Recommended Reads for Sci-Fi Class?

Some time ago, I ‘fessed up to not having read a bunch of books that I really should have by now. Several were key science-fiction novels: Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, and 1984. I’m proud to announce that I just finished the first and have plans to read the next two soon.

In fact, I’ve gone one step further: I’ve decided to teach a class on the Science Fiction novel because it’s such a weak area for me. Of course, this decision means that I am now scrambling to put together a book list and syllabus for the fall. I won’t assign any of the big three I just listed only because I think most everyone else in the world has read them, but I’d like to invite my friends and future students to tell me what their ideal sci-fi reading list would include. Here’s my to-do list, roughly chronological, which should, you know, only take me seven years or so.

I need to narrow this list down to a manageable semester’s worth of reading. I’ve highlighted in green the ones I’m strongly considering, and most of the works have links to either a Wikipedia article or some other information. Please weigh in: what should I definitely include? What should I junk? What am I missing?

And coming soon . . . the horror reading list, for which I will also shamelessly ask your help.


Mary Shelley, The Last Man (1826)

Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (1870)The Mysterious Island (1874)–one of these would seem a must, probably Leagues cuz I can’t resist a giant squid.

Samuel Butler, Erewhon (1872)

Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward (1888)

H. G. Wells, The Time Machine (1895) and The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896)–pretty sure I’m including both.

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Lost World (1912)

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland (1915)

H. P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness (1932)

Alfred Bester, The Demolished Man (1951)

John Wyndham, The Day of the Triffids (1951), The Chrysalids (1955),The Midwich Cuckoos (1957), Chocky (1968)–at least one of his?

Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood’s End (1953)–I love the Overlords, but maybe I’m just weird.

Theodore Sturgeon, More than Human (1953)

Jack Finney, The Body Snatchers (1954)–meh?, Time and Again (1970)

James Blish, A Case of Conscience (1958): thanks to reader below!

Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers (1959)–I got bored

Madeline L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time (1962)–haven’t read since childhood, but remember loving it.

Frank Herbert, Dune (1965)

Anna Kavan, Ice (1967): thanks to Daniel for the suggestion!

Ursula Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969),The Dispossessed (1974), The Word for World is Forest (1976)–Le Guin is also a must, but not sure which one.

Doris Lessing, Memoirs of a Survivor (1974): thanks to reader below.

Douglass Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)

K. W. Jeter, Morlock Night (1979)–need something steampunk-y?

Octavia E. Butler, Kindred (1979), “Bloodchild” (1984; thanks, Jon!), Dawn (1987)–or something else by her, perhaps?

William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984)–establishes cyberpunk, so a must?

Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game (1985), Ender’s Shadow (1999)

P. D. James, The Children of Men (1992)

Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age (1995)

Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow (1996): thanks to Max for recommending.

Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere (1996), Smoke and Mirrors (1998), American Gods (2001)

Garth Nix, Shade’s Children (1997)

Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines (2001)

Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (2003)

Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (2005)

Scott Westerfeld, The Uglies (2005)–have all sorts of problems with this trilogy, which is why I sort of want to teach at least the first book?

After this point, I’m just stealing from recommended lists, mostly from io9.

Charles Stross, Glasshouse (2006)

China Miéville, Un Lun Dun (2007), Embassytown (2011)

Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl (2009)

David Wong, John Dies at the End (2009)

Cherie Priest, Boneshaker (2009): thanks to Patti.

Ted Chiang, The Lifecycle of Software Objects (2010)

Mira Grant, Feed (2010)

Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fiction Universe (2010)

Lauren Beukes, Zoo City (2011),The Shining Girls (2013)

John Scalzi, Redshirts (2012)

Madeline Ashby, Vn (2012)

Will McIntosh, Love Minus Eighty (2013)

Austin Grossman, You (2013)


Short stories

Fitz-James O’Brien“The Diamond Lens” (1858) and “The Wonder Smith” (1859)

Jack London, “The Unparalleled Invasion” (1910) and “The Red One” (1918)

John Campbell, “Twilight” (1934), “Who Goes There?” (1938)–it inspired The Thing; how can I resist?

Ray Bradbury, “Marionettes, Inc.” (1949), “The Zero Hour” (1951), selections from The Martian Chronicles (1950)–oh, and everything else as well.

Isaac Asimov, “Nightfall” (1941), selections from I, Robot (1950)

Philip K. Dick, Paycheck” (1952), “The Adjustment Team” (1954), “The Minority Report” (1956), “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” (1966),“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” (1968), A Scanner Darkly (1977)–how can I pick? All of ’em?

Robert Heinlein, “–All You Zombies–” (1959)

Daniel Keyes, “Flowers for Algernon” (1959)

Brian Aldiss, “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” (1969)–inspiration for A.I. 

Charles Stross, “Rogue Farm” (2003)


Graphic Novels, Manga, etc. 

Katsuhiro Otomo, Akira (1982)

Alan Moore, Watchmen (1987),The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (1999)

Masamune Shirow, Ghost in the Shell (1989)

Vaughn, Brian K, Y: The Last Man (2002): thanks to Casey for recommendation.

22 thoughts on “Recommended Reads for Sci-Fi Class?

  1. Not really a suggestion, but a note. Something like “American Gods” or “Neverwhere” by Gaiman wouldn’t really be Science Fiction, as they don’t satisfy the general premise of technology based worlds, etc…more fantasy…probably a purely academic bit of minutia as you haven’t highlighted them green anyway…and the fantasy sci-fi distinction is often cause for debate, but there are sticklers…

  2. How can you NOT have Blish’s A Case of Conscience? And, as Ive just recently read it, Doris Lessing’s Memoirs of a Survivor (maybe not strictly SF!) and another off the top of my head Jack Finney’s time travel classic, Time & Again.

    1. I have _Memoirs_ but haven’t read it yet. I’ll add it to the list. And will check out Blish and Finney suggestions. Thanks so much for feedback!

  3. This sounds awesome, I remember wanting this exact class when I was still there. I haven’t read a lot of Sci-Fi either, so I might read along to some of these. I’m not sure any more needs to be added. I would say Le Guin is a must, but I am not sure which. I’m actually reading a collection of essays about science fiction and fantasy by her called Language of the Night, but I am not far enough into it to say whether or not you’ll find it helpful.

    As for short stories, you may want to look into Harlan Ellison. He’s such a big name in the genre that it might be helpful reading him just for knowing who he is. (Occasionally he still pops up in the news because he tends to sue a lot of sci-fi writers for ‘stealing.’) I’ve only dipped into one of his short story collections, but his most famous stories have been “I have no mouth and I must scream,” and “repent, harlequin, said the ticktock man,” though I haven’t read either.

    Are you for sure going to separate scifi and fantasy? It might be an interesting discussion to have on why they are different and how they’re the same.

    This isn’t a serious suggestion, but one of my favorite Sci-Fi novels is “Ice,” by Anna Kavan, a surrealistic, post-apocalyptic, proto-feminist novel about a man searching to save a woman he’s obsessed with as the world is slowly engulfed by ice. It basically takes the male gaze and subverts it, and it’s worth reading just to see how it comments on the role women are often subjected to in these type novels. It’s a cult novel from the 60s, though it’s mostly evaded the sci-fi canon because it’s weird and difficult, and I imagine most students will dislike it. I think it’s wonderful.

    Let us/me know what you end up choosing!

    1. For some reason, I fear Ellison. Maybe I read something disturbing by him? Don’t know. Need to check out again. Yes, I think I am going to separate sci-fi and fantasy only because I don’t know anything about fantasy either, and that should be another class? But definitely will talk about ways to define. I will check out Ice. Thanks! Going to be some hard decisions to make . . .

  4. My sci-fi background is almost as slim as yours, but I can urge you to teach Verne’s Leagues. I read plenty of Verne when I was younger, and that is definitely the masterpiece. It’s also a bit more philosophical than Journey to the Center of the Earth, so good for discussions, and Mysterious Island is a brick of a book.

    Do Androids Dream is the perfect intro to Dick (hrm, that sounds odd…), but “Wholesale” allows you to discuss Total Recall. I’m not sure if you have any alternate history sci-fi on this list, but Dick’s Man in the High Castle is superb for that purpose. Sci-fi has so many subgenres that are worth poking into. I wrote a review of High Castle on my blog if that’s any help:

    Other than that, indulge your Star Wars love with some discussion of space opera. And squeeze Poe in. He wrote a journalistic hoax story about an air balloonist’s trip to the moon: “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall”.

    I’m excited for your fantasy list!

    1. I might be doing a whole class on Poe, so I might save that. Will check out your blog on High Castle. I figured mot everyone had read “Androids,” but maybe I’m wrong about that?

      1. I only read Androids because of Dr. Gann’s class. But then I’m still using training-wheels when it comes to sci-fi. People who search out a class focused on that genre might have read the classics for pleasure, especially with the Blade Runner tie-in, but Androids is worth class discussion. I don’t believe I would have thought as much about the issues that story raises without Socratic discussions.

      2. Not so sad. I know it’s part of your job and all that, but don’t take reading so seriously that it isn’t fun anymore. A to-read pile can stress me out, and that’s kind of ridiculous considering all the things I could obsess over.

        And I haven’t read Brave New World. I tried. I hope you have fun with it. But I recall the first 50 pages being slow and technical science fiction.

  5. SIf you wanted to do a Star Wars novel, I would suggest Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn as it was the first significant Expanded Universe novel.

  6. Good list. I think Twenty Thousand Leagues should be must for this class. It’s classic and it’s great novel. I also agree with “Who Goes There?” a great short story that you can also relate to film. I remember seeing the The Thing in the 80’s and I still remember it, so it made an impression. The story does too. I also like the choice of “Oryx and Crake” I haven’t read this one but I read the synopsis and it sounds great. I like anything set in a future that man has basically destroyed. Which makes me think of Philip Dick and Androids, which is a great book also. It was in my Film as Literature class last Fall semester, and I really enjoyed reading it I also notice you have Hitchikers Guide on this list and that’s a great book, very funny and entertaining. Seems like a slightly different genre though. Not that I’m saying Sci-Fi has to all be intense and serious, anyway. There are alot of great ideas and suggestions on here. Looking forward to it.

    1. Thanks so much for the feedback! I’m glad a lot of the choices sound good. As for Hitchhiker’s, I did want to include something comic. It seems that meta-sci-fi and novels that sort of poke fun at the sci-fi genre while also being sci-fi have become increasingly popular, so I thought it might be interesting to consider. To me, humor and sci-fi seem so at odds with each other. Anyway, if you think about anything else, let me know. Would you want to read Androids again? I figure a lot of students have encountered it already, so I was going to skip.

      1. If you do include something Comic, then Hitchhikers is the perfect choice. I would read Androids again cause it is a great story and such an interesting take on androids and their potential capabilities. Also I wouldn’t say that a lot of students have read Androids, in my last class most hadn’t heard of it, or that the film Bladerunner was based on it. But I’m sure you’d have a better take on that than me. Great Graphic novel choices also.

      2. Good to know about Androids. For some reason, I thought it was becoming standard fare or something. I plan to have a whole unit on Philip K. Dick, so I’m sure we can fit it in. Syllabus is slowly coming together!

  7. I just finished reading “The Invention of Morel” by Adolfo Bioy Casares, and the whole time I was reading it I thought, “Gee, this would be interesting for class discussions.” It has the added benefits of being short (only 95 pages) and from a non-English language writer. The sci-fi elements are interesting for 1940 (pub. date) and I noticed some comparisons with Wells and Dick.

    Here’s a link:

  8. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein is my favorite Heinlein book by far, and has a lot of interesting political, social, and gendered ways to read into it that I think you would like. I would argue it is much better than Starship Troopers, which has always read to me like wartime wish fulfillment book. Generally I don’t like Heinlein, but of all sci-fi titles I’d recommend, this is the top of my list.

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