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What Makes Great Science Fiction?

michael posted more than 12 years ago | from the laugh-it-up-furball dept.

News 1190

cheesethegreat writes "Have you ever noticed how everyone breaks down into a near-religious frenzy when the topic of the "best" science fiction universe comes up? Everyone has a favorite universe, be it the Foundation Series by Asimov, or the classic Star Wars trilogy. So tell Slashdot what your favorite is, and what the most important part of a science fiction universe is to you."

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Do I get points when I fail? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4791368)

fp - You know it, you want it, I know I suck...

Great Sci-Fi (-1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4791369)


props to zer0 k00l and joey

Why was this modded down? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4791387)

Mods have no sense of humor...

Re:Great Sci-Fi (1)

mprinkey (1434) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791496)

I laughed out loud...bravo!

FP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4791370)


Arthur C. Clarke... (2, Informative)

djupedal (584558) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791375)

...and his ability to foresee the future, and tell us about it so that our imaginations flowed with his. And throw in some Asimov for his clarity in things machine.

Re:Arthur C. Clarke... (2, Interesting)

Com2Kid (142006) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791422)

  • ...and his ability to foresee the future, and tell us about it so that our imaginations flowed with his. And throw in some Asimov for his clarity in things machine.

*cough* Karma whore *cough*

Clark had no greater accuracy in fortelling the future then any other number of Science Fiction authors.

Asimov was good at logic puzzels and expository works, he could explain ANYTHING and make it sound interesting. As far as his robots go they are HIGHLY unrealistic but GREAT logical puzzles.

If you are going to whore, at least lube up first on your facts.

Re:Arthur C. Clarke... (2)

djupedal (584558) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791456)

Satellites don't count, eh? You must be living in a different future, or be reading a different A.C. :)

One man's writer is another man's bore...

Re:Arthur C. Clarke... (2, Informative)

kali2001 (630673) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791485)

To amplify: Mr. Clarke predicted geosynchronous satellites in 1948. Also, although he was perhaps not the first, he wrote the first novel (The fountains of paradise) about the technology of buckytubes and space elevators long before it was a glimmer in the eyes of engineers. As to hist greatest work- by far I would have to say Childhood's End.

to start your jihad, form an orderly queue... (0, Offtopic)

alexander m (567750) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791378)

dune. say no more...

DUNE (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4791416)

DUNE is by far the most expansive of all sci-fi.... There are 6 original books by Frank Herbert and 4 by his son Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson with at least another 3 on the way from them. The new books are, as far as I'm concerned, just as good as the originals too.

No other sci-fi series can compare. The Dune universe spans hundreds of thousands of years and still ties in together.

Re:DUNE (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4791435)

mumph... i gotta say anyone that likes dune should try david zindells .. neverness/broken god/war in heaven ...

wow.. an equally rich and amazingly original universe.

FarScape! (1)

gnomepro (588995) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791379)

FarScape is a kickass series. Very well done and almost realistic. :-)

I'll tell you what makes great scifi (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4791380)

Nubile female alien sex addicts, who are genetically engineered to please men at the drop of a hat.

Re:I'll tell you what makes great scifi (2, Funny)

Thomas M Hughes (463951) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791393)

Nubile female alien sex addicts, who are genetically engineered to please men at the drop of a hat.

So you mean Lexx?


Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4791441)

Am I the only /.er that loves this show? Speak up. I don't watch traditional sci-fi, and Red Dwarf is definitely not that.

Re:RED DWARF IS LOVELY (3, Insightful)

fuzdout (585374) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791497)

I think RD is *VERY* funny, but one has to have a seriously bent sense of humor to truly appreciate it :)

I like other Sci-Fi as well and have recently just gotten hooked on Louis McMaster Bujold.

Re:I'll tell you what makes great scifi (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4791478)

But the Deltan female was sworn to celibacy, and besides, would never take advantage of a sexually immature species. She sure looked good as Vger's automaton though!

Re:I'll tell you what makes great scifi (1)

Com2Kid (142006) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791438)

  • Nubile female alien sex addicts, who are genetically engineered to please men at the drop of a hat.

Those would be the early pulps, a pain in the arse to find for sale though. . . .

early? (2)

djupedal (584558) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791493)


I don't recall H.G. Wells writing about anyone or anything nubile, expect for space travel...

You must be thinking of Cringley and Heavy Metal :)

The best science fiction... well (4, Interesting)

Eric(b0mb)Dennis (629047) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791381)

Well, as far as books go, I'd have to say the Dune series by Frank Herbert (ALthough, I'm sure you all know that) The way it so elegantly combines action, suspence, twisty curvey plots within plots that actually require one to think... but the prequels... they are just pieces of crap that are poorly written..

As far as movies go... Donnie Darko, although not blatently science fiction, is one great piece of film... you should all watch it...

count another vote for Dune by Frank Herbert ... (1)

Vamphyri (26309) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791398)

he's my favorite sci-fi writer.

Donnie Darko (1, Offtopic)

c.emmertfoster (577356) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791424)

Ug. I am so sick of everyone telling me that I have to go see that movie. What a dissapointment.

The ending was horrible and the only interpretation that I could take away was that it was a retelling of the Christ story: ie. Darko's death was the "salvation" of his little town. Ew. Everything he was "forced" to do in the splinter universe was useless and accomplished nothing: the death of his girlfriend, manipulating his mother to get on the airplane, etc. POINTLESS!

Re:Donnie Darko (1)

Eric(b0mb)Dennis (629047) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791452)

Erm... I don't think you quite understand the concept of the movie.

He was never forced to do anything, nor was his death the salvation of his 'little town'

Though his actions, he prevented the destruction of the entire universe (Space-time collapsing.) It really makes you think about hte every action has a reaction kind of thing..

But then again... who has yet to make a movie with any time travel without some sort of paradox?

Re:Donnie Darko (2)

c.emmertfoster (577356) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791484)

How did his actions prevent the "distruction of the entire universe?"

The airplane engine which fell on his house in the beginning, also fell on his house at the end.

If you recall, at the beginning of the film, the Rabbit led him out of his house, preventing his death. At the end of the film, Darko chooses to remain in bed and die. Thus, the tangent universe would never have existed unless the Rabbit had interfered in the first place. The tangent universe problem, which the Rabbit is supposedly trying to get Darko to fix, would never have been happened without the Rabbit interfering in the first place!

Re:The best science fiction... well (1)

charlesbakerharris (623282) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791434)

The prequels are a helluva lot better than some of his sequels. That man's writing went downhill faster than Sonny Bono.

Dune itself is one of the greatest books I've ever read, no doubt about it.

Ubberverse (2)

Speedy8 (594486) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791382)

Can't we just all get along and create one all encompassing universe?

Re:Ubberverse (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4791413)

What the fuck is an Ubberverse? Please don't tell me you meant to write Überverse...

In any case, it makes no sense.

FP! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4791383)

Fourth Post!

Frank Herbert's Dune (5, Insightful)

absurdhero (614828) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791384)

As much as I like nearly all science fiction universes, my favorite is that of Dune. Herbert's universe is filled with politics, planets, populations and dozens of complicated plots that could affect whole galaxies. He manages to convey a vast and complicated universe through his works. I am always amazed.

Dune (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4791385)

My favorite.

Well (1)

Kurt Russell (627436) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791388)

anything with a giant bug and Xev in it works for me.

Most important part of a sci-fi story (4, Interesting)

Obliterous (466068) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791389)

#1: Believable, REAL people.

Heinlien, Weber, Drake, Cook. All authors that have good solid characters.

#2: Believable science.

a limited number of WOW factor science. Make it easy for Me to believe, and make it well thought out and self consistant!

Heinlein (2)

Dave_bsr (520621) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791455)

However you spell his name, He was fun to read. I liked Job, especially perhaps...but many were very, very good.

Re:Most important part of a sci-fi story (3, Insightful)

Dogun (7502) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791492)

>Believable, REAL people.

Can't argue with this.

>Believable science.

Can argue with this. Look at Zelazny; often remarked that Zelazny "made magic feel like science, and science feel like magic" (forget the source). Coils, despite the dubious nature of the science, was still a good book. The Madness Season, terrible science, but still, fun book.

Believable science is good for HARD SCIENCE science fiction. A sci-fi story that isn't strictly old-school doesn't always suffer from a unbelievability.

Grok me?

Sci-Fi that doesnt fall in love with itself (5, Insightful)

Buzz_Litebeer (539463) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791390)

Sci-Fi needs to tell a story, period. Many times you read a sci fi novel and the author is obviously in love with how clever he can be. Sci-Fi is about expanding ideas, not how clever an author can be. An author needs to suspend disbeleif, this can almost be as easy as Orson Scott Card (enders game) when he assumes technology exists, because then we can see how it affects the characters and devise how we beleive it works. Or an author can take the road of Peter F. Hamilton (reality dysfunction) and completely describe every minute detail about how things interact and function. Both authors achieve a suspension of disbeleif about things that are scientifically fictional, and they mix it with the good elements of a story, that are not sci fi at all. The blending of sci-fi concepts and ideas and a good solid story seemlessly make a good science fiction novel.

Space Oddysey (2, Interesting)

CaptainBaz (621098) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791391)

Arthur C Clarke's Space Oddysey series, without a shadow of a doubt. Not just a classic movie (and so-so sequel), but four incredibly compelling books which explore far more than any other sci-fi series I've ever come across.

Deliberately non-specific so as to be non-spoily for people who haven't read the books (try them, you might like them!).

Good SF (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4791392)

As good literature: nontrivial (but feasible)technical ideas, good non-cartoonish characters (read: NOT Luke Skywalker or Captain Kirk), interesting plot (read: not necessary ends with happy end). In general, one may actually have more questions after finishing the book than he had in the beginning. BTW, Lem is one of such authors. Philip Dick is another.

Best to live in? (5, Interesting)

kubrick (27291) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791395)

Iain M. Banks' Culture.

I'd love to live in the middle of trippy post-humanist apace opera universe... wouldn't evryone?

Re:Best to live in? (1)

kubrick (27291) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791407)


Tune in tomorrow for our next exciting episode, where I learn to use the 'Preview' button. :)

ABC's of SciFi (1)

Lord of the Fries (132154) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791396)

For me, the must reads of SciFi have always been Asimov, Bradbury, and Clarke. With a strong extra vote for Kurt V (but V doesn't fit in the "ABC" quipe). The cool thing about SciFi is that it allows the author to extropolate a particular theme in isolation from reality, often almost to an extreme.

Re:ABC's of SciFi (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4791423)

try ..

p.k. dick (ubik, scanner darkly .. flow my tears )

vonegut .. (welcome to the monkey house, sirens of titan (ouch, this will hurt your brain ;))

now who wrote null A.. thats good scifi..

Hard Science Fiction (1, Troll)

Com2Kid (142006) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791397)

Hard Science Fiction Mofos;

New Wave Sucks, Golden Age forever!

It's not the universe, it's the concept... (5, Insightful)

dertx (161391) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791400)

I think what makes great science fiction isn't the universe, it's the concept behind it. Of course, you can argue that this is what distinguishes short stories (which tend to be much more concept-oriented) from novels (which need to develop deeper characters, unless you can figure out a device like Asimov used in Foundation to get away with shallow character development). Still, I can think back on the great science fiction I've read, and most of it is really about the ideas, not about the universe.

After all, most sci-fi universes are just our own universe with something changed - a more complicated version of a Sliders episode. If everything were actually different, we'd have no reference point and it wouldn't mean anything. It's the fact that almost everything is the same except for some crucial difference (more advanced technology, or the Nazis winning WW2, etc.) that makes the stories compelling. That's why so many of these stories include some kind of foil character that the reader can identify with (Arthur Dent is a good example of this, but literally almost every single sci-fi book ever written contains at least one main character that is strikingly similar to people contemporary to the author's own culture). The story can often be created simply by allowing the contemporary typical person to clash with the changes introduced in the universe.

Star Wars (1)

bluesoul88 (609555) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791401)

Well, I grew up on Star Wars, so I really don't have the best view on it. To me, good sci-fi needs a few things. -Believable characters -Deep Storyline -Something I can relate to. For exmaple, you write me a story about earth being destroyed in nuclear war and we move to other planets, give me some high-tech goodies, a deep storyline and some believable characters and I'm a happy guy! Then again, SF isn't my first choice in literature. Fantasy by David Eddings or Terry Goodkind will get my attention a lot faster. But that's just me.

Star Wars (1)

el_mex (175423) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791402)

No question about it. Reading it or watching it completely transports me to that alternate reality, a reality whose qualities I LOVE, even if not completely possible with our physics (how can people stand on the floor of a small spaceship without floating around?).

Not that I want to escape real life that badly, but I get a kick out of being there. It kinda feeds upon itself. That's exactly what science fiction is all about, no?

Gibson (2, Insightful)

KristsInferno (630282) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791405)

I really am a big Gibson fan. And no, not just because of the hacker-of-the-future thing. I think that when he writes (every 8 years or so, the lazy canadian bastard) he creates a future that could damn well be tomorrow. Granted, it's no Dune or LOTR, but I think he has a great mind.

Re:Gibson (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4791449)

yeah but neuromancer is the best everything else of his is a pale shadow, although burning chrome, a collection of short stories, is DAMN good.

Re:Gibson (1)

Le Marteau (206396) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791486)

Gibson's good, but he's no hacker and it shows in his writing. E.G., his Mnemonic character. A data smuggler. Had to transport data... I forget how much (about 100 megs comes to mind), but less than a CD's worth. Far easier ways to 'smuggle' modest amounts of data than use a person (encryption, stego, etc) but then I'm being logical and not a novelist.

The Hitchhiker's Guide! (5, Interesting)

cdlu (65838) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791406)

There is no greater science fiction writer than the late Douglas Adams [slashdot.org] and there is no greater work of science fiction than the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy and its five part trilogy.

Science fiction doesn't have to be dramatic to be good, but being nuts does help a little...

Re:The Hitchhiker's Guide! (1)

Audiophyle (593650) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791479)

A trilogy in five parts? That's some crazy sci-fi!

Favorite SF universe... (2, Interesting)

Cyclometh (629276) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791409)

Interesting question.

Mine would have to be Babylon 5. I've always been a SF fan, and enjoyed all the popular stuff, and a lot of the unpopular stuff. But B5 was great for any number of reasons, not the least of which was that it was the first major SF show with any production value to have an actual story arc, not just a series of disconnected episodes taking place in a loosely connected background.

Contrasted with most other SF series, B5 had a consistency and an appeal that made it truly great. As an example, I think it's the only SF series I can recall that even attempted to use something resembling realistic physics in its spaceflight sequences.

As far as movies go, I have to give the nod to Star Wars, just because it's great, even if it's a little (a lot) schlocky. If I had to choose one great SF film, it'd be 2001: A Space Odyssey. Once again, the use of real-world physics (or something resembling it) made a lot of difference, and as a long-time Clarke fan, I had loved the book/short story long before I saw the film.

Re:Favorite SF universe... (1)

Cyclometh (629276) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791429)

Hmm. Meant to include my favorite book-type series, which is Frank Herbert's Dune series. Clarke is great, but Herbert was very nearly a god in his creation of a rich, detailed, complex and amazingly interesting universe. The only other author I can think of right offhand that created anything like Herbert's Dune universe in scope is Tolkien and Middle-Earth (actually, Tolkien's Middle-Earth was even larger and richer than the Dune universe, but this is about SF, not fantasy).

No science, no science fiction :) (1)

GerardM (535367) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791410)

Both Asimov and Dune write science fiction; Farscape is television and I have never seen it so I do not comment.
My all time great is the world of CJ Cherryh with books like Cyteen and Downbelow station. It relates how humanity develops when time between travelling from point to point is an issue
Do try to read these and enjoy!

Re:No science, no science fiction :) (1)

GerardM (535367) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791437)

Yeah it is Herbert who wrote it not Dune :) Sorry

stop being so damn pretentious (4, Insightful)

kin_korn_karn (466864) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791415)

Really, it's the same thing that makes any story good:

2) Good plot
3) Well-written imagery and narrative

Too many sci-fi writers seem to forget those rules. They take a gadget or a concept or an individual occurrence and try to stretch it into a novel, because it's sci-fi and "people who read sci-fi" (insert Trek convention stereotype here) will buy it no matter how shitty it is. They don't even TRY to be good writers.

Also, and even good writers can be guilty of this, they write into the genre rather than letting the genre be a non-factor. They don't develop a plot or a character in a logical way because that's "not sci-fi enough." You can always tell when a writer has shoehorned something into what they percieve as a sci-fi limitation.

What's your point? (1)

el_mex (175423) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791433)

The question was "What's the best SF out there" as opposed to "What's wrong with 90% of the SF out there?"

I think you're answering the wrong question.


Eric(b0mb)Dennis (629047) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791417)

Battlefield Earth was the best science fiction movie ever!!!!!!!! Man... Where else can you find a bunch of natives who learn how to fly jets in under 42 hours... all by reading...

I tell you... nothing to get better than that...

And with that whacky scientoligist alien guy... it's excellent! You should all go rent it right now!

EOS, End of Sarcasm

Slow News Day? (1)

Le Marteau (206396) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791418)

News? This is a /. poll, without the obligitory Cowboy Neal option.

Best SF? Geeez..... (4, Insightful)

gorehog (534288) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791419)

Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, were the trinity of SF when I was a kid. The genre offers too much to be limited in thi way.

For really great SF look to Gibson, Stephenson, Sterling, Vonnegut...

Dont forget to read mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or Twain's Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

The list of great SF goes on and on, basically because stories of the future answer or us the question "where are we going?"

Great Science Fiction (5, Insightful)

cofbaron (576294) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791420)

The essence of great science fiction, to me anyways, is taking ordinary people as we know them in real life, then placing them in extraordinary (but still believable) situations. Of course, science and technology should be present, but it shouldn't dominate the story. If you let it upstage the rest of the story, you get garbage like Independence Day (which wasn't even very science-fictional, if you ask me).

Great science fiction sheds light on the inner workings of what people are like, by showing them in a different light. It serves as a warning about possible futures, examining implications of technologies both good and bad. And perhaps most of all, great science fiction has ideas and themes in it that can survive the test of time.


Simple answer (5, Informative)

bravehamster (44836) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791421)

Iain M. Banks

Seriously, if you haven't read this guy, do yourself a favor. American book stores don't care much of his stuff, although I have seen Excession and Look to Windward in there lately. His books are hands down the best science fiction I have ever read. His fiction books are widely acclaimed also.

The technology in his books allows him to place his well-developed characted in unusual situations. He doesn't let the technology run the story. The questions his books pose stay with me for many days afterward. His endings are not simple, usually they're very bloody and unhappy, sometimes even unsatisfying. And that's why I think they're so great. So check him out. Start with Consider Phlebas, or Against a Dark Background. You won't regret it.

BAH! Only the "classics" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4791425)

I like my SF a bit newer.
How about the Seafort saga by Feintuch or possibly Dan Simmons' series about the Shrike.
These books, now they will blow your socks off. 2001? Please....too boring!.

When it understands its own implications (5, Insightful)

harangutan (315386) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791427)

One thing that makes great sci fi is when the story and setting can not only withstand the implications of the science, but grow naturally from it. Examples of science fiction stories that really reflect an understanding of their science are: everything by Vernor Vinge (particularly A Fire Upon the Deep, anything by Greg Egan (I particularly love Permutation City), and even the classic '50s film Forbidden Planet, whose plot is almost inevitable given its compelling techno-sociological premise.

Examples of Science Fiction that cannot withstand the implications of the science presented include Star Trek (particularly the later series) and the Star Wars franchise. Neither of them really know what they're getting themselves into with their technological advancements. Replicator technology in particular would be so transformative in reality that we would not recognize the society that resulted from its existence.

Hitch-hiker (2)

Triv (181010) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791430)

Gotta go with Douglas Adams' universe. I'm probably not as well versed in sci-fi as some people here (I gave up reading it a few years ago) but it seems to me that his universe is the most realistic - all the power belongs to the media, nobody cares about anything, stupidity and bloody-mindedness are the norm and no one really has any idea as to what's going on. :)

I also liked the universe Asimov created in the "Stars like Dust" trilogy. I'm annoyed that it's out of print - I wanted to give it to someone for christmas.

My all-time favs tho are sci-fi stories that happen here, like Adams' Dirk Gently series or the Illuminatus Trilogy. I find them easier to immerse yourself in. People seem to forget that Sci-fi doesn't automatically assume spaceships and all that. :)


Story/Plot (1)

Bimkins (242641) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791431)

I think that in any medium, having a good storyline is key. By good, I mean:
-Plot: The plot needs to develop in a natural, thought out way. Using superior technology to escape from every little situation kills the story.
-Characters: The people in the story need to act in a believable way. Having Darth Vader cuddle up with a pussy cat just wouldn't seem right.

The second thing would be actors. If the acting seems too fake (wooden, forced, whatever), then it can EASILY kill a very good story.

Of course, the best way to create a wonderful sci-fi story is to do something that DOESN'T involve a holodeck screw up!

Sci Fi? (4, Insightful)

teamhasnoi (554944) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791432)

Its the real stuff [go.com] that blows my mind.

Niven is one of my personal favorites - you can't go wrong with the Ringworld books, or the Smoke Ring books(a world consisting of a gas torus around a white dwarf star, giant trees and humans evolved to live on them. Tech from when they first arrived is highly prized and guarded. Great stuff!) Pretty much all his books are good, I have noticed a battle of the haves and have-nots theme reappearing here and there.

Clarke is great and has put out alot of '2 hour' books, finish them on a long car ride - if you can stand your wife's/gf's driving ;)

Asimov is wonderful and has written something about everything. Clarke and Asimov I found while buying cheapy sci fi books at garage sales and thrift stores. I will *always* buy anthologies - they never fail to provide a story that amazes me, and authors that I've never heard of writing incredible stories. I'll post some when I find my books...

Great science fiction... (1)

EuroChild (523969) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791436)

...must be at least 70% fiberglass and/or silicon - in particular, heads.

It's a tossup. (1)

Epesh (2854) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791439)

For me, the best scifi worlds would have to be... William Gibson's Sprawl (from Neuromancer, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive) or Dune, with Isaac Asimov's Foundation in the running.

Neuromancer is so gritty, so unexpected, that it would be marvelous (and scary as hell) to live in it.

Dune is amazingly complex, and awe-inspiring until Herbert went 'round the bend a bit at the end... and a previous poster nailed it: the prequels suck.

And the Foundation is the anti-Sprawl: a panacea.

Octavia E. Butler, Roger Zelazny, Kurt Vonnegut (4, Interesting)

NeuroKoan (12458) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791442)

I'm reluctant to cast a vote in the best SciFi category, mainly because there is so much great stuff.

I will, though, mention one author that is completely blowing me away right now. Her name is Octavia E. Buttler and for powerful, dramatic SciFi, she reigns supreme (for me at least). Clay's Ark [amazon.com] and Patternmaster [amazon.com] are definately not to be missed. Also, for great short stories, try her collection of short stories Bloodchild: And Other Stories [amazon.com]

Also, for good old fashioned SciFi, check out Roger Zelazny. The first half of the Amber [amazon.com] series is almost purely fantasy (while the second half is a mix of SciFi and Fantasy) so they probably don't count as an answer to this question. But Psychoshop [amazon.com] and Donnerjack [amazon.com] are definately fun to read.

Oh and I guess I might as well plug one of my all-time favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut. All of them are so good that I can't even pick out one to recommend. Just try any (or all) of them.

Hmm. (3, Interesting)

Burgundy Advocate (313960) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791444)

Lately, I've been going through Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Series [amazon.com] . Very interesting, and quite entertaining.

I think what makes it appealing to me is that it isn't too far-fetched, and also deals with the human element -- something that's all too often ignored in the terribly geeky, antisocial realm of sci-fi.

Re:Hmm. (1)

0000 0111 (141160) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791498)

I read the first one several years ago, Red Mars( At least I think it was the first one IIRC ), and I was totally into it at first. But then it seemed to fall apart into the last half or so and I just couldn't understand why he decided to focus so much on the effed up personal interactions and I decided to put it down. Maybe I was tired at some crucial point in the plot but I got lost. But I must say that the first half was by far the coolest portrayal of a hypothetically real manned mission to Mars I've ever read.

My thoughts of good writing. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4791446)

Richness of description. The cadence of the words. The coherence of the world presented to the reader. I've only read a few books that were /really/ good.

Heinlien hasn't written anything I've liked. Asimov makes him seem like a child.

Known Space (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4791448)

Give me any Larry Niven book anyday!

This is News? (1)

c.emmertfoster (577356) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791450)

What the hell? Shouldn't this be a poll, or something other than a "News" article?

Go ahead and mod me offtopic. This whole damn article is.

Play jazz more freely as they wish (1)

D+iz+a+n+k+Meister (609493) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791453)

Cowboy Bebop is one of my most favorite Sci-Fi universes.

Not quite as lovey-dovey as the Star Trek commie-universe, not as apocalyptic as Mad Max. Uses the best of both plus a little BladeRunner to mesh all cultures together.

Re:Play jazz more freely as they wish (2)

pizza_milkshake (580452) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791465)

i'm not sure if it's my favorite, but i have to say i was most impressed by the cowboy bebop series. i bought the first disc (eps 1-5) and loved it so much i bought the whole box set. as far as anime goes, it's far and away my favorite series i've seen so far.

The real world (1)

Stig_Soleng (584809) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791454)

Stephenson is one of my favourites. Especially
Cryptimonicon, which I assume others also will consider to be sci-fi, even tough it takes place in our world, during WW2 and the present.

Or would you not consider Cryptimonicon as sci-fi?

Ender's Game (1)

0000 0111 (141160) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791457)

If you haven't read Ender's Game yet then you must do so immediately if not sooner. I'm not kidding.

Blech..Slashdot on sundays.. (0, Troll)

sylvester (98418) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791458)

Slashdot should just engage in the traditional day of rest on Sundays, instead of running all this crap. :-)


Nudity (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4791459)

Nudity, robots and nude girls, nude girls floating in zero-g, nude girls in futuristic cities, and umm, nude girls.

Asimov's thoughts on great Sci-Fi (3, Interesting)

charlesbakerharris (623282) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791460)

Asimov, in his letters and other nonfiction, wrote that he always concentrated on the interactions between people more than the technology, because that interaction is what creates a great story. Many of his early Robot books were simply detective stories - I say simply not as a slight, but their power lay in the execution - the philosophical musings of Daneel and Giskard, the relationship between Daneel and Baley... The science took second place to the human (and robotic) interaction.

Read some of Niven's stuff in N-Space and Asimov's Gold and Robot Dreams, or Arthur C. Clarke's Letters to get an idea of where they come from when they're writing. The common idea that great Sci-Fi comes from great Fiction more than great Science runs through all of them.

Hands down, Star Trek wins (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4791461)

The Star Trek franchise is by far the best Sci-Fi around, past present and probably future. If you dweebs actually prefer Star Wars or the faggoty Dr. Who crap, knock yourselves out. But I ask you to ponder this: What does God need with a starship!?!?

Hehe... a book on this... (2)

kscguru (551278) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791462)

Ben Bova created a book, "Challenges", on writing Science Fiction. It's aimed at short stories, and technically isn't limited to sci-fi, but it's exceptionally good. One of my half-dozen favorites. Out of print for about ten years, my copy is resold from the decommissioned Panama military base!

Some of his insights: Edgar Allen Poe's horror stories were great sci-fi. As an "exercise", he rewrote "Masque of the Red Death" into a Cold War-themed "Masque of the RAD Death" - and changed about ten words. Or a story about man first receiving SETI-type signals - which ended after a month and an alien nuclear war.

Ben Bova is one of the sci-fi heavyweights - find this one at your library and give it a read. I promise you won't be disappointed.

tough question (5, Interesting)

lingqi (577227) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791463)

It's just like things such as "what makes a great sandwich." Some swears by tomatoes while others can't stand them; the select few will go with anchovys and say that any sandwich without them is no food at all, etc.

Furthermore, you can't really answer this without delving into a question like "what makes a good book." And if all of us had better ideas than you, we'd be making millions selling books instead of posting of /., eh?

Of course, I can give you what I personally like in SciFi - imaginative worlds are always welcome (well described, mind you), and intellectually stimulating is also another plus (social / psychological / whatever problems that arise from these new and imaginative circumstances); beyond that, here and there some action / romance / whatever to help push the story along so I actually look forward to continue reading.

Of course, I have read books that may lack some of these qualities but were still very fun to read. So in the end, your question is still unanswered; but anyways... who posts questions on /. to get them answered, anyhow... It's all about Karma-whoring right?

Good Sci-Fi is *not* Fantasy. (1)

Slurpee (4012) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791466)

Though I find it hard to nail down a great definition of Fantasy, great Sci Fi is not Fantasy.

Fantasy generally contain spells, mythical creatures and/or some sort of super natural. Sci Fi can be very similar, but with "scientific" reasons behind it. If you follow this arguement through, you will notice that it gets *very* hard to distinguish the difference. If can define the difference better,please let me know.

There are some authors (Anne McKathery (sp?)) who blend Sci-Fi/Fantasy. I like these authors.

Charactors (2)

QuantumFTL (197300) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791468)

Though often times in Sci-Fi, there's a great emphasis on technology or tricky plots, there's nothing more off-putting to me than a lack of interesting charactors. For instance, the book The Light of Other Days has an arguably good and interesting plot, and has technology that's both believable and very cool. But it lacks any sort of actually interesting charactors. The kind of character that makes you just want to go and meet them.

On the other hand, one of my favorite SciFi writers, Lois McMaster Bujold, manages to incorporate amazing characters. The tech in her universe is fairly generic (in fact, it rarely calls attention to itself) and while it's mostly scientifically correct (that is, it doesnt' make any blatent errors) it doesn't seem to overly concern itself with mundane scientific details, but instead tells a very human story. And that, to me, is very important.

Yes, it's nice to have your action take place on a superintelligent space-ship, travelling through time to save the galaxy, but if your characters lack substance, I frankly don't care if they live or die. Good characters make people care.

Humor, Hard Sci-Fi, Characters. (2, Interesting)

imag0 (605684) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791470)

Charles Sheffield, for one.
Of all the Sci-Fi authors I have read over the years I would have to say he had the formula down the best.
Hard science fiction, believeable characters and the odd McAndrew made for exellent storytelling I could read over and over again.

Too bad he passed away here lately and I won't get to hear any more of his ideas but in order of prefrence I would have to say:

hard science. Sure, you have to extrapolate a bit, but make it believable and intelligent.

Humor. That's always good. Like the alien Hollus, in his first meeting with humans. The humans thought it was all a prank at first...:

"...Of course, if you want, I could give you an anal probe . . ."
There were gasps from the small crowd that had assembled in the lobby. I tried to raise my nonexistent eyebrows.

(in Robert J. Sawyer's exellent Calculating God)

And finally characters you can get behind and understand. This is a lot more ephemeral and it dosn't happen to fall into a nice neat little package. Normally, you gravitate towards Sci-Fi characters you can see yourself in (or how you would like for yourself to be someday). Idealized supermen are silly.

whew! time to get back to work. :wq!

Forget everything else, it's just the writing. (2, Interesting)

Dogun (7502) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791471)

Writing is what makes good science fiction;
a fancy, exciting world means nothing without good writing.
On the other side, a crap world can be entertaining and even enthralling, providing that the writing is good.

Last year, I had the opportunity to take a class with Joe Haldeman, here at MIT. He asked us for a challenging topic to write a short story on - the topic we chose was "Sentient Asteroids" - and, surprisingly, he made a good story for the topic, even if it was flavored by September 11th in theme.

That is why my own stories will never be good - because I am not a good writer; no matter how detailed I make the worlds, the fact is that my writing sucks.

No offense, Raymond E Feist, but the writing of those Midkemia books has gone down over the years, despite the fact that more aspects of these worlds are fleshed out with every book. I stopped reading them - who else can say the same?

Of course, place an area in the middle for capitalization on popular themes, mass market fantasy books (cough cough), and such, but if you want good fantasy or science fiction, look for the writing.

that's easy... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4791472)

REALITY(TM), of course.

Respect your betters! (2, Funny)

Burgundy Advocate (313960) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791475)

Everyone has a favorite universe, be it the Foundation Series by Asimov, or the classic Star Wars trilogy.

Are you crazy? Aren't you forgetting something, like, oh...


Enterprise rocks my world like Mexican food for breakfast. Everything else is just pretenders to the throne.

Love Always,

Dune for me (2)

quantaman (517394) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791477)

Then again I just started on the Foundation series again so that might change shortly :)

Either way in the foreword in the newer Foundation Asimoc writes
James Gunn, who, in connection with the Foundation series, said, "Action and romance have little to do with the success of the Trilogy-- virtually all the action takes place offstage, and the romance is almost invisible-- but the stories povide a detective-story fascination with the permutations and reversals of ideas

Not sure if that is completely consistent with Dune but my personal belief in in strong, likable, and interesting characters (ie not Annican) are necessary. Along with that goes a consistent plot and science to back it up. The science can't become the center of the story with endless detail nor can it make you gag with inconsistencies... Oh how I wept when Frank Herbert had Waff freeze something at -275 Kelvin!

Building a World... (2)

Jorrit (19549) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791480)

For me great SF (and Fantasy for that matter) means mostly the way they created their world. Some examples of SF/Fantasy writers that put a lot of effort in building a big world are:
  • Dan Simmons: Hyperion and the follow up books. The world depicted in these books is really huge. I really like the scale of these novels. For me this is probably one of the best SF novels ever written.
  • Tolkien: obviously Tolkien put a LOT of effort in making a big world. Including inventing several languages (which he actually did before writing the books) and a complete mythology.
  • Robert Jorden: The Wheel of Time. Jordan also made a huge world. The depth of the world of Tolkien is a lot more but the world in Jordan's books is not bad either.

There are some other examples. Aside from the world the writer creates another big factor (for me) for a good SF/fantasy book is the surprise factor.


Well Detailed Laws of Physics and History (1)

svzurich (524785) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791481)

I prefer my fiction to define and follow a consistant set of laws of physics. When a series does this and stays constant, it becomes much more "real" to me. Explained and ahered to rules allow me to visualize the situations better, and I can think along the lines set by these rules.

David Weber's "Honor Harrington" series does an excellant job of this. He defines how weapons and FTL propulsion works, and sticks with them. His details on character interactions will turn some off, but I love them. Seeing how he describes naval battles is a treat for this former member of Uncle Sam's Canoe Club! Weber also details the history, including how scientific discoveries came about. That structure and revelation strongly appeal to me.

The classics (5, Insightful)

Chuckaluphagus (111487) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791482)

I really love the classics:

Asimov, especially the original "Foundation" trilogy.

Clarke's "2001"

Heinlein's "Stranger In a Strange Land"

Niven's "Ringworld"

Among more modern works, I'm a big fan of Neil Gaiman("Neverwhere", "Sandman", "American Gods"), William Gibson("Neuromancer", "All Tomorrow's Parties") and Neil Stephenson("Snow Crash", "Cryptonomicon")

What I like about them differs. Asimov does large stories and themes well. There aren't any big characters in "Foundation", but the story is so beautifully put together, spanning hundreds of years. "Stranger In a Strange Land" is barely science fiction, dealing almost exclusively with people's perceptions and beliefs. Gaiman has an excellent knowledge of classical myth and legend and how to weave it into more modern stories. Gibson deals with themes and problems that are just starting to become an issue today. Stephenson's books vary in type and character, but most are pretty good. "Snow Crash" is a pretty out-there half cyberpunk/half action-flick novel, it's a great quick read. "Cryptonomicon" has two separate but related storylines fifty years apart, and he plays them off each other very well.

There's nothing specific to any one of these authors or their novels that I can single out, aside from good writing skills. Their novels are enjoyable and intelligent, which is all I require from any genre.

No absolute favorites. (1)

Drakin (415182) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791483)

I like a lot of sci-fi... though, some didn't work for me (like Asimov's foundation novels... his robot works were much better for me.)

I my favorites are so varied... E.E. "Doc" Smith's "Lensman" and "Skylark" series, David Webber's "Honor Harrington" books, David Drake's "Hammer's Slammers", the Metzda mercenary book by Joel Rosenburg, Pournelle's Falkenburg's Legion books. (I'm big on various military scifi)... nearly anything of Spider Robinson's...

But in the end, what makes sci-fi work for me is little fake explinations of how things work... fake, as in, it's pure BS that makes no sense... if you're going to do that, you might as well just gloss over and say "such and such exists" and good, deep characters, with unique motivations and flaws (I know, a number of the books i mentioned do have the "cookie cutter" characters syndrom... but some don't).

Michael's new book Prey! (1)

Business King (599197) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791487)

Nano tech mixed with bio, mixedw ith comp sci!!! Great stuff! Worth the 26 bucks to read it! Wonderful vacation or weeekend reading material.

Lexx (3, Interesting)

l33t-gu3lph1t3 (567059) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791488)


It's sexy.

It's weird.

It has characters I love to hate. (Prince, 790)

It has characters I despise but cheer on (Stanley!).

It has characters I want to ogle (Xev).

It's epic (C'mon, lexx = biggest weapon of destruction ever built?

The whole initial plot is serendipity so severe that it can only be called extremely dumb luck that the heroes can find themselves in such roles.

Oh,and it doesn't have omnipresent use of special effects.

Vaiyo A-O
A Home Va Ya Ray
Vaiyo A-Rah
Jerhume Brunnen G!

Why of course, its fragging! (2)

mekkab (133181) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791489)

Regardless of your local definition, a good dose of fragging can turn any ol' sci fi into a nebula prize shoe-in.

either that, or add some post-apocalyptic goodness. /sarcasm

good fiction makes good sci fi. No amount of technology after the fact can save a crappy story.

Take out the word "science" (5, Insightful)

MikeyNg (88437) | more than 12 years ago | (#4791494)

To me, good science fiction starts with what makes good fiction. You need good, believable characters, an interesting plotline, etc. The difference between science fiction and other genres is the fact that there's science involved in it. There should be some correlation to real physical laws in the universe that may or may not have been discovered yet.

Science fiction is similar in some regards to horror and fantasy genres. They both are fiction that hold themselves within limitations that are commonly known. (Horror titles probably have a good amount of leeway. Fantasy titles enjoy more leeway than science fiction, also.) In my opinion, it is these limitations that make good science fiction.

Great science fiction asks, "What if?" questions that provoke our mind, but it'll do so within a hypothetical context. Take a look at LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness for instance.

My personal favorite episode of Star Trek (Original) is City on the Edge of Forever. It asks the question of how important can a single person be? How important is a single moment in time? It also provides some great scenes with the interplay between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. (There's also that memorable line at the end, with McCoy saying, "I could have saved her! Do you know what you just did?" And Spock replying, "He knows, Doctor. He knows." Love it!)

I also personally enjoy Larry Niven's Known Space stuff. Hard science fiction is great. As a reader, you exercise your mind and get entertained. "Science fiction without a net" is the perfect way to describe it.

Finally, I really enjoy Gibson's stuff. I must have read Neuromancer about twenty times, and there's always something new to find in there. Great books are like that.
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