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Michael said on June 1st, 2014 at 5:12 pm

I feel like the obvious answer is the big three. If you aren’t a sci-fi fan, you probably haven’t read much/any from those writers. Even friends of mine who are lit geeks without much sci-fi interest haven’t read much from them and don’t know much about them. But without knowing those three, you’re missing the opening statements to which a huge amount of the sci-fi world is responding to in some way or another.

Fantasy-wise, definitely Burroughs and Howard, and maybe Lovecraft.


In terms of literature, I would point to any short story anthology that includes Ray Bradbury in it (I am of the opinion the short fiction is best for scifi than the long-form novels).
In terms of television… it’s gotta be Star Trek: TOS. All other shows – Dr. Who included – just kinda used scifi as a prop/means to tell a story, but Trek tried to tell a dream, a future humanity capable of anything (the New Frontier as it should have been). Just don’t let them watch Season 3 first… Season Two might be good to start with.
In terms of movies, Star Wars is the expected answer but in truth I’d go with Robocop (1987). Violent, yes. Over-the-top, yes. But approachable, almost believable in its frightening depiction of a corporate-ruled dystopia where people become commodities and removable parts.

Andrew C said on June 1st, 2014 at 6:20 pm

In terms of geekdom, one thing that links me and most of my friends is a major interest in gender and sexuality in sci-fi/fantasy, particular portrayals of and creations by women.

To understand the roots of the many of current SF media examples that highlight women’s experiences and/or were created by women, there are several distinct categories to look at.

One, for example, would be Japanese pop culture, in particular the figure of the magical girl. These are the three things that I think anyone interested in this genre really should see/read:

1. Princess Knight by Tezuka Osamu, perhaps the first magical girl manga (or at least a progenitor of many of the tropes way back int he 1950s).

2. Sailor Moon (anime and/or manga series). Duh. The R movie might be a great introduction, since it’s sophisticated and nicely self-contained (in the course on anime I’m TAing, this is the approach the professor takes).

3. Revolutionary Girl Utena (anime), the majorly queer deconstruction of the genre and perhaps the only anime ever made that could be described as radically feminist in many ways.

How about gender/sexuality and science fiction/fantasy literature, for example? It’s certainly important to have a knowledge of the works by the almost entirely male “canon” to understand what many feminist and/or queer works were reacting against and doing differently. But limited to four, I’d go with these:

1. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, pathbreaking novel exploring fluidity of gender by perhaps the most influential female science fiction/fantasy author. Joanna Russ’ The Female Man would also be good to read alongside it.

2. Just about anything by James Tiptree Jr. would work here, but her short story collection “Her Smoke Rose Up Forever” would seem like the best intro.

3. Though she wouldn’t call it SF, “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood is perhaps the most well-known example of feminist speculative fiction and happens to be super super interesting and good.

4. Kindred by Octavia Butler, which is absolutely incredible and brings in questions of intersectionality with race (specifically a black feminist viewpoint) in a field which is and for a long time been overwhelmingly white (and this certainly includes its feminist movements).


For media, absolutely the original Twilight Zone. For one thing, it’s the Ur-text for all SF on North American TV. For another, many of the episodes (from the early seasons, the later stuff gets kind of repetitive) are still quite good, despite the passage of many many years. The original Outer Limits might also belong on the list for similar reasons, but I sadly haven’t seen it yet (it’s on my list, but the list is so big) so I can’t say for sure.

For books, it’s hard to winnow things down.

Samuel R Delany, definitely for sure — I’d pick either Babel 17 or Stars in my Pockets like Grains of Sand. Ursula K Le Guin, either the Dispossessed or Left Hand of Darkness. James Tiptree, Jr, one of her short story collections, either Out of the Everywhere (long out of print but has the hilarious Robert Silverberg intro where he says Tiptree is a manly male writer like Hemingway) or the retrospective collection Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (still in print).

That’s all I can think of at the moment, maybe I’ll have time to post some more later.


If I had to pick one thing, that isn’t Star Trek, I guess it would have to be Neuromancer. I didn’t particularly like it, but it was very illuminating to read, because just so many things take so much from that.


Stars my Destination (a.k.a. Tiger Tiger) by Alfred Bester.


It may be too recent, but I’ve always been impressed with Michael Crichton’s ability to use advanced or future technology to tell a very human story. Or alternately, whatever that shit with pirates was.


John, uh, you might not have the right usage of “cinéma vérité” there.

Andrew’s got a killer list with a great purpose.

Others: Astro Boy, Black Jack, and pretty much anything by Osamu Tezuka
The Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials
The Doc Savage stories and novels
The Fantastic Four by Lee & Kirby and the Fourth World books by Kirby
The Hidden Fortress and The Seven Samurai
The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers
King Solomon’s Mines and She by Sir H. Rider Haggard
Space Battleship Yamato
The Twilight Zone
Uncle Scrooge by Carl Barks

Obvious ones like Lovecraft, Wells, Verne, and Howard.

I haven’t read Michael Moorcock, but I’m told the Jerry Cornelius stuff is hugely influential.

highlyverbal said on June 1st, 2014 at 10:43 pm

If you want “influential” you just can’t go wrong with Heinlein:

Stranger in a Strange Land
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Starship Troopers

… and many more, but start there.

Is Card verbotten now? Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead.

Bester: The Demolished Man

Clarke: Rendezvous with Rama

Brin: Startide Rising (& Uplift War)

LeGuin: Left Hand of Darkness

Gibson: Neuromancer (influential but a hard read)

Vinge: A Deepness in the Sky

Haldeman: The Forever War

Adams: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Keyes: Flowers for Algernon

Brunner: Stand on Zanzibar

Zelazny: Nine Princes of Amber

Niven: Ringworld

Niven & Pournelle: Mote in God’s Eye

Asmiov: Foundation

Effinger: When Gravity Fails

Willis: Doomsday Book

Butler: The Parable of the Sower

Stephenson: Snow Crash

Martin: A Game of Thrones

Meiville: Perdido Street Station

Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Pratchett: The Colour of Magic

Griffith: Slow River

McIntyre: Dreamsnake

Tepper: The Gate to Women’s Country

something by Vonnegut, but I never got into him


The trouble with “influential” is you end up with the Xanth series by Anthony, and The Mists of Avalon, and Dragonriders of Pern, and Elf-maids of Shanara, and Feist, Eddings, etc. The genre is fundamentally influenced by a pulp vibe; not like comics maybe, but still.

DensityDuck said on June 2nd, 2014 at 1:18 am

Oooh, has someone said Heinlein yet? I bet nobody has coz he’s such a niche writer. You’ve probably never heard of him.

How about, instead of the usual “make a list of the most popular SF of the past forty years”, we try this: What writers do you consider influential on your concept of SF that you wouldn’t expect other people to cite?

This can include non-SF writers.


“The trouble with “influential” is you end up with the Xanth series by Anthony…”

So what’s wrong with that? He said “influential”, not “geek halal”. Everybody had that phase where they were just starting to read SF and a well-meaning relative bought them “Ogre, Ogre”, and they read it because they didn’t know any better.


Every space opera ever written has ripped off the Lensman series by E. E “Doc” Smith either directly or indirectly.

Thornae said on June 2nd, 2014 at 8:32 am

As a response to John’s question, I reckon highlyverbal’s list hits most of the high points WRT SF novels – I might quibble with a couple, but not enough to bother with.
The point about pulp is well made, but is that necessarily something you want to excise from a “Geek highlights” list? After all, it’s undeniably part of the genre, and as long as you’re willing to read with a view to context and a critical eye, it’s worth experiencing it for a sense of the history, and an idea as to what’s informing the ironic callbacks to pulp SF in today’s media.

How about, instead of the usual “make a list of the most popular SF of the past forty years”, we try this: What writers do you consider influential on your concept of SF that you wouldn’t expect other people to cite?

While it might derail (once again) John’s original intent, that’s actually a pretty interesting question.

In no particular order, I’d probably pick:
– C. J. Cherryh for Wave Without A Shore, which, along with Left Hand of Darkness showed me that SF could be deeply philosophical
– Lloyd Biggle Jr, especially for The Light That Never Was and The Still, Small Voice Of Trumpets – novels about art appreciation and politics in an SF context.
– Clifford D. Simak for a sense of haunting wistfulness and gentleness – I particularly like The Goblin Reservation.
– Janet Kagan for her two non-Trek novels
– Michael Marshall Smith (as M.M.S., not as Michael Marshall a la Iain Banks).
– Barry Hughart.
– Diana Wynne Jones (if you’ve ever been to a smaller con and haven’t read Deep Secret, you probably should).
… and with a YA focus
– William Sleator.
– Lee Harding.
– Maurice Gee.
– Anne Spencer Parry.

There’s many more, but that’s a good sample off the top of my head. All of those writers had influence on my understanding and appreciation for SF, and are generally unrecognized (to a greater or lesser extent) in lists such as these.


I’d say that any fan of moralistic sci fi or Judeo Christian alt fiction owes it to themselves to read “Paradise Lost.”

drmedula said on June 2nd, 2014 at 9:15 am

Robert E. Howard. If only to let the guy who CREATED the “Sword and Sorcery” genre remind you that the “Sorcery” part is supposed to be SCARY, and the “Being a big macho hero who has beautiful damsels throwing themselves at you” is supposed to be wish fulfillment- not vice-versa.

highlyverbal said on June 2nd, 2014 at 11:35 am

DensityDuck wants to shoot the messenger. Fine, bang! you got me.

Hawk or Handsaw said on June 2nd, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Dune is the top of the list for me, even though I understand it isn’t for everyone
Brave New World/1984
American Gods
Burning Chrome by William Gibson
Do Android’s Dream (though maybe flow my tears)
Martian Chronicles
Something, anything by Ursula K LeGuin. Maybe left hand of darkness?
Guards, Guards by pratchett
Perdido Street Station
The Foundation Trilogy
Handmaid’s Tale/Oryz and Crake

From other media:
Star Wars
Star Trek (probably tng)
Back to the Future
12 Monkeys
Princess Bride
Howl’s Moving Castle

There are plenty more that I would add, but that’s a top of the mind list


Nobody’s mentioned videogames yet, so I’ll stake out that territory. Videogame fantasy/sci-fi RPG predecessors are a bit of a mixed bag; go too far back, and you’re likely to get into games that are either too hard to find in a legal way, have a user interface that’s too alien/difficult for modern sensibilities, or are too graphically alienating. That said…

King’s Quest series (preferably with a walkthrough at hand) and LucasArts’ Day of the Tentacle, for the root of the point-and-click Walking Dead-esque game.

Final Fantasy VI (or earlier) and Chrono Trigger for the Japanese Role-Playing Game.

Baldur’s Gate for the Bioware fantasy fan.

Star Control II for the Bioware sci-fi fan.

The original Diablo and Warcraft, maybe, though the later versions (if you count Starcraft II for Warcraft) haven’t strayed that much from the original formula, so it’s maybe not necessary.

Deus Ex and the Thief series. For the whole stealthy first person immersive world experience.

Half-Life, for its contribution to first person sci-fi shooter. (And DOOM, I suppose, while we’re at it.)


“So what’s wrong with that?”

Does everyone need to touch the hot stove and burn their hand because that is how you learned?

Enlight_Bystand said on June 2nd, 2014 at 3:03 pm

@highlyverbal – I wouldn’t recomend Colour as an intro to Pratchett’s work, especially on a list like this one. Colour is mostly a couple of loosely linked genre pastiches. There’s far better early Pratchetts that ar far better to introduce – Guard, or Small Gods, Wyrd Sisters with the feminist link.


@Joel: No, “cinema verite” is exactly the term I wanted. Lucas is well known as a fan of French New Wave cinema, and his innovation was to take the techniques of cinema verite and apply them to a genre that was patently unreal. And he did it so brilliantly that now nobody can envision doing science fiction movies any other way. But that’s an old soapbox of mine. 🙂

I’d say you don’t necessarily need to watch all of a series, by the way. For example, I think you could get by with a sampling of Tom Baker (“Genesis of the Daleks”, perhaps, or “City of Death”) and maybe a smattering of Tennant for ‘Doctor Who’. ‘Trek’ could be represented by a few episodes, ‘Buffy’ likewise…and in practical terms of modern TV, I’d say ‘Buffy’ is more influential than ‘Trek’ these days (although ‘Trek’ remains a cultural icon, ‘Buffy’ has proved to be more of an influence on subsequent creators).

I’d toss in at least one of the “Super Mario” games, probably “Super Mario Brothers”…they’ve gone to 3D instead of purely sidescrolling, but every platform-jumping game since has copied the fundamental structure. Not to mention the cultural lexicon of videogames still references things like “warp pipes”, et cetera.

‘Resident Evil’ for horror, possibly ‘Silent Hill’ as well.

‘You Only Live Twice’, jumping back to movies. Pretty much every trope of the spy genre that people reference or satirize comes directly from this movie. The volcano lair with troops abseiling in at the end, the bald villain in the Nehru jacket stroking the pet cat, the feeding failed henchmen to piranhas, most of the gadgets…it’s like a Rosetta Stone of spy movies. 🙂

‘The Exorcist’ and I’d say at least one ‘Friday the 13th’/’Nightmare on Elm Street’ movie for horror flicks, although it doesn’t matter tremendously much which one of either. (The second and first, respectively, if I was pushed.) The original ‘Halloween’, the original ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’. ‘Evil Dead II’. ‘Jaws’. That’ll get you a long way through understanding modern horror movies. Arguably ‘Saw’ and ‘Hostel’, although I’ve never seen the latter and I don’t feel like I’ve missed too much…oh, and ‘The Blair Witch Project’. I hate it, but a lot of people saw it and went out and did it better, so it was clearly influential. 🙂


Except that regardless of whatever influence Lucas may have drawn from the French New Wave, calling Star Wars “cinéma vérité” is pretty inaccurate. I mean, he may have utilized some of the same camera techniques, but there’s no engagement with the camera or filmmaker, or question of what role the observation plays in the story. It’s told in a pretty straightforward manner with no particular regard to how the camera observes. That’s not cinema vérité.

For horror, either the first or second Friday the 13th is fine, because they’re both equally influenced by Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve. I’d go with both, because hey, they rock. (Also, seriously, no Italian stuff? No Black Christmas or Equinox or Plan 9 or Universal Monsters or NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD?)

Blair Witch doesn’t require seeing Cannibal Holocaust first, but that did the found footage thing far earlier and just as influentially. But BWP is a fine substitute for people who aren’t comfortable with CH’s content.


Any fan of sandbox-style games should look to Daggerfall (Arena is earlier, but a bit too one-note IMO). That was one of the first non-pen-and-paper RPGs that made me say “Holy shit, I can basically be whatever I want? WHEEEE!”


Yep, I’d pop that above just about anything else on the “grandparent of independent film” list.


“Arguably ‘Saw’ and ‘Hostel’, although I’ve never seen the latter and I don’t feel like I’ve missed too much”

“Hostel” had the potential to make a great point, and was about halfway there, but it was squandered.

The point being to take a two-dimensional, frat boy caricature, Stiffler-esque character and say “NO. You will learn lessons, you will evolve, you will grow, or you will die horribly.”


In terms of SF books, when I look over my shelves, I see a lot of books which are reactions to the classics and foundations. A lot of the older stuff I can’t enjoy as I did when I was younger because of the sexism, racism, and imperialism. Nonetheless, two authors who I still enjoy and find to be fundamentally important to understanding the SF genre are Bradbury and Asimov. I would personally recommend The Martian Chronicles to understand how American SF explores the fears and hopes of its people, and how it’s very much a product of its time. I would also recommend Nightfall for having the best example of a twist ending that only short stories can do (so very Twilight Zone) and The Foundation Trilogy for its exquisite worldbuilding and thought experiments. They show some of the best of what formed SF. At the same time, I would want to have a discussion about the very white male privileged perspective of these stories, as it informs a lot of what has shaped SF and continue to shape it even as we try to expand away from that perspective.


Matt: “Hostel” had the potential to make a great point, and was about halfway there, but it was squandered.

The point being to take a two-dimensional, frat boy caricature, Stiffler-esque character and say “NO. You will learn lessons, you will evolve, you will grow, or you will die horribly.”

It’s true, there was a core of meaning in that film. There was also that moment where he starts speaking to his torturer in German, the man’s native language, and the guy freaks out because he’s forced to see him as human for a moment. Then he has him gagged. It’s really a shame the film doesn’t follow up more on its points, because it had more ideas than it seemed at first glance.


Also, for video games, I’m guessing we’re speaking mostly about the development of narrative in video games? Because if it’s just mechanics, holy crap is that a separate, long discussion.

Horror: Sweet Home on the Famicom was the inspiration for Resident Evil, which was originally conceived as an updating of Sweet Home. A translated ROM of that is necessary to understand horror games. Clock Tower on the Super Famicom or its Playstation sequel are prerequisite.

System Shock 2 is a major game in so many genres.

Let’s not forget text-based games like Zork, The Crawling Horror, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

And point-and-click adventure and puzzle games like Shadowgate, Maniac Mansion, and the Monkey Island series.

RPGs: No one mentioned Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior? Also, Earthbound, LUNAR (the game from which many Final Fantasies stole damn near everything), Final Fantasy Tactics, and Atlus horror/RPGs like Persona II.

Adventure & Platformer games: Seriously, Legend of Zelda doesn’t rate a mention? Castlevania? Metroid? Those were all instrumental in developing the concept of character, story, and world-building in video games.

Street Fighter II created the modern fighting game (you could probably point to some earlier SNK stuff, but so much was codified by SFII).


I was kind of hesitant to mention Zelda and Mario, since in a way, you don’t need to go back to the roots to understand them; a lot of the originals are still very visible in, say, Phantom Hour Glass, or New Super Mario Bros. But yeah, Dragon Quest is a terrible omission. Same with System Shock.

What’s your case for Clock Tower’s significance? I know of it, but I don’t really know much about it, and I’d be curious to hear about what influence it’s had overall.


Something, anything by Ursula K LeGuin. Maybe left hand of darkness?

I’d go with The Dispossessed for her SF and Wizard of Earthsea for her fantasy. The second is almost mandatory for introducing the idea that knowing a true name of something gives you power over it and is one of the earlier examples of magic having a price.


“It’s really a shame the film doesn’t follow up more on its points, because it had more ideas than it seemed at first glance.”

Yep. Wouldn’t even have had to tone down the gore (if preserving it was a priority). Literally twenty frames or so would have helped it resonate beyond “torture porn.”

Aussiesmurf said on June 2nd, 2014 at 7:43 pm

Stuff that is influential, but hasn’t been mentioned (on a quick skim) :

To reference King, the three huge well-stones for fantasy / horror are still Dracula, Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Science Fiction (books)

I don’t think anyone has mentioned Asimov, which is a crime : The Complete Robot (for short stories) and the Foundation trilogy.

H.G. Wells – The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, etc etc.

Arthur C. Clarke – 2001

Orwell – 1984 and Huxley – Brave New World for the two books that essentially started the dystopian / all-powerful government genre.


Although it has its detractors, the Thomas Covenant trilogy by S. Donaldson is a huge well-spring for ‘anti-hero’ fantasy.

Fritz Leiber – Swords of Lankhmar, and the other Fafhrd / Grey Mouser stories.

Le Guin – The Earthsea trilogy.

Gaiman – The Sandman series (basically inventing, along with Moore and Morrison, adult comics in this country).

Feist – Definitely Magician, and maybe the other two in the trilogy.

LightlyFrosted said on June 2nd, 2014 at 9:05 pm

The Princess Bride is/are a solid pillar, both in terms of the novel (which has as a framing narrative a necessarily untrustworthy narrator) and the film, which is home to so many references found in other books and films.


Person of Con: Oh, Clock Tower’s great. If you get the chance to play a ROM, or just the Playstation sequel, so worth it.

But here’s a few reasons Clock Tower’s significant…
1. Multiple endings based on in-game decisions – Still pretty novel for the era.

2. Intelligent AI – Scissorman, the main antagonist, learned your patterns. If you repeated the same hiding spaces too frequently, the game would give him a better chance to find you. I’m sure that was easier to pull off with the style of game and the set environment, but still, the game reacting to your play was rare then.

3. Vulnerable protagonist – Although it didn’t pioneer stealth gameplay, it was an important step on the path between Metal Gear and Metal Gear Solid. And further, it gave you a protagonist with almost no means of fighting back. De-emphasizing combat is a huge part of survival horror. Adventure and platforming games sometimes share this, too. I see a lot of Clock Tower’s design echoed in something like Ico, between the stalking enemies and the few means of disposing them.

4. Atmosphere/mood – The art design, soundtrack, and lighting are all leagues beyond most other Super Famicom/SNES games (basically, it outshines anything not made by Nintendo, Konami, or Square, and equals many of those). There were horror games prior to it, but it’s one of the first games really capable of creating an oppressive, tense, frightening atmosphere. It’s immersive in ways that horror games didn’t have the technology to be up to that point (although of course good ones existed – Sweet Home and Uninvited, for example). You could point to Alone in the Dark as a predecessor here, and of course D came out the same year, but Clock Tower in staying 2D was not only more effective, but holds up better.


If I say that Batman: The Animated Series kicked off a renaissance in American animation, am I going to get an argument?


If I say that Batman: The Animated Series kicked off a renaissance in American animation, am I going to get an argument?

Yes, because that renaissance was kicked off by the Disney movies and afternoon cartoons more than Batman: The Animated Series. (If anything Batman was at the tail end of that wave, with American animation about to be kicked in the teeth by the duel threats of Power Rangers and Pokemon.)


Babylon-5 (TV): Want to know where long-form story arcs in genre TV got a kick in the pants? It’s amazing what can happen when a show has one head writer and a planned beginning, middle, and end. Yes, season 5 was stand-alone-y and not as good as 1-4, but JMS had to compress his original seasons 4 and 5 because he didn’t have a guarantee that TNT would let him finish the original 5 seasons.

The SCP Foundation (Wiki http://scp-wiki.wikidot.com/): A collaborative creepy-horror-mad science thing that predated Warehouse 13 and is what that show could’ve been if it wanted to really be amazing.

The Dresden Files (novel series): There’s a LOT of “urban fantasy” floating around there. This is the one that actually does it right and isn’t an excuse for a half-fairy half-vampire half-angel half-elf half-demon to have loads of sex while solving mysteries.

Discworld (novel series): I’ve started placing Terry Pratchett’s work above even Douglas Adams’ lately. The wit and humor is incredible, with quotable gems and big ideas galore. Some of his more recent novels have been a bit lackluster (“Snuff” was pretty Marty-Sue bad, but bad Pratchett is still worth a read if you’re a fan), but it’s a monumental body of work. I especially liked the “Science of Discworld” books.

Stargate SG-1 (and spinoffs): There’s a reason this IP lasted so long. With only a few instances I can think of, this show paid a LOT of attention to its continuity, and it struck a great balance between ongoing story arcs and stand-alone stories anyone could watch. It’s a model, in a way, for what I’d like to see in a new Star Trek series, should one get off the ground: Recurring elements and characters, someone keeping track of the technobabble, yet not letting the FX get out in front of the characters.

Thornae said on June 3rd, 2014 at 7:57 am

With all the Pratchett discussion, I feel I should once again fly the flag for his two largely overlooked SF novels, Strata and Dark Side Of The Sun.
Both are lots of fun and very well written, and as a bonus, one of them explains why the Broken Drum is called that.
If you’ve only ever read his Discworld works, you should definitely check them out.

palamedes said on June 3rd, 2014 at 8:47 am

From an old duffer….

I think some of the references here are quite good, especially of Ursula K LeGuin and James Tiptree, but I don’t think you can underestimate the importance of, as well….

Harlan Ellison, particularly his creation of the two Dangerous Visions volumes, his Strange Wine and Shatterday short story collections, and also the script for Phoenix Without Ashes.

Robert Silverberg, for, well, if I have to really narrow it down, Dying Inside, Lord Valentine’s Castle, and Shadrach in the Furnace. But in general, for setting a standard for solid, multilayered storytelling, whatever the genre.

Donald A. Wollheim, whose annual World’s Best Science Fiction collections provided a wider audience for ideas that took flight in later years.

Tristan said on June 4th, 2014 at 1:07 am

The Prisoner, thread over.

Tam O'Connor said on June 4th, 2014 at 3:43 am

For military science fiction, I have two recommendations: Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and Haldermann’s The Forever War.

For more recent stuff, I’d recommend Weber’s On Basilisk Station and Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, as a successors, more or less, of Heinlein and Haldermann.

highlyverbal said on June 4th, 2014 at 12:03 pm

Aussiesmurf, great suggestions on Orwell & Huxley. Seconded. (And, yes, Asmiov was mentioned.)

I also second palamedes on Ellison, although I would suggest the collection: “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.”

Aussiesmurf said on June 4th, 2014 at 6:49 pm

@highly verbal

I did take a closer look, and of course you are correct re previous mention of Asimov.

I should also add a category –

Young readers :


The Warlock of Firetop Mountain by Livingstone / Jackson – basically started the ‘gamebook’ mania of the 80s and 90s.

A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony – Although his writing became progressively weaker (and a lot more creepy) the first couple of Xanth books aren’t bad and influenced a ridiculously high number of light fantasy books.

The Dragonsinger trilogy – Anne McCaffrey – Ignore the questionable sexual politics of the ‘main’ Dragon books – this trilogy about a young musician trying to maker her way in a male-dominated story is a great coming-of-age story for female readers particularly.

Science Fiction

The Tripods trilogy – John Christopher. This UK writer is an institution in his country, and this post-apocalyptic trilogy is great for youngsters, but still manages to have an appropriately bitter-sweet ending.

Last Legionary quartet – Douglas Hill. Last survivor of a murdered race kicks ass and takes names.


No mention yet of my favorite SF writer Stanislaw Lem. I don’t actually know how influential he was, but to me his books are the perfect example of being philosophical while still creating a fascinating narrative. He had a gift for showing how strange and incomprehensible “otherness” can be. For something fun I would choose “The Cyberaid” though “Solaris” is his best known book.

For influential fantasy I would choose John Bellairs for his short (and only adult) book “The Face in the Frost.” Beautifully written, with high magic wizards and a profoundly creepy antagonist. It is a shame he never wrote more adult books, because he was incredibly talented. Interesting fact, this book may be what inspired the requirement in DND for wizards to memorize their spells the night before!

DistantFred said on June 5th, 2014 at 1:01 am

Cinders- No, the D&D spell memorization system is out of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth stories.

Cinders said on June 5th, 2014 at 3:09 am

Oh? Well you’re probably right, I’m not sure where I heard that (which is why I said “may be”). The Wikipedia page does say it too, but doesn’t have any references…

highlyverbal said on June 6th, 2014 at 11:36 am

It might be worth mentioning that Atlas Shrugged is technically SF.

Brian T. said on June 8th, 2014 at 10:42 pm

There have been a lot of fantastic suggestions already. As a forty year old who wasted his youth on fantasy and science fiction, here are my five cents:

Isaac Asimov: Some of his stuff (the earlier Lije Bailey novels, for example) may see either poorly written and/or horribly dated to Millennials, but there is a reason why he is considered one of the all-time greats.

My personal favorites are (in no particular order) : Pebble in the Sky, Bi-Centennial Man (the original short story), Nightfall (the original short story, not the book) and the Foundation series. I, Robot is great for younger readers or people who just want to see where the three laws of robotics came from and stuff and like that.

Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451

Ursula K. LeGuin: The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, The Lathe of Heaven

Poul Anderson: His Time Patrol short stories are great. Additionally, I would recommend The High Crusade and The Dancer from Atlantis. His fantasy novels The Broken Sword, Three Hearts and Three Lions and A Midsummer Tempest are all brilliant.

Also good is Operation: Chaos, which imagines a world sort of like the one in Heinlein’s “Magic, Inc.” where magic started working again in 1900 and lots of things in the twentieth century worked out differently (World War II was fought on American soil and the invading forces were Muslim, just for example). The sequel Operation Luna is good too, but less essential.

Actually, any Poul Anderson you can find that’s still in print is probably going to be pretty dang good. It’s a shame that it’s harder to buy his stuff than it was back in the Nineties.

Roger Zelazny: Definitely the Chronicles of Amber (if nothing else, because they clearly influenced Steven Brust). Additionally, Jack of Shadows, Lord of Light and Roadmarks.

Michael Moorcock: The Jerry Cornelius novels, the Elric saga, A Nomad of the Time Streams trilogy (alternate history stuff), Gloriana, any other Eternal Champion stuff if the reader likes the Elric stories.

Edgar Rice Burroughs: A Princess of Mars (the John Carter books spawned many imitators back in the day), The Lost Continent (a terrific post-apocalyptic adventure novel written in 1916)

Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle: Lucifer’s Hammer, The Mote in God’s Eye

Lord Dunsany: The King of Elfland’s Daughter

Prodigal said on June 11th, 2014 at 11:37 am

Anything by Eric Frank Russell.


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