So, you say you’re into sci-fi? We all know that the central theme to most sci-fi novels is the technology featured therein.
Of course, there are the standard literary tropes of conflict, romantic interests, man vs. nature and all that, but why critically analyze a great body of work, when a grade isn’t hinging on your understanding of different elements of style?
Here, we have a list of a few books that will change the way you see technology, play upon trends we currently see today.
Some are averse to the idea of allowing technology to take over our world (see: George Orwell’s 1984 and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451), while others advocate to the promise of the revolution (Vernor Vinge’s Rainbow’s End and The Scar by China Miélville).
Let’s take a look of a couple of modern novels (during/post technology’s ideation period) and their classic counterparts (pre-tech).
Rainbow’s End by Vernor Vinge
There is a lot going on in this novel. One of my main takeaways is a scene featuring a war on books (reminiscent of 451) where teenage-powered mechs and aging librarians fight to defend a library that the government is poised to “destroy” by digitizing all of the physical text. The problem is this would render the library utterly useless, because every few pages are destroyed in the scanning process.
In the future, people (young programmers, especially, are keen to pick up on the technology) are creating their own environments, such that a girl can view a dusty old deserted street as a magnificent fairy tale garden, if she plots the physics’ schematics to the scene. Also, one of our main characters is a guy who recovers from Alzheimer’s and actually exceeds his younger brain’s capacity to learn. This is what we all want, right? He’s not cheating death, exactly, not of his physical body, but he’s skating the walls of brain death, which is pretty impressive.
The next step, naturally, would be to find a way to bottle the consciousness of his mind space for future reproduction, à la the 2015 movie, CHAPPiE, but we’re not there yet, sadly.
Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem
What do you even say about this book? Our main character is a private investigator who gets into heaps of trouble any time his karma his the lower digits. This can occur as quickly as him seeing an old lady crossing the street, and if he’s too busy to help her out, bam! Automatic karma point deduction. This card that holds your points is actually your driver’s license, in this universe, so your karma is very important–moreso than your bank account balance, or anything else as trivial as this. I think we probably should implement this trace of humanity upon our own social security system, but we’re a far ways away from changing almost anything about the judicial system is run, as of now.
One of the things that stuck with me was, near the end of the book, when our PI is interviewing someone while trying to close up a case, the lady in question refers to a tape recorder to replay her memories, because she doesn’t bother keeping them in her head anymore. This is basically what’s happening to us, as a society, even to me in fact. When you try to recall a password or a past event, you might look at your phone’s memo pad, right? Or even a diary, perhaps, if you’re rockin’ it old school (ahem).
Scary thought. Harkens back to the ye old Socrates and Plato debate. Socrates refused to write anything down, because he felt that if he wrote his thoughts down, he’d essentially let them go, and he wanted to keep that muscle tight in his brain. Nevertheless, Plato his pupil, took it upon himself to write all of Socrates’ teachings down. Poor Socrates. Upstaged and rebelled against by his most prized pupil. Well, just goes to show you, you can’t trust anyone.
Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi
Did you apply to take part in the Mars One trip in a few years? Chances are, you didn’t make it. I’m pretty sure they only picked up engineers and scientists, even though their original motive was to bring ordinary civilians into space.
Regardless, Zoe’s Tale will bring you there. Most of the trip takes place aboard the spaceship, as it takes years to reach their destination, but they do eventually make it to their destination. Whole families are put to work building a civilization on Roanoke, a distant rock hovering in geosynchronous orbit around the Earth. What you wouldn’t expect, is for the novel to turn all Thanksgiving pilgrimage on you, where our female protagonist finds herself battling aliens, at the ripe age of 17.
It’s a must read for those who pine for the hardship that building life on other worlds entails.
Reamde by Neal Stephenson
This one is a world unto itself, and it reminds me of Charles Stross’s Halting State, which is a nice little sci-fi romp through a more mundane realm of the future, if you’re so inclined (and I recommend it).
But, Reamde is all about a world within a world, which you’re probably familiar with if you’ve read Snow Crash. The plot is this guy is writing the code to an MMO and somehow, in the midst of all the fun, he gets sucked into converting the digital monies into real currency and an online war breaks out (Bitcoin, anyone?). He tries to escape into the country on a family trip and the interactions he has with real people only further provokes him to seeking seclusion in his room to deal with thugs who want to wager a price on his head in exchange for the game.
I can’t sum it up as aptly as you could, if you read the book, but I’d read it if I weren’t you (supposing you haven’t been there already). It’s really a dire look into the future of virtual reality versus the real, and what is the difference if you live in one realm and work in the other?
The Scar by China Miélville
The Scar is amazing. I picture our protagonist as the lithe, blonde hero featured in most of my short stories, but how she keeps cropping up is anyone’s guess.
In the future, there is an island of steel barges comprising a city of New Crobuzon, where fully-human sailors and scholars try to intermingle with the likes of crab-like, everyday workers and suss out a truth unknown to all but Miévelle himself. He’s already written the future, and it lives on the surface of the sea. Why haven’t we tried to colonize the sea, yet, by any means? We look to space, when there’s plenty of room and resources atop the bottomless ocean, I presume.
Regardless, this is substantial. If I could go into a doctor’s office and get some wings or some lobster claws attached to me and no one would judge me, that’d be the day. The only drawback is that books are actually quite rare in this future, stultified even, as it’s become quite obtuse to even spend time reading. You should be working, goddamnit, is what this book is saying to us. At least the main character still has the decency to distance herself from the rest of society and smoke whilst thinking her own original thoughts.
1984 by George Orwell
If you haven’t been tasked with reading this in high school, that’s OK. Don’t fret. This book is most likely best read at an ideal adult stage in life.
The fact that cameras follow our main character everywhere is occasion enough to harken back to our current state where lack of privacy is a main issue in society, today.
The main thing that irks me, isn’t the ending where our protagonist’s lover shies away from him in an effort to comply with government regulations, but the fact that his main line of work consists of rewriting history books freaks me out. This happens all of the time, with each year that a kid enrolls in school for the next term. When was the last time you opened a text book to see the names of previous students listed–in their own handwriting–on the inside cover?
It’s so easy to rewrite history, nowadays, I wonder what’s real. If we base our present on the past, who’s to say we weren’t at war with one country last year over another? Your mind is the trapper keeper of the truth, unless you rip out the pages because your teacher tells you that’s wrong and that certain death of a populace of 6,000 never happened. What would you believe, then?
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
This is one of my favorite books. Poignant in the depths of a man laid to waste, lost wandering in search of his mentor, much like King Arthur on the precipice of that great lake that promised him immortality, only to suck him into an abyss where his history was erased.
With a wife who sits, sullenly, watching TV on the four walls of the once excitable living room of your shared abode, how can you do anything but protest the burning of books?
If you like sci-fi, you should read this book, and anything else you can get your hands on by Bradbury. He has an amazing store of short stories, that I would recommend. And other creepy novels, if you’re into that sort of thing, like Something Wicked this Way Comes. You may pause halfway through that book, close it, and tell yourself you’ll never pay money to a street side circus again. Then again, maybe you will, who knows.
The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
Wow. Wow. Just, wow. A man, rich, loses his wealth, his propriety, and his friends all in one fell swoop and is promised the same day that he will inherit a wife and child and live on Titan, the distant moon of Saturn.
We see this man grow, develop morals, and try to regain his family’s trust, though they want nothing to do with him. He tries to forget the past and assume his role as the heir to his fate, but everyone remembers in one universe or another.
My two favorite parts are the robot who has been harboring a message within himself to supposedly save his entire alien race, but only discovers he would rather allow a child to play with his secret message’s device instead of saving his species. It’s the innocence of a child that undoes an entire civilization, and who cares? They don’t know what’s going on on Earth anyway.
And the fact that he only discovers how to upright the crashed-landed ship at the last moment, when he’s about to starve. Classic Vonnegut.
A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
I read this one via a smelly old tome found in a thrift store for a bargain price. I flipped to the center and was hooked at once. Then I bought it and read the whole thing.
A Princess of Mars almost has a Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein feeling, where the monster is talking to you, then suddenly it’s an outsider, directly connected, somehow.
We don’t know whether John Carter is real or not, frankly. He’s ageless. His tales are laced with woe and romance, found years later by his young nephew in letters long forgotten. Or, are they new?
John finds he’s a superhero on Mars, where he was just a lowly gold miner on Earth, so why not use your gravity-reduced fancy footwork to scale entire buildings on another planet where he weighs like 30% lighter and can rescue an entire civilization from the reign of aggressive ape beings with multiple arms?
Well, I’m sure there are other sci-fi books that have tempted you to write your own, but why don’t you let me know on my Facebook page? I hope you enjoyed this article and that you’ve found at least a couple “new” books to read. Have a nice day!