1. Robert A Heinlein – Time enough for Love
The story of the healing and recovery of Lazarus Long, a 2000 year-old man, from the ennui and depression caused by living for such a long time. This book has influenced me more than any other book I have ever read, including (probably) the Bible. It is long and complicated with several independent anecdotes, rather like the “1001 nights”, to which the author pays conscious and deliberate homage. There is more wisdom in this book than in any fifty other books I’ve ever read.
2. Robert A Heinlein – To sail beyond the sunset
Heinlein’s swansong, published in his dotage in 1989. This fictional memoir of Maureen Johnson, the mother of Lazarus Long, is flawed brilliance. He swoops from inspired fictional family history to some seriously inappropriate incestuous practices. It is both trenchant social comment and exciting adventure, but incest is always off-putting and always out of order, and unfortunately there is plenty of it in here, both father-daughter and mother-son. Though it ties in with many other Heinlein works such as “The number of the beast” and “The cat who walks through walls”, Heinlein’s flaky sexuality at the end of a long and glorious writing career means that I could not recommend this to teenagers, even though this is possibly one of his best works.
3. Arthur C Clarke – Islands in the sky
One of the very first science-fiction novels I read, this is the story of a young fellow who wins a TV quiz show, and the prize is a free ticket to anywhere in the world. The youngster insists on being allowed to visit an orbiting space station, and this is the story of his adventures whilst up there in orbit.
4. Alistair Reynolds – Chasm City
Guy Sajer in “The forgotten soldier” has written about the power of forgiveness. In this dark space-opera set in the 28th century, Reynolds tells a compelling story of the power of insanity, bitterness and unforgiveness. A man chases his enemy across space and time, whilst an entire planet remains at war for centuries because one starship captain, Sky Hausmann, committed terrible atrocities in the distant past – (our near future, the 22nd century), in his efforts to get an edge over his fellow man. Even the planet’s name – Sky’s Edge – tells a terrible story.
5. Iain M Banks – Feersum Endjinn
Difficult to read at first because of the phonetic spelling used by Banks’ character Bascule the Teller, this is the surreal story of a human society living in a giant, kilometres high scale model of a castle, at least thirty thousand years in the future, and the way different parts of that society respond to the approach of a planet-threatening interstellar dust cloud. In my opinion this is his best work.
6. Greg Bear – Eon
Written during the eighties but set in the late nineties, this is the story an asteroid entering the solar system, slowing down and entering orbit round the earth. Humans fly up to investigate, and find the rock riddled with seven caverns full of high-tech equipment from mankind’s own future. The seventh cavern goes off into infinity – it is the entrance to a different universe. The discovery of the asteroid and the startling seventh chamber triggers a nuclear war between America and the Soviet Union.
7. Frank Herbert – Hellstrom’s Hive
An awful, frightening vision of humankind as hive creatures. The story begins and ends with no-one aware of the danger posed by Hellstrom’s Hive, a hive burrowed miles under the ground in Oregon. None can prevail against the hive economy. This story is finely drawn and ultimately horrifying. Really it’s a horror story with shades of “Brave New World”
8. Ann McAffrey – Dragons Dawn/The White Dragon
Dragons Dawn is the prequel to McAffrey’s “medieval sci-fi” dragon novels, the story of how star-faring pioneer settlers on the planet Pern addressed the danger posed by lethal fungoid “threads” falling from the skies. The White Dragon is set thousands of years later, when the medieval descendants of the early settlers rediscover high-tech computers buried in a remote place, and make steps to once again become a modern, mechanised society.
9. Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451
Classic literature which I read before I was 15, the story of Montag the fireman and his discovery of himself, and his turning against a culture that despises knowledge and books. The value of people learning books or parts of books by rote is explained here, as nuclear war overtakes the society and all the knowledge that remains is stored in people’s heads.
10. Isaac Asimov – Foundation trilogy
This is Asimov’s central work, a three-part adventure covering the fall of the Galactic Empire and psycho-historian Hari Seldon’s attempts to establish secret institutes that would prevent a 30000-year dark age following that fall. The rise of “The Mule” in the third novel, “Second foundation”, is perhaps the best bit, though like much of Asimov’s fiction, it can all seem somewhat bloodless.