The best science fiction books from the backlist

Why am I passionate about this?

As someone who published her first book in 1991, I have several decades of reading experience with excellent speculative fiction now considered “backlist.” Yes, the technology can seem dated, but if you’re willing to go with it, you will find these novels by award-winning authors still have characters and situations relevant to us today. And isn’t that what fiction is about? The opportunity to see people just like us through a foreign lens, and know that despite our differences, we hold many things in common.


I wrote...

Mother Grimm

By Catherine Wells,

Book cover of Mother Grimm

What is my book about?

A theme of self-determination runs through many of my works, and Mother Grimm is a prime example. Twila Grimm was raised in a sealed biodome amongst an enclave of plague survivors, unaware of the unique nature that makes her a subject for medical research. When she realizes the ruling oligarchy has used her without her knowledge or consent, she takes control of her own life by escaping to the Outside. There the insidious CM virus still rages, and the remnants of humanity are either caught in tribal warfare or possessed by disease-wrought delusions. Twila must find a way to forge an alliance that will put an end to the oligarchy’s domination inside the biodome.

Mother Grimm was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award in 1997.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Warrior's Apprentice

Catherine Wells Why did I love this book?

This book introduces Miles Vorkosigan, a young man from the planet Barayar, who is afflicted with brittle bones but refuses to let that slow him down—often to his own detriment. Denied the family tradition of military service because he cannot pass the physical, Miles goes on to assemble his own mercenary band, complete with spaceships. The author’s masterful use of language and her outlandish sense of humor had me laughing, quoting lines to my husband, and saying, “Dang, I wish I’d written that!” Miles goes on to further adventures—and misadventures--but this first book is a hook that will reel you in and enchant you.

By Lois McMaster Bujold,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Warrior's Apprentice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BEST-SELLING AUTHOR. NEW EDITION OF THE BOOK THAT STARTED THE VOKOSIGAN SAGA LEGEND. WITH AN ALL-NEW INTRODUCTION BY LOIS MCMASTER BUJOLD!


Book cover of Doomsday Book

Catherine Wells Why did I love this book?

My two favorite genres, speculative fiction and historical fiction, are combined in this time travel story. A mathematical miscalculation traps a time-traveler in 17th-century rural England as the Black Plague sweeps in. Fully vaccinated, she watches in horror as the disease claims rich and poor, young and old—unaware that in her own time, another pandemic is raging, threatening her ability to return. Connie Willis is a Grand Master of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association, and this book demonstrates why she is considered a master of her craft.

By Connie Willis,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Doomsday Book as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A tour de force" - New York Times Book Review

"Ambitious, finely detailed and compulsively readable" - Locus

"It is a book that feels fundamentally true; it is a book to live in" - Washington Post

For Kivrin Engle, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity's history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing a bullet-proof backstory. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received.

But a crisis strangely linking past and…


Book cover of The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

Catherine Wells Why did I love this book?

Robert Heinlein is responsible for my early addiction to science fiction. Of the many books this pillar of the genre wrote, this one is my favorite. A sentient AI is not a new concept, but whoever thought of “bombing” Earth with rocks launched from the moon? In its war for independence, a moon colony resorts to this tactic. And yes, I believe many of us are ignorant enough that we would show up to watch the missiles hit, unaware of the devastation they would cause. Written with warmth and wit, this novel also contains one of my favorite pieces of wisdom regarding committees: more than three people can’t make a decision.

By Robert A. Heinlein,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 2075, the Moon is no longer a penal colony. But it is still a prison...

Life isn't easy for the political dissidents and convicts who live in the scattered colonies that make up lunar civilisation. Everything is regulated strictly, efficiently and cheaply by a central supercomputer, HOLMES IV.

When humble technician Mannie O'Kelly-Davis discovers that HOLMES IV has quietly achieved consciousness (and developed a sense of humour), the choice is clear: either report the problem to the authorities... or become friends.

And perhaps overthrow the government while they're at it.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress has been called…


Book cover of The Guns of the South

Catherine Wells Why did I love this book?

Turtledove is best known for his alternate histories, in which one fateful act changes and all of history is different from that point. But this book, which predates those works, is straight-up science fiction: what would happen if time travelers went back to the Civil War era and gave assault rifles to the South? The ramifications are huge, but what sucks you into this book is the characters, both fictional and historical, whose story enthralls as they deal with a gruesome conflict made bizarre by this technological wrinkle.

By Harry Turtledove,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Guns of the South as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"It is absolutely unique--without question the most fascinating Civil War novel I have ever read."
Professor James M. McPherson
Pultizer Prize-winning BATTLE CRY OF FREEDOM
January 1864--General Robert E. Lee faces defeat. The Army of Northern Virginia is ragged and ill-equpped. Gettysburg has broken the back of the Confederacy and decimated its manpower.
Then, Andries Rhoodie, a strange man with an unplaceable accent, approaches Lee with an extraordinary offer. Rhoodie demonstrates an amazing rifle: Its rate of fire is incredible, its lethal efficiency breathtaking--and Rhoodie guarantees unlimited quantitites to the Confederates.
The name of the weapon is the AK-47....
Selected…


Book cover of On Basilisk Station

Catherine Wells Why did I love this book?

I am frequently unimpressed by the way male authors write female protagonists, but David Weber is an exception. His Honor Harrington character feels completely authentic to me in this first book of a military space opera series. Having run afoul of a superior officer, Honor is relegated to a backwater outpost with an aging gunship and a cantankerous crew. That would be bad enough if the place was quiet, but this star system is rife with smugglers and merchant cartels, and interstellar politics threaten to trap her between the ruling body and an adversarial power.

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Call Me Stan: A Tragedy in Three Millennia

By K.R. Wilson,

Book cover of Call Me Stan: A Tragedy in Three Millennia

K.R. Wilson Author Of Call Me Stan: A Tragedy in Three Millennia

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Novelist Reader History enthusiast Occasional composer Sometime chorister

K.R.'s 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

When King Priam's pregnant daughter was fleeing the sack of Troy, Stan was there. When Jesus of Nazareth was beaten and crucified, Stan was there - one crossover. He’s been a Hittite warrior, a Silk Road mercenary, a reluctant rebel in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, and an information peddler in the cabarets of post-war Berlin. Stan doesn't die, and he doesn't know why. And now he's being investigated for a horrific crime.

As Stan tells his story, from his origins as an Anatolian sheep farmer to his custody in a Toronto police interview room, he brings a wry, anachronistic…

Call Me Stan: A Tragedy in Three Millennia

By K.R. Wilson,

What is this book about?

Long-listed for the 2022 Leacock Medal for Humour

When King Priam's pregnant daughter was fleeing the sack of Troy, Stan was there. When Jesus of Nazareth was beaten and crucified, Stan was there - one cross over. Stan has been a Hittite warrior, a Roman legionnaire, a mercenary for the caravans of the Silk Road and a Great War German grunt. He’s been a toymaker in a time of plague, a reluctant rebel in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, and an information peddler in the cabarets of post-war Berlin. Stan doesn't die, and he doesn't know why. And now he's…


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