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Science Fiction: Finding Comfort in Possibilities
Aliens, strange worlds, sentient robots, interstellar spaceships… science fiction focuses on worlds and realities that we can only imagine. It can be wonderfully fun and even comforting to escape to these unknowns. Here are some of our favorite titles, both new and old, that push the limits of imagination.
Authors and creators ask questions that seem so big and vast, it can feel like a great big puzzle to try to answer them. Imagining an answer to “Is there life on other planets?” or “What makes someone human?” can be a delightful task… if only because the questions can’t really be answered. The pressure is off, so whatever you come up with is fine.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often considered the first work of science fiction, and it asks us what it means to be human vs. a monster. If you didn’t read it in school, or even if it has been a while, Frankenstein is a wonderfully dark tale about what it means to be monstrous.
This theme of what it means to be a monster or human has continued to be explored in the nearly 200 years since its publication. If you enjoy horror, and love Frankenstein, The Dark Decent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White and Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi both take direct inspiration from the work. White tells the story from the doctor’s fiancé, exploring what it means to be a woman in the 18th century. Saadawi modernizes the tale, setting it in a warzone in contemporary Iraq.
Robots, cyborgs, androids, and artificial intelligence are also a large part of science fiction. Like Frankenstein’s monster, they provide a way to explore what it means to be human. Karel Capek first introduced the concept in his play R.U.R. in 1920. Since then, many great books and stories have featured our mechanical foils.
Another classic is Astro Boy by Osamu Tezuka. One of the earliest manga series in Japan, this delightful tale is a fun, quick read. Told from Astro Boy’s point of view as he searches for his creator, it touches on relationships between parent and child, as well as creation and sentience itself.
Philip K. Dick provides a mind-blowing semi-answer to the questions “What makes us human?” in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. You might be familiar with the film adaptation, Blade Runner, but the book goes so much deeper. It is short, with a gritty noir atmosphere that is easy to read in a single sitting, but when you get to the end, you might need to sit for a while longer and reflect on what you just read.
For a more contemporary take on sentient robots, Martha Wells’s “Murderbot Diaries” is so absolutely charming, you’ll forget it is even about a robot. It is lighter and more action packed than some of the other books here, but no less fascinating. The newest book in the series, Network Effect, is just out, but start with All Systems Red.
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell is one of those books that once you read it, the world isn’t quite the same. It deals with exploration, culture, and belief. At first glance, it doesn’t feel like science fiction, but it is one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking first contact stories I’ve ever read. If you enjoyed it, check out To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers.
Dune by Frank Herbert and Foundation by Isaac Asimov are two science fiction classics you’ve probably heard about. Both are known for their complex worlds with strange politics and are often said to be difficult to get into. While they do require a bit more concentration at first, if you give yourself a little bit of time, you will find yourself swept up in the complex machinations of these worlds. Just jump in and trust that the author will explain things. If you enjoyed these titles, check out A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine (also available as an audiobook on Hoopla). Nominated for a Hugo Award this year, this sweeping space opera brings us to a new universe with unique features, while subtly paying homage to these great classics.
If you are new to Science Fiction, and picking up an 600-page novel that happens to be book one in a six-book series feels like too much of a commitment (yep, we’re talking about Dune), the genre has a rich history of short fiction. So, if you aren’t quite ready to tackle the series above, here are some amazing short story collections that can help you get a taste for things and help you discover new authors.
- The Big Book of Science Fiction edited by Jeff VanderMeer and Ann VanderMeer
- The New Voices of Science Fiction edited by Hannu Rajaniemi and Jacob Weisman
- A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams
- Worlds Seen in Passing: Ten Years of Tor.com Short Fiction edited by Irene Gallo
These collections include so many different authors, voices, and ideas. They still ask these big questions, explore what is means to be human, and take you across the galaxy on adventures, but you can dip in and out, reading the stories that seem interesting to you.
There are so many amazing works of science fiction out there. It was hard to narrow down this list. If you are interested in more books from this genre, or would like explore more of a specific theme with in it, use our My Next Read service to get even more recommendations.