I spent some time today and wrote down a list of the Sci-Fi novels that most influenced me, and then I separated it into three lists for three time periods in my life. Before I get to that, however, I want to call out something that isn’t Sci-Fi, but I have to mention it because it was such a recurring theme in my youth. Actually, it’s a character, featured in four novels and many short stories: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. I maintain that Holmes is the most significant character in English-language fiction. There simply isn’t another character that has been so beloved for so long, and featured in so many other stories, plays, movies, TV shows, as well as copied into other characters. Long before Star Trek fans mounted a letter-writing campaign to convince NBC to reverse cancellation after two seasons, fans of Holmes pestered Conan Doyle for eight years after he killed off his master detective in “The Final Problem,” and he finally succumbed to the pressure and revived him in The Hound of the Baskervilles. In addition to the many versions named Sherlock Holmes (including the excellent current TV shows Sherlock and Elementary), there have been many characters based on him, such as Dr. Gregory House in the eponymous TV series (did you know he lived in Apartment B at 221 Baker Street?). For a Sci-Fi connection, I once read a book called Sherlock Holmes in Space (a collection of mostly forgettable short stories), and I just found out that Neil Gaiman wrote a Sherlock Holmes short story, “A Study in Emerald,” which won a Hugo Award (haven’t read it yet, but need to look for it).
One of my fondest memories of reading Sherlock Holmes has to be the two-volume set The Annotated Sherlock Holmes. My mother was a big Sherlock Holmes fan, and she borrowed these two books from the library, and I absolutely devoured it. It contains all four novels and all the short stories, with original drawings and other references. The actual text only fills half of each page, since the rest is devoted to meticulous notes and absurdly trivial information related to it all (hence the “Annotated”). I can’t say I read all the annotations (it does get tiresome), but it was everything Conan Doyle wrote on Holmes, and I loved it. We had to renew it several times. A few years ago, shortly before my mother passed away, I found a copy on eBay and bought it.
Let’s get to the list. First up, here are the Sci-Fi novels that most influenced me in my youth. Most of these came from the same small-town library mentioned above.
- Larry Niven – Ringworld and the next two sequels
- Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle – The Mote in God’s Eye, Footfall
- Isaac Asimov – Foundation series and the Robot series, particularly the early short stories where he established his three Laws of Robotics
- Frederick Pohl – Gateway, The Space Merchants
- Clifford D. Simak – Way Station
- Robert A. Heinlein – Stranger in a Strange Land, Methuselah’s Children
- Arthur C. Clarke – Rendezvous With Rama
- Frank Herbert – Dune
- Ray Bradbury – The Martian Chronicles
- Jules Verne – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in 80 Days
- Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse Five
Now, here’s the list of the best books I read in my early adulthood:
- C. S. Lewis – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
- Timothy Zahn – Heir to the Empire
- Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and its sequels
- John Varley – Titan
- Philip K. Dick – anything he wrote, especially the short stories
- Jack McDevitt – Chindi
- Stephen Baxter – The Time Ships
And finally, the more recent works:
- Neal Stephenson – Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon
- Alastair Reynolds – Revelation Space series
- Vernor Vinge – A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky
- Charles Stross – Accelerando
- Lois McMaster Bujold – Vorkosigan Saga
So what do you think? Let me know in the comments if you have similar memories of any of these great works of fiction, or if you have others that you’d like to promote.