The top 10 science fiction novels to
Originally published as a Science Fiction channel video essay
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
Divine music is heard in radio signals from space, and the Society of Jesus respond as they always have to locating new worlds…they send a mission. But the mistaken belief that beauty must always equal goodness leads to a horrifying encounter with truth. Jesuit father Emilio Sandoz volunteers to journey towards the mystery, and you can travel with him.
For more than a thousand years every man, woman and slave of Athens would, once in their life, take the pilgrimage to Eleusis, get high on an unspecified psychedelic, and experience the Eleusian Mystery, the ritual telling of the myth of Demeter and Persephone, and have their mind blown by its mysteries.
Today the world has lost its riuals and myths. But we do have science fiction.
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Neuromancer follows Case, a drug addict hacker, on his journey to encounter A.I. William Gibson’s science fiction masterpiece imagines an artificial intelliegence of two halves. One part is Wintermute, the waking egoic mind, the other is Neuromancer, the dreaming unconscious of the soul. Case helps bring unity to this sundered self, your self can find some echo of such unity.
But science fiction is…just entertainment, right? Every age has it’s blind spots and delusions. In our modern age we’re blind to the power of story. The ancient myths and old religions have been replaced with the Hollywood corporate entertainment complex. All those movies and tv shows are just fun amusements.
The Three Stigmata of Elon Musk
…wait…of Palmer Eldritch, is among Philip K Dick’s weirdest books. Which is quite a claim. Billionaire industrialist space explorer Palmer Eldritch is returning to earth, an overheated world gripped by climate change where the masses escape into drugs and dolls houses. But Elon…sorry Eldritch…offers escape from life itself.
Engine Summer by John Crowley
Engine Summer is a book about language, by one of science fiction’s secret gems, John Crowley. Be prepared for a steep learning curve as this book is written in a far future dialect of English, but as you learn this new language you enter into the consciousness of its speakers, and the post-apocalyptic land they explore.
Your mind is made of words, and your consciousness is shaped like a story. So it’s no shock that the right words telling the right story can blow your mind open and transform your consciousness. Stories with that potential used to feature gods and angels. Now we have AI and androids.
Science fiction should come with a warning label.
Shikasta by Doris Lessing
Earth is a fallen world. It was once Rohanda, a colony of Canopus, but has been corrupted by the enemy and is now known as Shikasta. Doris Lessing was awarded the Nobel prize for Literature, one of the very few authors of science fiction to win. Shikasta unifies mysticism and science fiction into a new mythos for humankind.
Ideas come in different levels of complexity, snapshots of low or high resolution. “Stories set in the future with tentaculos aliens” is the low resolution picture of science fiction. “Stories that extrapolate science” is the medium resolution image. But what is the hi-res understanding of scifi?
Humans have always told stories that change and transform how we conceive of reality. We call these stories myth. Not all myth is science fiction. But all science fiction is myth. The great myths of any age are the mythos that time.
Science fiction is the mythos of the age of science
Mind of My Mind by Octavia Butler
Mind of My Mind is the masterpiece of Octavia Butler. Mary is a young woman of mixed race coming to terms with also being the daughter of an immortal psychic predator. It’s tough growing up with a psycho dad, and Mary will have to find her own power, and the new power of humankind, to survive.
But what is a myth? Just a made up story to explain why the sun rises? Give our ancestors some credit for not taking myth any more literally than we do to day.
…well, most of us.
Myth is metaphor. Image. Poetry. Beauty. The idea so strange or new ir weird that it snaps the mind out of ordinary reality to glimpse for, just a moment, the mystery
a sword made of laser light
the world inside a computer
one ring to rule them all
Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon
Star Maker is the book that invented the galaxy as we know it. English philosopher Olaf Stapledon expolated the science of radio astronomy into one of the first journeys across the galaxy as we know it today, to meet the mysterious Star Maker of the title. C S Lewis was so horrified by Stapledon’s depiction of an uncaring God he wrote the Space trilogy as a response.
The mythos of science fiction loves to borrow from the older Christian mythos. The Star Maker is god. Neo is Jesus. Interstellar is a journey through the eighteen core symbols of the Christ myth. The list goes on. Some scifi is Jesus smuggling, some scifi is deconstructing older myths. As Nietzsche might have said, God is dead, but scifi lives.
Spaceland by Rudy Rucker
Rudy Rucker is a scifi writer and mathematician, and in Spaceland, a tribute to the classic Flatland, he does his damndest to expand our consciousness into the fourth dimension. Maths can model dimensions, but for a human mind to even glimpse them it takes a science fiction storyteller as skilled and wise as Rucker.
Permutation City by Greg Egan
Greg Egan is the hard science fiction writer’s science fiction writer. Permutation City does many ideas of simulation and multiverse that have now become standard. But it does them early and with a scientific rigour that makes the Marvelverse look like the fairytale it is. Egan’s ideas are so convincing that many now believe the multiverse is literally true.
There are many mind blowing science fiction fiction movies as well. But there’s something unique and rare about books that gives than an unmatched transformative power. And as fewer people read books at all, they’re a gateway to experiences that many others will miss.
This is what science fiction does that no storytelling did before. It serves the human hunger for myth. But it ransacks the history of myth for old symbols and, like a Frankenstein monster, revives ancient myth in the language of modern science.
And if you let it, the mythos of science fiction will blow your mind open
Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Everyone knows Frankenstein but few people have actually read Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s seminal work of early science fiction. It’s long out of copyright, you can read it for free. And it’s well worth putting in the effort to do so.
It’s one thing to believe, as many of you likely do, that to be human is to be a “biological machine”. It’s another to live that myth to it’s philosophical limits. Frankenstein and his monster are our ticket to the outer boundaries of what it is to be human in the age of the machine.