Jim Baen’s Top 10 Science Fiction Books

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Jim Baen called David Drake on Thursday, June 8, 2006, saying that Amazon had asked him at BookExpo for a list of the ten science fiction books that everybody should read. David Drake goes on:

He wanted me to join him in coming up with the list. Jim and I did this sort of thing — him calling me as a resource — very frequently. The only thing unusual is the fact that he’d had a mini-stroke during the night. When he finally went to the hospital on Monday, June 12, he had the fatal stroke. This was literally some of the last thinking on SF that Jim did.

I was rather shocked that I had in fact read all ten:

  1. Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  2. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
  3. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller
  4. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
  5. Dune by Frank Herbert
  6. Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague deCamp
  7. Against the Fall of Night by Arthur C. Clarke
  8. Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert A. Heinlein
  9. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
  10. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

I went back to see when I mentioned any of these book earlier, and the last time I mentioned Jim Baen’s list, I lamented that I’d missed a few. So, I have made some progress.

Anyway, I’ve mentioned Foundation repeatedly, but not to discuss its literary merits:

I’d consider myself a Heinlein fan, but I barely made it through Stranger in a Strange Land as a teen, and I didn’t make it through a few years ago. I much preferred the short novel he wrote while taking a break from Stranger:

I didn’t find Citizen of the Galaxy memorable.

When I tried to read A Canticle for Leibowitz in college, the pre-Vatican II Catholicism didn’t work for me, but when I re-read it a few years ago I found it powerful and insightful:

I did not know it at the time, but Walter Miller, the author, had served in a bomber crew that helped destroy the monastery at Monte Cassino during World War II, and he converted to Catholicism after the war. Seen through his sympathetic eyes, the Church is a source of great practical wisdom, with established methods for steering flawed human beings toward productive behaviors — not unlike the Overcoming Bias and Less Wrong crowds, but more experienced, if also tied to a peculiar cosmology.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea never did much for me. He’s supposed to be the father of science fiction, so he may simply need a better translator.

Dune I mention here regularly, as a powerful novel that didn’t quite work for me — but obviously stuck with me:

I definitely enjoyed Lest Darkness Fall, which has its modern-day protagonist bring telegraphy without electricity to ancient Rome. That scenario raises the interesting question of ideas behind their time.

The Time Machine is an absolute classic. Lawrence Auster would certainly recommend it. Wells wrote many novels worth reading.

By contrast, Mark Twain might qualify as a wit of the highest order, yet I found A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court hard to take. It’s mainly hamfisted whig history, which played to his audience, I’m sure.


  1. Bruce says:

    I bet the Gatling gun scene in A Connecticut Yankee came from Twain daydreaming about what Custer shouda done. Really, it’s to Custer’s moral credit that he left his Gatling gun at home. After all, he did complete his mission to get the Sioux out of the Black Hills. (Spellcheck objects to gatling — pinko alert!)

    Ringworld belongs on any top ten SF list. I’d bump Foundation — Asimov’s prose is just too awful.

  2. Guy says:

    The only Heinlein book I didn’t finish so far is Friday. Started well, then got into the “Wedding a Tongan!” part and after I think two solid chapters of ‘Teh Rasism is BAD!!111′ I put it down and never picked it back up.

    When I think back on it THIS comes to mind. A lot of his stuff is ranty, but that one just went on too long.

    “Ringworld belongs on any top ten SF list. I’d bump Foundation — Asimov’s prose is just too awful.”

    At least the first one. After that Niven seemed to turn into an old horndog with Rishathra on the brain.

  3. Bruce says:

    ‘At least the first one. After that Niven seemed to turn into an old horndog with Rishathra on the brain.’

    The first one had orgies too. Young horndog to old horndog is an expectable transition.

  4. Faze says:

    I agree with Isegoria’s opinions of the top 12 and double down on the HG Wells. The man had a wonderful style in his SF books, and they satisfy in the way of the best mainstream Edwardian literature.

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