56. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein:
Stranger in a Strange Land, winner of the 1962 Hugo Award, is the story of 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. With the irascible popular author Jubal Harshaw to protect him, Michael explores human morality and the meanings of love. He founds his own church, preaching free love and disseminating the psychic talents taught him by the Martians. Ultimately, he confronts the fate reserved for all messiahs.
The impact of Stranger in a Strange Land was considerable, leading many children of the 60's to set up households based on Michael's water-brother nests. Heinlein loved to pontificate through the mouths of his characters, so modern readers must be willing to overlook the occasional sour note ("Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it's partly her fault."). That aside, Stranger in a Strange Land is one of the master's best entertainments, provocative as he always loved to be. Can you grok it?
Why you should read it: This book was my first introduction to Heinlein - and to hardcore, epic SyFy. I recieved it as a gift for my 14th birthday, read fifty pages, couldn't get past it, and set it aside until... Oh, my senior year in high school, I think? Maybe my freshman year of college? Either way, once I got past those first fifty pages - and Heinlein's admittedly, er, unique take on women and politics, it's an interesting and intriguing story. And lacking much of the incest that pervades his Future History books - which I find makes for an uncomfortable read - it is a story I don't mind reading time and time again.
“I've found out why people laugh. They laugh because it hurts so much . . . because it's the only thing that'll make it stop hurting.”
“My dear, I used to think I was serving humanity . . . and I pleasured in the thought. Then I discovered that humanity does not want to be served; on the contrary it resents any attempt to serve it. So now I do what pleases myself.”
“[He] stopped long enough to remind himself that this baby innocent was neither babyish nor innocent — was in fact sophisticated in a culture which he was beginning to realize, however dimly, was far in advance of human culture in some very mysterious ways… and that these naive remarks came from a superman — or what would do in place of a ‘superman’ for the time being."
57. Dune by Frank Herbert:
This Hugo and Nebula Award winner tells the sweeping tale of a desert planet called Arrakis, the focus of an intricate power struggle in a byzantine interstellar empire. Arrakis is the sole source of Melange, the "spice of spices." Melange is necessary for interstellar travel and grants psychic powers and longevity, so whoever controls it wields great influence.
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.
Dune is one of the most famous science fiction novels ever written, and deservedly so. The setting is elaborate and ornate, the plot labyrinthine, the adventures exciting. Five sequels follow
Why you should read it: Because it is a socio-political tale mixed with religion, palace intriuge, drug addiction, prophesy, spaceships, and the want of power. Now, I won't lie to you - this is a difficult book to get through (my mother, who is almost as big a SyFy geek as I am, has never managed it) - but it's worth it. Especially the ending, which I didn't see coming the first time I read it (and I always see those things coming). But I also want to be very specific with what I'm reccommending here: only read the ones written by Frank Herbert. Avoid anything written by his son in this 'verse like the plague - especially The Bulterian Jihad. You'll thank me for it. In fact, you might even be happier only reading books 1-5 in the series and skipping Chapterhouse Dune entirely. It's a good series, but... well, it gets caught up in it's own specialness at times.
"Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic.”
“The person who experiences greatness must have a feeling for the myth he is in. He must reflect what is projected upon him. And he must have a strong sense of the sardonic. This is what uncouples him from belief in his own pretensions. The sardonic is all that permits him to move within himself. Without this quality, even occasional greatness will destroy a man.”
“What do you despise? By this are you truly known.”
58. Starship Troopers by Robert A Heinlein:
Juan Rico signed up with the Federal Service on a lark, but despite the hardships and rigorous training, he finds himself determined to make it as a cap trooper. In boot camp he will learn how to become a soldier, but when he graduates and war comes (as it always does for soldiers), he will learn why he is a soldier. Many consider this Hugo Award winner to be Robert Heinlein's finest work, and with good reason. Forget the battle scenes and high-tech weapons (though this novel has them)--this is Heinlein at the top of his game talking people and politics.
Why you should read it: Because if you read one Heinlein novel, it should be this one. Forget the weird sex and weird religions and living forever and being your own god and whatnot that appears in his other books. This novel is about not just war and what it means to be a soldier, no matter how or who you fight, but about discovering yourself. Say what you will about it - it's commonly called pro-fascist, pro-jingoistic, pro-military, and so on - it's a really great book and I dare you not to agree with at least some of the points Heinlein makes.
“Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor.”
“Happiness consists in getting enough sleep. Just that, nothing more.”
“There are no dangerous weapons; there are only dangerous men.”
59. Foreigner by CJ Cherryh:
Set on an alien world where the descendants of humans marooned in a long-ago starship accident live segregated from the indigenous atevi on a remote island, this polished and sophisticated tale from the popular author of Hestia addresses the complicated issue of how humans might have to compromise to survive on a planet where they are barely tolerated by the original, humanoid inhabitants. When Bren Cameron, given the name paidhi because he is the only human allowed to mingle with the atevi , survives an assault by an atevi assassin, the shaky detente between the human enclave and the alien society is threatened. Subjected to kidnapping, imprisonment and psychological torture, Cameron finds himself caught between rival factions of atevi as he must grapple with both human and alien xenophobia and with the insidious influence of human technology and culture on an extraterrestrial society. Three-time Hugo-winner Cherryh's gift for conjuring believable alien cultures is in full force here, and her characters, including the fascinatingly unpredictable atevi , are brought to life with a sure and convincing hand.
Why you should read it: Because nothing says I love this book like voratiously reading all 13 books in this ongoing series in a two-week period. Plus, no one - and I mean no one - writes aliens like she does. Ie, like they're actually aliens. As in, not human. Despite all the efforts put in by both sides, they'll never completely understand each other. (This series has been a big inspiration for my AJ 'verse). I mean, the aliens don't even have a word for love. Though I admit to feeling vaguely OCD after reading these books, as the aliens have a thing about odd numbers. An intense space opera, but well worth the read.
“Tabini was at least canny enough in the differences between atevi and human to know that, gut level, he might think he understood - but chances were very good that he wouldn't, couldn't, and never would, unaided by the paidhi, come up with the right forecast of human behavior because he didn't come with the right hardwiring. Average people didn't analyze what they thought: they thought they thought, and half of it was gut reaction.”
[This quote is from Invader, a later work in the series, GoodReads is pitifully short on ones from the original book.]
60. Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds:
Alastair Reynolds's first novel is "hard" SF on an epic scale, crammed with technological marvels and immensities. Its events take place over a relatively short period, but have roots a billion years old--when the Dawn War ravaged our galaxy.
Sylveste is the only man ever to return alive and sane from a Shroud, an enclave in space protected by awesome gravity-warping defenses: "a folding a billion times less severe should have required more energy than was stored in the entire rest-mass of the galaxy." Now an intuition he doesn't understand makes him explore the dead world Resurgam, whose birdlike natives long ago tripped some booby trap that made their own sun erupt in a deadly flare.
Meanwhile, the vast, decaying lightship Nostalgia for Infinity is coming for Sylveste, whose dead father (in AI simulation) could perhaps help the Captain, frozen near absolute zero yet still suffering monstrous transformation by nanotech plague. Most of Infinity's tiny crew have hidden agendas--Khouri the reluctant contract assassin believes she must kill Sylveste to save humanity--and there are two bodiless stowaways, one no longer human and one never human. Shocking truths emerge from bluff, betrayal, and ingenious lies.
The trail leads to a neutron star where an orbiting alien construct has defenses to challenge the Infinity's planet-wrecking superweapons.
At the heart of this artifact, the final revelations detonate--most satisfyingly. Dense with information and incident, this longish novel has no surplus fat and seems almost too short. A sparkling SF debut.
Why you should read it: Because this is the definition of hard SyFy. The very essence of the space opera. And, if that's not enough for you, the guy who wrote it worked for the EU's version of NASA for ages before retiring to write full-time. (I'll admit to thinking, in reccommending these, that these are the types of novels Rodney McKay were to write if he were, well, real, or ever inclined to write SyFy books.) You get the decernable impression that the science in this series (and, indeed, there is a whole, wonderful series) could acutally work. He doesn't gloss over the the problems inheriant in space travel, as Star Trek does. There are factions. There are time lags. There are geneitically modified people and mechanically modified people and ones that are both and ones that shun all modifications. There are dark things lurking in the shadows, in a very 2001, Mass Effect sort of way. It is brillant and should be read.
"Dimly--at first wary that it was merely a dislodged fragment of the dream--she remembered Resurgam. And then, slowly, events returned, not as a tidal wave, or even as as landslide, but as a slow, squelching slippage: a disembowelment of the past.”
“I think I've reduced the amount of blood in my caffeine system to an acceptable level.”
“It’s the people who don’t worry—those who never have any doubts that what they’re doing is good and right—they’re the ones that cause the problems.”