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The Amazing Colossal Science Fiction Ketchup!

Sep 21, 2012

Compared to many of my colleagues, friends and hamsters I’ve read a pathetic amount of science fiction in my lifetime. It’s not that I never liked sci-fi, in fact much of what I’ve read I like very much, I just never really got around to it. Therefore, in an effort to “catch-up” I’m taking it upon myself to start at the beginning of sci-fi and read until I’ve exhausted most of the list below (in no particular order).

If it’s not on the list then I’ve either read it already, have no intention of reading it or I just didn’t know it existed. I’m happy for recommendations in the comments. Please do not comment about how some title listed is not sci-fi — I don’t care.

I’m crossing off entries as I go. Follow along if you wish — we’ll meet back again in ten years.

1800s and before

1900 – 1920

Barsoom

all by Burroughs

1920 – 1940

1940s

Heinlein juveniles

1950s

1960s

1970s

1980s

1990s

2000 – 2010

2010+

Need More of…

  • Leiber
  • Jack Vance
  • CM Kornbluth
  • Lem

Useful links

When I’m done with these, I’ll move on to the The Amazing Colossal Fantasy Ketchup!1


  1. My phone corrected “catch-up” to ketchup, so I thought I’d defer to its wisdom in the spirit of hokey sci-fi AI. 

98 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. I’m curious about a number of things on there, but the biggest one that leaps out is why you have chosen Ringworld Engineers, but not Ringworld? Concern perhaps at the instability of the Ringworld (for context http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ringworld#Errors)?

    Anyway, looks like a great list. I’ve read a fair number of these, but by no means a large number of them. I’m feeling somewhat compelled to fill in a few of these gaps, myself.

  2. samn

    Check out Zoo City or Moxyland by Lauren Beukes if you need more choices from 2000-present.

  3. PS. re the title change – I honestly didn’t even catch it, assumed it was some reference I just wasn’t getting. ;~)

  4. Colin

    Re: Hyperion cantos of Dan Simmons; you have Hyperion, Endymion, and Rise of Endymion, but you’re missing “Fall of Hyperion” (vol 2 or 1B, depending on how you look at it).

    Re: Heinlein “YA”–no Starship Troopers?

  5. Your mid-century selections are SHOCKINGLY devoid of Theodore Sturgeon, one of my favorite writers period. It’s hard to go wrong with any of his story collections, but I’d pick E Pluribus Unicorn as one with a near-perfect set of stories – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E_Pluribus_Unicorn

    Something reminds me of a story in this collection about once a month even though I last read it 15 years ago.

    These books used to be relatively hard to find but have since been collected and republished in giant volumes of awesomeness with expansive notes. But I still like the musty old versions. :)

  6. starwed

    “Hardboiled Wonderland…” was written in 1985, and published in English in 1991.

    That actually does matter a bit when contextualizing the novel, in terms of technological/scientific development since then. :)

  7. Alex

    You’ve got “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” on your list, but “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World” is more of a sci-fi Murakami novel and also is arguably better. (You could just read them all though, they’re pretty good)

  8. Matthew Wyatt

    Why do you have the first two volumes of the Book of the New Sun, but not the 3rd (Sword of the Lictor) or 4th (Citadel of the Autarch)? I also liked Urth of the New Sun, but I don’t know that it’s as necessary. At any rate, you shouldn’t stop after Claw of the Conciliator – that’s only halfway through the story!

  9. Simon

    If your intent is to ‘start at the beginning of sci-fi’, you should go back a few thousand years and include the bible (amongst other sci-fi works from the period).

    Despite you saying you don’t care that you have non-sci-fi books on your list of sci-fi books you want to read, Quicksilver (or rather the entire Baroque Cycle) is a truly superb read, but isn’t sci-fi by any stretch. Replace it with his subsequent book Anathem – it’ll save you about a million words of reading, too. :)

    Good to see the presence of (at least) one Iain M Banks novel – they’re all good, and UOW particularly so from memory. Feels like you need a few more PKD’s in there, especially his short stories – the lack of author on each title makes it hard to scan though.

  10. Matthew Wyatt

    Similarly, why only Quicksilver, and not The Confusion and The System of the World from The Baroque Cycle? (Don’t mean to nag, Wolfe and Stephenson are my two favorite authors.)

  11. GASP

    I’d definitely recommend the “Ender” series (Orson Scott Card) to be added to your list – at the very least Ender’s Game, the others in the series didn’t have the impact that Ender’s Game did, but they’re still good reads.

  12. Karl

    I highly recommend adding Enders Game to the list

  13. I’d recommend a serial story printed in IF magazine in the 50′s/60′s over the course of a few months – The Reefs of Space. It’s one of my favorites to this day!

  14. What about 1932 Huxley’s “Brave New World” ?

  15. @lockney

    I skipped Ringworld on this list because I’ve read it before. I left the remaining sequels because I plan to decide on them after reading RW Engineers.

  16. Robert

    I would highly recommend Accelerando by Charles Stross.

  17. @samn

    Thanks, Moxyland looks nice. Added.

  18. Strongly recommend “The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect”, posted free online in 2002, now with a cult following: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Metamorphosis_of_Prime_Intellect

  19. Peter

    I’m assuming Red Mars was left off the list because you’ve already read it, since Green and Blue are already on there, but if not, you’ll have an interesting time stepping into that worl in medias res…

  20. Dylan S.

    Might I also suggest Ender’s Game and “Do android dream of electric sheep” from Philip K. Dick, who later inspired the great movie “Blade Runner”.

    Also Farenheit 451 and The Chilhood’s End

  21. Anon

    I would add Ender’s Game and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Heinlein.

  22. @Colin

    Added Fall of Hyperion as it was an oversight. I’ve already read Starship Troopers and much of the rest of Heinlein.

  23. @puredanger

    Added E Pluribus Unicorn… how could I resist the title alone?!

  24. @starwed

    Thanks for the correction. Part of my goal in reading in order is to see the evolution of scifi, so order is important to me.

  25. @matthew_yatt

    I’ll probably read the full Book of the New Sun series, but will defer decision until I finish the first two.

  26. @Simon

    Point noted on Quicksilver – I might take it out so that I can read it whenever instead of waiting a few years to catch up to it on this list.

    As for PKD, I think I’ve read most already.

  27. @GASP

    I’ve read the Ender’s series up to CotM, which is on my list. I don’t think I’ll go down the “Bean path”.

  28. Good list I think Accelerando should replace Glass House though, and Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World came out in 1985. Your 90′s and 00′s sections could use a bit of work. Also you should have more rudy rucker and some earlier vinge stuff …may

  29. Clinton Dreisbach

    I can definitely recommend Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank, The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, and (especially) The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing. Both Haldeman — who is still writing — and Lessing are favorites of mine. If you’re reading out of order, I have some special favorites above: Alfred Bester and Ursula LeGuin.

  30. @LoVecchio

    Thanks for the recommendation. My list is a bit slim on the short-story collections. If I decide to add more then The Reefs of Space will be included.

  31. @citizen48

    You’re the second to recommend Moxyland… added. :-)

  32. @claramunt

    I’ve read Brave New World already.

  33. @peterkosa

    I’ve read Accelerando before, as for Vinge and Rucker I’m open for suggestions.

  34. @Robert

    I’ve read Accelerando recently.

  35. yipyip

    If you haven’t already, be sure to read Red Mars before Green and Blue Mars. It’s a trilogy after all, and personally I like that one best of the three. The sense of place and atmosphere is overwhelming at times.

  36. @bnewbold

    Yours is the second recommendation for Prime Intellect… added. :-)

  37. @petercombs

    Yes, I’ve already read Red Mars.

  38. @dylan_s

    I’ve read those before and liked them tremendously.

  39. @anon

    Great books indeed. I loved them both.

  40. carlo

    You might wanna add Embassytown by China Miéville.

  41. @clinton

    I liked Forever War when I read it and considered adding it as a re-read. I’ve added Alas, Babylon and saved Fifth Child for the “Horror Ketchup” list. :-)

  42. Needs more Alastair Reynolds besides Revelation Space. Trust me. At least Chasm City and House of Suns.

  43. @carlo

    Added Embassytown.

  44. @yipyip

    I agree about the atmosphere of Red Mars, it was a very good book.

  45. @bryan_erickson

    Chasm City sounds great! Added.

  46. Bodil

    This list needs moar Charlie Stross. Glasshouse is, imo, not as good a read as Accelerando, and Accelerando is one of his earlier singularity-fic works. At the very least, add Saturn’s Children to the list, but his long-running Laundry and Merchant Princes series also need recommending (though the Laundry books are hardly sci-fi).

  47. No Diamond Age or Snow Crash? What about Dune, or even the remarkable “The Jesus Incident” (if you like Herbert)? And what about Assimov? No Robot’s of Dawn? No Foundation series?

  48. And you’ve got to have something from Le Guin and Bujold on the list – the Left Hand of Darkness, and the first Miles Vorkosigan book would do nicely.

  49. @bodil

    Weird, I have Saturn’s Children written in my notebook, but it didn’t make the transfer. Added. I’ve read Accelerando before, but many people have recommended it for a re-read.

  50. @josh_rehman

    I’ve read all that you list, except for Snow Crash, which is on the list.

  51. Hey @fogus, I’ve read many of these and I do have a few inputs as to order, or works by the same author that are better…

    Snow Crash should be at top of the list for the 90′s, it’s just such a seminal work.

    If you only get around to one alastair reynolds book, I recommend House of Suns over Chasm City or Revelation Space. HoS is much more…complete, meaning you won’t be distracted by characterizations etc.

    Fire Upon the Deep – feel free to skip it :) I just read it last week, and while it has some cool concepts as far as hive-ish minds go, it’s basically just a book about intrigue.

  52. @josh_rehman

    I have some Le Guin listed, but am open for more suggestions. I’ve not read Bujold before because I was hesitant to dive into a sprawling epic. Anything that you could recommend that’s not part of her large series?

  53. @cullen_king

    Added House of Suns. As for ordering, I will probably do as you say WRT Snow Crash, and may skip ahead to read it soon.

  54. Jack Vance’s best science fiction novel is probably Emphyrio (1969; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emphyrio ), though some might recommend his Planet of Adventure series or To Live Forever (1956). Vance’s hardest hard-sf science fiction novel is one of my favorites, The Blue World (1966; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Blue_World ).

    Re Kornbluth: You’ve already listed The Space Merchants. The rest of Kornbluth’s best work is at shorter lengths, so look for a good collection, like the 1977 Del Rey “Best of” volume.

  55. @varney

    Thank you for the Vance recommendations! I’ve not read Emphyrio and Blue World. Added both. I think I need to add some anthologies soon.

  56. Harvey

    I would recommend adding Interface by Stephen Bury.

  57. BillSaysThis

    Surprised you don’t seem to have any Spider Robinson (from his great ’70s period, especially the punny Callahan’s Saloon series) or Peter F. Hamilton (Night’s Dawn trilogy remains among my ATFs but some folks prefer the Commonwealth Saga/Void Trilogy set, either way thousands of pages of reading pleasure).

  58. @BillSaysThis

    Spider Robinson is one of those authors that I’ve heard a ton about, but for some reason never got around to reading (see also Bujold). Added a couple.

  59. Rasputnik

    Altered carbon, maybe Sun of Suns. Nice to see BlindSight on there, that’s a wonderful read.

  60. MIke Monette

    +1 on the Miéville. I haven’t yet been disappointed by anything I’ve read from him. I’ll recommend Cloud Atlas (quick, before the movie comes out!) and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (really only barely sci-fi, but still a good read). If you’re looking for a single-author short story collection, Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang is excellent. Chiang only writes short fiction, and he does it well. I was going to recommend Zelazny’s Amber series, but I’ll wait to see if it shows up on the fantasy ketchup.

  61. SI Hayakawa

    Stranger in a Strange Land by Heinlein. Also, as already suggested, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

  62. @hayakawa

    I’ve read both and loved them.

  63. MaysonL

    Under Heinlein juveniles, you MUST add Citizen of the Galaxy, and should also add Between Planets, Tunnel in the Sky,, Time for the Stars, and Starman Jones.

  64. Dave Minter

    Can’t resist recommending Lem’s “Tales of Pirx the Pilot”, “More tales of Pirx the Pilot”, and then “Fiasco” – in that order or (if you only read one) just “Fiasco”.

    Sounds like a fun reading project – bearing in mind Sturgeon’s Law…

  65. F_D

    Given your replies to other suggestions, I’m going to assume that Ubik isn’t on here because you’ve read it already.

    Also: Against a Dark Background.

  66. You need all the original Dune novels, not just Chapterhouse.

  67. Michael

    You may want to pick up a copy of ‘Armor’ by John Steakley. It is an excellent example of Military Sci-Fi.

  68. Miramon

    Many of these are indeed classics, but IMO this list concentrates too heavily on some mediocre authors, and completely passes up some great ones.

    For example, focusing on 1900-1940:

    Add some James Branch Cabell and H. P. Lovecraft to the mix — say Jurgen and the Dream-Quest for Unknown Kadath. Also consider E. R. Eddison and Lord Dunsany, though I think Dunsany isn’t as good as he’s cracked up to be. Doc Smith needs to be in there someplace — I’d recommend Galactic Patrol out of the Lensman series.

    Van Vogt isn’t that bad, if you choose carefully, but there’s no need to read two of his books when you’re passing up so many other better authors. Say the original Null-A book and skip the lame sequel(s). One ERB Mars book is more than enough, they’re not that great; replace with REH since you have no Conan.

    Moving on to the second half of the twentieth century, I can’t imagine why you’d want to read Chapterhouse: Dune. Stick with the original single novel, and skip the sequels which get progressively worse. Herbert had some much better books not in the Dune series.

    I won’t waste space seconding the better choices you have in this list; there are a great many of them.

  69. @F_D

    I loved Ubik. I added Against a Dark Background — sounds great.

  70. @Miramon

    I “skipped” most of your recommended books for this list only because I’ve already read them. I would probably list HPL and Dunsany as weird fiction, fantasy or horror in any case.

  71. @Nicholas

    Chapterhouse is the only one I’ve not yet read.

  72. Mike

    Great list. I didn’t think of myself as being particularly into sci-fi, but I was struck by the number of them I’ve read.

    BTW, I think The Number of the Beast was published in 1980-ish. Must go read it again…

  73. Miramon

    @71 — certainly HPL and Dunsany are fantasy writers, but many of the titles listed are only notionally SF.

    I mean, really Claw of the Conciliator is a theological fantasy that happens to be set in the distant future, and Darker Than You Think is a werewolf story given the thinnest and most superficial hand-waving veneer of quantum theory justification for the witches’ vulnerability to silver.

    But of course it’s up to you, and you might as well apply some kind of arbitrary choice criterion or you’ll never get past WW II…. Still, I think there is too much emphasis on some so-so authors on the list, considering how many other choices there are.

  74. Leaf

    You’ve probably read them but Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man and Tiger! Tiger! are great mid-century books.

  75. Jim Oly

    I second the nomination for Diamond Age, though since you’ve mentioned reading other Stephenson, I assume it’s in the “already read” category. For Stross, I would add Halting State (and not just for being written in second person). I don’t see Vinge’s Across Realtime recommended enough, and you may want to throw in Rainbows End as well.

  76. Jason P.

    Loving the choices. See some I’m going to add to my list. Thanks!! Here’s some other possibilities:

    I didn’t see any Charles Sheffield on there. Any of the Jupiter novels are good. But my personal favs of his are “Cold as Ice” and “The Ganymede Club”

    I notice you said you read all the original Dune series but Chapterhouse. I would recommend re-reading Heretics prior to reading Chapterhouse. In my mind they really should have been one book and IMO, when taken together, are the best of the series.

    Friday is a good addition to the Heinlein list.

    The Sleepless Series by Nancy Kress, starting with “Beggars in Spain”

    The Firestar series by Michael Flynn

    My all time favorite sci-fi book is “Heart of the Comet” by Brin and Benford.

  77. Wow, that is one epic list…. Fon’t feel bad, I haven’t read most of those, either.

  78. Shad

    I’d say that Rudy Rucker’s best novel is “Software”. I also really like “Spaceland”.

  79. Bob Foster

    I hope you add Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man to your list.

  80. Adam

    I notice a few Iain M Banks books on there. You might want to add The Algebraist; it’s one of his better works, Hugo-nominated.

  81. triffid-pruner

    Great list, heroic ambition. But — how about sharing your reaction after, or even while, reading each book. You could invite followers to read along, discuss. Would be fun.

  82. me

    A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court isn’t worth it. It’s about the level of quality of a moderate fanfic. The premise is that the british are too dumb to live and all they need is someone to come in and exploit their resources properly. It’s a very weird read because most of the people in the story have no agency, they are just tools to the main character’s end.

  83. fp

    You missed Perdido Street Station by Chine Mieville. His best by far.

  84. Lance

    Doris Lessing’s Canopus in Argos series should be on that list. Beautiful SF by a literary heavyweight.

  85. Barnabas

    Georgia On My Mind, by Charles Sheffield

  86. Jean Azzopardi

    Nice list, will be considering a lot of these books.

    Anathem is definitely a must read. I also liked the Lost Fleet series (the battles are very well done indeed!)

    Otherland series is also a very good read (Virtual reality, AI.. it’s a bit like Snow Crash but on steroids!)

    Commonwealth Saga: still on the first book, but a fun read!

    Lost Fleet: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lost-Fleet-Dauntless-Book/dp/0857681303/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1348600660&sr=1-3

    Otherland: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Otherland-City-Golden-Shadow-Bk/dp/1857236041/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1348600511&sr=8-1

    Commonwealth: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0330518917/

  87. @Azzopardi

    Thanks for the recommendations. I’ve read Anathem, but I will explore the rest.

  88. @triffid-pruner

    Folks interested can follow along on my Goodreads page at http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/266149-michael?format=html&shelf=super-awesome-scifi-catchup. I will post reviews from time to time and welcome any comments.

  89. I would recommend some other classic space opera:

    Lensmen (and other EE Doc Smith) and Venus Equilateral

  90. More from my top rated Goodreads list:

    Yarn (Jon Armstrong) Firestar (Michael Flynn) The Two Faces of Tomorrow (James P Hogan .. I love lots of his stuff) Cobra & Conqueror Series (Timothy Zahn) Hawksbill Station (Robert Silverberg) The Golden Age (John C Wright) Orion Shall Rise (Poul Anderson) Coyote (Allen Steele) Footfall (Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle) Fuzzies (H Beam Piper) To Ride Pegasus (Anne McCaffrey)

  91. losgann

    Thanks for publishing this list. I’m looking for some new reading material (preferably hard science fiction). I noticed you didn’t have any James P. Hogan or Robert L. Forward titles in your list. Both have written excellent examples of the hard SF genre.

  92. If you’re reading Alastair Reynolds, I found Pushing Ice to be his most inspiring novel, House of Suns a close second.

  93. You should definitely add more of Baxter’s Xeelee Sequence to the list, rather than reading The Time Ships. The sequence books are his defining work.

    Start with Vacuum Diagrams, after which you can read through Ring, Flux, Timelike Infinity and Raft (all 4 available together in an omnibus) or go for the Destiny’s Children sub-series – Coalescent, Resplendent, Transcendent and Exultant.

    Hard physics and some social commentary make a great combination. As do timescales of millions of years.

  94. Tgr

    The Futurological Congress was written by Lem (Tichy is a fictional figure of his).

  95. Bart

    cryptonomicon seems to be missing; for me the most enjoyable of the Stephenson books.

  96. Ru

    @fogus, what about K. Vonnegut? There is non a single one of his books, and they’re amazing :)

    Start with The Sirens of Titan. Not his most famous work, but an incredible read.

  97. @Ru

    If it’s not on the list then you can assume that I’ve read it already. In fact, I love Vonnegut’s work… one of my open source projects was named Unk. :-)

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