The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
The most powerful supercomputer in existence becomes sentient and helps a colony on the moon wage war for independence against a collectivist, shitty Planet Earth. Every lady in this book has a pistol in her pocketbook, and uses it. These are anarchists in space with no tolerance for bullshit and you will love them, from their story’s strange beginning to its exhilarating conclusion.
When nerds front about science fiction they always want to be up Asimov’s butt, which is of course because all of their older nerd friends are up Asimov’s butt, because all of their older nerd friends are up Asimov’s butt. It’s just a giant, nerdy circle jerk, and you don’t have to participate in that kind of nonsense to be loved. Okay? Let’s talk about Robert Heinlein, a gnarly old hippy libertarian whose basic conception of space runs roughly like: highly-sexed, highly-intelligent naked people explore the bounds of space and the human condition. Starship Troopers is the one you’ve heard of, but it’s just whatever. Stranger in a Strange Land is the one he’s remembered for, but it’s a pretty advanced bit of weirdness that I don’t recommend for beginners. Mistress is my girl, and I think you’ll dig her.
The Diamond Age
Let’s be real about Neal Stephenson: brother does NOT know how to end a book. That having been said… nanotechnology. Revolutions in politics, culture, technology. A precocious little badass heroine from a future ghetto winds up with the most powerful tool that education has ever known, the Lady’s Illustrated Primer, a totally-adaptive artificially-intelligent teacher that looks like a book and guides her to the realization of her engineering genius, and with this genius she leads a revolution. I mean, all of the pieces are in play, here. A sort of extremely loose follow-up to Snow Crash (which is also incredible, and which you should also read), the book is standalone, and was the first piece of Stephenson’s work I ever experimented with. Now I’m full-on gay for the man and can firmly attest to this original work’s strength. Get involved in this.
Brave New World
Probably Aldous Huxley’s most famous work, Brave New World explores a future where everyone is beautiful and happy and constantly having sex. Love that! But wait… while not the overt dystopia of Orwell’s 1984, there is something rotten on Planet Earth. For this is the far, far ‘realer’ dystopia of spring break, Keeping up with the Kardashians, and Andy Cohen’s satanic Bravo! Network. Amidst a world of Soma, the perfect, consequence-free drug, touchy-feelies, and orgy-porgies, a boy is inadvertently raised cut-off from society and grown alone on a diet of Shakespeare into a rugged, smart, hot young man who challenges all our notions concerning the goals of humanity, which is to say comfort and delight above all things, realized to its chilling end.
I rewrote the ending for my high school AP English class and I do think it’s better. Get @ me if curious re: how much smarter I am than Huxley. xoxo
At age 15, Kurt Vonnegut was my main bitch. After I read Slaughterhouse-Five, I became obsessed with the man, and I moved on to read nearly everything of his that I could get my hands on. Cat’s Cradle was good. Sirens of Titan was decent. But then there was Timequake, Galapagos, Bluebeard, Jailbird, Hocus Pocus. I even read old transcripts from radio shows Vonnegut had participated in, and nothing lived up to brilliance of Slaughterhouse-Five. Just when I’d almost given up on the writer who’d so moved me throughout my adolescence, just when I thought that he could actually not write a book that wasn’t, at its core, the exact same book he just wrote, I found Mother Knight, and it was a revelation. It follows a Nazi propagandist in World War II who is actually a spy, working on behalf of the Allies. But the question Vonnegut poses is, does it matter where his sentiments truly lie? Is the loss of countless lives traced to the man’s words in some way nullified because he didn’t mean them?
We are what we pretend to be, kids. Be careful what you instagram.
Speaker for the Dead
This is the lesser-known younger brother of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. He is way more spiritual, way less action-oriented, and weirdly into bugs, basically. Sequel to the wildly-famous Ender, Speaker follows the protagonist after his genocide of the alien bug race. He journeys across the galaxy with a could be-new-queen-of-the-alien-bug-race egg and tries to make right the atrocity he committed by bringing the species back to life. I get it, this sounds ridiculous, but it’s a moving work. Morally challenging, emotionally nuanced, and just plain fascinating, this is defo one for the shelf.
Where is Everybody
Ever heard of the Fermi Paradox? In a nutshell, “assuming the evolution of intelligent alien life is possible, and then assuming that at least some of it is far, far older than us, where are the intelligent aliens?” I wrote about it, and many other fun paradoxes, here. Where is Everybody explains 50 of the most popular attempts at answering the question of where the aliens are. The author inspires only medium-level confidence, and he reaaalllly thinks he’s smart, which is grating as hell, but the material is wild enough that it really doesn’t matter. Put this record on and be here with me.
The God of the Machine
Isabel Paterson, one of the most important Individualist writers in American history, and arguably the mother of libertarianism, is all but forgotten today. No other book better introduces the concepts of limited government, economic and social freedom, and individual liberty. Boss haaaaattted Communism (the cool thing to like in 1943), and so all of her contemporaries pretty much black-listed her. But now, other than like Gawker writers who openly hate the human race and cheer along its slow destruction, basically everyone agrees that Communist Russia, China, Cuba, North Korea, etc. are brutal nightmare hell states, so we can forgive Patterson her uncoolness, I think, and ask ourselves a question: what powers the world?
Spoiler alert: the answer is you, babe.
The Romantic Manifesto
Are you that brat in the museum who’s just like “Bro, that is splattered paint on a fucking wall are you KIDDING ME with this nonsense?” Cool! I once accidentally saw Marina Abramović’s exhibit at the MoMA and can say, with enthusiasm, I FEEL YOU, SON. At its core, the philosophy of The Romantic Manifesto asserts that all art produced is inherently moral, even if only by mistake, and that the purpose of art should be the elevation and idealization of the human spirit. So like, in with Michelangelo’s David, and gtf out of my face with Duchamp’s Fountain. It’s not for everyone, but then neither am I, and this is my goddamn list of books that will melt your face off (and maybe save the world).
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Were you to follow the philosophical arc of the works here listed, you might wind naturally from independence and unlimited knowledge, from efforts toward authenticity (maybe, I don’t know) and empathy (I think, right?), from abstract awareness, sensitivity to the root of potential, and a natural drive toward human elevation to, I really believe, a race of men building machines that help mankind create a better life for everyone.
Or: you guys, these books could maybe save the world.
But this is largely the stuff of the physical, and so we now come to the spiritual. Robert Pirsig narrates a motorcycle journey he took with his young son, and reflects back on his own, previous self, a genius destroyed by a nervous breakdown, while he works through a definition of the word “quality” and ultimately guides his reader to a sense of deep, beautiful, spiritual calm. Touching, funny, thought-provoking, it’s a rare work that brings me to pause while reading, and just to think about it for a while. This is that work.
A truly illuminating brilliance, I cannot recommend this book more highly. Check it out. Look at the world sideways for a little while. I think you’ll be surprised by what you find.