Literary science fiction is simply science fiction that’s better-written, has more realistic characters, and is more ambitious in exploring deep ideas than other books. Instead of just exploding spaceships and smart-mouthed robots, they can contain wrenching emotions that look at what it actually means to be human.
Its polar opposite would be something pulpy like Amish Vampires in Space.
Fortunately, there’s room for both brilliant, tortured writers and Amish Dracula in science fiction.
Since the present time is just the wildly unlikely result of several trillion coincidences, it makes sense that humans would occasionally wonder what would happen if one or two events concluded differently.
Most alternate history stories are some variation of “What if Hitler had won the Civil War, and was a dinosaur?” but there are some great, well, alternatives, in the list below.
Sometimes you just want something fun to read while you slowly roast yourself on a beach, gentle waves constantly committing suicide in front of you.
Some of the books below are light, some are dark, but they’re all engaging stories.
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.
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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.
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.