Shield is an old novel by Paul Anderson. It is not one of his best known works but it stuck with me anyway. It was written in the early sixties so a lot of the tech is dated (no internet for example) but it is still good.
Personally I find it interesting to read books written that long ago by masters of science fiction. All science fiction will be dated at some point after all, even mine will be some day. A book should be good even after this happens.
The book is about a naive astronaut that returns from mars. His was far from the first expedition, but it was the first that had the goal of pooling scientific and engineering knowledge. While the Martians were not much more advanced then us, they did go along paths we did not. Because of this the main character was able to create what he called a Shield. It was a device that projected a pill shaped bubble around the user that would stop everything but visible light (by design for obvious reasons) and relativistic particles (which it did not have the power to stop, but a larger unit could).
The main character thought that upon return to earth he would become a minor celebrity and the plans for the shield would be made public, as it said in the mission statement for his trip. Instead agents were sent to take the shield and to kill him. He ended up running because everyone, from the the US government to other governments and even crime bosses wanted the Shield.
The book has an interesting political landscape that plays into the book, but the really interesting thing to me is the idea of what would happen when a truly transformative technology is introduced.
The prototype shield is pill shaped with the user in a harness in the middle. This means that there are a lot of limitations in it’s use. However there was no reason it could not be shrunk down to the size of a pager, and made to cover your skin. Or made larger to cover cities and shield from even a nuke strike.
Stories like this are why I love science fiction.
The Lensmen series is arguably the first real space opera series. If you are a science fiction fan you owe it to yourself to read it, for historical reasons if nothing else. Not that you should only read it for that, the series is a classic for a reason. While I could not fully describe it here I will list out what is more unique about it, and what sticks in my mind.
One thing that was a driving force of the series was the development of technology, specifically weapons and other systems on ships. One thing Smith understood very well is that the biggest secret of any new technology is that it is possible. Once your enemy knows that something is possible, they WILL find out how to duplicate it, it’s just a matter of time and effort.
The technology and tactics also evolved, new weapons forced new tactics, and new tactics forced new weapons. Very few books show this, even though it would be pivotal in any large scale conflict.
Second the scale of the series was very well done. By scale I mean that civilization (good guys) covered most of the galaxy, but it was not as simple as us having 2/3 of the galaxy settled and that part being safe and known. It was more like we have small number of stars settled and most of the rest mapped. But this is spread through the whole galaxy, so there are planets in the middle of civilization that are unknown, maybe even whole empires that have yet to run into us.
Icerigger is written by Foster and is set in his Humanx universe.
In it the (human) characters crash on a planet. The planet is covered in ice, with islands popping up from the once ocean. While there is a human base on the planet, they crashed on the wrong side of the planet and they are way to far to radio them. They end up having to work with some of the natives, first to survive, then to make their way to the human base.
I love this book and its two sequels for several reasons, first it does a good job of letting the world and it’s people unfold. Learning about them is a shear pleasure. The second thing is the interaction between the humans and the natives. The humans end up using their superior science to help the natives, how they were able to do so makes a lot of sense, and is not as easy as many authors would make it.
While not hard science fiction by any means it is also not as soft as is all to common in many books with FTL.
The way of the Pilgrim by Dickson is one of the few really good alien invasion stories I have read. It takes place years after the invasion is over. We were against an alien force VERY far beyond us, we were not able to put up any real fight (Think Aztecs verses the US marines of today).
There are two things that really make it stand out, the first the aliens are not just a little ahead of us. They are so far ahead of us that it could very well be possible for one of them with their weapons and gear to defeat the entire military might of the Earth by themselves with little effort.
This is a much more likely scenario then aliens attacking who are far enough ahead to come here, but not so far as to be unable to easily beat us. Think about what a modern air craft carrier could have done during world war two, and that was less then a century ago.
The other thing is that it builds up what would happen to us socially and psychologically during that situation. This is one of the reasons the book is as long as it is, and I feel the page space was well spent. The fact that we do not get a victory through military might or technology makes the ending that much better.