Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week, they post a topic and encourage fellow bloggers to list their own top ten answers. This week’s prompt is to choose your top ten books in any genre you would like: historical fiction, dystopian lit, Victorian novels, or romance, just to name a few! I chose to list my Top Ten Non-YA Science Fiction Books, as you’ll see below.
Permit me to go off on a tangent for a minute: I chose to do this because as a genre, science fiction written for adults–like fantasy–is often considered juvenile, silly, and unimportant. That’s unfair. Science fiction has a lot of valuable things to say about what it means to be human, about time, about memory, about creation, about our fears, about how this world can be made better. It’s an arena that allows authors and readers to make their own realities, to dream bigger, to innovate and explore–and for that, it’s denigrated? When science fiction is done just right, with relevance to both our lives now and what they might look like in the future, it can be a very moving, powerful experience. So if you don’t consider yourself a sci-fi fan, think about trying one of the novels below!
1. The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell
A tale about space exploration and the discovery of a new planet and culture that also chronicles the only survivor’s painful physical and mental recovery. Incredibly powerful and a true homage to human curiosity and resilience.
2. Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
There is some “free love” philosophizing in here that somewhat marred my enjoyment of the book, but the premise–of the first human raised on Mars, brought back to Earth–is strong enough to stand on its own.
3. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
An extremely realistic portrayal of the lingering effects war has on a soldier, and a great subversion of many typical “space novella” novels. Haldeman fought in the Vietnam War, and this novel is considered by many to be his autobiography of sorts.
4. The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
If you have any interest in climate change and issues of food sovereignty (GMOs, copyrighting seeds, etc.), this is the book for you. Bacigalupi runs with ideas of biotechnology, human-created natural disasters, and economic meltdowns, and throws them in a futuristic Thailand populated with double-crossing American businessmen, child laborers, rebels, and windup girls.
5. Passage, by Connie Willis
I love this book! It explores what happens to us after we die, as researched by doctors in a hospital–including one doctor who keeps putting herself under to try to solve the mystery.
6. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
While Atwood has sometimes chafed at being labeled a science fiction author, this tale of a dystopian, theocratic future where women are property whose only purpose is to bear children is chilling enough to make me hope it remains in the realm of fiction. I have recommend this book to everyone, even friends who tell me they don’t like sci-fi–it’s that good.
7. The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
It actually took me two tries to get through this book. (I wasn’t in the right headspace the first time.) Past LeGuin’s impressive descriptions of a cold, bleak planet, she also addresses the question of how a human might navigate a world without gender. It’s both a sci-fi and feminist classic for a reason.
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
Another science fiction classic (and the basis for a classic sci-fi movie, Bladerunner). The central question is: what does it mean to be human, and how can we even tell when we aren’t human anymore? It’s a bit of a mind-screw.
9. Dune, by Frank Herbert
I was I had read this as a much younger nerd, because it follows the structure of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey so closely that after having read tons of other sci-fi and fantasy, Dune can feel a bit formulaic. That’s not Dune’s fault, though!
10. The Children of Men, by P.D. James
An excellent dystopian future, where everyone is infertile and children are no longer born. A dying world, with no hope of a next generation, is a very bleak one indeed. The world-building here is great, as is the excitement and fright when, it’s discovered, a woman might be pregnant.
Bonus! 11. Who Goes There? by John Campbell Jr.
The novella that inspired my favorite horror movie, The Thing, is scary in what felt, to me, like a very 1940s way. There’s no overt violence or gore, or even an explanation of what the Thing is or what it looks like. Instead, it’s a subtle, creeping kind of horror–who do you trust and how do you survive when faced with a being that can perfectly mimic not only the appearance of, but also the voice, memories, and personality of, your friends? How do you even trust yourself, when you can be assimilated by the Thing and not even realize it? The physical limitations that the Antarctic setting imposes on the humans only adds to the feeling of claustrophobia. Read it for free here.