the Little Red Reviewer

The well read SF/F fan

Posted on: June 25, 2011

Which I’m not.

Well, not yet, at any rate*.

If you’ve been following the big guys on Twitter, you’ve probably seen this link to NPR’s article about their work-in-progress “100 best SF/F titles ever written list”.  Nominations are closed, but that is just the first in this series of articles.  Recently,  Patrick Rothfuss hopped on the bandwagon as well of discussing SF/F books that a fan new to the genre should seek out. I highly suggest checking out the NPR article and Rothfuss’s blog, but beware, you’ll be kissing your afternoon goodbye, as there is pages upon glorious pages of comments to read.

Now it’s our turn.  What books would you recommend to someone who is just getting into scifi, fantasy, epic fantasy, sci-fantasy, etc? What do you consider “must reads” for any SF/F who wants to become more well read in the genre?

here is a small handful of my most recommended SF/F for new fans. These are at/near the top of my list for a very simple reason:  they made me want to read more SF/F.  Because of these books, I fell in love with the genre over and over and over again.

Last Call, by Tim Powers

The Scar, by China Mieville

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein

Dune, by Frank Herbert

Sideshow, by Sheri S Tepper

Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Yes, I know, the comments this post may generate is going to make my “books I want to read” list explode, again.  The timing is not good for that. But I like torturing myself. Even better,  my favorite part of the blogosphere is the opportunity to share information just like this, and it’s always fun to have those “you love Tim Powers?  I love Tim Powers too!!!”  or the “You love Dune but don’t care for the prequels? omg, me too!” conversations.

*btw, I consider myself a decently well read SF/F fan. There are a handful of favorite authors whose discographies I’ve read extensively. There is a much, much larger list of authors I’ve never read, and in some cases, never heard of.

28 Responses to "The well read SF/F fan"

There are so many series I could recommend, but just for myself: Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay. It’s a beautiful novel, sacrifices have to be made, and we’re sympathising with both sides in the conflict – it’s a tragedy done -really- well.


I’ve heard anything by Isaac Asimov will definitely ground you in the hard science fiction. I’m new to the fantasy/science fiction genres (technically speaking. I’m a fantasy writer and have always read fantasy books but never managed to read a bunch of “classics”). At the moment I’m reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. That’s the book that inspired Bladerunner (with a semi-young Harrison Ford), and I would definitely recommend reading that.

There are so many more, but I’ll stop before I bite off more than I can chew with this list, haha.


One thing I’ve noticed, with so many new titles hitting the bookshops, new-comers to sf rarely seem have the time to read what were previously must-reads. Sad state of affairs.
OK. Suggestions:
Neuromancer – William Gibson
A Canticle for Leibowitz – Walter M. Miller
The Chrysalids – John Wyndham
The Forever War – Joe Haldeman
The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula LeGuin
Doomsday Book – Connie Willis.

Got lots more if you need them.


I’m a perfect example of that. Sure, I’ve been a “fan” of SF/F since high school, but all I had to start with were the few titles my parents owned, and then whatever looked “interesting” at the library or bookstore, which was mostly stuff written after my defense, I have read Canticle for Leibowitz, Neuromancer, and one or two LeGuin titles. see my other post below for more embarrassment. 😉


I always suggest to new sf/f readers to choose their books by concept more than author. I really started to get into sf/f based on love for Post Apocalyptic books. Before that I mostly read thrillers and horror. When reading PA novels, I discovered new authors, and slowly expended into other subgenre’s of sf/f. Some must reads/listens, imo.

Post Apocalyptic:
Earth Abides
Alas, Babylon
The Day of the Triffids

Other Science Fiction:
John Ringo’s Legacy of the Aldenata series (Military Sci/fi)
The Stainless Steel Rat series by Harry Harrison
David Weber’s Honor Harrington series (Space Opera/ Military Scifi)
SM Stirling’s Nantucket and Emberverse series (Alt History/PA)
Stephen Boyett’s Ariel and Elergy Beach (PA with unicorns)
Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series (military Scifi)
The Dresden Files Jim Butcher(Urban Fantasy)
A Game of Thrones George RR Martin (Epic Fantasy)
The Jerusalem Man series by David Gemmell

Some more obscure titles:
Through Darkest America by Neil Barrett Jr.
Some Will Not Die by Aldris Budrys
The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett

So much more…


Of the books you list I’ve actually only read one, which is Dune.
For those new to Scifi I think Gateway by Frederick Pohl is a great place to start as well as Bujold’s Miles series and, of course, The Ender Games books. But that’s probably because I don’t enjoy the hard scifi.


I would not yet consider myself “well read” in SFF, but I’m certainly better read over this last decade then I was. Over the last 10-12 years I’ve read a bunch of Heinlein and Asimov, read Pohl, Niven, Bester, Clarke, Tolkien, Burroughs, Howard, Cordwainer Smith, Poul Anderson, Vance, Card among others. And thanks to John Scalzi I’ve spent the last several years reading more contemporary stuff: Huff, Reynolds, Ian McDonald, Vandermeer, Wolfe, Greg Bear.

Plus I’ve spent time with ol’ favorites: Harry Harrison, Brian Daley, Patricia A. McKillip.

I’ll take a stab at answering both questions. And before I do, let me say right now: I’m sorry. 😉

I’ll start with the


1. Alfred Bester: The Stars My Destination
2. Robert A. Heinlein: The Puppet Masters
3. Isaac Asimov: Foundation Trilogy
4. John Scalzi: Old Man’s War series
5. Harry Harrison: Deathworld (first book)
6. Larry Niven: A World Out of Time
7. Gene Wolfe: The Knight and The Wizard (2 books)
8. Yevgeny Zamyatin: We
9. Steven Millhauser: Enchanted Night
10. Fritz Leiber: Lankhmar Book 1: Swords & Deviltry

MUST READ SFF short story collections/Anthologies:

1. Robert A. Heinlein: The Green Hills of Earth
2. Cordwainer Smith: Space Lords
3. Isaac Asimov: I, Robot
4. Robert E. Howard: The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian
5. Ian McDonald: Cyberabad Days
6. Peter S. Beagle: Sleight of Hand
7. Robert Sheckley: The Masque of Manana
8. James P. Blaylock: Thirteen Phantasms and Other Stories

What I would give to new people wanting to get into SFF. Please keep in mind that these are all MUST READS in my opinion as well and with perhaps only one exception I tried to keep these lists from having repeats:

Fantasy/Fairy Tale:

1. Neil Gaiman: Stardust
2. Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere
3. Terri Windling: The Wood Wife
4. Widdershins: Charles de Lint
5. Patrick Rothfuss: The Name of the Wind
6. The Sword-edged Blonde: Alex Bledsoe
7. The Alchemy of Stone: Ekaterina Sedia

Science Fiction:

1. John Scalzi: Old Man’s War
2. John Scalzi: Fuzzy Nation
3. Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Diving into the Wreck
4. Cherie Priest: Boneshaker
5. Paolo Bacigalupi: Ship Breaker
6. Orson Scott Card: Ender’s Game
7. Orson Scott Card: Speaker for the Dead

SFF short story/anthology collections:

1. Susanna Clarke: The Ladies of Grace Adieu
2. Neil Gaiman: Smoke and Mirrors
3. Neil Gaiman: Fragile Things

And just because I can’t stop, here are a few I would recommend to starters who like a more challenging read:

1. Alastair Reynolds: Chasm City
2. Jeff Vandermeer: Finch
3. Jeff Vandermeer: The Third Bear and Other Stories
4. Patricia A. McKillip: Ombria in Shadow
5. Haruki Murakami: Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
6. Liz Williams: The Snake Agent

I can’t imagine I’ll be able to stop here, but I’ll try for now. 🙂


i knew you wouldn’t be able to resist listing a ton of stuff. 😉

Had I put just one more item on my “books for new fans”, it would have been Vandermeer’s ” The Third Bear” . . . or Gaiman’s Neverwhere.

when my contemporary fiction friends ask me where to start w/SFF, I’m often leary to suggest something weird, like V’s Finch, or R’s Name of the Wind, I want to ease them in kinda gentle. sometimes. 😉


Yes, it would have to be the special reader that I would push towards Vandermeer for a first read. I wouldn’t feel so reluctant with Name of the Wind IF the person was used to reading books that long. It is just different enough from standard fantasy tropes that they may stay engaged and not find themselves reading a book that plays into stereotypes.

Hey, I’ve been doing good resisting and coming back for more! 🙂

One of the reasons that Rothfuss’ list so thrills me is that far too many SFF authors have uppity opinions about SFF, as do many bloggers who seem to think it is their duty to crap on the classics and anything popular as a way to somehow elevate SFF to some elite literary class. I try not to get too annoyed at people like that because what I really feel is sorry for them. I would hate to lose the ability to enjoy the books I choose to read. Not everything is good and not every book appeals to everyone, but to dislike or feel the need to denigrate much of what are considered classics is just sad, in my opinion.

Okay, off that soapbox!!!


I have never thought about it. I supossed it would depend on the person.


ahh, so many authors I’ve never read are showing up already, such as Willis, Butcher, Williams, Sedia, Butcher, Beagle, even Rusch and Priest.

I’m not embarrassed at how much “must read” SF I haven’t read yet, it’s a journey not a destination, you know? 🙂

but this’ll be the thread comments I print next time I go to the library!


I’m not embarrassed either by all that I haven’t read. There are still SO MANY authors I have yet to pick up and SO MANY popular books that I have yet to read by authors whose work I have enjoyed. It is actually something to be excited about.


Well, that’s the great thing! A long reading list just gives you the more (very frequently enjoyable) experiences to get through. 😛 And I even avoided an inevitable pun… Gosh, I’m proud.


it is inevitable.

pun me!!!


Like you I am not as well read as perhaps I ought to be but in the last few years I have actively sought out and read a selection of the most recommended. Here is my list (in no particular order):

War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells
60,000 Leagues Under the Sea – Jules Verne
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
The Lost World – SIr Arthur Conan Doyle
Foundation – Asimov
Revelation Space – Alastair Reynolds
Red Mars – Kim Stanley Robinson
Dune – Frank Herbert
Engines of God – Jack McDevitt


I’m going to *finally* read Dune this next month (July). Doing a buddy read with a friend (and whomever else would like to participate) as motivation to not lay it aside this time.


Carl, let me know when you start your Dune read, I’d like to be part of that. it’s been years since I’ve read it, and i think it would be a great book for a buddy-read or a summer reading group.


Kailana and I are going to begin on Friday, July 1st. Not sure if we are following a schedule or just diving in. She usually reads faster than I do. I’ll get you more details, but at least plan on starting Friday. And I’m excited you are joining us.


it’s a plan! are you going to host discussions at Stainless Steel Droppings? def send me more details! I’m so happy this came up! 🙂


I’m not the best read SF/F fan either, but I would definitely say Dune is a classic and just a fantastic read (the original six anyway) and I would also recommend Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land because it’s a cult classic. I read Foundation, but it was a little too bare-bones for me, I wouldn’t recommend it to adults.


I’m more of a fantasy than SF reader but these lists are interesting! My husband is a big SF reader and what we talk about a lot is how many genres within SF there are. Hard/soft SF, military, space, etc. So it’s hard to just recommend great SF. He’s a huge Robert Sawyer fan. I’m a huge Ray Bradbury fan though he may not be considered SF. I’m loving the Game of Thrones series right now. I’ve enjoyed Rothfuss and Butcher and also Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, but none of those are absolute favorites for me. I need to read more Neil Gaiman.


[…] the meantime, I was made aware of this list because of this post from Little Red Reviewer regarding the well read SFF fan. In it she posits a couple of questions that will stir the […]


Childhood’s End
I, Robot
Martian Chronicles
The Hobbit
Original Conan stories
Dangerous Visions
Left Hand of Darkness
To Your Scattered Bodies Go
The Forever War
Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser Book 1
At the Mountains of madness


Looked over list and remembered a few more:
The Time Machine
A Mote in God’s Eye

After they get the foundations under their belt, then I’d introduce them to more modern masters like Shepard, Wolfe, Powers, Mieville, etc.


Mote in God’s Eye, Dracula (and even Frankenstein!), and I Robot, are definite must reads. and here we are again, with more titles that I’m always saying I need to get to one of these days: Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser, Robert Howard, Arthur Conan Doyle, more Philip K Dick. . . the list goes on and on.


I”m not going to put any recommendations up as such, but say that I encountered a similar thing a while back. I bought this book called: 100 Must Read Fantasy Novels. I considered myself relatively well read in the field and was horrified to discover I’d only read a 3rd of the listed works. I decided to read the entire 100 (including the ones I’d already read) and blog them along with the other stuff I was reading. I’m up to ‘F’, I’m a little stalled a present trying to whitle down the ever growing TBR pile before it eats the house. It’s fun exercise to try, though.


Philip K. Dick is a great SF writer for people who aren’t (yet) huge SF fans. Also, The Lathe of Heaven (Ursula K. LeGuin) is pretty great.


Elfy – I need to find a copy of that book, along with 100 Must read SF novels (if such a thing exists), if only to remind me how un well read I am!

cdpung – PKD is one writer who I have a ton of respect for, but I can not get into his writing style to save my life.


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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