THOSE THAT ARE AND THOSE THAT SHOULD BE (a personal view)
This proved a time-consuming undertaking, one which took me more than a year to complete. For the next several years, I revisited the list sporadically, polishing and updating, but for the last eight years it has languished almost forgotten… Until now.
To co-incide with ‘World Book Day’ 2013, I thought it might be a suitable time to dig that old list out and post it. The list was compiled long before I became a writer, long before I was involved in the genre community and long before I knew any of the authors featured (or not). I suspect that if I were to do this today, a markedly different list would result, but, here it is: 140-odd titles spanning 186 years…
1818 FRANKENSTEIN MARY SHELLY
Hollywood’s stereotype of the ‘mad scientist’ is a radical divergence from Shelly’s original tale of the brilliant young idealist, determined to push back the boundaries of knowledge. Eventually, it is this thirst for knowledge that brings about his own downfall. Sympathy rests with his creation – an innocent corrupted by the immorality that surrounds him. An essentially moral tale of man’s arrogance in dabbling with creation – forms a cornerstone of both SF and horror.
1864 JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH JULES VERNE
The classic tale of Professor Lindenbrock’s quest to reach the centre of the Earth. Discovering a note from Arne Saknussem which suggests such a trip is possible, he sets off for Iceland, accompanied by his reluctant nephew Axel. With local guide Hans they descend via an extinct volcano into a subterranean world of constant wonder.
1870 TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA JULES VERNE
The book that introduced the concept of deep sea exploration via submarine. Three men, who thought they were tackling a giant sea monster, find themselves unwilling guests aboard the Nautilus, commanded by its creator, Captain Nemo, who uses the ship to pursue his own personal vision – a common theme in Verne’s earlier works : technology enabling man to further his dreams.
1895 THE TIME MACHINE H.G. WELLS
Wells’ first novel was one of tremendous vision. It tells of a young scientist in Richmond, Surrey, who conceives of and builds a time machine. Testing the invention, the Time Traveller finds himself in 802,701A.D., where humankind has devolved into two distinct species – the decadent Elois and the primitive Morlocks. He then goes even further into the future to witness the world’s last days under a dying sun before returning to tell of his adventures to incredulous friends.
1896 THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU H.G. WELLS
Charles Pendrick, an English naturalist, survives a shipwreck to find himself on an isolated island, where the exiled Dr. Moreau is experimenting on animals to produce hybrid Beast People. A scathing warning of the dangers in forced manipulation of a species’ evolution, written a century before fears of genetic engineering became topical.
1898 WAR OF THE WORLDS H.G. WELLS
Perhaps Wells’ best known work. Human valour and science seem powerless in the face of superior Martian technology. The first tale of alien invasion of Earth ever published. Famously, its radio dramatisation narrated by Orson Wells in 1938, caused Americans to flee their homes and cities, believing it to be a genuine news broadcast.
1912 THE LOST WORLD SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE
The book that gave a whole genre of fiction its name. Central character, Professor Challenger, discovers a plateau in the equatorial rain forests of Venezuela where ancient flora and fauna still thrive… including dinosaurs. A wonderful adventure yarn, made into a film in 1925. Michael Crichton paid tribute when naming the sequel to Jurassic Park.
1917 A PRINCESS OF MARS EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS
John Carter, gentleman adventurer and veteran of the American civil war, discovers ‘Barsoom’ (Mars), where our hero loses his heart to the beautiful Dejah Thoris and befriends the fierce Tars Tarkas. Semi clad women, giant green multi-limbed barbarians, swords and adventure – unashamed escapist fun. Before this, other worlds were used to educate the reader; Barsoom is purely a mechanism for entertainment. First in an (eventually) eleven book series.
1930 LAST AND FIRST MEN OLAF STAPLEDON
A breathtaking history of the future, spanning 2,000 million years and the evolution of man through 18 distinct races. The book is introduced by one of the ‘Last Men’, who has projected his mind into the past to take control of one of the ‘First Men’ – Olaf Stapledon. Often reads more like a history book than a novel, but the imagination is astounding.
1932 BRAVE NEW WORLD ALDOUS HUXLEY
Acclaimed ground-breaking novel – the first ever attempt by a writer to predict whole sale change in the society of the future. In a world where everyone is happy because they are programmed to be happy, where human rights and free speech are not even memories, Bernard encounters a Savage, who is not thus programmed. But is the Savage happy?
1933 THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME H.G. WELLS
Written at a time when Wells’ reputation as an author was on the wane but he was enjoying fame as an educationist and prophet. Dr Philip Raven dies in 1930. Discovered amongst his effects is a manuscript chronicling the years 1930 – 2105, a ’short history of the future’, purportedly dictated to him in his dreams. Whether Wells intended this as prophecy or warning is debatable. Certainly his anticipations regarding World War II are chillingly accurate in many respects.
1937 STAR MAKER OLAF STAPLEDON
Staggering scope – In passing we witness entire alien civilisations mature and die and even the death of the stars, as this novel takes in the history of the galaxy and the evolution of intelligence in all its many forms throughout not only our own galaxy but also beyond.
1938 OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET C.S. LEWIS
First of his Space trilogy. The central character, Dr. Elwin Ransom – brilliant and heroically brave, was modelled on the author’s close friend J.R.R. Tolkien. Ransom is kidnapped and taken to the planet Madacandra. Upon landing he escapes and finds himself in a wondrous world. As in his ‘Narnia’ series, Lewis cleverly weaves his own religious beliefs into the fabric of an entertaining and imaginative adventure.
1940 SLAN A.E. VAN VOGT
Slans are superhuman – perhaps even the next evolutionary step; as such they are feared and persecuted. Orphaned at nine when the secret police shoot his mother, Jommy Cross keeps his heritage a secret, but determines to prove that despite everything, Slans can help mankind. SF fans of the time identified strongly with Slans.
1945 THE WORLD OF NULL-A A.E. VAN VOGT
This was the first SF novel to be published in hardback after WWII. A wonderfully fast-paced tale full of complexity and twists as Gilbert Gosseyn comes to realise he is not who he has always believed himself to be and sets out to find his true identity. Along the way he discovers, amongst other things, that he seems to have more than one body… The first novel to tackle human cloning, it also encompasses alien invaders and a radical alternate philosophy for human society.
1947 GREENER THAN YOU THINK WARD MOORE
A woman in Hollywood applies a lawn additive to some diseased grass. It produces a virulent mutation that seems immune to everything and soon engulfs L.A. and continues to spread. Russian troops invade but become ensnared in the grass and starve. This ecological disaster novel ends with humanity forced to flee the world’s major land masses .
1948 TRIPLANETARY E.E. ‘DOC’ SMITH
A war is raging for dominance of the universe. Unknown to man, Earth is a focal point for the titanic struggle between the planets of Arisia and Eddore – the sinking of Atlantis and the fall of Rome are just two of the consequences. Originally written in 1934 for a pulp magazine, this is the first of the classic Lensman series. Rip-roaring adventure by “The father of Space Opera – the Lensmen books have the shape of dreams.” Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction.
1949 NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR GEORGE ORWELL
Laced with satire and dark prediction, this is perhaps the most famous SF work of all. In a strictly regulated future, which seeks to mold even history in its own image, Winston Smith yearns for freedom, but in the end is forced to accept there is no escaping the totalitarian state. ‘Big Brother is watching you’. In this age of CCTV, who would argue?
1949 EARTH ABIDES GEORGE R. STEWART
‘…this beautiful meditation on ecology, old age and the implacability of change’- (Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels). First winner of the International Fantasy Award. In the wake of a world destroying plague, Ishar Williams gathers a community of fellow survivors and determines to preserve as much of civilisation as possible for future generations, little imagining how difficult that will prove to be, or foreseeing how tough the decisions he will have to make along the way.
1950 I, ROBOT ISAAC ASIMOV
First collection of his brilliant Robot stories. Asimov formulated ‘The Three Laws of Robotics’ – integral parts of robots’ brains ensuring they never harm humans – in 1940, then wrote a series of tales, many of which circumvented them. The nine stories included here are loosely linked by observations from the character Dr. Susan Calvin, who herself features in some of the tales. Originally published in magazines between 1940 and 1950, they include the classic ‘Robbie’.
1950 GATHER DARKNESS FRITZ LEIBER
Expanded from a novelette serialised in ‘Astounding’ during 1943. Leiber takes us to the Second Atomic Age, where humanity is suppressed by a hierarchy of Priests. Brother Jarles does not believe the mysticism he is being taught to expound, and finds himself drawn to the resistance movement – the ‘Witches’. A revolution is born.
1951 THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES RAY BRADBURY
The fourth expedition to Mars finds an empty world – the native population all but wiped out by chicken pox carried by earlier, doomed expeditions. Undaunted, Americans migrate to claim the new real estate, constructing plastic homes on the rubble of ancient Martian cities, totally disregarding the culture they displace. TV serialisation cemented the popularity of this respected fable. Bradbury also wrote the screenplay for Moby Dick and scripts for The Twilight Zone.
1951 THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS JOHN WYNDHAM
By chance Bill Mason is one of a handful of humanity not blinded by a spectacular display of sky borne explosions. In the after-math, Triffids, lethal and mobile plant-like creatures previously considered curiosities, flourish and proceed to act with apparent purpose, seeking out and corralling humans. Those few people left with sight struggle to ensure a future for mankind, as we are besieged on our own world.
1951 FOUNDATION ISAAC ASIMOV
Originally published in four parts in ‘Astounding’ between 1942 and 1944, this is the first of the legendary Foundation Trilogy which won a special Hugo in 1965 for Best All Time Series. Hari Seldon, a Psychohistorian, predicts that the current sprawling Galactic Empire will soon decay, plunging the galaxy into 30,000 years of barbarism. Reviled as a traitor, he establishes two Foundations (one hidden), to shorten the time of darkness and act as the heart of a new order.
1952 CITY CLIFFORD D. SIMAK
Composite built around seven shorts published in Astounding 1944 – 1951, tales that have become the legends of sentient dogs to whom ‘Man’ is a myth. Tales that centre on generations of the Webster family, showing the failure of the cities, the eventual fate of mankind and of life on Earth itself. The one constant is Jenkins, the robot who serves successive generations of the Websters and beyond. This fascinating and imaginative book won the International Fantasy Award.
1952 THE ILLUSTRATED MAN RAY BRADBURY
The nameless narrator meets the Illustrated Man, whose body is completely covered in tattoos. Each image seems to have a life of its own and each has a story to tell. So unfold 18 remarkable tales combining science fiction, horror and fantasy, including ‘Zero Hour’, where aliens invade the Earth assisted by our own children…
1953 CHILDHOOD’S END ARTHUR C. CLARKE
Humanity is poised on the brink of true interstellar flight, when gigantic space craft appear in the skies, heralding the arrival of a technologically superior alien race. They seem to be benign, however, some are unconvinced, suspecting mankind’s benefactor’s of hidden motives. An ambitious and absorbing book, at times a thriller but developing into something else entirely, as the aliens’ true agenda is revealed.
1953 THE DEMOLISHED MAN ALFRED BESTER
Bester exploded on the scene with this, his first novel, in the same way that Zelazny would more than a decade later – threatening to revolutionise SF. In the year 2031 telepaths police humanity, preventing crime before it happens – no murder has been committed for 70 years. Ben Reich, his business under threat and tormented by a faceless nemesis in his dreams, determines to commit the unthinkable. First winner of the Hugo for best novel.
1953 MORE THAN HUMAN THEODORE STURGEON
Winner of the International Fantasy Award. A small group of social misfits and runaway children discover they each have paranormal gifts which compliment each other. When used in concert – gestalt – they become so much more than the sum of their parts. Through trials and suffering, they discover mankind’s true destiny.
1953 THE KRAKEN WAKES JOHN WYNDHAM
It starts slowly – balls of light seen plunging into the ocean. Nothing happens and the sightings are forgotten and dismissed. Then ships start going down with no obvious explanation – the areas of sea concerned are avoided and life goes on. A scriptwriter and his wife, who witnessed the balls of light, become convinced that something is going on in the oceans. One of the most plausibly told and gripping of all Wyndham’s works.
1953 THE SPACE MERCHANTS CM KORNBLUTH & FREDERICK POHL
Set in a twisted future which seems all-too-familiar, with ad-men in charge of the world. In the best traditions of George Orwell, this is SF at its most satirical – taking a broad swipe at the worst aspects of commercial culture whilst spinning an entertaining yarn along the way, with corporate shoot-outs and even a romance thrown in for good measure
1953 FARENHEIT 451 RAY BRADBURY
The temperature at which paper burns… In a strongly pro-censorship and anti-intellectual future firemen do not fight fires, they start them; burning books because they contain forbidden ideas. Guy Montag is a Fireman of 10 years whose disaffection surfaces when he meets Clarisse, a young neighbour who refuses to comply and poses questions he would rather not face. Suddenly he is like a waking man in a world of dreamers. His wife is a stranger and all around are his enemy.
1954 BRAIN WAVE POUL ANDERSON
Intelligence takes a giant leap forward as the Earth emerges from a radiation cloud it has been passing through for untold centuries. The radiation has acted to retard our intellect. Suddenly entire populations become geniuses and even the animals are more intelligent; but are we pleased at the change? How will society cope?
1954 A MISSION OF GRAVITY HAL CLEMENT
Central character, Barlennan, is a Meskenite – a 15 inch long hydrogen-breathing caterpillar. He and his crew embark on a hazardous journey across vast uncharted regions of their own world on behalf of humans – to recover a stranded probe from their high gravity world. The alien’s thoughts sometimes seem too human, but the physiology, environment and the practical consequences of such, are superbly realised. The realistic use of science set new standards for SF.
1954 WILD TALENT WILSON TUCKER
An overlooked gem. As Paul Breen grows up he develops unsuspected psychic abilities. Being a patriotic American he reveals the fact to the authorities, only to find himself studied, manipulated by corrupt politicians and virtually imprisoned, whilst no one he grows close to seems to live very long. Things look hopeless, until he discovers he is not the only ‘freak’.
1954 I AM LEGEND RICHARD MATHESON
In a post apocalyptic world the last ‘normal’ man wages a ruthless and lonely war against the vampires who threaten to inherit the Earth. Filmed as ‘The Omega Man’. Contains a nice semantic twist at the end which the film ignored.
1955 THE CHRYSALIDS JOHN WYNDHAM
In a post-apocalyptic future less than 50% of children are born without mutation. Those that deviate are routinely killed as abominations. A scared boy, David, tries to hide the fact that he can speak to a few others with his mind, but deep-down knows it is only a matter of time before he is discovered.
1956 TIGER! TIGER! ALFRED BESTER (a.k.a. The Stars My Destination)
Despite its lack of awards, deemed by many to be one of the best SF novels ever written. Certainly Gully Foyle is among the most memorable protagonists the genre has seen. Psychopathic, cunning and none-too-bright, but totally compulsive. The story starts with Gully adrift in space aboard a wrecked ship, abandoned by a rescue vessel that could have saved him. The action comes thick and fast as he seeks revenge. Combines twists, intelligent plotting and a satisfying ending.
1956 THE DOOR INTO SUMMER ROBERT A. HEINLEIN
Originally overshadowed by the Hugo-winning ‘Doublestar’, this story of a time-travelling cat-lover has dated better and is regarded as one of his best. It is 1970; betrayed by an unscrupulous business partner and greedy fiancée, Dan Davis finds himself awakened from ‘cold sleep’ 30 years later. Some of Heinlein’s projections for 2000 are spot on – Computer Aided Design and Velcro. Others, e.g. time travel, may not be, but this is still a clever and entertaining tale.
1957 BIG PLANET JACK VANCE
Earth has sent a mission to prevent the whole of Big Planet falling under the thrall of the tyrant Lysidder. However, the landing is sabotaged and they crash. The survivors must trek across 40,000 miles of the massive, metal-poor world to reach safety. Vance reveals and discards one intriguing culture after another as we follow their journey, hampered en-route by the tyrant’s minions. This was a major inspiration for Robert Silverberg’s successful ‘Majipoor’ series.
1957 EARTH IS ROOM ENOUGH ISAAC ASIMOV (short stories)
A selection of thought provoking short stories from the master of the format. In ‘Jokester’ we learn the origin of jokes and the real purpose of a sense of humour; whilst the Archangel Gabriel blows ‘the Last Trump’, in ‘Franchise’ a man becomes President, even though he did not apply for the job; ‘Satisfaction Guaranteed’ gives us a case of adultery involving a robot; ‘Hell Fire’ is a perfect short story in a page and a half… all this and a couple of poems too.
1957 THEY SHALL HAVE STARS JAMES BLISH
In the chronology of the series, this is the first of the ‘Cities In Flight’ books and arguably the best. Full of tension and the desperate striving for new discovery, as man races to perfect the ‘Spindizzy’ anti-gravity drive. At the same time, an anti-aging drug is developed. These two break-throughs offer hope to the people of a jaded Earth.
1957 WASP ERIC FRANK RUSSELL
Reluctant recruit James Mowry is secretly dropped on Jarmec, 94th world of the Sirrian Empire, with whom Earth is at war. His mission: to be a Wasp – sufficiently irritating to distract local Sirrians from the war effort. Using graffiti, propaganda and the occasional killing, he single-handedly creates a convincing resistance movement. By turns dramatic and amusing. Russell, a former RAF radio officer, has concocted a handbook on how to be subversive.
1957 THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS JOHN WYNDHAM
Wonderful evocation of a sleepy English village in the 1950’s – Midwich – whose inhabitants all fall unconscious for an entire day one September. They awaken to discover every female inhabitant pregnant and suspect implantation, but resolve to avoid a fuss by handling the matter themselves. For the most part, the resultant children seem normal; except for their golden eyes… Very readable, often amusing masterpiece, filmed at various times as ‘Village of the Dammed’.
1958 THE BIG TIME FRITZ LEIBER
Central part of Leiber’s Changewar saga: the ultimate futile war, with opposing armies – both containing humans and aliens – battling up and down the timelines, each continually travelling to undo the works of the other. Here, a rag-tag group of entertainers, doctors and wounded are trapped in a room outside of space and time with an activated atomic bomb. Intended as a one-act play, this tense and absorbing SF thriller won the Hugo.
1958 STARBURST ALFRED BESTER (short stories)
Remains one of the most consistently entertaining collections of shorts ever published in the genre, despite its age. If there is a common thread, it is Bester’s startling imagination. The acknowledged classic ‘Fondly Fahrenheit’ is one highlight, with Vandeleur and his eccentric android which turns murderous when the temperature rises, ‘Disappearing Act’ with its ward of vanishing patients is another, but the book is crammed with excellent stories and original ideas.
1959 STARSHIP TROOPERS ROBERT A. HEINLEIN
Set in a militarist future where duty and honour are paramount, the book follows the life of a cadet, Rico, as he develops from adolescence to manhood and is flung into a violent and dirty war against an insectoid alien race. It contains a political and social message strongly coloured by the anti-Communist paranoia prevalent at the time, but was Heinlein’s most mature work to date, winning the Hugo.
1959 A CANTICLE FOR LIEBOWITZ WALTER M. MILLER Jnr.
The novel concept that the church rather than scientists might prove the preservers of civilisation in a post-apocalyptic world, is here made very plausible. The tale, told in three sections over the course of centuries, suggests that man is more than capable of repeating even his worst mistakes. An intelligent, well written book which won the Hugo.
1959 THE SIRENS OF TITAN KURT VONNEGUT
A strange, disjointed novel of bewildering imagination. It features an unlikely hero as central character, with an unlooked-for mentor who oscillates through time – all set in a world where history has been radically distorted by unconcerned aliens for the most banal and inconsequential of reasons. Nominated for the Hugo.
1960 DORSAI! GORDON R. DICKSON
The first to be written, but chronologically the third of the original Dorsai trilogy, subsequently expanded into the Childe Cycle. Donal Graeme is a military genius, genetically bred to be so. Under his leadership the Dorsai – a mercenary army – have become the most feared soldiers in the 14 worlds. Donal has a very personal agenda for the 14 worlds – to bring about peace and unity. Definitive militarist space opera, which was nominated for the Hugo.
1960 ROGUE MOON ALGYS BUDRYS
An alien maze construct is discovered on the moon, but proves deadly to all who explore it. Scientists send a series of clones, taken from Barker – a virtual superman with a death-wish, to try and penetrate its secrets. Each makes a little more progress than the last before being killed. The psychologies of Barker and the scientist sending clones to certain death are explored and entwined as the day approaches when one of the clones will inevitably succeed and survive…
1961 STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND ROBERT A. HEINLEIN
Ironically for an author often sited for his right-wing views, this book inspired many in the 60’s hippie culture, with its advocation of free love and establishment of communes. Valentine Michael Smith, born during man’s first mission to Mars, is its sole survivor. Raised by Martians, he returns to Earth, setting about studying humanity, its morals and this strange force: love. Conflict is inevitable when he founds a church along lines of his own moral vision. Won the Hugo.
1961 SOLARIS STANISLAW LEM
Chris Kelvin arrives on Solaris. The world’s unique oceans constitute a living organism, perhaps even a form of mind, but if so, a very alien mind. All efforts to communicate have failed and Kelvin now has to decide whether there is any point in retaining the research station. Despite translation from the Polish, the haunted atmosphere is well-realised, as the increasingly stressed scientists receive ‘gifts’ from the world they study. For Kelvin it is the return of his dead wife…
1962 A CLOCKWORK ORANGE ANTHONY BURGESS
Set in an Orwellian future, where the nights are none-the-less ruled by ‘droogs’, gangs of teenagers who roam the streets leaving mayhem and terror in their wake. They have developed their own language – Nadsat. Told in the first person, Alex leads a gang of droogs as they steal, vandalise and rape. Eventually caught, he is sent on a rehabilitation programme very different from his expectations. Both the book and Kubrik’s subsequent film were highly controversial. .
1962 THE DROWNED WORLD J.G. BALLARD
Global warming in extremis. Temperatures have soared, the polar icecaps have melted and the oceans have risen to claim the world, causing civilisation to retreat to the polar regions. When a U.N. mission is forced to abandon the swamp that now engulfs London, complete with alligators and giant iguanas, Kerans contrives to stay behind. He has fallen victim to a commonly occurring dream, which fellow exile Bodkin believes is a racial echo from man’s primordial past.
1962 THE SWORD OF ALDONES MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY
Exiled Lou Alton, a member of the Comyn, the psi-powered aristocracy, returns to his home planet to right old wrongs. Darkover – a wondrous world, newly rediscovered by the galaxy at large, where society has traditionally been based on psychic science rather than technology. His return sparks intrigue, mystery and murder. Later Darkover novels may have been better written, but none are as exciting or as magical as this, the first, which was nominated for the Hugo.
1963 WAY STATION CLIFFORD D. SIMAK
Enoch Wallace, a veteran of the U.S. civil war, is still apparently youthful in the 1960’s. A fact ignored by neighbours, who are happy to mind their own business, unaware that his farm is a stop-over for aliens passing through the solar system. Then a government agent grows curious, just as interstellar politics threaten the Station with closure. Virtual reality, matter transmitters, longevity, the loneliness of responsibility… this excellent, well-crafted tale won the Hugo.
1964 GREYBEARD BRIAN ALDISS
Few humans have survived the atomic ‘Accident’ which has left the surviving men infertile. Greybeard leads his people downriver, through the beautiful, rich English countryside which has coped with the ‘Accident’ far better than humanity, in search of a pocket of fertiles rumoured to have survived. The novel’s gentle pace hides many a dark undertone.
1965 DUNE FRANK HERBERT
Greatly and justifiably revered. First novel to win both the Hugo and Nebula awards. Never before had any alien world possessed such substance, such presence, as Herbert’s Arrakis. Add to that the Machavelian intrigues of political Houses, the hidden agenda of the Bene Gesserit order and a tough, persecuted desert race scattered across a planet, and you have a marvellous backdrop as Paul Atreides seeks revenge, toppling an Empire and changing the course of history.
1966 THIS IMMORTAL ROGER ZELAZNY
Following success with short stories, this, Zelazny’s first novel, shared the Hugo with Dune. Appears deceptively simple on the surface, but a wealth of complex themes bubble underneath. Conrad, the engaging central character, has to escort a Vegan dignitary around an Earth pocked with radioactive hot-spots that have caused bizarre human mutations. He protects the alien from a series of assassination attempts, whilst pondering the real motive behind his visit…
1966 FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON DANIEL KEYES
Nebula winner, expanded from his own short story (which had previously won a Hugo). Scientists greatly heighten a simpleton’s intelligence to the level of genius. Yet their motives are purely selfish, seeing him as little more than a specimen and proof of their own worth. Only he seems concerned with the possible consequences should the change prove less than permanent. A very moving and thought-provoking tale which was made into the film ‘Charlie’.
1966 MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM! HARRY HARRISON
A novel warning of the danger and misery resulting from over-population and ecological degradation, using as its vehicle a New York City bursting at the seams, complete with food shortages, riots and senseless violence, as seen by Andy Rusch – a cynical and overworked cop, who is struggling to make sense of it all. He is desperately in lust for the femme fatale and determined to solve a murder that nobody else seems to care about.. Filmed as ‘Soylent Green’.
1967 THE EINSTEIN INTERSECTION SAMUEL R. DELANEY
Based loosely on the myth of Orpheus, but containing all sorts of cultural references, from Billy The Kid to the Beatles. Lobey is a mutant, different because he can ‘hear the music in people’s minds’. When his love, Friza, is killed he sets off to find Kid Death, determined to bring her back from the dead. Full of strong imagery, it won the Nebula.
1967 LORD OF LIGHT ROGER ZELAZNY
In a distant future the crew of a colony ship have set themselves up as Gods over colonists and native aliens alike, modeled on the Hindu pantheon. They use technology to imitate Godlike powers and cloned bodies to reincarnate their immortal selves. Sam (Mahasamatman) is a retired God who believes the current order is wrong. He is recalled from ‘death’, introduces Buddhism to subvert the Hindu dogma and goes to war. SF at its best – deservedly won the Hugo.
1968 DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? PHILIP K. DICK
Set in a future shaped by the end of a terrible war and man’s colonisation of Mars. Life is precious – owning a live pet is the ultimate status symbol. Androids, developed for Mars, are outlawed on Earth because of their disregard for life. Richard Deckard, an official bounty-hunter, is assigned to hunt down a group of highly advanced androids that have fled to Earth having already committed murder. Nominated for the Nebula and was basis of the film ‘Bladerunner’.
1968 DRAGONFLIGHT ANNE McCAFFREY
The tale of Lessa, claimed by the Dragonriders, who struggles to find her place in the strange culture of the Weyr. Our first visit to Pern, a wondrous, feudal world whose only defence against the dreaded space-borne Thread is the flying, teleporting, fire-breathing Dragons and their psychically linked riders. Intelligent adventure and very human characters, as Lessa becomes hero of the hour. Different sections of this novel won both the Hugo and Nebula for best novella.
1968 PAVANE KEITH ROBERTS
Perhaps the greatest alternate history of them all. In 1588 Queen Elizabeth is assassinated, prompting Spain to invade Britain. The world of the 1960s is dominated by the Church of Rome, complete with Inquisition, suppressing technology and progress. The book centres largely on three generations of the Strange family, who rise from simple hauliers to people of influence at the heart of the discontent which inevitably erupts. A delightful twist is revealed in the final pages.
1968 RITE OF PASSAGE ALEXEI PANSHIN
Mia, raised aboard a vast space ship, is strong willed and resourceful, but not always popular nor entirely happy. At 14 she must survive on the surface of a world for 30 days – the accepted coming of age trial. She encounters ‘mudeaters’ – planet-bound people she considers less than human. Will her prejudices survive the encounter? Sympathetic, well told view of a young girl’s adolescence and the moral dilemma faced by herself and her society. Worthy Nebula winner.
1968 THE SANTAROGA BARRIER FRANK HERBERT
In a shrinking, ever-more integrated world Santaroga was an anomaly. Santarogan’s did not trade with outsiders, they offered no juvenile delinquency or crime figures for the national statistics, no outsider could ever find property to rent or buy and few Santarogans ever left the valley. Those that did always came back. Gilbert Dassein had shared a love with Jenny, who none-the-less left him to return to the valley; Dassein determines to investigate the Santaroga Barrier.
1968 STAND ON ZANZIBAR JOHN BRUNNER
A hugely ambitious multi-layered novel that succeeds on virtually all fronts. The year is 2010, more than seven and a half billion people crowd onto an overstretched world. It is an Earth of gene-engineering, mass-market psychedelic drugs and government sponsored murder. The focus of the narrative switches frequently between several well-drawn characters and is constantly interspersed with media-bytes. A worthy winner of the Hugo award.
1969 THE LEFTHAND OF DARKNESS URSULA K. LE GUIN
Compared with Dune for its vivid realisation of an alien world and culture, yet this far slimmer volume is both less sweeping in scope and more intense in its observation. On the ice-bound world of Gethen, also called Winter, humans have evolved into hermaphrodites. Genly Ai, an ethnologist, has come to study them, but learns as much about himself and his own prejudices as he does about the world and its people. Winner of both the Hugo and Nebula for best novel.
1969 BUG JACK BARRON NORMAN SPINRAD
Its colourful, aggressive language caused newsagent chains Smiths and Menzies to ban New Worlds magazine, which first published it, and raised questions in the Houses of Parliament. Jack Barron hosts an intrusive investigative talk show. In prophetic prediction of how the cult of celebrity will mushroom, the show is so popular that no-one dares resist his manipulative quizzing. Politicians, the media and big corporations are all targets for this feisty, savage book.
1969 SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE KURT VONNEGUT
Vonnegut drew heavily on his own WWII experiences as a p.o.w. who experienced the bombing of Dresden for this kaleidoscope of a novel. “Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.” Pilgrim’s awareness flits constantly between past and future, taking us to and from events such as his time as a zoo exhibit on the planet Tralfamador, his honeymoon and even his death. However, the narrative concentrates on his time as a p.o.w. who experiences the bombing of Dresden…
1969 NIGHTWINGS ROBERT SILVERBERG
Tomis, of the Guild of Watchers, who dedicate their lives to studying the heavens for signs of alien invasion, finds himself redundant once the invasion actually happens. Now guild less, he travels from the city of Roum to Perris and back, encountering intrigue and adventure and rediscovering the beautiful Avluela, who can soar the skies on gossamer wings. Three novellas comprise this wonderful, lyrical work, including the title story, which won a well-merited Hugo .
1969 THE SILKIE A.E. VAN VOGT
With echoes of his earlier work ‘Slan’, Silkies are humanoid in appearance but super-human in physical and mental abilities – including sophisticated telepathic attributes. Initially introduced as the product of genetic experimentation, this origin is later thrown into doubt and becomes a central thread to the three story segments, as we follow Cemp, the Silkie of the title, from Earth to the depths of space, where he confronts a threat that is very alien indeed.
1970 RINGWORLD LARRY NIVEN
Most celebrated of Niven’s ‘Known Space’ series and winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards. The Puppeteers (the galaxy’s greatest cowards) send two humans, a Kzin (once man’s mortal enemies) and a Puppeteer to investigate Ringworld – a partial Dyson’s sphere; an artificial world, 600 million miles long and a million miles wide, a vast collar around its sun. They crash-land with a damaged ship and must cross Ringworld in search of civilisation, or be stranded.
1970 TAU ZERO POUL ANDERSON
Due to a technical problem, a star ship full on intended colonists begins to accelerate out of control. Charles Raymont finds himself in charge of a ship heading unexpectedly into the unknown, gathering speed the whole while. In accordance with Einstein’s theory, time passes far more swiftly outside the ship than within. Eventually they outlive the human race itself and witness things no human ever expected to see. A true masterpiece, nominated for the Hugo.
1972 THE FIFTH HEAD OF CERBERUS GENE WOLFE
Three inter-connected stories set on the twin colony planets of Sainte Anne and Sainte Croix, where antiquated customs, such as slavery, coexist with high-tech conveniences. The narrative centres on the uncertainties surrounding the ‘Abos’, shape-shifting alien natives often dismissed as fairytales, whom history says were wiped out by human settlers. Rumours persist that they actually intermingled with the humans unnoticed, or even killed and replaced the original colonists.
1972 DYING INSIDE ROBERT SILVERBERG
Intense, introverted and totally believable. David Seleg is a telepath, used to sampling the thoughts and emotions of others. He reminisces on his life – the ambivalent feelings of his parents, a girlfriend’s bad acid trip experienced second hand, a dour farmer’s joyful oneness with the world… He wallows in self-pity as his gift slips away with the onset of middle-age, though knowing it has made him ever the outsider. Hugo nominated and 3rd placed Nebula finalist.
1973 RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA ARTHUR C. CLARKE
A large cylindrical object approaches the solar system and soon proves to be manufactured, not natural. A mission is hurriedly put together to intercept. They discover a self-contained world in its interior, which reveals abundant signs of an advanced technology, but no inhabitants. As Rama continues out of the solar system, they are forced to leave, with more new questions than answers. This truly gripping and original novel won the Hugo, Nebula and Campbell .
1974 THE MOTE IN GOD’S EYE LARRY NIVEN & JERRY POURNELLE
It is 3016 and man has spread across the stars, but never encountered aliens – until now. One of the best first contact novels of all, which develops far beyond that initial contact to portray a convincingly structured alien society, far more ancient than our own, but they never discovered star flight. The aliens – ‘Moties’- seem very open and friendly but it becomes apparent they are hiding something… Nominated for the Hugo and runner up for the Nebula.
1974 THE DISPOSSESSED URSULA K. LE GUINN
A book that gathers strength and pace as it develops. Shevek’s ancestors left Urras 170 years ago to settle on its uncompromising moon Anarres, establishing a society with no Government, directed by convention rather than laws. He returns in order to complete his Principle of Simultaneity, which allows instantaneous interstellar communication, but soon finds that all the reasons the Annareans originally left Urras are still present. Won both the Hugo and Nebula.
1974 A KNIGHT OF GHOSTS AND SHADOWS POUL ANDERSON
The best of Anderson’s Dominic Flandry series. Flandry is now middle aged with a grown son and the Terran Empire he has always served is in decay. His old enemy Aycharaych, a member of a mind-reading older race, resurfaces. To triumph in this, their final confrontation, Flandry is forced to sacrifice many of the principles he has lived by. As exciting as any in the series, but Flandry’s character is given more depth and pathos than previously.
1975 THE FOREVER WAR JOE HALDEMAN
William Mandella is part of man’s first expeditionary force against the Taurans. He returns to find an Earth greatly altered. Through the effects of relativity, 27 years have passed although he has only lived one year. Unable to cope with the new world, he and many others re-enlist, only to return to an even stranger and more distant Earth. Inspired in part by the Vietnam war, this novel successfully depicts the futility of such conflicts. Won both the Hugo and Nebula.
1975 ORBITSVILLE BOB SHAW
Captain Vance Garamond hijacks his own ship and flees the solar system, knowing he will be blamed for the death of the President’s son. Thus he stumbles upon Orbitsville, built by an alien civilisation to entirely enclose their sun, so harnessing all of its energy output – a Dyson’s Sphere. Its surface is five billion times that of Earth… and it appears to be uninhabited. Then the pursuing Earth fleet arrives.
1975 MIDWORLD ALAN DEAN FOSTER
Foster gives full reign to his imagination in creating the exotic and deadly lifeforms inhabiting the rain forest Midworld is immersed in. Born and his people, although clearly descended from human stock, have evolved into something quite different. Born rescues the strangers – humans – and helps them to survive, only to learn of their intentions towards his world and realise that he may have made a mistake. The humans totally miss the wonder and great secret of Midworld.
1976 MAN PLUS FREDERICK POHL
This winner of the Nebula shows us mankind on the verge of destroying itself in a politically tense world. To ensure survival man must colonise Mars, but to do that, man will have to change. We watch as Roger Torraway is transformed from all-American hero to a monstrous cyborg capable of thriving on Mars, seeing the effect on his emotions and his relationships with wife and friends. Original and absorbing, with a twist hinted at but never telegraphed until the end.
1976 DOORWAYS IN THE SAND ROGER ZELAZNY
Fred Cassidy, an acrophobic who clambers over the town’s rooftops at night, is an eternal student – thanks to a trust fund. His comfortable life is suddenly complicated when various parties, from alien policemen to other less savoury characters, become convinced he knows the whereabouts of the Starstone – a vital alien artefact. Fast-paced and by turns amusing, quirky and exciting, with suitably unexpected twists. Irrepressible Roger Zelazny, Hugo and Nebula nominated.
1977 MICHAELMAS ALGIS BUDRYS
With the aid of Domino, the world’s most advanced computer (which verges on self-awareness), Laurent Michaelmas is plugged in to every communications network on the planet. Through this he can know everything and influence almost anything. When even Domino is unable to penetrate the secrecy surrounding the reappearance of an astronaut believed to be dead, he knows something is wrong, but not even Michaelmas is prepared for what his investigation uncovers.
1977 ROADSIDE PICNIC ARKADY AND BORIS STRUGATSKY
Classic work from two Russian brothers that was filmed as ‘The Stalker’. Aliens have visited Earth and departed, leaving behind them Zones – enclosed areas containing their discarded artefacts. Far beyond the comprehension of humans, these exotic objects are highly prized and a black market has developed. Red Schuhart is a Stalker – one who raids the deadly Zones for whatever he can recover. A tense, dark, socially aware novel; runner-up for the Campbell.
1977 A SCANNER DARKLY PHILIP K. DICK
Bob Arctor is a dealer in Substance D, a highly addictive and lethal drug which in its advanced stages splits the user’s brain into two combative identities. Fred, a narcotics cop, adopts the identity of a dealer in order to catch him. Dick drew on his own experiences with drugs to write this dark and caustically funny book, as it emerges that Fred and Bob Arctor are the same person.
1977 THE OPHIUCHI HOTLINE JOHN VARLEY
Mankind, expelled from Earth by Invaders, survives tenuously in the rest of the solar system – the ‘Eight Worlds’, thanks largely to information beamed from a distant star via the mysterious Ophiuchi Hotline. But the latest message demands payment for 400 years use of the line, or else… Lilo, condemmed to death for illegal research into human genetics, finds herself enmeshed in future-shaping events. Superb debut, featuring multiple human cloning and unfathomable aliens.
1977 GATEWAY FREDERICK POHL
Humanity discovers advanced ships and Gateways to the stars, left by the Heechee – a vanished ancient race. However, they do not fully understand the ships or how to direct them, so seek volunteers to pilot them into the unknown, offering potential riches to those that return with successful discoveries. We learn in flashback what drove Bob Broadhead, a wealthy veteran of three trips, to seek therapy following his fateful final trip. Winner of both the Hugo and Nebula.
1978 DREAMSNAKE VONDA N. McINTYRE
Snake travels a post-apocalyptic world curing the sick with the aid of her three serpents. Chief amongst them is her alien Dreamsnake. When this most exotic of creatures is killed she must acquire a new one in order to continue with her vocation. In the course of her quest she encounters much evil but also finds love. Winner of both the Hugo and Nebula.
1979 THE FOUNTAINS OF PARADISE ARTHUR C. CLARKE
Vannevar Morgan is about to embark on an ambitious project – to build a space elevator. 36,000 km high and comprising of single-molecular filaments. Virtually unbreakable, it will be able to lift men and materials above the Earth’s atmosphere, revolutionising the space effort. Unfortunately, the only suitable location is on top of a sacred mountain in a tropical island paradise. A beautifully realised work which won both the Hugo and Nebula.
1980 TIMESCAPE GREGORY BENFORD
The world is tottering on collapse, dragged down by uncontrollable pollution, world-wide ecological disaster and social unrest. In desperation, Cambridge physicist John Renfrew attempts to send a warning to the past via sub-atomic particles. In California, 1962, Gordon Bernstein’s experiments are suffering mysterious interference. Once he identifies the source an historic discourse across time begins, with the fate of the world hinging on its success. Nebula winner.
1980 WILD SEED OCTAVIA BUTLER
SF with a refreshing twist of African mythology. Doro is nearly 4,000 years old, virtually immortal through his ability to consume others and wear their bodies. People are prey, useful only as breeding stock, in his drive to breed better bodies and dream of breeding other immortals. In return they worship him. He takes Anyanwu, a 300 year old shape changer and healer, to America to join his program, but she is born of Wild Seed and in her he may finally have met his match.
1981 DOWNBELOW STATION C.J. CHERRYH
Earth is exhausted and clearly losing the long drawn-out war with her colonies. The Station at Pell is strategically vital to Earth’s defence, but is determined to stay neutral. Then they hear rumours of Conrad Mazian; Mazian, who controls what remains of Earth Fleet. How will they maintain their neutrality if he occupies the Station and how will they cope with the very real tensions and conflicts that would inevitably result? A tense and very gritty novel which won the Hugo.
1982 HELLICONIA SPRING BRIAN ALDISS
The Helliconia trilogy is arguably Aldiss’ greatest work. Helliconia is an Earth-like world, but it takes 2,500 years to orbit its sun; entire dynasties rise and fall during the course of a single season. In this, the first in the series, we follow Yuli as he enters the Priesthood, learns of the Keepers and Takers and goes on to found a city. Winter is ending and Spring arrives, bringing with it the reawakening of civilisation. Winner of the Campbell.
1982 THE PRIDE OF CHANUR C.J. CHERRYH
This Hugo nominated novel introduces us to Pyanfur Chanur, Captain of the Pride, and her crew – members of the Hani, a feisty, feline race comparatively new to space faring. Their lives are thrown into turmoil when the Outsider boards the Pride – a strange, hairless creature of a race never encountered before – humans. The Kif are after him – an aggressive, predatory race who never have liked the Hani much… Fast paced and riveting with wonderfully realised characters.
1983 THE VOID CAPTAIN’S TALE NORMAN SPINRAD
Spinrad was one of the New Wave SF writers of the 60s and wrote a script for the original Star Trek series. This typically challenging and controversial work was nominated for the Nebula. It tells of a Captain – Genro, who embarks on an illicit affair with his ship’s Pilot – a being who is considered a mere biological component of the ship, a parriah not even to be spoken to… A thought-provoking tale of sexuality and the power it can wield.
1983 STARTIDE RISING DAVID BRIN
With a crew consisting largely of ‘uplifted’ dolphins with a few humans, the exploration vessel Streaker crash lands on the water world of Kithrup, pursued by a variety of highly advanced alien fleets. Streaker’s crew must also face a threat from within… Rarely have so many plausible alien cultures been so vividly described, as ingenuity enables the underdog to triumph – just. Intelligent high adventure; a worthy winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards.
1984 NEUROMANCER WILLIAM GIBSON
The book that launched cyber-punk onto the international stage. In a deep and dark hi-tech world, Case, a top interface-cowboy, is hired to raid the computers of one of the world’s Megacorps. Running shotgun with him is Molly, a street-wise, wired-up Samurai. Together they venture deep into the Matrix, becoming involved in a game far deadlier than they were expecting. Strong characters in a dazzling world – nothing quite like this had been seen before. Awarded both the Hugo and the Nebula.
1985 ENDER’S GAME ORSON SCOTT CARD
Earth is unified following a surprise alien attack. Ender Wiggins is 6 when he is separated from his family and sent to Battle School, part of a select group of children being trained to protect humanity from the next assault. Ender, who excels in many ways, seems to be particularly goaded, pushing him to the edge of endurance, whilst the mind games he thinks he is playing prove to be far more than they seem. Winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards.
1986 SHARDS OF HONOUR LOIS McMASTER BUJOLD
First in the acclaimed Vorkosigan saga. The cultured Betan’s view the Imperialists of Barrayar as unsophisticated and barbaric. The two worlds, with their opposed philosophies, are at war. Cordelia Naismith encounters Lord Aral Vorkosigan, renowned as a blood-thirsty butcher, but when she is taken prisoner Cordelia finds him to be anythng but. A well written, eventful love story, as Cordelia forces her way into Barrayan society, which will never be the same again.
1986 SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD ORSON SCOTT CARD
Card claims he wrote ‘Enders Game’ largely to set the scene for this stunning sequel, which won both the Hugo and Nebula. 3,000 years have passed. Ender, only 36 after a life traveling between worlds faster than light, is now vilified for his part in the death of a sentient race. Wonderful person-to-person and human-to alien interaction as he seeks personal redemption whilst unravelling the tangled lives and guilts of colonists on a world with its own sentient natives.
1988 THE EMPIRE OF FEAR BRIAN STABLEFORD
Alternate history set in an England 300 years ago, where civilisation has been led from the dark ages by an aristocracy of vampires – including King Richard III. Their females are barren and the males have a low sex drive – they increase their numbers by infecting human stock, but closely guard the secret of how. Neil Corderry, a courtier’s son , determines to learn the secret, a trail which leads to the cradle of vampires – Africa. An absorbing, plausible, science-based tale.
1988 WHORES OF BABYLON IAN WATSON
Babylon is reconstructed in an experimental attempt to predict the future development of current civilisation. Alex Winter volunteers to become a citizen, little realising the labyrinthine scheming, skulduggery, cuckolding and danger his discovery of a mysterious package and lust for Debra, a fellow pilgrim, will lead to. He finds himself questioning the nature of reality and of the experiment he is living in. A superb book from a master wordsmith; nominated for the Clarke.
1988 GREAT SKY RIVER GREGORY BENFORD
The universe has become a battle ground between organic and inorganic lifeforms – and the machines are winning. Set on a barren world where the human citadels have long since fallen and humanity survives in tough, nomadic groups. When their Captain is killed by a sinister, deadly new type of mech, Killeen assumes command of the Family, with the mech – Mantis – still after them. This Nebula nominee is the 3rd in the Galactic Centre series, the first to featureKilleen.
1988 IVORY MIKE RESNICK
Duncan Rojas agrees to help a stranger, Bukoba Mandaka, trace the whereabouts of the tusks of the Kilimanjaro Elephant. Last seen 3,200 years ago, they have changed hands many times since and Rojas patiently traces their history, from gambler, to warlord, to politician and onward, each with their own associated story… Yet the questions remain: who is this stranger and why is he so desperate to find the ancient tusks? The answers reach back to Earth itself.
1988 ARAMINTA STATION JACK VANCE
Vance has perfected the art of understating the incredible. His direct yet lyrical style is a taste well worth acquiring. Like much of his SF, this first of the Cadwall Chronicles is set in the Gaean Reach. Cadwall is a natural preserve, Araminta Station its admin centre. We watch Glawen Clattuc deftly negotiate Araminta society, where even the villains are polite sophisticates. Intriguing characters, rich and witty dialogue abound, as murder, mystery and romance enter Clattuc’s life.
1988 CYTEEN C.J. CHERRYH
Set in the Alliance-Union universe. Not a light read, this book is long, a little slow in parts and highly complicated in others. However, intrigues and plot twists abound and its ambitions and detail merit the Hugo it won. When Ariane Emory, who controls the bio-engineering labs on Cyteen, is murdered at age 120, a genetic clone is raised to replace her, inheriting the rule of the most influential planet in settled space. A novel of power, murder and betrayal
1988 PLAYER OF GAMES IAIN M. BANKS
The Culture has spread across virtually all the Galaxy – a near Utopia, where everything is provided. Gurgeh, its greatest gameplayer, is bored and searching for new challenges, when he is invited to take part in a games tournament in Azad, a corner of the galaxy the Culture has not yet absorbed. Encouraged by the Culture, he accepts. But they have not been entirely honest with him and only whilst he is at Azad does he learn the true nature of the game.
1989 HYPERION DAN SIMMONS
Against the back-drop of galactic conflict, a party of seven pilgrims travel to the world of Hyperion, in an effort to reach the Time Tombs. Each of them has had their lives touched by the Shrike; an enigmatic and bloody killer who is connected in some way to the Tombs. We hear their traumatic stories in turn. Each is on a personal quest. Tradition has it that the Shrike will allow only one of them to live, but that one will have their questions answered. Won the Hugo.
1989 PARADISE MIKE RESNICK
“Before God made Peponi, he’d only been practicing on all the other worlds.” Inspired by the tales of an aging hunter, Matthew Breen sets out to learn at first hand all he can of Peponi. A stunning evocation of man’s discovery of an idyllic world, his exploitation of its fauna and people, and the resultant native uprising. Resnick brings to life a beautiful wilderness teeming with Demoncats, Bushdevils and majestic Landships – a poignant tale of an extra-terrestrial Kenya.
1990 THE FALL OF HYPERION DAN SIMMONS
Picks up where Hyperion left off. Multiple storylines and themes intertwine – the poetry of Keats, the nature of God, the omnipotence of an AI, all set against the background of the Ouster’s war reaching Hyperion as the Pilgrims approach the Time Tombs. The Tombs are moving backward in time and it is nearing the moment of their opening. Then there is the Shrike. The grizzly killer takes a more central role as the story rushes towards a climax.
1990 EARTH DAVID BRIN
A plethora of focal points, characters not necessarily essential to the main plot, provides a broad-canvas view of an over-populated Earth struggling with environmental degradation. At the novel’s heart is a gripping tale of scientists searching to recover a microscopic black hole they have illegally manufactured, only to see it escape and fall into the Earth. This Hugo nominee sometimes gives the impression it is two books squeezed into one, but somewhere in there is a classic.
1991 JURASSIC PARK MICHAEL CRICHTON
Famously turned into a hugely successful film. John Hammond discovers a remarkable means of recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA and establishes a theme park on a remote island, complete with live dinosaurs. During a pre-opening preview things go fatally wrong. Well written, with pace, excitement and more scientific explanation and character development than the film… and a different ending
1992 DOOMSDAY BOOK CONNIE WILLIS
5 years of research and writing were rewarded when this gripping and truly moving work won both the Hugo and Nebula. Kivrin Engle is an Oxford history student in 2048, who manoeuvres a fieldtrip back to a 14th Century village. The story develops in the two time lines, with matters going awry in both as the Oxford she leaves behind is struck by a deadly flu virus and she seems condemned to be stranded in the ever more harrowing past. Outstanding narrative.
1992 A FIRE UPON THE DEEP VERNOR VINGE
The secret of stopping an alien super-intelligent AI, unwittingly awoken by human scientists, might lie with two children
stranded on an obscure world where a single person is made up of a telepathic co-operative of several dog-like individuals, but the two children have fallen into the hands of competing factions and the natives have plans of their own. An ambitious and absorbing epic which won the Hugo.
1992 RED MARS KIM STANLEY ROBINSON
First of the acclaimed Mars trilogy, all of which won awards – this picked up the Nebula. Robinson extrapolates brilliantly the science involved in terraforming a hostile world and fully accounts for and develops the pressures that would surround such a project. The book starts with a murder, which proves a pivotal event in the inevitable conflict developing between idealistic colonists and a chronically overpopulated Earth.
1992 SNOW CRASH NEAL STEPHENSON
Set in a future where the U.S. is a patchwork of city states. Hiro Protagonist is a hacker, a swordsmaster and a pizza delivery boy. When an old friend falls victim to a new drug – Snow Crash – available both in the computer generated Metaverse and physical reality, Hiro is asked by his ex to help. Assisted by YT, a 15 year old skateboarding Kourier, he determines to prevent the oncoming Infopocalypse. A thrilling and inventive debut – cyberpunk with a sense of humour.
1992 QUARANTINE GREG EGAN
In 2034 the stars went out – an impenetrable shield had been placed around the solar system – humanity had been quarantined. Then a P.I., complete with brain implants, takes on the case of a retarded girl who has vanished from a secure facility. The trail leads to a multinational company attempting to breach the shield and reveals possible reasons for mankind’s quarantine. Worth persevering with despite a deal of lengthy conjecture and technical explanation.
1994 VURT JEFF NOON
Cyberpunk with a difference – breathlessly fast, dark and often humourous. Society is addicted to feathers, which when placed at the back of the throat immediately carry you to a another world – virtual reality, or Vurt. The Stash Riders are a gang of illegal Vurt riders and one of their number, Scribble, is determined to find his sister, Desdemona, before she perishes in a highly dangerous Vurt. This original and enthralling tale won the Clarke
1994 FOREIGNER C.J. CHERRYH
Stranded on the atevi world and confined to just one small island, the human colonists jealously guard their only trump card – superior technology. The atevi people and culture are as well realised as any in the genre. Bren Cameron is the paidhi – the one human allowed to liaise with the atevi. He finds himself isolated and embroiled in deadly local politics, uncertain how far he can trust the natives he has to trust and wary of judging their reactions to him in human terms.
1994 MIRROR DANCE LOIS McMASTER BUJOLD
Part of Bujolds acclaimed Vorkosigan series. Miles Vorkosigan (in his other persona, as Admiral of a mercenary fleet) goes to aid his cloned brother Mark (introduced in ‘Brothers In Arms’, intended to replace Miles by enemies). The book centres not only on Miles – the deformed genius born into a privileged family – but also on Mark. Sibling rivalry and Mark’s mistrust at being accepted into a family he never dreamed of are superbly handled. Worthy winner of the Hugo.
1995 FAIRYLAND PAUL J. McCAULEY
‘A giddy journey through the crumbling counter-cultures and war-torn realities of post-nanotech Europe’, taking us from a tropical London to the slums in the shadow of Euro Disney. An underground gene hacker, Alex Sharkey, becomes obsessed with Milena, a genetically engineered child genius. It leads to him tampering with dolls – gengineered life forms designed for work, amusement or destruction, with disastrous consequences. Won the Clarke and the Campbell
1995 THE TERMINAL EXPERIMENT ROBERT J. SAWYER
Dr. Peter Hobson is investigating the nature of death and the afterlife. To further his studies, he creates three electronic versions of himself, one with no memory of physical life – representing life after death, one with no knowledge of death – representing immortality, and the third unaltered – as a control. By the time it emerges that one of them is a murderer, all three are already at large on the world-wide Web. This original and absorbing thriller won the Nebula.
1996 SPARES MICHAEL MARSHALL SMITH
For the last five years Jack Randall has managed a spares farm,home to docile clones of the rich and powerful, kept to supply on-tap replacement parts for their owners. Now he flees with liberated spares to New Richmond, where he was once a cop, where his wife and daughter were brutally murdered. He encounters old friends, old enemies, and the return of a horror from his past that threatens reality itself. This novel wrenches the thriller forward into a dark and dangerous future.
1996 THE DIAMOND AGE NEAL STEPHENSON
Having designed the Primer, the ultimate inter-active education tool, John Hackworth makes an illicit copy for his own daughter, only to have it stolen. It falls into the hands of Nell, an underprivileged girl from a dysfunctional family. Set in a nanotech future with revived Victorian values, this street-wise cyber-punk Pygmalion sees The Primer educate Nell in everything from reading to self defense, as she makes her way in a changing world. Absorbing winner of the Hugo.
1996 HONOR AMONG ENEMIES DAVID WEBER
Space Opera at its finest – for pure excitement and entertainment it is difficult to beat the Honor Harrington series. In this, the sixth instalment, Honor is recalled from an exile forced upon her by political enemies to take a potentially fatal command. Political intrigue and military tactics enhance rather than obstruct the narrative. Includes strong characters and frequent action, but it is Honor herself who takes centre stage and captures the imagination. Hornblower in space.
1997 FRAME SHIFT ROBERT J. SAWYER
Discovering he has a 50% chance of inheriting the fatal Huntington’s disease, Pierre Tardivel immerses himself in the Human Genome project. He meets and marries a woman who proves to have paranormal abilities and so tries to find an irregularity in her genes that might be responsible. Then there is an attempt on his life. Viable Neanderthal D.N.A., irregular practice by an Insurance company and a suspected Nazi war criminal all combine in this tense SF thriller.
1998 THE SPARROW MARY DORIA RUSSELL
This beautifully written debut novel won the Clarke. Father Sandoz, the sole survivor of man’s first contact mission to an alien world, stands accused of heinous crimes but is too traumatised to discuss what happened. Patiently, a church investigative team draws out the truth. We learn in detailed flashback of the events leading up to the fateful mission and of how things went so tragically wrong. At its heart lies the tale of one man’s struggle to come to terms with himself.
1999 DREAMING IN SMOKE TRICIA SULLIVAN
A small colony relies on its AI to survive on an inhospitable world. Then Kalypso Deed is negligent whilst riding shotgun as an elder ‘dreams’ within the computer and the AI crashes. As the colony struggles to salvage something from the catastrophe, Kalypso is kidnapped and finds herself in a very alien wilderness, where she discovers her world-view is far from complete. Won the Arthur C. Clarke award for best novel.
1999 DARWIN’S RADIO GREG BEAR
Excellent Nebula winner, boasts several credible central characters. A deadly retrovirus emerges from the supposed junk littering human DNA, giving rise to malformed embryos in pregnant women. Controversially, microbiologist Kaye Lang predicted just such a retrovirus and is recruited to battle the epidemic. Discredited palaeontologist Mitch Rafleson makes a discovery that suggests this may all have happened before and that something more profound could be occurring.
1999 TIME STEPHEN BAXTER
Impressive scope, at least rivalling Stapledon but with greater scientific foundation. The book starts with Reid Malenfant attempting to establish a private space program, but quickly mushrooms into more areas than could be properly summarised. Central to the plot are insights into multiple universes, cosmology and the nature of time. A stunning work.
1999 A DEEPNESS IN THE SKY VERNOR VINGE
Tenuous prequel to ‘A Fire Upon The Deep’, set 30,000 years earlier. Two human fleets converge on a newly discovered race of sentient arachnids – one intent on establishing trade-relations the other on enslaving them. The resultant conflict leaves both fleets crippled, having to wait out a prolonged period whilst the spiders develop useful technology. Plots, counter-plots and intrigues abound amongst humans and spiders alike in this hefty work which won the Hugo.
2000 PEGASUS IN SPACE ANNE McCAFFREY
Returning after 9 years to her ‘Talents of Earth’ series, McCaffrey produces a gem. Still having to combat the prejudice of the ignorant, the superstitious and the avaricious, the Paranorms have established themselves as a vital resource in various fields of endeavour. Peter Reidinger, a paraplegic and a kinetic of unknown limits, becomes central to man’s space effort, but is threatened by a deadly vendetta. A wonderful balance of intrigue, excitement and human warmth.
2000 REVELATION SPACE ALASTAIR REYNOLDS
Sylveste is obsessed with the mystery behind the extinction of the Amarintin – a long vanished alien race, convinced that whatever destroyed them may pose a threat to humanity. Yet is there something more to his obsession? Why else would the assassin Khouri be dispatched from another world to kill him, in the process infiltrating the unorthodox crew of a starship with their own agenda for seeking Sylveste? An exciting, multi-layered debut, nominated for the Clarke.
2002 ALTERED CARBON RICHARD MORGAN
An explosive opening sets the scene for this slick telling of a gritty tale – a private-eye story for the cybernetic age, where death need not be final, as personality can be retained within a ‘stack’ and stored for implanting in a new body. Kovacs, a former Envoy (elite special services), wakes from a violent death and sets about solving an obvious suicide which the victim insists was murder, bulldozing his way past organised crime, hidden agendas and femme fatales. A terrific debut.
2002 SPEED OF DARK ELIZABETH MOON
Lou is autistic, interacting with the world differently from ‘normal’ folk. An exceptional talent for seeing patterns in data has secured him a lucrative job. Stability is threatened when an unsympathetic manager urges him to try a new treatment to ‘cure’ his condition… but does he want to change? Then the vandalism starts. An entrancing novel, building tension and empathy as we view life from a different perspective – autism from the inside. Nebula winner and Clarke nominee.
2003 MAUL TRICIA SULLIVAN
Explicit language and action are a feature of this challenging yet engrossing novel. Sun and her middle-class gangster chic friends start a shoot out at a shopping Mall, which quickly escalates out of control. Whilst in a future where men have been all but eradicated by a Y-chromosome specific plague, Maddie’s attempts to study the effects of a new viral strain on a male clone are hampered by politics and more sinister factors. The two threads merge into a gripping tale.
2004 CLOUD ATLAS DAVID MITCHELL
A stunning novel, short-listed for both the Man Booker and Nebula. Six diverse ages are brought to life by convincing, canny use of dialect and expert story telling in a saga that circles the world and spans the centuries. The narrative centres on six lives and takes us from the 19th Century to a grim post-apocalyptic far-future and back again, as the different parts interlink to produce a riveting story of humankind’s thirst for power and its consequences. Enthralling, moving, brilliant.
2004 RIVER OF GODS IAN McDONALD
Winner of the BSFA Award for best novel and shortlisted for both the Hugo and the Clarke. An ambitious novel of enormous scope set against the backdrop of a near-future India now split into a number of states. A tapestry of characters and sub-plots knit together skilfully, as rogue AIs, an alien artefact, digital celebrities, and an officer of the ‘karma police’ all feature. A book that is as entertaining as it is impressive.
(originally published on Ian's website in March 2013 - thanks to Ian for permission to reprint this on the NSFWG site)