Aug 22 2013
I’m not sure which came first, the decision to publish my book on a Kindle, or me actually buying a Kindle in the first place. But the two became intimately tied together soon enough as I learned that the best way to stay motivated to write and become a better writer is to read a lot. And when I got that Kindle? Where you can buy and open a book by pressing two buttons in five seconds? Boy, did I ever start reading.
Outside of George RR Martin’s entire Song of Ice and Fire series, and a few Lee Childs and James Patterson crime novels, I’ve mostly stuck with sci-fi. I’ve realized that while I’ve watched boatloads of sci-fi movies and shows, including nearly all that would be considered “classics” of the genre, I was way, way behind when it came to science fiction literature. That is a problem, considering I was trying to write science fiction literature.
I hunted through the internet, asked readers and found many, many books I still needed to get through, and over the past two years or so, I’ve wolfed down Asimov and Card and many others. I decided to highlight a few of my favorites, so that perhaps some of you may get to experience them as well.
First, the grand total list. Here’s every sci-fi book I’ve read on my Kindle (a device which makes this easy to keep track of). I list these not to brag, but so you can give me other suggestions of books I still have yet to read.
Hyperion, Foundation, The Road, I Robot, World War Z, Ender’s Game, Ready Player One, The Hunger Games Trilogy, Neverwhere, The Forever War, Under the Dome, Solaris, Altered Carbon, Old Man’s War, Unwind, Hyperion, Snow Crash, Earth Abides, and Spin
Tried and couldn’t do it: Neuromancer and Anathem
I’ve bolded the ones I’m about to talk about.
Hyperion (Dan Simmons)
This was recommended so many places by so many people it was hard to keep track. It has a unique narrative structure, a tale of seven pilgrims on a ship, each with their own story as to why they’re traveling to a particular shared interstellar destination.
This book taught me a lot about how to write for different characters. Each traveler gets their own tale, and they’re all dramatically different to the point where the book almost feels like a collection of short stories. You develop your favorites, and begin to suspect the motives of the others as you learn more about the group as a whole.
Hyperion also introduced me to the concept of a truly terrifying villain. The Shrike was mysterious, deadly and pure terror across every story it appeared in. It was also an object of worship, and out of all these books, was one of the most effective creations I’ve come across.
I need to continue reading this series, but the original Hyperion is a classic for a reason, and I learned a lot from it.
World War Z (Max Brooks)
Perhaps this is a little too “mainstream,” but I was late to the party discovering World War Z. Yes, I did read it ahead of the movie coming out, and yes, the digital cover has Brad Pitt’s stupid face on it. Shame on me.
It’s true that the movie and the book are nothing alike. I actually liked the movie for what it was, and the reality is that the book would have been more or less impossible to film because of its narrative structure. It’s told in the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse, not in the heat of it, and tells dozens of individual stories focused on each aspect of the great zombie war from first infection, to global destruction, to the clean-up afterward.
World War Z has one of the most unique story structures I’ve ever seen, and it’s amazing that this many impactful tales are packed into only a few pages each. It’s amazing what the book is able to do with an almost complete lack of recurring characters, and I was further impressed with how seriously it took its subject matter.
A zombie invasion is an inherently goofy concept, but World War Z manages to effectively ask and answer detailed questions about the sociology, politics, sciences, logistics and religious aspects of such an event happening. It’s the most authentic vision of a world ravaged by zombies I’ve ever seen by a mile, and it’s a truly stunning work.
Altered Carbon (Richard K. Morgan)
Some books had concepts that were so fantastic, they sold me on them immediately even if I had almost no other information. Altered Carbon envisions a world where nobody really dies, as consciousness can be transferred from body to body indefinitely.
The lead of this book, Takeshi Kovacs, was so cool, I named one of my characters in my sequel as an homage to him. He’s a veteran of wearing new bodies, called “sleeves” and is brought in to solve the murder of a wealthy, powerful man who is very much alive, thanks to consciousness transfer, but wants to know why someone would kill his old sleeve.
Altered Carbon goes amazing places with this concept, as some sleeves are modded out for combat, some are laced with pheromones for sex appeal, and other times people can actually jump around between genders. The writing is phenomenal and Kovacs is probably my favorite protagonist from any of these books I’ve read, despite rarely, if ever, occupying his original body. It speaks to the power of a strong character, when he can take any form and still be a supreme badass.
Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson)
Snow Crash takes place almost largely in the digital world, and stars my second favorite protagonist out of all these books, a man literally named Hiro Protagonist. If that’s not a good start, I don’t know what is.
This is a future I’ve long envisioned, one where virtual reality has transported a huge portion of the population to a sort of parallel life online, called the Metaverse. Action takes place between the Metaverse and reality, with major twists and turns occurring in both realms.
The titular Snow Crash is a virus that spreads through the Metaverse, but can have a real-life impact on those who contract it. Hiro must stop the virus, and is aided by a spunky young courier named Y.T. who manages against all odds to be a likable child side-kick, as such things rarely exist.
While a book like Ready Player One was all video games, Snow Crash blends both the virtual and real worlds in a fresh and exciting way, and manages to be quite oddly funny in the process. It’s one of my new era favorites, though I was puzzled by the fact I couldn’t get even partway through Stephenson’s Anathem, which is shockingly different in style, tone and content than Snow Crash. Someone’s going to have to explain the appeal of that book to me.
Earth Abides (George R. Stewart)
I had no idea that post-apocalyptic fiction existed in 1949, but that’s when Earth Abides was written, and is said to be the grandfather of all works in the genre. I knew I had to read it if the end of the world was the basis for my trilogy.
What I found was a book that does feel very ahead of its time, yet puts a spin on the apocalypse that I really haven’t seen since. While most stories set after the end of the world are all about doom and gloom, Earth Abides focuses on the rebuilding effort. A simple plague wipes out 99.999% of the world’s population, and the story tells how one man, Ish, tries to rebuild society from the fragments of the people who are left.
The story spans practically his entire life, he’s a young man at the start and ancient by the end. He has a family, starts a little tribe with some neighbors, and attempts to keep the knowledge of the old world alive. He tries to teach the children born into the new landscape mathematics, history and the like, but ultimately comes to the realization that society simply needs to start over. His greatest contribution ends up being teaching his descendents how to make a bow and arrow, an ancient invention that changed the course of history once, and could again.
It’s an almost uplifting look at the end of the world, and something I wasn’t expecting. Certainly not from a book so old. But good literature knows no expiration date, and what may be the world’s first post-apocalyptic novel is still one of its best.
So, more suggestions for me?
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