A year of catching up

12 science fiction classics that I want to read this year

A year of catching up

Here's a bit of a secret for you: I haven't read every book that I've amassed in my personal library. Far from it. Some I've picked up for their aesthetic value, others for referencing while writing about various things, while others are on the perpetual, aspirational to-be-read list.  

With 2023 now upon us, I've been thinking that I'd like to spend a little less time trying to keep up with the cutting edge of science fiction, and a little more on catching up on some of those classics that I've been meaning to read for years, but for whatever reason, haven't read, or read so long ago that I really can't really write or talk about them with any real authority. So, I went through my shelves and picked a bunch that I've stared at over the years, thinking "I really should read this someday." Let's see if this is the year to do that.

Here's what I pulled of the shelf (in no particular order):

Image: Andrew Liptak

Consider Phebas by Iain M. Banks

Iain M. Banks' Culture series is one of those long-running worlds that I've wanted to sink deeper into over the years, and I've got a small stack of them to dig into for a while. I read Consider Phebas a number of years ago, and enjoyed it (I've been listening to the audiobook recently), but it's one of those books that I really don't remember much from, so I'll be giving it a revisit. I've got other installments of the series, like Use of Weapons and Player of Games, which I'd like to tackle as well.

The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett

I wrote about Leigh Brackett's fantastic career years ago for Kirkus Reviews and io9, and I've enjoyed some of her short fiction over the years. Her novel The Long Tomorrow is a notable entry in the canon of post-apocalyptic novels, and it's one that I've been meaning to get to for years, and it's included an omnibus volume of 1950s science fiction novels edited by Gary K. Wolfe.  

Eon by Greg Bear

Greg Bear passed away last November, and it prompted me to finally pick up his novel Eon. It's about a group of scientists working to figure out the story behind a hollowed-out asteroid that showed up in Earth's orbit from humanity's future, and I'm enjoying it so far. It's checking all of the boxes for me: big dumb objects, weird science, and big questions about humanity's place in the cosmos.  

RIP Greg Bear
A titan of science fiction
Image: Andrew Liptak

Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler

I picked up Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower during the summer of 2020, and was struck at how relevant it was. Ever since, her sequel, Parable of the Talents has been on that longer to-read list, and it's one that I'm very excited to get to.

Three Novels About Unbalanced Worlds
Robert Jackson Bennett’s Shorefall, Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, and Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Relentless Moon show off worlds that are full of imbalance

Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh

C.J. Cherryh has long been something of a blind spot in my reading, and she's someone that I've wanted to read more of for ages. I read Downbelow Station years ago but like Consider Phebas, it's one that I need to revisit.

The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke

Of all of the Golden Age authors that were part of the building blocks of my youth, Clark was right up at the top. I ate up books like 2001 and Rendezvous with Rama, but for some reason, I never picked up his classic book about space elevators and humanity's future in space.

Image: Andrew Liptak

Triton by Samuel R. Delaney

When I was in high school, I picked up Samuel R. Delaney's Nova and Babel-17, and had my mind blown by both of them. Along the way, I picked up his novel Triton from a used bookstore with the intention of reading it, and then just never got around to it. Time to rectify that.

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

A bunch of you readers have threatened me for not reading Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed, and fine: message received. I've been meaning to read this for eons: her exploration of opposing political ideologies is something that I'm keenly interested in.

I have a nice Folio Society edition from 2019, and interviewed artist David Lupton about it:

Honoring Ursula K. Le Guin’s Vision: Q&A With Artist David Lupton
A look at The Folio Society’s edition of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed

A Wizard of Earthsea is another that I've been thinking would be good to re-read.

Schismatrix by Bruce Sterling

I'm honestly not sure where I came across this book, or who recommended it to me. (Maybe Charles Stross on Twitter?) Either way, it's been one of those interesting-looking takes on space opera, so onto the list it goes.

Image: Andrew Liptak

A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge

This is a book that I've had sitting on my shelf since high school: it was one of those books that caught my eye at the bookstore, picked it up, but never quite got around to getting more than a couple of chapter in. I've heard folks sing its praises over the years, and it's a good time to give it a real go.  

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Connie Willis is another author that I haven't really caught up on. I remember reading Blackout years ago, and enjoyed it, but this is one that I've really been wanting to check out for a while.

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

I'm ashamed to say that I've never read this book, and outside of a couple of short stories, I don't think that I've dipped into much Zelazny at all. My mentor and friend F. Brett Cox penned a fine study of the late author's work last year, and that's prompted me to get a move on with finally checking this one out.

So! That's the priority list. I've got a couple of others, like Dawn by Octavia Butler, Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson, Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, and The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove that I've also been thinking that I'd like to get to at some point (I might swap them in or out depending on my mood), but I'm also prone to biting off more than I can chew.

Will I get through them all? Who knows, but putting the list down is a good start. I don't have a particular order in mind, but there are 12 books there and 12 months ahead of us, so I'm going to aim to try and get through at least one of these a month. If you'd like to follow along, I'm going to get started (well, I've already started) with Greg Bear's Eon. I don't necessarily want to start up a formal book club, but I'll put together a channel in Slack if you'd like to tag along.