Tuesday 9 April 2013

Five Books To Change Your Mind About Sci-Fi

Science fiction. Two words that send a chill down the spine for millions of readers out there. But what is it about sci-fi that puts some people off? Is it the dense scientific terminology? Is it the detached cold tone of the genre? Or is it the lack of relatable, flawed characters? If you think that this is what science fiction is all about, then you'd be extremely wrong my friends. Yes, there are some sci-fi novels out there which embody these cliches but there are literally thousands that reject this narrow view, offering a fascinating insight into the human condition. I believe that there is a sci-fi book out there for everyone, even if you hate the genre, as it is so diverse in the range of stories it tells. Today I have chosen five extremely accessible novels which I hope will convince you to reconsider science fiction as something more than just a geeky pastime. Enjoy!

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)

First up is the critically acclaimed 'Never Let Me Go', which won numerous awards upon its release and was made into a feature film in 2010. The story is narrated in the first person by Kathy, a quiet girl who grows up in a seemingly quaint British boarding school. As the narrative develops, we soon learn that the children living there are in fact clones who are bred to become organ donors upon reaching adulthood. While this fact always hangs over the lives of the three "donors" we follow, the main focus is on the relationships between each character and an exploration of what it means to be human, rather than just on the dystopian future setting.

What's interesting about this choice is that Kazuo Ishiguro has only ever worked within the science fiction genre for this one book, so while a sci-fi element is indeed central to the premise, the story itself encompasses a range of genres and could be equally described as a coming of age story or a horror. 'Never Let Me Go' is a beautifully written novel that is frightening precisely because it seems so realistic.

Personally, I was disappointed by the film adaptation so if you didn't like that, I would still recommend you give the book a try. Here's the film trailer, which should help bring the premise of the book to life.

Chocky by John Wyndham (1968)

John Wyndham is a legend in sci-fi, writing classics such as 'The Chrysalids' and 'The Day Of The Triffids' which helped set the benchmark for quality science fiction that transcended the pulp origins of the genre. I could easily recommend either of these books as they are two of my personal favourites but the style of writing can be a bit cold or distant at times so if you don't like sci-fi, I would recommend 'Chocky' as the perfect introduction to John Wyndham's work.

The story follows a boy called Matthew who seems to be too old to still have an imaginary friend, yet talks about him all the time. The family become more and more concerned as Matthew begins to reveal things that should be impossible for him to know and suddenly, his parents start to worry that Chocky may not be imaginary after all... 

If you're interested, ITV adapted 'Chocky' into a short television series for children back in the 80s. I haven't seen it but if the opening credits are anything to go by, it's probably due an update.   

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (2008)

'The Hunger Games' is an absolute beast of a franchise, selling millions of books worldwide and it would make a fantastic introduction to the sci-fi genre, but everyone knows it already. So instead, I have decided to share the first book from the 'Chaos Walking Trilogy', which is another fantastic novel from the ever growing teen market, which you can read more about here.

'The Knife of Never Letting Go' is set on a new world where all the women have died at the hands of an alien infection. This 'germ' spared the men but also changed them, so that every remaining man can now hear the thoughts of others, resulting in an ever present 'noise'. Todd is almost a man now and as he turns 13, he is about to learn some horrifying secrets that will change his life forever.  

What initially grabbed me about this series of books was the premise, but the story quickly develops into something far more epic, with constant twists and cliffhanger moments which pull you in and don't let go until the books end. The way this series plays out is so gripping and even the way it's presented on the page is surprisingly innovative. This is teen fiction at its darkest and most exhilarating, with widespread appeal for any adult who might be wary of either science fiction or YA books.

The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
Science fiction is often perceived to be written exclusively for men but I find that assumption ridiculous. At the end of the day, a good story is a good story and I know many women who enjoy sci-fi novels without embodying a female 'geek' stereotype. 'The Handmaids Tale' is a sci-fi novel written by Canadian author Margaret Atwood that explores issues of sex and female empowerment in a dystopian future where women have no rights and are subjugated by the men who rule over them. As a man, I found this cautionary tale fascinating for its feminist viewpoint but also for its wider exploration of what it means to be a human, with all the freedom and rights that should entail.

In the future society of Gilead, Offred is a 'Handmaid', whose sole job is to be impregnated by the ruling classes to keep the declining birth rates from declining further. Through her eyes, we see how society has been divided by the totalitarian state into different classes and in flashback, we learn how this subjugation first began. What's most frightening is how Offred describes the subtle changes that eventually led to the Republic of Gilead forming, which is presented in a terrifyingly believable light. The best dystopian fiction forces us to take a look at the current state of our own society, to ensure that we don't make the same mistakes. The lessons of tolerance and acceptance that 'The Handmaids Tale' convey are of vital importance and should be of interest whether you enjoy sci-fi or not.

'The Handmaids Tale' has been adapted numerous times, most notably in a poor film version starring Natasha Richardson. Check out the trailer here but please don't judge the book on this alone.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (1954)

If you're already a fan of horror, it's likely that you enjoy sci-fi too but if not, Richard Matheson's classic novel will definitely convince you that the two genres work well hand in hand. There have been a number of film adaptations of 'I Am Legend' over the years, but none have successfully captured the sheer horror of the book, which helped propel the idea of disease causing the apocalypse into the mainstream. 'I Am Legend' has become hugely influential over the years, so you may think you know the story already but some of the best moments are actually unique to the original book. I'd also recommend reading Matheson's classic just to finally understand what the hell the title actually means. It makes a lot more sense than you'd think!

Robert Neville is the sole survivor of a disease that has transformed society into vampire-like creatures who can only come out into the open at night. Neville spends his days alone, struggling with bouts of depression and alcoholism while at night, he barricades himself into his home, fighting to stop the infected from breaking in. Flashbacks reveal how the infection started and after years of isolation, Neville decides to try and find a cure so that he no longer has to live his life in solitude.

Out of all the adaptations, Will Smiths 2007 effort is the best at portraying Neville's isolated existence but the monsters are just a pathetic exercise in poor CGI. Remember that the book is far scarier than this trailer would suggest!

If you're not a big fan of science fiction, then I hope that one or more of these choices might have changed your mind and if you've arrived at this post already converted, then I just hope that you enjoy my selections. Which one is your favourite? And could you recommend any more books that could change peoples mind about sci-fi? Let me know by commenting, liking and sharing below. Thanks!


  1. These are all amazing choices, I've yet to read The Handmaids Tale but it looks really good and will go to the top of my books to read pile. Altought I don't really need to change my mind about sci fi, I love it! Oh, and the Chocky tv series looks awesome... ly bad!