A true sci-fi epic spanning centuries of time and the vastness of the universe. Mysterious aliens arrive from space to aid mankind. But are their gifts a boon or a doom? Clarke’s most lyrical, enlightening and disturbing work. And one hell of a twist in the middle.
THE TIME MACHINE by H.G. Wells
The granddaddy of all time-travel stories and I’m a sucker for time-travel all day long. I read this novel when I was twelve and it stuck with me. Despite being more than a century old, the story is still a mindbender. A short scene toward the end of the novel, where the protagonist winds up on a barren beach millions of years hence, has stuck with me all these years and I think of it often.
AT THE EARTH’S CORE by Edgar Rice Burroughs
This is pure adventure from the creator of Tarzan. David Innes and Abner Perry pilot the Iron Mole, a fantastic digging machine, to Pellucidar; a prehistoric world at the Earth’s core (as the title suggests). The book might be considered quaint today except for the total unleashing of Burroughs’ robust imagination at the height of his writing powers. Back when I was a kid, this book turned me into a lifelong compulsive reader. Today I write a weekly Pellucidar web comic for ERB Inc.
THE IRON DREAM by Norman Spinrad
Spinrad imagines an alternate universe in which Adolf Hitler is a successful sci-fi writer. The novel presented here is wild sci-fi action taken to almost comic book extremes in a world where the tenets of National Socialism are presented as a code of heroes. The results are both thrilling and appalling and perhaps the best expose’ of Nazism I (or Spinrad) could imagine.
THE FOREVER WAR by Joe Haldeman
The best example of military sci-fi ever written. Sorry, Starship Troopers. Haldeman, a Vietnam combat vet himself, presents a fine war adventure as Earth battles for supremacy against a dangerous alien race. It is also serves as a strong indictment of war. But it’s how the novel deals with the theories of relativity that separates it from other books in this genre. The characters in the book not only deal with death and damage but also the physical laws tied to faster than light travel. They become exempt from the time stream to find the home they left behind aging far more rapidly than themselves. Ultimately, Haldeman’s book is about men and women alienated from all the world they knew, lots to them across a gulf of decades.
THE MASTER AND MARGARITA by Mikhail Bulgakov
Written as a satire of Stalinist Russia, this novel is also a truly chilling fantasy piece that rewards multiple re-readings. I’ll admit to not entirely understanding all that Bulgakov was going for here. I suspect I’m not catching all the Russian cultural touchstones. But the novel has resonance nonetheless. It stays with you. Hard to forget a story that jumps from a troupe of mystical beings tormenting the artistic elites of 1930s Moscow to Satan in conversation with Pontius Pilate while Pilate tries to come to a decision on the fate of Christ.
THE SPACE MERCHANTS by Frederick Pohl
A sci-fi parody of the advertising business written back when ad men were getting a lot of attention from novelists and Hollywood. It would be just a silly fluff story, no deeper than an episode of The Jetsons, but for its prescient theme dealing with the intrusion of media into our everyday lives and its power to manipulate society.