Tag Archives: house of suns

Top 10 Science Fiction Novels

I have found it really useful to skim through the various top ten and top hundred lists of best sci-fi novels in search for new reading so I thought I’d put up one of my own here. This list appears to me to be in constant flux, but at this moment, my best of the best looks something like this.

1. Alastair Reynolds: House of Suns

I don’t know what it is about this Reynolds piece that really hit it off with me, but for some reason this is the book that has in the recent years stuck with me the most. Maybe it is the fact that it was in some sense something completely new for me, and yet without going to overt depths or difficulties with weird vocabulary or concepts.

The star struck love story of Campion and Purslane touched me to the extend that I wound up making a Lego stop motion animation about it.

2. Frank Herbert: Dune

Frank Herbert’s seminal novel tops the top charts all around the internet, and with good reason. The book is a treasure trove not only of possible futures, but also of deep and inspiring philosophical thought about identity, time, thinking and various other themes.

Being an intuition researcher in my day job, I especially connected with the division between the intuitive Bene Gesserits and the rational mentats – and the fusion of the two in the genius Paul Muad’Dib. As a side note, it is interesting that such fusion seems to have happened with practically all the great thinkers we usually call geniuses like Leonardo or Edison.

3. Arthur C. Clarke: Rendezvous with Rama

It was a tight call whether I would include Rama or Childhood’s End here, what with both being fantastic novels. But there is something that’s so real and gripping about Rendezvous with Rama that it won the draw.

The story about the handful of astronomers who explore the alien spacecraft that has entered our Solar System is a great look at both space travel, alien intelligence and political intrigue. And, like most of Clarke’s other works, it’s a really great read.

4. Dan Simmons: Hyperion

It is an outrageous idea: setting Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in space. And yet the hyper-literate Simmons pulls it off. The story teems with literary references; Simmons certainly wants to let us know he’s read books. But none of this matters, since it all fits like a glove.

And it’s a damn good novel to boot. The backstory, which grew out to be a series of three more independent novels is enchanting and grasping. And the stories-within-stories express a great range of various scifi tropes. Normally when somebody shows off their talent this much, the result falls somehow flat. Not so with Hyperion, one of the best scifi books I’ve ever read (twice).

5. Alastair Reynolds: Revelation Space

Revelation Space was the breakthrough book by Reynolds, and with good reason. The book opens up what grew to be a long series of novels and short stories set in Reynolds’ idiosyncratic gothic scifi universe.

In this book, the scope is already reflecting what later grew to be Reynolds’ trademark. And the ending of the book with its quantum paradoxes has my brain still doing somersaults, which is actually quite fun.

6. Orson Scott Card: The Worthing Chronicle

I thought first whether I should include something from the Ender Saga here (the first one, probably), but then again, while they’re all great books (even the Shadow ones), there is something that doesn’t quite strike that last chord.

Whereas the Worthing Chronicle does. I’ve read the book set in an Asimovian universe several times, and just now started thinking I should read it again. More similar in tone to, say, Vernor Vinge or Asimov than typical Card, this is a truly enticing fantasy-meets-scifi tale. It is also supplemented with a number of great short stories wrapped up together with the novel in the book The Worthing Saga.

7. Vernor Vinge: A Fire Upon the Deep

When I first read this book as a kid, I understood maybe one third of it, and was still completely blown away. When I re-read it a couple of years ago, it felt conceptually much easier to grasp, but was still a great read.

Vinge explores themes like AI and swarm intelligence in an intriguing universe where the maximum speed for information dispersal and travel depends on the “zone” you’re located in the universe. The closer we are to the center, the dumber we are, in other words.

8. David Zindell: The Broken God

The story of the Neanderthal-cum-ace-pilot Danlo and the ice city Neverness is one of the more original pieces of scifi I have read. Even though the basic backdrop is typical space opera with space battles and political intrigue, Zindell’s epic spans vast proportions in both dramatic and conceptual scope.

It is also a part of a great trilogy plus a prequel Neverness, all definitely worth reading through. And the space travel trope is somewhat unique, what with the pilots being actually ace mathematicians solving complex equations quickly to navigate through space.

9. Iain M. Banks: The Algebraist

I was thinking that I should include one of Banks’ Culture novels in the list, because at the time I read them I was really blown away with practically every one of them. But the problem is that once I started thinking back to their impact, I could not really remember much of anything that took place in the books! It is weird: I have this meta-knowledge that they were great but no idea why.

The Algebraist is one of Banks’ rare science fiction novels that does not take place in the Culture Universe, and I think one of his best too. The story involves weird gas-giant dwelling creatures and an intricate Banksian plot. It has stayed with me for a long time.

10. Isaac Asimov: Caves of Steel

Perhaps one of the most important of Asimov’s robot novels, this introduces two of his most compelling characters, the detectives Elijah Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw. The latter is, of course, a robot, and Asimov succinctly explores the limits of what machine intelligence and robotics mean when the lines become blurred.

In the novel Asimov showed that you can use science fiction as the backdrop for another kind of genre novel, in this case the detective story.

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Launchland: Music for the Science Fiction Imagination

This album is about books. Books and movies, really, but mostly about books. Books are a world I live in, and out of all the worlds of books, the world of science fiction has stood paragon for me ever since I was twelve years old or so.

I must confess: I have not written the songs to the books they refer to. Rather, I have sought in the endless worlds hidden in my bookshelf for those moods and emotions that best fit the music in my mind. So it’s not like these songs were created as soundtracks for these books. But rather, they have come to be out of the same endless depths of imagination as the books and stories they are named after.

One song reminds me of the oceanic vistas in Léo’s amazing graphic novel, and is dubbed after it: Aldebaran. Another one was written when I was starting to read Hannu Rajaniemi’s outstanding Quantum Thief. It always propels my mind to the plaza in Mars where time beggars try desperately to extend their lives for one more moment of ordinary life. (Insofar as life on a futuristic transhumanist Mars can be called ordinary to begin with.)

Perhaps most significantly for this particular album, two of the songs are linked intricately to two novels by Alastair Reynolds. House of Suns may simply be the best science fiction novel I have ever read. Its outrageous scale and courage left me dumbstruck turning page after page, and the story still has not left me, some two years after reading it. The bizarre galaxy-spanning love story of Campion and Purslane is in many ways completely unique – quite a feat for a fictitious book in the 21st century. The second song, the album finale “Approaching Delta Pavonis,” links to a progression of events in Reynolds’ debut, Revelation Space. When the lighthugger Nostalgia for Infinity approaches the star Delta Pavonis, things are only beginning to happen. And a beginning, I believe, is as good a place to end as any.

At the end of the day, this music is about imagination. The worlds where my mind has wandered have left their mark, and that mark is stamped on these songs. I hope that these songs go some way to propel you too to new worlds beyond anyone else’s imagination – your own private worlds, with a shared genesis in these stories.

I hope this album gives you the odd chance to launch at the stars – and land at worlds never before seen by anybody else.

You can buy the album at iTunes or Amazon. You can also download it free of charge here.