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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. 

101 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. @josh_rehman

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

  2. 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.

  3. @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?

  4. @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.

  5. 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.

  6. @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.

  7. Harvey

    I would recommend adding Interface by Stephen Bury.

  8. 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).

  9. @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.

  10. Rasputnik

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

  11. 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.

  12. SI Hayakawa

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

  13. @hayakawa

    I’ve read both and loved them.

  14. 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.

  15. 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…

  16. 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.

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

  18. Michael

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

  19. 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.

  20. @F_D

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

  21. @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.

  22. @Nicholas

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

  23. 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…

  24. 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.

  25. Leaf

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

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

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

  29. Shad

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

  30. Bob Foster

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

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. fp

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

  35. Lance

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

  36. Barnabas

    Georgia On My Mind, by Charles Sheffield

  37. 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/

  38. @Azzopardi

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

  39. @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.

  40. I would recommend some other classic space opera:

    Lensmen (and other EE Doc Smith) and Venus Equilateral

  41. 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)

  42. 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.

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

  44. 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.

  45. Tgr

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

  46. Bart

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

  47. 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.

  48. @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. :-)

  49. Abe

    One of my favourites is “His Master’s Voice” by Lem. It’s very introspective but one of the best Sci-Fi I’ve read.

  50. Vladimir

    @fogus Greg Egan and his “Diaspora” must be on your radar!

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