A couple of years ago iO9 posted the top ten Sci-fi books that a lot of people apparently pretend to have read, but are in fact titles you should actually consider reading. So I thought I would take the challenge and see how I stacked up. Having long considered myself pretty well read when it comes to science fiction, I thought I’d do well, but as it turns out there’s quite a few books I hadn’t even heard of, let alone pretend to have read. In fact the first four books in their list I’ve some how managed to have never crossed paths with.
David Foster Wallace and his Infinite Jest for example sounds like something right up my alley, and has been added to my list of must-reads, as the author’s decision to utilize footnotes throughout the narrative sounds like an interesting one, and something that not only speaks to the academic in me, but something I’ve thought about employing in some of my own writing. For that matter I would have thought Samuel Delany another of those writers from the 60s that I’d have encountered by this point having been introduced to many of his contemporaries by my father’s collection, and yet Dhalgren and all of his other works are unknown to me. And from what the iO9 article says, is apparently one of those seminal titles that Sci-fi fans and writers alike should be familiar with. However adding to this list, especially for those that enjoyed the apocalyptic fiction of the 80s like I did, is Leigh Brackett’s the Long Tomorrow. Probably one of the first books written in the early days of what would become the decades long Cold War that envisioned what a post-nuclear world could look like. Rounding out the bottom of their list of titles I’ve obviously been remiss in not reading to this point – and apparently has had an audience as widespread as Winston Churchill and Virginia Wolf – are the companion books Last and First Men and Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon and are considered keystones in the genre that influenced much of what followed.
Thankfully I get to break this streak with a title that I have read, and had a very big impact on my understanding and appreciation of totalitarian fiction. In fact I was surprised to see it on this list, as George Orwell’s 1984 was mandatory reading during my schooling, and would have assumed would have been encountered by most students educated in North America. Written shortly after World War II as the world was becoming increasingly polarized between the burgeoning superpowers of the United States and the Soviet Union, the book is set in the dystopian future of 1984 where the world finds itself pitted between three warring superpowers. Told from the POV of a government bureaucrat from the Ministry of Truth – responsible for the daily barrage of propaganda leveled against their populace to maintain support of the war effort – it chronicles his struggles to embrace an individual identity in a society that demands total obedience to the Party and adherence to their narrative as it shifts to meet the government’s needs. Despite this being written in the context of the “Soviet menace,” the observations made in 1984 are as important now as they were then, as we bear witness to our present day struggles with personal privacies and governments actively changing history text books to better align history with their political agendas, and how easily technology can be used to facilitate such. Definitely a must for everyone to read regardless of any personal preferences they might have.