It’s pretty easy to think you know science fiction. And maybe you do! Or maybe you just know enough to smile and nod politely in conversation. It’s okay, no need to feel ashamed. Beside, sometimes smiling and nodding is preferable, especially if you can also moonwalk away at first chance.
But let’s say you’re done with that shtick and now you want to really give sci-fi literature a go. “Simple enough,” you say as you open up Amazon or walk into a bookstore. Then, confronted with pages upon pages of books with reviews you’re not entirely sure are legitimate, you swan dive into Google, hoping for a little bit of clarity. Except Google is a fine and fickle mistress, and you probably end up waking up the next morning a crying wreck while she smokes a cigarette outside. It’s not your fault though; falling for her charms happens to us all, especially when you’re awake at 3am trying desperately to write a paper you had all semester to do.
Before you go getting desperate though, hear me out! A quick and dirty primer to science fiction literature can be found just ahead to get you started. This is in no way meant to be a definitive list, just a starting point so you can get over Google for good. (We all know that second part is a lie though.)
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
Wells is considered one of the granddads of science fiction, though he certainly isn’t the only one. Also, he was a diabetic, proving that diabetics are always awesome. Anyway, The Time Machine is a venerated classic and a very good place to start. Wells very deftly handles the concept of time travel, proving that humanity will always be inclined to find answers and possibly screw up time-space continuums. More importantly, the story is a very early showcase of the possibilities of science fiction not only melding the human imagination, but also the power it has to make very compelling social commentary. See, we get read about how to mess with time and get undertones about the dangers of society segregated by class! It all evens out.
1984 by George Orwell
Strangely, most people have read Animal Farm, be it the book or the Sparknotes summary, but not 1984. If it’s because you’ve heard them to be similar stories, I suggest chucking that notion out a window right about now. They do have comparable themes, but 1984, as well as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, are the precursors of social science fiction. Remember the whole social commentary thing you read earlier? It’s okay, neither do I. But the point is that it’s easy to think of sci-fi as SPACE and SPACE GUNS and ALIENS AND SPACE. While all of these do make up the fabric of the genre, social science fiction aims to make commentary mostly about society and humanity. 1984, then, is the definitive model of a classic dystopia. Maybe not an altogether happy read, 1984 still remains as powerful now as it did when it was released in 1949.
A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
It would be so easy be to pick Dick’s much more prominent Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep or We Can Remember It for You Wholesale. Except that it’s very likely you’ve never heard either of them. But you have seen the movies based off them, Blade Runner and Total Recall! Dick is one author whose stories have been gutted by Hollywood for all their worth, but isn’t alive to reap those rewards. A Scanner Darkly, though, is one heck of a mind bending ride. What if your own worst enemy was yourself, but you had no idea because your mind is splitting into two? Sure, sounds a lot like that time you woke up in a back alley when you were pretty sure that you were in a bar at least six hours earlier, but that’s just a product of your own bad decisions with booze. A Scanner Darkly, however, is the product of one of the greatest minds science fiction has ever garnered.
Blindness by José Saramago
Now, this gem belongs to the current modern wave of science fiction. Though a bit of the original sentiment gets lost in translation due to the fact that it was originally written in Portuguese, Blindness showcases the current trends sci-fi writers lend themselves to. A lot of creative risks are taking in writing the narrative, and you’re not always sure what’s going on. But that is the beauty of this story, as you’re lead on a journey with a population that suddenly goes blind without warning. What would you do if everyone woke up blind suddenly? Everyone would go insane, of course. I don’t even know why that’s a question. The cleverness of the narration high fives the raw and very human characters with whom we tag along with, essentially reminding us how fragile society actually is.
Got all that? Good! Now get reading so those smiles and nods can turn into laying down the science fiction law.