Even though Venus is the most Earth-like planet (despite it being hot enough to melt lead), Mars feels like a better neighbor. Venus is completely shrouded with khaki clouds, pale and unapproachable. In comparison, Mars is positively flirty, with its lusty red color and come-hither promise of terraforming.
It’s easier to imagine life on Mars than anywhere else, and many of the books below do exactly that.
Soft science fiction tends to focus more on people and relationships than on technical details; more on humanity than technology (even though there’s usually some cool technology).
Science fiction author Poul Anderson, in Ideas for SF Writers, described H. G. Wells as the model for soft science fiction: “He concentrated on the characters, their emotions and interactions” rather than any of the science or technology behind, for example, invisible men or time machines.
Pulp science fiction does not try to be literature. Pulp’s lurid and ridiculous plots usually involve buxom damsels rescued by square-jawed, ray gun-toting heroes as they battle brutish monsters and spout god-awful dialogue.
You can spot pulp books by their colorful covers, often sporting women with their clothes mostly, but not completely, torn off by monstrous aliens.
One of the guiltier of guilty pleasures, pulp is great when you want action and adventure but have no patience for niceties like character development or accurate physics.
Aliens have always been a great way for authors to explore new ideas or hold a mirror to humanity, reflecting both our brightest hopes and darkest fears.
(Note that there’s already a list of 29 Best Alien Invasion Books, so I tried to steer away from invasion stories in this list.)
© The Laboratory of Nanotechnology and Nanomedicine
Like all great advancements in technology, nanotechnology will eventually kill us all.
We’ll have vessel-repairing robots in our bloodstream, and drug-delivering bots in our synapses. Before long, we’ll be little more than fleshy carriers of nano-ecosystems. Actually, we’re already that for the bacteria in our gut, so maybe it won’t be so bad after all. Unless the nanobots and the bacteria have a war or something. That would suck.
Art by Jarosław Jasnikowski
No matter how weird science fiction gets (and it can get pretty weird), it still always feels like a pale reflection of the incessant nuttiness of the real world.
Maybe I’m looking for a mushroom-and-fusion-fueled Burning Man spaceship that crashes into itself, tossing out stars like confetti.
Barring piloting that actual machine, the books below are a good way to push your brain in new directions. Some you’ll like, and some you’ll just detest.
“Science fiction western” sounds like an oxymoron, but space travelers and cowboys have plenty of similarities: they’re often portrayed as hardy individuals traveling through hostile landscapes, visiting isolated colonies of civilization where things are rarely as they seem, and the natives often have their own agendas.
There aren’t a ton of sci-fi western novels out there, so this list includes several short story collections.
Concept art from the movie The Fountain
If there’s anything that people want more than love and money, it’s long life. However, true immortality (or even super-long life) would undoubtedly present a host of unexpected consequences, and no good story can be summarized They Got Everything They Wanted And It All Turned Out Fine.
There’s nothing quite like corrupting the innocent minds of kids, and science fiction is the best gateway storytelling out there. Yes, better than fantasy (and I’ve got my own well-read copy of The Silmarillion, so any haters can chill).
Biopunk is a flavor of science fiction that focuses on intended (and unintended) consequences of biotechnology.
As a lapsed marine zoologist, I have special love for biopunk. While I think cyberpunk has done a great job in predicting the near future (computers and screens everywhere, mass surveillance, rule by corporation), my money’s on biopunk for the long haul.