The Biggies of Science Fiction – You MUST read these…
by Theresa Flynn, September 11, 2012
H.G. Wells is arguably the Great-Grandaddy of Science Fiction. His stories and essays included many fantastical elements at the turn of the century that have become actual technology today. He didn’t just focus on dreaming up fantastical machines. He was an example of the best of Science Fiction, in that the focus was not on the toys, but how the toys change us, as humans. Another earlier author to explore is Jules Verne.
If H.G. Wells is the Great-Grandad, then Isaac Asimov is the Grandfather. Check out his Foundation Series, and his book I, Robot. The Foundation series follows a society through more than 10,000 years, based on the idea that you can’t predict the actions of a few over the course of history, but that you can plot the future by looking at the actions of the masses. The first three are way cool – they degenerate a tad after that cuz Asimov was sick and had co-authors. I, Robot is simply the classic Sci-fi novel. It is a collection of several short stories (the genre in which Sci-fi first flourished) tied loosely together, similar to Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.” The “Three Rules of Robotics”, designed as fiction by Asimov when he first wrote these tales, are now industry standards for robotic technology built by NASA and other large science organizations.
The children of Asimov & Wells (figuratively speaking) are Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury and Robert A. Heinlein. Frank Herbert might additionally be considered a “step-child”. Clarke wrote 2001, A Space Odyssey and Childhood’s End – classic novels that deal with the struggle of maintaining humanity in the face of technology. Bradbury and Heinlein both write about scary societal paths. Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, like Asimov’s books, became not only classic Sci-fi literature, but cautionary tales of an unwanted future. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land set the tone not only for stories about aliens, but opened the door for “adult themes” in Sci-fi. Herbert’s Dune series is, after his death, being carried on by his son. No wonder that this popular series won’t end. Low tech and deeply spiritual, it explores evolution in a way that keeps it firmly rooted in Sci-fi rather than Fantasy, despite the “other worlds” scenario.
Somewhere in the land between hard-core Science Fiction and Fantasy, there lies a middle ground of satire. Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker series), Terry Pratchett (Discworld series), and Piers Anthony (Xanth series) are excellent examples of writers who enjoy poking fun at their own genre. The leader in this group, Kurt Vonnegut, wrote racy, quirky titles that still resonate today. Vonnegut’s huge intellect allowed him to write Sci-fi in many different styles, from the silly to the downright creepy. Check out Slaughterhouse Five and Cat’s Cradle.
Older authors with ongoing appeal, many in a category all by themselves:
Michael Crichton – Known for medical mischief, works range from Jurassic Park to Andromeda Strain.
John Christopher – Might be a little young for an adult reader, but the “Tripod” series was the best thing in this style since Clarke’s Childhood’s End.
George Orwell – Another disturbing futurist. Animal Farm and 1984 are nihilistic enough to keep you up at night. The term “Orwellian future” was coined to describe a bleak outlook.
Ayn Rand – Not a fan of capitalistic society, her novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged are triumphs of individualism.
Individual titles worth checking out:
A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – A Utopian society unmasked.
Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller – A masterpiece of post-apocalyptic Sci-fi, examining, once again, what makes us human.
Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess – Violent, dark, and mind-altering, this ranks as one of the most banned books, or movies, ever made.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip Dick and Roger Zelazny – Zelazny and Dick have churned out a good deal of Sci-fi. This one got made into the movie, “Blade Runner”.
Flatland by Edwin A. Abbot – Imagine a world that is only two-dimensional. If you can’t, read the book. (Technically, non-fiction)
Flatterland by Ian Stewart – Like Flatland, only flatter. (Ditto)
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes – What if we had a drug that could make people smarter? Is intelligence all it is cracked up to be?
Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin – Traditionally a Fantasy writer, LeGuin’s novels, with male protagonists, have an incredible depth to them which appeals to older readers.
Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs – An alternative universe dreamed up by a guy who hung out with Allen Ginsberg, explored alternate lifestyles, and probably took a few “medicinal enhancements”.
The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey – A very “girly” Fantasy author penned this jewel of a novel. It is a sad, simple tale of the loss of self.
Non-fiction worth a read:
Anything by Stephen Hawking
Cosmos, by Carl Sagan (okay, anything by him, too)
Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler
I’m unfortunately out of touch with some of the newer folks and don’t read a lot of the post-apocalyptic stuff, however, “hot” authors & titles include:
Cosm, by Gregory Benford
The Ender Series by Orson Scott Card
There are also a number of publishing groups that put out a “best of” collection each year – these are great places to catch the work of the new folks…
Great-Grandaddy of Fantasy – J.R.R. Tolkien – but then Fantasy is a whole other thing! Check out the next link down on the Parent Info page.