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CUSFS Recommendations List (2014)

Requests for recommendations come up often in CUSFS discussions. In order to save ourselves the trouble of repeating the same things ad nauseum, we sacrificed several hours of our life and put together this list (or rather, this list of lists) to serve as a first reference. The books are grouped by genre, though quite often the lines are blurred.

I've attempted to include descriptions where I could, but obviously I've not read all the books on this list. If there are any gaps you can fill in, do e-mail me (fhd21). You can also get in touch if you feel very strongly about adding something (or removing something), though I can't guarantee anything will come of it.

Without further ado, here is the list of CUSFS recommendation lists:

  1. Classic Science Fiction
  2. Hard Science Fiction
  3. *topias
  4. Space Opera
  5. Punk Punk
  6. Classic Fantasy
  7. Epic Fantasy
  8. Real/Parallel Worlds
  9. Institutional Magic
  10. Horror
  11. Miscellaneous

Classic Science Fiction

These books could probably have gone under one of the other science fiction categories but are included here because they're particularly important in the development of the genre. They include 19th century precursors to science fiction as well as representative books by the great writers of the 20th century.

Title Author Comments and Criticism
FoundationIsaac Asimov
The Lost WorldArthur Conan-Doyle
The Moon is a Harsh MistressRobert A Heinlein
Rendezvous with RamaArthur C. Clarke
RingworldLarry Niven
Day of the TriffidsJohn Wyndham
The Time MachineH.G. Wells
Journey to the Centre of the EarthJules Verne
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?Philip K. Dick
Slaughterhouse-FiveKurt Vonnegut

Last recorded update: 12 March 2012, by James Robson

Hard Science Fiction

Hard science fiction tends to focus more on the "science" than the "fiction". As a general rule of thumb, it avoids relying too much on things beyond the possible, and often explores the ramifications of a single development (often some sort of faster-than-light capabilities) on the future of human society.

Title Author Comments and Criticism
The AlgebraistIain M. Banks
Ender's GameOrson Scott Card
Revelation SpaceAlastair Reynolds
The Time ShipsStephen Baxter
LuminousGreg Egan
A Fire Upon The DeepVernor Vinge
Red MarsKim Stanley Robinson
The Black CloudSir Fred Hoyle
Tau ZeroPoul Anderson
GlasshouseCharlie Stross

Last recorded update: 12 March 2012, by James Robson


A selection of utopian and dystopian fiction. A distinction can be made between those books (such as Nineteen Eighty-Four) where the dystopia is the story, and those which merely use utopian or dystopian settings to tell a story. Both are included here.

Title Author Comments and Criticism
The Handmaid's TaleMargaret Atwood
Shade's ChildrenGarth Nix
The DispossessedUrsula K. Le Guin
The GiverLois Lowry
1984George Orwell
Brave New WorldAldous Huxley
WeYevgeny Zamyatin
Make Room! Make Room!Harry Harrison
Fahrenheit 451Ray Bradbury
A Canticle For LeibowitzWalter M. Miller, Jr.

Last recorded update: 12 March 2012, by James Robson

Space Opera

"Spaaaaaaaaace." -- Binney

Space opera is the science fiction equivalent of epic fantasy. Quintessentially represented by Star Wars, space operas tend to be very large in scale and feature typically monomythic plots.

Title Author Comments and Criticism
Hyperion Dan Simmons
The Player of Games Iain M. Banks
The Warrior's Apprentice Lois McMaster Bujold
Cities in Flight James Blish
A Princess of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams
Galactic Patrol E. E. Smith
Nova Samuel R. Delany
Dune Frank Herbert
Ciaphas Cain: Hero of the Imperium Sandy Mitchell

Last recorded update: 12 March 2012, by James Robson

Punk Punk

What on Earth does the -punk suffix mean? No one really knows. From steampunk to cyberpunk via salvagepunk, though, these novels are influenced by a particular aesthetic in their settings which is somehow instantly recognisable.

Title Author Comments and Criticism
Neuromancer William Gibson
The Difference Engine William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
Stand On Zanzibar John Brunner
Snow Crash Neal Stephenson
Cryptonomicon Neal Stephenson
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom Cory Doctorow
Mindstar Rising Peter F. Hamilton
Mortal Engines Philip Reeve
Halting State Charlie Stross
A Tale of Time City Diana Wynne Jones

Last recorded update: 12 March 2012, by James Robson

Classic Fantasy

Like the classic SF list, these are major books which have informed the development of the fantasy genre in the last century and a half or so.

Epic Fantasy

To avoid getting bogged down in the debate of what precisely we mean by epic fantasy, let's just say that it includes at least some of these elements: a large cast with multiple point-of-view characters, some sort of good-vs-evil plot, large geographical scale (often with the associated geopolitics), extreme length, and dragons. As a general rule, the bigger the scale the more epic the fantasy.

Real/Alternate Worlds

Books set in the real world or some approximation of it. Genres like urban fantasy and alternate history fall under this heading, as do some things slightly further afield.

Institutional Magic

This list covers books featuring magical instutitions (often schools or universities) and also those which treat magic itself as an instition within, for example, the confines of government.


It's scary.


Does what it says on the tin.

Title Author Comments and Criticism
The Left Hand of Darkness Ursula K. Le Guin
Cloud Atlas David Mitchell
Lord of Light Roger Zelazny
Anathem Neal Stephenson
First and Last Men Olaf Stapledon
Lilith's Brood Octavia Butler
Machine of Death Various, edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo and David Malki
Embassytown China Mi�ville
The Illuminatus! Trilogy Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson
Hothouse Brian Aldiss

Last recorded update: 12 March 2012, by James Robson