Thursday, January 20, 2011

First Loves: My Favorite Science Fiction

We all start out with our reading choices made for us.  Parents, then teachers, pick out appropriate books and steer our tastes until that glorious day when we sneak off to the library on our own and fall in love with whatever we want.  My first literary love was science fiction.  I started out with space operas, but it didn't take me long to discover how diverse the genre is.  Here are my all-time favorites, in no particular order:

China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh
It’s not quite a novel—more a collection of loosely-connected stories.  McHugh's near-future is gritty, plausible and richly imagined, and she reveals it through some of the most complex and sympathetic narrators I’ve ever read.  I’ve heard the book described as placid, and that’s true, but it’s also beautiful.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
I admit: it took me a little while to get into this one, but once I did, I was sold.   So many of the concepts (a world in perpetual winter, a race of people who swap gender) are fascinating, but it’s the relationships that make the book stick with me.

Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson
Neuromancer may be his most famous, but this one is my favorite.  It’s a charming rags-to-riches story at its core, but it’s still set in Gibson’s terrifying and unstable cyberpunk future.

The Rowan by Anne McCaffrey
She’s famous for her dragons, but if I had to pick one of her books, it would be The Rowan.   Part space opera and part coming of age story, with a telekinetic heroine.  What more could I want?  

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
It’s a first-contact story, but it’s also an exploration of the meaning of human suffering, and none of the answers it finds are pretty.  The book, though, is gorgeous.

I tried to come up with a unifying theme from this list in hopes it would reveal something profound about my psychological make-up, but all I've noticed is that I should add some newer titles to my library.  In my to-be-read stack are Beth Revis’s Across the Universe, and Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl.  Got any other suggestions for me?  What was your first literary love?


  1. The Left Hand of Darkness bothered the crap out of me with how there was no sex between the two main characters. It's like when you're about to sneeze but... don't. You know that infamous rejection letter for that novel? ...... I kind of feel exactly the same way. Can I admit that? Is this a safe place? Hehe.

    You're right - fascinating concepts, and I loved the relationship between the two "leads." Just wish... you know.

  2. I didn't explain the sneeze thing well. I mean, I felt all built up with no release. (Maybe that was obvious.)

  3. Oooh. I'm relatively unfamiliar with sci-fi, so this is kind of a cool reading list for me.

    Have you read anything from the UGLIES series? Perhaps it's not sci-fi so much as dystopia, but Scott Westerfeld is a freaking genius. His worlds are jaw-dropping, seriously.

    As far as MY literary loves? Ahh, any MG detective story I could get my hands on. Anything R.L. Stine. In other words, the books that were supposed to be "trashy" (according to one of my teachers).

  4. @Jaimie: Of course it's safe! :) I know what you mean about The Left Hand of did get a little frustrating. It didn't ruin the book for me, thought. Art! It's Subjective!

    @Feliza: Your comment makes me remember the Encyclopedia Brown series, which I read in it's entirety. There was another one with this boy-genius named Jupiter, and he had this secret hideout in a junkyard, and I *loved* those books. I can't remember what they were called, though. Trashy books RULE.