In an online forum, someone asked which types of science fiction books “hook” me.
I’ve always been fascinated by stories that allude to long-dead civilizations with superior technology. I think it’s fair to say that I’m hooked by them, and with a clear conscience, I’d list most of them as some of The Best Science Fiction Books.
Almost immediately, Lord of a Thousand Suns came to mind as an example. Poul Anderson wrote it in 1951, and it’s one of my all-time favorites. Anderson is in the pantheon of Sci-Fi writers, and I especially loved his early stuff.
Lord of a Thousand Suns is narrated by a soldier who fought in an interstellar war between Earth and Janya, one of its successful colonies. The Janyards occupied the Sagittarius constellation, and by carving out their settlements under those pitiless alien suns, they lost some of their humanity. For the sake of mankind, their defeat in the war with the home world was imperative. Be that as it may, Earth teetered on the brink of surrender until the momentum dramatically and unexpectedly turned.
Just prior to the war, humanity as a whole discovered a planet that they dubbed New Egypt, because it had architectural relics reminiscent of the Nile Valley kingdom. But that’s where the similarity ended.
New Egypt had been known as Vwyrdda many millennia ago, and it had a humanoid population. They were like gods! Their empire controlled a good chunk of the galaxy with superscience. Whole star systems shuddered at their wrath, because their suns could be blotted out if they displeased the mighty Vwyrddans.
Our soldier/narrator, on the side of a nearly-defeated Earth, snuck onto Vwyrdda behind enemy lines, to try to find something to turn the tide of the war. He was discovered and chased into the bowels of one of their labs.
With his apprehension imminent, he took a desperate gamble.
Donning a helmet and pulling a switch per the illustrative icons on a panel, he’d hoped to learn some game-changing military secret. Instead, he lost consciousness.
I won’t spoil the ending; but to answer the original query, these types of sci-fi tales featuring an ancient technologically superior civilization will definitely hook me in. I’ve read a lot of them. So as I drafted up this answer, I wondered if their influence creeps into my own creative writing. After some rumination I’m forced to admit that hell yes, they have!
Not even aware of that during the writing, I dreamt up my own prehistoric star empire. Vertropicus came about as a population of human time-travelers settled in the Cretaceous, continued to progress, and expanded into the galaxy. And like Vwyrdda, their reign lasted millions of years.
Vertropicus serves as a backdrop for a sci-fi series set in the present, featuring the recurring character Cord Devlin. It’s been great fun hinting at this long-dead empire, à la Lord of a Thousand Suns — one of The Best Science Fiction Books.
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