- John Gaines
If you want to read a science fiction novel that favors intelligent, subversive writing with unique twists, try one of these novels. Many are critically acclaimed and highly influential within the science fiction genre. Most of their authors have been honored as Grand Masters of Science Fiction. If you are a science fiction fan, I strongly recommend you check out some of these books from our collection.
Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke, was one of the early novels which detailed humanity’s first interaction with aliens--not as a bloody war but as an exchange of information and cultural influence. The Overlords orbit the Earth in their spaceships, unseen to human eyes, disclosing choice scientific information to better the lives of the Earthlings. What is the answer to the mystery of their true motives, and why has no human ever seen an Overlord? Its idea of an advanced alien race that aids the evolution and advancement of humanity strongly influenced the depiction of the Vulcan race in Star Trek.
The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman, is a very different type of novel from most interstellar war science fiction. It details the life of William Mandella, a soldier who fights the Tauran aliens across hundreds of years due to the effects of interstellar time dilation. During his military service, he must confront alien technology that rapidly changes and a human society that becomes more and more bizarre to his “ancient” outlook on life. Whereas many military science fiction novels dating back to Heinlein’s classic Starship Troopers are unabashedly pro-war, The Forever War is an analysis of the trauma and confusion that a galactic conflict would inflict on the men who fight it--and the civilizations that participate in it. Haldeman wrote two other novels in the continuity established by this one, Forever Free and Forever Peace.
Foundation, by Isaac Asimov, is the story of how humanity adapts after the fall of a massive, centralized civilization. Psychohistorian Hari Seldon has developed a mathematical theory that the collapse of the 12,000-year-old Galactic Empire will occur soon. The leaders of the Empire are angered by his hypothesis and banish him to Terminus, a remote planet with a group of other scientists who wish to help Hari create an encyclopedia of the Empire’s scientific and technological knowledge. The novel chronicles the successive generations of the planet’s leadership as they struggle to guide their fledgling civilization by controlling and subverting rival empires bent on their destruction. Asimov was fascinated with the history of the Roman Empire and created a scenario where a collapse similar to that of Western Rome’s happens on a galactic scale. The depiction of a technologically advanced but decadent galaxy-spanning empire would go on to influence numerous science fiction works, most notably George Lucas’ Star Wars.
Bill, the Galactic Hero, by Harry Harrison, is a satirical look at an Everyman’s service in battle and what he gets as his “reward.” Bill, a fertilizer operator with little ambition in life, finds himself abruptly pressed into service in humanity’s war against the Chingers, a race of seven-foot-tall lizards that delight in eating people (at least according to the war propaganda!). After surviving a deadly battle, he is shipped off to the capital of humanity’s solar empire to receive a medal, but he is plagued by a bizarre series of misadventures that prevent him from receiving it. Although a series of sequels to this novel were made, none of them come close to capturing the wittiness of its satire of science fiction tropes and human nature.
The Man in the High Castle, by Phillip K. Dick, is a story of how history could have been altered if Nazi Germany had prevailed in the Second World War. The narrative crosses the former United States to focus on a diverse array of characters living in both the Eastern (German-controlled) and Western (Japanese-controlled) areas. Characters struggle to deal with forced obedience to their foreign overlords, attempt to maintain their cultural connections to the pre-war United States, and become involved in conspiracies to regain former American territory. Although its sprawling plotlines can sometimes be difficult to follow, The Man in the High Castle is a fascinating alternate history with a unique, provocative take on what would have happened if World War II had not gone well for the Allies.
All these novels are the products of acclaimed authors at the peak of their creative powers. Reading them is a chance to look at the heights that science fiction soared to in the 20th Century, and they continue to be a major influence on authors today. If you are interested in learning about classic science fiction, or even becoming a science fiction author yourself, I highly recommend you read these classics.