Since the last installment of this series barely made a dent in my To-Be-Read spreadsheet, and Christmas has left me with a wealth of books to add, I’m checking some of the sci-fi classics off of my list this time. As this list is a little all over the map, I’m going to read the titles below in order of date of publication, because the evolution of science fiction is something fascinating to see unfold.
1984 by George Orwell (1949)
Unlike almost everyone else I know, I somehow managed to not only avoid reading 1984 in high school, but university as well. Depicting a dystopian, totalitarian future, 1984 is one of those books that has shaped not just the science fiction landscape considerably, but made an impact on our cultural imagination as well. Terms such as “Big Brother,” “thoughtcrime,” and “doublespeak” entered mainstream use soon after the book was published, and the book is frequently featured on “Best Of” lists. Its influence is undeniable, as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was branded “the next 1984.“
The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov (1951—1953)
Okay, so the first Foundation short story was actually published in 1942, sue me. The series wasn’t finished until 1950 and wasn’t presented in trilogy form until 1951 so, while it arguably came before, I’m placing it after 1984. I’ve had two recommendations for this series: one asking me to “assess the profound complexity and ingenuity inherent in the premise of psychohistory,” and the other simply saying: “It’s probably my all-time favourite trilogy, even over Lord of the Rings.” I ignored the first one and am reading it at the insistence of the second.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (1969)
Google “classic science fiction” or “best of science fiction” and this book pops up an inordinate number of times. Couple that with a Feminist Lit prof who gushed about this book during a meeting about a paper and I was thoroughly intrigued. The idea of a genderless society is one that I find endlessly fascinating and a little mind-bending. I’m really eager to see how Le Guin pulls this off, since writing around gender in the English language is extremely difficult.
Neuromancer by William Gibson (1984)
Published in the infamous year of Orwell’s dystopia, Neuromancer is a great example of how sci-fi has changed over the years, particularly due to the influence of computers. It’s considered a seminal text of the cyberpunk subgenre, whose name stems from a combination of “cybernetics” and “punk,” and features a computer hacker as a main character. Who doesn’t love a good hacker story? Especially when that story won the Hugo, Nebula, and Phillip K. Dick awards, and coined the term “cyberspace.”
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
Another book I somehow missed in school, Atwood’s classic dystopia was hailed as “the next 1984” when it was published, hence why it’s on this list. Though, my gut reaction is that “the female 1984” might be more accurate, knowing Ms. Atwood. I have many friends who hate this book because they had to read it for school, yet time and again it’s one of those titles that just seems to keep coming up in conversation.
Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card (1999)
Another sign of changing times is not just the endless sequels and three-quels and prequels that have flooded today’s media market, but more and more books are cropping up around secondary characters and alternate interpretations of well-known classics. Ender’s Game is another sci-fi classic, and Ender’s Shadow follows supporting character Bean through the exact same timeline, providing an alternate look at the events of the Bugger war. Given how focused Ender’s Game was on Ender and Ender alone, I’m looking forward to the alternate take provided in Ender’s Shadow.