There’s something about the snowy days of January that makes me want to curl up with a classic science fiction novel and not lift my head up again until April.
I’m not entirely sure why I have this urge. Maybe it’s because burying my nose in something that was old and often assigned in English class a few years after I’d read it was exactly how I used to spend cold winter weekends when I was a kid? There is also the joy of discovering a story you’ve heard lots of references to in other places. I was positively thrilled to finally get the real version of the first entry on this list. As interesting as movies and TV shows are, they often make changes to the characters or plot that anyone who isn’t familiar with the original might not even notice.
At any rate, if you haven’t read any of these classics yet, I can’t recommend them highly enough. Yes, I’m playing a little loose with the definition of the term classic in this post. I believe that the more modern books I included are going to be as highly praised a century from now as they are today.
“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley.
Ignore everything you may have heard about Frankenstein from TV shows and movies. Frankenstein wasn’t even the name of the creature that was created by nineteenth century science and ingenuity. That name actually comes from Dr. Frankenstein, the scientist who first came up with the idea of stitching the bodies of various corpses together and seeing if he could bring his creation to life.
What I appreciate the most about this tale is how much attention it paid to developing the characters. No one was perfectly virtuous or villainous in the storyline including the monster himself. Yes, this is part of the horror genre, but it probably isn’t the same type of horror most people imagine when they think about this genre.
All of the fear has a purpose here, and it’s not simply to frighten you. It wants to make you think.
“Out of the Silent Planet” by C.S. Lewis.
What if the Earth isn’t the only planet in the universe that contains intelligent life? What if we’re not even the most interesting populated planet out there?
That’s all I can say about this storyline without giving away spoilers, but this trilogy was full of delightful plot twists. C.S. Lewis really knew how to play around with the common tropes in the science fiction genre and come up with a new approach to them.
“Parable of the Sower” by Octavia E. Butler.
I wish Ms. Butler had lived long enough to finish this series. She wrote so many incredible things, and “Parable of the Sower” is honestly one of the best science fiction stories that’s been written in the last 50 years.
Imagine what North America would be like if their societies crumbled slowly instead of overnight like it does in, say, The Walking Dead. (No, there are no zombies in “Parable of the Sower,” though)
The characters in this tale did watch their financial and social prospects dwindle for many years before their home literally burns down and they’re forced to march north and hopefully find a safe place to live.
“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury.
The warnings in this tale about what censorship and totalitarianism do to a society are as timely now as they were when Mr. Bradbury first released this work.
I also enjoyed the descriptions of how the government in this world got people to stop reading books and thinking for themselves. What I assumed they’d do to shut down the flow of information was the exact opposite of how it actually went down.
There were a lot of reasons why I enjoyed the storyline, but this was one of the biggest ones. I never would have guessed that the average person could be so complicit in creating a new government that wasn’t actually what they wanted at all.
“Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley.
On a somewhat silly note, the cold, clinical scene that showed how babies are gestated in this society still haunts me. It’s not gory or anything, but it was nothing at all like how humans reproduce in our world. I read that section two or three times in a row to fully understand how it worked the first time I picked up this story.
One of the other reasons why I recommend this tale so highly has to do with how it approaches the idea of prejudice. No one is born with prejudices. They’re something that have to be directly or indirectly taught to a child. How this happened in this society was as creative as it was disturbing.