I’ve enjoyed watching sci-fi for quite a while, but I only recently started reading it. My literary tastes have tended towards the classics/literary fiction/fantasy side of things, so I wasn’t quite sure where to start with science fiction. I’ve delved in somewhat haphazardly, reading some books that are classics of the sci-fi genre, others that are new releases, some that are very serious and ideas focused, others that are laugh-out-loud funny. Here are a few of the books that have stood out to me in my foray into the genre.
The Martian – by Andy Weir
There aren’t many books that have made me laugh as much as this one did. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like it should be a funny book: astronaut gets left on Mars and must survive, alone on the planet, until he can be rescued. But Mark Watney, the main character, has a hilariously upbeat sense of humor, and it’s his voice that carries the novel — which is written mostly in the form of his daily journal entries. If you’re already familiar with the movie, but haven’t read the book yet — get your hands on the book. It’s even more suspenseful and an even better story than the movie.
The Martian Chronicles – by Ray Bradbury
This set of short stories, written in the 1940s, imagines a series of attempted colonizations of Mars. The beauty of the writing left me stunned. The characters are deftly drawn, and Bradbury uses Mars as a backdrop for commenting perceptively on the nature of humanity. This book makes for an interesting pairing with The Martian, particularly because it was written so long ago. The fact that so little was known about Mars when Bradbury wrote this book gave him a freedom to imagine landscapes and worlds on Mars that are no longer available to us today. I found it intriguing to read such very different books, both set on the same planet.
The Left Hand of Darkness – by Ursula K. Le Guin
I’d already read and enjoyed a number of Ursula K. Le Guin’s fantasy novels, so I decided to give her sci-fi novels a try. I was not disappointed. In this book, she presents us with a heady, complex world — a stunningly depicted arctic planet, peopled by a race of androgynous beings who can become either male or female when they “go into heat.” Written in the 1970s, this book spends perhaps more time digging into the social implications of such a world than the same book would if it had been written more recently. But it’s an engaging read — beautifully written, and leaving the reader with many ideas to ponder.
Shards of Honor – by Lois McMaster Bujold
As was the case with Ursula K. Le Guin, I was first introduced to Lois McMaster Bujold’s writing through her fantasy novels. I’d been impressed by The Curse of Chalion, and I’d heard that Ms. Bujold was even better known for her Vorkosigan sci-fi series. I launched into the series and have been thoroughly enjoying it. Her characters are well drawn and intriguing. The political intrigue and battle sequences are suspenseful and not over-done. In exploring a genre that tends to be very male in its focus, I’m appreciating the female authors who have made their way in this genre and created some novels that have more depth of character than many of the sci-fi books written by male authors that I’ve read.
2001: a Space Odyssey – by Arthur C. Clarke
I’d seen the movie that’s based on this book and found it intriguing, but… odd. There were certainly parts of the movie that I thought were amazing — who can forget the monkeys learning to make tools as Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra booms in the background or the smoothly creepy voice of Hal saying “Good morning, Dave.” Yet I found the movie somewhat disconnected and unexplained. Well, I’m here to tell you that the book explains a lot. I understood the movie (and the story as a whole) so much better after reading the book. The book has a lush, epic feel to it. It’s truly incredible to think that it was written before the lunar landing, yet portrays the vastness of space and the smallness of humanity in comparison in a way that’s unparalleled in my experience.
I’m still new to this genre, and would love your recommendations! What science fiction books do you love?