Book Recommendations

I love to read. I love reading science fiction and fantasy mostly, but I’ve also been known to read the occasional nonfiction book, usually science related. Here are some things that I’ve liked.

Science

  1. Cosmos by Carl Sagan. This companion to the TV show from the 1970s is a very well written science book on many parts of the universe.
  2. The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins. Many parts of the world we live in are wondrous. This book treats these parts of wonder respectfully with science and leads to many interesting things.
  3. Asimov’s New Guide to Science by Isaac Asimov. A primer for many areas of science. It gets advanced, and the writing helps it be more approachable.
  4. Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky. This is a fanfic where Harry was brought up by parents who love him and have taught him science. Harry is already a very intelligent rationalist at the start, and the existence of magic throws him for quite a loop. He applies the principles of science and logic to magic. It does get quite advanced in the philosophy of science. It’s also pretty dark.

Science Fiction

  1. Ringworld by Larry Niven. I love most books by Larry Niven. This hard SF book is about an expedition to a ring with a diameter as large as the Earth’s orbit that spins around a star. The inner surface has an area of over 3,000,000 Earths. For high schoolers.
  2. Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey. If you like dragons, then you will love this book, the first of the Dragonriders trilogy, and many more about the dragons of Pern. Dragons and their dragonriders fight to protect their planet from the ravages of an extraterrestrial (extrapernestrial?) threat.
  3. The Crucible of Time by John Brunner. Almost all books with aliens treat them from the point of view of humanity. This is one of the few books about aliens without any humans in it at all. The aliens are very alien, moving around by changing the amount of pressure in tubes. It is about their struggle to gain more knowledge and save their species from recurring catastrophe.
  4. Dune by Frank Herbert. Dune – Arrakis – The desert planet. The only source in the galaxy for the spice melange that allows the Guild Navigators to see into the future to find the safe path from one planet to another. The journey of one man to save his family, and his new people, against the depredations of House Harkonnen and the Emperor. The first book is the best. Don’t bother with any of the books written by Frank Herbert’s son.
  5. The Secret Hour by Scott Westerfeld. While Mr. Westerfeld’s Uglies series is more well known, I prefer the Midnighters Trilogy. There is a secret hour that takes place at the stroke of midnight. Only a select few people can live in it — everyone else just skips over it without noticing. There are Darklings that live in that hour, and they want to expand to the other 24 hours. Find out why 13 is a good number, and 12 just asking for trouble.
  6. The Leviathan Trilogy also by Scott Westerfeld. An alternate universe story about the start of World War I in a world where the two sides are Darwinists (who breed beasties to do everything from carrying messages to giant living airships) and the Clankers (who build machines like Stormwalkers to fight).
  7. The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Aliens from The Mote come visiting via solar sail. There are many casts in their culture, with different biology. We go to visit their planet, and things are not as friendly as we were led to expect. A very good book on first contact.
  8. Xeelee by Stephen Baxter. This omnibus volume contains 4 of the books in the Xeelee Sequence. The Xeelee are a very advanced race that is at war with dark matter aliens called the Photino Birds. The books in this volume are the first ones I read, and are about such things as humans living in a universe where gravity behaves differently, and posthumans living in a neutron star.
  9. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi. Humanity is embroiled in an interstellar, interspecies war that they are somewhat outmatched on. Earth is kind of kept around as a place where people grow old to become soldiers. Old men (and women) can turn in their aging bodies for new ones that are optimized for fighting (and are green because they can get energy by photosynthesis). This is the first book in a series that is quite good.
  10. The Martian by Andy Weir. This is a story about an astronaut marooned on Mars. Now he just needs to manage to stay alive until NASA can send the next Mars mission (in over a year). There’s not enough oxygen, water, or food. Communications are down. I got interested in this after this XKCD comic. Try this if you like the idea of someone trying to stay alive in a hostile environment.

Fantasy

  1. Discworld by Terry Pratchett. Not one book but dozens (but skip the first two at first) about the discworld that is carried on the backs of four continent-sized elephants that in turn ride on the back of Great A’Tuin, the World Turtle, and he swims through space. There are different loose series about the Witches, the Wizards of Unseen University, the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork, the personification of Death (my favorite) and more. Very funny. Read this article at io9 for a good introduction.
  2. Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flannagan. A nice romp and rather naive about what happens to people who get captured, but quite fun.
  3. The Belgariad by David Eddings. A five book series that deals with destiny. I’ve forgotten most of it, and plan to reread it again someday.
  4. Watership Down by Richard Adams. I never liked the stories by Beatrix Potter (seriously, have you read Squirrel Nutkin? those were some messed up stories), but Watership Down is wonderful. Told entirely from the perspective of rabbits who are on an epic quest to find a new home. Very heartwarming.

Other

  1. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. A cautionary tale about how close we are to a militarized, paranoid, state.

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