A Tuesday Ten (er . . . Twenty) A Science Fiction Pathway VIII (18 and up!)

For those reading along, this is the 7th part of this pathway, the introductory paragraph is pretty much the same  for each of these entries.

I will note that these are taking me longer than the casual lists I usually do.  Each of these probably consumes about five hours of effort.  I want to make certain I’m providing a decent list, after all.

So, there are always lists out there detailing these or those must-read Science fiction books. Often SF and Fantasy are thrown in together without differentiation.  It’s inspired me to try a different kind of series of Tuesday Ten lists, one that takes readers on a trip from childhood to adult with Science Fiction stories recommended in each age bracket.  A potential pathway so to speak.  I’m going to limit each bracket to ten titles (which is a REAL challenge in some cases), and I’m going to try and put in a range of works, recent and past, that are still available for readers to find.  After all, the point of this list is to give you ideas of titles share with your kids or read yourselves!  There will be many more options in each age range, this is only the jumping off point after all!  Let’s blast off!

This week’s Ten is focusing on the next group in my age bracket, the 15-18 year-olds.  (You can check out the 0-3 years list here , the 3-5 year-olds here, the 5-7 year-olds here, the 7-9 year-olds here, 9-12 year-olds here.  the 12-15 year-olds here and the 15-18 year-olds here.)  And we’ve made it to what would be considered adult reading.  Normally I don’t cover adult science fiction on this blog, but this pathway will be an exception, since I want to give a complete pathway.   These new adults will be forging their own choices, picking their fandoms and favorites, getting input from a variety of sources.

At this point, my last list in this pathway will try to touch on just a small fraction of the huge wealth of science fiction out there.  I’ve tried to reflect a range of tones, publication dates, and a diversity of authors within the list, but at only ten books there is only so much I can represent.  Please make sure you take this as only a starting point for more wonderful reading, and certainly not as an exhaustive list of the best or most crucial reads.  In many cases I took off a book or author I love because I wanted to round out the list and because I have confidence that my readers will encounter them if they are exploring more in the genre.

And since this is my final list in this series, please keep in mind that the age recommendations are only there to assist.  They aren’t a barrier for young readers who are ready to make the jump, nor are they a barrier meant to keep those who are older from reading the books in an age bracket.  (See Reading While Adult)


Science Fiction Pathway: 18 year-olds and up!

You’ll find this last list has twenty books rather than the usual ten.  This is mainly because I found it impossible to encompass enough of adult SF in a collection of ten books.  Even at twenty, my mind invariably jumps in and starts adding titles I should have.  Great titles, iconic authors . . .  I’ve only touched on a few.  But I hope what I have here may touch on a few of those classics not yet mentioned while adding some new ideas to your reading lists!


Aye, and Gomorrah by Samuel R. Delany (Vintage, c1967)

This was the first author I knew had to be on this list. Samuel R. Delany is a key author of the New Wave of SF that sprang out of the earlier Golden Age.  This particular selection are some of his best known short stories.  Delany does tend to get complex and experimental with his work, so his writing won’t be for everyone.  That said, this is intelligent and thought-provoking stuff to read over and chew on.  It astonished me when composing this list to really see how few male writers of color I could find writing science fiction. That Delany remains one of the few makes it clear how much diversity is an ongoing battle in the genre.


Startide Rising by David Brin (Spectra, c1983)

The second Uplift novel, this story of Brin’s takes place in a universe heavily populated with alien cultures, one where humanity remains a relative newbie in beginning their space travel and exploration.  In the Uplift series, all intelligent life has another civilization that “uplifted” it to intelligence in the first place,  but there’s a mystery of who first uplifted humankind.  In this story a human and dolphin crew crashland on a planet and must fight to survive.  A mixture of incredible SF, adventure and even poetry made this book one I enjoyed tremendously.  Brin does a lot with sweeping sagas and huge casts of characters.  For those who like SF adventures with a mystical/spiritual bent, these may fit the bill.  I’d also recommend Dan Simmon’s Hyperion Cantos.


The Female Man by Joanna Russ (Beacon Press, c1975)

Science fiction isn’t just about exploring the future of tech and event, sometimes it’s about questioning our identities themselves.  Thus I thought it important to place this book on the list.  Exploring questions of gender and the roles that we play in society through four alternate selves from different dimensions.  Like LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness,  (mentioned on my last list) this one forges questions of what we are and what we might be.  Groundbreaking in its time, many of the issues and thoughts still are relevant to our current time and place.


The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu (Tor books, c2008)

One of the huge problems in science fictional representation is that it’s been difficult to find great works of SF from other countries translated into English.  I admit freely it’d be lovely to learn a language to read in it, but having the works accessible to more people means being able to have such things translated.  Hats off here to Ken Liu for doing the job of translating one of the significant works of SF by Cixin Liu.  In this story a dark conspiracy, light years in the making, threatens all of humanity.


Dune by Frank Herbert (Ace,  c1965)

I think honestly that Dune must make an appearance here.  So much of this sweeping political/religious/social space opera has influenced and informed our popular culture.  A huge sprawling saga of Houses and histories, of the rise and fall of leaders.  Of destined heroes and those who bring them into power.  My one recommendation is not to get a mass market paperback of this to read but a trade or hardcover version.  The Ace paperback I had held pages so thin and font so small it made reading difficult!  Paul Atriedes is born into a sprawling interstellar empire of feudal design.  His family has become heir to the planet of Arrakis, the only source of  ‘spice’ melange, quite possibly the most valuable resource in the universe.


The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Anchor Books, c1985)

There’s one dystopian story I wanted to be sure made the list–this particularly sharply feminist tale of accomplished author Margaret Atwood.  In a not-so-far off future women live in a society where they are starkly oppressed by the patriarchy.  Women have no rights, they are not allowed to read or have their own jobs or money.  Instead they are controlled by men, with the few who are still fertile required to become Handmaids to the Commanders, in service to them as breeders.  A well written and disturbing view of the future, Margaret Atwood creates stories that have us question society and ourselves.


Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen Books, c1986)

For space adventure, dynamic characters, crazy situations and a good dose of humor, Bujold’s  Vorkosigan series is a great example of an ongoing well-loved space opera featuring a series of characters who seem to wind up in no end of trouble, danger and occasional shenanigans.  The most beloved character in the series doesn’t appear in this first book, but Miles Vorkosigan is a charming and manic-minded man who’s personality belies his height.  Great fun to read.


Neuromancer by William Gibson (Ace, c1984)

Cyberpunk.  William Gibson’s writings are some of the first to receive that description.  Set in a future where technology has propelled people online and into cyberspace,  Gibson explores that world through Case, a man whose bosses have made it so he can no longer go into cyberspace, having to spend all his time in his meat body instead.  Case takes riskier and riskier assignments, but yearns to get back what he lost.  When a group of criminals offer him a cure in exchange for a tricky job . . . well that is where the story takes off.  You’ll recognize many of the social and cultural elements of this book as having come to pass in some form in our current world.  Gibson wrote with impressively clear sight when it came to an exploration of where humanity was going regarding tech.  A seminal work of the field that influenced a generation of readers.


Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree, Jr. (Tachyon Publications, 2004)

James Tiptree, Jr. was the pseudonym of Alli Sheldon, one of the significant and award-winning SF authors of her time.  She was a master of the short story form, exploring gender, the nature of the alien, where humanity stood in the vastness of the universe. Her stories are meant to provoke and be reflected upon.  I think she’s an important voice to include on this list.


Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny (Harper Voyager, c1967)

So I asked my husband.  What one book/author would you put on this list?  And this is the one he mentioned.  Earth has been dead a long time, but mankind has moved on to a new planet, one where humans can use their advanced technology to set themselves up as Gods, much like those of the Hindu pantheon.  Only one man has set himself to change all of this.  Using tech and religion, Zelazny creates a story around these religious legends readapted for another world and time.  This is only one of his works, but it is among one of his most notable classics.


Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit, 2013)

From here I figured it was important to jump forward a bit and include a title that was recently published. This award-winning novel is a story about The Justice of Toren, an artificial intelligence hosted in a starship and thousands of ancillaries.  Now this entity has been diminished to a single human body and sets about on a mission of revenge.  Fascinating concept and execution–this is one I haven’t read yet but is on my radar!


Nexus by Ramez Naam (Angry Robot, c2012)

Political espionage and conspiracy are major player in this SF near-future thriller.  An experimental new drug can link minds together–but the uses for this are ripe for exploitation .  One young scientist is caught trying to improve the drug and finds himself thrust into a world of danger and deception.  Drugs and medical advances in SF are something that often gets featured in thriller-style  stories, since they lend themselves to a near-future environment so easily.  The author is an Egyptian-American who has written nonfiction on biological enhancement and has since turned to writing this science fictional series.


Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon (Del Rey, c2003)

I wanted to include a good example of military science fiction on this list.  I decided to feature this series by Elizabeth Moon.  It’s Ky Vatta’s chance at redemption, her first mission on a simple run.  It should be an easy, unadventurous run.  But then we wouldn’t have this book, would we?  Seizing a chance, Ky unwittingly brings herself and crew into the middle of a colonial war.  For other military SF sagas you can check out the works of David Weber and John Ringo.


Cyteen (Volumes 1-3) by C. J. Cherryh (Apect, c1988)

Another author that comes to mind when I think of classic writers of SF in the last few decades.  Cyteen is just one of many series by Cherryh, but it’s the one I first encountered.  When the original Dr. Ariane Emory is assassinated, the scientists and political figures of her world decide they will not only create a clone body of her, they will attempt to recreate the personality and memories themselves, carefully raising the new clone and shaping her life to resemble her predecessor’s.


A Woman’s Liberation: A Choice of Futures by and About Women  edited by Connie Willis and Sheila Williams (Aspect, 2001)

Science fiction is very much a genre where the short story form is an essential part.  And it is a particularly brilliant way to experience a wide range of authors, voices and styles within a single collection.  Whether it’s a themed anthology or a “best of” anthology, there’s a great deal to explore!  I’ve selected a few that I tend to like, but they are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of excellent anthologies.  This first one is a personal favorite–exploring SF from a women’s perspective, though I would say “Even the Queen” is my favorite story of the collection!  A great place to start getting to know some of the prominent women writing in the field.


The Big Book of Science Fiction edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer (Vintage, Expected Publication July 2016)

This one isn’t out yet.  But it promises to be big. To be ultimate, according to the book cover.  Just a quick peek at the authorial names included makes it clear this is is going to do a good job of introducing readers to a large swathe of SF history and present day writers.  No tome can be exhaustive, but I have fairly high hopes from this one.


Octavia’s Brood edited by Walida Imarisha and Adrienne Marie Brown (AK Press, March 2015)

Octavia Butler was one of the first women of color to notably write science fiction, this anthology is in her memory, capturing the voices of writers concerned with issues of social change and justice.  It  is an anthology that strives to present a diverse collection rather than the most familiar writers.  It’s the kind of anthology that can introduce readers to writers who may not have cropped up on their radar before.


Waiting for the Machines to Fall Asleep edited by Peter Öberg (Affront Publishing, 2015)

Likewise, these anthologies come in so many varieties.  I encountered this one on Goodreads and reacted immediately with  “oh, I want to read those stories!”  New voices in Swedish science fiction.  Look around and you’ll find other, highly specific anthologies on any number of regions, topics or types of SF.  With a little exploration you might soon find a pile of anthologies landing on your TBR pile.


Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee (Spectra, 1999)

I’m including this title in part because it’s written by the remarkable Tanith Lee, but also because it’s one of the rare SF utopia stories.  So often we encounter dystopian visions of the future.  But what if the future is bright?  What if we can someday live in a world where there’s no sickness, no work, nothing but idle pleasures and happiness?  And what if  a member of that utopia finds themselves dissatisfied with such a world?  That’s the premise of Lee’s combined books here.


Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (Penguin, c1963)

I probably can’t call this a good SF list if I don’t mention Vonnegut.  Sharp worded and satirical science fiction that tackles subjects like society, religion and humanity destroying itself.  Considered to be one of Vonnegut’s best novels, it’s a look at humanity encountering Armageddon and surviving it.  Like so many other writers on this list, this is just one of many works to check out!

So there you have it, my twenty finally done.  And . . . please add your own titles you recommend in the comments.  I can never set up a perfect list,  so I’m all for having others put in their two cents of other great reads!  After this it’s back to children’s stuff for me!



My earlier pathways can be found here:

A Science Fiction Pathway Part I ( 0-3 years)

A Science Fiction Pathway Part II (3-5 years)

A Science Fiction Pathway Part III (5-7 years)

A Science Fiction Pathway Part IV (7-9 years)

A Science Fiction Pathway Part V (9-12 years)

A Science Fiction Pathway Part VI (12-15 years)

A Science Fiction Pathway Part VII (15-18 years)


About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on June 4, 2016, in General Posts, Lists and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Woah! So much good stuff here! A lot of my all time favorites made your list, includeing Dune and Cat’s Cradle.

    here’s a few more your readers might enjoy:
    Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor – space opera where a young woman is approached by aliens
    Defenders, by Will McIntosh – we build a force of robots to protect us, things go terrifyingly wrong
    Leviathan Wakes, by James S.A. Corey – straight up fun space opera with lots of intrigue, mystery, and fast paced action
    Species Imperative trilogy by Jule Czerneda – biology based science fiction, very smartly written but also has a lot of situational humor

    • Hello! Binti made my previous list for teens (which is the only reason it’s not on this list–great stuff!). I know Czerneda out of the others, but looks like a few more good things to put on my TBR. Thanks!

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