Startling Sci-Fi may be a fantastic must-read collection of literary science fiction. But why stop there? Casey Ellis has put together a list of some of his favorite works in the literary sci-fi genre. Check out his top choices below. Have you read any of these? Do you have any favorites you would add to the list?
The ultimate classic of dystopian fiction, Orwell’s masterpiece imagines a nightmare future where the whole world is run like Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany. As a probing philosophical novel, 1984 has achieved a canonical status so rare for science fiction, its place in the genre is often ignored or denied.
The Sparrow (1996) by Mary Doria Russell
The concept of humanity’s first encounter with an alien race is common in science fiction. Russell, however, avoids standard clichés to create a powerful story of well-meaning religious faith and tragic misunderstandings. The alien characters are as complex and finely drawn as the human ones, and Russell draws on her anthropological background to create a plausible and nuanced civilization.
The Martian Chronicles (1950) by Ray Bradbury
Coming straight from the golden age of pulp magazines, this collection of loosely linked short stories imagines humanity’s colonization of Mars. Instead of tales of adventure and conquest, Bradbury uses his hauntingly poetic prose to explore several ethical and spiritual conundrums. Despite its fragmentary nature, the book is unified by its clear-eyed but warm-hearted examination of what it means to be human.
The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood
Critically acclaimed author Atwood here imagines the ultimate victory of the religious right over the United States. In the theocratic Republic of Gilead, women have few rights and some are used as sex slaves or handmaids. One of them chronicles her life and her attempts to escape. This novel, the subject of frequent obscenity challenges, has also become a touchstone for debates over what science fiction is and what it is capable of doing.
In a post-apocalyptic USA, war has ravaged the world and left all biological life precious. Artificial beings are on the rise and one bounty hunter has the duty of destroying several androids that have gone AWOL. On the surface, Dick’s iconic novel is a skilful blending of science fiction with the gritty crime story. On a deeper level, it explores issues of empathy and humanity in extreme circumstances, all in Dick’s characteristically irreverent style.
Parable of the Sower (1993) by Octavia E. Butler
As the government collapses, a woman endowed with psychic powers seeks to rebuild. Slowly, a new religion and a new foundation for society emerge. Animated by feminism and racial concerns, Butler (one of the most prominent African-American science fiction writers) provocatively pushed bold perspectives on the genre. Despite her lofty goals, she emphatically remained in the science fiction tradition, while challenging it to greater heights.
Snowpiercer (1982) by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette
In this graphic novel, a scientific experiment gone wrong has resulted in a new Ice Age. All life on earth has perished, except for those aboard the titular train, which goes on an endless journey around the planet, powered by a perpetual motion machine. On board, a rigid class system develops until those at the oppressed back of the train demand access to the privileged front. In addition to demonstrating science fiction’s ability to engage readers with complex and disturbing themes, Snowpiercer is also a fine example of the graphic novel’s unique power and literary chops.