Speculative Fiction: Suggestions for Reading This Fall
When it comes to reading during the school year, most people feel like they don’t have enough time. But if you limit your reading to billboards and restaurant menus, you’re missing out on one of the most important and ever-relevant genres: speculative fiction or science fiction. If it’s about the future, we’re into it.
Speculative fiction has always been about where current trends are going to their extremes. Often a character with dissenting opinions is chosen to overcome an oppressive government—for some reason nerds are always worried about the government. So, we came up with a list of novels geared toward the future and being ahead of their times, much like our creative futurism pushes us forward.
The Time Machine – H.G. Wells (1895)
We’re not only full of futurists but we also don’t confine ourselves only to trends or what’s popular, so we didn’t choose War of the Worlds when it came to an H.G. Wells’ novel. The Time Machine is, if you didn’t pick up on it from the title, about time travel. And although it feels like we’re a ways away from time traveling ourselves, VR can offer us an accurate escape into the past. Wells’ masterpiece is layered with themes of class struggle, the delicate balance of environmentalism and farming, and shadow governments—it really has everything.
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley (1932)
GMOs, CRISPR, gene therapy, stem cells, cloning, and fecal transplants are only a few examples of humans modifying their genetic build or mutating it. These are things that are happening today. Huxley posits a world where humans are created in a lab, then schooled and immediately put into a caste system based on their physical build and intelligence. “Organic” humans are referred to as “savages,” and even lower members of the lab-grown caste system look down on them. The normal tropes of dystopian novels are here with an iconoclast rebelling against a unified society, but Brave New World introduces a lot of humanity into its story. In addition to contributing to the speculative fiction conversation, Huxley goes in on our current opiate crisis with “soma,” a sedative the government manufactures to keep its people in line.
The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury (1950)
Instead of the obvious pick of Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles focuses on the first and last settlements of Mars, something today’s futurists are beginning to think more and more seriously about. It’s atypical narrative style of using loosely tied together vignettes mixed with elements of horror provide an entertaining read, but it’s more about colonization and atomic war than anything.
Neuromancer – William Gibson (1984)
The much-lauded first book of The Sprawl Trilogy centers around a burnout hacker trying to relive his glory days of hacking for a mysterious investor. If that isn’t complicated or crazy enough, there’s also space Rastafarians, future drugs, and uploaded consciousnesses. Gibson explores a bevy of present and future elements such as computer matrices, space colonies, and AI super-consciousnesses. The novel starts off and mostly takes place in “The Sprawl,” which is an urban development from the northernmost city of Boston to Atlanta, the capital of the South. This sprawl should sound familiar to millennials’ who have a tendency to move to cities instead of the suburbs where their parents live.
Ready Player One – Ernest Cline (2011)
In order to balance these literary classics which may seem too dark or depressing for everyone, we decided to include one contemporary, lighter novel. Set place in a VR video game, Cline uses what most millennials see their world in—pop-culture references. Although the writing can be clunky sometimes, the overall adventure and sense of wonder make up for it. Cline doesn’t reinvent the genre but he does do a decent job of contemporizing.
You may have noticed how old some of these books are and how relevant they still are, which is why speculative fiction is so important to study. It’ll also be pretty fitting to read any of these works on a tablet or some other form of technology they predicted.
Speculative sci-fi isn’t exact, but you’d be surprised at how much of what is now reality was once fiction. One thing’s for sure, if checking out these books is in your future, I’m sure you’ll have a spec-tacular time. (Okay, I’m sorry about that one.)
—Ed Cantú, strategic director
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