I know that on this blog I often review “blockbuster” books (I’ve reviewed all three Fifty Shades books) and go off on tangents about YA books I love, usually of the paranormal romance genre. But I have, and do, read books for the fantastical and sometimes disturbing worlds they explore, to understand their dynamic, flawed characters and to absorb their insights about the universe and humanity. I’m particularly fond of science fiction novels (and movies, and TV shows, but we’ll save those lists for another time), so here is a list of my Top
Five Six Science Fiction Books:
5. George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four
Yes, this book has spawned some pretty cringe-worthy pop culture phenomena, like the name of CBS’s reality show Big Brother. And although the year 1984 was nothing like the dystopia created in Orwell’s book, its themes of privacy, freedom and rebellion are timeless. Orwell also had great foresight, such as the fictional language of Newspeak which basically involves smooshing English words together. Minus the sinister agenda of controlling thought and communication part, this definitely reminds me of how technology is influencing our language and communication today. #deepthoughts
4. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451
This is one of those classics you’re required to read in high school -and you should read it, because it’s awesome. Bradbury is another visionary science fiction writer: In a future in which firemen start fires and burn books, people are glued to their wall-sized TVs and drift off to sleep listening to little shell-like music players in their ears. It’s been awhile since I’ve read this book, but those images have stuck with me. Fahrenheit 451 in part speaks to a fear that technology may threaten our ability and desire to think and communicate and learn, an idea that I don’t really agree with except when shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Honey Boo Boo become popular. It’s also a book that comes to my mind, at least, whenever I hear about a book being banned, such as in a school, or any whisperings of censorship.
3. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World
This book is kind of crazy and is written in a style that suggests Huxley pounded it out after an overdose of coffee (or speed). But I love it. The future that Huxley predicts is absolutely terrifying. Everyone is created especially for their specific station in life, everyone knows their place, and most of the characters are fine with it. Many spend their days popping soma and participating in orgies. Although the novel focuses on Bernard and Lenina in the beginning, it really becomes about the “savage” John and how he confronts the strange world outside of his Reservation. “O! brave new world, That has such people in’t.”
2. Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead
And my top five became my top six, because I couldn’t leave out either of these books. I’m not even sure how to classify Ender’s Game…it’s not quite a children’s book, but not quite a YA book either, reading-level wise. And yet it appeals to older readers as well. It’s both an entertaining book about the trials of a very young, talented boy at the Battle School and an exploration of Ender’s character, who for a young boy is startlingly ambitious and uncompassionate. There’s even a bit of a twist ending.
Ender is a very different man in the sequel, in which he has become the Speaker for the Dead; at funerals, he is tasked with speaking honestly, no sugar-coating, about the life of the deceased. In this book, Ender has an appreciation and empathy for life, both human and alien. Although there are many intriguing characters and subplots in Speaker for the Dead, the main story line is of the mystery of the Pequeninos, the native pig-like but intelligent species of the planet Lusitania, which humans have colonized. (The Pequeninos deliver some surprises at the end.) Card successfully writes another page-turner while also conveying some pretty profound ideas and creating imperfect but (mostly) still likeable characters.
1. Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land
I’m going to throw around the word “profound” again, but seriously, Stranger in a Strang Land is a must-read sci-fi classic. Similar to John in Brave New World, Heinlein thrusts Valentine, who was raised by Martians and only knows of Martian customs and culture, into our society. I like that aspect of both books – writing about our world through the eyes of an outsider. And Valentine’s transformation throughout the book is stunning and perhaps somewhat outlandish. He starts out as this man-boy discovering Earth and what it means to be human, but by the end of the book (spoiler alert?) his Martian “ways” have spread and he’s become the Jesus-like figurehead of a new religion or spirituality. There’s also a fair amount of sex sprinkled throughout the book. Unconventional sex always seems to be a part of our looming dystopian future.
What are your favorite sci-fi/dystopian novels?