introduction

 

 

 

I had wanted to do this for a long time!

 

I had been reading science fiction since 1948 and had often been asked to give new readers a list of recommendations. Since there was and is a lot of real trash in science fiction (as in any other writing, I suppose -- but it does seem worse in science fiction) this seemed a reasonable thing to do, and I had responded informally each time by writing out a short list from memory. Both the readers and the good science fiction literature deserved better. So I had often promised that "some day" I would do the job right and then send it out to all those who had the earlier, hand-written versions. In January 1985 I finally did it. Subsequent editions were sent out in March 1986 and July 1987. At that point the project atrophied and lay dormant for 18 years. It was revived here as a part of establishing the Web site for weilhome.com.  While I have continued to read science fiction in the years since 1987, I have not read as much as I had before.  So there is a lot of stuff, mostly recent, that I have not read.  I am trying to make up for lost time...

 

The essay is now focused entirely on either

award-winning novels or

novels that I particularly liked, whether or not they have won awards.

Also, in adapting this essay to the Web, I have cleaned it up and used links to other pages to provide some of the information that had been included before.  So this is really a very different document from the 1987 and earlier versions despite the use of quite a bit of text from the earlier versions.

 

A number of things need to be said at the start:

  1. I like stories I can "get in to". Though I used to read short stories, I find that I donít really want to. Thus, (almost) all that follows is about full-length novels. There are also many good novellas, novelettes and short stories, but they are not included here, since I read very few of them.
     

  2. This is, of course, a very personal list. My likes and dislikes may not necessarily be yours. I like novels that are conceptually strong, well developed and properly tidied up at the end. (Perhaps the largest error committed by many science fiction and fantasy writers is that they conceive of a good situation, develop it, but then have no way to end it or adequately explain what has been going on.) And, especially, I like ideas, images or situations that are strong enough or stunning enough to stay with me long after I put the book down.
     

  3. You will find quite a few multi-novel series in science fiction. We really need to distinguish several types of these:

    A. The author never intended to write more than one novel, but the great success it had has caused him or her to write one or more sequels or prequels. Often these others are forgettable. The trouble seems to be that the author has really used up all the good conceptual material on the first pass, and the others are really re-visitations rather than any real expansion of the story.

    B. The author really had one BIG story in mind, but couldn't fit it all between two covers. (Example: the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.) With this kind, if any of it is really worth while, it is probably all worth while. Obviously, do not read a type-B series out of order.

     

    C. The author really had one BIG story in mind, but managed to make several free-standing books out of it, which still hold together as a whole when viewed in total. This is the hardest to do. Often this kind is especially worth while because of the preplanning that the author had to do.

  4. The line between science fiction and fantasy used to be clear, but is getting very blurred these days. There are some novels that really could be categorized both ways. I have nothing against really well done fantasy, but am not as familiar with as much of it, and my explorations of fantasy have yielded very few that I really liked. Comments are included in the listing below to note when the fantasy content of a recommendation is high enough that the reader needs to be warned. A very few, out-and-out fantasy novels are also included when I liked them well enough.  I have not tried to be complete in covering the fantasy area or its award winners.
     

  5. There are several series of awards given to science fiction and fantasy novels. I don't know what took me so long to decide to look up the lists of these awards as a guide to good reading.  But I finally did so for the first edition of this list. Where one of my favorites is an award winner, it is so noted.  And, yes, there are a award winners that I have read that I didn't like well enough to include among my favorites; they too are included, in parentheses, with a suitable explanation.
     

  6. There are several sets of awards:

  1. Hugo Awards are given annually for the best science fiction works of various lengths and to individuals for contributions to science fiction writing, art and publishing. The winners are determined by a vote of the people who attend the Science Fiction Convention. The award, informally named after Hugo Gernsback, an early science fiction publisher, is a rocket ship-shaped trophy, whose official name is the Science Fiction Achievement Award. Only the awards for novels are included here.

    For a complete chronological list of the Hugo Award novels, click here.
     

  2. The Nebula Awards, which consist of Lucite trophies designed by artist Judy Blish, are given annually for outstanding science fiction writing of various lengths. The membership of the Science Fiction Writers of America nominates and votes on the winners, who themselves need not be members of the organization. Again, only the novels are included here.

    For a complete chronological list of the Nebula Award novels, click here.
     

  3. World Fantasy Convention Awards appear to be the fantasy writerís answer to the Hugo Awards in science fiction. Where appropriate, some of these are also included, but I have not attempted to include the complete list.

    For more on the World Fantasy Awards, click here.

  1. The list is organized alphabetically, by author. This is because this is the way you will find the books arranged on the shelves of your bookstore, and it makes it easier to hunt for them.  To make access easier on the Web, I have broken the list into segments, again alphabetically.
     

  2. In almost all cases, the books listed for an author represent a small part of his or her total output. Either I have not read the others or did not feel they merited inclusion on the list. In a few cases, I have included some comments on the missing material.
     

  3. Many of these books are out of print at any one time or may have to be ordered or found through used book dealers.  The good ones keep coming back to the shelves as further editions or printings occur. Keep trying. Finding good science fiction is a continuing hunt.
     

  4. I have put asterisks (***) beside the titles of a very few of my personal favorites and have also included these as a "short list" on a separate page.