Favorite Speculative Fiction

  • Towing Jehovah by James Morrow (U)
  • Blameless In Abaddon by James Morrow (U)
  • The Eternal Footman by James Morrow (U)
  • Smoke by Donald Westlake (U)
  • Humans by Donald Westlake (U)
  • The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester (SF)
  • The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester (SF)
  • Virtual Unrealities by Alfred Bester (SF)
  • Way Station by Clifford Simak (SF)
  • Deathbird Stories by Harlan Ellison (U)
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein (SF)
  • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (F)
  • The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers (F)
  • Last Call by Tim Powers (F, I preferred Anubis Gates slightly)
  • Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (SF)
  • Dune by Frank Herbert (SF)
  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman (F)
  • Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (U)
  • Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett (F)
  • Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett (F)
  • Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett (F)
  • Jingo by Terry Pratchett (F)
  • Small Gods by Terry Pratchett (F)
  • Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (SF)
  • Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (SF)
  • The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson (SF)
  • Caliban by Roger McBride Allen (SF)
  • The Ring of Charon by Roger McBride Allen (SF)
  • Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (SF)
  • Earth by David Brin (SF, lousy New Age ending, though)
  • Silverlock by John Myers Myers (F)
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (F)
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling (F)
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (F)
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (F)
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (F)
  • The Long Walk by Stephen King (U)
  • More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon (SF)
Author Comments: 

As near as I can tell, these are the cream of the crop in science fiction, fantasy, and otherwise "speculative" writing. I'm sure there's a couple I'm missing, and I don't pretend to have read everything in the genre(s), but I think this is a pretty darn good list.

To help those of you that love fantasy but hate science fiction (and vice versa), I've marked science fiction with "SF" and fantasy with "F". Items marked with "U" are "unclassified" simply because I don't think they fit in either genre in their traditional sense.

Hurrah for your inclusion of James Morrow books. I've read all of his latest novels and they always win me over. I'd add "This is the Way the World Ends" to the list.

Speaking of end-of-the-world books, one of the most chilling ideas (pun intended) is in Kurt Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle," and a new chemical compound called Ice-9. Not the best of his books, but the idea is great.

Oops, didn't mean to write this much, but I just thought of another Vonnegut book called "Galapagos" where a new penguin-like species evolves from a small group of humans.

I was wondering when another James Morrow fan would wander by! Isn't he terrific? I did read This is the Way the World Ends and, like everything else of his that I've read, I thought it was great. But it was just too dark and depressing for me to include as a "favorite". Also, while I thought it was excellent, I personally don't put it on quite as high a shelf as Towing Jehovah or Blameless in Abaddon.

Thanks for the Cat's Cradle recommendation, but it's already on the list. :) I agree with you, and looking back I do think I added it more for the idea than the execution. I will give Galapagos a try when I get a chance, thanks!

BTW - (not that it's really important) but I thought that they evolved into a 'seal like' species. I don't remember anything about beaks. I thought that Galapagos was a tough read.

I've read most of the books on your list.. A couple authors were new to me though. Care to comment at all on Donald Westlake or Roger McBride Allen?

Gladly! Donald Westlake has a pretty wide range, but he's probably best known (I think) for his comic-crime "Dortmunder" books (see this other list of mine). So far, I've really enjoyed all the Dortmunder books, and Smoke (about a thief who is rendered invisible, much to his discomfort) and Humans (a terrific bit of apocolyptic speculative fiction). If you don't like the Dortmunder books, you should still try the other 2, as they are quite different.

As for Roger McBride Allen, his The Ring of Charon was recommended to me, and I thought it was terrific (in fact, I should add it to the list). This is probably heresy, but I liked Allen's Asimov-based robot work quite a bit more than the original Asimov.

I just finished Smoke last night and liked it, but don't necessarily think I'll add it to any lists of my favorites.

Glad you liked it; sorry you didn't like it more. :) I think the thing I enjoyed about it the most was how difficult Westlake made being invisible seem.

Well, when you've read as many books as I have (and continue to do so) they can't ALL be the best. Glad you like the Morrow. :)

oops. one more comment. (I'd failed to read the comments before responding). James Morrow is quite high on my list as well. _This is the way the World Ends_ was good but not great. I would however add _Only Begotten Daughter_ and _Bible Stories for Adults_ to any list. Both were fantastic.

Yeah, I really should read those. I read City of Truth and This Is the Way the World Ends and, while they were good, I didn't like them as much as either "Jehovah" book. So I lost steam. But I will definitely have to read the rest of Morrow's stuff as soon as possible (which might be awhile). Actually, while checking out Amazon to make sure I had the titles right, I noticed he has a new "Jehovah" book coming out: The Eternal Footman. Wahoo!

The Eternal Footman is a definite must-read.

I definitely will (Jim here, intentionally not logged in as a quick test). I just bought it as a Christmas present for someone, and am really having to fight the urge not to read it before giving it away.

As long as you're not a book mangler, how would they ever know? ;)

Other than art books for my mom and things of that nature, I never give people books I haven't read.

We have got to stop having these deeply threaded conversations - I'll be forced to change the UI! :)

I normally don't give books I haven't read either (want to make sure they're up to my lofty standards 'n all) . . . But I figured this one was a safe bet. And I knew I wasn't going to have time to read it myself before the holidays (sigh).

If you liked Good Omens, check out Pratchett's solo book Small Gods. It treads over theological ground in the same way that Omens does, but from the viewpoint of a (very) reluctant messiah figure.

How could I forget! I've only read a couple Discworld books, but Small Gods was far-and-away my favorite. If you like the "deity power is directly proportional to number of believers" theme, check out Deathbird Stories by Harlan Ellison (he expounds on this theme in the preface).

Zelazny's Lord of Light would be obscurely related too.. Hm.. how about a religious SF list...

It certainly looks like there's enough material for one. But since I try not to put stuff on more than one list, I'd have a really hard time deciding where to put James Morrow's stuff, which is definitely on my "favorite" list, but would also have to go on the religious list.

But you've reminded me of Canticle for Leibowitz . . . I don't know if I'm going to add it to this list or not . . . I thought it was very well done, but it didn't really suck me in. So I don't know if I can call it a favorite.

Another kind of odd one would be Jan Jenson's Shiva 2000 set in future India where the thousands of Hindu gods are roaming the countryside creating mayhem.

Jim, I'm assuming, trustingly, that your own personal lists are honest and not merely designed to attract comments.
About the term "speculative fiction". It was coined by an sf writer (Heinlein, I think) and was intended to replace "science fiction". A lot of the books on your list are neither sf nor sf (admittedly, I'm guessing about some of them, not having read them all).
But if you think these are the "cream of the crop" I feel sorry for what you've missed. The following suggestions are slanted towards my impression of where your taste lies - namely, closer to fantasy than sf. Have you read THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN Gene Wolfe, HYPERION Dan Simmons, A FIRE UPON THE DEEP Vernor Vinge?

You can trust safely - my lists are honest. And probably the only reason the books you've recommended aren't included is because I haven't read them yet. I will check them out (at least the Vinge book, of which I've heard many good things). Of course, with my current reading backlog, it could be years. I'll have to post a "books I own but haven't read yet" list one of these days.

I don't know if he coined it, but the term "speculative fiction" is often used by Harlan Ellison because he hates the terms "science fiction", or even worse, "sci-fi". I believe his intent in using it is because he thinks his work is broader than the "science fiction" pigeonhole. Since very few of the books on my list are science fiction in the conventional sense (IMO), I've appropriated the "speculative fiction" label.

And don't feel sorry for what I've missed! Be jealous that I can still look forward to them. ;)

Seriously, thanks for the recommendations. The Vinge book would leap to the top of my "to read" pile except for the fact that I haven't been reading much fiction lately. I tend to go through phases.

the Vinge is great and I'd second the Hyperion recommendation. I read the first of the books in that series by Wolfe though and just couldn't get into it.

Jim, I've just noticed that you also have a list of favourite popular science books, so I strongly suspect I'll have to revise my opinion that your taste runs more to fantasy. Haste makes waste, and mistakes. So here are a few "harder" sf recommendations: THE LEGACY OF HEOROT Niven, Pournelle, and Barnes; GATEWAY Frederik Pohl; STEEL BEACH John Varley.

Your revised opinion is correct. When I was younger (childhood through late teens) my fiction tastes strongly leaned towards fantasy. In my early 20s I switched over to science fiction, and that's been my inclination since (when I'm reading speculative fiction, to overuse the term).

Thanks for these recommendations too. I haven't read any of these, or the ones from your first post. In fact, while I've heard of all the others, the only authors I have first-hand experience with from your recommendations are Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (Lucifer's Hammer).

Have you read any Greg Egan?

I have not. Do you recommend anything in particular?

If you can find them, his books of short stories are the best: Axiomatic (out of print but not impossible to find) and Luminous (only available in the UK). I just finished Quarantine and enjoyed it. I've now read all of his novels I believe and have liked them all.

Which of these books/authors might you consider the most briskly readable and interesting? I'd like to tackle a couple fiction books this year, and I'd like them to be SF/F, but I have no frickin' clue what to try.

Towing Jehovah by James Morrow: God dies and his two-mile long corpse falls into the Atlantic. The Vatican wants it destroyed because it proves God is dead. Atheists want it destroyed because it proves God once lived. Feminists want it destroyed because it proves God was male. Etc. Highly readable and provocative, if also quite blasphemous and written by an avowed atheist.

The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester: Classic SF that has aged well, written in a beautiful almost poetic litary style. Bester sure could craft some artful prose.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein: Terrific tale of a future world where we've colonized the moon. Easily Heinlein's best of the 3 or 4 I've read (Stranger in a Strange Land fans are sure to disagree).

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card: Possibly the most readable of the bunch, and it's short to boot. Avoid the sequels.

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett: Brilliant fantasy satire. I read a lot of fantasy in my youth, but now I enjoy saying the genre begins with Tolkien and ends with Pratchett, even if I don't really believe that (not totally, anyway).

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson: One of the best modern writers of SF I've encountered, even if he doesn't write very good endings.

Wow, thanks! That's very helpful.

Have you read C.S. Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet? Though I haven't read too much SF/F besides Star Wars and Tolkien, it's my favorite science fiction novel. Dr. Ransom is captured and taken to the strange planet of Malacandra, where he escapes and figures out how to get back to earth. The plot is pretty obvious, but Dr. Ransom's discoveries and meditations on Malacandra and its differences/similarities with earth are fascinating. I guess that probably won't pique your interest if you haven't read it, but maybe you have.

I haven't read that one, although I have read other Lewis and enjoyed him quite a bit. I've had four great teachers/professors in my high school/college career, and one of them taught a terrific Literature and Religion class. I got to read a bit more Lewis there, beyond Narnia (which I believe, at last count, everybody has read).