Recently, YouTuber Daniel Greene posted a video of his Top 5 Quintessential Science Fiction books. It’s a great list if you want to get started in classic science fiction, but it skews to the old and male end of the spectrum. Now, I like Daniel’s videos. He seems like a great guy. Buuuut….
I think he could have done a better job of including newer books, as well as including authors who weren’t white men.
(And yes, I know he’s recommending classic science fiction, but he is a self-admitted classic SF snob, and hey, any opportunity for a recommendation list, right?)
So in no particular order, here is my own list of ten science fiction novels to try if you want to give science fiction a try
As ambassador to the planet Winter, Genly Ai seeks to bring the planet into the interplanetary organization he’s from, but bridging the gap between his world and there will take more than just a few words, as the people of Winter are genderless and have a completely different perspective on everything. It’s a gap that Genly Ai may not be able to bridge in time. Published in 1969, The Left Hand of Darkness‘s look into a genderless society speaks to us still, as does the need to look beyond our own prejudices.
A team of scientists is forced to abort their mission on Mars, but one of them, Mark Watney, is left behind. Everyone thinks that he is dead, but Watney survived the storm, and now must make do with limited supplies and his own survival skills to make contact with NASA and survive for four years until the next team is scheduled to arrive. With wry humor and a firm grip on the science of the story, The Martian is as informative about the realities of life in space as it is funny.
Binti has incredible mathematical abilities and a dream of attending the most famous university in the galaxy. But going to the university means leaving her family and her people behind– possibly forever. Nnedi Okorafor’s Afrofuturist trilogy is a beautifully written story about a young woman who seeks knowledge and understanding, both within and without, and uses that knowledge to try to find peace between warring factions.
Set in the far future, when much of humanity lives off-planet or within the confines of a luxurious dome, some people still eke out a living in the hostile lands around the dome, in the vast deserts or inhospitable mountains. Snake is a healer who travels from village to village, curing people of their illnesses using the changed venom of snakes. When her most precious snake is killed, she must journey to find another one, all while being pursued by two others- one for love, and one from fear and need. This novel, winner of the 1979 Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards, provides an eerie look at a post-apocalyptic world and challenges the reader to look beyond their own preconceptions.
As a security bot (sec-bot), Murderbot’s sole job is supposed to be to protect the civilians under contract with the interplanetary corporation that owns it. But being the reprogrammable drone-stooge of the corporation is a lousy way to spend a life, so Murderbot hacked its governer chip to free itself. Now all it wants to do is be left alone to watch the thousands of hours of media it’s downloaded, but reality gets in the way when the humans it’s assigned to are attacked and a conspiracy unfolds around them all. In this series of novellas (the Murderbot Diaries), Martha Wells explores what it means to be human, and what makes a family.
While it’s not the first in the series according to its internal chronology, The Warrior’s Apprentice is the first in Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga to feature its primary character, Miles Vorkosigan. Though he has grown up in the remnants of a feudal society that values military prowess whether on the ground or in space, Miles has an array of physical disabilities that prevent him from being part of the military. Adrift when he fails out of his entrance exams, Miles travels to his mother’s homeworld for a vacation and winds up in the middle of an interplanetary conflict. Spanning decades of history and multiple novels, novellas, and short stories, the Hugo Award-winning series looks at just about every angle of the human condition.
In the future, Man attempts over and over again to colonize Mars. Some are locked up by the natives, who think they are insane. Others succumb to deadly diseases. Eventually, though, Man overwhelms the native Martians and in time, become Martians themselves. Then one day, as Earth approaches its end, Mars hears from Earth one last time. Ray Bradbury’s 1950 collection of short stories has long been considered a masterwork of science fiction.
Though it’s far from being ‘hard’ science fiction, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is a charming study of an odd collection of characters who serve as the crew of a ship that takes the long way through space in order to create the spacetime distortion that allows those who come after to travel much more quickly. The book is light on plot but high on fun, following the day-to-day events and difficulties that arise when a diverse array of people are together in a small space for a long time.
If we’re looking at science fiction, we might as well go with one of the first science fiction novels. Though it’s old enough to almost be a cliché to us now, Frankenstein dealt with the newest scientific ideas of time. Using the new science of electricity, Doctor Victor Frankenstein reanimates a corpse. His attempts at bridging the gap between life and death have disastrous consequences.
This collection of short stories displays a dazzling array of ideas, each encapsulated in a gem of a story. From what could be termed ‘Babylonian Sci-Fi’ to the title piece about the idea that learning a new (in this case, alien) language can transform how you view the world. ‘The Story of Your Life’ was the basis for the 2016 film Arrival. Chiang’s latest collection, ‘Exhalations’ was recently released, and reviews state that it is just as brilliant as ‘Stories of Your Life and Others’.