Science Fiction Hits for the Summer

Roger Yang
Edited by Zoe Jones
Published on
June 17, 2023

Do you love science fiction? Looking for something to flip through over the long summer? Here are some recommendations of great science fiction titles with brief descriptions.

Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card

Ender’s Game is set in a futuristic human civilization ruled by an international “hegemony” akin to a super EU, and capable of limited stellar travel. Humanity has survived a great war with the Formics, a vaguely insect-like alien civilization whose society is divided into various tiers of “workers” that serve a ruling “queen” with hive-mind-like coordination. The protagonist, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, is the third and youngest child of his parents. At a young age, Ender shows promise in his intelligence and self-defense capabilities, which leads to him being admitted to the international battle school in preparation for another war. Though Ender is quick, resourceful, and deadly, his greatest asset is his empathy - throughout the story, he “loves” his enemies, crying after he incapacitates his bullies and his formic enemies. Ender’s Game is a perfect read if you’re looking for a science fiction series with well-developed world-building (especially global politics) and a complicated emotional narrative; the book heavily focuses on the endurance of love and human relationships in times of competition or warfare.

Dune, Frank Herbert

One of the most widely celebrated science fiction novels of all time, Dune is set in the 10,000s in an interstellar human civilization. Despite mystical technological advancements like shields that can deflect any high-kinetic energy munitions, or laser guns capable of cutting through solid steel, the universe of Dune is completely devoid of artificial intelligence, courtesy of a disastrous past war fought against computers. Interestingly, human politics also seem to have regressed, with the different settlements of the story adopting an ultra-feudalistic organization consisting of different houses controlled by a combination of an Emperor and a powerful joint-stock company. The story follows Paul, a son of a duke of the respected House Atreides, right as his house moves from their watery homeworld to Arrakis, a hazardous desert planet that houses vast stores of the priceless hallucinogenic melange spice, necessary for interstellar travel. House Atreides soon after encounters a myriad of conflicts on Arrakis, including impending threats from their enemy House Harkonnen. Dune is an incredible triumph of worldbuilding and science fiction writing which covers topics like political corruption, religious manipulation of native populations, covert eugenics programs, the capabilities of the human mind, drugs, and their cognitive effects, and the role of ecology in fostering a society’s culture. 

The Expanse (Leviathan Wakes), James S.A. Corey

Set in a future solar system hyper-colonized by humans, the world of The Expanse is governed by two warring super-factions - the United Nations, which rules Earth, and the Martian Congressional Republic (MCR), which rules Mars. Though Mars has been significantly colonized, terraforming is still limited, leading to Martian humans suffering from a substantially lower quality of life and cultural divides between Martians and Earthers. In addition, humanity has also colonized much of the asteroid belt, resulting in a third demographic of humans known as belters, who are lithe and tall from growing up in little gravity. The belters are de facto ruled by a renegade faction known as the Outer Planets Alliance, whose authority is not recognized by either Earth or Mars. The story follows comet ice harvester and Earther Captain James Holden and the rest of his crew, who stumble into a deadly secret while responding to a distress call from a nearby ship, providing a spark that threatens to catalyze total warfare between Earth, Mars, and the Belt. Consider The Expanse if you’re interested in politics past the space age, conflicts between different demographics, or the atmosphere of a civilization threatened by an impending bio-nuclear holocaust.

The Three-Body Problem, Liu Cixin

The Three-Body Problem is widely recognized as one of the greatest international science fiction epics of all time. The novel interweaves two narratives from past and present- the first narrative takes place at the height of China’s cultural revolution, following young astrophysicist Ye Wenjie’s discovery of a classified CCP initiative to establish contact with extraterrestrials, whereas the second follows present-day nanotechnology professor Wang Miao who uncovers disturbing evidence that a hyper-intelligent alien civilization (the Trisolarans) is manipulating scientific research. The Trisolarans are unique as their homeworld is situated in the chaotic “three-body” Centauri system four-and-a-half light years from Earth, forcing them to make significant behavioral and physiological adaptations to survive. Due to their chaotic living conditions, the Trisolarans are desperate to leave, and they set their sites on Earth as their primary target of colonization. To prevent human science from developing quickly enough to counter them, the Trisolarans developed sentient protons that could be sent to Earth to interfere with scientific progress, which Wang tries to neutralize. If hyper-intelligent aliens, political polarization during crises, or incredibly imaginative applications of physics interest you, give The Three-Body Problem a try.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

Set in the dystopian nation of Gilead, The Handmaid’s Tale envisions a bleak world decimated by plummeting birth rates. The organization of Gilead is highly patriarchal, with a large portion of women inheriting the status of “handmaids,” only existing to bear the children of powerful men, courtesy of fertility becoming a priceless trait. The novel follows one such handmaid, Offred, as she struggles to survive in the highly oppressive and pervasive autocratic government instilled by Gilead while maintaining some sense of personal integrity, documenting all of her thoughts and actions along the way. The Handmaid’s Tale is a story about power, and how competition for it yields gross dehumanization and polarization; it is about humanity and the absence of it; it is about the importance of resistance and the role of bystanders in preserving oppressive regimes. Considering the semi-recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, Atwood’s nightmarish hypothetical depiction of an extreme restriction of women’s reproductive rights stands as one of the most important novels in its genre.

1984, George Orwell

Commonly dubbed one of the most influential science fiction books of all time, Orwell’s 1984 takes place in a highly dystopian, autocratic surveillance state in England so pervasive and intolerant that even dissenting thoughts can be prosecuted as crimes. The novel focuses on Winston, a citizen of the authoritarian super-state Oceania, which spans all of North America, the Atlantic, and the British Isles, as he attempts to live and engage in limited forms of resistance without being persecuted for “thoughtcrimes.” A thinly-veiled allusion to life under communist Soviet Russia, 1984 stands today as one of the most visionary science fiction novels ever, introducing the public to the concept of a surveillance state a half-century before the passage of the Patriot Act, and inventing a whole slew of Orwellian phrases like “doublespeak,” “2+2=5,” “unperson,” and “thought police.” Together with The Handmaid’s Tale, Orwell’s novel displays the full cautionary power of dystopian fiction as a genre.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

Looking for something a bit lighter in tone than the recommendations above? Then Adams’ book might be for you - The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is widely considered one of the greatest science fiction satires the genre has to offer. The book follows Arthur Dent, a lowly human who is suddenly notified by construction workers that his home must be demolished for the construction of a new highway. Despite Arthur’s reluctance, the power of bureaucracy compels him to submit, but in an epic twist of irony, right after his house is destroyed, the entirety of Earth is destroyed by alien construction workers looking to erect a similar intergalactic highway. Arthur was miraculously rescued by his friend Ford Prefect, and the story focuses on his adventures as one of the only human survivors. If you are humored by the thought of a universe where dolphins are the smartest animals on Earth, sofas are bridges to rifts in the space-time continuum, and the meaning of life, the universe, and everything is the number 42, then consider The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 is set in a dystopian America where all books have been banned and where a process akin to the book burnings executed by the Nazis in the late 1930s has taken place around the country. The novel follows Guy Montag, a “fireman” tasked with burning illegal literature, who begins to develop an itch for rebellion. The society of Fahrenheit 451 is fascinating, as huge digital screens have replaced newspapers and books as mass entertainment, similar to a nightmarish exaggeration of modern-day social media and television entertainment. Similar to 1984, Bradbury’s book is visionary in that the reality he envisions becomes increasingly probable every day, considering modern developments in social media and augmented reality technology. If you enjoy dystopian literature, allusions to WWII and post-WWII history, and commentary on the importance of free thought, give Fahrenheit 451 a try.

The Giver, Lois Lowry

Ever wonder what a true utopian society would look like? In Lowry’s seminal novel The Giver, she offers a vision of a society as close to a utopia as you can find in modern literature. The book takes place in a future society where humanity has eliminated all illnesses, pains, conflicts, physical colors, inequities, and fears - a state that the society maintains by depriving their citizens of any knowledge of the past, numbing them to negative emotions through drugs, and predetermining the roles of all citizens. The story follows Jonas, a young boy who is assigned the elusive role of a Receiver, the only person who can inherit memories of the past. As Jonas subsequently learns about his community’s complicated past from the former Receiver, he feels mental and physical pain for the first time, causing him great suffering due to the inability of anyone to understand his pain. However, Jonas also experiences pleasures that the community has eliminated, like seeing colors for the first time, and his training reveals extremely disturbing information that makes him realize that his society is not the perfect world that he thought it was. If mysterious, dystopian, and disturbing science fiction interests you, consider The Giver.

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