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Topic: What books should a would-be Sci-Fi author read?

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Subject: What books should a would-be Sci-Fi author read?
Date Posted: 8/7/2008 10:54 AM ET
Member Since: 6/4/2007
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I've long desired to write, and while I've dabbled in several genres at the moment I'm focusing on writing Science Fiction.  I've decided that, in order to write Sci-Fi, I must read (more) Sci-Fi.  For this purpose I've collected many important works, but have reached a limit in terms of ideas as to which titles with which I should acquaint myself.  I have all but four Heinleins.  I have every book Frank Herbert wrote.  I have 18 Philip K. Dicks.  I have the entire Greater Foundationi series by Asimov as well as a few solo works, Clarke's Space Odyssey series, Robinson's Mars series, Gateway by Pohl, Leiber's Wanderer, Dispossessed by le Guin, Babel 17 by Delany, the Mote in God's Eye...a handful more solos like that.  I'm aware of some titles I don't have yet, but I'm not sure if they're necessary and I don't want to add to my shelf needlessly.  I'm intent on never being satisfied with my Sci-Fi shelf in general, but I can't justify getting "just any old" titles.  I'll make cataloging that shelf properly my priority for the day, because I know I'm leaving some important titles.  At any rate, my big question:  Are there any titles that anyone thinks a good Sci-Fi fan and would-be author absolutely positively MUST read??  I've run out of ideas and I don't want to let anything slip past. 


Last Edited on: 8/7/08 7:23 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 8/7/2008 1:47 PM ET
Member Since: 4/12/2008
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Well, In my oppinion the if you want to read many different types of Science Fiction then the best author would probably be Timothy Zahn.  He is one of the best Science Fiction writers i know out there.  I know that most people know him best for his work with Star Wars.  To me, however, his Star wars books are over rated compaired to all of his other novels that he has written.  Dont get me wrong, they are the best of their kind, but his other books have more originality in them. 

The books that i would recomend that he has written(1 being best, in my oppinion) are:

1. The Icarus Hunt-

Jordan McKell thinks he's pretty unlucky, but most of us would gladly trade places with him. He's a freelance star-freighter captain who plies the hyperspace folds between worlds, trading exotic goods and meeting bizarre aliens. His latest job, to pilot the Icarus and its sealed cargo to earth, seems simple enough, but it rapidly turns into a crisis of interstellar proportions. The man who hired him goes missing, governments and the underworld alike put a price on the Icarus and on McKell's head, and one of his crew is murdered. He'll need to call upon his wits, his courage, and even a few tricks if he wants to survive.  (coppied from amazon)

2.  The Green and the Gray-

Like its title, Zahn's urban drama of a New York City couple fighting to save both their beloved city and an odd child thrust into their care is understated yet compelling. What starts out for Roger and Caroline Whittier as another evening full of bickering and resentment turns into something otherworldly after they, not the criminal who tried to strangle her, take possession of mysterious 12-year-old Melantha Green. One strange event after another follows: the girl melts into the potted orange trees on the Whittiers' balcony; invisible men climb the sides of buildings; and everywhere he goes, Roger is accosted by various factions of "Greens" and "Grays." Each group claims that a civil war is brewing in the parks of Manhattan and that it will be averted only if Melantha is turned over to them. An NYPD detective—sent to investigate a double break-in at the Whittier's apartment—gets dragged into the action when he just can't let go of several inexplicable loose ends. One nice touch in this highly enjoyable hybrid of SF and mystery is that at no point does any one character know exactly what's going on. As the further mark of a mature writer, Zahn (Angelmass) portrays a realistic marriage in which it takes more than magic to resolve conflicts.  (coppied from amazon)

3. Night Train to Rigel-

It begins when a man delivers a message for former government agent Frank Compton—only to fall dead at his feet. The message is a summons from the Spiders, the exotic and mysterious creatures who run the Quadrail, an incredible transportation system connecting civilizations across the galaxy. The Spiders believe that someone or something is preparing to attack their entire network and the worlds it serves, by smuggling battleships through the Quadrail—something that should be impossible to do. Compton, with the aid of a beautiful but enigmatic agent of the Spiders, is their last hope.

Because nobody else has been able to find the elusive enemy who seeks to enslave the entire galaxy…and Earth is its next target. (Coppied from Google books)

These are my favorates that i have read, i have also heard that Manta's Gift is a wonderful read as well.

These books i am sure will help give you plenty of good ideas and if nothing else, they are a wonderful read.  I am sure that if you are a Science fiction fan then you will love these books.

Date Posted: 8/7/2008 2:27 PM ET
Member Since: 3/1/2006
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Xenogenesis by Octavia E. Butler


Paul H. (PaulH) - ,
Date Posted: 8/8/2008 11:35 AM ET
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I second Kayla's Timothy Zahn vote... although I thought most of his Star Wars books were excellent (but then I'm a die hard SW fan, so I guess I'm not exactly objective in that area!)  I would also add to the list his Conqueror's Trilogy - Conqueror's Pride, Conqueror's Heritage and Conqueror's Legacy.  It's about a major war that breaks out between humans and aliens over a very simple but deadly misunderstanding.  The great thing about it from a writer's perspective is that the first book is from the human perspective, and the second is entirely from the aliens' pov, then the third puts it all together.  An excellent example of how to write from different character points of view.

As a fellow prosepective writer (although I'm more on the fantasy side than SF, personally) two non-fiction books I would highly recommend are Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy and Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth

Date Posted: 8/9/2008 12:30 AM ET
Member Since: 6/4/2007
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I just requested Power of Myth a few days ago!  That's totally awesome and uncanny at the same time.  I guess that means I'm not as idea-less as I thought lol.  I haven't gotten around to Card's work but I'm waiting on a copy of Ender's Game.  I'll check out his How To book.  The Conqueror's trilogy sounds like a perfect place to start with Zahn's work.  All the suggestions are really helpful, hopefully some more come in.  Thanks for the help :)

Date Posted: 8/9/2008 7:12 PM ET
Member Since: 1/2/2008
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Besides reading fiction, you might also want to check out 2 books by Nancy Kress (multi-award-winning SF author) ... "Dynamic Characters" (June 1998) and "Beginnings, Middles & Ends" (March 1993).

And if you're *really* serious, look into some of the workshops that are set up for budding SF writers.

Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers' Workshop
or Clarion West
or Odyssey Workshop

Be sure to check out Writer Beware, put together by the SFWA (Science Fiction Writer's of America) http://www.sfwa.org/beware/


Last Edited on: 8/9/08 7:13 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Subject: here's one...
Date Posted: 8/27/2008 10:35 AM ET
Member Since: 7/26/2008
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Quantico by Greg Bear

"Quantico is a terrifying glimps into the nightmare od global Bioterror!  Gre Bear combines real-world science, headline news, and five-minutes-from-now extrapolation into and adrenaline-amped thriller that will scare the hell out of you."

---Robert Crais, bestselling author of The Watchmen---

The F.B.I. has to stop and new menace that wants to wipe out Jews or Muslims or both...and has the means to do it!

Great book and I have it posted.


Last Edited on: 8/27/08 10:42 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Matt C. (mattc) - ,
Date Posted: 8/27/2008 2:32 PM ET
Member Since: 8/13/2008
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I am also an aspiring SF author...the books you already have are some of my favorites.  I agree that Timothy Zahn is a talented writer, though I don't care for star wars.  I'd also recommend his collection Cascade Point for short stories.  I think Joe Haldeman is the best living hard SF writer, and I also really like Orson Scott Card.  Not all his books are true SF, but I like them.  He is a great guy, too...I got to meet him a couple of years ago at a lecture and he gave me some good advice. 

Besides the ones you mentioned, Ray Bradbury and A.E. Van Vogt are the top early 'thoughtful' SF writers in my opinion, along with the classics like 1984 and Brave New World

Lastly...did you call The Mote in God's Eye a stand-alone?  My avatar is a picture of the sequel, The Gripping Hand.  I practice grip-strength exercises, so it was an obvious choice :) 

Date Posted: 8/27/2008 4:42 PM ET
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My favorite Sci-Fi Author of ALL time is Asimov. When asked what science fiction he read, he always replied that he never read science fiction. He said that he could not possibly enjoy reading sci-fi, as there were only two possible reactions he could have to any sci-fi book he might try to read. He either thought: Well, crap, I could do better than this! or Holy Crap!, This guy is better than me!
Subject: going from the bottom to the top here...
Date Posted: 8/28/2008 8:58 PM ET
Member Since: 6/4/2007
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Latricia, that's an interesting comment by Asimov...it has me worrying that maybe I should rethink my goal.  I'd hate to ruin my ability to read my favorite genre.  Geezowman, now I don't know WHAT to do lol.

Matt, I hadn't thought to include classics like 1984 (one of my favorites) and Brave New World.  I should have included Clockwork Orange, too.  I've still never managed to get an accurate assessment of my sci-fi section.  Thanks for the tip on Mote, btw...I hadn't realized there was a sequel (though I don't have the sequel, so in my collection it's alone, apart from its series).

Kerry, I've read Slant by Bear and I absolutely LOVE it, so it's good to have another title of his recommended to me.

Karen, while I try to avoid "how to write" books, there are definitely nonfiction titles that are extremely helpful nonetheless.  I'll look into those, they sound like they avoid trying to force themselves on the aspiring author.

Thanks you four, as well as Paul, Athena and Kayla, for your suggestions and advice.  I get told very often that I should become a writer and I would definitely want to be able to say I've tried adding to the amazing list of sci-fi titles written over the years.  These suggestions should definitely help me move in that direction.  Thanks Thanks Thanks!!!

Matt C. (mattc) - ,
Date Posted: 8/28/2008 9:11 PM ET
Member Since: 8/13/2008
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I didn't read Slant but I did enjoy Psychlone, Hegira, Blood Music, The Forge of God, Anvil of Stars, and Vitals by Greg Bear.

I don't know for sure about Asimov, but I think that quote was tongue in cheek.  Most SF writers are also prolific readers.  Orson Scott Card said reading while writing can be a distraction, but if you look at his website he reads and reviews a phenomenal amount of material, and from his letters and novels,  Robert Heinlein was clearly familar with other people's SF, as well as classics and popular fiction.

Subject: Greg Bear
Date Posted: 8/28/2008 10:24 PM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2006
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Here's my reviews of my five most recent reads of Greg Bear books.  Since you've read a few, and already know what you think, you should be able to predict if you agree or disagree with my assessments. 

Believe me, if you can write like Greg Bear, I will buy your books...

QUANTICO - This is a near future bioterror thriller. Very near future; we have a liberal woman president, a senior senator "Josephson" from Massachusettes, and the aftermath of a US withdrawal from Iraq. In the story, recent FBI academy graduates William Griffin, Fouad Al-Husam, and Jane Rowland are suddenly inserted into inter-agency intrigue and overlapping crisis of domestic and international terrorism. The concepts and events are scary in their realism. Good read, even if the ending is somewhat abrupt.  Due to the use of current events, I suspect the book will not have aged well after a few years have passed.

VITALS - It's impossible to give any kind of plot summary of this book, that does not make spoilers, so I won't try. All I will say, is that it involves the search for biologically-based immortality, and conspiracies to stop and/or control that research. I feel the book, while a page-turner, would have been better served if Bear had tamed down the rollercoaster a notch (as he does more recently in Quantico). He drives the plot through a long sequence of bizarre and deadly events, only some of which can be figured out later, until the main character becomes bewildered to a Kafka-esque degree.

QUEEN OF ANGELS - I had trouble getting started on this, but then it surprised me by becoming very very good. This book is now my best counter-example of the so-called 50-page test - that if a book doesn't engage you in 50 pages, it is not worth finishing. In this case, wrong.  There are four major story lines, each following a single character. 1) Mary Choy is an Asian-American transform (bioengineered modifications - in her case black skin), and a police detective assigned to bring in Emanuel Goldsmith, before the vigilante Selectors do. She has reason to believe he has fled to Hispaniola, a unified Dominican Republic and Haiti, which he believes to be the lost Guinee of his African heritage. 2) Martin Burke is a discredited mental health pioneer, who is made an offer he can't refuse, to enter the mind of Emanuel Goldsmith, by the rich father of one of his victims. 3) Richard Fettle is a failed poet, and acolyte of Emanual Goldsmith, who is driven to try to assimilate the violent and criminal actions of his mentor. 4) AXIS is an artificial intelligence approaching Alpha Centauri and discovering self-awareness.  Initally, at least, Bear uses a writing style that is unfamiliar. Words are strung together without sufficient punctuation. It reads almost exactly the way people really think - in sentence fragments. A special character is used to indicate that the text following is not spoken out loud. But this diminishes as the book progresses, and about half-way I found myself engaging first with the Mary Choy plot. Then the others followed.  A quick websearch has found a lot of uncertainty about what the point of this book is. With so much going on, I can see why. However, I believe that the most important theme is the nature of punishment - its purpose, its social motivations, and its reality. Several characters discuss this issue, from different perspectives throughout the book. It is insightful and thought provoking.   There is a sequel to this book titled Slant. It shares the character of Mary Choy, but plotwise, both books stand alone quite well. I read them in reverse order, but that doesn't matter.

SLANT - The first half of the novel explores a number of characters set in a world 50 years from now when a nano-enhanced lifestyle is commonplace. In fact, nano-based therapy has become necessary to maintain the mental health of most people, who must live in a faster-paced, higher-pressure, more densely populated world than our own. In this world, Bear gives us an insightful view into the sexuality of his characters. Not just sex acts, but the speculative psychology and sociology motivating them. The second half of the story brings the diverse story lines and characters together to a high-tension commando assault on Omphalos (catchy name, huh?). To explain that assault further would be a spoiler, but I can safely tell you that not everyone survives. The world Bear creates is innovative, and the plot is engaging - so I recommend this book.  I found out after reading it that this is a sequel to Queen of Angels, but that doesn't matter - it stands on its own.

DARWIN'S CHILDREN - This is the sequel to Greg Bear's award-winning Darwin's Radio. Mitch and Kate have gone underground with their New daughter Stella Nova, and are living a quiet existence is rural southeastern part of a US descending slowly into fascism. One day Stella can't stand the isolation any longer and goes out for a walk, only to be caught be a bounty hunter, and the chase is on. The story is set in several segments spread out through Stella's teen-age years, and explores the culture invented by the New children. This is still fascinating reading, but without the scientific drama of the original Darwin's Radio.

Hope this helps,

-Tom Hl.

Last Edited on: 8/28/08 10:29 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 8/29/2008 2:57 PM ET
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Now that you mention it, Tom, writing like Bear would be a good way to go.  As much as it's "hard sci-fi", there are several shades of other genres involved as well.  All of a sudden I'm thinking of putting down the Herbert and picking up my copy of Slant again.  Thanks for the tip that it's a sequel, by the way.  I had no idea even after reading it lol.

The reason why I'd like to write science fiction (aside from preferring reading it myself) is that it allows so much more room for anything you might want to write about.  Dune, for example, has its politics and religion and philosophy and sociology and ecology and humanity and culture...it's hard to fit that all in to other genres.  At the same time, I have no idea yet how to decide what to put into it.  I mean, Herbert began working on Dune after writing an article about sand dunes in Oregon drifting onto roadways.  It's like he created a sand dune himself, starting with that one single grain of dust.  Maybe it's that right there, that you can take the smallest idea and create a whole universe, the challenge of discovering what you'd like to put into the work.  I think I'll read Slant and finish Dune, read some PKD then hit up some of the pulp classics I have and meditate on what science fiction really means. 

Paul H. (PaulH) - ,
Date Posted: 8/30/2008 11:03 AM ET
Member Since: 6/27/2008
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Choosing what to put in your stories depends on how detailed you want to be.  For example, I love reading in-depth complicated stories set in fully realized worlds... Dune, Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time, Shannara, etc.  I also like the make-you-think type of stories as well, like Stranger in a Strange Land.  However, personally I have no interest in writing any of that.  I love to write adventure stories, be it SF, westerns, contemproary thrillers, whatever.  Light, fun, escapist reading is important too.  And to my mind just as valid a form of literature as the Moby Dick's of the world. 

Basically, my point is write what you love.  If your enthusiasm for the material shows through in your writing it will engage your readers.

Last Edited on: 8/30/08 11:05 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Matt C. (mattc) - ,
Date Posted: 8/30/2008 12:50 PM ET
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I agree with the "write what you love" comment.  I read something similar by Don Pendlton...the real Don Pendleton who wrote the first 80 Executioner books.  I can't say he was a great writing talent, but he said he wrote for himself, and if it sold, that was great, but he did it prmarily for himself.  I really took that to heart. 

That said, I think you can put thoughtful elements into escapist writing.  I can't believe it's that cut and dried a distinction.

Paul H. (PaulH) - ,
Date Posted: 8/31/2008 1:24 PM ET
Member Since: 6/27/2008
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That is true... I didn't mean to imply you can't have thought provoking elements in escapist lit.  I do interject competing philosophies and choosing-the-lesser-of-two-evils type scenarios into my stories.  The point I was trying to make is that you do not necessarily have to go into incredible detail as, for example, Robert Jordan did in The Wheel of Time with his various nation states and cultures.  I definitely enjoy reading such tales, but I would classify my interest in writing to be more akin to Lloyd Alexander or C. S. Lewis rather than the massive tomes of Jordan or Tolkien.

Date Posted: 9/6/2008 10:20 AM ET
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You should include biographies and in depth histories as  well.  Many times what happens to and are done by people in real life can be more interesting than any thing that can be dreamed up.  They could give you a story line or plot to base your story on.


Last Edited on: 9/8/08 10:27 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Subject: "Truth is stranger than fiction" and often more interesting as well!
Date Posted: 9/7/2008 5:34 PM ET
Member Since: 6/4/2007
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Fantastic suggestion Don.  I've got a lot of books on history and the like, plus I'm working getting more.  I'm a fan of antiquity in general.  Quite seperately from my desire to write I've acquired a number of history books and older books of general information.  I think we should be able to look back at the way things used to be, or the way things used to be done, almost out of a sense of nostalgia as human beings.  Knowing where we were as a species helps us understand how we got where we are, where we might go...it allows one to make connections with people in ways that are deeper than modern relevance.  Plus, I've always taken the whole "He who forgets history is doomed to repeat it" thing VERY seriously.  There's still plenty to be gotten, though.  For example, I don't have The Histories by Herodotus yet (and it's, like, the first history book) and I'm thinking about picking up T. E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom soon.  But, and here's another nod to Herbert's work, I've been aware of the importance of researching history, culture, religions and mythologies when attempting to create my own story.  I've also got some books on linquistics and semantics, psychology and philosophy...to be honest it's all terribly useful if one is determined to write a book of a certain scope and complexity.  Thanks for bringing it up, I can make gathering those types of books together a goal for the day since I've run out of sci-fi to pile lol.

Date Posted: 9/17/2008 5:35 PM ET
Member Since: 4/8/2006
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I got a lot out of The Idiot's Guide To Publishing Science Fiction. http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Idiots-Publishing-Science-Fiction/dp/0028639189/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1221687208&sr=8-1

The magazine Asimov's is also a great place to see what is being published soon and will expose you to new authors in the genre. Plus they take short fiction submissions. :)

Good luck. :)