Sorry this post is so delayed. In my infinite good luck I managed to just about break my ankle this week, and have been laying in bed and hopped up on painkillers. Sigh. Well, better late than never, no? And so I present: SoldierHawk’s favorite science-fiction books! (These are in no particular order; just all ones I love.) There may be some spoilers in the discussion ahead, but I’ll try to steer clear of major ones.
Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
This, for my money, may be the best sci-fi book ever written. The hero may only be six years old (at the start of the book anyway), but he’s still one of the greatest tactical minds, and baddest-ass soldiers, you will ever meet. His struggles, failures and triumphs in Battle School are inspiring, brilliant and heartbreaking all at the same time, and the final reveal…oh, that final reveal.
At certain points in the book, you really do forget how young Ender (and all of his friends) are. I’m pretty sure this is intentional, because anytime you have a long stretch where you get caught up in the action of The Game, or Battle School political intrigue and start picturing these soldiers as adults, Card always comes back a page or two later with a slap-in-the-face reminder of the childrens’ true ages, made all the more gut wrenching by the memory of the military prowess the children posses, that the military is taking advantage of and using up like any other resource.
Although not nearly as exciting as the high-octane action taking place in Ender’s Battle School, the interstitial chapters dealing with Ender’s older brother Peter and sister Valentine, and their slow takeover of the entire world’s political system, is great fun to watch as well, and provides a nice breather from the violence and danger Ender faces on a daily basis.
This book also has two direct sequels: Speaker For the Dead, and Xenocide. While they are also brilliant, they are very, very different from the first book–so much so that I really didn’t enjoy them the first time I read them. The more you focus on getting to know the *characters* of Ender’s Game, rather than simply enjoying the setting, though, the more you will follow and enjoy its sequels. And for those who just can’t get into them, there is also the “parallel sequel” Ender’s Shadow, which re-tells the story of the first novel from the perspective of Ender’s friend Bean. It’s great fun if you’ve read the first book–plenty of nods to major events, as well as some fun explanations of some unsolved mysteries as well. Additionally, its *very* interesting to watch Ender from ‘outside’ himself, and see the other childrens’ perspectives on him. And of course, its great fun to learn more about Bean himself, his backstory, and what happens in Battle School after Ender leaves. Just an exceptional series from beginning to end.
Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein
From what I understand from reading about Heinlein, this was supposed to be an anti-war novel. And I can see that–but regardless of his intention, it was this book, more than almost anything else, that made me want to join the Army as a kid. It’s just a brilliant story from beginning to end, told from the perspective of a space marine–the original space marine, I might add, on whom most others are based–who, while he does not love war, nevertheless loves soldiering, loves his job, and is very good at what he does.
As well as being a fantastic military story, though, this book is (it goes without saying, since we’re talking about Heinlein) a fabulous work of science fiction as well. What sets this apart from most other sci-fi stories is the brilliant melding of the old and familiar with the imagined and exotic. The tough drill sergeants, basic training, bonding of soldiers, the hectic nature of battle…all these tropes are very well known to us, both from memoirs of soldiers, and of course from more pop-culture oriented sources–movies like Full Metal Jacket and Platoon. But melded perfectly with these well-known ideas are detailed descriptions of powered infantry armor, battles with giant, intelligent insects, faster than light travel, and parachute jumps from space. Tech nerds will love the detailed descriptions of ships and equipment, action fans will enjoy the excellent battle sequences, military buffs will jump on the discussions of tactics, training and battle organization. And if you’re like me, and you’re a fan of all three…that adds up to one of the greatest and most re-readable books of all time.
1984, by George Orwell
This one is an absolute classic, and not much can be said about it that hasn’t already been written. Still, I like it so much it would be completely remiss of me not to include it here. As well as being the first truly adult novel I can remember reading (and boy was I shocked–I initially thought it was a history book about the actual year 1984!) it is, quite simply, the finest (and most prescient) dystopian story ever told. And most chilling…O’Brien’s famous line, “if you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping down on a human face…forever,” has stuck with me from that first reading.
Obviously, I’m not the only one who feels this way. The story of Oceania, Big Brother, and a small, doomed rebel named Winston Smith has endured for almost half a century now, and continues to be a cultural reference and touchstone. Huxley might have accurately predicted a great deal of modern technology in Brave New World, but to this day no one has captured the human capacity for cruelty–or heroism and resistance–better than Orwell. The novel is both a scathing commentary on what he observed while in 1940s Soviet Russia, and a warning about what any political system could become if its citizens let down their guard.
The Giver by Lowis Lowry
I know what you’re thinking. “This is a kid’s book!” And it is, sort of; in terms of writing level and vocabulary, I’d call it roughly on par with the first couple Harry Potter books–not so high that its inaccessible to, say middle schoolers, but not so low that it becomes annoying or patronizing to older kids (and even adults.) And, far more important than the reading level, are the ideas and creativity packed into these 200-odd pages. If you’ve already read the story you already know what I’m talking about, but if you haven’t, I don’t want to spoil any of the surprise by even discussing the premise with you. This is a story that its best to come to as blind as possible. Suffice to say its one of those stories in which a perfect society is not quite as perfect as it seems on the surface. Might want to re-read The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas before you read this one…
Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut
Sorry for the lousy picture. Unlike the other stories on this list, Harrison Bergeron is a (quite) short story, and thus doesn’t have a cover. This photo of the poster of a (not incredibly wonderful) movie adaptation was the best I could do.
This is a very unique story, about another “Utopian” society that doesn’t even bother to hide its veneer of rather ugly elements. Vonnegut is at his best here, both in the characterizations, imagination and the description–oh lordy the description. If you can read the last few paragraphs without at least thinking about a sniffle or two, its time to recalibrate your heartstrings. But, as LeVar Burton observed, you don’t have to take my word for it.
That concludes this list of my personal favorite sci-fi books. I hope you enjoyed it, and I apologize again for the lateness. I’m thinking about doing another list later on–favorite fantasy books, maybe sci-fi movies? If you have any thoughts or preferences, feel free to chime in in the comments!