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Everybody loves sci-fi. Even people who think they hate the genre often actually love it. Most superhero movies, like Spider-Man? Sci-fi. Movies about robots taking over like The Terminator series? Sci-fi. Heck, even romantic stories like The Time Traveler’s Wife borrow elements from science-fiction. It’s all just a matter of whether it’s “hard sci-fi” where accurate science is very important (Think 2001: A Space Odyssey), or “soft sci-fi” where it's not as important. And when it comes to soft-fi books, the one that most people turn to is Frank Herbert’s Dune.
But Dune’s not the only major sci-fi work that definitely lives up to the hype! Now, as a sci-fi reader, there are plenty of more obscure books I could lead you to (City by Clifford Simak? A Maze of Death by Philip K. Dick? Planetside by Michael Mammay?), but I didn’t want to send you too deep down the wormhole and figured that I would give you a crash course on some of the more famous sci-fi books. So, if you’re ready, let us boldly go into the unknown.
Dune - Frank Herbert
There are quite a few books in the Dune saga (a few written by its original author, Frank Herbert, and a few written by author authors, like his son). But when people mention Dune, they're usually referring to the first novel. It’s the story of a young son of a Duke named Paul Atreides (who later becomes Paul Maud’Dib). His family goes to a treacherous planet called Arrakis, which is inhabited by giant sandworms and is apparently the only source in the universe for the spice, which is a drug that allows people to be better and stronger. There’s more to the story—it goes deep into lore and politics—but some people like to call it “Star Wars for adults”. Whatever that’s supposed to mean.
The film famously had the 1984 adaptation by David Lynch, which has its fans, but that I personally think is terrible. And then you have the great documentary, Jodorowksy’s Dune, about the Dune movie that was never made. There was also the Frank Herbert’s Dune miniseries that was pretty close to the book, but to a fault since it kept in a lot of the boring parts, too. But there’s hope, since Arrival/Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuves is helming the next version. And if he can’t do it, then I honestly don’t know who can. We’ll see soon enough, I suppose.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Philip K. Dick
Speaking of Blade Runner, did you know that the title “Blade Runner” has absolutely nothing to do with the original Philip K. Dick story, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Seriously. The title came from another story, but it was such an arresting name that the movie got that title. Strange. Anywho, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? does have a similar story in that it’s about a bounty hunter who tracks down androids and “retires” them. But there’s also a whole subplot in there about endangered animals, and Deckard actually wants to make enough money to buy a living animal. So yeah… similar but different. Also, it’s not suggested in the book that Deckard may himself be an android. That’s more like fan-fiction.
As mentioned, there's the famous Ridley Scott adaptation with Harrison Ford (which I don’t like), and a sort of sequel to that movie called Blade Runner: 2049, which I do like. See both. Most people like the Ridley Scott movie.
Ender’s Game - Orson Scott Card
Ender’s Game has gotten downgraded quite a bit over the years because of its author, Orson Scott Card, due to his stance against gay marriage. But it’s still a great book, nonetheless. It concerns a prodigy named Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, who is part of a new breed of children soldiers who are being trained to fight aliens. They are given games to play to simulate real combat, but the “games” aren’t exactly what they seem.
Ender's Game was made into a decent movie starring Harrison Ford and Asa Butterfield. I obviously recommend the book as it definitely lives up to the hype, but I also recommend the movie. It’s faithful enough.
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
Most people compare Brave New World to the book, 1984, but I honestly much prefer the former. It’s also a dystopian society, but much more depressing. The setting for Brave New World is in the future where society cherishes science and efficiency above all, with individuality and emotion being deprioritized. The story almost feels like a dream with all the “sleep learning” and talk of the drug soma, which is a Prozac of sorts. It has one of the most shocking endings I’ve ever read, and I still think of it to this day.
There was a 1980 television film version, and also a 1998 television movie starring Leonard Nimoy and Law and Order: SVU’s Peter Gallagher. I haven’t seen either, but I hear the 1998 is “loosely” adapted. And at one time, Ridley Scott wanted to make an adaptation, but it never got off the ground.
Foundation - Isaac Asimov
Famed author, Isaac Asimov, is probably best known today for his three laws of robotics. But his masterwork is probably the Foundation series, which consists of seven books. I actually recommend you read the whole series, but the first book concerns a mathematician named Hari Seldon who is humanity’s only hope now that Galactic Empire has seen its final days. Using the power of math and what he calls “psychohistory,” he determines that there needs to be a plan once the Empire falls, and he passes down his knowledge and foresight to scientists across the galaxy to create a new (wait for it) foundation for new life to begin.
New Line Cinema was going to make movies based in the Foundation series, but that seems to have fallen through. Then, HBO acquired the rights to it, but that seems to have fallen through, too. Now, it looks like it’s Apple’s turn. We’ll see how that goes.
The book that got me to read every book ever written by Kurt Vonnegut, the story concerns one Billy Pilgrim who has managed to become “unstuck in time.” He’s traveling all over, from Dresden before the terrible bombing, to a planet called Tralfamadore. It deals with Vonnegut’s own trauma of being in World War 2, and is probably the book most people have read of his since it’s usually required reading in high school.
There was a 1972 movie made of Slaughterhouse-Five that is really dated and not very good. I recommend that you read the book, but not to see the movie. Not unless you’re super curious.
Now, I also wanted to talk about Logan’s Run, Never Let Me Go, and Fantastic Voyage, which are all really great books that were also made into movies, but I thought that this list was sufficient enough. If there are any other famous sci-fi books you love, mention them in the comments.