We’re all waiting for this moment, the instant we know for sure that we’re not alone in this big, cold universe.
Regardless of how our first contact actually happens, a good story has to have drama. No one wants to read We Met the Aliens and Gosh, They Were Nice.
Flowers for Algernon is a beautiful, human book, with a little science fiction thrown in.
It examines morals and ethics without getting preachy—it’s a surprisingly easy read for such a thoughtful and deep book.
There are a few juicy scenes in it, which is why it’s occasionally removed from school libraries in Texas.
Flowers for Algernon is told through progress reports written by a low-IQ person who has an operation (we never learn the details) that quickly increases his IQ to genius levels. Unfortunately, his social and emotional skills do not increase at the same rate, and this causes hurt feelings all around.
Recommendation: Buy it. Seeing this on my shelf gives me a moment of pause, a two-second meditation, like briefly floating in a deep but safe ocean, before getting on with my day.
Despite the title, this isn’t about 9/11. The three books in this collection were written in the sixties. They don’t feel like sixties books, though—these could easily have been written today.
The only humans left on Earth are on a single island, in a single city. There’s another city on the mainland, but a strange radiation barrier appears, dousing that city in radiation and locking the people on the island off from the rest of the planet.
There’s an enemy that may or may not exist beyond the barrier. An escaped prisoner finds himself in the middle of the radiation, but perfectly healthy. He meets Neanderthals and mind-reading giants as he tries to get home. Things get much weirder.
There’s an enjoyable strangeness to these three books. They’re a great combination of advanced technology, unintended consequences, and good old political intrigue.
While some of the dialogue was unrealistic, the stories are interesting, well-crafted, and smart as hell.
Recommendation: Get it at the library. It’s a damn good read, but not necessary for a shelf.
SLIXTER from FreakingNews.com
It takes a steady hand to write a science fiction story that’s exciting, interesting, and funny as hell.
Or maybe it’s just that people are funny, and no matter what you do with them, like putting them in tin cans going the speed of light or beyond, they’re going to do something ridiculous.
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.
If, before sitting down to write 1984, George Orwell had decided to candy-flip (ingest LSD and ecstasy simultaneously), he might have ended up with something like Memoirs Found in a Bathtub.
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.)
Panda Ray is a rare beast: a fun and weird adventure for kids where there is no Chosen One. Thank God. I’m a little tired of the Hero’s Journey.