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Some early instalments of the Beeton's Christmas Annual contain considerable sf for details see Samuel Orchart Beeton , beginning with the stories assembled as The Coming K — anth chap ; edited after Beeton's death, the issue anth contains several sf-like stories linked to Max Adeler 's long Lost-Race tale "Professor Baffin's Adventures" vt "The Fortunate Island" in The Fortunate Island and Other Stories , coll , the linked stories being surtitled The Fortunate Island : not only an sf anthology of sorts, but one set in a Shared World.

But the usually accepted candidate as first sf anthology is Adventures to Come anth edited by J Berg Esenwein.

It was also sf's first Original Anthology i. Much more important was The Other Worlds anth edited by Phil Stong , a hardcover publication reprinting stories by Harry Bates , Lester del Rey , Henry Kuttner , Theodore Sturgeon and many other well-known writers from the sf magazines. The first notable paperback anthology was The Pocket Book of Science-Fiction anth edited by Donald A Wollheim , eight of whose ten stories are still well remembered, an extraordinarily high batting average considering that more than half a century has since elapsed.

The year that presaged the advancing flood was , when two respectable hardcover publishers commissioned huge anthologies, both milestones. The latter was the superior work and even today reads like a roll of honour, as all the great names of the first two decades of Genre SF parade past. But Conklin's book is not to be despised, including as it does Sturgeon 's "Killdozer!

Both Conklin and Healy went on to do further pioneering work with anthologies. Conklin specialized in thematic anthologies, of which two of the earliest were his Invaders of Earth anth and Science Fiction Thinking Machines anth The thematic anthology has since become an important part of sf publishing, and many such books are listed in this volume at the end of the relevant theme entries. Healy did not invent the original sf anthology, but he was one of the first to edit one successfully. Kendell Foster Crossen was not slow to take the hint, and half of his compilation Future Tense anth consists of original stories, including "Beanstalk" by James Blish.

Wollheim had produced anonymously an original anthology, too: The Girl with the Hungry Eyes and Other Stories anth , the title story being by Fritz Leiber. Until the s the original anthology went from strength to strength, becoming an important alternative market to the sf magazines. The Star Science Fiction Stories series edited by Frederik Pohl , of which there were six volumes in all, was its next important landmark.

This was followed rather more dramatically in the USA by Damon Knight , whose policy was more experimental and literary than Carnell's, with his Orbit series , which published 21 volumes. Since then the most influential original anthology series have been Harlan Ellison 's two Dangerous Visions anthologies and , Robert Silverberg 's New Dimensions series , ten volumes in all, and Terry Carr 's Universe series , 17 volumes in all. The zenith of influence of the original anthologies was probably the early to mids; they became a less important component of sf Publishing in the s.

Nonetheless, the s saw a remarkable number of Hugo and Nebula nominees drawn from the ranks of the original anthologies, including a good few winners, and this is a measure of the change of emphasis from magazines to books. This list is not fully comprehensive, but contains most of the sf original anthology series that ran for three or more numbers. Another original anthology series is Wild Cards , edited by George R R Martin , which is also an interesting representative of a kind of volume that began to flourish only in the s, the Shared-World anthology.

The majority of these are fantasy rather than sf. Sf has been one of the few areas of literature to have kept alive the art of the short story. It is therefore unfortunate that, as sf-magazine circulations dropped further in the s and s, so did the popularity of original anthologies. Nevertheless, as of the early twenty-first century, the quality of the best sf short-story writing remains high, and fears expressed about the imminent death of sf short fiction caused by shrinking markets seem premature.

The general standard of reprint anthologies has dropped since the mids, probably because the vast backlog of sf magazines had been mined and re-mined for gold and not much was left, though obviously new collectable stories are published every year. In terms of numbers of anthologies published, however, there has been no very perceptible falling off — though the new century has seen a considerable shift from traditional publishing to small presses and print-on-demand books.

Two extraordinarily prolific anthologists were Roger Elwood , from to , and Martin H Greenberg , from to date, both of them often in partnership with others and both specializing in thematic anthologies. Greenberg, who edited more anthologies than anyone else in sf, maintained the higher standard. With Mars now a planet where people can live openly on the surface, attention starts to turn towards populating the rest of the solar system. A fourth volume, The Martians, is a collection of stories and other related pieces that link to the trilogy.

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It's a glorious and fascinating vision of the different ways that humanity might find to live among our different planets. The new scientific knowledge about Mars that we began to acquire during the s, and the scientific literacy of the Mars Trilogy, also inspired a number of other books about Mars. Wells, Stanley Weinbaum and others. From the First World War onwards, as communist rule was established in Russia and fascism spread from Italy to Germany to Spain, writers started to explore the notion of dystopia.

They were, invariably, states in which conformity was enforced, and in which individuality had no place. These dystopias were generally from authors not usually associated with genre, and were often though not always the only genre work that they produced. And yet they are works that have lasted, work that have become recognised as classics not just of science fiction, but of world literature. The one that stands out for us is Brave New World, in part because it is more ambiguous about the world it portrays so that we end up having to think that bit more about the world presented to us.

Written among the disturbances of the Great Depression, Brave New World proposes that stability is the ultimate need of civilisation, and the World State of the novel is peaceful, all needs are met, and everyone is happy. Yet it is a world in which children are not born but decanted, and everyone is assigned at birth to a place within society that permanently limits what they can do or where they can live.

But thanks to the drug, soma, there is no dissent, no unhappiness. Into this perfectly ordered society is introduced John the Savage, who was born in a reservation outside the reach of the state and thus has none of the conditioning of every other citizen. By the end f the book we are having to choose between the artificial happiness of the controlled state, or the unhappiness of the natural state: a choice that is harder than you might imagine.

Nearly thirty years after writing the novel, Huxley brought out a non-fiction book, Brave New World Revisited, in which he argued that the world was approaching the state described in the novel more quickly than he had imagined. And in his final novel, Island, which was a deliberate utopian counterpoint to Brave New World, with a society in which science was at the service of humanity rather than in control.

Brave New World regularly appears on lists of the best novels of all time. It is a perfect example of the sort of dystopian fiction written between the s and s, and even after all this time it is an exciting and an engaging read. It is set in a world where people have numbers rather than names, everyone lives in glass houses so that nothing can be hidden from the state, and when there is a suggestion of rebellion our hero is subjected to a surgical procedure that makes him love the Great Benefactor.

Here, "Big Brother is Watching You", and when Winston Smith embarks upon a forbidden love affair it is an act of rebellion. But because the state sees everything, Smith is soon captured and subjected to the terrors of Room , which of course makes him love Big Brother. Zones of Thought. The Zones of Thought, which Vinge introduced in this novel, is one of the great original ideas in science fiction. He imagines that the galaxy isn't uniform, in our part of the galaxy we are limited to the speed of light and our thought too is subject to similar restrictions.

But if you go further in towards the centre of the galaxy you come to a zone that's even slower in terms of speed and thought, while if you go outward there are zones where speed and thought are much faster. The trouble is, of course, if you move from a faster zone into a slower zone, everything from travel to communication is hampered. When researchers in the Beyond happen to unleash an entity known as the Blight, all they can do is flee. But that brings them into the Slow zone, where they crash onto the planet of the Tines, dog-like aliens that have a herd-wide group mind and a medieval level of technology.

While the researchers on Tinesworld find themselves caught up in a war between rival packs, others out in the Beyond try to activate countermeasures that will halt the Blight. A Fire Upon the Deep is one of those books that you either love or hate, but you have to read it. It's a book with an incredible vision of the galaxy and man's future among the stars, but it's also a rip roaring tale that doesn't get lost in all that "vastness". A perfect combination of story and ideas.

A Fire Upon the Deep is a fantastic read for anyone who loves old school Space Opera with plenty of science mixed in. Indeed, there's a hell of a lot thrown into the basket which includes physics, hard sci-fi technology, different races, galactic history, political wrangling and betrayals, conspiracy, a passionate war thriller, and even romance.

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It won the Hugo Award for best novel. For its entire history, science fiction has been written across the globe, emerging from all sorts of cultures and all sorts of languages. But since the Second World War, those of us in English speaking countries can have been aware of hardly any science fiction that appeared in a different language. Fortunately, that is starting to change, but for a long time it was a very rare and exceptional science fiction writer whose work was translated into English.

Of these, easily the most important, and the most prolific, was Poland's Stanislaw Lem. Solaris is set aboard a human space station hovering just above an alien planet. After decades of research, the humans have realised that the ocean which covers the planet is actually a single organism, but they don't really understand what this may mean, and they have no way of communicating with it. What they don't realise is that the ocean is also observing them, and has the ability to transform their secret, guilty thoughts into actual figures. So the scientists become haunted by characters from their past.

The first English translation of Solaris, the only one that most of us will have read, was actually translated from the French version of the novel and was not approved by Lem himself. This can make the novel hard to read, particularly as the ideas that Lem expresses are so subtle and complex. Fortunately, a new translation has become available that is much better. Vorkosigan Saga. There's a time for everything. There's a time to read heavy novels filled with grand ideas about space, the universe, and the destiny of mankind, and there's a time to read meaningful discourse on the human condition.

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Then there's just a time to sit back and read something that's just pretty damn fun without having to think complex thoughts. Miles Vorkosigan is that read. This is heroic, romantic space opera that has the best character writing and development in the entire genre. The series follows Miles Vorkosigan, a young man with a crippled body but a brilliant mind, as he rises through the ranks, taking on and conquering impossible odds with genius strategy.

This is character-driven military sf that mixes comedy and tragedy, politics and romance in various proportions. Lots of action, lots of adventure, and always fun, this is one of science fiction's most endearing and enduring series. Miles is the definition of an underdog, a man who's bound by serious physical limitations but with a brilliant mind. It's the juxtaposition of Mile's clear physical inadequacies his bones are fragile as glass and he's under five feet tall and the strength of his mind that fuel the emotional conflicts of this novel.

Miles is forever the underdog, both in physical contests and strategic ones; he also faces serious prejudice because of his physical appearance, prejudice he is able to overcome through his own heroic efforts, though he must deal with them at an emotional level.


To date, there are 16 novels in the sequence, plus a variety of novellas and short stories. If you want science fiction that's unfailingly entertaining, romantic and exciting and full of action, you really can't go wrong with Lois McMaster Bujold. It's easy to understand why H. Wells has been called the father of science fiction. Starting with his first novel in , he wrote a sequence of books which effectively defined some of the most familiar and important aspects of science fiction, from time travel to alien invasion.

Any one of these five early books would fully deserve a place in our list, but we have chosen to go with the first of them. The Time Machine was the first novel to consider the idea of time as a dimension, and therefore devise a machine that would allow you to travel at will through time. The novel begins in late Victorian Britain, when a small group of acquaintances are summoned to meet at the house of an eccentric inventor. When he finally bursts in, late, the inventor has an amazing story to tell, for he has invented a device that will allow him to travel through time. He describes gradually speeding up, so that the sun crosses the sky faster and faster until it becomes a blur, a cinematic effect before cinema itself had done anything like that.

He sees future cities rise, devastating wars, buildings giving way to nature once more. Finally, hundreds of thousands of years in the future, he arrives in what seems like a peaceful meadow in which beautiful, innocent people, the Eloi, live in peace. But there is a dark secret in this world, the monstrous Morlocks who live underground and emerge only to feast upon the Eloi. The Time Traveller realises that the Morlocks are the distant descendants of the working class, forced into a dismal subterranean world by uncaring industry, while the Eloi are the descendants of the wealthy and carefree.

Escaping the Morlocks, the traveller goes further forward in time to witness the eventual death of the Earth, before returning to tell his story in Victorian London. There can be very few more influential works in the entire history of science fiction. Before this, time travel had been a form of magic or dream, but now it became something we could control.

Effectively, modern science fiction starts here. Science fiction likes to play with history. Look how fragile our world is, just one small change there, or there, or there, and things would be ever so much worse. Of course, because we like doing it doesn't always mean that we do it well. But here's a book that does it very well indeed. Robert E.

Lee won the Battle of Gettysburg, and as a result the Union surrendered and the United States were split in two. In the south, the Confederacy is now a global powerhouse gearing up for a war with the German Union which won this version of the First World War , a war that will almost certainly be fought out in the territory of the United States. In the north, what remains of the United States is impoverished and kept subdued by the South.

The story concerns Hodge Backmaker, who arrives in the backwater of New York in hopes of getting into a university to study history. He is robbed of his possessions, and ends up working in a bookshop that is the cover for an underground organisation aimed at restoring the North. In time, Hodge comes to the attention of an eccentric community near the former battlefield of Gettysburg, a place where they have invented a time machine. While studying the War of Southron Independence, Hodge is given the opportunity to travel back in time and witness the climactic battle.

But when he gets there he accidentally delays the Confederate forces on their way to Little Round Top, and changes the outcome of the battle. There had been occasional works before that imagined a Southern victory in the Civil War, but it was only with Bring the Jubilee that this became one of the key themes in alternate histories. This was one of the most influential of all alternate history novels, at the same time shaping the subgenre and showing how it should be done.

It is the s. Joanna lives in a world much like our own, where the feminist movement is just beginning. In Jeannine's world, however, there was no Second World War because Hitler had been assassinated, but the Great Depression is still going on. Janet lives in a peaceful, utopian world known as Whileaway, where the mendied of a plague years ago and women give birth by parthenogenesis.

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Jael is in a world where there is a literal battle of the sexes, a war that has been going on for 40 years already. The four are versions of the same woman, and when they are brought together it gives Russ the opportunity to dramatically examine the different relationships with men and with other women experienced in the various worlds. The novel displays both the anger and the irony that are characteristic of her work at its best.

James Tiptree once wrote to her: "Do you imagine that anyone with half a functional neuron can read your work and not have his fingers smoked by the bitter, multi-layered anger in it?

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  6. Always controversial, The Female Man is credited with starting feminist science fiction. It is one of only three novels to have been awarded a Retrospective Tiptree Award. It is a time travel story of a young black woman who moves between contemporary California, and pre-Civil War Maryland, where she meets her ancestors, a black slave woman and a while slave owner.

    Ever since it was first published, Kindred has been a mainstay on both women's studies and black literature courses. By the s, the world was changing more rapidly than ever. The digital age foreseen by the cyberpunks was already becoming more complex as writers began pushing the ideas forward into areas of posthumanity and nanotechnology among others. At the forefront of this advance was Neal Stephenson, whose vision of the world incorporated a vast slew of notions ranging from economics to artificial intelligence to social structure and more.

    All of these various elements came together in The Diamond Age. In a future that has been radically transformed by nanotechnologies and ever greater advances in computing, tribes or "phyles" have now become the dominant social structure. Phyles are groups of people brought together by shared values, ethnicity or cultural heritage, while old groupings like the nation state are withering away.

    To be outside a phyle, therefore, is the lowest of the low. That is the fate of Nell, until she acquires a copy of an interactive book, The Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, which was intended for someone else. By following the advice in the book, Nell is able to rise in the world until, by the end, she has founded her own phyle. Following Nell's story gives Stephenson the chance to show us all the various workings of this world, and how different it is both in technological terms and in its assumptions, from our own.

    If you want a vision of the future that will stop you dead in your tracks, a vision that is so brilliantly interconnected that it is absolutely convincing, then look no further. From hive minds linked by nanotechnology to the limits of artificial intelligence, this is a world that is different from our own at every point, even though we can see how we might get there from here.

    Why It's on the List. But really it glitters like the title, this is a diamond of a novel, filled with incalculable riches. For alternative choices, we'll stick with Stephenson's 3 other most regarded works. Each of these could take this spot on the list, and truth be told, your preference will depend on your personal taste as each of these books offers quite a different experience. If you want to start reading Stephenson, this is a good book to start with. It's also a seminal work in the Cyberpunk genre. Is this even science fiction?

    Who Knows? Who cares? It's big and fat and brilliant. Ranging from code breaking during the Second World War to the establishment of a data haven in the present day, and including an entirely mythical island, it's a novel that's all about the ways that digital information and cryptography insinuate their way into our very lives. But when an alien spaceship appears overhead, a revolution in ideas is precipitated. Okay, the writing is baggy at times and the made-up words can be infuriating and silly, but if you want ideas-driven science fiction, look no further, this is the place.

    Philosophy, mathematics, the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, this is heady stuff. This is his 'best' most recent work. Stephenson recently released in his Seveness -- an ambitious work but also overly dry. Anathem is a better work in every regard. Imperial Radch. Every so often, someone will come along and have a staggering impact on the genre with their very first novel. Think of William Gibson's Neuromancer, for example.

    Well the most recent case is Ann Leckie, who won just about every award going with this superb novel. In a sense this is a very traditional space opera. There's an empire, the Radch, who are spreading their control across the galaxy. Their foot soldiers are made up of fragments of a starship's consciousness downloaded into human bodies, ancillaries, so that the members of any force are always in contact with each other and know what everyone is doing. But as the story opens, Breq is the only surviving ancillary of a starship, Justice of Toran, which was destroyed 19 years before.

    The narrative shifts between Breq's quest to find out what happened, and then to seek justice, and the earlier events that led up to the destruction of the starship. One of the more interesting aspects of the story is that the Radch do not distinguish by gender, and so they use the same female pronouns for everyone. This can be disorienting, but it does have a very interesting effect in making us, in the main, neither see nor care whether individual caracters are male or female.

    Clarke and Locus Awards, an unprecedented sweep, which shows how successfully the novel captured the zeitgeist. If winning all these awards in a grand sweep in isn't enough for you, then there's nothing I can say that will convince you. But might I add that it's a work that will blow your socks off. One of the things that has become apparent in recent years is the increasing sophistication of computer games. Without quite becoming the virtual reality that science fiction once predicted, they build worlds that are increasingly convincing, increasingly immersive.

    And this, in turn, has had an effect on science fiction, which has built the game into the structure of near-future worlds. That's exactly what Ernest Cline, who has been dubbed "the hottest geek on the planet right now", did with Ready Player One. Wade is a poor orphan from the sticks who escapes the misery of his everyday life in the computer reality known as OASIS. Wade is the first person to discover the first of these keys, and becomes a hero within the world of the game.

    With a group of online companions complicated by their real life relationships Wade sets out to find the rest of the keys and win the big prize. But he finds himself up against a multinational corporation who also seek control of OASIS, and will stop at nothing, including murder, to get there. This is a novel that is every bit as immersive, as gripping, as any computer game.

    You won't want to stop turning the pages, pushing on to the next level. Top 25 Science Fiction Books. Similar Recommendations Click to view. Listiverse Recommendations Click to View. Comments 6. Why It's on the list Gene Wolfe is the finest stylist writing in science fiction, it is always a pleasure to read his books. Upgrade Dima Zales. Le Guin. Why It's On the List Beautifully written, vividly realised, and packed with ideas that make us constantly reassess our views on the different political systems in the novel, this is a prime example of science fiction as the literature of ideas.

    Alternative Choice As an alternative choice for this spot on the list we can present Le Guin's other work as an alternative read if you want another choice. Comments 9. Dick's career is why he only ever won one of the major science fiction awards, but that was the Hugo for The Man in the High Castle. It's a wonderful book that remains one of the very best alternate histories. Why It's On the List The Culture is one of the great inventions of science fiction, a communistic utopia that actually works.

    Comments 3. Why It's On the List Epic in scope, ambitious and readable, the Foundation Trilogy deservedly won the Hugo Award for the best ever series, the only time that award was ever presented. Comments 2. Why It's On the List Both aesthetically and intellectually, , A Space Odyssey is one of the most influential films of all time, certainly it's effect upon all subsequent science fiction is incalculable. Alternative Choice Arthur C. Joe Haldeman served in Vietnam, an experience he wrote about in his first, non-genre novel, War Year.

    But his experiences in Vietnam also informed his second and most famous book, The Forever War, which is an extended metaphor about how badly the military serves its soldiers and about how the soldiers become alienated from those they leave behind at home. In fact, for the soldiers in this war, it quickly becomes clear that there is no home to which they might return. When war starts between earth and the alien Taurans, Mandella is drafted and after brutal training during which many of the conscripts are killed he is sent to fight. Because the battle lines are light years away, time dilation effects come into play, and though he serves only two years, decades have passed by the time he returns to Earth.

    Mandella and his lover return to civilian life, but things have changed so much in the interim that there is really no place for them, and they re-enlist. Returning to combat, Mandella serves four more years, during which time centuries have passed at home. By now, he has achieved high rank by seniority, but he is commanding soldiers with whom he has no point of contact. And when humans eventually learn to communicate with the Taurans, they discover that the entire war was a mistake. The Forever War won the Hugo, Nebula and Locus Awards, and was praised by Robert Heinlein as one of the best future war stories, even though the novel is a direct argument against Heinlein's own Starship Troopers.

    The trilogy as a whole is generally recognised as one of the finest and most scientifically literate works of sf of the last 30 years. Comments 5. Comments 0. It isn't, and never has been, and the work of Stanislaw Lem, often funny and philosophically challenging at the same time, is an example of just how good science fiction from other cultures can be. Russia's Strugatsky Brothers are just as important in the world of science fiction as Stanislaw Lem.

    Of the three film versions of Solaris, the best known is surely that by Tarkovsky, and it is interesting that Tarkovsky also filmed Roadside Picnic, which he retitled Stalker. It's the story of an alien visitation which, like a roadside picnic, left various bits and pieces strewn about before they departed. Stalkers enter the zone in order to smuggle out this mysterious detritus, but the zone has a profound physical and psychological effect on those who enter it.

    In short, there aren't that many authors who have collected as many of the major sf awards as Lois McMaster Bujold. Comments 7. Why It's On the List There can be very few more influential works in the entire history of science fiction. Why It's On the List There had been occasional works before that imagined a Southern victory in the Civil War, but it was only with Bring the Jubilee that this became one of the key themes in alternate histories. A trio of American astronauts finally arrive on Mars, only to find a small town identical to one they left behind in the mid-West, and in it people they remember from their childhood.

    An old couple suddenly find their dead son has returned to them, but then they find that all their friends have seen lost ones returning again. A hot dog stand owner kills a Martian, but is then surprised to be given ownership of half the planet. A family has been wiped out by nuclear war, but in their automated home, robots continue to function as normal.

    Through a series of linked short stories and vignettes, Ray Bradbury gives a poetic and always moving account of human colonisation of Mars. At first the members of the early expeditions are killed by the Martians, but then the Martians are themselves killed by a disease brought from Earth. Now the story moves on to the colonisation, with tension between those who want to despoil the landscape and those who want to live in harmony with it.

    This tension is further heightened by occasional fleeting meetings with surviving Martians, who become more ghost like, more ethereal as the book goes on. Finally, there is nuclear war back on Earth, and Mars becomes depopulated once more except for a few loners. This is not a novel, so be prepared for things to shift from one story to another, for contradictions to creep in, for stories that don't seem to belong together.

    Yet for all of this the book works. It is haunting and atmospheric, full of oblique references to America's treatment of its own natives, to issues of the environment, to human stupidity. And there are set pieces in the story that will stay with you forever. His poetic, elegiac prose is unlike anything else in the genre, and he didnt care much for technology if he could concentrate on emotion instead.

    And yet he is universally considered one of the great writers of the genre, and this brilliant book really shows how atmospheric a novel about Mars can be. In this world, firemen don't put out fires, they start them, burning any books they discover. But one fireman starts to read a book, which leads him into rebellion against the state, and into the company of an outcast organisation where the world's great literature is preserved by memorising it. Alternative Choice For alternative choices, we'll stick with Stephenson's 3 other most regarded works.

    Comments 4. You're exploring the surface of Mars when a dust storm blows up. Thinking you're dead, your companions blast off back to Earth, leaving you behind with enough supplies to last a month, and probably four years to wait before a rescue mission might arrive. How do you survive?

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    That's the intriguing situation at the beginning of Andy Weir's marvellous debut novel. Weir has obviously worked out all of the logistical and technical issues, so that at each new setback the solution that astronaut Watney works out is utterly believable. Meanwhile, once they discover evidence that Watney is still alive, the team at NASA have to work out ways of rescuing him, and of keeping him supplied with food.

    The succession of accidents that bring new problems and new solutions leading to new accidents is a bit remorseless, and there are indeed times when you want to scream at the characters in the novel for not doing the sensible or humane thing. Yet the story is always gripping. This is hard science fiction of a very high order indeed.

    Why It's on the List Weir originally published the novel for free, a chapter at a time, on his website. But it quickly proved to be so popular that he released it as an ebook and sold 35, copies in three months, and eventually a major publisher stepping in and gave it the mass market release it deserved. It's a wonderful success story, and thoroughly deserved. If you've seen the movie, know the book is just as good with a lot more information stuffed in it. Why It's on the List You want a story that's as slick, as fast, as enthralling as a computer game. Then this is it. But then, Cline has hidden his own keys within the novel.

    Crowd Ranked Version of the List - Vote on it! Our Version of the List At a Glance. Banks Wells