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We always root for the underdog, if we ever see one. But how can you cheer them on if you've never heard of 'em? That's why--voilà!--our latest list of underrated sci-fi-related things--in this case, the Most Underrated Science Fiction Books!
Read on and prepare to either dust off your library card or gear up to go shopping...
The Rookie (by Scott Sigler)
Good gosh-a-mighty, have you ever read this thing? No? That figures...but you should!
Didn't you know, 700 years from now we will STILL be playing football, and having tailgate parties with the cheapest beer you can find at Sam's Club?
Well...if you are into Scott Sigler's space operas and/or stories of the gangster underworld (and I can see right through you and know that you are), then come and play with the freaks, monsters, and men who are part of the future's pro football league. Receivers that can jump 25 feet? Sure, that's normal in the future. What about a linebacker that eats people? Hmm, don't they all? Okay, how does this grab you? The gangsters are running the games and they play for keeps, killing off any rivals who want to thing of this as some sort of, I don't know, "game."
It ain't no game, rookie. And if your name is Quentin Barnes, some teenage punk with a penchant for murdering aliens, you better wise up with a quickness or you'll soon find yourself marked for death...
Grass (by Sheri S. Tepper)
Boring book title? Check. But don't let it fool you, because Sheri Tepper's Grass is not about, er, grass. Grass was a "cosmic anomaly" that humanity ran away to live on, a sublime world of perfect balance...but, of course, a world which another race had already lain claim to. You see any trouble brewing?
Meanwhile--a lethal plague is ravaging planets and now Grass itself is in harm's way. It's up to one human woman, Lady Marjorie Westriding Yrarier, to travel to the unusual world and study it's bizarre lifeforms, its non-human alien residents...and the secret of the planet itself, which seems oddly unaffected by the deadly world plague.
Parable of the Sower (by Octavia Butler)
There's a reason author Octavia Butler made it on our list of greatest sci-fi authors--and one reason is Parable of the Sower, her dystopian novel of the future. Lauren Olamina (who, by the way, is on our list of greatest female protagonists) lives in a safe haven neighborhood outside of Los Angeles, now a deathtrap of drugs and violence. Oh, wait...that's actually not very different from today's L.A.
Lauren’s dad and a few other brave souls venture out in an effort to try and teach people who to behave properly (never a wise choice), as she, meanwhile, fights her miserable condition known as hyperempathy. Mild spoiler: her family dies, pushing her out of her safe little nest and into the apocalyptic world full of pain...pain she cannot block herself from feeling. So she, along with a band of other misfits, attempts to flee north as they harbor a secret idea--one which might potentially save the human race from extinction.
The Anubis Gates (by Tim Powers)
Winner of the Philip K. Dick Award, fans of mind-bending time travel will enjoy this story from trippy author Tim Powers. Featuring a Rogue's Gallery of weirdos, The Anubis Gates tells the tale of Professor Brendon Doyle...and it's a tale fraught with twists and turns as he encounters--and in some cases fights--everything and everyone from Egyptian sorcerers, werewolf, deformed clowns, and even Lord Byron! Occasionally hard to follow, The Anubis Gates is a solid classic worth the effort if you're willing to make it.
Stories of Your Life and Others (by Ted Chiang)
What happens when your life is turned upside down by, oh, I don't know--the sudden realization that we're not alone in the universe? Or that artificially intelligent beings are about to start taking over and running things? Well, you'd probably do what you've always done...try to go with the flow and make the best of it. You face reality, such as it is, and you get used to it. It becomes the new normal for you.
And that's exactly what Ted Chiang likes to challenge us with--stories of how we get used to the unusual. Funny, smart, and all the other adjectives you've come to expect from book cover blurbs, Stories of Your Life and Others has garnered awards for its originality, even if it hasn't really been an international bestseller. If it were that, it wouldn't be on a list about the most underrated sci-fi books, would it?
And speaking of--if you're into underrated sci-fi, read our underrated list of underrated sci-fi movies!!!
Blood Music (by Greg Bear)
What happens when the world is about to be blown to atomic bits, but then...it doesn't happen? Some new concern slips in the fill the void, and in this case it's the joys of chemical warfare. Meanwhile genetic researcher-slash-mad scientist Vergil Ulam, hot off a new engineering discovery, decides that meh, his work is too dangerous to share--but not too dangerous to try out on himself as a guinea pig test subject. Classic rookie mistake from our friend Ulam, since he's got no idea what the consequences of his actions are going to be on an unsuspecting world...or what to do about the new "invasion" of tiny intelligent beings taking over the planet... Greg Bear's Blood Music is a pleasure for anyone who likes to witness the folly of Man!
The Songs of Distant Earth (by Arthur C. Clarke)
Arthur C. Clarke's favorite of his own novels, Songs of Distant Earth is set 2,000 years from now on a colony world known as Thalassa. The human settlers have been there for a while, and life's been grand--up until now (naturally). But guess who just came to dinner? Yep, about a million more settlers, fleeing the dying world called Earth. It's not every fan's favorite, and it does dig into a lot of hard sci-fi tidbits which may or may not be of keen interest to the casual reader...but if you like books which raise and answer questions both large and small, you'll likely get a geeky kick out of this well-researched nugget of genuine scientific ideas related to space travel.
And if you're into cool sci-fi planets, check out our list of the coolest of the cool!
Bonus Round and Honorable Mentions
The above is likely enough to keep you busy reading for the summer, but if you're a truly avid bookworm--or if, somehow, you've actually read all of the books I just mentioned--then here are a few more "honorable mentions" for our list of the best underrated sci-fi novels ever! But guys, please--don't spend all your time indoors! Get out to the lake, or the sea, or whatever body of water is near. (You can always take the books with you...)
The Disappearance (by Philip Wylie)
Like every other family, the Gaunts are devastated by the unexplained phenomenon that occurs one Tuesday afternoon in February. In an instant, every female on Earth is mysteriously transported to a different plane, forced to live apart from the males, who have been left behind. Suddenly trapped in two parallel realities—with the bonds of love, trust, sex, and stability that formed the foundation of their relationship abruptly severed—Bill and Paula Gaunt must separately reexamine who they truly are and what they are capable of as existence itself becomes a struggle in one world that descends into violence and brutality, and another that is soon plagued by famine and despair.
Haveck: The First Transhuman (by Matt Cates)
The Government lied to you. The Military controls you.
An Artificially Intelligent virus is stalking you... Your stepfather keeps trying (sometimes successfully) to kill you!
Your DNA is being rewritten by nanobots!! And your grandfather Paris? Yeah. He's probably the spy behind it all.
WELCOME TO THE CONSPIRATORIAL WORLD OF HECTOR HAVECK.
Like most young heroes he was born from catastrophe...
All California teen Hector Haveck wanted for the summer was to get closer to his attractive Robotics classmate, Yésica Brick. Instead he's forced to figure out his seven new lame superpowers. Each one only works for one day a week...
·Sundays: Glowing in the dark (Wow).
·Mondays: Bending spoons with his mind (Big deal).
·Tuesdays: Growing eyes anywhere on his body (Gross!).
·Wednesdays: Cooking objects with the heat of his mouth (Pointless...).
·Thursdays: Seeing the family tree and history of any person he meets (Kinda cool?).
·Fridays: Instant healing after two minutes (Now we're talkin'!).
·Saturdays: Manipulation of dreams and reality(Uh, that's weird. And spooky...).
...and these 'useless' abilities quickly become dangerous and out of Heck's control. He soon learns that a side effect of his last two abilities is the power to cross dimensions...which is exactly what he was built to do by 'The Fin,' a secret society obsessed with locating Oannes ReHav-Marre,the immortal king of ancient Atlantis. The problem is Oannes and his mermen legions will do anything to return home, even if it means erasing 10,000 years of human history!
Tales of the Dying Earth (by Jack Vance)
Jack Vance is one of the most remarkable talents to ever grace the world of science fiction. His unique, stylish voice has been beloved by generations of readers. One of his enduring classics is his 1964 novel, The Dying Earth, and its sequels--a fascinating, baroque tale set on a far-future Earth, under a giant red sun that is soon to go out forever.
This omnibus volume comprised all four books in the series, The Dying Earth, The Eyes of the Overworld, Cugel's Saga and Rialto the Magnificent. It is a must-read for every Science Fiction fan.
Babel-17 (by Samuel Delany)
At twenty-six, Rydra Wong is the most popular poet in the five settled galaxies. Almost telepathically perceptive, she has written poems that capture the mood of mankind after two decades of savage war. Since the invasion, Earth has endured famine, plague, and cannibalism—but its greatest catastrophe will be Babel-17.
Sabotage threatens to undermine the war effort, and the military calls in Rydra. Random attacks lay waste to warships, weapons factories, and munitions dumps, and all are tied together by strings of sound, broadcast over the radio before and after each accident. In that gibberish Rydra recognizes a coherent message, with all of the beauty, persuasive power, and order that only language possesses. To save humanity, she will master this strange tongue. But the more she learns, the more she is tempted to join the other side . . .
The Men in the Jungle (by Norman Spinrad)
Bart Fraden came looking for a planet to conquer - and found the hell-hole of the galaxy: Sangre - the killer planet. For three centuries Sangre had been dominated by the sadistic Brotherhood of Pain, a priesthood dedicated to torture, slavery and cannibalism. Bart sensed the kind of revolutionary potential that he could manipulate to make himself ultimate ruler. But he hadn't counted on the apathy of a people bred as meat animals and the dreadful power wielded by the Brotherhood. Sangre might cost him more than his life - it might destroy his soul...