The mission of this blog is simple: To give my thoughts, feelings, impressions and judgments on the top 100 Science Fiction novels of all time (as selected by Sci Fi Lists).
I’m not interested in getting into an argument over where each book falls on the list or how the rankings were compiled. Passionate fans could argue for millennia about the ranking of specific books – and each reader is going to have their own opinion on their favorite novels. However, I’ve found that this list in particular has been a great resource for discovering new novels and authors that I would have never come across on my own.
I’m nowhere near done with the list, so this is going to be an ongoing process. Please feel free to comment on any of my posts, whether you agree, disagree or just want to talk about the book!
With its high stakes interstellar conflict, menacing alien threat, sympathetic child protagonists and a twist ending that would make The Sixth Sense jealous, Ender’s Game is an instant classic and one that has captured the imaginations of both science fiction and non-science fiction fans alike. Whether it deserves the number 1 ranking on this list is up for debate, but it certainly has a place in my mind as one of the most striking, original and strangely moving books I’ve ever read.
Ender’s Game Summary
Set in a future in which humanity has been in conflict with an alien race known as the Formics (or the pejorative “Buggers”), the novel follows the progress of 6 year old Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, a gifted child who was the result of a government program to develop new commanders to help in the fight against the Buggers.
After a schoolyard altercation results in another boy being seriously injured, Ender is whisked away to Battle School – an elite training facility where young prodigies are tested on their military instincts and groomed for the upper command levels. Ender quickly shows himself to be at the top of his class through his ingenious use of military tactics during a succession of zero-gravity war games.
While Ender’s success makes him a target for older, resentful commanders, he keeps moving up the ranks and is eventually promoted to Command School where he gets advanced military training from the famous commander Mazer Rackham. In Command School, Ender’s tests and games become increasingly exhausting and consuming until he is finally forced to make a ruthless decision that has devastating consequences…
Ender’s Game Review
Much like Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Ender’s Game centers around a group of children who, over the course of the novel, seem to grow in our minds into full fledged adults whose emotions and actions seem at odds with their actual ages. And while Card has been criticized by some who object to the level of violence and cold, military cunning that he ascribes to these children, the youth of these characters only served to add weight to the sadness I felt for these kids who had been raised to be self-sufficient and trained since birth to view life as a conflict to be won or lost, all while having to deal with the petty jealousies and competitive cruelty that every survivor of childhood knows all too well.
The fact that these “Innocents” are competing against each other to kill a faceless enemy for the better of mankind is seen as an inevitable result of the fear that the Formic race has instilled in humanity. And while obvious similarities to our own current state of war and paranoia can be made (and references to earth bound politics, rivalries and warring factions are made throughout), the book doesn’t focus as much on the overall implications of the Bugger threat as it does on Ender’s struggles with his own abilities and the consequences of his actions.
My main regret with this book was that I didn’t read it when I was younger. I’ve literally had people recommending this book to me since I was 14, but only just got around to reading it about 5 years ago. Although the childhood conflicts and emotional turmoil still rang true to my grown-up self, I think that I probably would have had an even greater visceral reaction to the story and the struggles of Ender if I’d been closer to his age when I experienced it. Oh well, better late than never I guess.
Ender’s Game Quotes
“As a species, we have evolved to survive. And the way we do it is by straining and straining and, at last, every few generations, giving birth to genius. The one who invents the wheel. And light. And flight. The one who builds a city, a nation, an empire…. Human beings are free except when humanity needs them. Maybe humanity needs you. To do something.” – Colonel Graff
“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them-….. I destroy them. I make it impossible for them to ever hurt me again. I grind them and grind them until they don’t exist” – Ender Wiggin
Few books on this list have had a bigger cultural impact than Frank Herbert’s 1965 masterpiece. Often cited as the best selling science fiction novel of all time (over 10 million copies sold), it is also usually in the discussion as possibly the best novel that science fiction has ever produced, period. Spawning countless sequels (only 5 of which were written by Herbert himself), prequels, movies, TV adaptations and even a video game, the Dune saga looms large in any discussion of the top science fiction franchises of all time.
Dune tells the story of young Paul Atreides and House Atreides as they take over control of the desert planet Arrakis from their hated rivals House Harkonnen. Despite its harsh climate, unfriendly native population and hostile wildlife (i.e. Killer Worms), Arrankis is also the only known source in the universe of the “spice” Melange – an addictive substance which has the ability to extend life and give greater awareness to the user – including the ability to fold space-time for interstellar travel. Suffice it to say, the Spice is the engine that powers the entire Empire, making Arrakis the most strategically important planet in the universe.
While Paul is a member of House Atreides, it is also revealed that he is the product of a centuries old breeding program organized by the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, a shadowy group whose goal is to produce a super human with prescience abilities – also known as the Kwisatz Haderach. As the novel progresses, Paul becomes more attuned to his growing powers and how to harness them for his own purposes. After an ambush by House Harkonnen deposes House Atreides and sends them scattering, Paul and his mother Lady Jessica are forced to take refuge with the planet’s native elements – the Fremen. During his time with the Fremen, Paul completes his transformation from fresh faced royal heir to the vengeful messiah Muad’Dib – bent on retaking Arrakis back from the Harkonnens and spreading Jihad throughout the universe.
While there are many reasons to appreciate Herbert’s brilliantly realized world (its philosophical meditations on war and power, its subtle environmental and ecological themes, its epic battles and strategic maneuvering), the thing that impressed me most was the sense that, although the novel often take place on an intimate, individual level (as with Paul’s almost constant inner dialogue and self reflective soul searching), there is still a sense that the events set in motion have consequences on a much larger scale. Whether it’s the generations worth of selective breeding and silent influence of the Bene Gesserit or Paul’s own visions of the Jihad he created sweeping out into the Universe unchecked for centuries, the larger than life nature of Dune’s mythology serves to elevate the stakes of what may seem at first to be petty squabbles between feuding families. Even Paul’s own personal metamorphoses is a clear narrative archetype – a dramatic retelling of the Hero’s Journey (or Monomyth) – and one that can be found in numerous stories throughout history.
While the original Dune is still untouchable, the sequels do an admirable job of continuing the story and adding new layers and characters to the mythology. So if you end up finding yourself becoming addicted to the spice-tinged intricacies of the Dune universe, you’ll be happy to know that there is no shortage of further adventures and interplanetary intrigue to help you get your fix.
“Imust not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” – Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear
Dune Series: Dune | Dune Messiah | Children of Dune | God Emperor of Dune | Heretics of Dune | Chapterhouse: Dune
I have to admit, when I first read Foundation (probably sometime around age 15), I didn’t really understand much of what was going on. I remember reading it partly because it was supposed to be a “classic,” but mainly because it had a cool cover. The overall ideas and themes interested me, but the dense exposition, foreign settings and growing list of minor characters (whose names I had trouble pronouncing) were just a little too much for my impatient teenage mind to process. Maybe it was because it was one of the first real science fiction novels I’d read and I just wasn’t accustomed to the peculiarities of the genre. Either way, I’m glad that I gave it a second chance later in life.
The part of the book that intrigued me the most (both times I read it) was the concept of Psychohistory: a fictional branch of science that used elements of mathematics, history and sociology to help predict human behavior over long periods of time. While not quite true prescience, the idea that you could use statistical principles and human psychology to, essentially, look into the future was a fascinating idea. In the novel, the main character Hari Seldon is able to use psychohistory in order to predict the downfall of the current Galactic Empire – as well as a 30,000 year period of barbarism to follow. In order to shorten the time period between the fall of the Empire and the rise of a second empire, Seldon sets out to create a collection of the entirety of human knowledge (the Encyclopedia Galactica) – compiled and protected by an organization known as the Foundation.
As the first novel in the Foundation Trilogy (originally published as a collection of five short stories), the book recounts the founding and strengthening of the first Foundation amidst a skeptical empire and a location amidst planets that were rapidly devolving into barbarism. The second novel, Foundation and Empire, introduces another threat to the Foundation: The Mule – a mutant conqueror whose unique ability to alter people’s emotional allegiances was not accounted for in Seldon’s predictions, and which ultimately leads to a confrontation with the Foundation. As its title suggests, the final book in the original trilogy, Second Foundation, recounts the discovery of a parallel Foundation at the opposite end of the universe – whose true purpose is eventually revealed.
While it would be hard to call Foundation action-packed (most of the actual fighting and war takes place “off-screen”), there is just enough intrigue and suspense to keep the story humming along. But even though it has its entertaining elements, I would recommend this book to a friend as a novel of “Ideas.” Sometimes you’re just not ready to appreciate something like that at first (I wasn’t). But if you are, there are few better places to start than Asimov’s crowning achievement.
“It is the invariable lesson to humanity that distance in time, and in space as well, lends focus. It is not recorded, incidentally, that the lesson has ever been permanently learned.”
“Any dogma, primarily based on faith and emotionalism, is a dangerous weapon to use on others, since it is almost impossible to guarantee that the weapon will never be turned on the user.”
The Foundation Trilogy: Foundation | Foundation and Empire | Second Foundation Other Books in the Foundation Series: Foundation’s Edge | Foundation and Earth | Prelude to Foundation | Forward the Foundation
As a huge fan of Clifford Simak’s novel City, I was excited to read more of his work. Luckily one his other novels, Way Station, was also on my list. Often considered Simak’s most famous novel (it won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1964), Way Station tells the story of an old Civil War veteran who is recruited by an Alien creature to manage a secret interplanetary travel hub for creatures throughout the galaxy. And while it doesn’t match the imagination and brilliance of City, it does offer enough compelling characters and interesting situations to make me recommend it to readers who like their Science Fiction thoughtful, quiet, and meditative rather than explosive and action packed. It also does a nice job subverting our stereotypes of rural people as simpletons and half-wits, uninterested in learning more about the world (and the universe) around them.
Way Station Summary: Enoch Wallace is a veteran of the American Civil War, having fought at Gettysburg and returned home to live a reclusive life in a rural area of Wisconsin. Although the novel is set years later (probably sometime around 1960), Enoch still looks as if he is 30 years old. We soon find out that he was chosen by an Alien named Ulysses to operate a way station that serves as one part of a vast transportation network that connects civilizations throughout the galaxy. Although the station is located on Earth, Enoch is told that human civilization is not yet ready to join the fraternity of Galactic races, which means that the way station must remain a secret. Located inside Enoch’s modest home in a remote area, the station consists of a gaggle of Alien machines and contraptions designed to receive galactic travelers and then pass them along to the next way station along the line. As the operator of this particular station, Enoch has gotten a chance to meet and interact with hundreds of different space-faring races of all shapes and sizes, and has even managed to become friends with some of the more frequent travelers. While describing how the station works, we also learn that time doesn’t move forward for Enoch while he is in the station – a fact which explains his youthful appearance even after more than 120 relative years.
With his youthful, questioning mind, Enoch tries to learn as much about his unique visitors and their respective cultures as possible. They often bring him strange gifts from other worlds and he rewards them with a cup of coffee, which apparently is one of the most rare and delicious things in the universe (I can’t disagree). While studying one of his visitor’s culture’s unique mathematics, he sees a high probability that human civilization will be destroyed by nuclear war in the near future. Even more troubling to Enoch than the fact that millions may die in the war is the idea that this act of aggression could forestall Earth’s entry into the Galactic union. In addition, he also learns from his friend Ulysses that some members of the Galactic counsel want to close down the way station on the “backwater” world of Earth for good. To someone who has grown to appreciate the vast knowledge and diversity of races that the Galaxy holds, the idea of Earth losing out on this opportunity to join the co-fraternity of races is almost too much to handle. As the action comes to a head, Enoch is forced to contend not only with enemies from outside of Earth, but also from government forces and local hotheads who have become suspicious of his longevity and curious about what’s going on in his little shack.
Way Station Review: While the plot deals with Galactic forces and strange, otherworldly beings, the real heart of the story is Enoch himself. Although he lives near intolerant hillbillies and shares a planet with aggressive humans who are motivated by power and greed, Enoch is an inherently good man and sees salvation in the shared unity and decency of all races (both human and alien). That desire to form a connection with something greater than himself stems in part from the loneliness and isolation he’s felt over the past 100 years as the only human to know of the existence of extraterrestrial life. As we are told about friends and family (and lovers) that have passed away overs the years, we come to have deep sympathy for Enoch and the burden that he has had to bear. Simak does a great job drawing a connection between Enoch’s loneliness and the plight of humanity – all alone among the stars and searching for meaning and connection with something bigger. And while the book may not be as fast-paced or action packed as some of the others on this list, I’d have to say it is still one of the more satisfying reads that I’ve had in a while.
Summary | Review | Buy The Lathe of Heaven is one of those books for which the term mind-bending was invented. Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1971 novel about a man whose dreams can alter the very nature of reality is a masterful examination of the mind’s ability to shape our perception of the world around us and our powerful need to change that to fit our desires. While it shares thematic similarities to a lot of Philip K. Dick’s work in its discussion of alternate realities and the untrustworthy nature of our perceptions, Le Guin makes it uniquely her own by imagining how an effort to manipulate reality (even with the best of intentions) can have disastrous consequences. At turns contemplative, moody, exhilarating and terrifying, The Lathe of Heaven is one of my favorite science fiction novels of all time and an absolute must-read.
The Lathe of Heaven Summary: The book takes place in Portland, Oregon in an impoverished near future in which rain is constant and an unspecified war rages in the Middle East. George Orr is a man who is sentenced to “voluntary” psychiatric care for abusing drugs; drugs that he’s been using as self-medication in order to avoid having “effective” dreams. These dreams have the ability to retroactively change reality to fit the new reality of his dream. Upon waking up, however, George is the only one who remembers the previous reality. To the rest of the world, this new reality is (and has always been) the only one. While this may seem like a fascinating ability in theory, we eventually come to learn about the heavy burden that it places on Orr. In fact, he wants nothing more than to rid himself of his ability. As part of his psychiatric evaluation, George is forced to begin therapy sessions with a psychiatrist named William Haber who specializes in sleep research.
While Haber is initially wary of Orr’s claims, he eventually comes to accept it after a guided sleep session in which he becomes aware of a slight change in reality. Sensing the enormous potential of Orr’s ability, he begins to conduct weekly guided dreaming sessions (enhanced by a biofeedback/EEG machine) in which he directs Orr to dream about specific scenarios that he thinks will be beneficial for society (and himself). But while the changes that Haber tries to enact are meant to cure specific problems in the world, the method by which George’s mind makes them happen are equally (if not more) problematic. After instructing him to dream of a world free from racism, everyone on earth becomes an identical grey color. In order to help combat the growing problem of overpopulation, George dreams up a plague that kills over 70% of the world’s people. By attempting to create “Peace on Earth,” George conceives of an Alien takeover of the moon that unites the world in opposition to the external threat. In removing the Alien’s from the moon, he causes them to launch a full scale invasion of Earth. And so on and so on until the various layers of reality begin get jumbled and uncertain. When George refuses to dream anymore, Haber tries to use what he’s learned to “effectively” dream himself, with disastrous consequences.
The Lathe of Heaven Review: The idea that our individual reality is the only “true” reality has been a powerful theme ever since the Greek philosopher Gorgias expressed the concept of solipsism, which basically boils down to the idea that an objective knowledge of reality is impossible since we can only really know what our senses tell us. In The Lathe of Heaven, Le Guin uses that idea as a jumping off point to explore philosophical issues such as positivism, behaviorism and utilitarianism in the context of George’s struggle to control the processes of his mind and Haber’s attempts to exploit them. Don’t get me wrong, though. This isn’t a book that knocks you over the head with heady philosophical treatises or explanations. In fact it’s actually the exact opposite. By constructing a world in which characters are forced to deal with the changing nature of reality and the consequences of those changes, Le Guin forces us to re-examine our own ideas about our relationship to the world around us and the role that our mind plays in creating that relationship. In other words, this is some trippy ass shit!
Summary | Review | Buy
Much like it’s protagonist, Civil War veteran John Carter, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars is a big, bold, testosterone-soaked piece of pulp fiction and adventure fantasy. Containing elements of science fiction, planetary romance and old westerns, the book is a landmark of genre fiction – having inspired countless future scientists and science fiction masters (such as Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke). Even though the novel’s scientific underpinnings and predictions about the landscape, conditions and inhabitants of Mars may have turned out to be false (having been based primarily on the writings of Astronomer Percival Lowell who speculated that Mars was a dying, Earth-like world with canals built to disperse the planet’s dwindling water supply), that fact makes the tale no less engrossing and readable. While we may now know for certain that this version of Mars never actually existed, Burroughs’ skill and imagination at conjuring a brutal, exotic and relentless world make us wish it had.
A Princess of Mars Summary: Although he’s probably best known for creating the character of Tarzan of the Apes, Burroughs’ second most well known creation is the heroic, honorable and almost supernaturally gifted fighter John Carter. A Virginian gentleman and war veteran, Carter narrates his own astounding tale of Galactic adventure and romance. After the war, Carter goes to Arizona to prospect for gold. While hiding from a band of marauding Apaches, he is mysteriously transported to the planet Mars (no explanation is ever given). Once there, he is overtaken and held captive by the Tharks, a tribe of giant, green, four-armed warriors who seem to be in a constant state of war with all of the other races on the planet. Through his physical prowess and fighting skill, Carter eventually wins their respect and becomes a part of the tribe. But when the Tharks destroy a passing fleet of enemy ships and capture the beautiful Martian princess Deja Thoris (of a race of humanoid looking Martians), Carter goes into hero mode once again to free her and return her to her people.
In the process of rescuing the princess, Carter becomes embroiled in the politics and conflicts of the various warring factions on Mars (called Barsoom by its own inhabitants), eventually leading an army of Thark warriors against the enemy state of Zodanga in order to protect the people of Helium. In doing so, he is able to finally unite the Green and Red men of Mars into an alliance and end centuries of fighting and war. Carter eventually marries Deja Thoris and becomes Prince of Mars, living happily until an accident occurs at the Atmosphere Plant (which helps distribute Mars’ dwindling supply of oxygen). Always the hero, Carter rushes to the planet and seemingly gives his own life in order to restore the machinery and save the planet. But in just as mysterious circumstances, he awakens back in the Arizona desert having been gone for almost 10 years. While the existences of several sequelssuggests that he eventually finds his way back to Barsoom, we never actually see him return to his newly adopted planet.
A Princess of Mars Review: It’s easy to look at Princess of Mars as simply a stereotypical male-oriented adventure tale about an American hero who is able to triumph in battle and win the hand of the girl through sheer force of will, goodness and humanity, but that wouldn’t do justice to the groundbreaking nature of Burroughs’ vision and his ability to capture the imaginations of readers everywhere. While this type of space/adventure/romance tale may seem commonplace and derivative to today’s reader, at the time they seemed incredibly new and intriguing. With close up images of our neighboring planets starting to circulate for the first time around the turn of the century and scientists predicting what strange and wondrous things we would find when we got their, the public’s appetite for speculative fiction and adventure was immense – and Burroughs’ gave them exactly what they wanted. Even if reality may not have fallen in line with his unique vision, this book makes it possible to imagine a time in which it was still a possibility – even if just in our collective imagination.
Summary | Review | Buy
A cross between a James Bond adventure and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Robert Heinlein’s 1951 novel The Puppet Masters is a fast-paced alien invasion thriller that combines secret agent intrigue and sexual politics with a healthy dose of flying saucer paranoia. While the book lacks some of the gravitas and narrative punch of his later works (this being one of his earliest novels), it more than makes up for it with a tightly-plotted, suspense-filled story populated by slimy monsters, daring secret agents, and beautiful women. And although Heinlein makes occasional allusions to the similarities between the mind-controlling aliens and the practices of Communist Russia (the Cold War being at its height at the time the book was written), I think that this book is best enjoyed as a Sci-Fi spy thriller rather than any sort of political allegory.
The Puppet Masters Summary: Our James Bond stand-in is a man named Sam, an expertly trained agent who works for a top secret government intelligence agency under the direction of his boss, a man simply known as “the Old Man.” There is no mention of the name of the organization and, it is explained, the only person who is aware of its existence is the President. The novel starts out with Sam and the Old Man (along with a gorgeous agent named “Mary”) as they investigate a flyer saucer appearance in Iowa. During their investigation they discover that local residents are becoming mentally enslaved by slug-like creatures that are attaching themselves to the back of their host’s neck (presumably their brain-stem). After capturing one of the slugs, the team tries to convince the President of the seriousness of the threat but is unable to persuade him to take the slug menace seriously.
After returning to Iowa to continue the investigation, one of the members of their team secretly becomes controlled by one of the slugs and inadvertently brings it back to their Washington, D.C. headquarters with him. In a funny bit of sexual serendipity, the slug is only discovered when Mary walks past the controlled agent and doesn’t get the same lascivious look that she usually gets from men reacting to her beauty, leading her to believe (however conceitedly) that he is not in full control of his faculties. Although her intuition turns out to be right and the agent is subdued, the slug is able to escape from its host and eventually attach itself to our protagonist Sam. Under the control of the slug, Sam escapes their headquarters. At around the same time, we learn that the invasion has been spreading, with slugs multiplying and even sending themselves through the mail in order to infect more people. By the time Sam is recaptured and rid of the slug, the slugs have been able to take over control of people in high levels of government and are poised to make a play on the President.
The Puppet Masters Review: I won’t spoil the fun for you by telling you how they get out of their predicament (or even if they do), but I will tell you that the final act features some pretty cool reveals and enough action and suspense to fill a Hollywood blockbuster – which is probably why they’ve made a few of them out of the novel’s basic premise. So, if you’re in the mood for an exciting and original take on the alien invasion story, Heinlein’s Puppet Masters is a great read. Even if it doesn’t match the brilliance of his more celebrated works, it nevertheless stands on its own as a uniquely compelling piece of pulp entertainment.
Alien names and languages are often a tricky proposition when it comes to telling a Science Fiction tale. Done right, they can help add a level of foreign beauty and otherworldly texture that can add to the immersive nature of the story and give the characters a unique identity. Done poorly, however, and it can be hard for the reader to tell who is talking and what they’re even talking about. Unfortunately, C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet lands squarely in the latter camp. From hrossa to seroni to sorns to pfifltriggi, the different creatures and inhabitants of Malacandra end up all blurring together in a jumble of unpronounceable names. Add to that the fact that nearly every word in their language starts with h (handra, harandra, handramit, hlab, hluntheline, hnakra, hnakrapunt, hnau, hressni, hru – you get the point) and you get a book that’s a chore to read. I’m sure there’s a decent story in there somewhere, but I spent too much time trying to figure out what was going on (and to whom) to find it. If you’re a fan of linguistics or someone who doesn’t mind learning an entirely new language just to read a book, than you might find something to enjoy here. I’m just not one of those people. Given all that, I’ll still try to give a synopsis of what I think happened (with a little help from Wikipedia).
The book opens on Dr. Elwin Ransom as he’s in the middle of a walking tour of the English countryside. As night starts to fall and he’s refused lodging at a village, he stumbles upon a house where he hears a struggle going on. After investigating, he finds out that its the home of two fellow professors (Mr. Devine and Professor Weston). The struggle he overheard was with a neighbor boy who the pair had hoped to use for some sort of experiment. When Ransom walks in, they decide that he’ll be a better subject and offer him a place to stay for the night and a drink. Upon waking up from the effects of the drugged drink, he finds himself aboard some sort of spacecraft and learns, through overhearing the conversation of Devine and Weston, that they are heading to a planet called Malacandra (what we learn is actually Mars). Although Ransom is excited at first about the idea of flying through space and visiting another planet, the fact that he was kidnapped makes him uneasy – as does the conversation he overhears where Devine and Weston are talking about offering him up as a sacrifice to the planet’s inhabitants.
When they finally get to the planet, Ransom is able to escape and ends up wandering around the strange landscape for a while. While not drastically different than Earth, the planet seems to have a few large differences – including less gravity, warmer water, and extremely tall plants and trees. After stumbling around for a while, Ransom finally runs into one of the natives of Malacandra (the hross). Apparently Ransom is a brilliant linguist himself and is somehow able to learn the language of the hross after spending just a few months in their village. After being contacted by an eldil (don’t ask) and told that he must travel to meet Oyarsa (really?), he ends up having a final confrontation with Devine and Weston in the presence of the natives in which he learns that Weston’s main goal in coming to Malacandra is to help spread Mankind’s DNA across the stars through colonization and further space exploration.
With subtle (and not so subtle) references to angels and other Christian archetypes, Lewis seems to be comparing Malacandra to some sort of Eden – with the intrusion of humans coming to conquer representing the fall from grace. But whatever metaphors he’s trying to use are lost in a jumble of incoherent speechifying and confusing expository dialogue. Maybe readers in 1938 (when the book was published) had more patience for this sort of thing, or maybe it’s just me. While I loved and enjoyed the Chronicles of Narnia series as a kid, I really can’t recommend this book to anyone other than classic Science Fiction purists or “Top 100” list completists (like me). If you think I missed something here, feel free to let me know in the comments section.
Summary | Review | Buy
A lot of science fiction novels have a tendency to get bogged down in weighty themes, big ideas and serious, brooding characters – which is why the occasional book that throws a little humor and wit into the mix can be a welcome respite. Robert Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit Will Travel is one of those books. As both a fast paced swash-buckling adventure tale across the farthest reaches of the galaxy and as a wry, humorous parable about a teenage boy who learns how to realize his dreams, the book takes off at a frenzied pace and doesn’t let up. Written during his “Juveniles” period, in which he published books aimed mainly at teenage boys, the book crackles to life with an energy that is infectious to readers of any age. Heinlein’s writing is sharp, smart and efficient (as well as funny) and manages to even make the mechanical intricacies and practical necessities of spacesuit design seem interesting. If you’re looking for some light Sci-Fi reading and a change of pace from your ordinary space operas, you can’t go wrong with this book.
Summary: The hero of the story is a teenage boy named Kip Russell. Scientifically inclined and obsessed with finding a way to travel to the moon, Kip enters a jingle contest for the Skyway Soap company in which first prize is an all expenses paid trip to the moon. Although he fails to win the grand prize, Kip perks up when his second place prize is delivered to his house: a real life spacesuit. Kip spends the summer fixing up the old space suit to the point where it’s actually in working condition, even though he still has no way to get where he wants to go – all the while planning and scheming on how he is going to make enough money to cover the tuition for his first semester of college. Kip starts to think that his dreams may have to be put on hold for a long time, until one eventful afternoon changes everything. Trying on his fully functional suit in his backyard one last time before selling it to help pay for school, Kip picks up a Mayday signal from someone on his suit’s radio. To his amazement, two flying saucers land near him and, next thing he knows, he’s captured and taken to the moon where he is held captive by a group of alien uglies that look like they have worms growing out of their faces.
Luckily he’s not alone. Joining him in captivity is a young girl named PeeWee (the one who sent the original radio message). She explains to him that they’re being held by a race of “Wormfaces” who we eventually learn are plotting to take over the earth for their own nefarious purposes. Also in captivity is a being known as the “Mother Thing,” a kindly, telepathic creature who PeeWee informs Kip is also sort of like a policeman for the galaxy (obviously trying to stop the Wormfaces). After a series of heroic escapes in which Kip uses his intelligence and ingenuity to save the day, including one across the moon’s surface in which we learn a lot about the workings (and limitations) of a spacesuit, the trio are eventually saved by the Mother Thing’s people and taken to their home planet: Vega 5. There they are made witnesses of and participants in the trial of the Wormfaces in what seems to be a sort of galactic court. Unexpectedly, however, the Wormfaces aren’t the only ones put on trial. Although they are considered heroes for helping stop the Wormfaces and saving the Mother Thing, they are made to stand trial for the entire human race -a race that the court has decided may some day pose a threat to peace in the galaxy (due to our penchant for explosive weapons and territorial aggression). While I won’t give away the ending, the question of whether the story written for teenage boys has a happy ending is probably not too hard to figure out.
Review: Even if the story seems a little childish and unsophisticated compared to some of the muli-dimensional, multi-character epics of science fiction, don’t let that fool you. What elevates this book above the majority of fiction written for the teen age group is that Heinlein never talks down to the reader, and that is exactly why this is a book that would have been just as entertaining to my 13 year old self as it was to my 32 year old mind. Sure, it may not be a mind-expanding, paradigm-shifting, otherworldly tour-de-force. But sometimes that not what you’re looking for in a book. If you’re looking for a quick, absorbing and fast-paced read while your sitting by the pool this summer (or gazing up at the stars), you couldn’t do a lot worse than this one. And if you’re of the type of intelligent, ambitious and searching souls as young Kip, you’ll find even more stuff in this book to relate to and dream about.