Reading List

Science fiction’s most important books and films.

Nuclear war
The Hugo Award

Foundation (1951)

There have been many famous science fiction writers, but one of the most esteemed and prolific was Isaac Asimov. He was born in Russia in 1920, moved to America at the age of three, trained to be a chemist – then he started writing books.


In 1951, he published *Foundation*. The story is about a 12,000-year-old Galactic Empire on the verge of complete collapse. A group of scientists set up a planet-sized encyclopedia, full of all the empire’s knowledge and science, in the hope of rebuilding advanced society in the future.

This process will not be easy. As other planets sink into a pre-modern state, they become dogmatically religious, and suspicious of science and technology. *Foundation* explores the clash between science and religion: will the scientific glory of the Galactic Empire ever rise again?

Dune (1966)

Frank Herbert was born in 1920. He started writing *Dune* in his late thirties, but struggled to get it published. It was finally picked up by a tiny company better known for publishing automobile manuals – and the book was a massive hit.


The story is set on a desert planet, Arrakis, which is home to a valuable resource: spice. This drug-like substance grants psychic abilities and extends the life of anyone who takes it. Arrakis is at the heart of a political struggle, as factions from all across the galaxy plot to claim the planet as their own.

In the middle of it all is Paul Atreides – the teenage son of a duke. Throughout the story, he must learn who to trust: his own family, his teacher and servants, or the strange natives who live on Arrakis, somewhere deep in the endless dunes.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)


In the 1960s, renowned filmmaker Stanley Kubrick teamed up with science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. The result was *2001: A Space Odyssey*, which many people herald as the greatest science fiction film of all time.

The film revolves around the discovery of an alien monolith on the moon, which seems to be pointing toward the distant planet of Jupiter. An expedition is sent to the planet, but along the way, the artificially intelligent ship-computer starts to disobey the crew.

The film was ahead of its time. The themes of space exploration and artificial intelligence still strike a chord with modern audiences, while the practical effects look as good today as they did more than fifty years ago.

The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)

In the first half of the 20th century, science fiction was a male-dominated genre. Then Ursula K. Le Guin came along, and became one of the most celebrated writers in the field.


She is best known for her novel, *The Left Hand of Darkness*, first published in 1969. The story is set on the planet Gethen, where inhabitants are ambisexual. Le Guin wanted to imagine a society without gender – how different would it be from our own?

When a human ambassador arrives on the planet, he must learn to navigate this genderless society, with its unique approach to politics and culture. Over time, he starts to question his own gender, and reevaluate his sense of self.

Neuromancer (1984)


When William Gibson published *Neuromancer* in 1984, it was so influential that it is often cited as the definitive work of the entire cyberpunk subgenre.

The story is set in near-future Japan, where people are able to connect their minds to a virtual reality cyberspace. Henry Case is a washed-up computer hacker, who used to be the best in the business, until a vengeful employer damaged his spine to stop him from entering cyberspace.

Out of nowhere, Case is hired for one last job. The mysterious client will fix his spine, on the condition he enters cyberspace again, and finds a way to hack an all-powerful artificial consciousness.

The Handmaid's Tale (1985)

Margaret Atwood was born in Canada in 1939. Along with Ursula Le Guin, she was an early pioneer of feminist science fiction, with her most famous novel – *The Handmaid’s Tale* – first published in 1985.

The story is set in the totalitarian Republic of Gilead, where women are judged on their reproductive abilities. They are forcibly assigned to men in power, and expected to give birth to as many children as possible.

One of these women is Offred. She still remembers her life before the Republic of Gilead came to power, when she was happily married and had a small daughter. But now she is trapped in sexual servitude – unless the Republic can be overthrown.


Dawn (1987)

When Octavia E. Butler started writing science fiction, she found the existing stories were dominated by white, male characters. She decided to try something different, and rose to prominence with her powerful approach to race, identity and colonialism.

In 1987, she published *Dawn*. In the story, Lilith Iyapo wakes up on an alien spacecraft, centuries after the rest of Earth was destroyed by a nuclear war. Now, the aliens want Lilith to start a new society.

But only on one condition. The aliens want to genetically merge with humankind, creating a new, hybrid race. The thought is terrible and shocking to Lilith – but does humanity have a choice?


Hyperion (1989)

Dan Simmons has written in several genres, including science fiction, horror, historical, crime and fantasy. His most notable work is *Hyperion*, a science fiction novel that also draws heavily from all of those other genres – as well as from the narrative structure of Geoffrey Chaucer’s medieval *Canterbury Tales*.


The story is set on the planet Hyperion, at the edge of a galactic empire. On this planet lives the Shrike – a machine-like creature, which kills relentlessly, and has the power to move through time.

Some people fear it. Others worship it. And seven pilgrims are on their way to meet it. During the long journey, each of them shares their life story. From a tortured priest, to a troubled father, they are all united by the desperate hope that the Shrike will grant them one single wish.

The Three-Body Problem (2008)


Liu Cixin is a Chinese author who gained international acclaim for his novel *The Three-Body Problem*. It is the only ever translated novel to win the Hugo Award – one of the most prestigious prizes in fiction.

The story is about a military project to make contact with aliens. They send a signal into space – and the signal is picked up by an alien race whose planet is on the brink of collapse.

Sensing an opportunity, the aliens make plans to move to Earth, but they will not arrive for more than a hundred years. In the meantime, the people of Earth must decide: do they welcome the aliens, or prepare to defend their home?

A Memory Called Empire (2019)

In the last few years, science fiction has celebrated dozens of new voices from under-represented groups. The last seven Hugo Awards have been won by women – and two of those by Arkady Martine.


In 2019, she released her debut novel: *A Memory Called Empire*. Set in the intergalactic Teixcalaanli Empire, it follows Mahit Dzmare, an ambassador from a fiercely independent mining station floating outside the empire.

When Ambassador Dzmare arrives in Teixcalaan, she finds herself entranced by the seductive, alien culture. She is forced to make a choice: stay true to her own culture, or let the ways of the empire engulf her?

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