My favorite single genre of fiction is science fiction.
That’s because science fiction is, almost always, political. Science fiction allows us to explore different ideas in a creative guise, to perform thought experiments outside the boundaries of our current reality. It’s the source of new and creative notions. And, often, it’s inspiring: there’s a reason William Shatner was sent to Space on Blue Origin. Innovators have been inspired for generations by science fiction.
With that said, here’s my list of favorite science fiction novels.
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury.
There are some books that are underrated, and thus nearly-anonymous. Then there are some books that are so well-known that they are actually underrated for their very prominence. Fahrenheit 451 is the latter type of book. A masterpiece of brevity, colorfully written, filled with profound notions in the guise of a rip-roaring dystopian plot, the book moves at breakneck pace – and you find yourself swept along in the process. The villainous Captain Beatty is the man who sees through the system, and his insights are chilling:
Now let’s take up the minorities in our civilization, shall we? Bigger the population, the more minorities…The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that! All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean. Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did. Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic books survive. And the three dimensional sex magazines, of course. There you have it, Montag. It didn’t come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God.
1984, by George Orwell.
Orwell’s exploration of communist atrocity in the façade of science fiction is justly famous – and remains extraordinarily chilling. The journey of Winston Smith from lackey of the regime to rebel against it and then back toward love of Big Brother is a solemn reminder that bowing to tyranny is easy – it’s resistance that is hard. And Orwell’s description of Oceania remains frighteningly prescient and relevant today:
Every book has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been renamed, every date has been altered…History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.
Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke.
Clarke is most famous for 2001: A Space Odyssey, but Childhood’s End is by far the superior book. Childhood’s End begins with a premise: what if the aliens arrived, but they were helpful…so helpful, in fact, that they essentially ended human creativity? And what if they appeared as devils? The book is an ambivalent take on the notion of progressing beyond normal human existence toward the transcendent, but abandoning what makes us human in the process.
No utopia can ever give satisfaction to everyone, all the time. As their material conditions improve, men raise their sights and become discontented with power and possessions that once would have seemed beyond their wildest dreams. And even when the external world has granted all it can, there still remain the searchings of the mind and the longings of the heart.
Foundation, by Isaac Asimov.
The new series by Apple+ is highly watchable, but has almost nothing to do with the original book, which is really an exploration of the deterministic nature of the universe. Hari Seldon, one of science fiction’s most fascinating creations, acts as the voice of psychohistory, the scientific discipline of translating human nature into predictions about the future. He decides to found a Foundation – supposedly a preservation of human knowledge – on a far-off planet to live through a dark age that will inevitably follow the fall of the intergalactic Empire. A seminal science fiction publishing event.
Now any dogma, based primarily on faith and emotionalism, is a dangerous weapon to use on others, since it is almost impossible to guarantee that the weapon will never be turned on the user.
The Day Of The Triffids, John Wyndham.
A truly underappreciated classic, John Wyndham’s frightening tale of a post-apocalyptic world in which nearly everyone on the planet has been blinded by a meteor shower and the rest set upon by a species of plant dedicated to killing humans. It’s a horror novel in the main, but many of the main horrors are perpetuated by other human beings.
I don’t think it had ever occurred to me that man’s supremacy is not primarily due to his brain, as most of the books would have one think. It is due to the brain’s capacity to make use of the information conveyed to it by a narrow band of visible light rays. His civilization, all that he had achieved or might achieve, hung upon his ability to perceive that range of vibrations from red to violet. Without that, he was lost.
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley.
The grandmother of all science fiction, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is prelude to a whole genre of science fiction rooted in a simple premise: what if the human attitude toward innovation and reason leads to unexpected consequences that endanger us all? The book certainly isn’t the mockery-fueling 1930s movies with clunky monster walking around like Herman Munster. It’s a deep take on the dangers of science and scientism.
Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be his world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.
Dune, by Frank Herbert.
A massive, all-encompassing mythological tome, Dune takes you in and never lets go. The story, of Paul Atreides, who is destined for a messianic future, has become a classic – and its complex interweaving of economics, war, and religion is truly immersive. The first part of the film is, by the way, excellent.
When religion and politics travel in the same cart, the riders believe nothing can stand in their way. Their movements become headlong – faster and faster and faster. They put aside all thoughts of obstacles and forget the precipice does not show itself to the man in a blind rush until it’s too late.
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess.
Burgess’ world – a world of hedonism and deterministic manipulation – is creepily familiar to all of us. His extraordinary creation of a an entire slang jargon – a jargon that we become familiar with, and fluent in over the course of the book – totally captivates readers and takes them on a journey into a future underworld populated with the empty shells of humans created by a determinism-laden society.
The important thing is moral choice. Evil has to exist along with good, in order that moral choice may operate. Life is sustained by the grinding opposition of moral entities.
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley.
Huxley’s vision of dystopia is often seen as competing with Orwell’s, but they’re certainly not mutually exclusive. In Orwell, the danger is an overarching state that treats its citizens as malleable widgets; in Huxley, the danger lies in a human nature happy to surrender its independence for pleasure. As Neil Postman put it, “What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.”
A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.
Nearly all science fiction is, in the end, a meditation on human nature. Here, McCarthy meditates on the nature of parenthood, of life without hope, of carrying a flame where there is only darkness. The tale of a man trying to guide his son through a post-apocalyptic cannibalistic dystopia, is essentially just the ancient tale of a man trying to guide his son through a dangerous world, leaving him with values to carry on.
You have to carry the fire.
I dont know how to.
Yes you do.
Is the fire real? The fire?
Yes it is.
Where is it? I don’t know where it is.
Yes you do. It’s inside you. It always was there. I can see it.
Just take me with you. Please.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.