Hi, my name is PJ McDermott. I started reading sci fi when I was 11 years old and soon after, picked up John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids .
Now, if you haven’t read this one, take my advice – get yourself a copy! It is a classic and you’ll find it in most public libraries as well as online stores.
I can say without doubt this is one of the most imaginative alien invasion books I’ve ever read. It certainly made an impression on me, and, like most books I enjoy, I’ve read it multiple times over the years!
I didn’t realize then, of course, that Wyndham’s masterpiece was written at the beginning of a golden age of science fiction, but I consider myself lucky to be around during that era.
I enjoyed the works of a host of master-writers over the following ten years. Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, E.E. “Doc” Smith, and Philip K. Dick all wrote imaginative stories I will never forget.
I hope to discuss the work of these artists over coming weeks. Today, I want to cover off a few pieces of SF that made a huge impression on me as a young man and influenced my own writing.
But First A Bit About Me
Although I gravitated quickly to the science fiction genre, I didn’t begin there. My mother was an avid reader and every year since I can remember, I’d wake on Christmas morning with a new book in my stocking.
I’m not sure what the first one was (It might have been Noddy,) but the 1956 Rupert Bear Annual certainly made an impression.
Released every year, it was based on the UK Daily Express comic strip created by brilliant British artist, Mary Tourtel (1874-1948.) The books were first published in 1936 and her works have sold over 50 million copies internationally.
Okay, this is not a candidate for inclusion in the best space opera books of all time. BUT I loved the color, the characters and the adventures the little bear got up to. (I still have the 1956 Annual!)
When I started High School (In Scotland, that happens at age 12), I was encouraged to read at least one classic adventure each week. Most weeks I’d finish two.
Now, this question is directed to all the many genders out there. Have you read Treasure Island? What about Robinson Crusoe, Master of Balantrae, Tom Sawyer, Kidnapped, or Call of the Wild? All these are great adventure stories and I highly recommend them for middle schoolers.
I am a straight male, but I admit to reading quite a number of books written for girls. I loved Little Women, Jo’s Boys, What Katy Did, Anne of Green Gables, and Pollyanna. So I say don’t be stereotyped by what you read. Just enjoy good books, wherever they are found.
As I reached my middle-teens, I read fiction books day and night. So much so, that when I dodged school (Which I did most Friday mornings to avoid maths!) I’d go to the town library and trawl through a treasure trove of fabulous stories and pick out one by H.G. Wells or Isaac Asimov or Ursula Le Guin, then settle down in a reader’s chair to enjoy.
Strangely, none of the librarians asked me why I wasn’t at school!
My Sci Fi Space Opera Books
This is my first series of books. I wrote the Alien Corps in 2015, and finished with Fractured Prophecy in 2019. I think you’ll find them to be well written, exciting, adventures with characters you can relate to. One reviewer puts it this way, “I loved Hickory and her combination of level-headed commander versus her inner struggle as a woman who has recently lost someone that she cared very deeply for.”
GREAT SCI FI AUTHORS YOU WANT TO READ
Isaac Asimov was born in Russia and moved to the US with his family when he was four years old. A prolific writer and editor throughout the golden age of science fiction, he is said to have written/edited more than 500 books.
Later in life, he became an instructor of chemistry and biochemistry at Boston University School of Medicine. He died in 1997 at the age of 77, and is probably remembered best for his books about robots and his futuristic sci fi series.
In I, Robot, Asimov introduced two original science fiction concepts, which he also incorporated into later books, notably the Foundation Series – the positronic brain and the three laws of Robotics.
The Three Laws first made their appearance in the short story compilation, I Robot. They were designed as a safety device built into the positronic brain, devised to protect humans from potentially dangerous interactions with robots.
The laws form the basis for many of Asimov’s stories. They are:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
They seem foolproof, don’t they? Many people believed these would become the template for future robotic design (and some still do.)
If you are intrigued, check out the Isaac Asimov short stories titled I, Robot, featuring the inventor of the positronic brain, Susan Calvin. It’s a great introduction to science fiction books for young adults.
The Foundation Series – Best Science Fiction Adventure
Considered by many to be the best sci fi book of all time (and awarded the HUGO Award* to prove it) the foundation series comprises seven novels written by Isaac Asimov between 1942 and 1993.
The trilogy, perhaps the most read three-book science fiction series ever, was written 1952-1955 They are Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation.
In my opinion, they represent the pinnacle of sci fi space opera books, running neck and neck with Frank Herbert’s Dune. According to Asimov himself, the premise for the trilogy was based on Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
It was invented by the author as he traveled to meet with the editor of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, John W. Campbell, who is credited with heralding in the golden age of science fiction.
Together, Asimov and Campbell developed the concepts of the collapse of the Galactic Empire, the civilization-preserving Foundations, and psychohistory that form the basis of the plot.
* An annual award given by members of the World Science Fiction Convention and named after Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the pioneering science fiction magazine Amazing Stories.
Frank Herbert – Best Space Opera Books
Born in 1922, Frank Herbert held a variety of jobs while writing his socially engaging science fiction stories. He produced over two dozen novels including Dragon in the Sea (1956) and The Green Brain (1966) which are still popular today.
He was working as a journalist when his seminal work Dune was published. The novel has been translated into fourteen languages and sold some twelve million copies, more than any other science-fiction single book in history.
Interestingly, Dune was rejected by twenty publishers before it was published in 1965. Shades of JK Rowling who was turned down twelve times before finding success with the Harry Potter books!
For more on Frank Herbert, check out Dune Fandom
If readership is the criteria for judging the best space opera books, then the honor would surely go to Frank Herbert.
Some will scoff and say this is because the whole Dune saga is a science fiction multimedia franchise (having been released as video games, movies, TV series and sequels, prequels, etc. by multiple authors, which is true.) I say it would never have been such a successful enterprise if the first novel wasn’t so darn good!
In Herbert’s universe, computers, robots and other artificial intelligences are outlawed. In their place, civilization has developed advanced mental and physical abilities as well as advanced technologies that comply with the edict on computers.
Dune tells the story of House Atreides, specifically Paul Atreides, whose family accepts the stewardship of the planet Arrakis.
While Arrakis is an inhospitable desert wasteland, it is the only source of melange, a drug that extends life and enhances mental abilities. Melange imparts multidimensional awareness and foresight to space pilots and is vital for navigating the stars.
Melange can only be produced on Arrakis, so control of the planet is a profitable but dangerous undertaking. The story explores the politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion, of the different noble houses as they struggle for control of Arrakis and the melange.
H.G. Wells Science Fiction
Herbert George Wells is commonly thought of as the “father of science fiction.” He was born into poverty in England but developed an interest in reading early in his childhood and read everything that came his way.
Wells was a prolific writer, publishing several books (including The Time Machine) in the year 1895. Two years later, in 1897, he published The invisible Man, and War of the Worlds. (Wish I could write that fast!)
Wells’ first bestseller, Anticipations (1901) was about what the world would be like in the year 2000. Wells said that the purpose of Anticipations was “to undermine and destroy the English monarchy, monogamy, faith in God, & respectability, and the British Empire, all under the guise of a speculation about motor cars & electric heating.”
Many of the themes and propositions advocated by Wells in Anticipations such as racism, fascism, and arguments against the longevity of democracy were condemned then and by later generations of readers. But it’s worth noting that within a few years, Wells refuted much of what he had written in Anticipations and became a leading advocate of human rights.
The War of the Worlds
The War of the Worlds, by Wells, was written during 1895/98. It is considered one of the first novels dealing with alien invasion. I think it fits easily into the category of best sci fi books of all time.
The plot arose from Wells’ concern over British imperialism, specifically the devastating effect the British had on indigenous Tasmanians.
Most of the 7,000 Indigenous Tasmanians were killed during the twenty-seven years of British colonization. By the end of colonization in 1830, at least two families of Aboriginal people were still living on the Island.
By 1835 only one Aboriginal family remained on the island, living in a white sealing village near the Bass Strait, hiding from British authorities. Almost all the survivors were incarcerated and placed in camps.
Historians estimate all but forty-seven were dead by 1847. By 1876, the only survivors remaining were mixed-race Aboriginal Tasmanians.
As a man of some social conscience and a prolific writer, Wells wondered what would happen if an invader (let’s call them Martians) did to Britain what the British had done to the Tasmanians.
Art imitating life? Once again, HG Wells asks an important question of his readers!
Which author has written the best sci fi books of all time and where should you begin?
Someone else will certainly be more qualified to judge the best of the best authors. But when it comes to specific books that will intrigue and excite, you could do worse than read these four novels. If you’re new to Science fiction and want a recommendation, my suggestion is you read in this order.
I’m sure you’ll agree these four are among the best science fiction adventures and best space opera books ever written!