Dive into the more obscure universes created by some of the greatest male minds in science fiction in these lesser known but classic science fiction books!
To act as a counter-balance for our 17 best sci-fi novels by female writers, we decided to take a look at lesser known science fiction from the Golden Age (and a few more recent entries) and unearth some of the best, underappreciated (or completely forgotten about) classic science fiction books from the celebrated male authors of the time. Experimental, controversial, or just plain weird, these written works evaded most anthologies, but will definitely capture your attention.
1. Isaac Asimov: The End of Eternity, 1955
Despite remaining un-decorated alongside his Nebula and Hugo Award-winning novels such as I, Robot, and Foundation, Asimov’s The End of Eternity is a suspenseful time thriller that writer Villiers Gerson said, “exhibits in every chapter the plot twists for which the author is famous,” and is considered by many to be one of his finest science fiction novels. The novel follows an organization of men from different time periods who exist outside of the timeline the rest of humanity inhabits. Their mission is to travel along the timeline and attempt to improve history by making nearly unnoticeable small changes to past events.
2. Phillip K. Dick: The Simulacra, 1964
Compared to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the basis for Blade Runner), A Scanner Darkly (recently adapted by Richard Linklater), and The Man in the High Castle (the basis for the recent Amazon series), Phillip K. Dick’s illusory android novel The Simulacra has become largely forgotten. Set in the mid-21st century, the novel follows several protagonists within this politically charged sci-fi drama. West Germany and the United States have merged to form the United States of Europe and America (USEA), whose government is revealed to be a sham which is run and propagated by simulacrums. The titular character is the Matriarch Nicole Thibodeaux who runs the totalitarian country through long-standing illusions and a series of actresses.
3. Arthur C. Clarke: The Hammer of God, 1993
More relevant today than ever as Elon Musk urges humanity to shoot for a multi-planetary existence by colonizing Mars, Clarke’s often overlooked novel examines humanities place in the cosmos. Spaceship Captain Robert Singh takes his ship, the Goliath, directly into the path of oncoming meteor Kali, named for the Hindu goddess, that is likely to hit Earth, causing catastrophic damage. While Singh and his crew attempt to save humanity by nudging the asteroid out of its trajectory, a religious sect called Chrislam believes humanity is meant to be destroyed and attempts to sabotage the Goliath and kill its crew. The novel is a gripping commentary on the place of religion in a peaceful future. (Fun fact: Steven Spielberg optioned the film rights to The Hammer of God, but the movie that resulted, 1998’s Deep Impact, was so different from the source material that Clarke wasn’t credited onscreen.)
4. Frank Herbert: High-Opp, 2012
In Herbert’s posthumously published sci-fi novel, humanity traps itself within a caste system determined by an ongoing series of opinion polls. This dystopian world is home to High-Opps, those who scored highly on the opinion polls, who are rewarded for the popularity with luxurious and privileged lives. On the bottom of the food chain lives the Low-Opps who live in a hovel of crime and slave labor. When the protagonist Daniel Movius falls down the polls all the way to the Low-Opp Labor Pool, he realizes the oppression is culminating in an incipient revolution that could use Movius’s High-Opp knowledge and influence to achieve their goals.
5. H.G. Wells: The Shape of Things to Come, 1933
Told in a series of 5 “books” or sections, The Shape of Things to Come is supposedly Wells’s re-writing of a diplomat’s dream of a history textbook from the year 2106. This novel, written in 1933, was designed as a futuristic history novel but is to us an alternate-reality history novel. After a series of World Wars, a benevolent dictator creates a unified World State that approaches a utopian existence. The dictator suppresses religion, encourages science, and enforces Basic English as the global language. Eventually, the dictator is overthrown in a nonviolent coup, and the World State dissolves as the new utopia intends to create a worldwide community of geniuses and peace. This novel, despite being propelled by economic catastrophe and global plagues, ends on a somewhat hopeful and uplifting note, which is a nice change of pace for most sci-fi.
6. Hal Clement: Iceworld, 1953
The lately unsung father of “hard” science fiction, Hal Clement, writes books that to many will come across as graduate level physics or exobiology lectures. This clever novel, however, is not one of them. Admittedly, it’s impossible to escape some level of intense scientific accuracy in a Clement novel, Iceworld is among his most easily digestible without a couple of PhDs. In the novel, the narrative aligns with the viewpoint of the aliens, not the humans, which is already an interesting twist. Mix in highly addictive drugs (read: tobacco) and drug smuggling, and you have yourself an absorbing and thrilling read. The title comes from how the aliens view Earth: anywhere water exists in a liquid form is incredibly cold to them. Though the science and the unique plot makes for an amazing novel, the aspect that truly knocks it out of the park is the character development. Clement manages to make both the aliens and the humans completely relatable, while still different enough to be exciting.
7. William Tenn: Of Men and Monsters, 1968
In the distant future, Earth is invaded and conquered by gigantic aliens who look like even more terrifying praying mantises. The disturbing creatures build huge homes to live in and colonize the planet, which somewhat ironically provides homes to the last remaining humans as well. The scarce and scattered survivors hide in the walls of the giant alien houses, braving death to steal food like mice hiding from an enormous mutant cat. In the wake of this disastrous invasion, the last of humanity has adopted a primal tribal culture which serves them fairly well, until our rebellious protagonists attempts to change things for everyone.
8. Kurt Vonnegut: The Sirens of Titan, 1959
Hiding in the shadow of Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle, The Sirens of Titan is a masterful novel with an infamously convoluted plot. In essence, it tells the story of the world’s richest man attempting to escape his destiny, one that was prophesized by Winston Niles Rumfoord, a prior space explorer who entered a chrono-synclastic infundibulum, which reduced him (and his dog) into wave phenomena whose stretched existence extends between our sun and the next, forcing him to materialize in some poor, private, unsuspecting woman’s living room every 59 days. And that’s only the beginning.
9. Larry Niven: The Draco Tavern, 2006
Though a collection of short stories and not a novel like many others on this list, The Draco Tavern’s cohesiveness and sci-fi fueled fun earned it a spot. The collection focuses on the events that take place in and around an alien tavern in Siberia, which was created after a race of pink 11’ tall lady aliens landed on Earth. The Chirpsithra race of aliens aren’t the only extraterrestrial tavern patrons, however, and so the Draco Tavern was designed to be a sort of neutral ground where a whole bevvy of alien races can eat, drink, and be merry. The stories are told from the perspective of the bartender, which lends a very humorous tone to this overlooked sci-fi masterwork.
10. David Brin and Gregory Benford: Heart of the Comet, 1986
Both well-known sci-fi authors collaborated on this unappreciated novel that tells the story of an expedition in the year 2601 that intends to capture and mine Halley’s Comet for its resources. Cut and dry, simple mining task. However, the comet is actually a host to many lifeforms, and the crew of the expedition must now fight, in some cases for their very lives, against the alien diseases and sometimes hostile lifeforms. The stress of the situation leads to a breakdown of the solidarity amongst the humans into factions based on beliefs and genetic differences. In addition to all this conflict, Earth decides they don’t want to risk contamination and attempts to destroy the comet and everyone/thing on it to prevent them from returning home.
11. Roger Zelazny: Roadmarks, 1979
This experimental form novel is intriguing in its use of a network of highways that represent all of time – past, present, and future. In the novel, there are gifted people who are able to get on and off the road at will, allowing them to experience, and sometimes meddle with, the flow of time. Changing events in the past can cause related exits up the time road to become inaccessible, and cause new exits to appear, that lead to alternate future realities. The protagonist of the novel, Red, narrates the linear chapter, which are titled “One.” The other chapters, titled “Two” feature secondary characters as protagonists, and are randomly arranged in between One chapters to represent the flow of time in memory. Red is meddling with time along the road in an attempt to cause a future exit to open, revealing the location of a time he partially remembers. The novel is also peppered with literary allusions and features Walt Whitman and Charles Baudelaire as secondary protagonists; companions to Red and his son.
12. Frederik Pohl: A Plague of Pythons, 1973
The novel, updated and republished in the 80’s under the title Demon in the Skull puts a sci-fi spin on demonic possession in an unexpected way. It takes place in a world plagued by bouts of madness that come and go at random. Somewhat post-apocalyptic, it begins 2 years after every government was randomly attacked by its own high-tech military machinery, which additionally destroyed all air transport and most large cities. Once a small semblance of normality was regained, it was lost just as quickly. People would commit heinous and violent crimes, and then claim they had no control over their actions as if they were possessed. The wide-spread use of this excuse caused some to take it seriously, and many superstitions begin to arise. A Plague of Pythons follows Chandler, an engineer who is banished from his community after he committed crimes supposedly under demonic influence, whose quest to prove his innocence reveals the true cause of the possessions.
13. Poul Anderson: The Corridors of Time, 1965
This genius from the Golden Era of sci-fi has an insane amount of written work, and thus many of them are destined to be overlooked. One of these is The Corridors of Time, a futuristic novel that follows Malcolm, a modern man, and his travels through the corridors of time, allowing him to access all periods of the past and future. The novel takes place mainly in a future Denmark, oppressed and enslaved by the rulers who believe they’re creating a better world. On the run from the law because of an accidental murder, Malcolm ends up travelling between the European Stone Age and the future he was born into, weaving between two rival factions who have been at war for centuries: the Wardens, who represent humanities bond with nature, and the Rangers, powerful tech-idealists who worship mechanics.
So, there you have it. 13 lesser known classic science fiction books from some of the most celebrated male science fiction writers. Disagree? Let us know what classic science fiction books and authors you would add to the list. The more people contribute, the more we all have new / old science fiction we can enjoy.