After posting the SPOILERCAST for The Martian earlier this week, we got a lot of requests for similar book recommendations, so I've put together a short list. Without exception, these books were all major page turners, the kind of read that I just couldn't put down no matter how late it got.
Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson - This is part one of a trilogy and it's a well-researched take on Mars colonization based on the information we had about the planet at the time it was written. The second book in the trilogy, Green Mars, is still pretty heavy on the science, but the third entry went a bit heavy on the character drama for me.
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson - Every nerd should read Cryptonomicon. While it's probably closer to a techno-thriller than hard science fiction, serious math, data havens, Defcon presentations, and cryptocurrencies all play a key part in the plot. Beware, Crytonomicon is a slow starter, but it picks up by the third chapter.
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson - Snow Crash, along with William Gibson's early VR novels are probably more responsible for the rise of 90s VR than anything else out there. Read this to get a glimpse of the VR future that didn't materialize, before VR actually takes over.
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman - The Forever Wars is the best kind of thought experiment. It describes the experience of a new recruit in an interstellar war, and the true meaning of relativity. Despite occasional flashbacks to technology that went out of fashion 40 years ago (it was written in the 70s), The Forever War is one of those timeless science fiction classics.
(Several more recommendations below!)
The Hunt For Red October by Tom Clancy - This book spawned a series of best sellers, movies, video games, and more, but in the beginning, it was simply a very well researched spy novel about stealing a top-secret submarine from the USSR. Clancy does such a wonderful job describing the failure of humanity's most complex machines that you almost wonder how they work in the first place.
Pattern Recognition by William Gibson - This is my favorite William Gibson book. Written in the late 90s, it's a science fiction novel set in the then-present. I don't want to tell you much about it, for fear that I'll accidentally spoil something. Trust me, it's wonderful and you should read it.
Accelerando by Charles Stross - A series of interwoven post-Singularity short stories, Accelerando paints a grim picture for the future of human/computer/other relations. It's available as a Creative Commons licensed ebook download too.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - If Snow Crash is the upbeat cyberpunk novel, Ready Player One is the negative nancy of the bunch. In a depleted Earth where the population spends most of their time jacked into a world-wide VR videogame. Given the advances we've seen in both VR and food replacements, Ready Player One looks more plausible every day.
Wool by Hugh Howey - The science here is a little thin at times, but the first chapter of Wool is one of the best world-building exercises I've ever read. I won't tell you any more about the world Howey built, it's too fun to unwrap it yourself.
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe - This, and the film that spawned from it, are both classics. The book is a non-fiction account of the early days of the US space program, focusing primarily on the men who flew in the first manned capsules that America sent to space.
World War Z by Max Brooks - I enjoyed the Brad Pitt movie, but it paled in comparison to Brook's novel. Written as an oral history of the zombie plague, World War Z provides well researched, actionable advice in the unlikely advice we ever face a zombie apocalypes. See also, The Zombie Survival Guide, also by Max Brooks.
I'm absolutely sure I'm forgetting some killer books that I've even read, so post your favorites in the comments below!
This doesn't fall under hard science fiction to be sure, and might be a bit too far in the future to be a good recommendation, but I've always loved the science fiction/horror novels of Hideyuki Kikuchi. His Vampire Hunter D books are popular because of one reasonably successful anime film, and another less than successful anime film; there is also a Manga that I'm not a fan of. If you plan on watching either film though, read the books first. Kikuchi's genius is in his ability to inject an unparalleled aesthetic into his stories. The plot is great, and there is a fair bit of science throughout, but it's the world and characters that he's created that are amazing. The movie, while being pretty good in it's own right, just wasn't able to capture the beauty, IMO.
Well that will keep me busy for a while...
I'd like to recommend the anthology "Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future." Normally I don't buy anthologies because I prefer longer format fiction, but this is really exciting so far. Not like "car chase" exciting, but more like "let's go change the world with science" exciting. From the Amazon description:
Inspired by New York Times bestselling author Neal Stephenson, an anthology of stories, set in the near future, from some of today’s leading writers, thinkers, and visionaries that reignites the iconic and optimistic visions of the golden age of science fiction.
Good thing Amazon has that $1 book credit for slow shipping promo.
Thank you that list of books, @will.. 😊
No Leviathan Wakes?!
After reading The Martian I was looking up other hard sci-fi and realized I had never read Ringworld by Larry Niven. I've heard good things about it, so hopefully it stands up. Oh and Hunt for Red October is in my queue for sure, it has been 15 years or more since I read it in high school.
I think that a book worth serious consideration is Nick Sagan's (Yes, Carl Sagan's son) "Idlewild". It is about a group of teenagers being schooled at a boarding school where they use immersive VR as a teaching tool. They promote creativity and needless to say, shit gets weird. Also, there is a subplot about scientists battling a super virus! This is a must read!
How about the guy who started this all, Jules Verne!
He's the guy who started writing and explaining how things could work. and all his books can be got for free as eBooks. i suggest starting with travel to the moon.
I'm a fan of Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space series. The series spans hundreds of years and multiple character threads which is always captivating.
If you read Jules Verne's "From Earth to the Moon", you owe it to yourself to get the heavily annotated version co-written by Walter James Miller. It explains a lot about the scientific assumptions made by Verne and has tons of info regarding the archaeic references in the book. It really makes you realize how much Verne tried to think the story out.
Some of the extended universe stuff for Halo has some great books in it. The forerunner saga and the Kilo-five books are particular standouts.
Full science fiction, but really good none the less. I especially like The Fall of Reach, which concentrates on the creation of the Spartans.
Also Ready Player One, it is absolutely awesome as Will said.
The Mars Trilogy kindle edition is available for under £3 at the moment, bargain! :)
I'm working my way through the Wool trilogy at the moment, then the Mars trilogy next - I've a ton of other books to read too due to them being silly cheap on the kindle store at various points over the last couple of months :)
If only it ended a quarter as well as it started. Somewhere toward the last couple of chapters, it just really falls apart.... But it might have one of the best ever first chapters.
As for Pattern Recognition, I find it hard to recommend one William Gibson book over another... If you're a fan, make sure you get the docu "No Maps For These Territories" into your head-holes.
Just because I can, I'm going to throw two of my favorites out there:
Ambient - Jack Womack. It's an early 90's type cyberpunk thingy. I always felt like Womack as a writer was way under rated - his Elvisey is very good as well.
High Rise - J G Ballard. I could, and people have, go on and on about Ballard's writing - this is a great place to start (also soon to be a movie - maybe)
@will: True Nuff, Will! Though I don't always require that my entertainment remain believable... Case in point, The Matrix... an excellent movie on many many fronts, but if you shove a SPIKE that big into someone's head, they die! LOL
I hope that someone, someday makes an awesome movie, or even better, mini-series adaptation of Snow Crash and fixes the end.... And when I say fixes, I only mean in the sort of way that the movie "fixed" the end of Watchmen...
Jason Momoa as Raven....
Some awesome but unknown actor as Y.T.....
I'd run over broken, flaming, glass to see such a thing
I rather liked Ian Hocking's Déjà Vu, and he's followed it up with a couple of sequels (but they don't seem to be available at the moment).
World War Z? The premise is good, but the actual writing itself trades on some of laziest cliché riddled national stereotypes going.
The majority of this is a list I gave to someone on twitter the other day, these get progressively more pulpy:-
Eon - Greg Bear
Cryptonomicon, Anathem, Diamond Age, Snow Crash - Neal Stephenson
Odyssey tetralogy, Rendezvous with Rama - A. C. Clarke
Look to Windward, Excession, Consider Phlebas, Surface Detail - Iain M. Banks
Roadside Picnic - Arkady + Boris Strugatsky
Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card
The Stars My Destination - Alfred Bester
Dune - Frank Herbert
Almost any William Gibson
Forever War - Joe Haldeman
The Expanse Series (at least the first 3) - James S. A. Corey
Mandel Trilogy, Fallen Dragon - Peter F. Hamilton
Cormac Series, Spatterjay Series and Engineer Trilogy - Neal Asher
Black Man, Woken Furies - Richard Morgan
Don't read World War Z. Listen to the unabridged Audiobook. The sheer amount of incredible voice talent is wonderful to experience
and many more
Finished the Wool Trilogy, Wool was excellent, Shift was good, but not as sharp as the first book, but Dust was rather disappointing, it felt rushed and was a bit of a damp squib, certainly in comparison to the first two. It read like Hugh just wanted to get the book out the door as quickly as he could, and ended up ignoring most of the rich world of plot and sub-plot he built up in the first two.
Hopefully the fan-fic writers can rescue it, but it felt like he washed his hands of it so he could move onto the next thing.
What about "Red Shirts" and the Hitchhikers Guide Trilogy?
@YoThatLimp: I really like the James S A Corey books, but I definitely don't think they're for everyone. I thought about including the Jean le Flambeur books by Hannu Rajaniemi, but they're a little hard to figure out, especially if you aren't used to reading things where figuring out the world is a challenge. If you liked Leviathan Wakes, you should check out Neal Asher's Polity books. There are a ton of them, but start with Gridlinked.
Thanks! I thought the James S A Corey books were pretty great intros to sci fi, it is actually what brought me in and piqued my interest in the genre. I think it totally works because the characters and setting are so grounded, it was something special. I had a similar feeling when I first read The Martian!
Thanks for the recommendation, will dive into them after the mars trilogy!
The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut is an amazing book. Maybe not quite a survival/castaway story like The Martian is, but amazing nonetheless. And part of the book takes place on Mars, so that counts, right?
@will: Thanks for this! I re-read The Right Stuff (for the millionth time) before reading The Martian. Also ordered Red Mars last week. Looking forward to it.
On a somewhat related note, for anyone that is looking for a book that is about an 80/20 engineering-to-story ratio (rather than what I'd call The Martian, a solid 50/50) you should check out How Apollo Flew to the Moon by David Woods. David takes what would normally be a dry read technical publication and cites specific stories and anecdotal examples of each step of the process in an Apollo flight to the moon!
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