Out of the vast science fiction library, every once in a while a book will come along that becomes an instant classic. A novel that captures the imagination, evokes emotion, and stirs thought in the reader about what could be. For me, these are the novels that do just that – novels that define science fiction.
Dune – Frank Herbert
A novel of epic proportions, Dune follows the life of young noble Paul Atreides on the dessert planet Arakis after a deadly coup. To survive, and fulfill an ancient prophecy, Paul must gain the trust of the dessert nomads the Fremen and lead them in taking back Arakis from the forces that conspired against him. On its surface Dune is an action packed story of revenge, but one need not look too far to find deeper themes of environmentalism, and the danger of both religion and technology. Also sandworms. All these traits combined make Dune a must read piece of science fiction.
The Dispossessed – Ursula K. Le Guin
This novel may not be for everyone, but is one of my personal favorites. Those looking for action in the traditional sense may wish to skip this novel, but for anybody interested in getting a large helping of philosophy in their science fiction will want to pick this up. The story follows the story of a brilliant physicist by the name of Shevek on the moon world of Annares. Annares has no government, no property, no taxes, no anything. All of its inhabitants help one another to survive on their harsh desolate moon. The mother planet, Urras, is a world not unlike Earth, filled with warring nations, wealth, poverty, property, and politics. After being separated by years of mistrust and differences in ideology, Shevek seeks to mend the bond between the two worlds. The two world cultures are brilliantly conceived and weighed against another, with the reader putting together the pros and cons of each world’s philosophy against the other. In the end The Dispossessed does what all great science fiction should – make you think.
Hyperion – Dan Simmons
Think Canterbury Tales in space. Hyperion follows seven pilgrims on their voyage to the planet Hyperion, along the way sharing their tales that in some way all link back the mysterious planet, the Time Tombs that reside there, and horrifying god/monster the Shrike that guards said tombs. Essentially several mini stories all woven together by a central narrative, Hyperion delivers a fascinating galactic universe filled with war, politics, and intrigue all the while presenting questions that the reader attempts to answer from the information given. What is the Shrike? What are each travelers motivations for traveling to the Time Tombs? And what will happen when they arrive? Hyperion is both classic and refreshing, and as a result is one of the very best pieces of science fiction.
The Forever War – Joe Haldeman
The Forever War is first and foremost a war story. Haldeman, himself a veteran of the Vietnam War, pours his experiences of a soldier fighting in a faraway land and returning to a home he hardly recognizes into a space opera for the ages. Readers follow William Mandella as he is drafted and flung to the far reaches of space to fight a war that few on Earth will even remember. Upon his return, due to the time dilation caused by space travel, Mandella finds a world very different from the one he left. A must read for fans of military science fiction, The Forever War is guaranteed to move you.
Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card
This one started it all for me. Ender’s Game doesn’t wrap itself in deep metaphors or philosophy. What you see is what you get, and what you get is a heartfelt story of child genius Ender Wiggin as he is drafted to defeat an alien race that seems bent on the destruction of mankind. After training in the battle school it becomes clear that Ender is the Earth’s only hope for survival, but at what cost? A relatively short read filled with great action pieces and a phenomenal twist of an ending, Ender’s Game is essential science fiction.
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