More often than not, I love watching sci-fi movies. I've always been a fan of Star Trek, even though you will never ever catch me wearing a pair of Spock ears, nor keep an English-to-Klingon dictionary on my bookshelf. I believe there's something about the realm of sci-fi that taps into our childlike wonder about the universe around us. How can we not imagine what awaits us in the starry skies or in a future we can't yet see?
When it comes to science-fiction literature, however, I'm not nearly as familiar with the genre. I've long had an aversion to sci-fi books more than most other genres—chick lit and memoirs being the only two genres I can think of that I avoid with greater effort. A few I have read have been dull and bogged down with blather about the science, while ignoring what matters most ... the fiction. I have a healthy suspension of disbelief when I'm reading, so I don't need the characters in a story blathering on about how the bloody gadget works—it works, I get it. When I thought about it though, several novels I've read and enjoyed could arguably fall into the category of science-fiction.
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson could qualify, as could Stephen King's Cell. Dean Koontz's Watchers is another tale of terror that deals heavily with some science-fiction elements. There's something interchangeable between sci-fi and horror. It may be humanity's fear of the unknown. What would you say?
In any event, I thought I would try to come up with five novels I've enjoyed that would qualify as sci-fi more than anything else. So, here it goes ...
#5: Man Plus by Frederick Pohl – A man is basically rebuilt into a pseudo-Martian in order to participate in a long-term mission on Mars. His personal life is in turmoil, however, and there's the threat of it sabotaging the work of everyone involved. I liked this novel, as it was suspenseful in spots and evocative in others. This was an obscure pick, as I found it in a bargain bin at a used-bookstore, but I'm glad I took a chance on it.
#4: The Free Lunch by Spider Robinson – I once saw Robinson on an episode of Idea City, where he discusses his work on Robert Heinlein's last, unfinished novel. The guy's a character, so I wanted to try out his work after reading Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. Free Lunch is tuned more towards the YA crowd, but the whole concept of running away to a futuristic, Disney-esque theme park appealed to me. It was a quick, fun read that had healthy doses of humor and action.
#3: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – Like Dracula, I like this classic tale in spite of the way the story is told. I'm simply not a fan of the correspondence-letters-from-Hell approach to storytelling. And Frankenstein is even more convoluted thanks to hearing an explorer write home to his sister about Dr. Frankenstein talking about the monster he created droning on with his own tale. It was like a Russian nesting doll of narration. But, the whole story of Frankenstein's monster and how he torments Frankenstein for years is riveting.
#2: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card – If this book qualifies as straight-up sci-fi, then it's the best I've read so far. A young boy is whisked off to a futuristic, military training camp for children, so he can become one of Earth's defenders against an impending alien assault. This was such a good exploration of a coming-of-age tale, I'd dare say it ought to be required reading for school kids. They wouldn't regret it, and they might forget about Harry Potter for a little while. Side-note: OSC's verbal reaming of J.K. Rowling for her efforts to thwart an unauthorized HP Index being published is near classic. Look for it.
#1: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – This is one of my all-time favorite stories. I'm not a fan of the allegedly classic movie, though the ending was a nice touch. Maybe this novel counts more as "speculative" fiction than sci-fi, but it's in the same vein. Books are something we've given to the world which are uniquely ours. In the context of the universe, it's a pretty exclusive club we readers belong to. We're the only species that thought to immortalize our words—our language—for future generations. So, the thought of our greatest and most treasured pieces of literature being burned into oblivion is supremely frightening. If you ask anyone afraid of the digital age of books, they'll probably tell you the lack of a tangible, physical connection to the words is one of the factors that influences their emotions on the subject—it does with me, at any rate. Underneath it all, this story by Bradbury shows us that, no matter what, it is the stories that matter most, whatever medium they come in.
There are still more titles sitting on my shelf, which I think have the potential to end up on this list in the future. Probably the one sci-fi novel I'm most looking forward to reading some time is Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The movie was okay, but I have a feeling it didn't do the book justice, especially when you consider how much praise it's received over the years. Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles is collecting dust on my shelf too.
There really aren't any science-fiction titles on my wish list, though. There's some that could be squeezed into the category, but they seem to be more closely associated with steampunk and young-adult (Stephanie Meyer's The Host and Scott Westerfield's Leviathan).
For any sci-fi geeks out there, what would you suggest as essential reading in the realm of sci-fi?