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Sci Fi Classics

Venerable Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot (1950)
This collection of nine short stories bears little resemblance to the Will Smith movie of the same name. However, both involve Asimov's three laws of robotics, rules programmed into the robots that regulate their behavior toward humans. In the book, the laws are vague enough to provide loopholes, allowing the robots to act in strange and undesirable ways, but they never actually break a rule and harm a human. Even if the movie only draws from the book occasionally, Asimov is undeniably the starting place for all stories of this kind. Read how it all began!
 
Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World (1939)
Huxley's classic prophetic novel describes the socialized horrors of a futuristic utopia devoid of individual freedom. His idea that in the future, a completely totalitarian government will control everything, including people's individual freedoms, is not new. He was simply the first to elaborate on this theme in such vivid detail, inspiring future authors from George Orwell (1984) to Lois Lowry (The Giver).
 
Lewis, C.S.
Out of the Silent Planet (1938)
This is the first book of what is referred to as the "Space Trilogy." The main character is Dr. Ransom, said to be modeled after Lewis' friend, J.R.R. Tolkien. Two men kidnap Ransom and take him to the mysterious red planet, called Malacandra. His adventures and travels there illuminate "real world" human nature, in much the same way as the strange lands of Gulliver's Travels. Lewis was a Christian theologian, so religious elements make their subtle way into this series, like they do in his Narnia books. Whether this matters to the reader or not, this is a high-quality work of early science fiction.
 
Shelley, Mary
Frankenstein (1818)
This is the familiar story of a monster, assembled by a scientist from parts of dead bodies. He soon develops a mind of his own, as he learns to loathe himself and his creator. Is the monster a symbol of technology, like genetic engineering? Does he represent how she feels about parenting, and her own family? Is he a symbol for how Shelley thought about her own story-telling abilities? Read the book that spawned a hundred spin-offs and see how it all began.
 
Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels (1726)
The voyages of an Englishman carry him to such strange places as Lilliput, where people are six inches tall; Brobdingnag, a land of giants; and a country ruled by horses. These exotic locations, and their strange inhabitants, are a backdrop by which Gulliver (and Swift) can compare "regular people." In this sense the book is more of an extended metaphor that it is a fantasy. The book can be read as a literary satire with deeper scholarly themes. However, it is also remarkable as an example of alternate-world fiction.
 
Twain, Mark
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889)
This is one of the first stories about time travel to ever be widely read. Hank Morgan, a thoroughly "civilized" and "modern" man of the 19th century, takes a nasty bump on the head, and when he wakes, finds himself in King Arthur's England. Hank's knowledge of the future leads him to a position of power, so he decides to teach these highly romanticized "Golden Age" men something about modern science (and manners). Twain's treatment of the resulting culture clash was mercilessly funny, and continues to be entertaining today.
 
Verne, Jules
Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864)
Professor Lidenbrock finds a mysterious manuscript that, after some study, appears to be an explorer's account of his journeys to the center of the Earth. Lidenbrock enlists his geologist nephew, Axel, and an Icelandic guide to go with him on a corresponding journey of his own. Along the way they encounter several problems, like intense darkness, lack of food and drinkable water, and boiling hot rivers that flow under volcanoes. They also encounter animals and primitive kinds of humans that were thought to be extinct. See for yourself where their travels take them!
 
Verne, Jules
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1870)
In this book, Verne introduced one of the forefathers of modern superheroes, the misanthropic Captain Nemo and his elaborate submarine, Nautilus, named after Robert Fulton's steam-powered submarine. Verne has skillfully melded real science and invention with exciting, action-packed adventure. His submarine, the "Nautilus" correctly anticipated the first real power submarine by about 25 years: built in 1886 by two Englishmen, the first all-electric submarine was named Nautilus in honor of Verne's novel. The first nuclear-powered submarine, launched in 1955, was named Nautilus, too.
 
Wells, H. G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896)
A young scientist named Robert Prendick is shipwrecked in the South Seas. A man named Montgomery rescues him and takes him to Dr. Moreau, whose island they are on. When Prendick sees the gruesome and horrifying "scientific" experiments Moreau is conducting, it raises a number of questions that are eerily relevant today. Should scientists be allowed to "play God?" Where does legitimate scientific curiosity end, and become simply insane, cruel, or a quest for power? Do people have an inherent social responsibility, and a right to live free? What separates humans from animals? In warning, this book is not for the weak-of-stomach, but the gore is for a purpose, not just a cheap thrill.
 
Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine (1894)
The main character, known simply as the Time Traveler, is a Victorian scientist who uses his machine to see how the human species evolves over the centuries. Instead he discovers two distinct races: the seemingly weak, beautiful, and stupid Eloi, and the ugly and brutish subterranean Morlocks. By using these two descendants of contemporary humans, Wells shows how current ideas of class distinction can have dangerous future consequences for all of humankind.
 

Updated:09/08/2009