Our favorite sci-fi books of all time
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Editor's note: Every week we ask the people around the office questions so you get a better idea of what makes CNET tick. This week we asked what their favorite science fiction books were.
I spent much of my childhood reading sci-fi picks from my dad: Wells, Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury -- all very serious. Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" changed all that for me, and it didn't even matter that I didn't get all the jokes at age 12, because it was a great adventure. I don't hold onto many books, but that's one I still have.
- Joshua Goldman, Senior Editor
Star Wars: Heir to the Empire
Set during the events after "Return of the Jedi," "Star Wars: Heir to the Empire" explores the aftermath of the fall of the Empire. In this version, which would now be considered alternate facts, Han and Leia are expecting twins, the Empire is overseen by a blue-skinned alien named Thrawn, a mysterious fleet of lost Republic destroyers are discovered, and Luke must go to battle with a cloned Jedi Master. Plus, he meets a new love interest, Mara Jade. The series was released in 1991, eight years after "Return of the Jedi," and the books were a welcome addition to the Star Wars canon until "The Force Awakens" demolished them like the planet Alderaan.
- Mitchell Chang, Senior Video Producer
Ready Player One
One of my favorite sci-fi books is the 2011 novel "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline. Set in a dystopian 2044, it follows teenager Wade Watts as he tries to discover an Easter egg hidden in a massive virtual world called the OASIS. The book manages to bridge our recent past and our possible future. It's stuffed with references to '80s culture but also explores a future where we spend more time in VR than the real world.
Even if sci-fi isn't your thing, anyone who loves solving a good puzzle should give "Ready Player One" a read. Or just wait for the movie.
- Carrie Mihalcik, Associate Editor
Comics are books! And few present the universe, aliens, societies and crazy futures as well as Brandon Graham's "Prophet." The best thing about Prophet is how little it tells you. It starts after a series' worth of events have occurred, in a setting that no one who didn't make the mistake of reading bad comics in the '90s will be familiar with. But what begins as a single person's journey to a spire quickly expands, and at no point is your hand held about which aliens think what about this character or that situation. The art tells the story of decaying empires, brief moments of humor expose the humanity beneath hard-nosed clones and transforming robots. It's the kind of project Moebius would have been envious of.
- Morgan Little, Social Media Strategist
The Dancers at the End of Time
When I found a copy of Michael Moorcock's "The Dancers at the End of Time" in a used-book store, I had no expectation beyond knowing the author was one I enjoyed. Inside, I found a glorious, decadent romp populated with louche, omnipotent immortals creating mischief to stave off the crippling ennui of living forever with unlimited powers. It's the dry, wry type of satire that I love, set in a wondrous future when technology can do anything, asking what happens to humanity when there's no longer any need to strive.
- Michelle Starr, Senior Associate Editor
Parable of the Sower
I like "Parable of the Sower" by Octavia E. Butler. Science fiction dystopias set in a near-distant future tend to have a bigger impact on me than novels set galaxies far away. Or, at least, I tend to find them much more terrifying. "Parable of the Sower" is interesting in that the heroine has a superherolike power called hyperempathy (the ability to physically feel other people's pain). Lately I've been feeling like hyperempathy might actually do the world some good.
- Rebecca Fleenor, Executive Assistant
I'll be damned if a more unique and crazy villain exists in all of sci-fi than the one in Dan Simmons' "Hyperion." The Shrike is like if the iron throne came to life and hated everyone. He's nothing but sharp edges, a swirl of knives in the shape of a person, and he can appear and reappear as he chooses at any time. Absolutely the most menacing and interesting villain I've encountered in a book in a long, long time. And the book's central question, "How can God exist in a world where humans have created an AI as powerful as God was ever supposed to be?" is explored so deftly, using the "Canterbury Tales" as its framework. It's being adapted into a miniseries by the Syfy channel, and I don't know how to feel about that. It could be another Battlestar, or it could be total crap. I guess we'll see.
- Tyler Lizenby, Multimedia Tech Production Coordinator
My answer is Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Shadow." As much as I love "Ender's Game" -- and I've reread it several times over -- something about the writing and about hearing Bean's perspective grabbed me even more than the original story. For anyone unfamiliar with it, "Shadow" is a roughly 75 percent retelling of the events in "Ender's Game," but told from Bean's point of view. The story could easily have been a miss, as most readers are likely familiar with the original, but instead it takes the story to a whole new place, and I'd argue with a lot more emotion. Perhaps that's by design, as Bean has a wider emotional spectrum than Ender. Or perhaps its 14 years later and the author's just a better storyteller. Either way, this is my truest love in sci-fi.
- Jeremy Toeman, Vice President, Product
I liked "Ender's Shadow" and Jeremy is my boss, but I have to disagree with him; the original "Ender's Game" is better. Never have I read another book where I positively needed to keep turning the pages late into the night like "Ender's Game." For me, the difference is that with "Ender's Game," you don't know the major plot twist until you get to the ending (no spoilers!) , whereas with "Shadow," you already know the outcome. Sorry, boss!
Finally, I feel the need to say I may vehemently disagree with the author's politics, but his writing in "Ender's Game" is unparalleled for page turning sci-fi goodness.
- Jason Parker, Senior Editor
"We" by Yevgeny Zamyatin was a transformative novel for me. Mass surveillance, conformity as peacemaker, and an all-seeing totalitarian state were engrossing and compelling to an impressionable teen in the late '80s. Everyone lives in glass buildings -- easier for the state to spy on you. Every hour of life is scheduled according to the Table of Hours. Names are alphanumeric strings, like the main character's: D-503. The world of "We" is uniform and monotonous, until the seed of dissent is sown. Makes a great companion to "1984," "Brave New World" or "Farhenheit 451."
- Chris Robertson, Director of Product Management
My science fiction is older than your science fiction. Not sure why my parents owned a paperback reprint of Edward Bellamy's "Looking Backward," but even in the 1980s, I found the 1888 best seller fascinating. It tells of a 19th century man who wakes up in the year 2000 -- and a lot of what the novel predicts ended up being right on. Main character Julian West marvels at credit cards and Costco-like stores, and even the clock radio. But it's less the objects Bellamy sees as it is the novelty of seeing it all through the eyes of a man who's alive for the Civil War. And now living in Seattle, I'm kinda jealous of the one giant covered walkway that lets the characters wander all over Boston in the rain without getting wet.
Read it free online if you want a look back at a future that never came.
- Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, Contributing Editor
"Nineteen Eighty-Four" by George Orwell will always be one of my all-time favorite sci-fi books because even though it was written in 1949, the dystopian novel is always relevant in the present, especially with the ideas of politics and privacy. The Ministry of Truth in the book almost feels eerily pertinent in our current era of "fake news." The book also predicts a time where "Big Brother is watching you" through invasive surveillance via microphones and cameras. It's only a matter of time before the Thought Police -- a secret police force that punishes those citizens who have personal and political thoughts unapproved by the Party in power -- becomes a reality.
- Bonnie Burton, CNET Crave Freelance Writer
This one is easy: "Dune" by Frank Herbert. An instant classic, taking the bizarre imaginative science fantasy of Star Wars, blending it with the relatable foreseeable science fiction of Star Trek and mixing in its own sociopolitical flavor ... a ... SPICE if you will. The sequels and prequels carried on by Herbert's son are acceptable, but nothing stands up to the original (plus the films it inspired). This book was such a big influence on me, I named my Wi-Fi network "The House Atreides," my Chromecast "Lady Jessica" and even joined a band that performed a rock opera about a story of battling a Shai Hulud.
- Bryan VanGelder, Studio Production Manager and Sound Engineer
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
I didn't even know the name of Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" when I inherited my brother's tattered paperback copy, because it said "Blade Runner" on the front. I was obsessed with the film and with Drew Struzan's gorgeous cover art, but nothing prepared me for the riot of ideas inside, which was barely anything like the film. I think the experience of reading and rereading this wildly imaginative, horrifyingly intelligent novel was one of the things that inspired my fascination with writing, cinema and with the way ideas can be explored in different forms.
- Richard Trenholm, Senior Editor
I have to go with Ursula Le Guin's "The Dispossessed." It was a book that changed my notions of what science fiction could be, from one of the best prose stylists in the genre.
- Lisa Fredsti, Associate Producer