionary/Socialist/Libertarian bent, I tend to enjoy MacLeod’s work but don’t know that I would include this work on a list like this.
- Glasshouse (2006), Charles Stross — Anyone who has read this blog over time knows I am a major fan of Stross. While I enjoyed this book to borrow the phrase used by io9, I would instead classify Accelerando as “the very best mindfuck you’ve ever had.”
There’s at least four books I thought should have been on the list: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (published in 1932 it long presaged the concept of genetic engineering), George Orwell’s 1984 (given its contributions to political thought and even language it has to be considered), Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles (talk about providing a unique perspective) and Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz (the lodestar of post-apocalyptic fiction). Perhaps they don’t meet the concept advance in the original blog post but omitting the first two in particular really surprises me.
[E]ven the enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am alone.
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein