Geek novels

This list of the top twenty geek novels by Jack Schofield in the Guardian (and via some sort of voting) has been going around Debian. Most people have just been saying how many they've read (14 here), but I thought I'd go through the list and see what I thought.

Note: The criteria is specifically top geek novels, something that I won't try to define but that isn't the same thing as the best novels.

1. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams (read). Hm, yeah, I can't really argue with that. There may be funnier books or better books, but in terms of pure meme penetration, The Hitchhiker's Guide is the Monty Python of novels.

2. Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell (not read). Kind of an odd choice for #2, but certainly defensible by being widely read and highly influential. This is one of those books whose thematic material I've absorbed from many references over the years but have only read bits and pieces of. At some point, I need to sit down and read the whole thing.

3. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (not read). Gaping hole in my personal education that I really should remedy one of these days.

4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick (not read). I wonder how many people were actually voting for the book and how many were really voting for Blade Runner, which is certainly a classic geek film.

5. Neuromancer, by William Gibson (read). An obvious choice, even if the computers are so unbelievable as to be laughable. No matter what, cyberpunk is still cyberpunk and has since shaded much of how geeks think about the world.

6. Dune, by Frank Herbert (read). Sure, makes sense; as good of a representative of classic space opera as any other, and there is always "fear is the mind killer, fear is the little death." Widely quotable books among geeks should get bonus points in these competitions.

7. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov (read). Eh. I guess I'll grant this one on the grounds of influence during childhood, even though in retrospect Asimov simply isn't that good of a fiction writer.

8. Foundation, by Isaac Asimov (read). Likewise.

9. The Colour of Magic, by Terry Pratchett (read). Certainly Discworld belongs here, but I wouldn't have picked this particular representative, even if it's the first one. It's one of the weaker ones of the series.

10. Microserfs, by Douglas Coupland (not read). I don't even know what this book is, although I vaguely remember hearing about it. Some sort of fictionalized Silicon Valley retrospective thing?

11. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson (read). I think Cryptonomicon is really Neal's geek novel, but since it's listed too, I won't argue. Neal's whole style fits this sort of list.

12. Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (read). Absolutely. This is the quintessential superhero story with adult depth, and summed up everything that was good and bad about the genre for many of us. One of the best graphic novels ever written.

13. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson (read). Definitely.

14. Consider Phlebas, by Iain M. Banks (read). What a bizarre choice. Sure, it's the first Culture novel (and the Culture belongs on this list, given that it's a UK list), but it's an indifferent if competent space opera. The Player of Games is much more of a geek novel; it's all about wargaming, for heaven's sake.

15. Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert A. Heinlein (read). One can quibble about the best choice of Heinlein, but this will do as well as anything else. And it has grok, which is important. Still, I wonder if a juvenile wouldn't have fit better.

16. The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick (read). Important and influential I'll buy, and vital to the history of SF certainly, but geek novel? I don't get it.

17. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman (read). Er, no. Don't get me wrong; it's a great book. But it's not a geek book particularly. Gaiman's Sandman series would be a much better choice.

18. The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson (read). Lots of Neal, maybe more than warranted, but he is definitely a geek writer. And who can resist the towers of Turing.

19. The Illuminatus! Trilogy, by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson (not read). I've heard of this one but never read it. Still, doesn't seem too far out of line.

20. Trouble with Lichen, by John Wyndham (not read). Oh, yeah, this is a UK list. (Wyndham is virtually unknown in the States, but extremely important in the UK. I've only heard of his The Day of the Triffids.)

What's missing? Well, The Lord of the Rings, obviously, which is a bizarre omission even if it's not a book about technology (neither is American Gods, I'll point out). Possibly 2001 ("what are you doing, Dave?"), but realistically that was the movie, not the book. I'd make a pitch for Vinge's "True Names," but it's a short story and therefore not eligible. Everything else seems at least arguable to me, which means it's not a bad list at all.

Posted: 2005-11-16 22:12 — Why no comments?

I would include Catch-22, and certainly Lord of the Rings. Neverwhere might also be a better Gaiman choice for the overall feel of this list than American Gods.

Posted by jon at 2005-11-17 09:13

I agree with Catch-22. The catch is something that will resonate with geeks.

Microserfs is specifically about people working for Microsoft. The excerpt i read in Wired long ago was very dull. I also hated "Generation X", so i'm guessing that Coupland is not my cup of tea.

As for Pratchett books, "Going Postal" is much much much geekier than TCoM, or any other of his books, really. Highly, highly recommended.

Since 2001 movie and book were created approximately simultaneously, i think it counts.

Something by Niven should be on the list, because it gave us Finagle's Law and a slew of Murphy's Law-related aphorisms, even if they're not properly novels.

Posted by rone at 2005-11-17 14:09

my comments about the list are spread all over LJ, and i don't feel like repeating myself, and can't link to them, so i'll send them to you in IM. yeah, those are some odd choices; i'd argue more with the specifics than with the authors.

bladerunner has very little to do with the novel, but yeah, i wonder the same.

lichen is much less appropriate than day of the triffids. also not as good.

i can send you microserfs. definitely worth reading for the sense of time and place (fictional microsoft employees with their own startup). contrary to rone i really like coupland.

i think 1984 and brave new world are on the list because in europe everyone has had to read them in high school. :)

Posted by piranha at 2005-11-17 17:41

You really should read Brave New World and Illuminatus, I both thought they were excellent. 1984 is something you probably should get around to reading, but I really didn't get a whole lot out of it since I'd already been immersed in references to it. Microserfs? ehn, that's so pre-bubble.

Posted by James Lick at 2005-11-19 07:20

Last spun 2013-10-05 from thread modified 2013-09-22