Each Monday in April, we're shining a spotlight on speculative fiction. Today we've got a science fiction reading guide from David M Henley.



Image source: Flickr / fontplaydotcom

 

The quick A-Z science fiction primer. A cheat sheet and reading list for anyone who likes to dabble in reality.

A - Asimov. He laid down the three rules of robotics. He set the Foundation. If you don't know what I'm talking about then give up now. (One could also have included Margaret Attwood for A, whose books are filling up my to-read pile.)

B - Alfred Bester. A forgotten master who wrote The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man. Two classics of men in desperate situations. The Demolished Man is also one of few good works that deal with telepathy.

C - Arthur C Clarke took us from monkeys to star foetus in 2001: A Space Odyssey. He gave us HAL 9000. Read the book, it can improve the movie experience.

D - Dick, Philip K. Just read them all. There are standouts, but simply start with whatever your local bookshop has. Doesn't matter what order you read in. If you've already read some PKD, make sure you’ve covered the standouts.

E - E is for evolution. Isn't this what all science fiction is about? The continual exploration of hypotheses about the changing human condition. Where it gets interesting is when authors begin playing with the environment humans must adapt to and how we in turn shape that environment.

F - Frankenstein by Mary Shelley still holds up after all these years. It's been centuries now but the epistolary method it is written in keeps it anchored in time and the theme of technology gone awry is still highly relevant.

G - Gibson, William. Father of cyberspace, king of cyberpunk. I have quite a few of his books on my reading pile. I just can't keep up. Neuromancer is benchmark reading.

H - H is a big letter for science fiction with four all time greats: Haldeman, Hamilton, Heinlein ... Henley. 

I - I Am Legend. Robert Mathieson at his finest. This was back when vampire fiction could be good. Now it's all been ruined by youknowwhat. He also wrote for the original Twilight Zone.

J - Jules Verne. This vintage sci fi is cute because science and exploration has made some plots defunct. He inspired generations and encapsulated the hopes of the Industrial Age and his stories are still fun for kids.

K - Franz Kafka. The imaginative reach and exploration of altered states in The Trial and Metamorphosis earn him a place on this list whether anyone agrees with me or not. He examines the human condition in skewed realities, that's good enough for me,

L - Stanislaw Lem. Rich and dense Polish brain food. Anthropomorphism, robot literature, that sort of thing. Written from the other side of the Iron Curtain. Try His Master's Voice or Solaris, then wade into his essays and metatexts.

M - Michel Faber is so hot right now, especially since The Book of Strange New Things, which is really very good. Very good indeed.

N - Never Let Me Go. I've heard this is really worth reading. It too is on the pile, under those Atwoods ...

O - George Orwell. Two legs bad, four legs good. Newspeak? Orwell's sense of humour makes the horrors just that much worse and so many of his made-up words have entered our vernacular, like Big Brother.

P - Pierre Boule's Planet of the Apes. If you're into seeing how an idea can change over time, a fun trail is to read the original book and then watch the first television series and then all the newer movies. Is the only thing they have in common a title?

Q - I had to cheat on this one and go to Wikipedia. Quinzinzinzili sounds great and I'm totally going to put that on my reading pile if I can find it in English.

R - Rodenberry. Don't look at me like that. I'm tipping my hat to the creator of Star Trek for founding one of the only universes where characters pursue non-violent resolutions. Science fiction should do more of this.

S - Strugatsky brothers all the way. Roadside Picnic is an absolute gem of storytelling and concept, which incidentally was interpreted into the movie Stalker. I've loved all their other works I could get secondhand – but I hear whispers of new translations afoot. (I homaged them my trilogy by taking both their first names for a character, Boris Arkady).

T - Theodore Sturgeon. Another forgotten master. He was a virtuoso at the sentence level and communicating a lot with a little. More than Human is simply awesome (and was part of my research for Pierre Jnr) and the short stories are manifold and excellent. 

U - Ubik. Another classic Phillip K Dick. What it is to be human? What it is to be a machine? What does it matter?

V - Vonnegut, Kurt. From Player Piano, which told the story of a man programming a robot to replace himself, to Breakfast of Champions, where he breaks the fourth wall and makes the author a character. Vonnegut is his own genre. He makes his own rules.

W - H G Wells. You should read Wells when you're young and notice how dark some of it is. Island of Doctor Moreau, when vivisection was a cutting-edge form of surgery. War of the Worlds, around WW1. The original The Invisible Man is much creepier than you might remember. He worried about the future of humanity a lot and became very political towards the end of his days. He wanted his epitaph to read 'I told you so. You damned fools.' (See also John Wyndam).

X - Xenocide. The third book in the Ender series by Orson Scott Card. A tidy little trilogy with lots to think about. Love his examination of what it is to be alien. (Shame about that homophobic thing)

Y & Z - Yevgeny Zamyatin. George Orwell openly admitted that he was greatly inspired by We, which is the Russian forerunner to 1984.

That's it, thanks for having me. Read my books. Trilogy ending in June. Epic conclusions ahoy.


David M Henley is the author of a trilogy of futuristic thrillers from HarperVoyager; The Hunt for Pierre Jnr (2013), Manifestations (2014), Convergence (2015) and has previously written and illustrated two esoteric novellas (The Museum of Unnatural History and Bumbly Goes Forth) and one love poem (The Story So Far). He has worked in Australian trade publishing for his entire adult life and grown a successful design and publishing studio, and is the art director and co-founder of Seizure. He is based in Sydney, Australia but gets about.

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samvanz

Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.