Power-Reading: Essential Works For Any SF Fan To Watch Out For!

Starting The New Year With Old Science Fiction Classics!


“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them” – Ray Bradbury.  

In order to improve your science fiction writing, various how-to books and articles recommend that you do a stint of power-reading: study how some of the master wordsmiths of the SF genre crafted their classics. Having struggled through NaNoWriMo this year, producing far too many drab and uninspiring drafts, some encouragement of some kind was called for.

So, just what is “power-reading”? 

It’s enhanced, focused, critical reading – in this case, of science fiction in the hope of learning how certain authors attained popular – or cult – success with their individual otherworldly visions.

Winter always seemed like my designated period for reading novels; too cold to go out, so would make a tea/hot chocolate; grab some cake/biscuits, snuggle under a duvet and immerse myself somewhere across the galaxy, on an alien world preferably hot and bug-free.

 With the recent revival of my interest in SF, that tradition has made a glorious return. To invigorate my writing, a quite considerable armada of classics was selected to help inspire me to achieve greater literary heights. 

Hopefully, the more we read, so they say, the more we will want to write. 


“But the peak came with… the first installment of Galactic Patrol by E.E. Smith. If I had to pick the moment in my life when my reading experience hit its peak… that was the moment” – Isaac Asimov. 

Well, What Is It?

While researching other Posts, the name: E. E. ‘Doc” Smith would usually prop up, usually listed as a defining influence on later SF authors. It got to the point where research had to turn in his favour – and it was startling what a distinctly awesome contribution this writer offered to the genre.

In order to understand the rudiments of the “space opera,” his Lensman Series stands out. It doesn’t get more pulpy than this; published during the 1930s, although not scaling the same legendary heights as Flash Gordon et al, they nevertheless defined the template for the archetypal space opera, and inspired later works, including a certain space saga currently breaking all box office records yet again…  


Well, Did U Get It?

For the time being, my pulp-hunger has had to make do with Skylark of Valeron, the third part of Skylark: another SF series produced by Smith around the same time. Quite simply, it is: “essential reading for all who appreciate science fiction in the grand manner.” 

And the cover art was provided by the always-reliable Chris Foss, which helped ensure its purchase. 

Speaking of Asimov… 


“One of the most staggering achievements in modern SF” – The Times. 

Well, What Is It?

As Doc Smith’s Lensman Series provided one of the main inspirations for Isaac Asimov, this brings us neatly to his classic Foundation series, begun in 1951. Often cited as the most revered SF saga ever published, it is certainly essential reading for anyone who wants to study sci-fi as it should be written. 

As the Galactic Empire crumbles, Hari Seldon and his band of psychohistorians must: “create the Foundation – dedicated to art, science and technology – the nucleus of a new empire.” 

Well, Did U Get It?

My most fortunate acquisitions.

As early as last April, a copy of Foundation’s Edge came into my possession, while the acquisition of Foundation and Empire was made in the following month.

A few weeks ago, however, the original Foundation was found, and now rests on top of the pile, awaiting my eager inspection. 



“I have learned more than I can say as a writer from his wise, twisty stories…” – Neil Gaiman. 

Well, What Is It?

The Shadow Of The Torturer (1980) by Gene Wolfe is a science-fantasy novel that has become an obsession of mine ever since first casting startled eyes at its truly mesmerising cover by Bruce Pennington.

This first volume in the tetralogy that has become known as The Book Of The New Sun, is set in a distant future, but looks very medieval in its striking imagery; its protag: Severian – an apprentice in the Guild of Torturers – is banished from the city, and – among other incidents – acquires an awesome sword called Terminus Est, and is dispatched to Thrax: the city of windowless rooms. 

Rightfully regarded as “one of the greatest SF writers of all time,” there is much to to be learned from studying the writing style of Gene Wolfe.

Well, Did U Get It?


Surprisingly, despite his reputation as “one of SF’s greats,” Shadow was the most elusive of all the titles mentioned in this Post. None of the secondhand stores, nor any libraries, have it.

Instead, the nearest compensation to be found came this week in the form of: Shadows of The New Sun: Stories In Honor Of Gene Wolfe (2013), which includes pieces by a formidable assortment of acclaimed authors, such as: Neil Gaiman, Timothy Zahn and David Brin… including a couple of exclusive short stories by Wolfe himself. 

“Hours of reading pleasure” are, apparently, assured. Looking forward to it…

high-crusade-50th analog_6007

“The High Crusade was a lively, sharp-witted reversal of science fiction stereotypes, as well as a magnificent adventure… His full-bore mastery of science fiction elements meshes perfectly with the historical details” – Greg Bear. 

Well, What Is It?

Intent on producing my own SF opus about aliens on Earth – in Medieval England, rather than the boring and overused present-day Manhattan – which you are most welcome to peruse here, one of my first areas of preparation involved checking who had used this theme in their work.

A quick search turned up The High Crusade, one of Poul Anderson’s most beloved works. It speculates what would happen if an alien spaceship landed in 14th century England…

Well, Did U Get It?


Another surprise. Half-expecting to not find any of his works – his name doesn’t appear to have passed into the lexicon of SF greats – even tracking down just a yellowed, tattered version of this anywhere seemed remote.

However, in 2010, its 50th Anniversary was honoured with a deluxe reprint featuring a set of congratulatory introductions from such esteemed admirers as Greg Bear and Robert Silverberg, so have acquired a copy from the local library. 

Made a start, and already it’s turning out to be fantastic stuff. “huge cylinder, easily two thousand feet long; save for the whistle of wind, it moved noiseless” lands. It dispenses demons: “from the lowest pits of hell, about five feet tall, clad in a tunic of silvery sheen, deep blue skin, [with] a short thick tail.” Naturally, Sir Roger de Tourneville and his merrie marauders slaughter the whole extraterrestrial crew. 

“Not knowing Englishmen, they had not expected trouble.” 


“Dune seems to me unique among SF novels in the depth of its characterisation and the extraordinary detail of the world it creates. I know nothing comparable to it except The Lord Of The Rings” – Arthur C. Clarke. 

You may remember in this Post, how Frank Herbert’s Dune: “huge in scope, towering in concept,” was beckoning me to be read. Well, it took until Christmas Eve to finally find a copy – this version (see above) is the same New English Library (Gollancz) design as Children Of Dune (Part 3 of the trilogy) which has been gathering dust on my shelves for countless aeons.

Of course, the original Dune – because it is “the most widely acclaimed SF novel of the 20th century” – had to be started first thing on getting home (the wrapping of far lesser fare could wait).



Before putting the final touches to this Post, earlier today the second part of the trilogy: Dune Messiah was found!

Have always been impressed with Messiah’s cover art (again produced by Bruce Pennington – methinks a special profile article on this fabulous artist is in order?)and it’s fantastic to welcome this sequel – at last – onto my shelves. To have probably the greatest SF trilogy ever purchased now stacked on the desk beside me invokes a satisfying – yet rare – sense of accomplishment.

Having accumulated all these books, it’s time to log off, disappear into the duvet and escape into those alien worlds!


“Hopefully, other historians will learn something from this revelation” – Bronso of Ix.