This is a look at what we have most currently been reading and what we have read in the past for our “book club” along with short synopsizes. As we review these titles click on the book name to link to the full reviews.
Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson, 1992 (Nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award):
- A true masterpiece set in a dystopian future where corporations control most of the world. The final frontier is the metaverse, a virtual reality version of the Internet, where your dreams and nightmares can become a reality. The story explores history, religion, science, and linguistics among many other themes.
Declare by Tim Powers, 2001 (Nominated for the Locus and Nebula Awards):
- A mixture of a supernatural thriller and a spy novel woven around real events and people amidst WWII and the Cold War. Operation Declare! involves a colony of djinn living on Mount Ararat that the governments around the world are seeking variously to ally with or to destroy. The story follows Andrew Hale from his mysterious origins in Palestine to his work as a spy in England, France, the Middle East, Russia, and Turkey.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, 1993:
- Set in a dystopian future Los Angeles, Lauren, a young hyper-empath, is forced from her home in the growing chaos of social collapse. Fleeing from the riots she makes her way north to settle and try to create a new society.
The Future of Man by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 1964:
- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest, philosopher, paleontologist, and geologist, is best known for his theories concerning the Omega Point and the Noosphere. Teilhard de Chardin sees the universe as an evolutionary process leading to the eventual unification of all life. The Future of Man looks at humanity’s role in this evolutionary process.
Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg, 1972 (Nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards):
- A pseudo-autobiographical work that chronicles one mans use and gradual loss of psychic powers. What is it like to slowly lose a part of yourself that is both a gift and a curse?
No Other Man by Alfred Noyes, 1940:
- A true post-apocalyptic classic that begins with the end of the world. After humanity falls to self induced mutually assured destruction from a new weapon the only known survivor slowly begins working his way across Europe and the major cities of humanities’ past. Among many themes the novel explores the spiritual virtues of faith, hope, and love in the sight of a utter devastation.
Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny, 1967 (Won the Hugo Award):
- A look at a planet far from here where Eastern religions and traditions come to life through technology. The rulers of the planet take the guise of Hindu gods ruling and controlling the common people. The story follows Sam one of the original colonists and one of those who has taken on the guise of a god. By the time of the narrative he has taken on the cause of freeing the people and showing them the truth of their false gods.
VALIS by Philip K. Dick, 1981:
- VALIS stands for Vast Active Living Intelligence System and in Philip K. Dick’s work is a gnostic look at a supreme being who created mankind and has aided them in the fight against the Black Prison. Horselover Fat (a pseudonym for Philip Dick who is also a character in the novel) was contacted by VALIS and given a variety of messages concerning his destiny and the universe.
The Watch Below by James White, 1966:
- A tale that follows two groups of survivors: one an isolated crew of WWII sailors who survive a ship wreck at the bottom of the ocean, the other a group of refugee aquatic aliens fleeing a dying planet.
Dark Universe by Daniel Galouye, 1962 (Nominated for Hugo Award):
- A post-apocalyptic tale telling the story of Jared who lives in a world of darkness deep within the caves of the Earth. He has never heard of light and he knows the world only through his other four senses. Nevertheless, even without knowledge of light he is driven to seek it despite the dangers of Radiation, starvation, the mutant Zivvers, and other things which come from the Silent Sound.
Startide Rising by David Brin, 1983 (Won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards):
- A Hugo and Nebula winning novel from 1983. This is the 2nd book of the Uplift Saga and is David Brin’s best known work. In the Uplift universe intelligent species are always created from pre-intelligent species through a process of genetic manipulation called uplifting. Humanity has recently been discovered by the dominant species of the 5 Galaxies, but along with their discovery comes a mystery: Who uplifted the human species?
The Jesus Incident by Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom, 1979:
- A lesser known novel of the sci-fi master Frank Herbert. This novel takes place in an unknown, but obviously distant, time in the future. Humanity has changed almost beyond recognition and now the descendants of humanity must find a way to WorShip their all powerful god Ship, which arose from an artificial intelligence project in the distant past. Ship has taken them to the distant planet Pandora to make a new world for themselves.
Earth Abides by George Stewart, 1949:
- A post apocalyptic classic written in 1949. It follows the story of Ish as he struggles to survive the collapse of civilization. Will it be the end of humanity or a new beginning?
The Devil in the Forest by Gene Wolfe, 1996:
- One of Wolfe’s first novels it tells the story of Mark, a young man living in a village deep in the woods in medieval times, who must face the fact that his hero Wat may be murdering travelers on the roads. As the story unfolds good and evil, religion and superstition, and the nature of humanity are all explored.
More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon, 1953:
- A classic novel focusing on human evolution and the power of the mind. It is written in three parts and follows the development of a possible next step in human evolution: a group mind bigger than the sum of its parts.
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, 1956:
- A classic adventure story which follows Foyle upon his quest for revenge on those who left him to die. Along the way he encounters instant teleportation (jaunting), telepathy, and human augmentation along with all the oddities and excesses that are typical of humanity and are taken to the next level through obscene wealth and technology.
Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, 1996:
- The SETI program hears awe inspiring music from space and an expedition led by Jesuit priests sets out to meet the alien musicians. A good exploration of alien and human relations, but a bit disturbing to read at times. This book shows us that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
A Case of Conscience by James Blish, 1958 (Won the Hugo Award):
- A classic sci-fi novel with christian characters. In my opinion the original short story was better than the longer novel, but both are good and have a powerful point. Written in ’58 this was one of the first science fiction novels that explored the explicitly religious and spiritual implications of meeting new species on new planets.
Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer, 2000 (Nominated for the Hugo Award):
- A more recent novel Sawyer’s work explores what would happen if aliens came to Earth with proof of God’s existence. Through numerous characters both human and alien the narrative explores possible explanations for the divine. While not strictly a christian look at the universe this work does have many strong points for theism and faith in general, which are sometimes lacking in science fiction.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy, 2006 (Won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction):
- While not strictly science fiction this extremely well written post-apocalyptic novel delves deeply into the human soul in the gravest of circumstances. It shows the miracle of hope springing forth from despair and it also highlights the choice that each of us must make: to life up to our humanity or to turn our back on it.
Cunning Blood by Jeff Dunteman, 2006:
- Set in the not too distant future corporate and national interests fight and vie for a dominate position on an interstellar stage. This delicate balance is thrown askew when criminals and rebels from the prison planet Hell are able to defeat their nanobot warden, which has eroded all conductive material fostering scientific growth in new areas. Duneteman primarily writes from an engineer’s perspective exploring new scientific developments and several possible futures. Within all of that he is very creative and writes with an easy style.
Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons, 1989 – 1990 (Winners of Various Awards including the Hugo, Locus, and Nebula Awards):
- One of the greatest sci-fi epics of the last few decades. The Hyperion Cantos, of which these are the first two books, deals with interstellar empires, an invincible time bending entity forged out of razor sharp metal known as the Shrike, and the deeper purpose of humanity and our fate in this universe. A must read for every sci-fi fan and easily the best of Simmons’ impressive collection.
Love Conquers All by Fred Saberhagen, 1985:
- Set in a dystopian future where the government controls nearly every aspect of its citizen’s lives including their reproduction. One couple bravely chooses to fight the system and have an unauthorized child and they most fight the powers of the world to serve a higher calling. This is a dark imagining of one possible future where life has lost nearly all of its real value.
Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, 1969 (Won Hugo and Nebula Awards):
- One of Le Guin’s best known works and a major work in the feminist sci-fi trend, Left Hand of Darkness, focuses on an envoy from an interstellar alliance of planets who has come to the reclusive planet of Gethen to convince them to join. On Gethen there is no set gender and all of the people of Gethen temporarily change their gender based on the relationship they are in for the purpose of reproduction. Needless to say this creates a very different society that our protagonist most learn to navigate before it is too late and he is caught up in a web of intrigue.
Female Man by Joanna Russ, 1975:
- A feminist novel of four women who live in parallel universes and through one universes superior science cross over encountering each other and challenging each others views on womanhood and social equality.
Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe, 1980 – 1983 (Winner and Nominee of Various Awards including the Locus and Nebula Awards):
- An epic tale told over four novels. This story is only comparable in my mind to Dune and Lord of the Rings in its scope and literary style. The tale follows Severian, a disgraced torturer, who must journey across the face of the far future Urth, which orbits a dying sun and is at the end of its life. The story is told in the first person by Severian and incorporates Wolfe’s convention of the unreliable narrator who views his world from a subjective and biased point of view. On his journey Severian fights monsters and subhumans, joins an army, encounters a garden which is a blend of science and magic and many other wonders both beautiful and terrifying.
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, 1996 (Won the Locus Award, Nominated for the Nebula Award):
- One of the greatest fantasy epics of the latter half of the 20th century. A Game of Thrones begins the saga of the Song of Ice and Fire, which chronicles the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and the chaos that ensues after the death of its king. The noble House Stark and ambitious House Lannister are two of the major claimants who bring their armies and intrigue to the battle fields in the War of the Five Kings. An extremely well written novel with a whole cast of deep and well rounded characters. A must read for any fantasy fan.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, 1966 (Won the Hugo Award, Nominated for the Nebula Award):
- Another of Robert A. Heinlein’s classics. This novel explores a libertarian revolution of workers on the Moon against the corporate governments of the Earth. In addition to exploring various systems of government and society Heinlein’s work also features a computer named Mike which aids the rebels in their fight for freedom.
Demolished Man by Alfred Bester, 1953 (Won the Hugo Award):
- Winner of the first Hugo Award in 1953 Demolished Man was groundbreaking in numerous ways. Well written it focuses on many themes which would become central to the genre and our present society such as telepathy, network technology, and super corporations controlling governments. A great read with deep characters, complex motivations, and a little mystery thrown in for good measure.
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi, 2005 (Nominated for the Hugo Award):
- The Earth is at war across the cosmos. To respond to this threat it has forged a new army of soldiers who have the experience of a lifetime inside genetically engineered younger bodies. This forms the greatest fighting force that the Earth has ever seen as old men and women in young bodies fight and die in a war torn galaxy.
Forever War by Joe Haldeman, 1974 (Won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards):
- A true classic in the spirit of Starship Troopers. Written by Joe Haldeman, a Vietnam veteran, it revolves around soldiers being disconnected from their society and the very causes of the war they are fighting in. In this novel humans and taurans have been at war for generations. Due to the relativistic effects of traveling at near light speeds thousands of years pass for the people of Earth while mere months pass for the soldiers traveling through the galaxy. A great use of technology and characters and a fascinating look at multiple time periods in the future round out a great book.
Gateway by Frederick Pohl, 1977 (Won the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and John W. Campbell Awards):
- Written in the 1970s this story inspired many up and coming authors in its vision of a possible future. Gateway centers around the discovery of an asteroid at the opposite end of the sun from Earth that contains thousands of alien ships. These ships are programmed to carry a certain number of people to predetermined locations around the universe that are unknown to the passengers. A mad dash to find the riches of the universe and many less savory fates begins and draws many who are down and out on the luck.
Past Master by R. A. Lafferty, 1968 (Nominated for the Nebula Award):
- Set on the world of Golden Astrobe, humanity’s future home in the year 2535. Sir Thomas More is plucked from the past to help save human civilization, which is on the brink of destruction from its own decadence. In his attempt to save humanity More comes into conflict with physical, mental, and spiritual foes.
Stranger in a Stange Land by Robert A. Heinlein, 1961 (Won the Hugo Award):
- A pivotal tale in the history of science fiction. This story penned by Robert A. Heinlein in the peak of his career follows Michael Valentine Smith, a man who was born on a doomed mission to Mars only to be raised by the Martians. On his return to Earth as an adult he struggles to fit in slowly revealing that he has control of powers beyond most humans. The novel is strongly rooted in the 1960’s counterculture movement exploring themes of liberation, sexual freedom, and self-responsibility. It also challenges the many institutions of our world such as government, economy, and religion. Overall, it is a well written novel that gives an interesting perspective on our humanity from a man who is a stranger in a strange land.
Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon, 1930:
- Written in 1930 this story begins in the near future, as of its writing, and then in leaps and bounds chronicles the next 2 billion years of humanity. It is revealed that 18 species of humanity, of which we are the first, will rise one after another going into the distant future. Through genetic engineering and eons of time humanity changes until it is physically unrecognizable to us, but still recognizably human in its spirit. A truly epic novel in scope and imagination and a must read as a foundational science fiction novel.
Evolution by Stephen Baxter, 2002:
- Similar in scope to Stapledon’s work this much later novel follows humanities early mammal ancestors at the end of the cretaceous period 65 million years ago to modern humanity and than through the rise of various post-human species 500 million years into our future. It is told as a series of short stories occasionally skipping millions of years as the Earth and the life upon it change drastically. An extremely well-written and fast paced novel that while devoid of any strong spiritual themes still deserves a read.
Fourth Mansions by R.A. Lafferty, 1969 (Nominated for Nebula Award):
- A mind binding thriller inspired in part by Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. This is a book that must be read more than once to understand all of the layers expertly woven into it. The story follows Fred Foley as he travels across America and encounters ancient forces that surround and manipulate humanity. Demons, angels, and numerous other supernatural forces also make an appearance. The essential question is whether humanity will rise to the fifth mansion to grace and glory or collapse back to the first mansion to repeat the cycle once again.
The Island by Aldous Huxley, 1962:
- The Island was written in many ways as a counter part to Brave New World. This novel follows journalist Will Farnaby as he survives a ship wreck and is washed ashore on the utopian island of Pala. As he explores this utopia he encounters drug use, meditation, various family types and numerous spiritual insights. While certainly not without its flaws The Island is an interesting dialogue on governance and the possibility of a utopia on Earth.
The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson, 1912:
- Written in 1912 The Night Land is a true leap in imagination. It belongs to the dying earth sub-genre and is set in the far future where the sun has gone cold and what is left of humanity survives in a lone and dying metropolis called the Redoubt. Humanity must struggle to survive and keep hope alive in this dying and alien world battling monstrous beings of both a physical and spiritual nature. An epic work that is inspirational to many works in both the science fiction and fantasy genres. A must read for any fan!
Dying Earth by Jack Vance, 1950:
- A collection of short stories written by Jack Vance, this work and later books in the series formally created the dying earth sub genre set in a time in the far future where science and sorcery have blended and the rules of our universe are no longer binding. Most of the stories set in this work involve quests for magical artifacts or battles against controlling wizards. Well written with great characters and clear insight this work is a entertaining, insightful, and important read for any fan of the genre.
Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman by Walter M. Miller Jr. and Terry Bison, 1997:
- A much anticipated sequel to his previous novel this is set 1200 years after the original disaster when humanity has just begun to enter a new Renaissance. The Church, emerging centralized kingdoms, and tribes of aboriginal people come into fierce conflict as a new age dawns. While not as strong as his previous novel it’s still well worth a read.
Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr., 1960 (Won Hugo Award for Best Novel):
- A true classic of the genre and one of the few to focus almost exclusively on religious themes, characters and settings. This novel takes place in 3 different time periods roughly 600, 1200, and 1800 years after an apocalyptic nuclear war. Can humanity learn from its mistakes as it rebuilds itself or is it doomed to perpetually repeat them?
Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress, 1993 (Nominated for Hugo and Nebula Awards):
- A very important read that deals with genetic engineering and its implications on our future society and humanity. The majority of the main characters in this novel have been genetically engineered to have and be the best. One of those “advancements” is the loss of the need sleep. This along with other advances radically changes the world in numerous ways. Along the way Nancy Kress deals thoughtfully with morality, religion, and many other complex issues as her characters come to terms with what it means to be human.