DAVID BRIN's world of book recommendations

world of book recommendations

Naturally I recommend my own books and shorter fiction. But I find these books inspiring and well worth recommending.


science fiction that teaches AND entertains

I have a page that discusses how to use science fiction to teach and another that describes how science fiction opens readers to the exciting possibilities of the future. Here I list my SF recommendations for children.

Susan Cooper: The Dark is Rising
Bruce Coville: My Teacher Is an Alien
Peter Dickinson: Eva
Diane Duane: So You Want to Be a Wizard
Jeanne DuPrau: The City of Ember
Neil Gaiman: Coraline
Margaret Peterson Haddix: Running Out of Time
Madeleine L'Engle: A Wrinkle in Time & A Swiftly Tilting Planet
Lois Lowry: The Giver
Susan Beth Pfeffer: Life As We Knew It
Daniel Pinkwater: Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars (and 4 other books)
Terry Pratchett: Only You Can Save Mankind
Philip Pullman: The Golden Compass
Neal Schusterman: The Dark Side of Nowhere

[image of Philip Pullman from Wikipedia]

... and for YOUNG ADULTS

What books can we give our teens and young adults that don't mire them in a swamp of vampires, domineering wizards or nostalgia for feudalism? These are just a few of my personal science fiction favorites, weighted more toward SF with a little common sense mixed in with the sense-o-wonder.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

A post-apocalyptic story of the near future. Bounty hunter Rick Deckard tracks down and kills escaped androids. Served as the basis of the film, Bladerunner.

The Hunger Games Trilogyboxed set, by Suzanne Collins

"Today, we need more sophisticated legends, that show us not only possible failure modes, but humanity buckling down to get things right." (read more)

Feed, by M. T. Anderson

A futuristic consumer-mad world where news and advertisements are fed continuously to the brain -- till a hacker disrupts the flow during a teen trip to the moon...

Against Infinity, by Gregory Benford

A coming of age story of a young man on the icy surface of Ganymede, searching for a dangerous alien artifact that haunts the dreams of humans.

The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov

Gibbon's Decline of the Roman Empire with an interstellar twist. The Galactic Empire is going to fall, but Hari Seldon has a plan.

The Engines of God, by Jack McDevitt

Two archeologists struggle to preserve the alien artifacts on planet Quraqua before terraforming destroys all traces of the alien civilization -- which may hold essential clues to humanity's survival!

The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester

A classic of Science fiction, this is a story of revenge. Gulliver Foyle, left stranded in space, is determined to track down those responsible. (Predicted an entrenched wealthy subculture, and a tattooed-tribal subculture.)

[image of Alfred Bester from Wikipedia]

Lest Darkness Fall, by L. Sprague de Camp

The classic timeslip tale about an achraeologist who finds himself in 435 CE Rome. Can he stop the Dark Ages from coming? Terrific. Started the modern era of "Connecticut Yankee" tales.

The House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer

In the land of Orpium, an opium-producing estate between Mexico and the United States, a drug lord enslaves illegal immigrants, through chips planted in their brains. Our protagonist, Matt, has been raised as a clone for organ replacement.

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

A dystopia fast becoming more likely than 1984. Also more fun, but creepy. Thought provoking and on college reading lists.

Rite of Passage, by Alexei Panshin

A multi-generation colony ship tests its youth by casting them out to survive for a month of Trial upon the hostile colony worlds. Truly the classic YA science fiction novel and a pioneer at the young-female point of view.

The Stars Are Ours! by Andre Norton

No one wrote escapist adolescent adventure in space better than Andre Norton. Her Young Adult novels were legend, and SFWA's YA award is named after her. (Any book by this author will please a bright teen.)

Earth Abides, by George Stewart

In this post-apocalyptic story, most of humanity has been wiped out by pandemic. Ish Wiliams emerges from his solitary cabin to find the land deserted... almost. A gentle, thoughtful book, easy to read but very literary.

Orbital Resonance, by John Barnes

Through his 13-year old protagonist, Melpomene Murray, Barnes presents a riveting portrayal of life in space aboard the Flying Dutchman, an asteroid colony which supplies the overpopulated home planet Earth.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne

Verne wrote brief, captivating "go there" adventure tales that still read well. Choose a direction: up, down or into the sea and Verne's intrepid adventurers head that way! But his Captain Nemo was a character with tragic depth.

[image of Jules Verne from Wikipedia]

The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

A short story collection about the colonization of Mars, as terrestrial expeditions set off to explore the planet, often with devastatingly poignant consequences for the native inhabitants.

Leviathan, by Scott Westerfield

This steampunk novel presents an alternate history of World War I, pitting the Central Powers and their steam-powered war machines, against the British Darwinists, who have genetically modified animals for fighting. Our protagonist, the son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, rides into battle on the Leviathan, an enormous biological dirigible.

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman

To escape the clutches of Jack the man who killed his parents, Nobody Owens was raised in a graveyard -- learning history from the ghosts among the headstones.

Tunnel in the Sky, by Robert Heinlein

Teens who want jobs in space must spend a week surviving an alien world, but what if they're stranded? Heinlein's answer to Lord of the Flies.

Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card

Boy genius Ender Wiggin trains to save the world from alien Buggers. A blatant "chosen one" fantasy that appeals to the Harry Potter "I'm a demigod" reflex.

The Postman, by David Brin

After much of America has been devastated by war, a survivor comes across an abandoned mail truck, finds long abandoned letters... and delivers hope to isolated towns. (Okay, this is a self-plug. Though lots of kids prefer the lighter tone in The Practice Effect!)

See a more complete list of recommendations for young readers on my blog.

[image of Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein & L. Sprague de Camp from Wikipedia]


I've listed elsewhere my Top Ten Science Fiction Novels. But now let's try something much more ambitious -- a bigger, broader reading compilation. I will divide this column according to my own unique interest-categories, beginning with...


These novels and shorter works inspire the reader to imagine the dreadful-but-avoidable dangers that may lurk down the road ahead. A few of these books even attained the most powerful status any work of fiction can achieve: they changed the future by alerting millions, who then vowed that the bad things should never happen.

Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell
The Sheep Look Up, by John Brunner
A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison (basis for the film Soylent Green)
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
"Harrison Bergeron" from Welcome to the Monkey House) by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
On the Beach, by Nevil Shute
We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin
The Cool War, by Frederik Pohl
The Disappearance, by Philip Wylie
Flood, by Stephen Baxter
The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Unincorporated Man, by Dani Kollin & Eytan Kollin

[image of David Brin, Greg Bear & Gregory Benford from Stewart Blandon]


These tales offer something almost as important as warnings... a tantalyzing glimpse at (guardedly and tentatively) better tomorrows. (It's actually much harder to do than issue dire warnings!)

Stand on Zanzibar, by John Brunner
Beyond This Horizon, by Robert A. Heinlein
Rainbow's End, by Vernor Vinge
Consider Phlebas, by Iain M. Banks
The Golden Age, by John C. Wright
Island, by Aldous Huxley
Pacific Edge, by Kim Stanley Robinson


Some tales simply rock readers back with wondrous stories that also broaden their perspective... from strange cultures to alternate social systems to unusual ways of thinking.

Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny
Dune, by Frank Herbert
The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
Courtship Rite, by Donald Kingsbury
The Years of Rice and Salt, by Kim Stanley Robinson
A Deepness in the Sky, by Vernor Vinge
Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson


Take me someplace new. Boggle me with possibilities grounded in the strange-real universe of science!

Timescape, by Gregory Benford
Eon, by Greg Bear
The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov
Flashforward, by Robert Sawyer
Tau Zero, by Poul Anderson
Ringworld, by Larry Niven
Diaspora or Quarantine, by Greg Egan
To Crush the Moon, by Wil McCarthy
Vast, by Linda Nagata
Anti-Ice, by Stephen Baxter
The Web Between The Worlds, by Charles Sheffield
Spin, by Robert Charles Wilson

[image of Isaac Asimov from Wikipedia]

fantasy — with BRAINS

Just because there's magic and wizards and kings and such... doesn't mean it has to be lobotomizing. There really are exceptions!

The Drawing of the Dark, by Tim Powers
The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien
Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (free online fanfiction), by Eliezer Yudkowsky (aka Less Wrong)
Neverwhere: A Novel, by Neil Gaiman
The City & The City, by China Miéville
Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest


Or... what if things were different?

The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester
Dying Inside, by Robert Silverberg
Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke
Brainwave, by Poul Anderson
The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon
Blindsight, by Peter Watts

rip-snorting good STORYTELLING

Just go along for the ride.

The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
Gateway, by Frederick Pohl
The Mote in God's Eye, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
Old Man's War, by John Scalzi
The Great Time Machine Hoax or Earthblood, by Keith Laumer
The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

ALTERNATIVE histories & PARALLEL worlds

Extra points if it seems plausible that this might-have-been really might have been. And even more points if the reader goes, "That world seems more plausible than this one I'm living in!"

The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick
1632, by Eric Flint
Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
The Great War series (American Front, Walk In Hell, Breakthroughs) by Harry Turtledove
Bring the Jubilee, Ward W. Moore
Lest Darkness Fall, by L. Sprague deCamp

[image of Philip K. Dick from Wikipedia]


Here the biggest test is whether you can offer a new or surprising logical twist. Bring on them paradoxes!

The Man Who Folded Himself, by David Gerrold
Up the Line, by Robert Silverberg
Run, Come See Jerusalem! by Richard Meredith
The Big Time, by Fritz Leiber
Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
The Technicolor Time Machine, by Harry Harrison
"All You Zombies" and "By His Bootstraps" by Robert A. Heinlein


The hardest thing of all to do well. Someday I might dare to try this most-difficult type!

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
Bored of the Rings: A Parody of J.R.R. Tolkien's the Lord of the Rings, by the Harvard Lampoon
Hoka! by Poul Anderson and Gordon Dickson
The Color of Magic, by Terry Pratchett
"Blued Moon" in Fire Watch, by Connie Willis

sheer BEAUTY

Forget science, logic and other superficialities. Just love it. The words... the words...

The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
Gravity's Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon
Riddley Walker, by Russel Hoban
Hyperion, by Dan Simmons
Volume One of the Book of the New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
The Rediscovery of Man, by Cordwainer Smith
More Than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon
"'Repent Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman" by Harlan Ellison


Hey, it's a kind of time travel!

The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne
Last and First Men, by Olaf Stapledon
Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, by Aldous Huxley
The World, The Flesh & The Devil by JD Bernal
When Worlds Collide, by Balmer & Wylie

predictive SUCCESSES

We SF authors often disclaim any intent to foretell the future. We explore it, test possibilities, perform gedankenexperiments, even warn or entice. But predict it? Well, at times we do try... and even keep score! My fans maintain a wiki tracking hits and misses from my most predictive near-term book to date Earth. Here are some looks-ahead that have been impressively on-target.

The Shockwave Rider, by John Brunner
Beyond This Horizon, by Robert A. Heinlein
"The Brick Moon" by E. E. Hale (1865)
Neuromancer, by William Gibson
Age of the Pussyfoot, by Frederick Pohl

[image of Boris Strugatsky from Wikipedia]

and SF isn't just ANGLO-AMERICAN

International contributions to this genre are undeniable. Indeed, it would be churlishly socio-centric to ignore great titles like Roadside Picnic (Arkady and Boris Strugatsky), The Cyberiad (Stanislaw Lem), The Paper Spaceship (Tetsu Yano) and Japan Sinks (by my Worldcon co-GoH Sakyo Komatsu). In fact, this is a whole 'nother category deserving a whole 'nother list! And your suggestions are welcome.

emerging VOICES

Live long in this world, especially as a male, and folks have a range of opinions about you. Karma builds. The more so if you become even a little "famous." I know I can be overbearing and... opinionated... but I try to make up for that and other faults with good deeds. Okay, Maimonedes said you're not supposed to brag about the latter, but... well... I'd rather at least some of these things were known. Anyway, this bright young author writes action even better than Zelazny or Moorcock.


Here are some of my favorite nonfiction books, which I read for a grounding in the science behind my science fiction and nonfiction.

Contact with Alien Civilizations

I recommend the latest book to ponder the topic of "where is everybody out there?" Contact with Alien Civilizations was written by former senior U.S. diplomat Michael A.G. Michaud, who chaired the committees that developed the well-regarded "SETI Protocols." I served with Michael on those committees...

... until they unraveled under the strain of the increasingly tense METI imbroglio, or the debate over whether humanity (or rather, a few peremptory individuals) should start shouting into a strange and dauntingly silent universe. An excellent book, covering these issues from many angles!

The Republican War on Science

Will the first decade of the 21st Century be known as the time when our Scientific Age came to a whimpering end? The one trait shared by anti-modernists of both left and right appears to be disdain for our ability to learn and do bold new things. My published review of Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science, explores how partisanship can explain much of this collapse of confidence... and why partisan interpretations don't cover everything.

The Past And Future of America's Economy

The Past and Future of America's Economy By Robert D. Atkinson explores measures that would allow us to play our roles better in the world economy.

The Singularity Is Near

Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near pursues his argument that our scientific competence and technologically-empowered creativity will soon skyrocket, propelling humanity into an entirely new age.

[image of Ray Kurzweil from Wikipedia]

The Progress Paradox

The clichés that most hobble us are those we don't notice, because we accept them so readily. Like the common belief -- shared across the political spectrum -- that the world is going to hell. Or the truism that "our wisdom hasn't kept up with technology." In December 2003 I reviewed a book that challenges this truism. In The Progress Paradox, Gregg Easterbrook suggests we may be better than we thought. There's a world to be saved and those who spread either complacency or gloom aren't helping. What we need is confidence and a sense that our efforts can matter. That will come, if we open our eyes to how much good has already been done.

The Coming Democracy

In The Coming Democracy, Ann Florini dares to raise a long-neglected question -- how will Planet Earth be governed during the next century and beyond? Some say we are living in just the latest in a long series of imperial ages -- an era of Pax Americana. Even if the USA is the 'best' pax the world has ever known, should we count on its 'beneficial hegemony' lasting forever? Or might it be wise to start thinking now about using that great influence for its most noble and most pragmatic purpose -- by taking a lead in helping to design Whatever Comes Next (WCN)? Before history inevitably takes that power and leadership away from us.

Out of Control

Out of Control, by Kevin Kelly, explores the new field of "emergent properties," showing how marvelous and surprising new complexities and capabilities often arise out of systems that began simply or primitively. Wonderful examples.

Why Things Bite Back

Why Things Bite Back, by Edward Tenner, says we are often fooled by our own best-laid plans. Possibly the most tragic human character flaw is our tendency to avoid the very criticism that may help us find our mistakes before they erupt and ruin our hopes. Tenner's look at this phenomenon is dour and incomplete... I point out some cause for hope in The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Freedom and Privacy?

Networks and Netwars

Prescient, spooky and worrisome, Networks and Netwars, by John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, remains hopeful about our ability to cope -- over the long run -- with terror threats to our complex civilization.

Mother Nature and The Woman That Never Evolved

In Mother Nature and The Woman That Never Evolved, author, anthropologist and feminist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy takes a fresh look at evolution fact and theory, then moves on to a cross-cultural view of motherhood, in this pair of stimulating books, re-evaluating things we thought we knew.

The Tangled Wing

A good companion volume, with a wider focus on the biological foundations we all have to work with, is Melvin Konner's recently updated The Tangled Wing. (For my own anthropological speculations, click over to my essay, "Neoteny and Two-Way Sexual Selection in Human Evolution: Paleo-Anthropological Speculation."

A Brain for All Seasons

A Brain for All Seasons by William Calvin is the latest in a series of wonderful scientific speculations by neurologist / evolutionist Calvin. It takes you on a tour of the new science that links deep ocean currents with the climate patterns that made Earth a crucible for human development. Did ice ages and hot spells act as a 'pump' forcing our ancestors to adapt and change? Europe lies at the same latitude as Canada, yet supports 20 times as many people, because of the Gulf Stream... which may 'switch off' because of Global Warming. Find out more, it's important.

Code: And Other Laws of Cyberspace, Version 2.0

Again, touching on topics discussed in The Transparent Society, anyone interested in the dilemmas we face in the digital age should look at legal scholar Lawrence Lessig's Code: and Other Laws of Cyberspace, Version 2.0.

[image of Lawrence Lessig from Wikipedia]

Secrets and Lies

From a more technical background, encryption expert Bruce Schneier talks common sense in Secrets and Lies.

The Life of the Cosmos

Striking off to the very boundaries of this universe -- and about a trillion others -- fasten your seat belts for one of the boldest ideas of our era in The Life of the Cosmos, by physicist Lee Smolin, who lays out the notion that universes may behave like a form of life, evolving within the context of a meta-time far, far vaster than mere billions of years. This book inspired my novella "What Continues... and What Fails," which is contained in the story collection Otherness.

in memoriam

Ray Bradbury

I wrote this tribute to Ray Bradbury upon his passing, June 5, 2012.

Ray was the last living member of a "BACH" quartet -- writers who transformed science fiction from a pulp magazine ghetto into a genre for hardcover bestsellers. Isaac Asimov, Arthur Clarke and Robert Heinlein helped shatter barriers for the rest of us, establishing the legitimacy of literature that explores possible or plausible tomorrows. But it was Bradbury who made clear to everyone that science fiction can be art. An art form combining boldness and broad horizons with sheer, unadulterated beauty.

Jack Williamson

I appended a memorial addendum to this 10 year-old tribute to my dear friend, Jack Williamson, on the day of his passing, November 10, 2006.

Jack Williamson is no Yankee trader, but he might have been. His life is one long tale of hoodwinking fate, of turning adversity into advantage, and above all, changing the world through the sheer magic of his perceptions. By seeing the universe in a new way -- and conveying his vision through science fiction -- Williamson helped break the old spell that held human beings enthralled for so long. The tradition of static sameness. The old fear of innovation.

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