Written by Timothy Brian Brown
Ringworld (entire universe)
Larry Niven’s Known Space remains my favorite science fiction collection of all time. Human history over roughly a thousand years as we reach into the depths of the galaxy, meeting aliens and reinventing ourselves – who can’t love that! I even had to piece together the existence of all the related stories and put them in order without benefit of the internet, yet I did so gladly! The first novel I read: Ringworld! Conceptually magnificent, the epic backdrop for a terrific personal tale! I broke out the slide rule (yeah, it was before calculators) and checked the math – wow, that thing is mammoth! Ringworld sufficiently captured my imagination to seek out all the rest of his Known Space work and devour it ravenously. To this day, mention science fiction literature, and it’s Niven that springs first to mind.
Foundation (entire universe)
Asimov’s Foundation novels populated the shelves of every book store’s sci-fi section when I was an impressionable lad, and I snapped them up eagerly. The idea of an enormous, galaxy-spanning human civilization captured my imagination, especially one in danger of imminent collapse and need of shepherding through that chaos to whatever comes next. It spoke to me of mankind’s limitless possibilities and the difficulties that even the best-prepared custodians might face across a terrific expanse of time and space. I remember getting caught up in the many intervening tales and wondering if that chasm of time between empires might be bridged, and how the actions of individuals could have an impact upon such a far-flung enterprise.
Blade Runner (mood, Philip K. Dick)
I’m a long-time Philip K. Dick fan. A Scanner Darkly was the first novel I binge read cover to cover, and collections of his short stories grace my bookshelves. The movie Blade Runner is, to me, a terrific adaptation of his story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, evoking a unique mood and feel while presenting what I think is essential to a genuine science fiction tale: a deeply human story. To me, the movie is Ridley Scott’s best work. Despite liberties taken with the original story, he captures Dick’s feel immediately; I was mesmerized from scene one. The Vangelis soundtrack weighs upon the entire film like a soulful, grim fog, ever-present and permeating – like John Williams’ Star Wars soundtrack, the basic film would be greatly diminished without it. I would like to think the upcoming sequel will stand up to the quality of the original, but the bar is set pretty high.
Admittedly, the later books kind of lost me, but Frank Herbert’s original Dune was right up my alley. I had never read anything quite like it, so gritty and real, yet so sweeping. Arrakis seemed like a place both familiar and exotic, struggled over by believable factions with diverse methods, aims, and histories. Each competing agenda felt well thought out, very real, exactly how people might align themselves in these unique, alien circumstances. Guild Navigators sufficiently high on melange to alter the fabric of space to travel between the stars … wow! That ‘this ain’t your everyday sci fi novel’ slap in the face drew me in. Dune definitely guided my later creative thinking, and even changed my everyday life … to this day, I never sit with my back to a door.
Why not the Lord of the Rings in its entirety, you may wonder? For me, it all started with The Hobbit, and honestly it was some time after that that I read the rest. By the time I got a white box D&D I was already well familiar with my own impressions of hobbits and wizards, and goblins and trolls and wolves (Yes, I’m just old enough that I read Tolkien’s work before Dungeons & Dragons even existed, if you can imagine that!). For me, The Hobbit preserves the feel of the playful fairy tale and touches upon the grandeur of an immensely rich and ancient realm – keeping one foot firmly planted in each from front to back. Bilbo was so easy to relate to, his emotions so clear and familiar, I felt I could have been Sting’s wielder and the One Ring’s discoverer. I’m still pretty sure that was me who did all those things, even all these years later.
Star Trek: TOS
Perhaps nothing was more formative for me than the original Star Trek. I was watching those before I was reading anything, and they stamped upon my young mind two fundamental aspects of science-fiction: how a crew works, and how a story is told. Kirk and company operated as a team. The ship’s under attack? Everyone has their function. A landing party’s required? One gets assembled according to necessary skills. That’s how a navy ship works, so that’s how the Enterprise worked, so that’s how I think any sci-fi ship would work. As for the stories, Star Trek’s tele-dramas were human stories – we should thank our lucky stars they had so little budget and special effects tech, or they’d have been all flash and no story. The characters relied upon each other, helped each other through crises, and risked themselves to save each other from danger.
A terrific movie that deserves honorable mention in my list of influential sci-fi media. Foundational for its successor, Star Trek, this classic has it all: the immensity and loneliness of space, wild alien technology, romantic intrigue, crew dynamics, and strange monstrous enemies. What can I say? It’s one of my favorites!