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21 Fantastic Books Science Fiction Writers Must Read

Updated on October 24, 2016

Introduction

Writing creative fiction means letting your imagination loose on the page, up to a point. There are many genres of fiction that require you to maintain a certain level of normalcy, but that is not the case with science fiction. You have the ability to create new worlds and dream up creatures and technology that do not exists in the everyday world. As exciting as all of that sounds, it’s still important to create a story that has heart, which is where the ability to write believable characters really comes into play. All science fiction writers, and writers of any kind, are a little stronger in some areas than they are in others, which is why it’s always a good idea to absorb as many great books as you can. It’s a great way to get inspiration, as well as seeing hoe well-rounded writers are able to bring their characters and worlds to life in everything that they commit to the page. Here, in no particular order, are 21 books that every aspiring science fiction writer should take the time to read:

World-Building (Science Fiction Writing)
World-Building (Science Fiction Writing)

Description on Goodreads:

This book is designed to give science fiction writers the solid grounding they need in real science to make their fictions read like fact. World Building is a blueprint in words, calculations, tables and diagrams to help writers transport readers from one world to another.

 

Get inspired by the following 21 science fiction books!

  1. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – Battles against an alien menace are not particularly uncommon in sci-fi novels. Which makes finding a different take on that all the more important if you want your novel to stand out in the crowd. With Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card did that by making the hero of the piece a teenager. The children in the novel are all born and bred to be geniuses, and they are eventually called into action to go up against the alien bugs.
  2. 1984 by George Orwell – What would you do if your government controlled and monitored you every move, every single day of your life? This is the story that is explored in 1984, and it may well be the novel that set the tone for the mass of dystopian fiction that is now so common. You know a book has made an impact when a phrase used in it becomes part of modern culture. We’ll bet that some of you have said “Big Brother is Watching” without knowing that this book is where it came from.
  3. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – While many science fiction writers go out of their way to pain a bleak vision of the future, Douglas Adams does the same whilst also sprinkling his work with some brilliantly absurd humor. From 2-headed space pirates to a depressed robot, Adam creates characters that may seem ridiculous, but who are all instantly unforgettable.
  4. The Dune Chronicles by Frank Herbert – Dune ranks as one of the best-selling science fiction series of all time, perhaps because the author does an incredible job of creating a vast world, whilst also telling a story that spans generations. The spice is life in Dune, and the residents of this world have to battle giant sandworms in order to thrive and survive. You really have to read all the novels to get a feel for the sheer scope of this tale.
  5. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – If you are thinking of pursuing a career as a science fiction writer, it’s probably safe to say that you are a major fan of the written word. That will make the theme for Fahrenheit 451 all the more appalling, as it tells the tale of firemen whose job it is to rid the world of any and all books before setting them ablaze. Things start to change when one of those men begins to see the value of the books he has been sent to destroy.
  6. The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov – If you ask the average science fiction fan which series had the biggest impact on the genre as a whole, it’s probably safe to say that The Foundation Series would get a substantial number of votes. The series focuses on a mathematician named Hari Seldon who uses equations to figure out that a catastrophic event will wipe out the galactic empire for a period of 30,000 years. With this knowledge in place, a foundation of engineers and artists are brought together to preserve and expand upon human knowledge for new empire that will come after the collapse.
  7. American Gods by Neil Gaiman – No matter the genre, a story always has a great level of excitement when the main character is given a task or objective of the highest possible stakes. In this novel, it’s the soul of America that is used as the stakes, and the end result is a novel that bristles with excitement, and leaves you turning the pages in a frenzy. This is a modern classic that will be talked about for many, many years to come. Shouldn’t that be the ultimate goal of every aspiring author?
  8. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – It’s easy to forget that the author penned this novel back in 1931, mainly because it still feels fresh today. That helps explain why it is considered one of the classics of literature, and not just of the science fiction genre. It’s another dystopian world that is on display in this novel, and many of the themes and visions of the future laid out in the book have become very relevant in our world today.
  9. Animal Farm by George Orwell – The second title by Orwell on this list, but one that really couldn’t be left off. The entire story takes place on a far, where each of the animals has a specific place in the pecking order. While it seems as though the animals are all trying to come together as one, it quickly becomes clear that “some animals are more equal than others.” There is definitely a satirical element to this novel, and it takes a few jabs at the way the world and politics in general runs.
  10. Neuromancer by William Gibson – As a writer, you will know that you have struck literary gold when the story you weave creates a whole new sub-genre. That was very much the case with Gibson’s debut novel, which heralded in a genre known as cyberpunk. In Neuromancer, a disillusioned computer whiz is given the chance to add a little spice to his life by stealing a security code that is locked away in the safest pace in the solar system. This is a novel that is groundbreaking in many different ways.
  11. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein – Valentine Michael Smith is a human who is raised on Mars, and who returns to Earth years after a Third World War. As you might expect, Smith possesses abilities that the people of Earth do not understand, and that creates a level of distrust that can at times make for an uncomfortable read. The original manuscript was very heavily edited, and it was only after the book became a huge success that the publisher put out the story in full. Read both versions if you can, as it will provide some real insight into the editing process.
  12. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut – The value of this book for aspiring writers is that it shows you how it is possible to tell a story in a non-linear way and still have it make perfect sense in the end. The book is comprised of stories about the life of Billy Pilgrim, a WWII soldier who claims to have experienced time travel at the hands of the aliens who held him captive. There are times when you will question the reliability and sanity of the narrator, which is all part of the fun.
  13. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – Part horror tale and part science fiction, Frankenstein does a magnificent job of straddling genres whilst staying entertaining all the way through. It’s a powerful piece of work that makes you question ethical decisions, and the impact that they can make if the wrong decisions are made. It certainly also helps that it’s a creepy tale that is far more effective than the vast majority of horror themed tales that followed it.
  14. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells – Creating a believable character often begins with giving him or her a name, and building from there. The fact that the main character in the novel is known simply as The Time Traveler may lead you to believe that he is not fully fleshed out, but nothing could be further from the truth. It becomes clear that his name is of little importance when compared to the scale of the story being told. Well creates some incredibly interesting worlds and races in The Time Machine, which is why it has stood the test of time.
  15. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick – What would you do if you could meet your maker? That is the question that is asked and answered in the story from sci-fi master Phillip K. Dick. Many of you may have some familiarity with this story based on the Blade Runner movie, but as good as that film is, it really is very loosely based on the original story. It’s well worth taking the time to read the book and judge it on its own merits. There are times when the book and the movie can exist in very different realms, and this is one of those cases.
  16. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke – Another science fiction novel that incorporates some elements of horror. There are a number of themes – evolution, artificial intelligence, and technology, to name but a few – explored in this novel, and it’s one that still feels very relevant today. The creepy part of the story comes in the form of HAL, an onboard computer that seems intent on toying with all of the members of a space mission to explore a mysterious black monolith.
  17. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess – A tale of misspent youth that is delivered via narcotics and ultra-violence. The main character, Alex, is part of a youth gang in a near future England. The gang roams the streets and commit random acts of violence that eventually land the young man in jail, where he is submitted to psychological treatment known as the Ludovico Technique. The story is split into three main parts, each of which reads like an individual tale. It’s a dystopian world that is once again on display in this book, but Burgess finds a way to make it totally unique, which is what every writer should aim to do.
  18. The Giver by Lois Lowry – While many of the titles on this list are decades old, it’s worth adding a few modern title to show you that the science fiction genre is very much alive and well, and is attracting a whole new breed of talented writers. The Giver, which has since spawned three sequels, is intended for a young adult audience, but like many series of that nature, it has found a wider audience because of how intelligently the story is written. It may not be the most unique title on the list, but it’s a book that breathed new life into the gene when it was released.
  19. Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey – It’s science fiction with a liberal sprinkling of fantasy, as Anne McCaffrey takes the reader into a world filled with dragons and riders. This book is important for a number of reasons, but most notably for the fact that it made Ms. McCaffrey the first female to win the coveted Hugo Award, as well as the Nebula Award. You don’t get those sort of accolades without creating a story that is sure to stand the test of time, which this series most certainly has.
  20. The Road by Cormac McCarthy – In the near future, the world as we know it has been ravaged by an apocalyptic event that is never really explained within the book. What we do know is that a father and his son are on a quest to reach the ocean, where they believe a better world awaits. Along the way, the father and son bond, while trying to find food and stay one step ahead of gangs of raiders intent on doing no good. It’s a grim, depressing novel, but one that has some real heart at the core.
  21. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson – Another dystopian novel set in the near future, but one that is truly terrifying because of position that the main character is placed in. He may well be the sole survivor of an extinction level event, but he lives every day with hope, whilst trying to avoid the vampires that come out to play when the sun goes down. It’s another creepy vision of the future that is all the more impressive because of its lack of characters.

Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror: Speculative Genre Exercises from Today's Best Writers and Teachers
Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror: Speculative Genre Exercises from Today's Best Writers and Teachers

Description on Goodreads:

The fifth volume in the acclaimed Now Write! writing-guide series offers a full toolbox of advice and exercises for speculative fiction writers hoping to craft an engaging alternate reality, flesh out an enthralling fantasy quest, or dream up a bloodcurdling plot twist.

 

Conclusion

We are sure that there are a lot of titles missing from this list that many of you would love to have seen on here, but the beauty of art of any kind is that it is all subjective. One of the thigs you will come across when learning how to write a book is that not everyone is going to love what you do. You need to be able to take the criticisms that will come, and look for the constructive part of what is being said. It is possible to create a new science fiction novel that turns the genre on its head, because that is something that has been done on a regular basis since the first sci-fi stories were committed to paper. If there is one common thread that ties all of the above stories together, it’s that they all have a heart, human or otherwise, beating between the lines. Breathe that sort of life into your science fiction stories, and there is no reason why your stories cannot appear on future lists.

Images: © ralwel / Adobe Stock; grandfailure / Adobe Stock; diversepixel / Adobe Stock.

Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction: How to Create Out-of-This-World Novels and Short Stories
Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction: How to Create Out-of-This-World Novels and Short Stories

Description on Goodreads:

Craft an otherworldly experience for your readers!Do you envision celestial cities in distant, fantastic worlds? Do you dream of mythical beasts and gallant quests in exotic kingdoms? If you have ever wanted to write the next great fantasy or science fiction story, this all-in-one comprehensive book will show you how. "Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction" is full of advice from master authors offering definitive instructions on world building, character creation, and storytelling in the many styles and possibilities available to writers of speculative fiction.

 

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