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Seven Sci Fi Questions

Here I’ve collected some of my recent answers for science fiction and future-oriented questions I was asked over on Quora. You can follow more of the in-depth discussions and multiple viewpoints on the Quora site.

Where should I begin with hard Sci Fi books?

rendezvous-ramaArthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama is an excellent start. Sample Poul Anderson at his best with Brain Wave and Tau Zero! Move on to Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement. Totally strong about some scientific matter, every single time, Clement writes entertainingly as well. Some of the older hard SF authors must-reads include Robert Forward (Dragon’s Egg) and Charles Sheffield.

Definitely try the novels of Robert Sawyer (Quantum Night or Hominids) and Stephen Baxter (Manifold:Time or Raft). Greg Bear is particularly strong for biology! Try his novel Eon. Gregory Benford (Timescape or In The Ocean of Night) for solid physics and astrophysics. For sure, Larry Niven’s Ringworld. C.J. Cherryh’s Downbelow Station. Carl Sagan’s Contact.

200px-VernorVinge_RainbowsEndVernor Vinge (Fire Upon the Deep or Rainbows End) writes far-seeing hard SF. The Red Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson should be on your list. Also The Forever War by Joe Haldeman; Spin by Robert Charles Wilson; Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress. Other authors you might try include Alastair Reynolds, Greg Egan, Allen Steele and Peter Watts.

My own Heart of the Comet takes you on a wild adventure filled with science and romance, tragedy, disaster, heroism, redemption and a triumphant humanity, bound in new directions they never imagined. My novel Earth takes a look at our planet fifty years in the future.

See also my extensive list of titles: Recommended Science Fiction and Fantasy novels.

Which Science fiction ideas could come to life?

61m1amovnylStart with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein… the creation of life, by human hands. It has already happened, by some interpretations and we’ll go the rest of the way, shortly. Or George Orwell’s 1984 —can anyone deny that Big Brother looms? Robert Heinlein predicted religious dictatorship in the United States (see Revolt in 2100). Unfortunately, nuclear apocalypse tales (like my own The Postman) could come true.

In Earth I predicted average citizens would all be equipped with video cameras in easy reach and this would change power, on our streets.

What are some Sci Fi novels that really make you think?

Almost anything by Banks, Egan, Bear, Stephenson, Tiptree and Liu Cixin will make you go “huh, I never thought of that.” Likewise LeGuin and Kim Stanley Robinson… though you have to wade through some preachiness.

Of course, Philip K. Dick or Arthur C. Clarke. Charles Stross. Asaro knows her stuff, as do Sloncziewski and Landis. Ted Chiang. Bacigalupi. Michael Chabon. Pro or con, Joanna Russ will make your neurons buzz. Varley. Oh, and Nancy Kress!

What are some interesting depictions of the world after the Technological Singularity?

KurzweilSingularityCoverFor a general overview of the concept of the Technological Singularity, delve into Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity in Near: When Humans Transcend Biology as a good starting point. Other books include The Rapture of the Nerds: A tale of the singularity, post-humanity, and awkward social situations, and James Barrat’s Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era.

In fiction, Singularities are hard to portray, which is why Vernor Vinge depicts only the beginnings of takeoff in Rainbows End and a vague Aftermath in Marooned in Real Time. Generally it’s hard to write stories about effectively becoming gods… though I’ve taken up the challenge several times. e.g. in the stories “Stones of Significance” and “Reality Check” (both contained in my collection, Insistence of Vision.) One of these shows an optimistic scenario, reasoning out why AIs would want to be part of ‘humans”. The other explores the biggest curse of gods…

…which is likely to be ennui.

accelerandoOther examples of Singularity and post-Singularity fiction include Charles Stross’s Accelerando, William Hertling’s A.I. Apocalypse, John C. Wright’s The Golden Age, Daniel Suarez’s Daemon, Ramez Naam’s Nexus.

In fact though, very few SF authors have attempted to portray positive singularities. Lots of AI or transcendence-driven apocalypses, since those drive dramatic plots. But positive ones are hard to figure while still having room for human scale tension.

Iain Banks portrays one daring scenario… in which the AI are gods, all right but they care about us and give regular humans a pretty good life… and give challenges to those regular humans who seem capable of something more. I hint at something similar in Earth, where the planet becomes godlike but humanity is allowed to maintain vibrant individualism because that is healthier.

See the reason why there are so many damn dystopias and dire apocalyptic scenarios.

Do you believe we’ve already reached the Singularity?

The apparent steep decline in IQ of the American and other electorates would appear to indicate that intelligence has already moved to artificial matrices.

What made Morpheus from The Matrix such a compelling character?

campbell-heroMorpheus was a standard Campbellian Mentor Figure who summons the hero on a quest. (See Joseph Cambell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.) A few of the stages of the Hero’s Journey were skipped. For example the Refusal to the Call was very very brief, as Neo almost gets out of the limo. So brief it hardly counts.

Morpheus is more of a Gandalf than an Obiwan, but both of them wield swords. All three were played by classic, uber-actors. All were smug mystics… if you find that sort of thing “compelling.”

Are there any science fiction stories where humans are morally ambiguous?

Poul Anderson showed aliens’ perspectives and complaints about humans, very well. I’m finishing one in which humans have chosen to be like Trek’s “Romulans”… bitterly opposed to a brash young race that is vigorous, sexy, lucky — every trait we thought would be ours.

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Science Fiction and the Future

In honor of Isaac Asimov’s birthday a few days back — and National Science Fiction Day (see below) — let’s have our first sci fi roundup of the year.

Century-Begin-2014First.  My New Years gift to you all is a little scary story  What if the 21st Century Actually Begins in 2014? about the real meaning of the “Fourteenth Year.”  That each of the last few centuries appeared to have had its “true start” at that point in time. Especially 1814 and 1914… and if this pattern holds, w may be in for a very very interesting stretch of road, ahead.  This piece is syndicated on the Bloomberg Network!

Second, I was interviewed by New York’s NPR station WNYC for broadcast in January, about the influence Science Fiction has had on society and creativity.  Someone let us know when it plays!

Third, catch this great anthology!  Twelve Tomorrows. Inspired by the real-life breakthroughs covered in the pages of MIT Technology Review, renowned writers Brian W. Aldiss, David Brin, Nancy Kress, Allen Steele, and Greg Egan join the hottest emerging authors from around the world to envision the future of the Internet, biotechnology, computing, and more. This collection features 12 all-new stories, an exclusive interview with science fiction legend Neal Stephenson, and a full-color gallery of artwork by Science Fiction Hall of Famer Richard Powers. (Now available on Kindle.)

Fourth… as mentioned above… January 2 is National Science Fiction Day….also Isaac Asimov’s birthday. Spread the word!  Agitate!  And let’s discuss in October how to make this the huge deal that it ought to be!

Oh here are articles on Isaac Asimov’s 50 year predictions of the world of 2014: Visit to the World’s Fair of 2014, writes Asimov fifty years ago, writing in the New York Times, after having attended the World’s Fair of 1964.

== Has sci fi provided the “great political writer” of our time? ==

Shaman-RobinsonTim Kreider gives a lovely paean to my bro and colleague Kim Stanley Robinson, calling him one of the greatest political and social writers of our era… before going on to give lavish praise in a review of Robinson’s new book: “Shaman: A Novel of the Ice Age.”  Kreider at times seems a bit unctuous in his admiration, but makes a credible case for Robinson’s importance.

My politics are just enough separated from Stan’s that I can enjoy occasional, fraternal digs at his utopiansim, which involves a wee bit more deliberate planning than I consider likely or plausible. In my opinion, humans are too ornery and delusional to reach consensus on the logical-seeming redesigns that Robinson demands, and which – by the way – will inevitably contain more unexpected drawbacks than any Grand Designer has ever been willing to admit.

Still, many of the good things that he calls for (and that I desire too!), like a much longer and broader set of Consequence and Inclusion Horizons — will come about. Partly from a mix of utopian finger-waggings by brilliant thinkers… but also via the trick-and-tool that has worked for us, so far… the reciprocal accountability that comes from a truly open, flat and transparent exchange of ideas and criticism, in a society that is always open to pragmatic and far-seeing endeavors..

It is that flatness and openness and transparency — plus the need to perpetually believe we can aspire and become better — where our overlap is complete, and where I am proud that our civilization gives full voice to Kim Stanley Robinson.

== More Cool SF’nal items ==

An interesting run-down by Charlie Jane Anders of iO9 on her personal list of recommended books for 2013.

Lee Barnett (aka ‘budgie’) is embarking on a challenge to write twelve 200 word stories using a title and a word provided by 12 writers. First off is Jamais Cascio, who suggested ‘The Misanthropic Principle’ with ‘shenanigans’, and got a take on the Big Question. Drop in on the Budgie site and follow this cool/fun exercise.

SixWordStoryThese “drabbles” — or super short fictions with very harsh rules — can be way-fun. One of my best short-shorts is “Toujours Voir” or “Always to see”… an answer to Deja Vu. Though the best one I ever saw was the very first story ever penned by Robert Sawyer. At the same site see my entries in WIRED’s contest for SciFi stories containing just SIX words.  The story of mine — Vacuum collision. Orbits diverge. Farewell, love. — is the only one with actual events and a plot, in three scenes!

I only just realized… it is precisely the story arc of — GRAVITY.

gravity-movie-posterThe space drama, starring Sandra Bullock, was directed, co-written, co-produced and co-edited by Alfonso Cuarón, who earned from all of us the greatest respect. Still, in Hollywood-law they judge the spectrum of coincidence-homage-‘borrow’ by a standard of percentages, of fractional point-by-point overlap. So, can you see even a single point of my story that does not overlap with GRAVITY?

==Dream Worlds==

Indistinguishable from magic: A fun essay by Jason Snell in MacWorld looks at comparing technology forward and back in time… via science fiction!

MyDream is a nascent gaming world and system that purports to offer individual players of group games the ability to craft and set up  realms that follow rules and patterns of the player’s choosing.  They’ve come a fair distance but are asking for crowdfunding support.  Seems worth a look.

In fact, there would seem to be some partial overlaps or potential synergies with the Exorarium Project that I partly developed with Sheldon Brown of the UCSD Arthur Clarke Center for Human Imagination.  A cool potential system that would achieve what SPORE promised, but better and with fantastic educational potential, as well.

A lovely little essay about a parent who reads to her daughter and occasionally switches character genders.  Cute… and still helpfully necessary.

== Is TED Sci Fi? ==

TEDx San Diego has released the first four videos of a dozen interesting talks from last month, including my colleague Benjamin Bratton’s controversial indictment of TED itself!  Watch his tak … or see Ben Bratton’s written essay, We Need to Talk About TED, calling into question the whole TED/Chattauqua approach.

What one piece of science do you wish everyone knew? Make a short film about your favorite bit of scientific knowledge and you could win the GuardianWitness Science award – and an iPad Air. A Guardian contest.

== Movies of 2014 ==

SInce we’re on the topic of movies: I’d love to watch this Russian film, if possible! The Irony of Fate.

Edge-tomorrowSee Tom Cruise in the preview of his future sci fi combat/shooter flick Edge of Tomorrow.  Apparently they took “All You Need Is Kill” — a Japanese military science fiction light novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka that was up for a Seiun Award… and slapped onto it the title of a story+nonfiction book by Isaac Asimov. (I hope Janet and Robin were paid!)

The plot involves re-living the same failed invasion over and over again… thing “Groundhog D-Day.”  And hey, I am happy to see something actually made from an actual book and not a tedious remake!  Looks like fun.

But of course, the Big Deals will be twin attempts at serious and non-cliche films either directed or produced by Christopher Nolan.  Interstellar bodes to be exactly what we need in the transition year of 2014… a call for us to shrug off the pessimistic funk and get back to being human. Which means bold explorers.

transcendence-movie-trailer-poster Transcendence deals with the emergence of AI amid a singularity.  The first teasers suggested it might be another damned cliche-downer.  But I should have had more faith in Nolan’s team and community. This trailer may be a bit of a spoiler. But it suggests we aren’t in for a dumb-ass dystopic yawner, after all.  Oh, sure there will be warnings.  But as I squint, I foresee tomething that moves through that space and into… well… maybe something truly interesting, like Brainstorm.

Transcendence Official Trailer #1 (2014) – Johnny Depp Sci-Fi Movie HD

Jiminy… at least we can hope.

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Existence…in Review

Forgive a break from science and politics and transparency and such… to do a little horn tooting.  But the reviews have been coming in. And here are some epic testimonials for you folks who have been fence-siting about whether it’s worth  $16 — the best per-hour entertainment value around — to plunk for a hardcover copy of Existence.

“I would consider Existence to be a triumphant, epic Science Fiction novel on many levels. It stayed with me after I set it aside for the day, continues to simmer in my mind now that I’ve finished reading it, and has opened up a gateway to Brin’s novels I’d wanted to enter for a while.  Brin achieved an excellent gestalt of character, big ideas, and narrative energy. Existence is my top SF novel of 2012 and I recommend it without hesitation.”  a review from SFF.net.

“Science fiction is as much a literature of the moment as it is of the future. This book, then, is both a warning and an encouragement: a novel that engages with the world we’re building and tries to show us a way to become a mature civilisation rather than a raggle-taggle band of individuals. Technology has libertarian roots, but in the end we build the tools that construct a civil society. In Existence Brin shows us the world our technology is building, and then poses one of the biggest questions: what is it all for?

“What we’re left with in Existence is one of those rare SF novels that needs to be on every technologist’s desk, alongside John Brunner’s Shockwave Rider, Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End, Charles Stross’s Rule 34, and Brin’s own Earth. We may not be able to see our future, but in Existence we get a picture of a possible — even a plausible — tomorrow.” —  Simon Bisson on ZDNet.


“Existence is a book that makes you think deeply about both the future and life’s most important issues.  I found it fascinating and I could not put it down.”  –  Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures.


This is a book which managed to far exceed my already high expectations. It’s smart, it’s fun, and I’m afraid it’s also terribly important.” — Howard Tayler (Schlock Mercenary).

“(Existence is) all about the chaos and passion of adolescence — the designs we make for our lives when we’re young, before unforeseeable events send us spinning into strange new orbits…. It also proposes that the best way to confront these answers is deeply human: to be creative, diverse, compromising, curious. That to reach Heaven — or something like it — requires that we look beyond ourselves, beyond humanity (all six species of it), and into the universe beyond.” –George Dvorsky in io9

“Is there such a thing as “The Great American Science Fiction Novel”? … (It) would be an ambitious, panoramic, macroscopic, and microscopic portrait concerning a speculative future that was near enough to the date of composition to allow for an assessment of its probability and extrapolative verisimilitude… the Great SF Novel remained an elusive beast, with some doubts even as to its desirability.

“But admirers of this type of novel — and I’m one — can take renewed hope with the appearance of David Brin’s Existence. It’s an overt claimant to the Zanzibar throne, and a worthy one, Version 2.0 of his similar performance in 1990’s Earth.” 

“Brin deliberately fudges the exact date of his novel’s action, as if to preserve it from becoming outdated. Let’s just call it mid-twenty-first-century. But that’s the only nebulous part of this immaculately conceived and rendered book, massive and dense but somehow light-footed as well.” — Paul De Filippo, for The Speculator (BarnesAndNoble.com).

“Brin tackles a plethora of cutting-edge concepts — such as the Fermi paradox, the ascent of artificial intelligence, and the evolution of technologically enhanced humanity — with the skill of a visionary futurologist, and while his extended cast of characters is set up to articulate ideas, they come to life as distinct individuals. If he does resort to long info-dumps, it’s necessary in order to convey the depth and breadth of his startling future. Existence is Brin’s first novel in 10 years, and it’s been well worth the wait.”The Guardian.


“Featuring memorable characters and masterly storytelling, Brin’s latest novel provides food for thought and entertainment. Fans of Vernor Vinge and Arthur C. Clarke, as well as Brin’s own sizable fan base, will enjoy this multidimensional story.”Library Journal starred review.


“It’s not just the near future that is in focus here but the whole timeline of existence, its image refracted through the lens of human civilization.” —online review.


“Brin’s thoughtful, multilayered story explores a first contact scenario where every twist reveals greater peril. His longtime fans will especially appreciate that this story could be read as a prequel to 1983’s Startide Rising, while those not familiar with his work will find it an impressive introduction to one of SF’s major talents.”Publisher’s Weekly starred Pick of the Week.

“Whodunits are a sure thing in publishing — just about everyone loves a good mystery — but Brin’s multifaceted novel proves that another question resonates just as powerfully with most people: Are we alone in the universe?”  — The Los Angeles Times.

Finally, watch the vivid trailer by Patrick Farley, sample the excerpts on my website, or listen to the audio version.

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David Brin’s List of “Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy Tales”

Many folks have created tallies of favorite Science Fiction novels.  I’ve already weighed in with my Top SF for Young Adults and my Top Ten list. See also these essays: A Comparison of Science Fiction vs. Fantasy and How to Define Science Fiction.

But now let’s try something much more ambitious — a bigger, broader reading compilation.  This is still just a sampler – for something comprehensive, see the Science Fiction Encyclopedia or the user-friendly Worlds Without End. But any person who has read all the books and stories and authors noted here (and I admit they are heavy on “classics”) can come away with bragging rights to say: “I know something about science fiction.”

For this list I divide the novels authors and stories in my own quirky manner , according to categories…


These novels and shorter works have drawn millions to ponder many different kinds of danger that may lurk down the road ahead. Among our possible tomorrows, so many might be dreadful-but-avoidable – from tyranny to ecological deterioration to some tragic failure of citizenship.  A few of these books even attained the most powerful status any work of fiction can achieve … changing the future, by alerting millions, who then girded themselves, discussing the problem with neighbors, becoming active, vowing to help ensure the bad thing never happens.

The following examples of self-preventing prophecy stand out. All of them help us focus on something that we may desperately miss, if it were ever gone

Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell.
The Sheep Look Up, by John Brunner
A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Make Room! Make Room!  by Harry Harrison (basis for the film Soylent Green)
Brave New World,  by Aldous Huxley
Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
On The Beach, by Nevil Shute
We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin
The Cool War, by Frederik Pohl
The Disappearance, by Philip Wylie
Flood, by Stephen Baxter
The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Unincorporated Man, by Dani Kollin & Eytan Kollin

… plus almost anything by Alice Sheldon (James Tiptree Jr.), or Nancy Kress or Octavia Butler… I leave it to others to decide whether my own apocalyptic warning novel, The Postman. belongs on this list.


These tales offer something almost as important as warnings… a tantalyzing glimpse at (guardedly and tentatively) better tomorrows. It’s actually much harder to do than issuing dire warnings! (That may be why there’s so little optimism in print. Most authors and directors are simply too lazy.)

Stand on Zanzibar, by John Brunner
Beyond This Horizon, by Robert A. Heinlein*
Rainbow’s End, by Vernor Vinge
Consider Phlebas,  by Iain Banks (and his Culture Series)
Island, by Aldous Huxley
Pacific Edge, by Kim Stanley Robinson

… plus the entire sub-genre known as Star Trek, among the few places where you come away feeling envious of our grandkids – the way things ought to be….


Some tales simply rock readers back with wondrous stories that also broaden their perspective… from strange cultures to alternate social systems to unusual ways of thinking.

Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny
Dune, by Frank Herbert
The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
Courtship Rite, by Donald Kingsbury
The Years of Rice and Salt,  by Kim Stanley Robinson
A Deepness in the Sky, by Vernor Vinge
Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson

…plus the “Nine Worlds” series of John Varley and the brain-twistings of  Samuel Delaney


Take me someplace new.  Boggle me with possibilities grounded in this strange-real universe of science! Almost anything by these authors will give you tons of the real meat of SF.

Timescape, by Gregory Benford
Eon, by Greg Bear
The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov
FlashForward, by Robert Sawyer
Tau Zero, by Poul Anderson
Ringworld, by Larry Niven
Diaspora or Quarantine, by Greg Egan
To Crush the Moon, by Wil McCarthy
Vast, by Linda Nagata
Anti-Ice, by Stephen Baxter
The Web Between the Worlds by Charles Sheffield
Spin, by Robert Charles Wilson

… plus many works by Joe Haldeman, John Varley, Elizabeth Bear, Charles Gannon, Jack McDevitt….


Just because there’s magic and wizards and kings and such…  doesn’t mean it has to be lobotomizing.  There really are exceptions!

The Drawing of the Dark, by Tim Powers
The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien (yes, there are Elfs. But JRRT was exceptionally smart and honest about the attractions and  drawbacks of nostalgia)
Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, by Eliezer Yudkowsky (only available for free, online)
Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
The City and The City, by China Mieville
Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest

… plus glowing works by John Crowley and “urban” fantasies by Emma Bull, Nalo Hopkinson, Geoff Ryman



Or… what if things were different?

The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester
Dying Inside, by Robert Silverberg
Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke
Brain Wave, by Poul Anderson
The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon
BlindSight, by Peter Watts


Explains itself. Just go along for the ride.

The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
Gateway, by Frederick Pohl
The Mote in God’s Eye, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi
The Great Time Machine Hoax or Earthblood, by Keith Laumer
The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

… plus anything at all by Poul Anderson.  I mean it.


Extra points if it seems plausible that this might-have-been really might have been. And even more points if the reader goes, “That world seems likelier than this one I’m living in!”

The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick
1632, by Eric Flint
Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
The Great War (series)   by Harry Turtledove
Bring the Jubilee, Ward W. Moore
Lest Darkness Fall, by L. Sprague deCamp


Here the biggest test is whether you can offer a new or surprising logical twist. Bring on them paradoxes!

The Man Who Folded Himself, by David Gerrold
Up the Line, by Robert Silverberg
Run, Come See Jerusalem, by Richard Meredith
The Big Time, by Fritz Leiber
All You Zombies” and “By His Bootstraps” by Robert A. Heinlein

Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
The Technicolor Time Machine, by Harry Harrison


The hardest thing of all to do well.   Someday I might dare to try this most-difficult type!

The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
Bored of the Rings, A Parody of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, by the Harvard Lampoon
Hoka! Hoka! Hoka! by Poul Anderson and Gordon Dickson
The Colour of Magic, by Terry Pratchett
“Blued Moon” in Fire Watch, by Connie Willis

… plus snorkers by Esther Freisner and punny-business by Spider Robinson and groaners by Mike Resnick.



Forget science, logic and other superficialities.  Just love it.  The words… the words…

The Martian Chronicles,  by Ray Bradbury
Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon
Riddley Walker, by Russel Hoban
Hyperion, by Dan Simmons
The Book of the New Sun, by Gene Wolf
The Rediscovery of Men, by Cordwainer Smith
More than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon
‘Repent Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” by Harlan Ellison

…plus anything by Robert Sheckley (one of my all time favorite authors).



Going farther back … hey it’s a kind of time travel!

The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne
Last and First Men, by Olaf Stapledon
Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, by Aldous Huxley
The World, The Flesh, and the Devil by JD Bernal
When Worlds Collide, by Balmer & Wylie

Plus an influential international item, Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en

…plus… well… you aren’t truly steeped in the genre till you’ve wallowed in Doc Smith and Edgar Rice Burroughs.. and Conan!


We SF authors often disclaim any intent to foretell the future.  We explore it, test possibilities, perform gedankenexperiments, even warn or entice.  But predict?  Well, at times we do try… and even keep score! My fans maintain a wiki tracking hits and misses from my most predictive near-term book to date – Earth. Here are some looks-ahead that have been impressively on-target.

Shockwave Rider, by John Brunner
Beyond This Horizon, by Robert A. Heinlein*
The Brick Moon” by E. E. Hale (1865)
Neuromancer, by William Gibson
Age of the Pussyfoot, by Frederick Pohl

…plus at least half of the tales ever written by Jules Verne!


Or for those young at heart. (See my separate list of Young Adult Recommendations.)

Rite of Passage, by Alexei Panshin
Little Fuzzy, by H. Beam Piper
The Door into Summer, by Robert A. Heinlein
The High Crusade, by Poul Anderson
A Spell for Chameleon, by Piers Anthony
Orbital Resonance, by John Barnes
The Chanur Saga, by C.J. Cherryh
The Ship Who Sang, by Anne McCaffrey
The Disappearance, by Philip Wylie
Pilgrimage, by Zenna Henderson
Emergence, by David Palmer
Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow
Leviathan, by Scott Westerfield

… plus anything by Andre Norton, H. Beam Piper…  and check out my Out of Time series!


Accelerando_(book_cover)Charles Stross, Kay Kenyon, Syne Mitchell. Paul McAuley, Howard Hendrix, Charles Gannon,… but also explore on your own!


International contributions to this genre are undeniable. Indeed, it would be churlishly socio-centric to ignore great titles like Roadside Picnic (Arkady and Boris Strugatsky), The Cyberiad (Stanislaw Lem), We (Evgeni Zamyatin: mentioned in dark prophecies, above), The Paper Spaceship (Tetsu Yano) and Japan Sinks (by my Worldcon co-GoH Sakyo Komatsu).  In fact, this is a whole ‘nother category deserving a whole ‘nother list! And your suggestions are welcome.


Okay… that will have to do.  Eccentric and opinionated and far from comprehensive, this is hardly more than a sampling and a biased one too. Yes, there are a fair number of older classics, but also a sampling of marvelous works by new, upcoming authors.

(Note: surely there will be many suggested titles pushed in followup discussion!)

Still, I am confident that if you went thoroughly through this list – noting those you loved or respected and a few works you hate! – then you’d at least have made a good start getting a taste of the boldness, the excitement, the intellectual verve and challenging ideas to be found in this, the most unabashed and courageous of all literary forms.

* Regarding Heinlein’s Beyond This Horizon, it is in the thoughtful second half of the book that you get amazingly insightful ruminations about what a smarter human civilization might be like. This requires wading through a much more pedestrian and even silly “action” half. But it’s worth the effort.

See more Speculations on Science Fiction

David Brin


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Truthiness, aliens and science

I’m quoted on Stephen Colbert’s Restoring Truthiness site: “Sci fi author David Brin: humorists are precisely the kinds of guys who can cut through the orgy of petty indignation that we aging baby boomers are imposing on this country.”

And now I see that liberal so-’n-so Jon Stewart stole the title for his new guide book to the planet Earth (for aliens)? I am so ticked off over his hilarious tome-of-the-stolen-name that I won’t even link to it here!  You’ll have to google or amazon “Stewart” and “Earth” in order to rush & buy it for yourselves!  (Take that Stewart!)

In fact, I plan – on October 30 – to attend the local “Keep Fear Alive!” Colbert rally, in my hometown.  Find your own town’s satellite rally at www.rallymao.com.  And march in support of Stephen’s campaign to resist sanity!  If Stewart’s ilk have their way, Republicans and Democrats will go back to negotiating with each other, reason will prevail, science will thrive and we’ll resume modernist quests for progress. Heck, we’ll even start settling outer space… and my far-out tales of futuristic adventure will all become obsolete!  For the sake of my children, march with Stephen!

(Side note: for us realist-paranoids rallymao.com means “rally-my-ass-off” for the Colbert Nation.  Clearly that means it will be a great way to trim those extra pounds!  But for Stewart’s crowd of pinko namby-pambies, rallymao has another meaning! Did you notice the last three letters? It’s a code! Clearly, they’re congregating to support the murderous commie founder of Red China.  Ooh, that burns, even worse than discovering that Che-Ney was Russian for the “new Che Guevarra.” And he seemed such a nice fellow!)

(More about this at the end.)


Announcement to e-book readers! Reports of poor quality control have plagued the electronic versions of my books. Now it appears Bantam/Randomhouse is about to pull and recall all my books from Kindle and other e-readers, in order to re-do the editions.  Generally good news.  So please be patient.

Oh, have you heard? Tim Powers’s great book On Stranger Tides was bought by the producers of Part IV in the Pirates of the Caribbeanseries, starring Johnny Depp.   That bodes well for a hilarious film with some content for the mind and heart, as well!  And it couldn’t happen to a better book, or author.

Meanwhile, I just returned from the Royal Society’s gorgeous new conference facility, in the beautiful countryside outside London, where I participated in a debate over the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and the silly notion that Earthlings should shout Yoohoo! into a dauntingly mysterious cosmos. On the blithe assumption that all advanced aliens will automatically be as beneficent as Californian and Canadian radio astronomers. Which proved ironic.  Illustrating the benign maturity they expect to find out there, three speakers in a row proceeded to use strawman arguments and ridicule against the three of us who were there to ask for serious discussion.  Although not one of us mentioned even a single “danger” in our proposal to expand the advisory panels to include historians, biologists, anthropologists, philosophers — our opponents evaded this simple suggestion, instead choosing to concentrate on mocking the notion of “danger!” Presenting lists of lurid alien invasion scenarios straight out of bad Hollywood thrillers (“Are they coming to take our water? Our women?”)

Above all, it seems that the core SETI community has acquired a deeply-felt and pervasive rationalized hatred of science fiction, bolstered by willful ignorance of the literary genre where most thought experiments about contact with alien life have taken place.

The irony is almost too rich.  A field that was engendered by science fiction, that had its roots in SF and that owes it everything, has turned inward, avoiding contact with most other human scientific specialties… so how will they deal with truly alien beings?  Above all, they offer only hackles toward the one literary realm that should be viewed as the R&D department of the entire field. Especially during the era when SETI has no palpable subject matter other than ideas.

From the Transparency Front — Eeek!  Creeped out, even though I both predicted this and expect it will be part of a generally good trend. With LOTS of irksome aspects to get used-to. Snoopers paid to catch shoplifters.

Past observations at visible and near infrared wavelengths had implied the presence of primitive carbon-rich materials on the moons  of Mars, which are usually associated with asteroids that populate the central part of the Asteroid Belt. But recent thermal infrared observations from Mars Express’ Planetary Fourier Spectrometer did not find any such evidence, instead finding signatures that match types of minerals identified on Mars’ surface.  Also low density and highly porous. This may be bad news.  But the Russians are persisting, fortunatley, in their space mission to Phobos.  Perhaps they’ll find resources – including water – making it one of the most valuable spots in the solar system.  Let’s hope.

Father and son film outer space, do-it-yourself style.

Hilarious: Glenn Beck’s words selling fear, set to a Donald Duck cartoon.

China has launched its second lunar orbiter.

Cyberweapons will continue to haunt us. The Stuxnet software worm – designed to destroy industrial control systems — may have been designed to target Iran’s nuclear program. It infected 45,000 computers worldwide, most in Iran. The next generation of malware could be a danger to power plants and electrical grids worldwide.

The building blocks of life may be constant throughout the cosmos: humans and aliens may share the same DNA roots: ten amino acids form at low temperatures and pressures – you don’t need a miracle to arrive at the chemical cocktail for life. (Actually, Leslie Orgel predicted this decades ago.) Ah… but life ITSELF?  Stay tuned, stay ambitious.  And actually READ the passages in Genesis about the Tower of Babel.  This time, we have auto-translation software on iPods!!!

Nobel Prize awarded to two University of Manchester physicists for work with graphene – a two-dimensional, one-atom thick carbon sheet extracted from graphite. Graphene is the thinnest, strongest material ever developed, nearly transparent, an excellent conductor of electricity & heat. Can be mixed with plastic to generate flexible solar cells, smaller, faster transistors, high-capacity batteries & ultracapacitors.

NTT DoCoMo has developed a tiny display that clips onto a pair of eyeglasses and provides navigation services or information about local shops.

Filming human embryos used for in vitro fertilization (IVF) at an early stage in their development has allowed scientists to select those with the best chance of going on to develop into healthy babies, with an accuracy of more than 93%.

A new microphone system allows broadcasters to zoom in on sounds as well as sights, to pick out a single conversation.

A fascinating persepective suggests that our human ability to empathize broadly with other species… and perhaps even some of our intelligence… arose because of our 100,000 year co-evolution (perhaps a love affair?) with dogs.


It turns out that almost all the job growth  over the last year has come from those who have reached “retirement age” (whatever that is) continuing to work or going back to work. The total number of people over 65 who are employed has risen by 318,000 over the last year, accounting for nearly all the job growth

And… oh… Ack!  Share this with your Ostrich.

===  FINALLY, BE AROUND PEOPLE on 10/30/10! ===

Seriously folks. (Or not.) Find a place outdoors with lots of people, on October 30. Stephen Colbert says we should all be VERY afraid of being indoors or alone, or too quiet, that day!

He’s being vague, but some of his hints may imply some kind of alien pod-people replacement attack in which the invaders feel a need to avoid crowds of people who are chanting, marching, waving placard/signs and having fun.  Especially the placards. (Ask any alien invader; those signs can really sting, when they smack you on the antennae or the sucker-pads!)

Or  maybe it’s not aliens but something similarly fear-inducing. Anyway, Colbert has good instincts about these things.  So get OUT of the house and join one of Stephen’s fear-preserving rallies.  Go to the main one in Washington DC (the safest place from alien probes, that day), or in your own town, via www.rallymao.com!

(Or else join Jon Stewart and his militantly-moderate-reasonable-rational-politeness-troopers… if you really must.)

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