My 100 Most Readable (and Re-Readable) Science Fiction Novels
Click on image to enlarge.
by Darrell Bain
Category: Science Fiction/Reference
Description: This is an updated version of the original article, with comment, descriptions and additional novels added. It is an entertaining discussion and listing of more than 130 science fiction novels, dubbed by Darrell Bain as his "Most Readable (and re-readable) Science Fiction Novels". His selections have been culled from more than 10,000 science fiction novels read over his lifetime, beginning at age twelve. Almost anyone who loves the genre is bound to find at least a few great books listed here they have missed for one reason or another, or perhaps reminded of ones they've read and would like to see back on their bookshelves.
eBook Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing/Double Dragon eBooks, 2005 DDP
eBookwise Release Date: October 2005
26 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [47 KB]
Reading time: 26-36 min.
All Other formats: Printing DISABLED, Read-aloud DISABLED
MY 100 MOST READABLE
(and re-readable) SCIENCE FICTION NOVELS
(Updated, with notes, discussion and additional re-readable science fiction novels added)
By Darrell Bain
Note: This article was written some years ago, shortly after I began writing myself. I was in my fifties then. After looking back over the original list, I did very little revising. The most significant change is the addition of another three dozen or so extremely re-readable books I've come across since I first made this list. I've saved those until the end, as an addition to the article.
Books I read fall into three categories: the ones I don't finish, the ones I read only once and discard, and the ones I save to read again. I recently calculated that over the last forty years or so I have read (or re-read) more than 10,000 science fiction novels. A thousand or so of them still reside on my bookshelves, to be read, and re-read again and again. These are not necessarily the deepest, most thought provoking, most influential, or even the most well written. What they do all have in common, is what I call a readability index.
For those interested in how I derived this readability factor, the explanation is simple: the number of times read, multiplied by the number of years in print (or the number of years since I discovered it), equals a number. I then divide by ten simply to size the digits down. The higher the number, the more readable (and re-readable) the book. The figures I came up with were approximate, of course, given my imperfect memory. For instance, "Citizen of the Galaxy", which tops on my list for readability, was published in 1957, many long years ago. I have read this book thirty or forty times by now, and I still get a lump in my throat as I finish it.
What makes a readable (and re-readable) book? What makes it so good that I want to read it again and again rather than delegating it to the discard pile? The most common attributes will come as no surprise to professional writers. These are good characterization, well developed plot, and an interesting theme. Most important, however, is a blending of the three into a consistency which so involves the reader that for awhile, the story assumes the proportions of reality. Good writing technique doesn't necessarily make a book readable to me. For example, one science fiction author is a multiple Hugo award winner. Her books are immensely popular, her technique is unassailable, but to me the books aren't very interesting. They don't grab me and dump me into the pages and blank out the real world so thoroughly that I come back to reality hours later gasping for air like the first fish crawling up onto dry land.
Most of the books on my list (with a few exceptions) possess all of the characteristics I listed above, but there's more: a really good science fiction novel cannot be outstripped by technology. If it was that good in the first place, all the technological advances in the world won't distract from it. Also, the mere passing of time can't relegate these books to the discard pile. For example, "Earth Abides" takes place in America of the late forties or early fifties, but it is no less readable because of that. "The Adolesence of P1" involves completely outdated computer technology; indeed, some of the books on this list were written so long ago they project a future containing no personal computers at all, but that doesn't matter. The story is what matters.
Finally, a readable book must be believable, i.e., no matter how outrageous the concept, the book must be able to draw the reader back again and again to that particular world of characters and have it become as real for a time as the book you're holding in your hand (or these days perhaps residing in your computer).
Readingis a subjective experience, and the reader's personality, likes and dislikes, political and religious bents, and all the other factors which combine to make each person a unique individual will color his enjoyment, indifference, or actual dislike of any particular book, so I don't expect everyone to agree with me. In fact, I would be very surprised if they did. Let that rest, however. Come along with me, and hopefully, you will discover a few enjoyable books you've missed. I know there's bound to be some that got by me, and I read a lot of science fiction.
The first twenty five books listed are my all time favorites, ranked in order according to my numerical index (the index number isn't given), along with date of publication. The other 75 are listed alphabetically by author, also with publication dates. Some re-issue dates are noted. For those interested in pursuit of books they haven't read, most of them are still either in print or available at used bookstores, or if not there, they can usually be found on line at Amazon or its affiliates (which wasn't true when I first wrote this article). And if you can't find them there, check ereader.com and fictionwise.com for electronic versions (also not available when I wrote this).
I'll have some more comments after the book list, but for now take a look. You may find a great reading experience here you've overlooked in the past.
1. "Citizen of the Galaxy" by Robert A. Heinlein. (1957).
2. Heinlein's real forte was characterization. Even his largely plotless later works involved characters you could believe in. He reached his apex in this novel, not only in characterization, but plot and content as well. This is a story about slavery, anywhere and anytime. If you belong to a minority, read this book. If you don't, read it anyway -- it may give you a new perspective, and more importantly an emotional appreciation of how so many humans have lived and suffered, both now and in the past.
3. "The Mote in God's Eye" by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. (1974).
4. Niven and Pournelle are simply the best duo collaborating today, rivaling Fredrick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth in their heyday. First contact with aliens is an old theme, of course, but in this book, they take it to new heights. The characters are just about perfect from both viewpoints, and you find yourself sympathizing first with humans, then with the aliens. I'm not ordinarily much for sequels, but in this case I would gladly make an exception. ** They did eventually write a sequel. It didn't compare.
2. "Startide Rising" by David Brin (1983).
Everything that David Brin has written is, without exception, a "rereadable". This one was so good that it is one of the very, very few books I read again before reading anything else. This book sweeps you into a galaxy-wide complex of warring aliens, sentient animals, political intrigue, emotional conflict, against-the-odds heroism, and a phalanx of plot and sub-plot that will leave you breathless with admiration and wonder. Don't worry about the complexity, though: Brin does it so smoothly that you'll never notice. The Phantasia hardcover edition, a revised version, is even better, if that's possible. It is a collector's item, but I like it so much I've about worn my copy out, and no doubt detracted from its monetary value. ** David Brin is also a very nice fellow. He gave me a hand back when I first started writing and I've tried to repay his kindness by lending my own hand to the ones who write me now, asking for advice.
Interspace note to Hugo and Nebula awards committees: How about retrospective awards for books published before the awards were instituted? The next three would be hands down winners! **Since this article was written, that very idea was instigated. I had nothing to do with it, unless the folks at the magazine where this article was cut at the last moment due to space requirements passed the idea on. Or perhaps Bob Tucker did. I gave him a copy of the article back in the nineties at a science fiction convention.
Copyright © 2006 Darrell Bain