The first year I [James Gunn] offered the Intensive English Institute on the Teaching of Science Fiction, a teacher… asked me how many books a teacher should read in order to have a sound background for the teaching of science fiction. I said, offhand, about a hundred books and gave her a list…
I read a lot from that list, but notables in my mind are:
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979) by Douglas Adams. I wouldn’t read it a second time, but it’s often laugh-out-loud funny and silly. Don’t let the awful 2005 movie spoil the book for you.
- The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov. I devoured this as a teenager. Asimov is famous for his Robot stories (creating the famous Three Laws of Robotics), but did you know that no robots appear in the The Foundation Trilogy.
- A Case of Conscience by James Blish was one of the first science-fiction novels I read with a religious theme (i.e. whether a belief in God is necessary for a moral society).
- The Science Fiction Hall Of Fame, Volume 2 collection edited by Ben Bova. Volume 1 was editied by Robert Silverberg in 1970, and I reread both every couple years. It’s subtitle is The Greatest Science Fiction Stories of All Time.
- Almost anything by Ray Bradbury, but Fahrenheit 451 and particular stories like The Crowd (from The October Country) are more memorable than others.
- Ender’s Game (1999) by Orson Scott Card is about a boy being prepared to fight am interstellar war. I read it twice.
- Arthur C. Clarke (the C is for Charles) is known for 2001: A Space Odyssey, but he’s written other brilliant stories, including Rendezvous with Rama.
- A lot of people know Harlan Ellison from the comic world, where he’s written lots of stories; but I think he’s more famous for his short stories (A Boy And His Dog, Manifesto in Onyx, etc.) and Dangerous Visions, a collection of stories he edited in the late sixties that many consider the start of a new era in science-fiction.
- Flowers of Algerion by Daniel Keyes is a beautiful story about how a simple man becomes complicated, then simple again.
- I read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley in my teens, writing a paper for it in high school. I found it philosophical and adventurous. I haven’t read it since then, but I think I’ll tackle it again soon.
- Robert Silverberg has been around forever (as long as Ellision, Clarke, and a few others), writing memorable short-stories and novels, including Dying Inside (1972), a story about a man who squanders his telepathic abilities.
- City by Clifford Simak is about dogs; a city of dogs.
- The Persistence of Vision by John Varley made me almost wish I was blind (although I almost am).
- John Wyndham wrote Chrysalids, which many people had to read in school; but it IS brilliant, although not his best. Read Chocky. His short-stories deserve more appreciation, too.
That’s a small sampling of stuff I’ve read from that list. I know there are lots of excellent stuff I didn’t include above like Haldeman, Heinlein, Spider Robinson…
Novels that should be included on that list:
- Fade by Robert Cormier. I’ve written about it before. I’ll read anything by Cormier.
- Kindrid by Octavia Butler, about a modern African-American woman who keeps falling back through time to rescue her white, slave-owning ancestor.
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is terrifying, about who has control over women’s bodies.
- The Postman by David Brin, which made me wish I had the talent to tell a tale.
- The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I posted about this before.