#1 – The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (1950)
Back in university, I would take the Greyhound bus to get home for the odd weekend. I took the bus a lot. It was about a 5 hour trip, but it gave me time to actually read books that I enjoy, instead of just physics textbooks. (Not that I don’t love physics :)
Late one Friday night, I boarded the bus and opened up a musty old paperback I had picked up from the used book store. It was called The Martian Chronicles.
I read the entire thing in one sitting.
I had never done that with a book before! Cover to cover, non-stop, I read that book. It kept me enthralled that entire ride home.
The book is a collection of short stories, loosely woven together, detailing the human colonization of Mars. It follows the first humans to land on Mars, their encounter with the indigenous species, and from there it just keeps getting better.
The style of the novel being a collection of short stories means the book never gets stale. There is always a new character or a new problem. I read it about once a year, and still usually read the entire thing in single sitting.
So that’s it! My Top 10 Science Fiction/Fantasy novels. The Martian Chronicles takes the top spot because it continues to be entertaining after so many reads.
What did you guys think of the list? Was I way off base? What did I miss? I’d love to hear your opinions!
“We Earth Men have a talent for ruining big, beautiful things. The only reason we didn’t set up hot-dog stands in the midst of the Egyptian temple of Karnak is because it was out of the way and served no large commercial purpose.”
– Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles
#2 – Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (1966)
This is the only book I’ve ever read that has actually made me cry.
Yup, this 200 pound dude has actually starting shedding tears while sitting and reading a book. This book.
Algernon is a laboratory mouse which has undergone a procedure to increase its intelligence. When the procedure works, the scientists decide to try the procedure on a mentally challenged person named Charlie.
The book is written in the first-person from Charlie’s perspective. Charlie was asked to write progress reports before and after the experiment, and this creates a very unique reading experience.
The first few reports are before the procedure. Charlie has poor grammar, spelling mistakes and finds it difficult to write very much. But you gain a sense of connection with Charlie, especially when he discusses how he is treated by his family and co-workers.
As the procedure begins to take effect, Charlie’s writing becomes more lucid and he actually starts to do his own scientific research. He falls in love. Basically, he begins to live a normal life.
Then, Algernon begins to deteriorate, and Charlie wonders if the same will happen to him.
Despite being published 45 years ago, the themes of ethical scientific research and treatment of the disabled are still very much relevant.
It’s an incredible book that shared the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1966.
“all my life I wantid to be smart and not dumb and my mom always tolld me to try and lern just like Miss Kinnian tells me but its very hard to be smart and even when I lern something in Miss Kinnians class at the school I ferget alot.”
– Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon
#3 – The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb (1995 – 1997)
Robin Hobb’s writing style has a lot of similarities with George RR Martin. She makes her audience identify with the main character, and then she makes that character suffer.
She also creates villains so evil that I get physically angry when I read her books. I get invested in the character’s struggle and I cannot put the book down.
The Farseer Trilogy follows the story of FitzChivalry Farseer; the bastard child of a murdered prince who has to grow up in the castle where, were he conceived legitimately, he would have one day ruled.
Instead, he works as a stable-hand until the King decides he could be trained in a more useful purpose: an assassin.
While it is set in a fantasy world, there is only a limited amount of magic. The two types are called ‘the skill’, which is the ability to speak to others minds and influence their thoughts. The second is called ‘the wit’, a magic which allows those with the talent for it to speak to animals. This magic is considered ‘unclean’ and its use is forbidden.
Of course, poor Fitz has both the skill and the wit. Craziness.
Fitz manages to befriend the King’s court jester, known only as ‘the Fool’. The Fool however, is more than what he seems.
The second and third books expand the story into an all-out struggle for Fitz and the Fool the save not only the Kingdom, but the entire world.
Although the story is considered ‘epic’, it is the characters that truly drive this story. It is also interesting to read a story written by a woman, but told in the first-person perspective of a male character.
This is definitely a trilogy to check out if you have any interest at all in fantasy novels.
“The fight isn’t over until you win it, Fitz. That’s all you have to remember. No matter what the other man says.”
– Robin Hobb, The Farseer Trilogy
#4 – Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore (2002)
It would seem that I have a soft spot for comedic-fantasy novels. Comedy can be very difficult to write and I guess I just appreciate authors who can do it well.
Christopher Moore certainly falls into that category. Most of his books are good, but this one truly blew me away.
The book follows Jesus’ life from the vantage point of his vulgar, well-meaning but not too bright buddy Biff. The book takes the point of view that Jesus was not always the well-spoken leader that he is depicted as in the Bible. He had to hone is craft, practice his healing and work on his vocabulary.
The books also follows Jesus through the ages of 12-30; years that are markedly absent from the Bible. Where did he go? What was he doing? Moore follows these misadventures with heart and hilarity.
To my surprise, the book was not as blasphemous as I thought it would be. I’m not all that religious, but I was a bit worried that the book would cause some backlash in the religious community. But Moore does a great job of making Jesus looks like a real human, but keeping the book humourous; mainly by making Biff the one who does all the blasphemous stuff. He has quite an affinity for prostitutes.
Mary Magdalene is also quite prominent in the novel. She, of course, is not a prostitute, but she grew up with Jesus and Biff. Poor Jesus truly shows how human he is in his relationship with Mary Magdalene, as he knows he cannot marry her, but still cares very much for her.
Even if you are not religious at all, you will really enjoy this book. I’d call it a Bro-mance set 2000 years ago, and it is awesome.
“Nobody’s perfect. Well, there was this one guy, but we killed him….”
– Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal
#5 – Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (1992)
Another novel by Connie Willis which follows time travelling historians. This time, a history student is sent back to the 14th century, further back in time than any history student before her.
She wishes to go back to the 1320, but she ‘accidentally’ arrives in the year 1348; the time of the Black Death epidemic in England.
The story then switches back and forth between the 14 century and the 21st century, where a history professor desperately tries to bring his lost student home. However, another wrench is thrown in the machinery when a flu epidemic breaks out in the 21st century as well.
Is it possible the Black Death came forward in time?
Despite the dark overtones of being in the worst flu epidemic in history, Willis manages to make this more of a dark-comedy than a straight up thriller.
#6 – To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis (1997)
Connie Willis has become one of my favourite authors. Most of her books take place in the same universe, in which University history professors have access to time-travel technology to help them study the past.
‘To Say Nothing of the Dog’ is a comic science fiction story following the (mis)adventures of Ned Henry and Verity Kindle, two folks from the year 2057 who have been sent back to pre-World War II England.
Their objective is to find the ‘Bishop’s Bird Stump’, a piece of Victorian…something, that is necessary for a wealthy American woman to complete the restoration of the Coventry Cathedral, which was destroyed by German bombings during the war.
While the main story sounds a tad dry, Willis’ hilarious writing style, lovable characters and possible time paradoxes make this a real page turner; something difficult to do for a comedy novel.
“Cats, as you know, are quite impervious to threats”
– Connie Willis, To Say Nothing of the Dog
#7 – The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester (1956)
Often described as ‘The Count of Monte Cristo‘ in space, this is a hum-dinger of a novel.
It follows the adventures of Gully Foyle, the lone survivor aboard a destroyed merchant spaceship called the Nomad. He waits in darkness for 6 months for a rescue.
When he spots another spaceship passing by, the Vorga, he fires some rescue flares and thinks he will finally be rescued.
The Vorga leaves him behind.
From that moment on, his only mission is revenge on the Captain of the Vorga. His quest takes him through a prison escape, facial reconstruction, and a slew of other craziness that I won’t spoil for you.
All this takes place in a world in which people can instantly transport themselves, or ‘jaunte’, from one place to another.
Seriously, how can this book not be good? I’ve read it many times and it is thrilling every single time.
Yes, no matter how we defend ourselves against the outside we’re always licked by something from the inside. There’s no defense against betrayal, and we all betray ourselves.
– Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination