Review What is the single best science fiction novel of all time?

1. I’m tired of war and stories about war. I wish i was aware of more sci-fi that didn’t deal with war and mass killing as plot points.

2. This thread isn’t nearly as good as the fantasy one. Arguments about Dune just really aren’t that engaging reading for me.


I have to agree. Not only did this thread devolve too early, it was really low quality navel gazing, at that. Oh well, it happens.

On topic, and to your first point, I will offer "The Martian". Maybe not the #1 sci fi novel of all time. But probably #1 in the past 20 years. Also, to the main point if the thread, it's a stand alone novel as opposed to a series.

I'm also a little surprised we've gone this far without mentioning A Wrinkle In Time (unless I missed it).
 

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MGibster

Legend
Any time you're writing or saying "well, they were a product of their time," you are saying that their values are out of step with contemporary society's -- an implicit criticism.
I'm a big fan of Lovecraft, but I largely agree with the most common criticisms levied against him. Awkward prose? Check. Racism? Check. Hell, I don't even have any objections to removing his image from awards that might be given to African American authors. Nobody is above criticism. And it's more fun to criticize what you love anyway.
 

JoeyQueerAF

Dungeon Master
Since I was sitting with the author of the post at the time they were making it, I can say that no, this was not a trick question, beyond "recommend stuff for Whiz to read other than the usual things people recommend."

No one is trying to censor Lovecraft or Herbert or anyone else. But it's also silly to say "well, they're dead, so we can't criticize them."

Any time you're writing or saying "well, they were a product of their time," you are saying that their values are out of step with contemporary society's -- an implicit criticism.
Got it, fairly new here and glad to know that was not the intention. Cheers.
Im not sure what you meant with your last sentence. Values, ethics, morals change, so are these reflected in books.
 

JoeyQueerAF

Dungeon Master
Two things (from my perspective):

1. I’m tired of war and stories about war. I wish i was aware of more sci-fi that didn’t deal with war and mass killing as plot points.

2. This thread isn’t nearly as good as the fantasy one. Arguments about Dune just really aren’t that engaging reading for me.
believe me when I say I am done with this debate and hoping it gets back to the point of the thread. If folks need to air their grievances, they're disagreements, criticisms, please kindly leave me out of it. Thank you.
 

Hussar

Legend
Less argument because SF doesn’t have a giant sized Tolkien sitting at the centre skewing the whole genre.

SF is a really broad genre. The Quest for Fire is a fantastic SF story. But it really doesn’t share much with Flowers for Algernon or The Three Body Problem.

Which makes pointing to the “single best” really hard. There really isn’t one. Not really. We can point to the greats but none really stand out the way Tolkien does.

So at best all people can say is this or that is my favourite.
 

DrunkonDuty

he/him
I read Hyperion and it was pretty much everything I don’t like in the genre. Most of the book is spent on world building. Very little on plot or character. At least, that was my take away. It’s the primary reason I read so little fantasy.

I find world building for its own sake to be tedious and pointless. I just don’t care.

Fair enough.

I like good world building and I found Hyperion did an excellent job of it.
 


John Lloyd1

Explorer
Oh I get that.

I know I’m in the minority here. Totally get that.

It’s largely why I tend to stick to shorter fiction.

Hyperion without world building is a fantastic short story. :)
I'm not sure that you are alone. I found it a bit plodding and the Shrike part didn't jell for me. I read it a couple of years ago and it's fading from my memory.
 

Clint_L

Hero
I agree with you. A good book is a good book, and pigeonholing something into a genre can be a trap. Genre is a tool for helping to find similar books on a bookshop shelf, it shouldn't be any more.
This isn't really true. Genre is much more than an organizing tool; it has a huge influence on style and content.

Genre fiction is almost always heavily plot-oriented, with more focus on action and setting. Science fiction further has a strong emphasis on scientific ideas which gives the prose a didactic tendency. Readers who prefer particular genres are expecting certain features, and that leads to genre fiction often feeling repetitive and derivative. Characters are often somewhat stock (so many orphans, for example).

Critics tend to look down on genre fiction because most of it is simply not that skilled. You get a lot more potboilers, and a lot of writing is done by authors who are more interested in exploring genre conventions or pushing the plot forward than crafting a gorgeous sentence. Look at almost any of the writers in this discussion: no one is going to mistake Isaac Asimov or Robert Heinlein for James Joyce or Toni Morrison any time soon.

What makes a book "good" is entirely contextual, so if you are in the mood for a page turner that you don't have to think too hard about, then a deeply introspective character study with challenging sentence structure and dense symbolism is probably not going to do it for you. That's me, a lot of the time: I teach language and literature all year, so on vacation I stay well clear of Booker Prize nominees. Instead, I look for well done genre fiction. Science fiction tickles different parts of my brain than those pedigreed novels do, as does horror, fantasy, historical fiction, travelogue, etc.

So I can read a book and recognize that it is not "good" in a literary studies sense - I wouldn't assign it for an oral commentary, for example, because it would be tough to find an extract with enough literary technique to unpack. And I can also think that it is a great read and recommend it to all my friends. Like, I currently am loving the Murderbot series by Martha Wells. Would I consider it great literature? No. Would I consider it great science fiction? Absolutely. Am I looking forward to the next novel more than any other book? 100%.

Edit: there are very few "pure" science fiction writers that would make critics' lists of great writers, and those ones are not being brought up in this discussion, except maybe William Gibson, and he would be marginal. If we are looking at writers of science fiction who are also acclaimed by literary critics, we are talking George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, William Burroughs, etc.
 
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