Some authors though may use more nebulous science in their stories and some cases, science fiction has been able to predict future advancements and technologies. The works of HG Wells and Jules Verne spoke about then-unfounded scientific principles so believably that they inspired future creators and inventors.
The origins of science fiction are always up for debate among critics and scholars, but most agree that science fiction as we currently know it was defined by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Frankenstein has continuously mesmerized horrified and thrilled readers since its publication because of its uniqueness and powerful narrative. Shelley’s novel was one of the 1st to explore the relationship between scientific advancement and mankind.
In short, science fiction either uses a scientific framework to offer up social commentary like Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness or explores mankind’s relationship with scientific advancements and technology such as Isaac Asimov’s I Robot.
Usually, works of science fiction explore alternate universes where technology has an impact causing either post-apocalyptic landscapes, utopias are dystopias such as in The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Others talk about social commentary and explore the consequences of humankind encountering new civilizations on new worlds such as Robert Wise’s 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still.
For someone who is not familiar with the genre of science-fiction it can appear intimidating, but not all books are complex and you don’t need to have any significant knowledge of science to read them. You do not need to be a rocket scientist to understand how the USS Enterprise or the Tardis work, so long as you have a willingness and an imagination to explore new concepts and ideas, then you too can enjoy the captivating world of sci-fi. If you’re new to the genre and are wondering about which books to get into you, here are a few classics that you can start with.
1. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
This might be one of the funniest science fiction books ever, in which Douglas Adams writes in his inimitable style about Arthur Dent, the last surviving human in the universe, chronicling his pan-galactic journey. Just as the Earth is about to get demolished, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, who had been posing as an out-of-work actor. Together the dynamic pair begin a journey through space accompanied by fellow travelers, a motley cast of aliens including Zaphod Beeblebrox, Marvin the depressed android, and President of the Galaxy.
2. The Foundation series by Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov was a prolific writer and many of his best works his classic short stories such as nightfall where it plays out like a long joke with a punch line twist at the end. In the foundation series, however, he is in another mood I need charts the rise and fall of empires in sweeping brushstrokes. Asimov’s prose betrays the attitudes of its time towards female characters, and his prose can be stilted, but he has left a lasting legacy.
Foundation follows Hari Seldon who is the architect of psychohistory – a branch of mathematics that can make accurate predictions thousands of years into the future, something which Seldon believes is necessary to save humanity from the dark ages. He predicts the fall of humanity’s Galactic Empire, something which the Empire doesn’t take well, and so he sets up the foundation in the remotest corner of the galaxy. What follows is an epic balancing act to ensure that civilization doesn’t descend and fall apart into barbarianism.
3. Dune by Frank Herbert
Dune is considered by many to be the best science fiction novel of all time and is the best-selling sci-fi novel of all time. This space opera is set 20,000 years in the future in galaxies that are stuck in the feudal ages when noble families rule hold planets and computers are banned for religious reasons.
The desert planet of Arrakis, also known as Dune, forms the backdrop of this story and has an abundance of one resource “spice” which is essential for interstellar travel. For this resource wars between noble families rage on and the protagonist, Paul Atreides, lands there and find his life in imminent danger. If you are interested in more space opera books such as this one, check out this list from Cool Things Chicago.
4. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
Le Guin alternated between genres during her remarkable career, and this fascinating novel came out the year after the classic fantasy book A Wizard of Earthsea. Most of the action takes place in Winter, a remote Earth-like planet where it is cold throughout the year and everyone is of the same gender. It was one of the first books to touch on the subject of androgyny, which is viewed from the perspective of protagonist Genly Ai, a visitor from earth who struggles to understand this alien race.
5. Neuromancer by William Gibson
Neuromancer, the definitive cyberpunk novel, follows hacker-turned-junkie Henry Case as he tries to pull off one last, rather dubious sounding job to remove a toxin that prevents him from accessing cyberspace. The story takes place in a dystopian Japanese underworld and touches on all manner of futuristic technology, featuring a cast of creative characters that will stick with you for a while.
Science fiction is full of exotic worlds, thought-provoking civilizations, interesting species and wild technology that opens our minds to ways of thinking we never knew were possible. Science fiction books are all about escapism and the best sci-fi transports the readers to unimagined places and imagines new technology and science that inspires what is to come in the real world sometimes. It makes you feel like a part of that universe and is why people love this genre and read its books so fervently.