The top 10 most EPIC villains from a sci-fi book/series of all time.

Did you know that there is an official Discover Sci-Fi Facebook group?

Fuelled by the opinions of hundreds of sci-fi fans like yourself, each week we spark a new debate where you guys battle it out over which books rank at the top of best ever lists.

Ordered from 10 to 1 below based on your votes in the group and on this blog, this week we've got your top 10 selections for the most EPIC villain/group of villains, in a sci-fi book or series.

Click on the links to pick up the books antagonized by each of these epic villains to add to your collection, and then add your comments at the bottom of this post (or in our Facebook group) to let us know if you agree (or not!).

*The results were decided by you based on votes tallied up between our Facebook group and on our blog.

10. The Puppeteers from Larry Niven's “Worlds” series

Rounding out the top 10 list are the Pierson's Puppeteers, often known just as Puppeteers, who are a fictional alien race from American author Larry Niven's Known Space books. The race first appeared in Niven’s novella, Neutron Star.

A technologically advanced race of three-legged, twin-necked herbivores descended from herd animals, and noted for their so-called cowardice. Their commercial empire directly and indirectly controls events throughout Known Space and beyond, and Puppeteer plots are behind many of the larger events in Known Space. The name “Puppeteer” is purportedly derived from the twin “heads” (not enclosing brains) which perform as both mouths and hands, which strongly resemble sock puppets. The Puppeteer voice range is far greater than the human one, but for speaking to humans they adopt the tone of a very seductive female. It is also suggested that the “Puppeteer” name may derive from their social tendency to be very manipulative. The species were also depicted in Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials.


9. The Bene Gesserit Sisterhood from the “Dune” series by Frank Herbert

Coming in at number 9, in Frank Herbert's 1965 novel Dune, the Bene Gesserit are a secretive matriarchal order who have achieved superhuman abilities through physical and mental conditioning and the use of the drug melange. Under the guise of humbly “serving” the Empire, the Sisterhood is in fact a major power in the universe, using its many areas of influence to subtly guide humanity along the path of its own plan for humanity's future.


8. Gavin Stark from the “Crimson Worlds” series by Jay Allan

Gavin Stark is the main antagonist in Jay Allan's expansive Crimson Worlds books. The former head of Alliance Intelligence, and the bitter nemesis of the Marine Corps, he makes his bid for power over the universe. The manufactured clone soldiers of his Shadow Legions have seized control of dozens of colony worlds, imposing his brutal rule over millions of colonists. His plan is no less than to subjugate all mankind under his iron fist.

Will mankind live under the iron boot of Gavin Stark and his clone descendants forever? Or will the series's antagonist Erik Cain and his team of Marines defeat him once and for all? You'll have to dive into the series to find out…


7. Khan from the “Star Trek” franchise

Coming in at number 7, Khan Noonien Singh, commonly shortened to Khan, is a fictional character in the Star Trek science fiction franchise. Although the Star Trek books were written after the TV show came out, they are loved by sci-fi fans everywhere.

The character once controlled more than a quarter of the Earth during the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s. After being revived from suspended animation in 2267 by the crew of the Starship Enterprise, Khan attempts to capture the starship, but is thwarted by James T. Kirk and exiled on Ceti Alpha V to create a new society with his people. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, set fifteen years after “Space Seed”, Khan escapes his exile and sets out to exact revenge upon Kirk.


6. Scorpius in “Farscape”

Scorpius, is the half-Sebacean, half-Scarran Peacekeeper, and the primary antagonist of the Farscape series of TV shows, books and comics. He relentlessly pursues John Crichton for the secrets of wormhole technology locked in John Crichton's unconscious mind to create a wormhole weapon.

He is the product of an experiment by the Scarrans – his Sebacean mother was raped by a Scarran to see if there would be any benefit in a hybrid. Raised by Scarrans, he has come to hate them, to reject his Scarran side, and to live for revenge against them.


5. The Boskone from the “Lensman” series by E.E. Smith

The Boskone or Boskonia is a criminal organization in the Lensman series of Sci-Fi novels by writer E.E Smith.

Boskone is one of the two superpowers in the Lensverse, and is opposed to Civilization. Having been created possibly even billions of years ago, when the Eddorians first entered our universe, it is much older than Civilization. Due to the nature of the Eddorians and the system they created, it is both extremely hierarchical and utterly ruthless: the concept of “the end justifies the means” is taken to extremes, as Galactic Patrol notes: “Anything – literally anything at all that produced the desired result was commendable; to fail was the only crime. The successful named their own rewards; those who failed were disciplined with an impersonal, rigid severity exactly proportional to the magnitude of their failures.


4. The Mule in Isaac Asimov's “Foundation Trilogy”

Coming in at #4, The Mule is a fictional character from Isaac Asimov's Foundation series*. One of the greatest conquerors the galaxy has ever seen, he is a mentalic who has the ability to reach into the minds of others and “adjust” their emotions, individually or en masse, using this capability to conscript individuals to his cause. Not direct mind-control per se, it is a subtle influence of the subconscious; individuals under the Mule's influence behave otherwise normally – logic, memories, and personality intact. This gives the Mule the capacity to disrupt Hari Seldon's** plan by invalidating Seldon's assumption that no single individual could have a measurable effect on galactic socio-historical trends on their own, due to the plan relying on the predictability of the actions of very large numbers of people.

*The Foundation series placed at #1 on our list of top 10 sci-fi books of all time. Click here to view the complete list.

**Hari Seldon came in at #1 on our list of top 10 most EPIC sci-fi characters. Click here to view the complete list.


3. The Borg from the “Star Trek” franchise

At #3, the Borg are a fictional alien group that appear as recurring antagonists in the Star Trek franchise. The Borg are cybernetic organisms, linked in a hive mind called “the Collective”. The Borg co-opt the technology and knowledge of other alien species to the Collective through the process of “assimilation”: forcibly transforming individual beings into “drones” by injecting nanoprobes into their bodies and surgically augmenting them with cybernetic components. The Borg's ultimate goal is “achieving perfection”.


2. Darth Vader from the “Star Wars” franchise

At number 2 comes Darth Vader, the primary antagonist in the Star Wars franchise. Star Wars creator George Lucas has collectively referred to the first six episodic films of the franchise as “the tragedy of Darth Vader.”

The first Star Wars novel was published in 1976. In the decades since, dozens of books set in the galaxy far, far away have been released.


1. Baron Vladimir Harkonnen from the “Dune” series by Frank Herbert

Coming in at #1 is the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, a fictional character from the Dune franchise created by Frank Herbert.

The Baronial leader of House Harkonnen, he rules from his ancestral homeworld of Giedi Prime, exercising a tyrannical rule of exploitation and sadism over the lives of the slaves unfortunate enough to end up in the service of his House. A long-standing rival of House Atreides, the Baron is determined to bring about their end, with particular emphasis on seeing Duke Leto Atreides' humiliating defeat.


Well, what do you think of that list? Do you agree, or do you feel as though your most-loved (feared?) villain is missing/didn't place as you think it deserved? Feel free to join us here in our Facebook group to chime in on the debate, and then check out our most recent poll while you're there. Don't have Facebook? Feel free to add to the comments below.

*All book-related copy in this post was pulled from Amazon & Wikipedia.

The top 10 most iconic sci-fi characters all time.

Did you know that there is an official Discover Sci-Fi Facebook group?

Fuelled by the opinions of hundreds of sci-fi fans like yourself, each week we spark a new debate where you guys battle it out over which books rank at top of best ever lists.

Ordered from 10 to 1 below based on your votes in the group, this week we've got your top 10 selections for the most iconic character of all time from a sci-fi book or series.

Click on any of the links to pick up the books featuring each character to add to your collection, and then add your comments at the bottom of this post (or in our Facebook group) to let us know if you agree (or not!).

*The results were decided by you based on votes tallied up between our Facebook group and on our blog.

10. Valentin Michael Smith from A Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

Rounding out the top 10 list is Valentine Michael Smith from the book A Stranger in a Strange Landby Robert A. Heinlein.

Robert Heinlein's Hugo Award-winning all-time masterpiece, the brilliant novel that grew from a cult favorite to a bestseller to a science fiction classic.

Raised by Martians on Mars, Valentine Michael Smith is a human who has never seen another member of his species. Sent to Earth, he is a stranger who must learn what it is to be a man. But his own beliefs and his powers far exceed the limits of humankind, and as he teaches them about grokking and water-sharing, he also inspires a transformation that will alter Earth’s inhabitants forever…


9. Roland Deschain from The Dark Tower series by Stephen King

At number 9 is #1 national bestseller, The Gunslinger which introduces readers to one of Stephen King’s most powerful creations, Roland of Gilead: The Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting figure, a loner on a spellbinding journey into good and evil. In his desolate world, which mirrors our own in frightening ways, Roland tracks The Man in Black, encounters an enticing woman named Alice, and begins a friendship with the boy from New York named Jake.

Inspired in part by the Robert Browning narrative poem, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” The Gunslinger is “a compelling whirlpool of a story that draws one irretrievable to its center” (Milwaukee Sentinel). It is “brilliant and fresh…and will leave you panting for more” (Booklist).


8. R. Daneel Olivaw from Isaac Asimov's Robot and Foundation series.

R. Daneel Olivaw is a fictional robot created by Isaac Asimov. The “R” initial in his name stands for “Robot,” a naming convention in Asimov's future society. Daneel appears in Asimov'sRobot and Foundation series, most notably in the novels The Caves of SteelThe Naked Sun, The Robots of DawnRobots and EmpirePrelude to FoundationForward the FoundationFoundation and Earth as well as the short story “Mirror Image”. He is constructed immediately prior to the age of the Settlers, and lives at least until the formation of Galaxia, thus spanning the entire history of the First Empire, the Second Empire run by the Second Foundation, and finally the group consciousnesses of Galaxia, although this last is uncertain as no book about this was ever written.


7. Andrew “Ender” Wiggin from Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game tells the story of a young boy, Ender Wiggin, who is sent to a training academy named Battle School, located in orbit above the Earth, built to train people to become soldiers that will one day battle against a vast alien race known as “Buggers”. Ender goes up there, trying his best to become promoted in the difficult training scheme; his brother and sister are trying to restore the world and to make it a better place. For Ender, the training is tough. He is granted a very special teacher, who will help him to become a commander to save humanity from the Third Invasion.”

Coming in at #7, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is the main character in Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, which won the 1985 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the 1986 Hugo Award for Best Novel.


6. Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Join Douglas Adams's hapless hero Arthur Dent as he travels the galaxy with his intrepid pal Ford Prefect, getting into horrible messes and generally wreaking hilarious havoc. Dent is grabbed from Earth moments before a cosmic construction team obliterates the planet to build a freeway.”

Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read, Discover Sci-Fi fans agree, placing Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams at #6 on your top list for most iconic sci-fi character.

You'll never read funnier science fiction; Adams is a master of intelligent satire, barbed wit, and comedic dialogue. The Hitchhiker's Guide is rich in comedic detail and thought-provoking situations and stands up to multiple reads. Required reading for science fiction fans, this book (and its follow-ups) is also sure to please fans of Monty Python, Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, and British sitcoms.


5. Honor Harrington from the Honor Harrington series by David Weber

Honor Stephanie Alexander-Harrington is a fictional character created in 1992 by writer David Weber as the heroine of the eponymous “Honorverse“, a universe described in a series of best-selling[1] military science fiction books set between 4003 and 4025 AD.

Harrington is an officer in the Royal Manticoran Navy (RMN), the space navy of the Star Kingdom of Manticore, an interstellar monarchy that counterbalances its relatively small size with superior space combat technology and capability. She has a genius for tactical command, often overcoming significant odds in critical battles and frequently finding herself at the centre of significant military actions. Her dedication to duty and uncompromising performance results in receiving numerous awards and promotions, earning the respect of interstellar empires, and accumulating implacable enemies. She is a skilled martial artist and through her association with her treecat companion Nimitz, develops an empathic sense that assists her in understanding the emotions of those around her.


4. Lazarus “Woodrow Wilson Smith” Long from multiple Robert A. Heinlein books.

Lazarus Long is a fictional character featured in a number of science fiction novels by Robert A. Heinlein. Born in 1912 in the third generation of a selective breeding experiment run by the Ira Howard Foundation, Lazarus (birth name Woodrow Wilson Smith) becomes unusually long-lived, living well over two thousand years with the aid of occasional rejuvenation treatments.

The Lazarus Long set of books involve time travel, parallel dimensions, free love, individualism, and a concept that Heinlein named World as Myth—the theory that universes are created by the act of imagining them, such that even fictional worlds are real.


3. Paul Atreides from Dune by Frank Herbert

Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides—who would become known as Muad’Dib—and of a great family’s ambition to bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream.

A stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what is undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction.


2. HAL-9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

HAL 9000 is a fictional character and the main antagonist in Arthur C. Clarke's Space Odyssey series. First appearing in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, HAL (Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer) is a sentient computer (or artificial general intelligence) that controls the systems of the Discovery One spacecraft and interacts with the ship's astronaut crew. Part of HAL's hardware is shown towards the end of the film, but he is mostly depicted as a camera lens containing a red or yellow dot, instances of which are located throughout the ship.


1. Hari Seldon from Asimov's Foundation series

Coming in at #1, Hari Seldon from Isaac Asimov's Foundation series is your choice for most epic sci-fi character of all time. This comes as no surprise, as you also voted Asimov's Foundation trilogy as your #1 pick for top sci-fi book of all time in a recent poll (click here to view the complete list).

In his capacity as mathematics professor at Streeling University on the planet Trantor, Seldon develops psychohistory, an algorithmic science that allows him to predict the future in probabilistic terms. On the basis of his psychohistory he is able to predict the eventual fall of the Galactic Empire and to develop a means to shorten the millennia of chaos to follow. The significance of his discoveries lies behind his nickname “Raven” Seldon.

In the first five books of the Foundation series, Hari Seldon made only one in-the-flesh appearance, in the first part of the first book (Foundation), although he did appear at other times in pre-recorded messages to reveal a Seldon Crisis. After writing five books in chronological order, Asimov went back with two books to better describe the initial process. The two prequels—Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation—describe his life in considerable detail. He is also the central character of the Second Foundation Trilogy written after Asimov's death (Foundation's Fear by Gregory Benford, Foundation and Chaos by Greg Bear, and Foundation's Triumph by David Brin), which are set after Asimov's two prequels.


Well, what do you think of that list? Do you agree, or do you feel as though your most-loved character is missing/didn't place as you think deserved? Feel free to join us here in our Facebook group to chime in on the debate, and then check out our most recent poll while you're there. Don't have Facebook? Feel free to add to the comments below.

*All book-related copy in this post was pulled from Amazon & Wikipedia.

The top 10 sci-fi books of all time.

Did you know that there is an official Discover Sci-Fi Facebook group?

Fueled by the opinions of hundreds of sci-fi fans like yourself, each week we spark a new debate where you guys battle it out over which books rank at top of best ever lists.

Ordered from 10 to 1 below based on your votes in the group, we kicked off our “top 10” list with a bang seeking out the winner for best sci-fi book of all time.

Click on any of the links to pick up copies of those you're missing from your collection, and then add your comments at the bottom of this post (or in our Facebook group) to let us know if you agree (or not!).

10. Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein

Johnnie Rico never really intended to join up—and definitely not the infantry. But now that he’s in the thick of it, trying to get through combat training harder than anything he could have imagined, he knows everyone in his unit is one bad move away from buying the farm in the interstellar war the Terran Federation is waging against the Arachnids.”

Rounding out the top 10 list is cult classic Starship Troopers (the first of 3 books by Robert A. Heinlein that made this list). In this controversial Hugo Award-winning bestseller, a recruit of the future goes through the toughest boot camp in the Universe—and into battle against mankind’s most alarming enemy…


9. 1984 by George Orwell

In 1984, London is a grim city in the totalitarian state of Oceania where Big Brother is always watching you and the Thought Police can practically read your mind. Winston Smith is a man in grave danger for the simple reason that his memory still functions. Drawn into a forbidden love affair, Winston finds the courage to join a secret revolutionary organization called The Brotherhood, dedicated to the destruction of the Party. Together with his beloved Julia, he hazards his life in a deadly match against the powers that be.”

At number 9, George Orwell’s 1984 has taken on new life with extraordinary relevance and renewed popularity in recent days. Among the seminal texts of the 20th century, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a rare work that grows more haunting as its futuristic purgatory becomes more real. Published in 1949, the book offers political satirist George Orwell's nightmare vision of a totalitarian, bureaucratic world and one poor stiff's attempt to find individuality. The brilliance of the novel is Orwell's prescience of modern life–the ubiquity of television, the distortion of the language–and his ability to construct such a thorough version of hell. Required reading for students since it was published, it ranks among the most terrifying novels ever written.


8. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

In Heinlein's gripping tale of revolution on the moon in 2076, “Loonies” are kept poor and oppressed by an Earth-based Authority that turns huge profits at their expense. A small band of dissidents, including a one-armed computer jock, a radical young woman, a past-his-prime academic and a nearly omnipotent computer named Mike, ignite the fires of revolution despite the near certainty of failure and death.”

Widely acknowledged as one of Robert A. Heinlein's greatest works, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress rose from the golden age of science fiction to become an undisputed classic–and a touchstone for the philosophy of personal responsibility and political freedom. A revolution on a lunar penal colony–aided by a self-aware supercomputer–provides the framework for a story of a diverse group of men and women grappling with the ever-changing definitions of humanity, technology, and free will–themes that resonate just as strongly today as they did when the novel was first published. 


7. Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey

“On a beautiful world called Pern, an ancient way of life is about to come under attack from a myth that is all too real. Lessa is an outcast survivor—her parents murdered, her birthright stolen—a strong young woman who has never stopped dreaming of revenge. But when an ancient threat to Pern reemerges, Lessa will rise—upon the back of a great dragon with whom she shares a telepathic bond more intimate than any human connection. Together, dragon and rider will fly . . . and Pern will be changed forever.”

Coming in at #7, read Dragonflight and you're confronted with McCaffrey the storyteller in her prime, staking a claim for being one of the influential fantasy and SF novelists of her generation – and doing it, remarkably, in the same novel.


6. Ringworld by Larry Niven

“Louis Wu, accompanied by a young woman with genes for luck, and a captured kzin – a warlike species resembling 8-foot-tall cats — are taken on a space ship run by a brilliant 2-headed alien called Nessus. Their destination is the Ringworld, an artificially constructed ring with high walls that hold 3 million times the area of Earth. Its origins are shrouded in mystery.”

Winner of both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel, RINGWORLD remains a favorite among science fiction readers, and came in at #6 according to the DSF community.


5. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game tells the story of a young boy, Ender Wiggin, who is sent to a training academy named Battle School, located in orbit above the Earth, built to train people to become soldiers that will one day battle against a vast alien race known as “Buggers”. Ender goes up there, trying his best to become promoted in the difficult training scheme; his brother and sister are trying to restore the world and to make it a better place. For Ender, the training is tough. He is granted a very special teacher, who will help him to become a commander to save humanity from the Third Invasion.”

This futuristic tale involves aliens, political discourse on the Internet, sophisticated computer games, and an orbiting battle station. Yet the reason it rings true for so many is that it is first and foremost a tale of humanity; a tale of a boy struggling to grow up into someone he can respect while living in an environment stripped of choices. Ender's Game is a must-read book for science fiction lovers, and a key conversion read for their friends who “don't read science fiction.”


4. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

Raised by Martians on Mars, Valentine Michael Smith is a human who has never seen another member of his species. Sent to Earth, he is a stranger who must learn what it is to be a man. But his own beliefs and his powers far exceed the limits of humankind, and as he teaches them about grokking and water-sharing, he also inspires a transformation that will alter Earth’s inhabitants forever…”

Robert Heinlein's Hugo Award-winning all-time masterpiece, the brilliant novel that grew from a cult favorite to a bestseller to a science fiction classic.


3. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Join Douglas Adams's hapless hero Arthur Dent as he travels the galaxy with his intrepid pal Ford Prefect, getting into horrible messes and generally wreaking hilarious havoc. Dent is grabbed from Earth moments before a cosmic construction team obliterates the planet to build a freeway.”

Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read, Discover Sci-Fi fans agree, placing The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams at #3 on your top sci-fi book list.

You'll never read funnier science fiction; Adams is a master of intelligent satire, barbed wit, and comedic dialogue. The Hitchhiker's Guide is rich in comedic detail and thought-provoking situations and stands up to multiple reads. Required reading for science fiction fans, this book (and its follow-ups) is also sure to please fans of Monty Python, Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, and British sitcoms.


2. Dune by Frank Herbert

This Hugo and Nebula Award winner tells the sweeping tale of a desert planet called Arrakis, the focus of an intricate power struggle in a byzantine interstellar empire. Arrakis is the sole source of Melange, the “spice of spices.” Melange is necessary for interstellar travel and grants psychic powers and longevity, so whoever controls it wields great influence.

The troubles begin when stewardship of Arrakis is transferred by the Emperor from the Harkonnen Noble House to House Atreides. The Harkonnens don't want to give up their privilege, though, and through sabotage and treachery they cast young Duke Paul Atreides out into the planet's harsh environment to die. There he falls in with the Fremen, a tribe of desert dwellers who become the basis of the army with which he will reclaim what's rightfully his. Paul Atreides, though, is far more than just a usurped duke. He might be the end product of a very long-term genetic experiment designed to breed a super human; he might be a messiah. His struggle is at the center of a nexus of powerful people and events, and the repercussions will be felt throughout the Imperium.”

A stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what is undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction.


1. The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov

“The Foundation Trilogy is a series of tales set so far in the future that Earth is all but forgotten by humans who live throughout the galaxy. Yet all is not well with the Galactic Empire. Its vast size is crippling to it. In particular, the administrative planet, honeycombed and tunneled with offices and staff, is vulnerable to attack or breakdown. The only person willing to confront this imminent catastrophe is Hari Seldon, a psychohistorian and mathematician. Seldon can scientifically predict the future, and it doesn't look pretty: a new Dark Age is scheduled to send humanity into barbarism in 500 years. He concocts a scheme to save the knowledge of the race in an Encyclopedia Galactica. But this project will take generations to complete, and who will take up the torch after him?”

Coming in at #1 , The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov is loved by sci-fi fans the world over. Asimov was one the world's most celebrated and prolific science fiction writers, having written or edited more than 500 books over his four-decade career. Your choice of Foundation being the top read in sci-fi is recognized by sci-fi fans everywhere. In 1966, the Foundation Trilogy received the Hugo Award for Best All-Time Series, beating out the Lord of the Rings.


Well, what do you think of that list? Do you agree, or do you feel as though your most-loved book is missing/didn't place as you think it deserved? Feel free to join us here in our Facebook group to chime in on the debate, and then check out our most recent poll while you're there. Don't have Facebook? Feel free to add to the comments below.

*All book-related copy in this post was pulled from Amazon and Wikipedia.

The top 10 post-apocalyptic books of all time.

Did you know that there is an official Discover Sci-Fi Facebook group?

Fuelled by the opinions of hundreds of sci-fi fans like yourself, each week we spark a new debate where you guys battle it out over which books rank at top of best ever lists.

Don't have Facebook?

Another version of our polls is available right here on our site. Click here to view our most recent blog posts and vote on the polls you're most interested in.

Ordered from 10 to 1 below based on your votes, this week we've got your top 10 choices for best post-apocalyptic sci-fi books of all time.

Click on any of the links to pick up copies of those you're missing from your collection, and then add your comments at the bottom of this post (or in our Facebook group) to let us know if you agree (or not!).

10. The Postman by David Brin

He was a survivor–a wanderer who traded tales for food and shelter in the dark and savage aftermath of a devastating war.  Fate touches him one chill winter's day when he borrows the jacket of a long-dead postal worker to protect himself from the cold.  The old, worn uniform still has power as a symbol of hope, and with it he begins to weave his greatest tale, of a nation on the road to recovery.

Rounding out the top 10 list is “The Postman” by David Brin. This is the story of a lie that became the most powerful kind of truth.  A timeless novel as urgently compelling as War Day or Alas, Babylon (which also made this list), David Brin's The Postman is the dramatically moving saga of a man who rekindled the spirit of America through the power of a dream, from a modern master of science fiction.


9. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don't know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.”

At number 9, Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Road by Cormac McCarthy is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, “each the other's world entire,” are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.


8. Farnham's Freehold by Robert Heinlein

“Farnham is a self-made man who sees nuclear war coming and who builds a shelter under his house; only to find it thrust into a strange universe when the bomb explodes. In this future world all civilization in the northern hemisphere has long been destroyed, and Farnham and his family are fit to be slaves under the new regime.”

Heinlein's story is as engrossing now as it was in its original form decades ago. In it, a nuclear holocaust throws a brave and tough-minded family into a future where they are considered traitors and sub-humans and where they must fight tooth-and-claw to avoid becoming slaves to the benighted survivors of the war.


7. Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

“Alas, Babylon.” Those fateful words heralded the end. When a nuclear holocaust ravages the United States, a thousand years of civilization are stripped away overnight, and tens of millions of people are killed instantly. But for one small town in Florida, miraculously spared, the struggle is just beginning, as men and women of all backgrounds join together to confront the darkness.”

Coming in at #7, “Alas, Babylon,” is a harrowing, human story published 50 years ago, in 1959. The novel, set in a small Florida town after a nuclear attack on the United States, was an instant hit. It’s been reprinted many times; it’s found on high school reading lists; and it’s invariably put high on lists of the best post-apocalyptic fiction – including this one.


6. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

“Shortly after astronomers observe explosions on the surface of Mars, meteor-like objects begin crashing into Earth. Martians emerge from their craters in large tripods, wiping out army units with heat-rays as they roam the English countryside. When the order is given to evacuate London, all seems lost. But there is one minor detail that the Martians did not plan for.”

H. G. Wells is credited with the popularisation of time travel in 1895 with The Time Machine, introducing the idea of time being the “fourth dimension” a decade before the publication of Einstein’s first Relativity papers. In 1896, he imagined a mad scientist creating human-like beings from animals in The Island of Doctor Moreau, which created a growing interest in animal welfare throughout Europe. In 1897 with The Invisible Man, Wells shows how a formula could render one invisible, recognizing that an invisible eye would not be able to focus, thus rendering the invisible man blind. With The War of the Worlds in 1898, Wells established the idea that an advanced civilization could live on Mars, popularising the term ‘martian’ and the idea that aliens could invade Earth.


5. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden. 

Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television “family.” But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television. 

When Mildred attempts suicide and Clarisse suddenly disappears, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known. He starts hiding books in his home, and when his pilfering is discovered, the fireman has to run for his life.”

Coming in at #5, Ray Bradbury’s internationally acclaimed novel Fahrenheit 451 is a masterwork of twentieth-century literature set in a bleak, dystopian future. 


4. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr

Down the long centuries after the Flame Deluge scoured the earth clean, the monks of the order of St. Leibovitz the Engineer kept alive the ancient knowledge. In their monastery in the Utah desert, they preserved the precious relics of their founder: the blessed blueprint, the sacred shopping list and the holy shrine of fallout shelter.

Watched over by an immortal wanderer, they witnessed humanity's rebirth from ashes, and saw reenacted the eternal drama of the struggle between light and darkness, life and death.”

Coming in at #4, “A Canticle for Leibowitz” was one of the first novels to escape from the science-fiction ghetto and become a staple of high-school reading lists. Its legacy can be seen in the works of Gene Wolfe, Margaret Atwood, and many other speculative-fiction authors who came after him, as well as in the current flood of end-of-the-world novels, TV shows, and movies.


3. Childhood's Ends by Arthur C. Clarke

In the near future, enormous silver spaceships appear without warning over mankind's largest cities. They belong to the Overlords, an alien race far superior to humanity in technological development-and their purpose is to dominate the Earth. Their demands, however, are surprisingly beneficial-end war, poverty, and cruelty. Their presence, rather than signaling the end of humanity, ushers in a golden age-or so it seems.”

Originally published in 1953, Childhood's End is Clarke's first successful novel-and is considered a classic of science fiction literature. Its dominating theme of transcendent evolution appears in many of Clarke's later works, including the Space Odyssey series. In 2004, the book was nominated for the Retro Hugo Award for Best Novel.


2. Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

In this bestselling novel by the authors of THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE, a massive comet breaks apart and bombards the Earth, with catastrophic results: worldwide earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, thousand-foot tidal waves and seemingly endless rain… With civilization in ruins, individuals band together to survive and to build a new society.”

Published in 1977, Lucifer's Hammer, #2 on our list, was the first major science fiction novel to try to deal realistically with the planetary emergency of an impact event. It plumbs those depths of fascination on an epic scale, rewarded at the time with sales far beyond the normal expectations of the genre.


1. The Stand by Stephen King

“This is the way the world ends: with a nanosecond of computer error in a Defense Department laboratory and a million casual contacts that form the links in a chain letter of death.

And here is the bleak new world of the day after: a world stripped of its institutions and emptied of 99 percent of its people. A world in which a handful of panicky survivors choose sides — or are chosen. A world in which good rides on the frail shoulders of the 108-year-old Mother Abigail — and the worst nightmares of evil are embodied in a man with a lethal smile and unspeakable powers: Randall Flagg, the dark man.”

Coming in at #1 is Stephen King'sThe Stand, the novel that is now considered to be one of his finest works. But as it was first published, The Stand was incomplete, since more than 150,000 words had been cut from the original manuscript.

Now Stephen King's apocalyptic vision of a world blasted by plague and embroiled in an elemental struggle between good and evil has been restored to its entirety. The Stand : The Complete And Uncut Edition includes more than five hundred pages of material previously deleted, along with new material that King added as he reworked the manuscript for a new generation. It gives us new characters and endows familiar ones with new depths. It has a new beginning and a new ending. What emerges is a gripping work with the scope and moral comlexity of a true epic.

For hundreds of thousands of fans who read The Stand in its original version and wanted more, this new edition is Stephen King's gift. And those who are reading The Stand for the first time will discover a triumphant and eerily plausible work of the imagination that takes on the issues that will determine our survival.


Well, what do you think of that list? Do you agree, or do you feel as though your most-loved book is missing/didn't place as you think it deserved? Feel free to join us here in our Facebook group to chime in on the debate, and then check out our most recent poll while you're there. Don't have Facebook? Feel free to add to the comments below.

*All book-related text in this post was pulled from Amazon.

How Space and Cyberspace are Merging in the 21st Century Battlefield

CYBERSPACE AND OUTER space are merging to become the primary battlefield for global power in the 21st century. Both space and cyberspace systems are critical in enabling modern warfare—for strike precision, navigation, communication, information gathering—and it therefore makes sense to speak of a new, combined space-cyberspace military high-ground. From the moment Sputnik was launched in 1957, and everyone’s head turned skyward, space has occupied the military high-ground, defining much of the next fifty years of global geopolitics. Space-based systems, for the first time, broke the link between a nation’s physical territory and its global ability to gather information, communicate, navigate, and project power.

In the 1980’s, the rise of information and communications technology enabled the creation of the internet and what we’ve come to call cyberspace, a loosely-defined term that encompasses the global patchwork collection of civilian, government and military computer systems and networks. For the same reasons that space came to occupy the military high-ground—information gathering, navigation, communication—cyberspace is now taking center stage.

From a terrestrial point of view, space-based systems operate in a distant realm, but from a cyber point of view, space systems are no different than terrestrial ones. In the last decade, there has been a seamless integration of the internet into space systems, and communications satellites are increasingly internet-based. One can make the case that that space systems are now a part of cyberspace, and thus that space doctrine in the future will be heavily dependent upon cyber doctrine. The argument can also be made that cyberspace, in part, exists and rests upon space-based systems. Cyberspace is still based in the physical world, in the data processing and communications systems that make it possible. In the military domain, cyberspace is heavily reliant on the physical infrastructure of space-based systems, and is therefore subject to some of the same threats.

Space and cyberspace have many similarities. Both are entirely technological domains that only exist due to advanced technology. They are new domains of human activity created by, and uniquely accessible through, sophisticated technology. Both are vigorous arenas for international competition, the outcomes of which will affect the global distribution of power. It is no coincidence that aspiring powers are building space programs at the same time as they are building advanced cyber programs.

Space and cyberspace are both seen as a global commons, domains that are shared between all nations. For most of human history, the ability of one group of humans to influence another was largely tied to control of physical territory. Space and cyberspace both break this constraint, and while there is a general common interest to work cooperatively in peace, there has inevitably been a militarization in both domains. As with any commons, over time they will become congested, and new rules will have to be implemented to deal with this.

Congestion and disruption are problems in both space and cyberspace. Ninety percent of email is spam, and a large proportion of traffic over any network is from malware, which clogs up and endangers cyberspace. Cyberattacks are now moving from email as the primary vector, to using customized web applications using tools such as the Blackhole automated attack toolkit. Cyberattack by nation-states is now joining the criminal use of spam, viruses, Trojans and worms as deliberate attempts to attack and disrupt cyberspace.

The congestion analogy in space is that entire orbital regions can become clogged with debris. Tens of thousands of objects, from satellites and booster rockets to smaller items as nuts and bolts, now clog the orbital space around Earth. The danger of this was dramatically illustrated when an Iridium satellite was destroyed when it was hit by a discarded Russian booster in February of 2009. The situation can be made dramatically worse by purposely creating debris fields, as the Chinese did when they conducted an anti-satellite test in 2007 using a kinetic kill. Over time, entire orbital regions could become unusable.

Another similarity is that while traditional the air-sea-land domains are covered under the UN—Law of the Sea, Arctic, Biodiversity—outer space and cyberspace still operate under ad-hoc agreements mostly outside of UN frameworks. They both expand the range of human activity far in advance of laws and rules to cover the new areas being used and explored. Because space can be viewed as a sub-domain of cyberspace, any new rules brought into effect to govern cyberspace, will also affect outer space.

If there are many similarities between space and cyberspace, there are some critical differences, the most important being that space-based systems require massive capital outlays, while in comparison, cyberspace requires very little. As James Oberg points out in his book Space Power Theory, the most obvious limitation on the exercise of space power is cost, with the astronomical cost of launch first among these. Cyberspace, on the other hand, has a low threshold for entry, giving rise to the reality that governance of an extremely high-cost domain, space systems, will be dictated by rules derived from the comparatively low-cost domain of cyberspace. Space power resides on assumption of exceptionalism, that it is difficult to achieve, giving nations possessing it a privileged role in determining the balance of global power. In contrast, cyberspace, and the ability to conduct cyberwar, is accessible to any nation, or even private organizations or individuals, which have the intent.

Cyberwar has already started, and is beginning to gain in frequency and intensity. To most people, the term cyberwar still has a metaphorical quality, like the War on Obesity, probably because there hasn’t yet been a cyberattack that directly resulted in a large loss of life. Another important defining characteristic of cyberwarfare is the difficulty with attribution. Deterrence is only effective as a military strategy if you can know, with certainty, who it was that attacked you, but in a cyberattack, there is purposeful obfuscation that makes attribution very difficult.

The first cyberattack can be traced back to the alleged 1982 sabotage of the Soviet Urengoy–Surgut–Chelyabinsk natural gas pipeline by the CIA—as a part of a policy to counter Soviet theft of Canadian technology—that resulted in a three-kiloton explosion, comparable to a small nuclear device. Titan Rain is the name the US government gave a series of coordinated cyberattacks against it over a three-year period from 2003 to 2006, and in 2007 Estonia was subject to an intense cyberattack that swamped the information systems of its parliament, banks, ministries, newspapers and broadcasters. In 2011 a series of cyberattacks called Night Dragon were waged against energy grid companies in America. This is significant because of the Aurora Test conducted by Idaho National Laboratory in 2007, where a 21-line package of software code, injected remotely, caused a large commercial electrical generator to self-destruct by rapidly recycling its circuit breakers, demonstrating that cyberattack can destroy electrical infrastructure.

A new breed of sophisticated cyberweapon was revealed when the Stuxnet worm attacked Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facilities in June of 2010. It was not the first time that hackers targeted industrial systems, but it was the first discovered malware that subverted industrial systems. Another game-changer was the 2012 Shamoon virus that knocked out 30,000 computers at Saudi Aramco, forcing that company to spend weeks restoring global services. Shamoon was significant because it was specifically design to inflict damage, and was one of the first examples of a military cyberweapon being used against a civilian target. The more recent Wannacry malware attacks in 2017  were reportedly initiated by North Korea and directed to disrupt Western commercial and logistics networks. It is only a matter of time before a cyberweapon targeting space-based systems is unleashed, if it already hasn’t happened.

It is worth it to back up and explore the core issues surrounding internet security. The internet was originally designed as a redundant, self-healing network, the sort of thing that is purposely hard to centrally control. In the late 80’s it evolved into an information-sharing tool for universities and researchers, and in the 90’s it morphed into America’s shopping mall. Now it has become something that is hard, even impossible, to define—so we just call it cyberspace, and leave it at that.

First and foremost, there is the issue that while everyone runs the internet, nobody is really in charge of it. ICANN— The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers—exerts some control, but the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), convened by UN in 2001, was created because nations around world have become increasingly uneasy that their critical infrastructures, and economies, are dependent on the internet, a medium that they had little control over and no governance oversight. The issue has still not been resolved. To the libertarian-minded creators of the internet, decentralized control is a feature, but to governments trying to secure nuclear power stations and space-based assets, it is a serious flaw. A large part of the problem is that we are trying to use the same internet-based technology for social networking and digital scrap-booking, and use this same technology to control power stations and satellites. Not that long ago, critical systems—space systems, power grid, water systems, nuclear power plants, dams—had their own proprietary technologies that were used to control them, but many of these have been replaced these with internet-based technologies as a cost-savings measure. The consequence is that as a result, now nearly everything can be attacked via the internet.

When it comes to software producers, while they would like their products to be secure from hackers, they have a competing interest in wanting to able to access their software installed on customers’ machines. They want to be able to collect as much information as possible, to sell to third parties or use in their own marketing, and also to want to update new features into their software remotely. Often, this is to install patches to discovered security vulnerabilities, precisely because code is poorly written to begin with, because they realize they can update it later. This backdoor into software is a huge security flaw—one that companies purposely build into their products—and is one that has been regularly exploited by hackers.

There are many consequences to all this.

The first is that, because we use the same internet-based technology to support both the private lives of individuals and operate critical infrastructure, there will be a perpetual balancing act between these two competing interests when it comes to security. Another is that until the general public really sees cybersecurity as a threat, many of the fixable problems will not be addressed, such as setting international prohibitions on cyberespionage—making them comparable in severity to physical incursions into the physical sovereign space of a nation-state—or forcing software companies to get serious about secure coding practices and eliminating backdoors into their products.

Because of the extremely high value of space-based assets, and because they are already a seamless part of cyberspace, when a major cyber conflict does emerge, space systems will be primary targets for cyberattack. Even if space systems are not directly attacked, they may be affected. There can be no known blast radius to a cyberweapon when it is unleashed. Even the Stuxnet worm, which was highly targeted in several ways, still infected other industrial control systems around the world, causing untold collateral damage.

A more difficult threat to consider than simply denying access or service to a space system through cyberattack is the problem of integrity. In the cybersecurity world, the three things to protect are confidentiality (keeping something secret, and being able to verify this), availability, and integrity of data. Integrity is by far the hardest to protect and ensure. If a cyberattacker, for example, decided on a slow (over time) modification of data in a critical space junk database, they could influence moving satellites into harm’s way or worse, drop satellites from orbit into populated areas.

Over the last fifty years, a comprehensive strategy based around deterrence was developed in conjunction with the idea of space power theory. In the future, a comparable framework and space-cyberspace power theory will need to be developed. Many questions need to be answered, most especially regarding how the international community will establish rules for cyberspace, the definition of rules for cyberwar, proportionality of response, and how to deal with the problem of attribution. Exactly how the developing cyberwar doctrine will affect the way outer space is governed remains to be seen.


Matthew Mather is author of a fictional account of the first major cyberattack, CyberStorm, which has sold close to a million copies, been translated in 23 countries and is in development for film by 20th Century Fox. You can find CyberStorm on Amazon.

Review: The Day of the Triffids

I’m a huge fan of Science Fiction, particularly post-apocalyptic fiction, and think I’ve read the best the genre has to offer. That said, I always bypassed one book on assumptions that were to be proved wrong, and I guess others have made the same mistake.

I knew about The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham long before I eventually picked it up to read. A clunky television adaptation sticks in my mind from childhood and a couple of recommendations from friends who I flatly ignored. I told myself, “Plants taking over the world is silly. How can it be anything other than a glorified B-movie?” I even checked the cover on Amazon to confirm my unfounded suspicions. Of course, this cosy catastrophe is far beyond the short pulpy description I had in my mind and after a few pages I was hooked.

Triffids

The first person narrator, Bill Masen, is a triffidologist who works with the carnivorous plants. The story begins with him in hospital after his eyes were splashed by triffid poison. He misses a beautiful green meteor shower due to his bandages, and avoided suffering blindness like the majority of the population. From here, with humans at a disadvantage, the triffids take advantage of the upended natural balance and attack. The opening scene in the hospital is definitive and has echoed through subsequent apocalyptic fiction, notably the film 28 Days Later and the TV show The Walking Dead.

28 Days

The book was originally published in 1951 and its old charm and quaint language immediately grabbed me. Masen sees a doctor dive head first out of a window and his immediate reaction is to light a cigarette. When he eventually makes it out of the hospital, his first port of is to a local pub for a stiff drink. He’s also unsure about the origin of triffids but suspects they were engineered by the Soviet Union.

There’s a wonderful section where Masen wanders through central London and witnesses the full impact as society unravels into chaos, particularly a part where he meets a blind man who is happy at the turn of events. The man suffered from the disability before the shower and now feels his parity in the world restored.

Masen saves a woman who also retained her sight, a successful novelist called Josella Playton, from a man who is forcing her to be his guide. Playton missed the meteor shower while at a wild party and they immediately strike up a friendship that is central to the story. They discover a group of survivors planning on heading for the countryside to build a stronghold and decide to join them. This isn’t an A to B bullet-fest where our hero has smart quips or rescues damsels in distress. The story takes a sober look at how a group tackles the problems of surviving in a world that is increasingly not their own, and some of the village scenes outside London are a tremendous throwback to a quieter era.

Walking Dead

As Wyndham leads Masen through the events, he gives an interesting insight into human behaviour, how different people reacted under extreme circumstances, some good, some bad, and some misguided. The lifecycle of events is logical and well treated as triffids slowly take over the nation and hunt for survivors, increasing in number and surrounding any safe haven. I also enjoyed the philosophising around the future of humanity by various characters, particularly Coker at Tynsham on the changing role of people and the roles that both sexes needed to adapt in order to survive.

Without giving away spoilers, the book has a satisfying conclusion and gives the remaining characters hope for the future. I highly recommend it anyone who loves post-apocalyptic fiction and hasn’t read it yet, happily admit that I got this one wrong for years, and nearly missed out on a genre-defining classic.

 


 

Darren Wearmouth spent six years in the army before pursuing a career in corporate technology. After fifteen years working for large telecommunications firm and a start-up, he decided to follow his passion for writing. His first novel was the best-selling First Activation that he later sold to Amazon‘s publishing imprint, 47North in a two-book deal. Darren is a member of the International Thriller Writers Group and the British Science Fiction Association, and currently lives in Manchester, England.

 

Does Science Fiction Really Drive Innovation?


Joshua Dalzelle is a USA Today bestselling author, an Amazon Top Ten Bestselling Science Fiction author, and creator of the hugely popular Omega Force series.

7 Science Fiction Books, and What They Taught Me.

I admit it: I was a nerd growing up. Rather than go out and play football with my friends, I barricaded myself in my bedroom and played on my trusty Commodore 64. Instead of sports, I had computer games, movies, and books. Especially books. One time, an adult friend quizzed me for fun things to do with friends–I think she was trying to come up with ideas for one of her kids’ birthday parties. I said, “Read books”. She laughed, and teased me–“oh, hey guys, let’s go have a reading party!”

She laughed, but I didn’t see what was funny. It sounded like a perfectly reasonable party to me. Now that I’m an adult, that’s still my idea of the perfect birthday party: maybe friends come over, maybe they don’t, either way I hole up in my room with a giant chocolate cake and a good book.

As an author, my writing is shaped by the books I read. While my favorite genre to read as an adult is fantasy, my favorites growing up were science fiction, and that’s where I got my education in the language of fiction. SciFi feels like a native language to me. I feel fluent in it, at least compared to something like contemporary mysteries or thrillers. Since I grew up reading so many,  that was the genre I felt most comfortable writing in, it having shaped my vocabulary, my thought patterns, my sentence structure–everything.

And so I give you four pivotal SciFi novels I read growing up, and three that I’m currently reading (or just finished).

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 10.27.37 PMIn 1992 I had a revelation. That revelation was a small 5″x8″ book that had a Wookiee on the cover. Let’s face it. This is not the great American novel. But to my 13-year-old mind, this was the bees-knees. Return of the Jedi had come out ten years ago when I was a little kid, and I had been starved of new Star Wars material for the rest of my childhood. Enter Timothy Zahn and the Thrawn trilogy. It was amazing. It was glorious. It was everything I could have ever hoped a sequel trilogy would be. I even casted the entire trilogy–I think I had Jack Nicholson as Grand Admiral Thrawn. Yeah–I was a nerd. And what I learned from reading Heir to the Empire was that I was proud to be a nerd.

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Foundation, by Isaac Asimov, taught me that not only can a novel be driven by a main character as a protagonist, it can also be told from the perspective of an institution, whether it be a family, like in 100 Years of Solitude, a tribe of people like The Silmarillion, or a pan-galactic organization that Asimov created in his brilliant series. In fact, I think his later works suffered a little because he shifted back to a traditional character point of view for the story, rather than sticking with his “Institution-as-protagonist” style he had going on with his first 3 Foundation books.
To this day I go back and refer to his series as a gold standard for telling a story that makes you root not only for an individual, but for a concept.

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I grew up watching Star Trek, and later, as a teenager, I discovered Star Trek books. As with the extended Star Wars universe, I dove right in and read everything. My favorite was Peter David’s novel Vendetta, which continued the Borg storyline started in Next Generation’s The Best of Both Worlds. With Vendetta, I remember learning as a teenager that in the fight against evil, you must not become that which you fight against. That’s more of a life lesson rather than an influence on my writing, but I’ve found in retrospect that this theme is interwoven in a lot of my work.
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I’m going to cheat a little and include a book that I shamefully did not read until I was an adult. I had already written a book, and while my wife was in surgery one day I passed the time by reading Ender’s Game. Wow. How had I missed reading this one as a teenager? What struck me about this book was that it was not just another SciFi novel about a character in a plot, rather, it was a book of ideas. The emotional climax for me came not at the big revelation at the end, but rather around the 2/3’s mark where Ender says something like, “In order to defeat my enemy, I have to understand him. And at the moment I truly know my enemy well enough to completely understand him, I find that I love him. And having loved him, I now have to kill him.” Wow. I know a book is good when it makes me want to write. I know a book is even better when it makes me want to quit writing forever. This was one of those books.

And now for three books that I’m reading now, or just finished recently.

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Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson, was captivating. Firmly in the “hard SciFi” subgenre, I learned that you can dive deep into technical detail in a book, and still build a fair amount of suspense and tension. I think I got a graduate level education in orbital mechanics reading Seveneves–it was clear Neal had done his homework. For people that like actually science in their novels, I can’t recommend it enough.

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Currently, I’m working my way through The Expanse, by James S.A. Corey. This series has it all, and I wish I had written it–that’s how I know a book is not just good, but amazing. The science is accurate and plausible. The characters are exquisitely developed. The world built into something that feels gritty and organic and real. I can see why this made it to TV, and I’ve spent many late nights the past few weeks trying to sneak one more chapter in before bed.
What have I learned from reading the Expanse? Like Seveneves, it is possible to use plausible, accurate science in a space-based SciFi novel, and still tell a fast-paced story with urgency, excitement, and grit.

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The last series I want to recommend is not strictly SciFi, but more of a Fantasy with Science Fiction elements. The Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson, while clearly a Fantasy, is actually quite firmly grounded in the “science” of the universe he’s writing in–something he calls the Cosmere. But what Sanderson excels at is world building. The level of detail is amazing, and yet he presents it all in a way that doesn’t distract from the story and slow the pace. I’ve never felt bogged down in the story–at the end of every chapter, I have to read the next one.

Which SciFi novels have stayed with you? Which ones have you learned from? Which ones left you in awe?

The Brink of a New Age of Discovery

Do you remember those old posters from the 1950's that had people in flying cars and robots doing the dishes? It must have been an exciting time. Test pilots had just broken the sound barrier, followed by a breathless rush into the dawn of the Space Race that led to the moon landings just 66 years after the first time Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the first airplane. At that time, nuclear power seemed ready to offer limitless cheap energy, and the boom of microelectronics was just beginning to dazzle.

flying-car

 

What happened to my flying car? While it's true that electronics have gotten smaller and faster beyond the wildest of imaginings of 40 years ago, it's also true that the 747 airliner first flew in 1969, and that's probably the same plane you'd take to fly today. Same speed, same altitude–the 747 was an amazing feat in the 60's, but by now we were supposed to be vacationing in the vast donut space stations of Arthur C. Clark's 2001. And speaking of 1969, that was 47 years ago…if we went from the first airplane to the moon in just sixty years, fifty years after that shouldn't we be taking warp-drive spaceships to Betelgeuse? What happened?

For instance, what about dark matter? This is the stuff that makes up about 90% of the mass/energy of our universe, but so far physicists have only been able to narrow it down to (a) massive subatomic particles that we're literally swimming in although have never detected, or (b) primordial black holes that invisibly glue together galaxies. So 90% of everything is either something subatomic or something unimaginably massive and large. That's a pretty big gap for something rather important.

Dark_matter_stride_by_tchaikovsky2

Or how about eels? If you live in North America or Europe, you've most likely encountered an eel in your local river. Yet all North American and European eels originate from a single source, the mysterious “Sargasso Sea” somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean where eels spawn each year and migrate outward. Despite knowing this *has* to exist, not one person has ever witnessed a spawning eel, or found the location of the Sargasso Sea that has to exist.

eels

Two obvious things that have to exist, and yet we've never seen them. I believe this is called faith. So keep the faith, my friends, because our future is fast approaching.

Just a few years ago, I remember feeling depressed when NASA made tired-sounding announcements of sending humans to Mars in thirty or forty years. Ho-hum, ho-hum. And then this week, SpaceX makes a surprise announcement saying they plan to send an unmanned Red Dragon capsule to Mars in 2018 (TWO years from now, not twenty), and in September of this year will they will release serious plans for colonizing Mars. Holy Buck Rogers! And this comes just a few weeks after they butt-landed a rocket on a floating drone ship in the middle of the Atlantic. Does this sound like something from a science fiction book? Cause it's not. This is happening, folks, not to mention the slew of other private space enterprises going on.

In other news, big corporations are now creating their own endemic artificial intelligences–witness Siri from Apple, Alexa from Amazon, Cortana from Microsoft, and reports of just about every major hedge fund in Connecticut starting up their own AIs to run their core businesses. It's not quite the android Replicants of Mr. Philip K. Dick, but it's more than halfway to HAL of 2001…and pair this up with the walking robots from Boston Dynamics. And speaking of AI disasters, when Microsoft recently unleashed Tay–Cortana's AI cousin–free and unfettered into the world a few weeks ago, within hours she became a Hitler-loving racist asshole, which I feel perhaps doesn't bode well for humankind over the long term (bear fealty now to our robot-AI overlords before it's too late).

But this isn't the big news. No. The big news, I think, is that we're on the brink of TOE–and by that I mean the Theory Of Everything. Without getting stuck in the details, for the last forty or so years, we've been stuck with quantum-electrodynamics theory on one side (the merger of quantum, electromagnetics, and strong and weak nuclear force theories) and gravity-relativity on other, and never the twain shall meet. Nobody has been able to devise one coherent physical model of our universe that includes the four fundamental forces together with quantum theory–but I think scientists are on the brink of a breakthrough (witness the discover of a new, previously unsuspected particle by the LHC) that may create a new fundamental picture of reality.

Esoteric?

How can this possibly affect us?

Perhaps.

But “quantum theory” only really emerged in 1924 as a discipline unto itself with Heisenberg and Schrodinger (it did exist as bits and pieces in the 1800's, but only hints of something unconnected), and at the time, sitting on a steamship deck and sipping your coffee, you might have been excused from wondering what possible application it could have. Fast-forward sixty years, and it fueled the technical underpinning of the electronics boom that has birthed the Internet, AIs, and worldwide instantaneous communication networks.

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What could a new theory of the ultimate nature of reality make possible? I have no idea, but I'll bet you that in fifty years it will be something amazing that we can't even imagine now. Tired old NASA is even funding a serious research project into faster-than-light travel–the idea isn't to really travel faster than light, but to bend space (and thus time) to punch holes through it. The physics say it's possible, but the energies required are either vaster than a hundred suns, or not much at all–what's needed is an understanding of the real physics behind the ultimate nature of our reality, and our lab-coated friends may just be on the edge of supplying it. So dust off your Mars suit, boot up your personal AI, and step onto that warp-drive spaceship, because the future is fast approaching.

But I doubt we'll ever find out where eels come from.

Adventures in Hybrid Publishing

The changes that have occurred in publishing over the past decade are pretty remarkable. I first wrote this post for Simon and Schuster about a year ago, and even more has changed in publishing in that time.

 

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Authors are no longer restricted by the old rules of publishing. You don’t need a literary agent or a traditional publishing deal to get your story into reader’s hands. E-readers have helped fuel a revolution, where an unknown author like Hugh Howey can become a New York Times Bestseller almost overnight. From Wattpad to Amazon, publishing has never been easier. But that doesn’t mean one method is better than the other. It simply means that authors and publishers have more options.

Three years ago, when I was still a purely self-published author, New York Times bestselling author Bob Mayer told me that hybrid publishing was the future. At the time, I didn’t even know what that meant. But, that’s exactly what I became; by mixing and matching the strategies that worked best for me, I became a hybrid author. Two years later, with a series traditionally published under Simon451 (a digital-first imprint of Simon & Schuster) another series I’m self-publishing, and a third acquired by Blackstone Publishing, I found the right balance of freedom and control to survive as a full time writer.

My publishing story started about four years ago. I had an unpublished manuscript that I’d been working on for years. I thought about querying agents or sending the book to a small press but after some consideration I decided to go with what seemed like the least painful method — I decided to self-publish.

This was one of the most important moments of my career. It opened a door to the world of self-publishing and while that novel didn’t do all that well, it paved the way for my next book, Orbs. Using the marketing knowledge I’d gained from my first novel and the advice of fellow self-published authors, I was able to successfully launch my second book. Two months later, Orbs was a breakaway hit on Amazon and a number one bestseller that attracted the attention of several publishers including Simon451.

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Now I was faced with an important dilemma. I wrestled with whether to continue to self-publish or make the leap to traditional publishing. It wasn’t until I asked myself an important question that I found my answer — what could Simon451 bring to the table that I wasn’t doing for myself?

Sure, self-publishing allowed me the freedom of getting my stories out quickly. I had control over the marketing and price. But there were still obstacles preventing me from reaching the audience outside of Amazon. I thought a traditional publisher could help tear down those walls and help me reach those readers. But in addition to that, with professional editing and copyediting I would be able to improve my technical skills as a writer.

 

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For that reason I decided to sign with Simon451. I knew that with the power of their editing and marketing teams my books could potentially reach an entire new level. My writing would improve and my books would reach more readers. Simon451 did just that. They put my Orbs series on every major e-reader platform, and their superb editing team has made me a stronger writer. Starting in July of 2016, the books are coming out in paperback.

After signing with Simon451 I came to see the other side of publishing. My old editor calls the e-book revolution the Wild West. More publishing options means more authors. That also means more competition. In order to survive in this environment I knew I needed to adapt. I needed a flexible model that would allow me the freedom to get books out faster while having the support of a major publisher on other titles.

 

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That’s why I returned to my roots after I completed the Orbs series by self-publishing the Extinction Cycle series. All five books are number one bestsellers on Amazon and the audiobooks are too, with Extinction Horizon hitting #1 in the audible store in 2015. This new series has allowed me the ability to self-publish every four or five months. In a little over a year, the series has sold over two hundred thousand copies.

While writing the Extinction Cycle series I was also writing a new trilogy called Hell Divers. With the success of the Extinction Cycle, my agent was able to sell Hell Divers to another traditional publisher, Blackstone, the same company that published the Extinction Cycle audiobooks.

I get questions all the time about how to survive as an author in the constantly changing world of publishing. My answer is to go hybrid, if you have that opportunity.  By keeping one foot in the self-publishing sphere, I’m able to maintain the breakneck pace necessary to compete with other eBook authors, and by keeping the other foot in traditional publishing, I’m able to work on slower-burn projects that might need extra attention like Hell Divers.

 

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My ultimate goal is the same as most authors: to have my books in print and on bookshelves. There isn’t anything I can think of that’s much better in life than holding my book in paperback. But the path to print publication requires skills learned in both worlds, the skills I learned as a hybrid author. Now that is happening with both Orbs and Hell Divers.

Publishing is continuing to evolve every day, providing endless possibilities for authors to bring their stories to life. Ultimately, I believe Bob Mayer is right. Hybrid publishing is the future for many. It may seem unconventional right now, but with the ever-changing landscape of publishing authors will be required to adapt in order to achieve their goals, just like I have.

 


Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Nicholas Sansbury Smith is the bestselling author of the Orbs and Extinction Cycle series. He worked for Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management in disaster mitigation before switching careers to focus on his one true passion–writing. A three-time Kindle All-Star, several of Smith's titles have reached the top 50 on the overall Kindle bestseller list and as high as #1 in the Audible store. Hell Divers, the first book in his new trilogy, will release in July 2016. When he isn't writing or daydreaming about the apocalypse, he's training for triathlons or traveling the world. He lives in Des Moines, Iowa, with his dog and a house full of books.

If you'd like to hear more about Nick's books, you can join his spam free mailing list here: eepurl.com/bggNg9