Saturday, April 26, 2014

[OM] 5 Best Science Fiction novels of all time

Science Fiction (Sci-fi) is an interesting genre that never gets the credit it deserves. Too many people seem to dismiss it as childish, or perhaps escapist work (or even a result of colonialism). But it's so much more than that. From a writer's perspective, Sci-fi has the ability to free the story from normal constraints of everyday minutia. There will be details, no doubt, but of your own choosing. This, as you can imagine, is more difficult, and those details that do differ usually do so to highlight something about the world we live in right now. This is done by either showing what's missing, or what will change if we continue on the current course we're in. And the creation of a different world (it can be ours, but it's always different in some manner) helps to lower people's defenses, or perhaps transplanting the problems or possible problems of our world to another helps us look at it from a different angle. Much like traveling to another culture can do. Sometimes it merely uses an advanced technology to highlight something important. In many ways, sci-fi usually ends up being the Cassandra. Look at 1984 and how many times that's referenced. Something that only goes to show the importance that sci-fi plays in every day life.

Most of the books I'm about to show are either dystopian or post-apocalyptic in nature. That tends to be the two routes in which a writer can say the most about our society. Post-apocalyptic tends to say that this society we have now will break down some where in the future (and in a way, it will revert to the past). Meanwhile dystopian fiction focuses on the society going down the wrong path, but with less horrific (depending on whom you talk to) consequences.

Here is my list. They are books that I have read. As with all my other lists and posts. I will change it as I see fit.

Slaughter House Five
One of the best war novels and also sci-fi novels out there. Written to help explain one war veteran's experiences and traumas, the intelligence with which this book is written amazes me. Nowadays you will most likely see this book in literary sections. It is sci-fi through and through. Vonnegut manages to use aliens and time travel to help explain his war experience. And so it goes.


An outstanding dystopian (though with some hints at post-apocalyptic) novel. Also has the distinction for being the first book banned by the Bolsheviks. The author of the book had to face first the Tsar's wrath (he was a bit of a revolutionary), then the Bolsheviks. It seems that even that far back he had a sense of what was coming with the suppression of 'animal instincts' and so forth. It could be said that his novel is more of a statement against industrialism more so than Bolsheviks, but I'm leaning towards seeing him as a man who did see through a lot of the memes of the day. Check it out. It influences the next book on the list.

Orwell's book about totalitarianism. It's hard to miss the influence that this book has on discussions today. And with the recent revelations about the NSA and its spying, this book is no longer a mere distant problem of Communist societies for us Westerners. Now that webcams can spy... But this book is more than that. It also speaks of the ease with which the machine can crush and tear apart two people and their love.
Read Homage to Catalonia if you get a chance, as it will show that experience's influence on him.

The Road
It might be too early to call this a classic, but I'll do it. Bleak. That's one word. A harbinger of what happens when we waste away everything? Perhaps. But mainly it's a love story between a man and his son. It shows how they can persevere through the darkness. And through it all McCarthy's biblical prose grinds at your soul.

A Canticle for Leibowitz
Written during the cold war, this book still resonates. More about the cycles of mistakes that humans make, than about M.A.D., this book traces humans from the first nuclear war that wipes most out, to the next thousand years. Slowly following the mistakes that humans tend to make. Over and over. Beautiful and haunting.

Read these books, you won't be disappointed. When you're done, shoot me your thoughts. These books have made the list of my best books of the 20th century and 21st century. And if you're interested in some sci-fi thinking, read this post on coming up with a plan to keep people away from nuclear waste for 10000 years (no cultural markers, as you may imagine).

Update (27APR2014): Some people have written in, unsatisfied with the above choices. Some of the more legitimate gripes: We and 1984 are too similar to merit the exclusion of other books (I disagree slightly with that, as they serve to highlight different aspects of power reaching into our lives too much). The Road is also a very recent book (comparatively speaking), does it deserve to be on this list? And here is a list of other books, that should be given more consideration:
Ender's Game, Fahrenheit 451, Dune, A Scanner Darkly, Brave New WorldThe Left Hand of Darkness ...
Would you add anything else or replace one on the list?

Thanks for reading. As always, you can contact me at if you have any questions or wish to discuss something or just to say hi. Look forward to hearing from you. 

Lowhim is a writer, and has one sci-fi novel,When Gods Fail; a series which shows the darker side of humanity (no happy ending whatsoever). 

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  1. hi nelson;
    With all respect and having just been severely disappointed with The Road, it's the only one i'll disagree with. While it's dystopian it read (to me) like a perhaps somewhat talented high school student. After the fact, i read in an interview that Cormac did write it as a bonding experience w/ his teenage son so yay for me i guess.
    It was a pretty basic symbolic story of hope and redemption with a few shock scenes thrown in to keep a reader's interest. Probably better as a horror story than sci-fi. Brave New World would have been my substitution or Scanner Darkly IMO.

    1. Thanks for your input. I'll put up both for consideration (haven't read Scanner Darkly yet!), but I'll have to mull it over some.

  2. Anon#2 here. This is an all right list with a tilt to the type of books here. There are better books which highlight the technology that some of us like about scifi (or aliens!). Just saying. 1984 is the only one I'll agree with here. I've only heard about We, but that's a book that's basically 1984's dad.

    1. Thanks for reading. As always this is a discussion, so if you have any books to recommend, please do so (with a reason) and the list can be adjusted (if I agree).


Please comment to add to the discussion. Be kind. But let the democratic ideal lead you. And no spamming!