This list ends up being a lot shorter than my series review, because, as it turns out, most successful sci-fi books end up becoming just the first in an all-too-often too long series. But what happens when everything that needs to be accomplished can be accomplished in just one book? These four books answer that question. And answer it with vigor.
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
Where to begin? Do you like video games?
If you answered no, please stop reading and start gaming.
For those of you who have chosen… wisely, you should read RP1, RIGHT THE F— NOW. This is, hands-down, the greatest sci-fi book ever written. It takes place in a near-term dystopian society where a multi-billionaire gives away his fortune to the first person to solve a series of puzzles. Not just any puzzle, but multi-stage puzzles the answers to which require an incredible knowledge of video games and pop culture.
The good news is, as a casual reader, you don’t have to possess said knowledge, you just have to sit back and enjoy as the main character solves these challenges, takes on an evil corporation, and grows, both an avatar and as a human being, in the process.
I’m an RP1 pusher, yet every single person I’ve pushed this book on has thanked me for it.
House of Suns, by Alastair Reynolds
House of Suns is the quintessential deep space sci-fi novel. Imagine following a journey of hundreds of thousands of years, spanning the entire galaxy, encountering dozens of civilizations, and yet all the while being immersed in an intensely character-driven story. Alastair Reynolds is the king of space opera, and House of Suns is his masterwork.
If you want your mind expanded by the vastness of the galaxy, and then completely blown out by the intricacies of character interaction, all while traversing spacetime like it ain’t no thang, then pick up House of Sun. Immediately.
Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
I consider Ender’s Game to be the single greatest leadership book ever written. Yet it’s sci-fi. And about children. WTF?
Let’s step away from the Harvard Business School aspects of this book for a moment, and just evaluate it along a pure sci-fi angle: it’s still damn good. This is a book about a space-faring humankind encountering a deadly enemy across all fronts of its planetary colonies. It’s about how our galactic government plans to deal with it.
How? By creating the perfect leader. It just so happens that the perfect leader is, intentionally, a child. That child is Ender, and if I could have even one tenth the people-skills, instincts, and leadership ability he does, then I’d be the next POTUS.
Any time I want to enjoy both a business book and a sci-fi novel, I fire up Ender’s Game.
The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson
Candy. Pure candy compared to the others here–but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. RP1 satisfies my inner gaming geek; House of Suns, the dreamer in me; and Ender’s Game the leader I want to be. What does that leave? It leaves room for a pure sci-fi book for the sake of sci-fi, and Neil Stephenson nails it.
If you’ve read and enjoyed any William Gibson novels (which is a redundant statement) then you must pick up The Diamond Age. This book not only explores the possibilities of how technology in the hands of the right person can affect the lives of millions (or billions) of people, but it’s a story of hope and serendipity in a semi-distopian future. And, as far as stand-alone sci-fi books go, it’s a must-read.