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Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Best Stand Alone Classic Science Fiction (Nominations Needed)

What is the best stand alone Classic Science Fiction Book (published before 1980)?

We've done best classic fantasy. Best modern fantasy. Best modern Science Fiction. Best science fiction AND fantasy that could have stood alone (but didn't). So now the only category left in this series is stand alone classic science fiction. (We'll start doing series and stuff soon.) As always, remember to take your recommendations to the comments on the blog if you want them counted (not as replies to the posts on FB or other social media.) And though the rules don't change much if you've done a lot of these before, please check them out if you're new or need a refresher.

I spent the weekend (and yesterday) in a final push of moving and cleaning, so it's a good day to start up our latest book recommendation conversation while I take a moment to catch up.

These days we've given up on those cutthroat polls (where the most recent movie adaptation with the slickest CGI usually ends up winning anyway) and instead we're just going to have a good chat about good books and all come away with some suggestions for our To Be Read™ pile. We'll still have the system of seconds (and "thirds" and "fourths"), but all that will determine is which goes to the top of the list when I post the results. You can go HERE to see what the results will look like when all is said and done. And I'll link out the original nomination post for folks who want to go see what people are actually saying about the book. Eventually these posts listing the results will be compiled in a massive "book recommendation" post.

Today we're doing stand alone classic science fiction. Those books that are not part of a trilogy, a series, or massive world building universe, but nonetheless are outstanding examples of the sci-fi genre. And since this would turn into a massive list if we did all science fiction ever, we're going to break it up into modern and classic. Today is classic—written before 1980.

The Rules

  1. Make two recommendations. Obviously, I can't stop anyone from making fifteen, but nothing beyond the first two will make it onto the master list.
  2. NO BOOK WITH A COPYRIGHT AFTER 1980 WILL BE ACCEPTED. We've do those in another conversation.
  3. TELL US ALL A LITTLE ABOUT WHY YOU LIKE THE BOOK (or short story) although obviously do so without spoilers! If you just drop a title name and it gets all the seconds, I'm still going to list it, of course, but the whole point of this is to have a "conversation" and gush a little about the books you think are great, exciting, well written, or unforgettable. 
  4. For each recommendation, let us know if you're nominating it more as a BEST book in the genre or an UNDERSUNG HERO in the genre. Basically "undersung hero" is for books you think are great, tragically overlooked, NEED to be read by everyone (like…yesterday), but are maybe not necessarily the besty bestest best. They'll all end up in the list I compile, but I'll put them in different places.
  5. As always, I leave the niggling over the definition of genres to your best judgement because I'd rather be inclusive. If you want to nominate Dragonflight as sci-fi (even though it's probably better placed as fantasy), you should show your work if you desire those sweet, sweet seconds (or thirds....or fourths) and there might be a discussion thread after your comment with a lot of people writing out the "Ahem……If I may…"
  6. Your book must NOT be part of a series or more than tangentially related to a fictional universe. If it makes a reference to another book like once or twice is clearly taking place in the world of another book without being a sequel, prequel, or a grand unified series, that's fine, but if it takes place in Discworld, that's not "stand alone." (Nothing wrong with those kinds of massive universes, but let's get them their own conversation.) 
  7. You get to mention two (2) books. That's it. Two. You can do one BEST and one UNDERSUNG HERO. Or you can do two BESTS. Or you can do two UNDERSUNG HEROES. But two is the total. If you nominate three or more, I will, with unimaginable cruelty, simply ignore the third and any subsequent books. I'm sorry that I'm a stickler on this, but it's just lil ol' me compiling this list by myself and it's a pain when people drop a spinosaurus list of every single book they can remember in the entire genre that they vaguely liked at all. However, you list more than two books and your third or later choice gets a second, I'll consider everything. (Even though that matters a lot less than it did when I was counting seconds to see which titles made the poll––see below.)
  8. Did I mention two?
  9. You may (and absolutely should) give a second shout out to AS MANY nominations of others as you wish. There is no more poll, so this will not be a cutthroat competition to see who makes it to the semifinals. It will simply dictate which titles I list first, and it may influence which books someone considers a good recommendation. ("This one got six seconds, and that one only got two, so I think I'll start with this one.")
  10. Put your nominations HERE. I will take nominations only as comments and only on this post. (No comments on FB posts or G+ will be considered nominations.) If you can't comment for some reason because of Blogger, send me an email (chris.brecheen@gmail.com) stating exactly that and what your nomination is, and I will personally put your comment up. I am not likely to see a comment on social media even if it says you were unable to leave a comment here. 
  11. You are nominating WRITTEN fiction, not their A/V portrayals. If you thought Disney's The Sword in the Stone was a great movie, but never really could get through White's The Once and Future King, please nominate something else. (I love film, but it's a different medium.) 
  12. Have a conversation, but check the typical internet assholery at the door. If someone likes something you think is terrible, it's okay to let them enjoy it. And if someone has one tight and polite bit of criticism about your recommendation ("I was not a fan of the X plot arc or the way that author writes women."), it's okay that they didn't care for it and there's no need to defend it like they have impugned you honor for seven generations.  I **WILL** delete shitty comments, and I absolutely know that's highly subjective, so better to err on the side of nice. 
  13. TWO!


  1. Best: _The Gods Themselves_ by Isaac Asimov (1972)

    "Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain." - Frederich Schiller

    How can this not be relevant to *waves at everything*? One of Asimov's few novels with aliens, with three examples of how to Fight the Power & Save the World. My favorite book of all time. My eldest child is named Isaac. I'm a fan, I'm sayin'.

    Undersung Hero: _The Long Tomorrow_ by Leigh Brackett (1955)

    I only learned of this book a couple of years ago. I may have been oblivious. Best post-apocalyptic novel I've read.

    Wait it out (1968) by Niven, is a wonderful space catastrophe in which the protagonist simultaneously both succeeds and fails to survive the predicament he is in.
    Cat's Cradle (1963) by Vonnegut, part social drama, part global apocalypse, all satire - can't beat it.
    '-All you zombies-' (1959) Heinlein, because omgwtf?!

  3. I nominate "The War of the Worlds," (the novelization of the serial). It was groundbreaking at the time, and is still impactful today. You can see this story's influence in a lot of modern sci fi.

  4. Very keen to second The Gods Themselves, if it had been written today, people would accuse it of being too on the nose

  5. UNDERSUNG HERO: (and also my favourite book ever) The Dispossessed (1974) by Ursula K Le Guin. The way it explores how humans could live in anarchic harmony and care deeply for each other, was inspiring. Literally changed my worldview a little, hope it does the same to you.

    BEST: Flowers For Algernon (1959) by Daniel Keyes. Such an amazing character study, written in a clever way, asking an array of big and small questions, while being quite compassionate and progressive for its time. Oh, also the story was a gut-punch right in the feels.

    1. I second Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes.

    2. I second (fourth?) The Dispossessed. A really great book that really got me thinking.

      And a second for Flowers For Algernon - one of the first books that I cried my way through the last chapter. Just amazing. And the first person narrative style tells so much about the character and the changes he undergoes was amazingly done.

  6. I'm going to jump on the "The Gods Themselves" bandwagon, because it was the first thing I thought of that fit the category and I was beside myself to see someone else suggest it.

    Also, "'Repent, Harlequin', Said the Ticktockman", for having the best title ever, and for the late, great Harlan Ellison, miserable delightful bastard that he was, perpetually kicking against the pricks and turning that instinct for Resistance into the indelible character of The Harlequin, and for "And so it goes. And so it goes. And so it goes. And so it goes goes goes goes goes tick tock tick tock tick tock and one day we no longer let time serve us, we serve time and we are slaves of the schedule, worshipers of the sun's passing, bound into a life predicated on restrictions because the system will not function if we don't keep the schedule tight.”

  7. Best: Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep? A post apocalyptic world wherein people are so excited to something alive, that when their neighbor's pet sheep gets ill, they pretend they don't know the van labeled "vet" is actually a robot repair shop... The search for life, the yearning to fix what we've fucked up...the whole thing just resonates with me.

    Overlooked: Woman on the Edge of Time, Marge Piercy. A woman is labeled insane and the doctors what to enroll her in a "brain fixing" aka mind control experiment, but she is actually slipping between the present and the future. It's a beautiful book, and not many people have read it.

    seconding, Niven, Vonegut, and LeGuin!

    1. Second Do Androids Dream... thanks for the Woman on the Edge of Time rec - have not read, sounds *perfect*

  8. I'm going to nominate The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin. The first sci-fi book I remember reading and still a pretty trippy story.

  9. [Got this one from A.Z., who was having trouble getting the comment to post on Blogger—so I'm cutting and pasting it here.]

    I want to nominate Solaris (1961) by Stanislaw Lem and Roadside Picnic (1971) by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky as undersung heroes that everyone should read.

    Solaris is about a station of scientists exploring a new planet that's covered in a vast ocean and the weird shit that starts happening.

    Roadside Picnic is about a man who sneaks into forbidden zones to steal alien artifacts that were left behind to sell on the black market. Once again, weird shit happens.

    Slavic Sci-fi is wonderful and often overlooked, I have so many more that I love but those two are my favorites.

  10. First nomination: The Metamorphosis by Kafka.
    Second nomination: Stranger in a Strange Land by Heinlein.

    The Metamorphosis was ahead of its time. The perspective its told in lends itself to your imagination.

    Stranger in a Strange Land was also ahead of its time as far as the movement of free thinking and free love.

  11. Kindred by Octavia Butler
    I love time travel and the book reads as relevant (or more so) in 2021 as it did in 1979.
    Let's call this an undersung hero because more people need to read this yesterday.

    20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
    A story almost 150 has no business being so good. The language and the lists of fish can be a little dense to get through at spots. That being said, I am in awe of the mind that created this story before Science Fiction was really recognized as 'a thing'. Verne was a visionary and any lover of science fiction is in debt to him for broadening the horizons of the imagination (even if the story takes place BELOW the horizon.)

    1. Second Kindred - and agree that it's at least as timely now as when it was written.

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    1. To Your Scattered Bodies Go! By Philip Jose Farmer.
      Every person in history on the same planet, all healthy. All the same age. You are there. I am there. The characters are real people that actually lived.

      The Stainless Steel Rat -- Harry Harrison (Unsung Hero). the greatest thief in history lives in a world where crime is (close to) impossible. That doesn't stop Jim DiGriz ... nope. He and his psychopathic girlfriend will just rob and steal, and rob and steal, and accidently save the world because no one else can.

      Both of these are eliminated for not being stand alone -- but they deserve recognition. ... You're welcome.

    2. second Stainless Steel Rat! Such a wonderful character (Harry Harrison), and always a fun read.

  13. A Clockwork Orange (1962) by Anthony Burgess is a masterpiece of writing. Disgusting, horrible, terrible. But the writing is sublime. We all know what this is about ... so no summary.

    Slaughter House Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969): a WWII solider, reliving seemingly random parts of his life while being a animal in a cage for Time Warping Alien's intergalactic zoo.

  14. If we're talking best classic Science Fiction book then I have to pick Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. (1818) It's one of the most well known Sci-Fi books of all time. There's so many adaptations it's hard to keep track of them all.

  15. Day of the Drones by A.M. Lightner. Wow. Great post-apocalyptic novel about life after the "first world" countries kill each other off, and African nations start rebuilding. Strong female lead. Nowadays it would be called YA, but it was just good SF back in my day. Lightner was a very underrated author.

    Also I'd like to pick The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov. A people with three genders who "grow up" by, well, never mind. That's a spoiler. Title from the quote "Against stupidity, the gods themselves, contend in vain."

  16. A second on Solaris-a great representation of Lem if you haven't read him.

    I'd like to nominate the under-sung The Man Who Fell to Earth, Walter Tevis. One of the best examples of "Literature" poaching sci-fi because it's well written.

  17. Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny. Hard sci-fi wrapped in a fantasy veneer stolen from religion. It's hard to find a book that spans so many centuries with dozens of characters and settings that hasn't been expanded into a larger series. Truly a 'tip of the iceberg' standalone novel.

    I'm hard pressed to think of a close second that doesn't have a series. There were so many good books in the New Wave. I guess, if I narrow it down with a more of a "science" side of things I'd go with Nova by Samuel Delany.

  18. Best: The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R Delany. Beautiful science fiction mythology, written in a lucid feverdream prose ny the best stylist in Science Fiction. The Orpheus myth mixed with Billy the Kid,Judas, Christ and Jean Harlow in a multi gendered world where mutants herd dinosaurs. Unique. Brilliant.

    Unsung Hero: Stanislaw Lem The Cyberiad. Cybernetic fairy tales of mad scientist creators wbo manipulate the fabric of the universe. Yes, you know Solaris. But this is better. More beautiful, funnier, more perfect. All of Lem is worth reading. But this is his best work.

  19. Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke - it was the first book I read (as a teen) that really challenged me to examine cultural biases.

  20. I second Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke.

  21. Frankenstein by Shelley is a classic.

    L’Autre monde ou les états et empires de la Lune by de Bergerac.

    Travels into several remote nations of the world by Lemuel Gulliver, by Jonathan Swift.

    Blazing World, by Margaret Cavendish is a solid bit of work well deserving mention.

    All of them published before 1980, all of them reshaping the genre for anything that came after them.

  22. Dune - the best ever sci fi in the greatest fictional universe. And geet big worms

    Frankenstein - not many books create a whole genre of literature

  23. I rarely post these, but I notice that Frank Herbert's Santaroga Barrier gets little recognition (because of Dune), but I'd like to nominate it as an undersung hero. If you look at it in his oeuvre chronologically, it becomes really clear that he's working out a lot of the issues he writes about in the Dune series, only this is a stand-alone book written about life in 1960s California - but it's Dune, all the same. A really compelling story that I often recommend to people who think Herbert only wrote in one universe, and, I think it shows a lot of the issues as he saw them applied to life here on earth. Oh - and it's a cool scifi story as well.