Science fiction has long been a genre that has allowed readers to expand their minds, explore social trends, and consider the inventions of possible new technologies. It’s a genre experiencing something of a renaissance today due to the rapidly advancing pace of innovation and new technologies.
The popularization of personal computers, smartphones, and tablets have radically changed our day-to-day lives, psychology, and social bonding habits. Many authors and science fiction content creators have noticed some of these new technologies’ reliance on some of the downsides. They have extrapolated possible future harms they could cause as they continue advancing.
This skepticism around new technologies has given rise to a reemergence of dystopian science fiction that explores the adverse effects of technological change and populations’ difficulty adapting to it. Many young science fiction fans might not realize that this dystopian science fiction category and it’s more techno-optimistic counterparts have a long history.
Creative science fiction authors have been pondering these questions and exploring these themes for centuries. Let’s explore some of the all-time great science fiction authors and the classic books they wrote that have influenced the thinking of millions around the world.
Isaac Asimov was a prolific science fiction writer and a professor of biochemistry at Boston University. Asimov is best known for his Foundation series. The Foundation series was originally a trilogy, consisting of three books: Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation. The series is one of the most well-known works in science fiction and won the Hugo award for best all-time series.
Asimov later added new volumes to the series, publishing two sequels and two prequels to the original series. The Foundation series was groundbreaking because it explored concepts like uncertainty and incompleteness principles. The series’s underlying premise is that a scientist uncovers a system of perfected mathematics and social science called psychohistory that allows him to predict the future of populations by analyzing their past behavior.
The series explores these philosophical principles by looking at how a population might act if it knew its future and how this collective self-awareness could alter this predicted future. The books consider these complex philosophical principles while set in a galactic empire on the decline. According to the predictive science invented in the book, the fall of the empire can only be prevented by gathering the most intelligent minds in the galaxy and creating a storehouse of human knowledge.
This piece by the New York Times explores how Asimov’s ideas influenced current thinkers, including Paul Krugman, and their thoughts around using science to model possible future events.
Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick is an iconic science fiction author born in Chicago in 1982 that published 44 novels and about 121 short stories. Raised by his mother, Dick developed an early interest in philosophy when attending college at the University of California, Berkeley. By studying Plato and other renowned philosophers’ works, he reached philosophical conclusions of his own, coming to believe it impossible to prove that the outside world was entirely real, except as a byproduct of human perception.
These early philosophical musings would later come to inform Dick’s writing style, which incorporated themes such as simulacra, alternate realities, and altered states of consciousness. Much of his science fiction work also featured a dystopian vision of the future, which set him apart from other prominent science fiction of his era that was mostly utopian.
Despite the overwhelming recognition his work received posthumously, Dick struggled financially as a writer for most of his life. He dreamed of publishing mainstream literary fiction, through which he could earn a higher income, but had many novels he wrote rejected by mainstream publishers. As a result, he made his living publishing his writing in lower-paying science fiction magazines.
Dick also struggled with depression, and at one point, attempted to take his own life. It was a struggle represented by his book A Scanner Darkly, which reflected many aspects of his lifestyle while depressed. Despite not receiving widespread recognition throughout his life, many of his writings have become adapted into major motion pictures such as Blade Runner, The Man in the High Castle, and Total Recall since his death.
This piece by the Washington Post explains how the future that Dick predicted in much of his fiction is in many ways coming to life today. Moreover, much of his trailblazing work has come to be regarded as science fiction classics, and his dystopian style is experiencing a resurgence in modern science fiction today.
H.G. Wells was an English science fiction writer perhaps known best for his novel The War of the Worlds, featured in this list of best science fiction books by Cool Things Chicago. Wells didn’t exclusively write science fiction, and in fact, wrote extensively about politics, history, and social commentary as well. Much of his political writing was widely read in his time, with even iconic leaders like Winston Churchill drawing political inspiration from the benefits of socialism and a supportive state represented in his work.
Wells’s earliest specialized training was in Biology, through which he learned extensively about the ideas of evolutionary theory from a Darwinian context. He was also an outspoken socialist and a futurist that wrote several utopian novels that drew political conclusions about human advancement.
Although The War of the Worlds is Well’s most famous novel, he is also too known for his other works, including The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and The War in the Air. Wells was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature four times. This piece by the LA Times dives into great depth about Wells’s history and his writing’s popularization.
These are only some of the greatest science fiction authors of all time. The science fiction genre is becoming more popular each year, and it can be immensely enlightening to look back at some of the science fiction classics of the past to see how they relate to the world we live in today.
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We hope you enjoy some of the classic science fiction novels from these iconic authors and that they get you to look at our world and the technological change we’re experiencing differently.