We're mind-bendingly tired from CES ("we" mostly being Adi), and with January half-over, we're going to spend the rest of it on some more discussion of The Big Sleep and the accompanying podcast. Then we'll start fresh in February with one of four books about exploration, adventure, and strange new worlds. Here's what we're looking at:
Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks (1987)
The late Iain M. Banks' great contribution to science fiction was a series of books about the Culture, a sprawling, semi-utopian society where work and scarcity have been largely eliminated and advanced artificial intelligences pull strings behind the scenes. His novels explore technology and ethics in what's been described as a "literary space opera" setting, and Consider Phlebas starts the series by pitting the Culture against a rival dedicated to its destruction.
Ringworld by Larry Niven (1970)
Larry Niven is one of the greats of engineering SF, and Ringworld is probably his best-known work — it won the Hugo, Locus, and Nebula awards, and its titular ringworld has become a fixture of science fiction. More practically, it's an adventure story about a group of explorers traveling a mysterious artificial world, grounded in physics and mathematical theory that that, if not necessarily correct, is detailed and intriguing enough that people have been debating the structure's plausibility for almost half a century.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (1969)
If Ringworld turns hard science into fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness does the same thing with the social sciences, developing a world with deeply alien notions of gender, culture, and politics and then throwing in an outside ambassador who's been asked to bring the insular society into an interplanetary alliance. We've written about our love for the book in the past, and like Ringworld, it's won the Hugo and Nebula awards — it's still cited today as one of the finest examples of literary science fiction.
Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany (1966)
The Hugo- and Nebula- winning Babel-17 isn't just about attempting to understand an alien culture, it's about the power of their language itself — what if the way you spoke determined the way you think? Author Jo Walton makes a great case for reading it: "If Babel-17 were published now as a new book, I think it would strike us a great work that was doing wonderful things and expanding the boundaries of science fiction. I think we'd nominate it for awards and talk a lot about it. It's almost as old as I am, and I really think it would still be an exciting significant book if it were new now."