Science fiction is an odd genre; over time it has slowly merged with the fantasy genre. However, I consider fantasy and science fiction to be separate genres. Hence, none of my top science fiction novels contain fantasy elements.
1. War of the Worlds–H.G. Wells
I really wish someone would make an actual adaption of this book. I enjoy watching Tom Cruise run for his life as much as the next person, but I would like a movie adaption that is actually set during the appropriate time period. Set in Victorian England, this novel details the story of a Martian alien invasion. Massive panic ensues. The War of the Worlds is written as a factual account of the Martian invasion. The novel is well-known for the 1938 radio broadcast narrated and directed by Orson Welles. Originally published in 1897, The War of the Worlds is known as one of the most visionary and thought provoking science fiction tales published. The narrative is well-paced and actually quite terrifying if you think about it long enough. Aliens invading Victorian England, how would humanity survive?
War of the Worlds, Wilder Publications, 2013, ISBN: 9781617208997
2. Starship Troopers– Robert A. Heinlein
A military science fiction novel first published in 1959. The novel is told in first-person from the perspective of Juan “Johnnie” Rico. Johnnie serves in the Mobile Infantry, a military branch dedicated to fighting off alien invaders. Throughout the novel, Johnnie progresses from raw recruit to NCO and, finally, officer rank. Rico’s military accomplishments are told against the backdrop of an interstellar war between humans and “the Bugs”. Characters discuss the moral and philosophical aspects of civic virtue, war, capital punishment, suffrage, and juvenile delinquency. Personally, I dislike this novel. I had a difficult time connecting to the characters. However, it is a classic “hard” science fiction novel and one of Heinlein’s greatest works. Few other novels have induced a major cultural shift. The US Military cites this book as the inspiration for moving towards a volunteer-military force. Avoid the movies at all cost.
Starship Troopers, Ace,1987, ISBN: 9780441783588
3. Ender’s Game–Orson Scott Card
This is a military science fiction novel originally published in1985. The narrative is set in the distant future where mankind is locked in conflict with an insectoid alien species known as the “Buggers”. In a preemptive attempt to ward off future attacks, a military training program is created. Talented young children are selected and given military training in preparation for an anticipated third invasion. Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, the protagonist, is a precocious young boy who is recruited for military training. Ender’s tactical genius is revealed during zero gravity war games. The novel discusses the justification of violence, the morality of preemptive defense, and the weight of command. I did not enjoy the sequels. However, I thought the movie was fantastic.
Ender’s Game, Tor Science Fiction, 1994, ISBN: 9780812550702
4. Nightfall–Isaac Asimov
Originally published as a short story in 1941, this novella was adapted into a novel in 1990 in conjunction with Robert Silverberg. Asimov set out to explain how mankind would react if the sun only set once every thousand years. Lagash (Kalgash in the novel) is a fictional planet located in a solar system with six suns. These suns keep the planet continuously illuminated; total darkness is unknown. As a result, no one has seen the stars located outside the solar system. A group of scientists soon discover evidence of civilization undergoing a cyclical collapse every 2000 years. The scientists eventually theorize that civilization collapse is tied to nightfall. This novel breaks away from Asimov’s normal themes and delves into the realm of “soft” science fiction. I love this novel because it explores the depths of the human psyche in a unique way. Also, Asimov excelled at weaving a fantastic science fiction tale.
Nightfall, Spectra, 1991, ISBN: 9780553290998
5. The Left Hand of Darkness–Ursula Le Guin
Published in 1969, this novel is unique in its exploration of gender, sexuality, and societal expectations. This novel takes place in the extreme future, though no date is ever revealed. The Left Hand of Darkness sets out to explore how society would function if individuals possessed the biological and emotional makeup of both genders. This is the fourth book in Le Guin’s Hainish Cycle. Genly Ai is an envoy to the planet Winter where he attempts to convince Winter to join the Ekumen (League of All Worlds). Winter is a unique planet as its citizens are “ambisexual’, they only adopt specific genders once-a-month during a period of extreme fertility. Citizens adopt their gender based upon their relationships and contextual role. This unique condition has affected the societal development of Winter. The most glaring difference is that Winter has never engaged in warfare. This novel made literary waves due to its controversial subject matter. The Left Hand of Darkness remains one of the best “soft” science fiction novels ever published.
The Left Hand of Darkness, Ace Trade, 2000, ISBN: 9780441007318