Every Sci-Fi author has a list of favorite novels, ten, twenty-five, fifty, and often one-hundred that they believe influenced their writing. On longer registers many of the following authors shown here have two, three or more of their works named. In no particular order, these twenty-five novels ,have been major influences of the genre. Many have also been the basis for the production of blockbuster feature films.
A Canticle For Leibowitz
Walter Miller Jr.
The Monks of the Albertian Order of St. Leibowitz attempt to preserve the remnants of civilization after a nuclear war. In the Utah desert, Brother Francis of the Order has made a miraculous discovery: the relics of the martyr Isaac Leibowitz himself, including the blessed blueprint and the sacred shopping list. They may provide a bright ray of hope in a terrifying age of darkness, a time of ignorance and genetic monsters that are the unholy aftermath of the Flame Deluge. But as the spellbinding mystery at the core of this extraordinary novel unfolds, it is the search itself for meaning, for truth, for love that offers hope to a humanity teetering on the edge of an abyss.
A timeless and still timely masterpiece, A Canticle for Leibowitz is a ground breaking Sci-Fi classic.
Samuel R. Delany
Bellona is a city at the dead center of the United States. Something has happened there. The population has fled. Madmen and criminals wander the streets. Strange portents appear in the cloud-covered sky. And into this disaster zone comes a young man–poet, lover, and adventurer–known only as the Kid. Tackling questions of race, gender, and sexuality, Dhalgren is a literary marvel and groundbreaking work of American magical realism.
Perhaps one of the most profound and bestselling science fiction novels of all time, a novel to stand with the best American fiction.
A Princess of Mars
Edgar Rice Burroughs
In this first tale of the classic Martian novel series of Edgar Rice Burroughs protagonist John Carter, a Confederate Captain of the American Civil War, finds himself mysteriously transported to the planet Mars. Both a romantic adventure and a science fiction tale of fantasy, John Carter finds himself captive by large four-armed green men along with the lovely princess of Helium, Dejah Thoris. Between them and a safe escape lies a treacherous landscape of strange creatures and mysterious deadly dangers.
Most recently produced on film in 2011 as “John Carter” by the Disney Company.
Clifford D. Simak
Enoch Wallace survived the carnage of Gettysburg and lived through the rest of the Civil War to make it home to his parents’ farm in south-west Wisconsin. But his mother was already dead and his father soon joined her in the tiny family cemetery. It was then that Enoch met the being he called Ulysses and the farm became a way station for space travelers. Now, nearly a hundred years later, the US government is taking an interest in the seemingly immortal Enoch, and the Galactic Council, which set up the way station is threatening to tear itself apart.
The Time Machine
H. G. Wells
When a Victorian scientist propels himself into the year a.d. 802,701, he is initially delighted to find that suffering has been replaced by beauty, contentment, and peace. Entranced at first by the Eloi, an elfin species descended from man, he soon realizes that these beautiful people are simply remnants of a once-great culture-now weak and childishly afraid of the dark. They have every reason to be afraid: in deep tunnels beneath their paradise lurks another race descended from humanity-the sinister Morlocks. And when the scientist’s time machine vanishes, it becomes clear he must search these tunnels if he is ever to return to his own era.
Presented in movie form, directed by George Pal in 1960; staring Rod Taylor, Alan young and Yevette Mimieux.
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea
Even though the term “science fiction” wouldn’t enter popular culture for another 60 years, Verne wrote some of the earliest works recognizable as science fiction. This is probably his most prescient work, anticipating submarine warfare ,scuba diving and even the taser.
Produced as a movie by the Disney Company staring Kirk Douglas and James Mason in 1954.
Gateway opened on all the wealth of the Universe…and on reaches of unimaginable horror. When prospector Bob Broadhead went out to Gateway on the Heechee spacecraft, he decided he would know which was the right mission to make him his fortune. Three missions later, now famous and permanently rich, Robinette Broadhead has to face what happened to him and what he is, in a journey into himself as perilous and even more horrifying than the nightmare trip through the interstellar void that he drove himself to take.
“Monday burn Millay, Wednesday Whitman, Friday Faulkner, burn ‘em to ashes, then burn the ashes.” For Guy Montag, a career fireman for whom kerosene is perfume, this is not just an official slogan. It is a mantra, a duty, a way of life in a tightly monitored world where thinking is dangerous and books are forbidden.
A 1966 film directed by François Truffaut that starred Julie Christie and Oscar Werner.
The Left Hand Of Darkness
Ursula Le Guin
While on a mission to the planet Gethen, a world whose inhabitants can change their gender, earthling Genly Ai is sent by leaders of the nation of Orgoreyn to a concentration camp. The exiled prime minister of the nation of Karhide tries to rescue him.
To Your Scattered Bodies Go
Philip José Farmer
All those who ever lived on Earth have found themselves resurrected–healthy, young, and naked as newborns–on the grassy banks of a mighty river, in a world unknown. Miraculously provided with food, but with no clues to the meaning of their strange new afterlife, billions of people from every period of Earth’s history–and prehistory–must start again. Sir Francis Bacon would be the first to glimpse the incredible way-station, a link between worlds. This forbidden sight would spur the renowned 19th-century explorer to uncover the truth. Along with a remarkable group of compatriots, including Alice Liddell Hargreaves, an English-speaking Neanderthal, a WWII Holocaust survivor, and a wise extraterrestrial, Burton sets sail on the magnificent river. His mission: to confront humankind’s mysterious benefactors, and learn the true purpose, weather innocent or evil, of the Riverworld.
Rod McBan’s a boy form the planet Old North Australia is considered inferior by his peers because he lacks their telepathic abilities. Nearly “culled” as part of the strictly regulated society’s population control, McBan uses a computer to arbitrage the galactic financial markets, enabling him, literally, to buy Earth. Smith’s superior writing abilities describes both the Underpeople, genetically designed combinations of humans and other species-and the Instrumentality an organization for keeping humanity from becoming stagnant.
This is the only science fiction novel by Cordwainer Smith; but the center of the setting was developed by him in previous short stories.
Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep
Philip K. Dick
By 2021, the World War had killed millions, driving entire species into extinction and sending mankind off-planet. Those who remained coveted any living creature, and for people who couldn’t afford one, companies built incredibly realistic simulacrae: horses, birds, cats, sheep. They even built humans. Emigrees to Mars received androids so sophisticated it was impossible to tell them from true men or women. Fearful of the havoc these artificial humans could wreak, the government banned them from Earth. But when androids didn’t want to be identified, they just blended in. Rick Deckard was an officially sanctioned bounty hunter whose job was to find rogue androids, and to retire them. But cornered, androids tended to fight back, with deadly results. Deckard has a simple task ahead of him: retire six escaped androids. This makes Deckard some enemies. To some he’s a cop, to others he’s a criminal. Deckard just thinks he is a average guy trying to do his job.
Dick’s bestselling novel inspired the Ridley Scott movie Blade Runner, starring Harrison Ford in 1982.
Mathematician Hari Seldon spent his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, using the law of mass action, it can predict the future, but only on a large scale. Seldon foresees the fall of the Galactic Empire, which encompasses the entire Milky Way, and a dark age lasting thirty thousand years before a second great empire arises. The focus of the trilogy is on the Foundation of the planet Terminus. The people living there are working on an all-encompassing Encyclopedia, and are unaware of Seldon’s real intentions. The Encyclopedia serves to preserve knowledge of the physical sciences after the collapse. The Foundation’s location is chosen so that it acts as the focal point for the next empire in another thousand years.
The troubles begin when stewardship of Arrakis is transferred by the Emperor from the Harkonnen Noble House to House Atreides. The Harkonnens don’t want to give up their privilege, though, and through sabotage and treachery they cast young Duke Paul Atreides out into the planet’s harsh environment to die. There he falls in with the Fremen, a tribe of desert dwellers who become the basis of the army with which he will reclaim what’s rightfully his. Paul Atreides, though, is far more than just a usurped duke. He might be the end product of a very long-term genetic experiment designed to breed a super human; he might be a messiah. His struggle is at the center of a nexus of powerful people and events, and the repercussions will be felt throughout the Imperium.
The 1984 movie version of Dune with a cast of hundreds was produced by Dino De Laurentis.
Case was the hottest computer cowboy cruising the information superhighway–jacking his consciousness into cyberspace, soaring through tactile lattices of data and logic, rustling encoded secrets for anyone with the money to buy his skills. Then he double-crossed the wrong people, who caught up with him and burned the talent out of his brain, micron by micron. Banished from cyberspace, trapped in the meat of his physical body, Case courted death in the high-tech underworld. Until a shadowy conspiracy offered him a second chance and a cure, for a price.
Stranger in a Strange Land
Robert A. Heinlein
Valentine Michael Smith, born during, and the only survivor of, the first manned mission to Mars. Michael is raised by Martians, and he arrives on Earth as a true innocent: he has never seen a woman and has no knowledge of Earth’s cultures or religions. But he brings turmoil with him, as he is the legal heir to an enormous financial empire, not to mention de facto owner of the planet Mars.
E.E. Doc Smith
The first of the Lensmen series introduces the Galactic Patrol’s Lensmen, the most feared peacekeepers in the Galaxy. The “Lens,” a telepathic jewel matched to the ego of its wearer, is the ultimate weapon in the war against the merciless pirate Boskone and his forces of lawlessness. The only problem is the Galactic Patrol isn’t sure how to capitalize on the Lens’ incredible powers, but new graduate Kimball Kinnison is determined to learn.Taking command of the experimental fighting ship, the Brittania, Kinnison and his crew set off on a journey of harrowing adventures, coming face to face with deadly space creatures, and the evil pirate Helmuth – who may be the dreaded Boskone himself.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Arthur C. Clarke
When an enigmatic monolith is found buried on the moon, scientists are amazed to discover that it’s at least 3 million years old. Even more amazing, after it’s unearthed the artifact releases a powerful signal aimed at Saturn. What sort of alarm has been triggered? To find out, a manned spacecraft, the Discovery, is sent to investigate. Its crew is highly trained–the best–and they are assisted by a self-aware computer, the ultra-capable HAL 9000.
Developed into Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 blockbuster space odyssey adventure film, starring Keir Dullea.
The Forever War
Humans first bumped heads with the Taurans when we began using collapsars to travel the stars. Although the collapsars provide nearly instantaneous travel across vast distances, the relativistic speeds associated with the process means that time passes slower for those aboard ship. For William Mandella, a physics student drafted as a soldier, that means more than 27 years will have passed between his first encounter with the Taurans and his homecoming, though he himself will have aged only a year. When Mandella finds that he can’t adjust to Earth after being gone so long from home, he reenlists, only to find himself shuttled endlessly from battle to battle as the centuries pass.
A new place is being built, a world of huge dimensions, encompassing millions of miles, stronger than any planet before it. There is gravity, and with high walls and its proximity to the sun, a livable new planet that is three million times the area of the Earth can be formed. We can start again! A team of two humans and two aliens crash-land on a gigantic ring in a distant star system. The ring is millions of times larger than the Earth, and was clearly built by an advanced society.
Orson Scott Card
Intense is the word for Ender’s Game. Aliens have attacked Earth twice and almost destroyed the human species. To make sure humans win the next encounter, the world government has taken to breeding military geniuses — and then training them in the arts of war… The early training, not surprisingly, takes the form of ‘games’… Ender Wiggin is a genius among geniuses; he wins all the games… He is smart enough to know that time is running out. But is he smart enough to save the planet?
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly
Mary Shelley’s chilling portrait of a scientist obsessed with creating life was among the first works of science fiction ever produced. Its potent allegorical power, compelling ethical and philosophical themes, and its sheer creepiness have ensured it remains one of the most enduring and influential as well.
Mary Shelley wrote this book in response to a challenge issued by Lord Byron, during a vacation at Lake Geneva. She went on to write other works of imaginative gothic fiction. Still, her modern reputation rests with this one book.
A huge hit in 1931 the film from Universal Pictures, staring Boris Karloff and directed by James Whale, became one of the most iconic horror films in movie history.
Last and First Men
A work of unprecedented scale in the genre is full of pioneering speculations. It describes the history of humanity from the present across 2 billion years and 18 distinct human species, of which our own is the first and most primitive. Stapledon’s conception of history is a repetitive cycle with many varied civilizations rising from and descending back into savagery over millions of years, but it is also one of progress, as the later civilizations rise to far greater heights than the first. The book anticipates the science of genetic engineering, and is an early example of the (up to now) fictional supermind; a consciousness composed of many telepathically-linked individuals.
As the novel opens, Titus, lord of Castle Gormenghast, has abdicated his throne. Born and brought to the edge of manhood in the huge, rotting castle, Titus rebels against the age-old ritual of which he is both lord and prisoner and rushes headlong into the world. From that moment forward, he is thrust into a stormy land of a dark imagination, where figures and landscapes loom up with force and vividness of a dream–or a nightmare.
Even though many works now considered seminal to the genre were published in the 1960s and 1970s, the term Steampunk originated in the late 1980s as a tongue in cheek variant of cyberpunk. Several works of fiction significant to the development of the genre were produced before that time but Titus Alone published in 1959, anticipated many of the tropes of today’s Steampunk adventures.
Weaving contemporary imagery with Sumerian myths, Stephenson’s cyberpunk novel revolves around a mysterious “pseudo-narcotic” Snow Crash that is capable of affecting people both within and without the alternate-reality Internet called the “Metaverse.” In reality, Hiro Protagonist delivers pizza for Uncle Enzo’s CosoNostra Pizza Inc., but in the Metaverse he’s a warrior prince. Plunging headlong into the enigma of a new computer virus that’s striking down hackers everywhere, he races along the neon-lit streets on a search-and-destroy mission for the shadowy virtual villain threatening to bring about infocalypse. Snow Crash is a mind-altering romp through a future America so bizarre, so outrageous that you’ll recognize it immediately.
And there you have it from the raw beginnings of Sci-Fi in 1881 through the roaring twentieth century stopping off at the sophistication point of 1992. Who knows which novels old and new belong on the short list? Care to make a suggestion?