SFWRITER.COM > Nonfiction > Sawyer's Picks
Recommended Science Fiction
by Robert J. Sawyer
First published in the May 1998 issue of
Quill & Quire, Canada's publishing trade journal
Copyright © 1998
by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved
Everybody has an opinion about science fiction and often
the most vocal opinions are from those who've never read any.
Well, here are some titles I as a full-time SF writer, a
life-long SF reader, and a former employee of
Bakka, Toronto's SF
specialty store would not hesitate to recommend for any
store's SF section.
First up is Gateway (Del Rey, 1977) by Frederik Pohl. Now
twenty-one years old but still in print, this book, told largely
as psychoanalytic sessions between a man and his computer
therapist, is, in my opinion, the finest SF novel ever written.
It's infinitely more human than anything ever penned by
Arthur C. Clarke or
Isaac Asimov, but just as mind-expanding.
Another spectacular, but quite different, novel is Shadow of
Ashland (Forge, 1996) by Toronto's
Terence M. Green.
This quiet little time-travel story is what Carol Shields might have
written had she been an SF writer it's as much a family memoir
as it is a fantastic voyage.
When I was young, there was a subgenre known as "SF
juveniles." All the masters Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke,
and especially Robert A. Heinlein wrote such books, aimed at
bright teenagers. These days, there's very little SF for that
age group, except for Star Trek and Star Wars
tie-ins, but Ender's Game (Tor, 1985) by Orson Scott Card,
winner of both the Hugo Award (SF's international people's choice
award) and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's
Nebula Award (the "academy award" of SF),
is the perfect book to give to someone you're trying to wean off of
movies and TV and get into real reading.
Jack McDevitt's Ancient Shores (HarperPrism, 1996), a
nominee for the Nebula Award, is my favorite SF novel of the
last couple of years. If you think the word "charming" can't be
applied to science fiction, think again. This tale of an alien
sail boat found buried on Native American land in North Dakota is
enthralling from first page to last.
The hardest row for any writer to hoe is that of first
novelist. The very best first SF novel I've read in the last
decade is Expendable (Avon, 1997) by James Alan Gardner of
Kitchener, Ontario. Think of it as The Hitchhiker's Guide to
the Galaxy meets Star Trek, a book that at once is
both very funny and a real thought-provoker, all told in lyrical,
Short fiction has always been the real proving ground for
SF the place where new authors and new stylistic techniques
first appear. Every bookstore should carry the two "Year's Best"
collections the field produces: Gardner Dozois's massive trade
paperback Year's Best Science Fiction (St. Martin's
Press), now in its fifteenth year, and David G. Hartwell's
mass-market original Year's Best SF (HarperPrism), now in
its third year. The Dozois tends toward the literarily
experimental; the Hartwell toward traditional SF storytelling.
Speaking of short fiction, the collection
This is the Year Zero (Pottersfield, 1998) by
Andrew Weiner of Toronto has
just been published. Weiner is Canada's most-accomplished SF
short-story writer, and this long-overdue second helping of his
soft, psychological tales (the first,
[Tesseract Books, 1989], is also still in print) is the perfect
volume to give to adults who have never tried SF before and think
it's nothing but spaceships and aliens.
Finally, let's not forget Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's
Tale (McClelland and Stewart, 1985). Booksellers, do the SF
world a favour: Take a few copies of this feminist dystopia out
of the CanLit section and shelve it with the science fiction
where it belongs. Not only was it a finalist for the Nebula
Award, but it won the Arthur C. Clarke Award Britain's top
prize in SF for best science fiction novel of the year.
Robert J. Sawyer's novel
Frameshift (Tor) is a current
finalist for the Hugo Award; his
The Terminal Experiment
(HarperPrism) won the
Nebula Award for Best Novel of 1995. His
Factoring Humanity, will be published by Tor
More Good Reading
SF for people who have never read SF before
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