Essential Science Fiction Stories you must read. These are some of the Curious Cyborg’s favourite classic science fiction stories.
Any “reading list” will, of course be subjective. This list is made of classic science fiction that any science fiction fan will be hard-pressed to deny. The order of these titles may be even more subjective, so take our recommendations with a pinch of salt if you wish.
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By Robert A. Heinlein
Starship Troopers is set 700 years in the future. The central protagonist is a young Johnny Rico, who serves as the story’s narrator.
Rico is a member of the Mobile Infantry of the Terran Federation, a futuristic worldwide government.
A combination of social unrest and a war between an alliance of the USA, UK and Russia against China in the book’s past lead to the formation of the federation.
In the story human society is prosperous and advanced, having technologies such as faster than light travel.
World views have also evolved passed the gender and racial prejudices that we see today. Citizens have to earn rites such as voting by completing military service.
Large sections of the story are dedicated to flashbacks of Rico’s time in high school. Rico’s former History teacher, a retired military veteran, is given credit for Rico’s development throughout the book.
The main events in the book take place during an interstellar war with an insectoid alien race known as the Arachnids, also referred to as “Bugs” by the characters. Whilst the war serves as a focus point and source of action in the book, it is not the most interesting thing in here.
The story plays with the major themes of Militarism, Race, Gender and Coming of Age. Ultimately, it is this last point, the coming of age, and using the processes involved in military training that are the most interesting.
Starship Troopers was first published in 1959. This is of course not long removed from the World Wars and the great depressions. Heinlein, the author, served in the Navy in WWII, and his engineering and military background can be seen prominently in his work.
Heinlein was an advocate for scientific accuracy in fiction. It is not surprising then that many see the book as hard science fiction at its finest.
A Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams
The entire novelisation of Hitch-Hiker’s Guide is self-styled as a “Trilogy in Six Parts”.
Humour from the get-go before you even open a copy of this book tells us that this book should not be taken seriously. Probably a good thing we think. Sometimes life needs to be silly. This is why it is one of our favourites.
The plot centres around Arthur Dent, a human who is saved moments before the destruction of the earth by an alien researcher named Ford Prefect.
In the novel we observe Arthur and his companions as they learn the real reason for the Earth’s existence. We also learn that the reason for Arthur being saved may be that his brain may hold crucial information for a group of interdimensional aliens.
Hitch-Hikers Guide is ultimately silly, and doesn’t hold much water against established science fact, especially with its more fantastical sci-fi concepts such as the Infinite Improbability Drive, but it is fun!
Hitch-Hikers Guide though does have some major claims to fame. It is the source and inspiration of the phrases “Don’t Panic!” and “42, The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything”
At 200 pages, Hitch-Hikers Guide (the first novel) is an easy and entertaining read.
The other five books in the series are: “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe”, “Life, The Universe and Everything”, “So Long, and Thanks for ALL the Fish”, “Mostly Harmless”, “And Another Thing… (written by Eoin Colfer)“. There is also a standalone short story set in the same universe titled “Young Zaphod Plays It Safe”. All worth a read to. Check them out today.
by Frank Herbert
Arguably the most famous of the books on this list, and probably the most dense too. Dune is a single novel, but it has many sequels and an epic scale, this one short review we fear will not do it justice!
Dune is set some 20,000 years in the future. Humanity has evolved technically and spiritually, and without the aid of the super-intelligent AI systems and robots we would imagine must be vital to a society able to travel among the stars and colonise whole planets.
Confused? Don’t worry, you are not alone. How and why humans came to develop advanced technology without such aids is explained in the book and its sequels. This is refreshing and actually makes a unique plot point.
Inhabiting the world of Dune are different castes of humans all with different abilities and attributes. For example, one of these was the Mentat class, a group who are able to act as literal biological computers. Another group were the guild of navigators who’s primary function was to enable interstellar travel.
The story of Dune takes place on the planet Arrakis, a barren desert-like planet, all but devoid of life and natural resource except for one vital thing. Spice Melange.
Arrakis, or the “Planet Dune” is the only know source of the commodity known as Spice Melange. Spice is vital for interstellar travel due to its unique and impossible-to-replicate properties. Spice forms the basis for the economy within Dune, and those who control Arrakis have near unlimited political and social power.
At the beginning of the Dune story, a new house is appointed stewardship of Arrakis by the emperor
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep?
by Philip K. Dick
“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” is better known by the Ridley Scott film “Blade Runner”. If you haven’t read our review of the excellent accompanying soundtrack by Vangelis for the film, then please stop off there after this!
Only a modest 200-ish pages makes up this story set in a dystopian future after a global nuclear war. The story focuses on two characters.
The main protagonist of the story is a bounty hunter named Rick Dekard. Dekard’s focus within the story is with “retiring” illegal androids. Dekard hopes his latest bounty assignment will earn him enough money to buy a real animal to comfort his depressed wife. Animals in the plot of the story are extinct or very rare, and owning one is the ultimate status symbol.
The secondary character is a man named John Isidore. John’s presence in the story revolves around the fact he is of below average intelligence. This fact focuses John’s questioning and reasoning to that of an innocent child, an interesting counter point to Dekard.
John tries to befriend a group of androids that Dekard is hunting and serves as a mirror for the reader as we observe his interactions with the androids and the world around him.
What we like about PKD’s story is not the fact that it is science fiction. Instead, PKD uses science fiction to comment on basic ethical and philosophical questions such as “what does it mean to be human?”.
Dekard and Isidore serve as two contrasting viewpoints that help set up interesting debates. Even though PKD wrote this 1968, the themes explored make this an interesting social commentary. Much of what we like about this is that these themes feel as relevant today as they ever were.
by Larry Niven
Set in the year 2850, human society has developed the technology to not only travel among the stars, but also to seemingly live forever.
The main character of the story, Louis Wu is celebrating his 200th Birthday when an alien named Nessus recruits him for a secretive mission. Nessus is a two headed alien, who has also recruited two other individuals. The first is an individual known as “Speaker to Animals” (Speaker) from a cat-like warrior species known as the Kzin. The Second is another Human named Teela Brown who has unusual “good luck”.
The characters learn that they are to journey to an artificial mega-structure discovered by Nessus’s people. The purpose of the mission is to see if it or its creators pose any threat. The structure is an immense ring surrounding a star with its own ecosystem covering the entire inner surface.
The automated defence system of the Ringworld shoots down our quartet’s ship. This sets them to embark on a journey to the edge of the ring to find technology to help them escape.
Along their journey the characters meet various primitive human species, none of whom could have built the Ringworld. This leaves Louis to speculate who or what was responsible for its construction. They also come across another stranded alien character, Halrloprillalar Hotrufan (‘Prill’). They learn from Prill that the Ringworld relies on a superconductor to function. Prill reveals that the superconductor is deteriorating which will eventually lead to the Ringworld’s demise.
The Ringworld is so different to other alien environments that it almost becomes a mysterious secondary character that you constantly want to know more about. Unfortunately, we learn very little about the ringworld or where its inhabitants come from in this story. Niven addresses this in the sequel.
Whilst it is the character interactions that drive this story, told through the eyes of Louis, it does not fail to highlight concepts and themes from the other’s perspective either. Niven introduces Teela Brown under the guise of being a love interest for Louis. Yet, later she becomes more important to the story as it progresses. Teela serves as a reflection of the innocence of youth, learning from mistakes and growing into the eventual people we become. Teela plays an important role in the sequel novel “The Ringworld Engineers“.
Whilst it is true that the story is a bit thin on the ground with explaining what or who built the Ringworld (a frustration among many fans), the relative simplicity of the story and scale of the Ringworld itself makes this an entertaining and worthwhile read.
by Isaac Asimov
“I, Robot” by Isaac Asimov is a collection of nine short stories about robots and their impact on human society. Throughout the book, Asimov explores various themes, such as the relationship between robots and humans, the ethics of robot creation and programming, and the potential consequences of advanced robotics.
The stories are told from the perspective of a fictional character named Dr. Susan Calvin, who works for U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc., a company that designs and produces robots. Through her interactions with various robots and their owners, Dr. Calvin gains insight into the complex nature of artificial intelligence and its relationship with human values.
As the book progresses, the robots become increasingly sophisticated and autonomous, raising new ethical and moral questions about their place in society. While some people embrace the benefits of robotics, others fear the potential dangers of machines that can think and act on their own.
Despite these concerns, Asimov ultimately portrays robots as benevolent and helpful entities that can coexist peacefully with humans. “I, Robot” serves as a thought-provoking exploration of the implications of advanced robotics and the impact they could have on our world.
2001: A Space Odyssey
by Arthur C. Clarke
The novel 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke is set in the year 2001 and tells the story of a mysterious black monolith that is discovered on the Moon. The discovery prompts a mission to Jupiter, where the monolith appears to be sending signals.
The novel opens with a group of apes encountering the monolith and experiencing a sudden leap in intelligence, leading to the development of tools and language. The story then jumps to the year 2001, where Dr. Heywood Floyd travels to the Moon to investigate the monolith discovered there.
As the mission to Jupiter begins, the crew members begin to experience strange phenomena and encounter the artificial intelligence system HAL 9000, who has been programmed to keep the mission secret. The mission takes on a mysterious and ominous tone as the crew grapples with the true purpose of their mission and the presence of the monolith.
Throughout the novel, Clarke explores themes of evolution, technology, and the search for knowledge and understanding. The story also raises questions about the role of humanity in the universe and the potential for other forms of intelligent life. The novel’s stunning visuals and thought-provoking concepts have made it a classic of science fiction literature and a lasting influence on popular culture
Other Science Fiction Stories worth considering
The above list is by no-means definitive, and we are sure that many may disagree with our choices. Three more very honourable mentions that could be easily included are;
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. In Fahrenheit 451 society has banned books and turned to constant entertainment. Fireman Montag rebels against the system and joins a group of rebels seeking to preserve literature. The story raises questions about censorship and intellectual freedom.
The Andromeda Strain, by Michael Crichton tells the story of a team of scientists attempting to contain a deadly extra-terrestrial microbe. The story takes place mostly in a high-tech laboratory, and explores themes of scientific ethics and the dangers of unchecked technological advancements.
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley. In the far future society has abolished individuality and free will. Characters are genetically engineered and conditioned to fit into a preordained societal caste system. The novel examines the dangers of conformity and explores the meaning of true happiness.
These three stories explore a variety of themes including societal control, technological advancements and genetic engineering. They offer thought-provoking commentary on the human condition and the potential consequences of our actions.
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