Ever since I posted ‘Great Science Fiction Books You Should Read‘ I have gotten fantastic suggestions by other sci-fi lovers. This is terrific, because what I love about the genre is the amount of choice readers have. To celebrate that diversity, I’ve compiled a science fiction alphabet. Each letter of the alphabet will be assigned a book.
Unlike my previous blog post, I will feature both classics, new releases and some lesser known work. This list is meant to be fun- you can use the letters to spell out your own name!
Note: this blog post contains affiliate links.
The Book: All You Need Is Kill
The Author: Hiroshi Sakurazaka
The Story: About a soldier called Keiji Kiriya who revisits the same day after being killed by extraterrestrials. As each time loop goes past, our protagonist improves his fighting skills.
Why You Should Read It: It’s a cool concept, and after reading the novel, you can check out the manga or the film Edge of Tomorrow. It’s an easy read but offers a fresh take on the adventure genre.
The Book: Brave New World
The Author: Aldous Huxley
The Story: In a ‘perfect’ utopia, the citizens participate in genetic engineering, recreational sex and drug use as well as brainwashing. We follow the story of Bernard Marx, who wants to break free.
Why You Should Read It: Not only is Brave New World influential, but it is also painfully relevant. Although this may be an obvious pick, I believe the merits of Huxley’s work are too high to ignore.
Here’s a favourite quote of mine from the novel:
“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
The Book: Cloud Atlas
The Author: David Mitchell
The Story: Six interconnected stories nest together to form Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell’s third novel.
Why You Should Read It: Cloud Atlas is a beast of a novel that is well over 500 pages. However, what draws me to Cloud Atlas are the locations. From the historic South Pacific to a futuristic Korea- Mitchell grips the reader tight with unique ideas.
I also think the concept of reincarnation deserves more exploration within fiction. Kudos, David Mitchell!
The Book: The Dispossessed
The Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
The Story: Shevek, a physicist returns to the planet Urras amongst political tensions.
Why You Should Read It: The Dispossessed is one of Ursula K. Le Guin’s best known works, and it is for a good reason. In this utopian novel, Le Guin studies philosophy, politics, sociology, economics and what makes us tick. A must read for any science fiction buff.
The Book: Empire of the Atom
The Author: A. E. van Vogt
The Story: Imagine the plot of I, Claudius being put in a science fiction setting.
Why You Should Read It: It’s not a perfect work of science fiction, but it does have interesting ideas. This novel is also ambitious, and almost epic in its scope. Worth a look at.
The Book: Fahrenheit 451
The Author: Ray Bradbury
The Story: Guy Montag is a fireman in a society where television rules and books are burned.
Why You Should Read It: Not only is it a famous classic, but it is also a sharp commentary on intelligence and meaning in an age of superficial entertainment.
I think this quote says it all:
“Nobody listens anymore. I can’t talk to the walls because they’re yelling at me, I can’t talk to my wife; she listens to the walls. I just want someone to hear what I have to say. And maybe if I talk long enough it’ll make sense. And I want you to teach me to understand what I read.”
Truly a fantastic read.
The Book: Grass
The Author: Sheri S. Tepper
The Story: Grass, which adorns the earth, conceals horrifying secrets. When a plague hits all planets except this one, we learn the deadly truth.
Why You Should Read It: Not only is the concept original, but Tepper is brilliant at conveying horror with words. She takes what would be an outlandish concept and gives it flavour.
The Book: He, She and It
The Author: Marge Piercy
The Story: A cyberpunk novel that explores a romance between a human woman and a cyborg.
Why You Should Read It: This novel won the Arthur C. Clarke award, and is seen as a fantastic example of the cyberpunk genre. But it’s not just that: Piercy demonstrates rich imagination in constructing her world. No topic is off limits: from political economy, to human identity, and to science itself.
The Book: I Am Legend
The Author: Richard Matheson
The Story: The last living man on earth is being hunted by vampires, who have taken over humanity.
Why You Should Read It: Not only was I Am Legend influential in developing the zombie-vampire genre, but was also key in popularizing the concept of a worldwide disease pandemic. However, you shouldn’t just read this novel for its history, because I Am Legend is a great book by itself. It explores human loneliness in unique and subtle ways, and because of that, I have no problem recommending Matheson’s work.
The Book: Journey To The Centre of the Earth
The Author: Jules Verne
The Story: A book is opened, and the life of a professor and his nephew is changed forever.
Why You Should Read It: Verne is a legend within the science fiction genre, and it is for a good reason. Journey To The Centre of the Earth is just one of many examples of Verne’s literary ability, and will engage readers with its exciting ideas.
There’s a good reason why Verne is known as the ‘father’ of sci-fi.
The Book: Kindred
The Author: Octavia E. Butler
The Story: Dana, a woman in 1976, aspires to be a writer. However, due to time travel, she lands in 1815- and is now assumed to be a slave.
Why You Should Read It: Butler is sharp, and does not hold back in her commentary on racism and power. Not only that, but Kindred leaves a strong impact with its message on human nature and history itself.
The Book: The Lost World
The Author: Arthur Conan Doyle
The Story: A scientific expedition sets out into the Amazon rainforest, and discover dinosaurs and other beings that pre-date mankind.
Why You Should Read It: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is in fine form here: he’s witty, he’s imaginative and can enthrall his readers. You may notice the premise is very close to Jurassic Park– and you’d be correct. If you liked that book, and are a sucker for brilliant science fiction, then I highly recommend The Lost World.
The Book: The Man Who Fell To Earth
The Author: Walter Tevis
The Story: An alien crashes into Kentucky, with the intention to save his people from extinction. With his superior knowledge, he manages to challenge and test humanity in remarkable ways.
Why You Should Read It: The philosophical themes are rich and beg to be discussed. Not only that, it’s enjoyable and easy to read. However, the intellectual merits of Tevis’ work is high.
A fantastic book that forces us to question our perceptions.
The Book: Next
The Author: Michael Crichton
The Story: A new world of vast genetic leaps.
Why You Should Read It: Genetics is an often explored topic in science fiction, but I believe Crichton has a witty take on it. Posing questions such as ‘what if blondes are becoming extinct?’ Next feels like a marriage between fact and fiction. It’s both scary and an enjoyable read, and forces the reader to reflect on the future of genetics, and the somewhat horrifying ways we define our own human nature.
The Book: Oryx and Crake
The Author: Margaret Atwood
The Story: A loneman only has creatures to keep him company. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, Oryx and Crake demonstrates the aftermath of genetic experimentation and pharmaceutical engineering.
Why You Should Read It: Atwood’s interest in the more romantic side of speculative fiction helps Oryx and Crake stand out from other similar premises. Not only that, but the novel muses on the nature of memory, and we construct stories within our heads in order to survive. It’s quite different from The Handmaid’s Tale, but Atwood is in full form here.
The Book: Prisoners of Power
The Authors: Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
The Story: A young, amateur space explorer who is not taken seriously, discovers an unexplored planet that is occupied by a humanoid race.
Why You Should Read It: Unfortunately, due to Soviet censorship, the translation below is done based on a censored copy. Still, the minds of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky deserves to be studied. By reading Prisoners of Power, you gain a greater understanding in not just science fiction concepts- but what it is actually like to write under a totalitarian regime.
The Book: Quarantine
The Author: Greg Egan
The Story: Set late in the 21st century, Quarantine explores an earth where bioengineering is the norm. You are able to be whoever you want to be. However, the stars are out, and the solar system is isolated from the rest of the universe.
Why You Should Read It: Bone chilling and nightmarish, Quarantine will interest science fiction fans who are drawn to issues of morality, power, beauty and security. Egan’s novel acts as the ultimate warning against vanity, laziness, and control.
A great recommendation for a 21st century science fiction novel.
The Book: Revelation Space
The Author: Alastair Reynolds
The Story: In this space opera, a scientist attempts to solve a riddle that once annihilated a civilization. Forging a relationship with a dangerous cyborg crew, the scientist discovers a secret… while a killer is closing in on him.
Why You Should Read It: Because it redefined the space opera genre. Revelation Space is around 600 pages, and is epic in its proportions. It’s also highly imaginative and ambitious, and as Publisher’s Weekly puts it- a tour de force.
The Book: Starship Troopers
The Author: Robert A. Heinlein
The Story: An adventure unlike any other, recruit Jonnie Rico must survive the harsh military training… and the ‘bugs’ that are willing to devour him.
Why You Should Read It: Starship Troopers has always been a controversial book, but I think it’s a terrific military adventure that has alot of merit to it. It’s fast-paced, never preachy, yet is also meaningful and intellectually meaty.
Starship Troopers may have had alot of imitators, yet the original stands up strong.
The Book: The Time Machine
The Author: H.G Welles
The Story: A scientist is determined to prove that time travel is real.
Why You Should Read It: It’s a must-read for anyone who wants to read classical science fiction. But what draws me to H.G Welles’ work is his wisdom. His commentary on scientific ideas, our place in history, and our perception of ‘greatness’ remain chilling and relevant to the world we live in today.
The Book: Use of Weapons
The Author: Iain M. Banks
The Story: This is the third in the Culture series, where the stories centre on the Culture, a post-scarcity space society of humanoids, aliens, and advanced artificial intelligences living in socialist habitats across the Milky Way. In Use of Weapons, we follow the traumatic memories of a character.
Why You Should Read It: Banks’ work is certainly overwhelming, as the Culture series spans multiple timespans and planets. However, Banks’ vision of the future is epic and ambitious, that its hard to not be slightly interested.
The Book: Voyage
The Author: Stephen Baxter
The Story: What if JFK survived? And is now assisting President Nixon to green lit an expedition to Mars? In Voyage, we follow the story of Natalie, who desires to go to space, and Phil, a former pilot and a Vietnam war hero called Ralph, who wants to be the first African-American to reach another planet.
Why You Should Read It: Voyage is not just a story of exploration- it’s about the hunger for knowledge. This novel, like many works of alternative history, ask ‘what if’ questions. However, what makes Voyage a great read is Baxter’s ability to write hard science fiction with touches of humanity and grace.
The Novel: We
The Author: Yevgeny Zamyatin
The Story: A happy “utopia” exists alongside totalitarianism
Why You Should Read It: We has been a source of inspiration for the likes of George Orwell. Adding onto that, We was the first in the dystopian genre. However, We is incredible because of its social commentary. As this book was written during a turbulent time in Russian history, We is a fantastic interrogation into utopian thought.
The Book: Xenocide
The Novel: Orson Scott Card
The Story: It’s the third novel in Card’s Ender Quintet, which is about a society that faces annihilation by an alien species. In response to that, child soldiers are trained to defend the earth.
Why You Should Read It: I suggest you read these books in order- starting with Ender’s Game. I won’t go into detail here to avoid book spoilers, but I will say that Ender Wiggin is a fantastic protagonist, and appears in both Xenocide and Ender’s Game.
The Book: The Years of Rice and Salt
The Author: Kim Stanley Robinson
The Story: An alternative history where the Black Plague killed 99% of Europe’s population
Why You Should Read It: Robinson’s attention to detail is spectacular, and he clearly puts alot of thought into his writing. The fictional history that spans centuries is fascinating in itself. It’s ingenious, and a must read for anyone who loves history and science fiction.
The Book: The Zap Gun
The Author: Philip K. Dick
The Story: The world has been divided into two factions- Wes-Bloc and Peep-East. However, a new threat means these two opposing groups must work together.
Why You Should Read It: Dick’s remarkable novel highlights the absurdity of the Arms race, and delights readers with sardonic and sarcastic moments. The Zap Gun has traces of Vonnegut in it, and will appeal to science fiction fans who want something a bit snarky.
So, now that we have reached the final letter- what do you think of the list? What books are your favourite? Comment below!