Classic sci-fi or fantasy that's still worth reading?

I’ve been in a retro mood lately and have been wondering about classic science fiction and fantasy. I’m thinking stuff from the 70’s and earlier. Some authors I’ve heard of but haven’t read (or read much from) are:

Andre Norton
Philip Jose Farmer
CJ Cherryh
Michael Moorcock (read Elric but nothing else)
Ben Bova
Frederick Pohl
Fritz Leiber
Jack Vance
Arthur C. Clarke (read 2001 natch)
Larry Niven (read Ringworld)
Jerry Pournelle

I’m sure there are a lot other (maybe better?) authors I’m missing as well.

Thing is, I wouldn’t know where to start and I’m not sure what holds up well today. Any suggestions?

I would recommend all the books about the 4 who are one: Hawkmoon, Corum and Erekose, the Eternal Champion.

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

a lot of Bradbury’s short stories are good

I like Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven’s stuff. I read “The Mote in God’s Eye” for a Sci-fi lit class. Great book, deals with First Contact, great story.

Have you read 1984 and Brave New World? Those are necessary reading.

I read Ben Bova’s Mars book, and I found it to be interesting, but I was like 12 when reading it. So… who knows.

Ender’s Game
Read it! Also, read Ender’s Shadow… and if you feel so inclined… check out the other books in the series “Speaker for the Dead” “Xenocide” etc…

Actually, if after reading Ender’s Game, you feel inclined to protect your fond memories of the story, I’d make up something in your head along the lines of “and everyone lived happily ever after,” and leave it at that.

And never, ever read anything political that Orson Scott Card writes. He makes “Batshit Insane” seem mild in comparison.

Yeah I read Ender’s Game. It was good but I never read anything else he wrote. Which sounds like a good idea.

Bester for sure. The Stars My Destination is one hell of a book.

I would tack on some Asimov there, like the Foundation Trilogy. (Don’t bother with anything after Second Foundation.) Asimov was more a short story writer, so hunt down a nice thick collection of his stories and you’re bound to find some you’ll dig.

Heinlein was always my favourite writer of the classic era, although his later books go pretty wildly off the rails in some still entertaining ways. His early stuff is great, though - hunt down the Future History story collection called The Past Through Tomorrow, and The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress novel to start.

A couple of writers that not too many people mention:

Robert Sheckley - fantastic and very funny writer. The 10th Victim is probably his best known novel.

Cordwainer Smith - like Heinlein, wrote a number of interconnected stories of the future history of mankind. These are all collected in a humungous tome called The Rediscovery Of Man. They sort of remind me a bit of the Culture novels from Iain M. Banks, but Cordwainer’s stories aren’t really quite like anything else in sci-fi.

R. A. Lafferty - another semi-forgotten short story writer whom I loved as a kid. Try to hunt down any collections of his stories from the 60s and 70s - quirky, funny shaggy-dog tales, like the sci-fi equivalent of crazy Irish folktales.

The Bean series is safe. Ender’s Shadow, and whichever one was after that.

The series that follows Ender’s life (Speaker for the Dead, etc) just spirals into insanity.


Footfall and Lucifer’s Hammer are both still great reads, in my opinion.

Ray Bradbury - Martian Chronicles
H.G. Wells - The First Men In The Moon
Robert Heinlein - Have Space Suit, Will Travel
Ursula Le Guin - The Left Hand Of Darkness
Ursula Le Guin - The Dispossessed
William Tenn - Of Men And Monsters

Cyteen is probably my favorite CJ Cherryl book. As it was published relatively recently (1997) it has aged well.

Edit: Oh, and Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol. A very melancholic, usually Fall Sunday-afternoon sadness. The time travel rules are very “modern” considering it was written in the 60s.

I remember Scott Card’s short-story collection Maps In A Mirror being pretty fun.

I really like Xenocide and Speaker for the Dead personally.

Ender’s Shadow was definitely my favorite book though, because Bean was my favorite character.

I have a couple of permanently borrowed from the library paper backs of old sci-fi stories by Alan Dean Foster: “With friends like these…” and “…who needs enemies?”.

Both were great little collections of stories.

This deserves the dreaded “This.” reply.

I thought Speaker for the Dead was good as well.

But Xenocide was so bad it’s on the short list of books that I never finished. (I think that list is three or four books long, out of 37 years of book reading.)

The Riverworld books are pretty cool. At least, I thought they were twenty years ago, haven’t read them recently. I suspect they’d age better than, say, Harry Harrison’s stuff.

EE Doc Smith - Lensmen and Skylark series.

I’ll second support for Hawkmoon and Corum too. I always prefered them to Elric.

Of this list:

Norton is mostly hack, imo. Very superficial work.

Philip Farmer has a couple of books worth reading, from his earlier work, then he sold out completely. Stay as far away from the World of Tiers series as humanly possible, even if you have to leave the planet to do so. “To Your Scattered Bodies Go” is worth reading, but then Riverworld goes downhill fast.

Cherryh–never liked her work, so I haven’t read much. No comment.

Moorcock–you have to be in the mood for a combination of bizarre and lowbrow fantasy, but he can be a fun read for just sitting around and not having to think too much.

Bova–another author who’s work I never liked much. No comment.

Pohl–some really good reading, and some really bad reading. I’ll have to check his Amazon listings and come back with specific recommendations.

Leiber–one of the father’s of modern low fantasy. Definitely worth reading.

Vance–mixed bag. Again, I’ll have to bone up to give specific recs.

Clarke–much of his early work is “seminal” to SF, but his later works, especially those with other writers, are pure dreck. Definitely read the original Rama book, and Childhood’s End at the very least.

Niven–the original Ringworld book is worth reading. The sequels not so much. He’s hit and miss. Same with Pournelle, for that matter.

I have a “recommended reading list” of SF that I used to hand out to my lit classes when we did SF. It is grossly out of date now, given that I haven’t taught a class since the late 90s, but I’ll have to dig it out and see who might be good to recommend.

From what else I see mentioned above, I would second all of Gordon’s mentions, and certainly the Bester work–not just Stars/Destination, but almost any of his books. Absolutely Cordwainer Smith, too. Heinlein is almost always solid, even his later work I liked.

Further endorsement of Bester, though my personal pick would be his short fiction before The Stars My Destination. Not that it’s not a great novel, but I absolutely love his short stories.

Harry Harrison - I recommend the Stainless Steel Rat series highly. Far-future spy/master criminal novels. Read at least as far as The Stainless Steel Rat for President. That one’s my favorite, where he runs for president against a hundred-year incumbent on a planet that is basically a giant banana republic.

Wasp, by Eric Frank Russell. It’s sort of similar, in that it’s about a secret agent, but the premise is that, operating on his own, he infiltrates and destabilizes an entire planet his government is at war with. Russell worked in the intelligence community during WWII and he based a lot of this book on oddball covert tactics he came up with for destabilization of Japan.

I have fond memories of Fred Saberhagen’s Berserker novels, which spawned the whole subgenre of “war against ancient death machines” that’s given us the Borg, the Reapers in Mass Effect, the Necron, and many others. I might remember them as better than they are, but I swear they aren’t in the “reprehensible excrement” category of some of the things I read as a teenager (hi, Piers!). I also read a lot of his other books, but none of them were as memorable. If you like the Berserker series, you might check him out further though.

Might be a bit obvious, but have you read any Lovecraft? His flaws are numerous and well-known, but there’s a reason he’s still popular despite them.

Robert Silverberg. His catalog is too vast to run through all the worthwhile stuff, but I’d recommend at least the Majipoor series, starting with Lord Valentine’s Castle. Weird far-future sci-fantasy. I’d also recommend checking out his short fiction.