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Ten to the stars

The genre of science fiction spans various books that have been written over decades for the young and the old.

Published: 12th August 2013 12:42 PM  |   Last Updated: 12th August 2013 12:42 PM   |  A+A-

Books

The sense of wonder, the shock of the new, the fun of it all — there are many reasons to read science fiction. But where do you start? Here’s a list of 10 exceptional science fiction novels to get you started. In this list I’ve tried to provide a sense of the many different kinds of stories science fiction is capable of telling. You can follow up on your favourite writers or themes based on what you enjoy the most. Have fun, and remember the sky’s not the limit!

1. Dune by Frank Herbert:

This is a sprawling, epic story set amidst many different worlds, but most of all the planet Arrakis, or Dune. Arrakis is the only place in the universe where a very precious spice called ‘melange’ can be found. Various factions are trying to control this resource; at the same time a sort of messiah figure is all set to change the course of history in unexpected ways. What follows is a thrilling novel that is as full of ideas as action, something science fiction at its best is especially good at.

2. The Lathe Of Heaven by Ursula K Le Guin:

Have you ever dreamed of changing the world? What if your dreams could come true? That’s exactly what happens to George Orr. His psychiatrist discovers Orr’s power of ‘effective dreaming’ and tries to use it to fix the world. He puts Orr in hypnotic trances and suggests that he solve various global problems in his dreams. Things never work out quite as the psychiatrist hopes — when he tries to wipe out racism, everyone’s skin becomes a dull grey; when he wants to reduce overpopulation, a plague kills people. This shows us the perils of trying to create a perfect world and how good intentions can have unexpected results.

3. The Man In The High Castle by Philip K Dick:

Here, we are shown a world in which Germany and Japan won the Second World War. America is ruled by these victorious powers and the world is very different from ours, showing how fragile our reality can be. Interestingly, some people seem to have glimpses of ‘our’ reality, the one in which America and England won the war.

4. More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon:

Humans have a sense of individual identity; but what if we could combine our consciousness with other people and become a larger group identity? This novel follows a group of mutants with strange powers who develop a fascinating composite sense of self.

5. Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes:

How does intelligence change your experience of the world? This emotionally resonant novel takes us through the mental transformations of an unintelligent man who is given superior intelligence as part of a scientific experiment. In the end, he loses this heightened intellect. In the process, we are made to think about the emotion, intellect and how we treat the mentally handicapped.

6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood:

In this novel, religious fanatics take over America. They create a world where women are the property of men and the state decides who a woman will live with and what she will do with her life. It’s a dark, often depressing novel but one that makes us think about our own present-day societies and the inequalities in them.

7. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams:

Science fiction isn’t all gloom and doom, as this hilarious novel and its sequels show us. In the first volume, our planet is slated to be demolished to make way for an interstellar highway. The earthman Arthur Dent escapes with the alien Ford Prefect and they have various zany adventures across space and time.

8. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson:

So what’s a vampire novel doing in a science fiction list? Well, Matheson’s vampires are caused by a virus rather than by something supernatural. Matheson’s picture of a lone man holding out against a world turned monstrous is gripping, and has frequently been made into movies, none of which fully capture this book’s true brilliance.

9. The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester:

Also known as Tiger! Tiger!, the book follows the fortunes of Gully Foyle, a man who is caught in the midst of a massive conflict over the threat to spaceflight corporations by the development of teleportation. He is imprisoned unjustly, escapes and vows vengeance — lots of action here.

10. Contact by Carl Sagan:

This book centres on the debates between a sceptic and a religious believer when mankind finally finds signs of alien life. Their differing opinions about contact with alien life are as much the focus of the novel as the thrilling process of finally making contact.

There are many more novels I could have listed; some may even have been more popular or more to your taste than your choices.

Any such list is ultimately a reflection of the compiler’s own preferences, but I hope it gives you some starting points on your own journey through science fiction.



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