Hilary Armstrong is a literature student at U.C. Santa Barbara and a Longreads intern. She also happens to love science fiction, so she put together a #longreads list for sci-fi newbies.
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Have you heard? Science fiction is “in”—nerds at the movies, nerds everywhere. This is thrilling if you are familiar with the genre, but what if you never got into sci-fi in the first place? Where would you start?
Since its inception (ha), speculative fiction has worked as social commentary, satire, and a creative answer to the question “What if?” Here are my personal picks to get you started.
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1. Nightfall, Isaac Asimov (1941)
No sci-fi list is complete without Asimov, and not only due to his creation of the Laws of Robotics. If you like this story, I would suggest moving straight on to his “robopsychologist” Susan Calvin stories.
2. The Veldt, Ray Bradbury (1950)
Bradbury, of Martian Chronicles fame and beyond, writes here about the danger of integrating technology too far into human developmental psychology.
3. Bloodchild, Octavia Butler (1995)
A look at the symbiotic relationship between aliens and humans. If you’ve seen any horror movie featuring extraterrestrials, you’ve pretty much seen them all, but sci-fi stories like this one explore more “alien” ideas than the simple “monster from space” trope.
4. Robot, by Helena Bell (2012)
Robots! Here’s a short and wicked story from Bell, a contemporary sci-fi writer who touches on slavery, mortality, and the horror of a slow decline in life.
5. The Country of the Blind, H.G. Wells (1904)
Wells (War of the Worlds, Time Machine) is the oldest pick on my list, and this story imagines just what its title implies.
6. Understand, by Ted Chiang (1991)
Chiang addresses PTSD, advancements in medical science, and the horror of not trusting your own mind. This story is probably one of the best “straight” sci-fi examples on this list—the clear “What if?” develops steadily, and pushes the reader along to its surprising conclusion. Entire novels have been written in this style—Max Barry’s Machine Man is my personal favorite.
Bonus Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Suggestions
I also recommend this list for more great reading material, and if you want to start with something cyberpunky, look out for Neal Stephenson or William Gibson—they’re mostly novelists, and definitely worth your time.
(cover via umbc.edu)