The best science fiction stories...

by Tim Vasquez
Some of my favorite sci-fi picks!

Dan Simmons, 1989
Seven travelers make a pilgrimage to Hyperion to appease the Shrike, a nightmare phantomlike creature that has tormented the planet and caused panic. It is thought that the pilgrimage might appease the Shrike, though others realize that the Shrike represents a threat to Mankind itself. The story is told in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales style, with powerful tales narrated by each of the seven pilgrims. The priest tells a horrific story about a parasite in a remote corner of Hyperion. The soldier's tale is about a disturbing lover who comes only in dreams of battle. The poet's tale recounts a sweep to commercial success ending in shadowy days in an abandoned poet's village haunted by the Shrike. The detective's tale is an escape from an unknown hunter by herself and a romantic robot. The scholar's tale remembers a tragic curse cast on his daughter by the Shrike. The consul's tale spans many years as he meets a beautiful girl on shore leave on a distant planet, and hyperspace travel causes him to age much slower than she. If you plan to get this book, you'll definitely need this important sequel:
  • Fall of Hyperion
    There is no way out. Fourteen kilometers into the forest. Stray fires and bursts of current, but penetrable. Three weeks of walking would have got me through. The cruciform [parasite] will not let me go. The pain was like a heart attack that would not stop. Still I staggered forward, stumbling and crawling through the ash. Eventually I lost consciousness. When I came to I was crawling toward the Cleft [from where I had come]. I would turn away, walk a kilometer, crawl fifty meters, then lose consciousness again and awake back where I had started. All day this insane battle for my body went on. Before sunset the Bikura [slaves to the parasite] entered the forest, found me five kilometers from the Cleft, and carried me back. Dear Jesus, why have you let this be? There is no hope now unless someone comes looking for me.

  • Lucifer's Hammer
    Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle, 1977
    A comet crashes into the earth, wiping out much of civilization and leaving a band of survivors to fend for themselves in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
    The wave rushes outward from the center of the Gulf of Mexico, moving at 760 miles an hour. When it reaches the shallows along the coast of Texas and Louisiana, the foot of the wave stumbles. More and more water rushes up behind, piling higher and higher until a towering monster half a kilometer high falls forward and flows up onto the land.

    Larry Niven, 1970
    Imagine if the Earth was hammered flat into a vast ring 100 million miles in diameter and almost a million miles wide. Then you'd have Ringworld, a vast "planet" so large that much of it remains undiscovered. In these stories Louis Wu and two alien associates immerse theirselves in this land.
  • Ringworld - The first book of the series contains the discovery of Ringworld and the characters' struggle to survive.
  • Ringworld Engineers - Louis Wu, a pawn among rivals, must go back to Ringworld to steal an alien technology.
    "She's right," said Louis. "If there's civilization anywhere, it'll be at the rim wall. But we don't know where it is. I should have been able to see it from up there."
    "No," said the puppeteer.
    "You weren't there, tanjit! You could see forever up there! Thousands of miles without a break! Wait a minute."
    "The Ringworld is nearly a million miles across."
    "I was just about to realize that," said Louis Wu. "Scale. It keeps fouling me up. I just can't visualize anything this big!"

  • The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide
    Douglas Adams, 1996
    A whimsical whirlwind adventure brings an English man named Arthur Dent and his companions together to explore the history of Earth, which has just been destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass, and its purpose. Their guide is the electronic Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that they tote along with them. Fantastically creative stories about an alien race that embraces bureaucracy, a spaceship that runs on improbability, a chronically depressed robot, a computer that spent millions of years calculating the meaning of life, a floating party barge, and much more. Perhaps one of my all-time favorites! The Ultimate Guide is a complete collection of the following books in the series:
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
  • The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
  • Life, the Universe, and Everything
  • So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
  • Mostly Harmless
    Many many millions of years ago a race of hyperintelligent pandimensional beings got so fed up with the constant bickering about the meaning of life...that they decided to sit down and solve their problems once and for all. And to this end they built themselves a stupendous super computer which was so amazingly intelligent that even before its data banks had been connected up it started from I think therefore I am and got as far as deducing the existence of rice pudding and income tax before anyone managed to turn it off. It was the size of a small city ... On the day of the Great On-Turning... it said: "What is this great task for which I, Deep Thought, the second greatest computer in the Universe of Time and Space, have been called into existence?" ... "Oh Deep Thought computer, the task we have designed you to perform is this. We want you to tell us... the Answer. Life! The Universe! Everything!" ... "The program will take me a little while to run." "How long?" he said. "Seven and a half million years," said Deep Thought. [And the civilization waited!]

  • Wolf and Iron
    Gordon R. Dickson, 1990
    A massive financial collapse has thrown the world into anarchy, and a man, ostracized from his Michigan community, heads west to his brother's ranch in Montana. The journey is difficult and perilous, and Jeebee's survival skills are tested to their limits. Along the way Jeebee meets danger, a wolf that soon becomes a traveling companion, and soon becomes part of a small family of travelling merchants. What does his future hold?
    A man, failed and unfit, moved west and north. Jeebee had made it safely this far on the electric bike -- a variation on the mountain bicycle with an electrically driven motor -- moving at night through northern Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota. Partway across South Dakota, however, the heavy skies that had been with him since yesterday moved lower; and a late April rain began to come down, cold and bitter on the north wind. His outer clothing, of a breathable, but waterproof fabric, kept the wet from reaching most of him, But even with the long brim of his baseball cap and riding gloves, the rain laid an icy mask on his face and icy chains around his exposed wrists. He stopped at the first abandoned building he could find -- a recently burned and partly fallen-in farmhouse. There was a way among the charred and fallen timbers, however, into a part of it where he could shelter from the rain.

    Isaac Asimov, 1970s
    The title shown here is chronologically the third book in the series, but I definitely recommend starting with this title, then reading the first two last. Hari Seldon is a genius who sees that the behavior of humanity is entirely predictable using a complex branch of statistics, creating a science known as psychohistory. Unfortunately this science foresees the total collapse of civilization and a long dark age. He creates an organization called the Foundation, located on the planet Terminus, which is devoted to keeping a small segment of the civilization alive and well. The series in order consists of:
  • Prelude to Foundation - (not part of the original series) Hari Seldon's early years dabbling with psychohistory.
  • Forward the Foundation - Hari Seldon in his final years before civilization collapses.
  • Foundation - the early years on Foundation's planet Terminus, as it battles threats from outside and internal strife with the late Seldon's guidance.
  • Foundation and Empire - Foundation faces military might from a warlord of the old empire.
  • Second Foundation - a second Foundation exists, being sought out by an empire warlord and a group of scientists.
  • Foundation's Edge - conflict develops between the first and second Foundations, who suspect a hidden force dominating events.
  • Foundation and Earth - mankind searches for its roots: Earth.
    Hardin glanced at his own watch and then at the glass cubicle -- absolutely empty -- that dominated half the room. It was the only unusual feature of the room, for aside from that there was no indication that somewhere a computer was splitting off instants of time toward that precise moment when a muon stream would flow, a connection be made and --
    The lights went dim!
    The glass cubicle was no longer empty. A figure occupied it -- a figure in a wheelchair.
    It said, "I am Hari Seldon." The voice was old and soft. "It is fifty years now since this Foundation was established -- fifty years in which the members of the Foundation have been ignorant of what it was they were working toward. It is necessary that they be ignorant, but now the necessity is gone. The Encyclopedia Foundation, to begin with, is a fraud, and always has been!"

  • Tunnel in the Sky
    Robert A. Heinlein, 1955
    In a future not too different from that in the film Starship Troopers a group of young men and women take part in a survival test: stepping through a interstellar gateway onto a wild, untamed planet. However ten days later when the gateway does not open, the group must prepare for the worst, starting a new civilization and enduring hardships that American pioneers could never dream of.
    The sound that pulled him out of warm drowsiness came from far away; involuntarily he roused himself to hear it. It sounded almost human . . . no, it was human -- the terrible sound of a grown man crying with heartbreak, the deep, retching, bass sobs that tear the chest. Should he climb down and feel his way through the dark to wherever the poor wretch was? Stumbling into tree roots, he reminded himself, and falling into holes and maybe walking straight into the jaws of something hungry and big. Well, should he? Did he have any right not to? It was solved for him by the sobs being answered by more sobs, this time closer and much louder. The new voice did not sound human, much as it was like the first, and it scared him almost out of his hammock. The chest strap saved him. The second voice was joined by a third, farther away. In a few moments the peace of the night had changed to a sobbing, howling ululation of mass fear and agony and defeat unbearable. Rod knew now that this was nothing human, nor anything he had ever heard, or heard of before.

    Martian Chronicles
    Ray Bradbury, 1946
    An incredibly creative epic novel about mankind's exploration and taming of the planet Mars. Behind Martian Chronicles' witty fantasy, Bradbury addresses topics of racism, selfishness, ignorance, and the degradation of a once-dreamy world which once harbored a utopian alien civilization but is eventually covered with roads, automobiles, and out-of-the-way diners. It is almost a metaphor for the European conquest of North America.
    The abandoned planet: There was a little white silent town on the edge of the dead Martian sea. The town was empty. No one moved in it. Lonely lights burned in the stores all day. The shop doors were wide, as if people had run off without using their keys. The town was dead. Its beds were empty and cold. The only sound was the power hum of electric lines and dynamos, still alive all by themselves. Along the empty avenues of this town, now whistling softly, kicking a tin can ahead of him in deepest concentration, came a tall, thin man. His eyes glowed with a dark, quiet look of loneliness. He moved his bony hands in his pockets, which were tinkling with new dimes. Occasionally he tossed a dime to the ground. The laughed temperately, doing this, and walked on, sprinkling bright dimes everywhere. Having decided to return home, he was striking down the middle of a side street, almost running, when he heard the phone. He listened.

    Animal Farm
    George Orwell, 1946
    At times comical, at times grave, this short novel follows a group of farm animals as they plot to escape the tyranny of the cruel farmer that owns them. After seizing control of the farm they adopt a Communist style of government: one for all, all for one, and equality for all. Unfortunately the animal leaders learn to exploit the weaknesses of their government, soon bringing the same form of tyranny that capitalism once brought. What are the animals to do?
    The mystery of where the milk went to was soon cleared up. It was mixed every day into the pigs' mash. The early apples were now ripening, and the grass of the orchard was littered with windfalls. The animals had assumed as a matter of course that these would be shared out equally; one day, however the order went through that all the windfalls were to be collected and brought to the harness-room for the use of the pigs. At this some of the other animals murmured, but it was no use. All the pigs were in full agreement ton this point, even Snowball and Napoleon. Squealer was sent to make the necessary explanations to the others. "Comrades!" he cried. "You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? Many of us actually dislike milk and apples. I dislike them myself. Our sole objective in taking these things is to preserve our health. We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organisation of this farm depend on us."

    Childhood's End
    Arthur C. Clarke, 1953
    An armada of huge flying saucers descend on the Earth. But nothing happens. Nothing gets rid of them, the aliens are never seen, and the saucers are indestructable. Over a period of years the secretive aliens spearhead the creation of a puppet government that brings peace and prosperity to Earth and long-lasting friendships. The question lingers: is it a gift of friendship from one civilization to another, or do the aliens have something more in mind?
    "You've often told me, Rikki, that no matter how unlike you we are physically, the human race would soon grow accustomed to us. That shows a lack of imagination on your part. It would probably be true in your case, but you must remember that most of the world is still uneducated by any reasonable standards, and is riddled with prejudices and superstitions that may take decades to eradicate. You will grant that we know something of human psychology. We know rather accurately what would happen if we revealed ourselves to the world in its present state of development. I can't go into details, even with you, so you must accept my analysis on trust. We can, however, make this definite promise, which should give you some satisfaction. In fifty years -- two generations from now -- we will come down from our ships and humanity will at last see us as we are."

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