Sunday, November 11, 2012

My Favorite Science Fiction Books

1. Hyperion, by Dan Simmons. 

A good friend of mine recommended this book to me when I was in college, and I was immediately hooked.  I eventually read the entire series, which was one of the most powerful, engaging series that I've ever read.  The first book, Hyperion, is like a science-fiction version of the Canterbury Tales. An unusual group of seven pilgrims gather aboard a tree-ship (a gigantic tree that also functions as a spaceship) to try to avert a terrible galactic war.  They don't know why they have been chosen for this mission, to travel to a planet called Hyperion and confront a mysterious creature called the Shrike. On their journey, they decide to tell each other their stories, so they can discover their connections and learn why they have been chosen. Each story is beautifully written, and I found myself fascinated by all the characters.

2. The Dispossessed, by Ursula Le Guin

I loved Ursula Le Guin ever since I first read the Earthsea books in middle school.  But while the Earthsea series is more fantasy, The Dispossessed is a science-fiction tale about a realistic anarchist society.  Anarres is a moon of the main planet, Urras.  It has few resources and is a difficult place for people to live. Nonetheless, it has been settled by the followers of an Anarchist philosopher named Odo, and they have developed a society based around complete equality, where people are valued based on what they can do, not what they own.  Yet Anarres is not without its faults.  The main character, Shevek, soon realizes that Anarres's revolution is stagnating, and he finds intense resistance to his new ideas in physics.  He vows to travel to Urras in order to spread his ideas and learn about the society his people left.  The powerful story of Shevek's journey and his eventual return to Anarres raises profound philosophical and moral questions--how much are we willing to sacrifice for a genuinely free and equal society?

3. Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood 

I read Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale in high school, and have loved her work ever since.  Oryx and Crake might be her best book yet.  Set sometime in the future, when the upper class lives in elite gated communities fiercely controlled by corporations, and the masses live in desperately poor slums, the technologies that Atwood depicts in her pre-Apocalyptic fable are already in development.  The story revolves around the complicated rivalry between two disillusioned young men, and their relationship with the elusive and mysterious woman they call Oryx.  Atwood is a master of ambiguity, hinting at the deep motivations that might possibly drive Crake to completely destroy the world as they know it.  But both he and Oryx keep their secrets deep, and Snowman's questions remain unanswered. Did Crake want to destroy the world so that a new one could be born, like Shiva? Or was he punishing the world for its cruelty, like the angry Old Testament God? Painfully alone, Snowman searches his past for answers.

4. Rendezvous with Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke  

This book is one of the first hard sci-fi books I ever read, and I still think it's one of the best.  Rama is a mysterious spaceship, seemingly abandoned by its makers, which is heading towards Earth's orbit.  A team of scientists lands on the ship to investigate it.  As they explore the strange craft, it becomes clear that the Ramans' technology is so advanced, that the scientists can barely comprehend it. The whole story is brimming with the mystery, awe, and fascination that a reader finds in only the best sci-fi.  Some critics have noted that Clarke's characters are simply drawn, notable more for their professionalism and scientific specialties than their personalities.  However, I think the lack of personal conflicts lets the focus of the story stay on the ship and the scientific puzzles that it contains.

5. Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card 

I debated whether to include any Orson Scott Card on this list.  It truly bothers me that this author who books I admire and enjoy is so viciously homophobic. I have decided that however terrible I find Card's personal beliefs and politics, I can still appreciate his books for their deep compassion and beauty. In Speaker for the Dead, we see Ender Wiggan become a man, working quietly to encourage compassion and honesty throughout the universe, and hoping to find a home for the last hive queen.  When he finally lands on Lusitania, he faces his greatest challenge yet: he must ensure peace between humanity and a newly discovered species, Pequeninos, and help Novinha's damaged family heal their rifts. Finally, Ender has a chance to redeem himself.

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