So, if you read between the lines of my subtle and understated review of Interstellar, you can probably tell that I sort of liked the film. One of the ways that it resonated with me is that it told an intelligent story grounded in both science and thinking about sweeping big picture ideas like the best sorts of science fiction novels. My shelves sag with those dense tomes, old and new. The first thing I did after writing that review was start pulling books off those shelves, a stack of almost two dozen paperbacks, some battered more than others, that just got bumped to the top of the reading queue.
Here’s my post-Interstellar reading list, grouped by author. Post yours in the comments.
Death by Blackhole
This is the only non-fiction on the list, but I just had to include it. It’s Neil deGrasse Tyson at his best, not just explaining science but communicating with such joy the awe that the universe presents when looked at with open eyes.
A sweeping story of time travel, artificial intelligence, space travel, transhumanism, and the poetry at the heart of human endeavor. Start at the beginning. Read all four. Then cry. Then start at the beginning and read them all over again more slowly.
Revelation Space, Pushing Ice
Alistair Reynolds writes massive hard science fiction space opera. He’s best known for the pile of novels and short stories that take place in the Revelation Space universe, which are definitely worth a re-read, but it’s his one-off Pushing Ice that I’ve always liked the best. Normal people doing extraordinary things, sacrificing everything to seize the chance to see beyond the horizon.
Tunnel in the Sky
There’s a lot of Heinlein that could fit on this list, but it’s this lesser known one that I return to more than the others. It’s a simple story: a training mission goes through a wormhole expecting to be picked up in a few weeks. The pickup never comes and they’re forced to survive on an alien world and make society from scratch.
The Forever War
A novel a bit different from the rest here, in that it’s strictly military science fiction from a certain point of view. But it’s real charm is in the appreciation for relativity, for the way that our human concerns end up so small against the large turn of the universe, of thousands upon thousands of years lived in single lifetimes stretched by relativistic speeds. Yet it has a very human heart to it.
A Canticle for Leibowitz
This is a novel of gorgeous dichotomies. It’s told in several parts over the course of centuries as humanity emerges from a nuclear apocalypse. It manages to combine a total dark cynicism with a burning fire of unquenchable hope.
A Talent for War, Seeker
Jack McDevitt is that yeoman sort of science fiction writer, churning out regular installments in several series, never quite remembered as one of the greats, but always on the shelf ready to be read. He gets bogged down sometimes in social politics in his stories, and his characters are individually not the most compelling. But when he draws grand universe spanning stories, of people surviving and exploring, that’s where he shines as brightly as anyone.
Frank Herbert’s masterpiece is of course Dune, and while the subsequent novels in that series are very different, they expand quite a bit on the themes of long time horizons for the species that are only alluded to in the first volume. But to get into more pure space exploration, take a look at his Destination Void series of four novels, in which artificial intelligence, exploration, and meddling with one’s own time stream take center stage.
A Deepness in the Sky, A Fire Upon the Deep
Vinge has a lot of good books, but these two are his best, and the fact that they are the ones focused on distant futures of man as a small thing in the face of an enormous universe is no coincidence. Vinge has a talent for little details of world-building that breathe life into his stories.