Beyond Clunky Time Machines, Gleaming Spaceships, Gimmicky Rayguns, and Slimy Aliens: A List of Recommended Science Fiction Novels

Science fiction has kind of matured alongside technology which is one the themes that the genre is about. There is a plethora of science fiction that can be found in cinema, video games, graphic novels, and books. From the 1970’s and onward science fiction has continued to evolve and become more complex, however the perception of it has stagnated and isn’t very positive. While there are certainly examples of complex science fiction to found in films and television such as District Nine, Moon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Battlestar Galactica, much of it to be found in the movie theaters or on television is escapist entertainment. There is nothing wrong with escapist entertainment if that is what one is looking for, but this kind of science fiction gives the general public the impression that science fiction is for adolescents alone.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Science fiction is much more than clunky time machines, gleaming spaceships, gimmicky rayguns, and slimy aliens. It is the fiction of ideas.

A number of years ago I remember reading an article where a survey had been done asking people what they liked to read. It ranked various types of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Much to my dismay, poetry was last on the list below books about fishing. Science fiction ranked in the bottom third of types of reading material that people enjoyed, well below other types of genre fiction such as mysteries, romance, horror, and action thrillers. The magazine did a follow up article on this and asked several authors and editors to identify science fiction novels that they thought were of merit. The follow-up article suggested that science fiction suffers from a bad reputation.

In my opinion science fiction does suffer from a bad reputation. The kind of reputation that causes avid readers of other types of books to avoid that aisle in the book store. This reputation kind of stems from two very opposing view points. On one head science fiction is uniformly considered to be poorly written– as in it is the genre about clunky time machines, gleaming spaceships, gimmicky rayguns, and slimy aliens. So to be caught with a science fiction novel in one’s hand means that the reader does not go in for challenging reads. On the other hand, science fiction is associated with geeks and nerds. Visions of socially inept Trekkies who cannot get a girlfriend come to mind. There is enough anti-intellectual discrimination floating in the consciousness of the general public that most people would not want to be caught dead with a science fiction novel in their hands lest they get confused with a theoretical physicist, find themselves dumped at Comicon without a costume, and have to fend for themselves.

But here’s the thing, people who don’t try science fiction are missing out on some of the best reading material available. This isn’t to say that the science fiction aisle in the book store isn’t laden with Star Wars wannabe space operas and the like, but really any genre has its share of badly written fiction. The point is do not dismiss all of science fiction because of the stuff that is not so hot. There’s alot of really disgusting chocolate in the world, just take a sample next Eastertime. Waxy, overly sweet, nasty stuff that does not honor the cocoa bean it came from. Does this mean that all chocolate is bad? No. It just means that you have to know what to look for to really enjoy it.

Here is a list of 20 Science Fiction Novels to look for in the enigmatic Science Fiction Aisle at the bookstore:

1. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

2. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin

3. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

4. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

5. 1984 by George Orwell

6. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

7. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

8. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

9. Neuromancer by William Gibson

10. Hyperion by Dan Simmons

11. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller

12. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

13. Dune by Frank Herbert

14. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

15. Foundation by Isaac Asimov

16. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein

17. Slaughter House Five by Kurt Vonnegut

18. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

19. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

20. Contact by Carl Sagan

This list is by no means exhaustive (and if you are someone who reads science fiction by all means leave more suggestions of really good science fiction novels in the comments), but if you are someone who considers themselves intelligent, adventuresome, and a trendsetter do yourself a favor and read some of these novels. The effort will be worth it.