Sci-Fi That Stands the Test of Time

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If I asked you to name ten essential science fiction books, could you? I’m talking about the ten books you’d say a friend HAS to read to know what science fiction’s all about. OK, what about five? Now, what if I told you to subtract any books from that list in which a dragon, Gollum, or a direwolf appears—how many would you have left then? Three? Two? Any?

That’s not to say that dragons absolutely disqualify a book from the science fiction category (Jeffrey Carver’s Star Rigger series comes to mind), but c’mon people, it’s called Fantasy. And by Fantasy, I’m not talking about the odds that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt will appear in the next season of Game of Thrones.

No, I’m talking about Science Fiction. Sci-Fi. The outer space, alien, robot, futuristic, dystopian, post-apocalyptic stuff. The stuff of Asimov, Herbert, Heinlein, and Dick. THIS is Science Fiction. And if you’re a fan, then you probably have your list all set and ready to go.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray BradburyFor me, the quintessential work of science fiction will always be Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles (many others would say Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is the rightful owner of this prize). I first read it in high school and I remember Ms. Cohen, my 9th grade English teacher, talking to us about how carefully Bradbury’s sentences were crafted. Of course, it didn’t take any instruction at all to be mesmerized by the strange and wonderful world he’d created on the Red Planet. Not sure if I’ve read any science fiction quite as affecting since.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. DickLater, after becoming a huge fan of the film Blade Runner, I picked up the Philip K. Dick novel it’s based on, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Dick’s novel is distinctly more somber than the film, but I think even more effective in laying out its central premise. I heartily recommend this book to fans of the film and to fans of Science Fiction for its ideas and imagery; I would certainly add this to my list of essential Sci-Fi.

Many other classics come to mind—certainly Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, Frank Herbert’s Dune, and Douglas Adams’ hilarious The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy—all very worthy of consideration on the essential list. I’d add Orwell’s harrowing 1984 and Alan Moore and David Gibbons’ epic Watchmen graphic novel, too. There’s just something very compelling about these visions of our future—with our without superheroes—that get us to think in all new ways. In fact, that’s really what I love most about the whole genre of Science Fiction: the author’s sheer creative power that gets us to reimagine what it means to be human and our potential future.

So, what about you! What books would you put on your list of essential Sci-Fi? Any without dragons? 😉 Author Orson Scott Card (whose Sci-Fi classic Ender’s Game was adapted and just this month released as a feature film) once famously said: “The difference between science fiction and fantasy… is simply this: science fiction has rivets and fantasy has trees.” What do you think; is that a fair assessment? Let us know by posting a comment below!

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