As many great sci-fi novels are, Oryx and Crake is set in the not too distant future in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. This time, humankind has been all but been wiped out by a plague, leaving only a few straggled survivors, dangerous genetic mutations and animals that glow in the dark. Also co-existing with the last humans are the mysterious, green-eyed “children of Crake;” humanoid beings with no body hair and rather strange rituals. Manufactured in a laboratory to be the perfect organism, they are nonetheless primitive and uneducated, but perhaps they still have a part to play in the survival of the human race. Into this bizarre world, prolific Canadian author Margaret Atwood drops Snowman – a hobo-like character wrapped in a white sheet who used to be known as Jimmy. Through a series of flashbacks, we discover how this existence came about, including learning of Jimmy’s best friend Crake, and Oryx – the girl they were both head-over-heels for. Part of the enthralling Maddaddam trilogy, Oryx and Crake is the first book that introduces us to a fascinating and frightening future that isn’t too far from reality, brilliantly creating a believable world that mirrors our own. At its core though, it’s science fiction romance at its finest.
A shoe-in for inclusion in the top-ten sci-fi novels of all time, Douglas Adams gave the world something very special when he penned The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy back in the mid to late 70’s. Originally written for radio, this seminal series has gone on to be performed in just about every medium you can imagine, in more than 30 languages, finally getting the full Hollywood treatment during its last outing in 2005, in the movie starring Martin Freeman. As of 2017, however, a new radio production is in the works, and you wouldn’t bet against it being a smash hit. The story needs little introduction (since it’s one of the most globally well-loved sci-fi works ever created), but it initially centers on the adventures of bumbling Englishman Arthur Dent in the wake of the destruction of earth to make way for an inter-galactic bypass. Joining him are a gang of misfits, including the unforgettable Marvin – a constantly depressed robot. Sharp, satirical, imaginative and utterly hilarious, Adams went on to pen a total of six novels in the series, thus creating a critical and cultural phenomenon in the process. If only the answer to everything was actually 42.
Coincidentally enough, the last time HG Wells’ masterpiece was released on film was also 2005, with Steven Spielberg at the helm and starring the ever-sci-fi bankable talents of Tom Cruise. Without a doubt the oldest choice in our selection, The War of the Worlds is one of the first ever novels to explore the possibility of alien invasion, which it does with terrifying effect. First published in 1898, it is perhaps the notorious 1938 radio version read by Orson Wells that is the most memorable of all its productions. It was released in the form of a news bulletin, which gave listeners the nightmarish belief that the events were actually happening and an alien invasion had become a reality. The genius of the work is in that very little is offered up in the way of characterization, rather preferring to focus on the description of horrifying events by an unknown narrator who is experiencing it first-hand. It has inspired countless spin-offs, books, comics, movies, radio and theatre productions, and provided popular culture with one of the most iconic and frightening creations in all of sci-fi lore. If aliens do eventually find their way to earth and they arrive in giant tripods with heat rays and chemical weapons, we’ll have no choice but to believe that HG Wells himself was indeed from another planet.
Certainly, a less well-known entry on our list, The Last Policeman gets a nod because of how understated it is, slipping under the radar of more prominent sci-fi work. Nevertheless, it’s a charming read about – you’ve guessed it – the last policeman. Well, not strictly the last one, just the only one who is still willing to do any work in the face of imminent destruction by the medium of a giant asteroid on a collision course with earth. Hank Palace is a young detective called to the scene of what appears to be a suicide, but he’s not convinced and sets out to investigate. But with the enormous space rock 2011GV1 (or Mala as it is not-so-lovingly nicknamed) due to hit earth in less than six months triggering the end of civilization as we know it – does anyone else really care? The first novel in a trilogy, Ben H. Winter’s debut depicts a United States in turmoil, as the system collapses, people flood into religious buildings and the government passes emergency laws to try and keep order. It’s a whodunnit with a twist, but the ultimate takeaway and enjoyable/frightening part of the reading experience is to explore what you would do in a similar (and entirely possible) situation. Set in the present day, it’s science fiction meeting science fact. And with Winters doing extensive research in writing the novel, we’d all better start making that bucket list now folks – it’s highly likely that this is the way we’re going to go.
With Halloween rapidly approaching it’s rare that you’ll venture out in one of the larger cities and not see someone dressed as a droog. Anthony Burgess’ classic dystopian novella was released in 1962, but it is the outstanding vision of Stanley Kubrick that really brought the tale to life in the 1971 movie of the same name. The story is set in England, once again in the not too distant future and in an entirely believable world where youth gangs rule the roost and violence, rape and torture are cultural norms. Alex is the 15-year-old protagonist hell-bent on dishing out as much chaos as he can his cohorts can, leaving a trail of destruction behind them, simultaneously avoiding any attempt at rehabilitation by the system. Written largely in a dialect known as “Nadsat” (a Russian/English slang that linguist Burgess developed himself) A Clockwork Orange is a fascinating exploration of juvenile delinquency, free will, and personal responsibility. Always highly controversial, the novel received mixed reviews on release but has undoubtedly left its mark on society and youth culture as a whole, largely thanks to its lashings and lashings of that ultra-violence.