Dear Christmas: My Favorite SF/F Re-Reads


There’s still time to get to the shops and buy that special gift for your estranged husband or twice-removed cousin.  Okay, let’s face it.  You’re not buying gifts for them.  If you’ve popped onto this page, it’s for one of three reasons:

  1. You read this blog.
  2. You told me to write on this topic.
  3. You’ve got a weird scifi and fantasy geek child or friend and you have no idea what to get them.
If you’re in the #3 category, then prepare yourself for this completely uneven list of books I enjoyed enough to read more than once!  Here goes:
Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson
I’m biased, because Hopkinson (and Buckell) was one of the authors I focused on in my Master’s Thesis.  It’s also a novel I’ve reviewed for SF Mistressworks and one I’ve taught at the college level.  It’s an enormously rich book, too.  Caribbean folklore + science fiction + twin worlds = simply stunning.
Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, and Sly Mongoose by Tobias S. Buckell
All three are amazing.  Like Hopkinson, Buckell mixes in Caribbean references and characters, but drags them out into the wide world of Space Opera throughout the series (Crystal Rain is almost a Civil War-style steampunk novel, while Ragamuffin and Sly Mongoose are exciting Space Operas — the latter includes zombies and floating habitats in the atmosphere of a Venus-like planet).  I love reading them over and over (plus, The Apocalypse Ocean, book four, is also damned good).
1984 by George Orwell
This is one of the few books I will read over and over and over again.  I used to read it once a year, but I haven’t done that for a while.  But if you’ve ever read the book, you’ll understand why:  it’s one of those books that benefits from re-reading because you’ll discover new stuff all the time.  And I mean that.  There are so many little details in this book.  Orwell was a genius!

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
Folks will notice a trend on this post.  That trend goes something like this:  how many books written by people from other countries (originally or currently) can I stick on a single list?  Well, get over it.  Most of what I read these days are books by folks from elsewhere, in part because that’s what I study.  Go figure.
Lauren Beukes is our resident South African writer.  And she’s a good one!  Zoo City remains one of my favorite books of all time.  It mixes animal familiars with amateur sleuthing and social commentary, which is A+ in my book.
The Palm-wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola
It’s weird to Westerners and controversial to many African scholars.  No matter which side of the world you come from, though, I think this is one of those unique, fascinating pieces of literature.  Every time I read it, I’m amazed by the oddness, the rapid pace, the almost spoken-word style of storytelling, and the folklore.  I recommend it to anyone who loves weird stuff.

City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer
This remains, for me, one of the top three greatest New Weird books ever written (assuming, of course, that New Weird actually exists — I’m not convinced anymore, but it’s a catchy word that I find useful).  There’s no way to describe this book without ruining some of its most compelling parts, so I’ll just say this:  it has an appendices full of letters, documents, and other wonderful bits, all of which enhance the story.
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
I suspect most of you are familiar with this one.  Good.  You should be.  It’s one of the greatest science fiction novels ever written (top ten for me).  If you haven’t read it, then all you need to know is this:  a thorough examination of social change and war in a far future, military space opera setting.  It’s amazing.  That is all…
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
Another great New Weird novel.  Mieville is, I think, one of the most innovative writers in SF/F right now (alongside Jeff VanderMeer).  Perdido Street Station is no exception.  The way he constructs creatures, cultures, cityscapes, and so on is admirable.  I suggest everyone start with PSS, but even works like Embassytown or The City & the City contain some interesting concepts and ideas.  He’s one of the new greats (hopefully he’ll keep producing new and innovative work for years to come).
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Vonnegut is another of those strange writers.  I’m still unsure if Slaughterhouse-Five is actually science fiction or some kind of PTSD novel.  It’s probably both at the same time.  Either way, it’s an amazing book.  There are compelling uses of “time travel,” social commentary, weird digs at science fiction, and much more. If you’ve never read it, you should.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower nearly made me cry.  That’s not small feat, if I’m honest.  Usually, I only cry while reading books in which I already have emotional investments.  Butler’s work, however, is incredible.  Sower follows a young woman with a rare form of synaethesia that allows her to feel what others feel.  That might be cool in times of plenty, but this novel is set in a post-apocalyptic United States where pretty much everything has gone to complete crap and humanity is clinging desperately to its little pieces of civilization.  It’s a brilliant read.

The House of the Stag by Kage Baker
I love this book more than I love breathing.  Well, sort of.  I really love breathing too…
The House of the Stag combines fairytales, epic fantasy, and awesome in one little package.  When I first read it years ago, I fell in love with it.  The way Baker plays with fairtale narratives to create something fresh and new (along with her unique way of using theater-related stuff in the narrative) is, well, fresh and new.  What more do you want me to say?
One For Sorrow by Christopher Barzak
Barzak is a beautiful writer.  One For Sorrow is probably his greatest work to date (though his recent short story collection is damned good too).  Part YA, part LGBT narrative, part ghost story, One For Sorrow is a stunning work of art.
Spaceman Blues by Brian Francis Slattery
Remember the Orpheus myth?  Well, Spaceman Blues is like that, only chock full of hilarious science fiction references and tropes — men in black, UFOs, strange underground floating cities, and so much more.  And Slattery’s prose is stellar.  If only he could write more books… Oh, right, Lost Everything came out this year, and I interviewed him here.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Yeah.  You knew there were going to be some PKD books on here, right?  There have to be.  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is still my favorite PKD novel, in part because it has all the right SF elements:  social commentary (doubletime!), a future Earth, Mars, androids, and a lot of weird cultural stuff.  Not that these are unusual things for PKD — look at the next selection…
Ubik by Philip K. Dick
What do you get when you take Philip K. Dick, the soul, and corporate espionage?  Ubik.  This is probably his strangest “popular” novel, featuring a ragtag bunch who discover that their supposedly dead boss is influencing the world around them…from beyond the grave.  Don’t let the idea fool you.  This is science fiction at its strangest and, well, best.

Eon by Greg Bear
I first read this when I picked up a discounted copy at a department store.  Then I read it again.  If the introductory sections of the narrative itself weren’t enough, then the ending certainly did me in.  It’s sort of one of those mind-boggling moments where everything you think you know…isn’t true.  I love moments like that in SF!
And there you go.  Now to throw the question to all of you:
What are your favorite SF/F re-reads?

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

2 thoughts on “Dear Christmas: My Favorite SF/F Re-Reads

  1. The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe
    –Impossible to understand even half of what's going on in your first read, and the more you read, the more you realize that you hold something more like a cultural artefact than a work of fiction.

    The Quantum Thief/The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi
    –Like Wolfe's, these are books that are difficult, mind-expanding works that benefit from multiple readings. Rajaniemi is the single most important science fiction writer of the last decade.

    The Gone Away World by Nick Harkaway
    –The structure of this one is absolutely astounding, as are the use of mimes, ninjas, and the most unique apocalypse I've ever read.

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