Whenever I get really into a genre, I like to explore its roots. This helps me understand the tropes and clichés of the genre, and references that more recent publications might make. So, since I know many of you geekettes love a good science fiction book, let’s talk about some of the genre’s classics.
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley — In a genre dominated by men, this first book stands out as the only one on this list written by a woman, and such a young woman at that. Marry Shelley was only eighteen when she wrote this founding member of the science fiction genre in 1818. My sister wrote a beautiful description of the novel on her own blog’s post about classic gothic works, as Frankenstein is an example of the overlap of the gothic and sci-fi genres. Dr. Frankenstein is a scientist infatuated with the idea of recreating the origin of life. He succeeds, but is so disturbed by his creation, the “monster,” that he rejects all responsibility for his actions and leaves his monster to roam alone through the harsh world. If you never read this for school, or if you did but didn’t pay attention at the time, I hope you do go back and read it. It is the quintessential early science fiction novel and deals with a lot of interesting moral issues.
- The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov — If you like robots or artificial intelligence, you need to read Asimov. He is the one who invented the Laws of Robotics, which govern the way in which robots serve humans and which have influenced countless other works. The Foundation trilogy chronicles the rise and fall of galactic empires far in the future governed by the science of psychohistory, a fictional method of mathematically predicting the future. Hari Seldon is the legendary inventor of psychohistory whose legacy shapes the Foundation universe. He is also the protagonist of Prelude to Foundation, which I found most interesting for his special friendship with a woman who *spoiler alert* may or may not be a very convincing robot.
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams — I have to admit, Adams is not my particular cup of tea, but I do recommend reading at least the first one for the sake of its influence on nerd culture. For example, there is a steampunk bar in Brooklyn that has been known to serve a pan galactic gargle blaster, which readers will recognize as the drink of choice of a certain two-headed ex-president of the galaxy from the books. Originally a radio show, The Guide has been adapted to many different media including a five-part book series, movie, comics, tv series, and video games. I found certain scenes a little too bizarre and silly to really enjoy, but perhaps I just don’t understand British humor. If you are highly entertained by randomness, you may be highly entertained by this book.
- Dune by Frank Herbert — Confession time: I haven’t actually read this book. It’s sitting in the pile of old sci-fi and fantasy books from my dad, one of the ones I never got around to picking up after being distracted by shiny new books. But it appeared on all the Goodreads lists and Google searches of classic sci-fi, so I figured I could hardly ignore it. As far as I can tell, it’s about a society so far in the future that they’ve reverted back to feudalism, though on a galactic scale. One particular planet is home to a rare and valuable spice, and the series chronicles the fate of that planet and its inhabitants. This book, in addition to prestigious awards like the Hugo and Nebula awards, also achieved the highest honor a space fantasy can get: leaving a mark on space. According to Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature, some terms from the Dune novels have been used to name features on one of Saturn’s moons.
- Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card — Like most of the other titles on this list, this book has won both the Hugo award and Nebula award. The premise is that the government has rounded up child prodigies to live onboard a spaceship and use their genius strategy skills to play war “games” that turn out not to be games at all. Ender deals with bullies and making friends as he grows up in this elite training program, but the most interesting part is reading about his strategy in each of the simulated games. If you like reading about military tactics and epic battles, this may be the book for you. Some of the later books in the series explore some interesting issues regarding colonizing new planets and intelligent extra-terrestrial life.
Have you read any of these? Do you think they deserve to be ranked as classics? Got any more to add to my list? Do you agree that reading classics enhances your appreciation of a genre? Let us know in the comments!