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Last year, Kim Harrison bid farewell to Rachel Morgan, star of her long-running urban fantasy series The Hollows, after 13 books. Next month, she’s shaking things up with the release of The Drafter, the first book in a science fiction trilogy about Peri Reed, a special agent with the ability to manipulate time who is betrayed by her own organization and forced to go on the run. In honor of her exploration of a different side of the genre, we asked her to share 10 sci-fi novels that have influenced her as a writer.
Asking me to list the best of anything is akin to asking the 10-year-old in me to name my favorite ice cream flavor: it all depends on what I’m in the mood for. So when faced with the proposition of choosing the ten most influential SF books I’ve ever read… Ouch. My brain hurts. But as I began to dig through my book shelf, comparing what I read against what I’m writing, I found that it was easy to see whose shoulders I stand on. My “top 10” reads like a blast from the past, with a lot of what passed for YA back then—written for a mindset, not an age. But a good story is a good story, and skillful craft sticks with you long after the book is closed.
In no particular order:
Crystal Singer, by Anne McCaffery
Failed opera singers, special task agents, and writers all have one thing in common: they all need big egos just to survive and get the job done. And with big egos come big falls. Killashandra is willing to lose her memory to succeed in her new profession of “gem cutter.” In fact, she’d prefer it that way.
The takeaway—always salt your oatmeal, i.e. observation and communication can be the difference between success and failure.
Have Space Suit Will Travel, by Robert A Heinlein
If you build it, they will come—and probably land you in a lot of trouble. Kip fixes a decommissioned space suit and is kidnapped while trying it out, sending him halfway across the galaxy where he learns to wrap his mind around traveling through nothing to get back to somewhere. Oh, and he saves the human race as well.
Takeaway—there’s always time to save the world while you’re saving yourself.
Z for Zachariah, by Robert O’Brian
Don’t “F” with mother nature, or mother nature will “F” with you. In this end-of-the-world YA novel, Ann is trapped in her valley by radiation until a suited figure finds her with word of the entire world’s destruction.
Takeaway—the world’s eco system is fragile. Talk about it, even if only in small ways. Also, books take longer to decontaminate than people.
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A Stainless Steel Rat is Born, by Harry Harrison
It’s not the fittest or best outfitted that survive, but the most adaptable. Bored with the perfect utopia of a futuristic society focused on sensation and gratification, Jim robs a bank to get into jail so he can learn to be a thief from the best. Unfortunately, the best don’t get caught.
Takeaway—street smarts and improv trump techie toys. Every time.
The Zero Stone, by Andre Norton
That’s not a cat, that’s a protagonist. Gem trader Murdoc is the pet, and Eet is the master when the starship’s cat becomes pregnant from ingesting a flat black gem and gives birth to a telepathic “cat” with an agenda.
Takeaway—the person your protagonist looks to when making decisions doesn’t have to be a real person.
Midnight at the Well of Souls, by Jack L. Chalker
Accelerated science looks like magic, so ground it in more science. A master race creating new races to populate the universe from their computer world is turned upside down when a man who might be God shows up.
Takeaway—you can’t outrun your past, even if you don’t remember it—even on the back of a kick-ass centaur woman.
The White Mountains, by John Christopher
Happiness comes at a stiff price; don’t let it be your freedom. In this dystopian YA, the most beautiful, cunning, and athletic are transported to be willing slaves to the conquering alien race now on earth. Takeaway—being the best at what you do carries unexpected peril.
Another Fine Myth, by Robert Asprin
It’s Deveels, as in dimensional travelers, not devils. Skeeve loses his magical instructor, gains another, finds both a girlfriend and dragon, and while saving his tatty, backward dimension from a power hungry mobster.
Takeaway—not technically SF, but technology and theoretical dimensional traveling set against a medieval mindset brings world building to a fine point. Word choice and humor can make the difference between believability and a breakdown of suspension of disbelief.
Nine Princes In Amber, by Rodger Zelazny
Don’t like your reality? Get in your car and change it. Corwin wakes with no memory in a mental prison. Intuition and guesswork keep him just ahead of death as he shifts from reality to reality, finding his way back through the shadow dimensions to where his memory waits.
Takeaway—remembering your past isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Imperial Earth, by Arthur C. Clarke
Rank has its privileges. Duncan moves sunward from Titan to Earth to clone himself in order to continue his line.
Takeaway—if you spend all summer on it, you can cut twelve pieces out of a molding remnant and recreate Duncan’s mathematical puzzle yourself.