A Short List Of Sci-Fi Novels Worth Reading

I’ve been reading a lot of sci-fi novels in the last few years, but especially in the last few months. I’m behind, basically, and trying to catch up. There are so many great books to read, and so many classics that I simply have never taken the time to read. Well I’m correcting that, and I wanted to share a few of the ones I’ve read recently. 


Old Man’s War

“I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.”

This is, perhaps, the most memorable opening line to any book I’ve read in recent years and it sets up an entirely different type of sci-fi novel than I have been reading recently. Rather than the typical cyber-punk, detective, and video-game based sub-genres that I have been reading, “Old Man’s War” is a military novel. The story follows a 75 year old man that signed up for the Colonial Defense Forces (CDF) 10 years earlier. Things start out a bit slow as we follow the main character through his last days on earth, knowing that he is about to be transported off to the stars where he will be engaged in combat with alien races. But what we don’t know, is how a 75 year old man is going to be able to handle any kind of combat situation. Is it simply replacing body parts? Is it gene therapy? The “fountain of youth”? There are so many possibilities, but no one from Earth has any idea because the CDF keeps it secret – to the point where even the CDF employees on Earth are not actually part of the military. They are simply contractors doing a job. 

This book is fast-paced through the second half, and hard to put down. The military action, the oddities in the combat situations with alien beings, the inter-personal relationships between the characters – all of it is top notch with a very “Full Metal Jacket” feel to it. The language, the violence and descriptions of military action may not be for everyone – it is quite graphic at times. But if you’re in to this style of action and sci-fi, you’ll definitely want to pick up Old Man’s War.

And FWIW, I’ve already started reading the following book in the series: The Ghost Brigades. It’s turning out to be just as good, without the slow start (so far, at least).


Daemon / Freedom (TM) (Daemon)


I never thought a detective novel that mixes video games, augmented-reality/simulations (called “D-Space” in this 2-part series), and real-life military action could send me in to a reflective discussion on the nature of corporations, globalization, monetization of nature, and more… but this book series did. What starts out as a detective novel, investigating a motorcycle death, very quickly turns in to one of the most engaging (and graphically violent) sci-fi novels I’ve read recently. But the twist in this book is not that this is some dystopian future. Rather, this takes place in today’s world, with technologies that seem entirely plausible – and in fact, much of the technology used in the book comes right out of modern research and development. 

After the death of a wealthy software developer, a series of murders occur, related to the company this developer ran. The murders are quickly tracked back to the now-death founder of the company, and a massively distributed software system called the “Daemon”. This system has been meticulously developed to cause the maximum amount of damage to law enforcement, military and other authority figures in the first book, Daemon. With literal wizards, warriors, autonomous machines designed for killing, and some of the world’s greatest minds trying to stop the carnage, Daemon turned in to a very fast-paced book full of twists, the deaths of many characters that I thought were prime to the story-arch, and one final twist at the end of the book that I had hoped for, but not expected. 

The second book in this 2-part series, Freedom (TM), is where the real culture-shock hits me. This book starts out with a few of the remaining characters from Daemon trying to piece together a plan to stop the massive network system from destroying corporate and financial institutions. But the book quickly turns the tables on us, the reader, as we realize that a few of the main characters from the first book are joining up with the Daemon’s forces. The idea of who is right, who is wrong, what is good and what is bad is tossed on it’s head as the book takes a long, hard look at what corporations and globalization are doing to our society. The “demons” of “Daemon” are now the protectors of the new world where people live in a peaceful meritocracy, fighting against the old-world order of large corporations and private military powers. The book comes to a head with a massive battle between these two ways of thinking – a battle that includes some of the most fearsome technology that I can believe we could actually produce (a long with a few bits that stretch the boundaries of reality just enough to help me realize that this is a sci-fi novel after all). 

There are two things that I didn’t like about the second book, honestly. It turns the tables on what good vs bad a little too quickly, and it spends a few too many paragraphs reminding the reader about who the individual characters are. I think this was done to help those that read the books with a lot of time in between them. It almost sets up each book to work on it’s own, but doesn’t quite come to that as you would need to know the history of some of the characters and plot points. But putting these minor points aside is fairly easy to do as the series continues to keep my attention focused and my mind questioning.

If you’re interested in what could-be with technology, if you want to question everything you think you know about corporations and globalization, if you like the idea of using augmented reality and simulations to drive a more informed and connected reality, then you need to read these books. Daemon and Freedom (TM) are well written, fast paced, thoughtful and engaging books that left me wanting more, while providing a very clean ending that satisfied me as a reader. But once again, if you can’t stomach graphic descriptions of violence, beware. These books are full of it.


Ready Player One

If you’re a fan of the ’80s, if you love the idea of true virtual-reality where people escape the horrors of the now dystopian world, if you want to constantly jump up and down smiling as the references to your childhood favorite movies, tv shows, music and more, then you need to read Ready Player One. Set in the near future, this book follows a high school student that uses the OASIS (a massively multi-player virtual universe, similar to what Second Life could have been) as a way to escape the depressing reality in which he lives. He attends school in the OASIS. He makes friends there. He plays games and he does his research on the now deceased creator of this virtual world, as he (and millions of others) attempt to find the eater egg hidden within the game itself. Finding the egg is the sole purpose of the so-called “gunters” (easter-egg hunters) within this world, including some very bad people that work for a very large corporation that will stop at nothing (including cheating, murder and extortion) to find the egg because the person that finds it first inherits the multi-billion dollar empire the the creator of the OASIS left behind. 

Ready Player One is not a fast paced, not as action-filled and not as graphically violent as the other books I’ve mentioned so far. But it’s tremendously fun to read, has enough action in both the real world and in the virtual reality world to keep an action fan interested, and continuously throws out more and more and more references to the decade in which I grew up – the 1980s. This book also manages to challenge some of our own pitfalls in society, including stereotypes and gender inequality, racial issues, and more with a few twists toward the end that made me smile. 

To be honest, the ending is somewhat predictable. In fact, the beginning of the book basically tells you how it ends without actually saying it. But the point of the book is not to keep you in suspense over who find the easter egg. Rather, it draws you in to the mind games of the riddles and clues, the puzzles and perils of searching – the strategies and tactics uses to find the last bits of information, and the relationships formed between the major players that are both searching for the egg on their own and trying to help each other survive.Ready Player One is a tremendously fun page-turner that keeps you coming back for more, reminiscing about your childhood favorite things, wondering how the end will play out even as you already know what the final outcome will be.


Interested In More Book Reviews?

I know this is a technology blog and community… so I’ve largely avoided blogging book reviews and things like that. But I think the technology reader is also going to be a sci-fi and technology fan outside of work. So I’m posting this first list of books that I’ve most recently read as a bit of an experiment and I would like to know if you’re interested in more reviews. I’ve got a lot of other books that I could talk about in the sci-fi realm (and other realms), but I don’t want to take up too much of the good-will and reputation for developer and technology blogging that I’ve built here, if this is something that no one cares about. So drop a comment below and let me know if this is something you’re interested in. 

About Derick Bailey

Derick Bailey is an entrepreneur, problem solver (and creator? :P ), software developer, screecaster, writer, blogger, speaker and technology leader in central Texas (north of Austin). He runs SignalLeaf.com - the amazingly awesome podcast audio hosting service that everyone should be using, and WatchMeCode.net where he throws down the JavaScript gauntlets to get you up to speed. He has been a professional software developer since the late 90's, and has been writing code since the late 80's. Find me on twitter: @derickbailey, @mutedsolutions, @backbonejsclass Find me on the web: SignalLeaf, WatchMeCode, Kendo UI blog, MarionetteJS, My Github profile, On Google+.
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  • scichelli

    Yay, Old Man’s War! The whole series is good, and I particularly liked Zoe’s Tale (but don’t skip to it; it’s better in its place).

    And Ready Player One was really fun and engaging. I expected it to be pandering (“Hey, I referenced this thing you grew up with. Love me!”), and how could a book about a video game possibly be emotionally investing? It was a real page-turner, and had definite heart and depth.

    Based on your excellent taste in the first and third, I guess I’ll go check out the middle one. :)

  • Good idea to mix it up. I like to occasionally read entertainment stuff on tech blogs.

  • Hawk

    Will def check out ‘Old Man’s War’ – sounds like a good storyline!

    Also checkout out the ‘Mistborn’ trilogy by Brandon Sanderson.
    And ‘The Painted Man’ by Peter V Brett.

    Those 2 series you will not be able to put down. Unstoppable reading!!

  • Sadly, the Kindle editions of Daemon, Freedom (TM) and Ready Player One are all more expensive than their paperback editions, a business practice I refuse to support.

    • but that doesn’t discount the entertainment value of the content. just buy the cheaper, paperback versions. :)

      srsly though, i agree in principle. drives me crazy when they set things up that way. but then, i also look at the number of paper books i have, that i have never opened vs the number of ebooks i’ve actually read.

      • I’m sorry… I didn’t understand your last statement. Are you saying that you DO buy/read paperbacks today? Or that you don’t and you have unread ones that are collecting dust while eBooks are being devoured?

        Personally I haven’t bought paperback fiction since the Compaq iPaq and Microsoft Reader. I love having books in my pocket, not losing my place and reading in the dark. If someone handed me a paperback for free I’d probably hand it back knowing that I’ll lose it somewhere.

        • sorry, guess that was unclear. my point was that even if the print book is cheaper, i still buy the ebook. i don’t like carrying print books around, or having to use an external light source when i’m reading in a dark room. the ebooks all fit on my ipad, and i can take them all with me, instead of only having 1 or 2 in print format.

  • @derickbailey:disqus please tell me youve read Snowcrash?! PLEASE! On second thought, dont tell me if you havent. Just lie, and then GO READ IT!

    • yes, and i loved it! i was going to add it to this initial list, but decided 4 books was enough. :)

      • Looking on the title I did expect to see Cryptonomicon… But I guess this will be on the list in the next blog -)

        • i only made it halfway through cryptonomicon. that book is HUGE… i should probably finish it, but i got so lost and confused by the constant jumping between timelines and stories :-/

          • Yes, it was confusing somewhat with story-lines. But once you get a hang of lines, you can’t stop yourself reading. Spent entire holiday on that book, even Mrs got freaked out on me for that -))

  • umbrarchist

    Readers need to determine what kind of sci-fi they like.
    ompare Neuromancer by William Gibbsom to
    Two Faces of Tomorrow by James P. Hogan.

    Both center on computers but very different.

  • seankearon

    Give Damocles by S.G. Redling a try. Thoughtful, brilliantly written, I really enjoyed it.

  • seankearon

    Err, forgot to say I’m adding Old Man’s War to my Kindle later! And, of course, you have surely tried Ian M Banks? If not, start with Player of Games. IMO he’s the best scifi author ever (who sadly, he died this year).

  • Chris Tavares

    A couple books you should definitely add:

    1) The Engines of God, by Jack McDevitt

    2) Code of the Life Maker, James P. Hogan

    I don’t want to say too much and spoil the books for you, but they’re both on the harder side of the sci-fi spectrum and really enjoyable.

  • Keefer

    I’ve read Old Man’s War and Ready Player One and loved them both! Gonna have to give Daemon a try then.

  • Tom Isaacson

    I have to say I’ve read Daemon and I thought it was rubbish. The whole premise seemed daft. I much preferred “Reamde” by Neal Stephenson which covers similar ground.