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Weather looking grim? 7 of the best sci-fi books to hunker down with

From feminist books to speculative fiction, there’s something for everyone in the science-fiction realm, says Prudence Wade.

Prudence Wade
Monday 05 July 2021 15:00 BST
Man reading at home
Man reading at home

Feeling a bit glum about the weather forecasts? Whether you’ve overdone it with your social calendar already and need to recharge, or simply want some good indoor plans for when rain strikes, what could be better than settling down with a good book?

With big-screen adaptations on the horizon, now is the perfect time to immerse yourself in some of the greatest works of science-fiction ever written…

1. Dune by Frank Herbert

We’d argue it’s always better to read the book before watching the on-screen adaptation, and with the blockbuster version of Dune set to be released some time this year – featuring Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya and Javier Bardem – it’s time to get reading.

Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel is a sweeping work of science-fiction that helped define the genre and bring it to the mainstream. At its core is the fight for control of the bleak planet of Arrakis – home to the incredibly rare and precious element spice, which can (among other things) extend your lifespan.

2. The Left Hand Of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

If you want your sci-fi with more of a feminist spin, look no further than legend Ursula Le Guin Published in 1969, The Left Hand Of Darkness is a great entry point to her work. It imagines a future world where people are ambisexual – they have no fixed sex – following two strangers fleeing across an icy planet. It’s a fascinating look at what sex and gender actually mean in society.

3. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Octavia E. Butler is a giant in science-fiction: she won the prestigious Hugo and Nebula awards multiple times, and was the first sci-fi writer to receive the MacArthur Genius Grant.

Kindred, published in 1979, is a time travel novel. Young woman Dana finds herself jumping between her life as a writer in LA in the 1970s, and a Maryland plantation during slavery.

4. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

You’ve probably seen the 2004 film starring Will Smith, but what about reading the short story collection it was loosely based on? The stories featured in I, Robot were originally printed in the 1940s, exploring ideas of robotics, artificial intelligence and morality.

With this collection, Asimov gave a defining set of ideas for the sci-fi community – the Three Laws of Robotics. Broadly, this was: a robot shouldn’t harm a human being, a robot must obey humans, and a robot must protect its own existence. These laws helped shape sci-fi and speculative fiction for years to come.

I, Robot is the perfect introduction to one of sci-fi’s greatest writer – if this piques your interest, follow up by reading the Foundation series.

5. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick takes home the prize for one of the best titles in sci-fi – although you might better recognise the name of the loose film adaptation starring Harrison Ford: Blade Runner.

Dick’s 1968 book is set in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco where the world has been ravaged by nuclear war. Bounty hunter Rick is tasked with killing a group of escaped androids – a difficult task, as they look exactly like humans. There’s a strong influence of noir fiction in this book, while also dealing with classic sci-fi tropes of artificial intelligence and power.

6. Oryx And Crake by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood’s work is hard to categorise – The Handmaid’s Tale feels more like dystopian or speculative fiction, but for us, Oryx And Crake falls into the sci-fi genre.

It’s the first instalment in Atwood’s Maddaddam trilogy and set in a post-apocalyptic future, where the world has been overtaken by a plague. A character called Snowman is at the centre; he’s on a journey to survive, mourning his best friend Crake and the woman they both loved, Oryx.

7. The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin

NK Jemisin is one of the most exciting voices in science-fiction today. The Fifth Season won the Hugo Award for best novel in 2016, and the subsequent books in her Broken Earth trilogy also went on to win the top prize.

The Fifth Season takes place on the planet of Stillness, torn apart by a climate disaster every few centuries. The story follows women from different castes trying to navigate the planet crumbling around them, making for a sweeping, post-apocalyptic look at bigotry and what people will do to survive.

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