Confused? Not sure what I mean by “Part Two”? Where’ve you been, man? Go read last week’s post first. We’ll all wait here for you.
Ready? Alright then.
The Scifi List, continued:
Andromeda Strain – Michael Crichton (1969)
Crichton, much like Stephen King, gets a bad rep for being “too pop.” But I enjoy his stuff quite a bit. Andromeda Strain is science fiction in the truest sense of the term. And, more than most of his other work, draws heavily on his training as a physician. Accuracy is important when talking about crazy killer space germs, I think. And there’s something a little more scary about his tone of clinical detachment, as well. As opposed to, say, The Stand, which is a more aftermathy, post-apocalyptic kind of story. (Fun fact: did you know that Michael Crichton was 6’9″? You do now.)
Others to try by Michael Crichton:
I, Robot – Isaac Asimov (1950)
I couldn’t in good conscience let this list go without any Asimov. Wouldn’t be right. I, Robot is pretty important in that it set the parameters for a lot of subsequent techy, roboty scifi. His three Laws of Robotics have become the Magna Carta for both scifi and actual AI research. Because they’re good laws. They make sense. And I’m practically Vulcan in my dedication to logic. But the breaking of those laws is equally exciting, isn’t it (ie, The Matrix, Terminator, etc)? Plus, I, Robot is set in 2010 (in the original edition) and I love saying, “Isn’t it cool that we live in the age of science fiction?” Because that’s fun.
Others to try by Isaac Asimov:
The Gods Themselves
Contact – Carl Sagan (1985)
Sagan is probably more important to real space exploration than to fiction about space exploration (because hard science will always be more important than art, try as we might to change that). But he was an inspiration to scientists and writers alike. For the record I think that both disciplines benefit from people who do both. Rare as they are. Contact is another one of those books that shows us the flawed beauty in our perception of what it means to be human. If we found life in space, what would we want from it? What would we want it to see in us? That’s kind of the point of the Sagan record on Voyager, I guess, but the politics and psychology of that process is really well-illustrated in Contact. (And when you’re done reading it you should listen to this episode of Radiolab about the making of the Sagan record. Or before. Hell, I don’t care.)
Others to try by Carl Sagan:
The Time Machine – H.G. Wells (1895)
So, this one’s important not so much for its scifi cred, but because of the time period in which it was written. It’s an excellent historical look at extending existing social mores and customs and their accompanying metaphors and analogies into a new genre of fiction. Much like how a lot of newer scifi has become all guns and killing-the-bad-guy since we got all frothy over the war on terror. Plus, I needed at least one about time travel and this is an oldie but a goodie. Way before the hard science existed on the possibilities of time travel, Wells wrote a book about a scientist making a time machine. Which was nothing but a flight of fancy in his day. (Side note: how did that happen? That it became a part of human nature to consider being able to move through time?) And then when the character arrives in the distant future, we can see another example of xenophobia at work (much like in War of the Worlds). Fear is the best tool that any writer has at his disposal, honestly, and it can destroy you. Fear of the unknown, ignorance, destroys most quickly. Knowledge and strength of conviction have to go hand in hand. One can’t just rely on one or the other. (You hear me talking, Republicans?)
Others to try by H.G. Wells:
War of the Worlds
The Invisible Man
Journey to the Center of the Earth – Jules Verne (1864)
Congratulations to Jules Verne for having the oldest book on both lists. What an honor that must be for a dead guy with no internet. While really old fiction is somewhat difficult for me (mostly because I failed almost every history class I ever took and I need context, damn it, context!), I do enjoy Verne. And I can’t think of a better example of neonatal scifi. Most of his stuff reads like the travelogue-style writing popular in his day, which is always an interesting fictive device. And the lack of real scientific knowledge of the time makes for this wonderful, wide-eyed and hopeful tone that sucks the reader into the adventure completely. Plus? Subterranean dinosaurs. Bam.
More to try by Jules Verne:
Around the World in Eighty Days
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Tune in next week when we tackle The Fantasy List.