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Science Fiction: Five of the Best

July 23, 2008

I’ve mentioned before how I have little use for genre labels. This isn’t about that. The only use such labels have is to group books into sections convenient for discussion. Like Science Fiction.

Today science fiction is a thriving genre. The ‘adventure sf’ of the 1950s has given way to a ‘hard sf’ today. Instead of space cowboys fighting space monster before heading back to the space ranch for some space food, we now have intelligent books written by authors fully cognisant of the scientific realities of space travel. Words for me. Five of my favourite such books follow.

1. Pandora’s Star by Peter F. Hamilton
This book and its sequel Judas Unchained are my favourite Hamilton books and I’ve read a few. In this series, humanity has spread to other planets through the use of stabilised wormholes, when an alien race is encountered, a race so violent that it was sealed off eons ago. Naturally curious humanity trips the lock and unleashes something terrible. This book also features investigator Paula Myo, one of my favourite characters from any book.

2. Space by Stephen Baxter
I’ve mentioned Space before, talking about the Fermi Paradox. This is not the only hard science tackled in the book. In fact the whole book revolves around a scientific and philosophical investigation, spanning thousands of years. The book is also inhabited by characters to care about, which turns it from text into classic sf.

3. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
Unwilling soldiers return from their war to a society they no longer recognise, and which doesn’t sympathise with their experiences. Sound familiar? The Forever War was written in the 1970s, and is still not dated. A great achievement.

4. Ilium/Olympos by Dan Simmons
It was a close call between this and Hyperion/The Fall of Hyperion by the same author. Dan Simmons writes fantastic two-part series. I tip my hat to robots who study Shakespeare, and revived Homeric scholars acting as war correspondents for Greek gods.

5. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
Nanotechnology, a retro-Victorian society, a dilemma concerning education, all these add up to a fascinating look at a near future that may never be.

  1. July 23, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    The problem with much of “hard” SF is that it gets the science right but the books are fraught with exposition, pages of scientific detail only a physicist who find compelling. I’ve written about this in more depth–


  2. July 28, 2008 at 7:06 am

    How on earth did you manage to decide which 5? I applaud the selection of Forever War, Pandora’s Box and The Diamond Age (read it recently and loved it).

    I can’t believe Iain M Banks is no where on your list, he could def have one of my spots… now how to fill the other 4??

  3. davekay
    July 28, 2008 at 7:44 am

    It wasn’t easy – I will also do a top 5 for Speculative Fiction, so I didn’t have to find a place here for Snow Crash or Perdido

  1. July 23, 2008 at 11:38 pm
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