Tales of the future may come from the past! Do you ever wonder how writers envisioned the potential future of science decades or over a century ago? These five sci-novels from the 20th (or 19th) century may give you a fresh, though decades-old, perspective discussing the good or evil potentials of science and technology.
1. War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
First published in 1897, this gem of science fiction has inspired countless novels since then and still continues to rivet its readers. The unnamed protagonist from England is one of the first witnesses of a strange-looking meteorite in England. Not long after, it is apparent that the meteorite is Martian and an invasion is imminent. Can the protagonist survive and return to his wife? What is it like for man, the dominator of earth, to be dominated by a race of aliens?
Side note: At one point, this book was narrated over the radio, sounding out of context as an actual news broadcast. Some people thought there was an actual Martian invasion and became terrified!
2. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
The French author published this novel in 1870, at the eve of the industrial revolution and a time of increasing interest in submersible vessels. In the novel, there are at first multiple instances of some great sea creature attacking and sinking ships. But Professor Pierre Aronnax and others who wash upon Captain Nemo’s submarine discover that it is the incredible submarine, the Nautilus, and its captain who are responsible. The stowaways and travel the vastness of an ocean with the crew captivated but also confused as to why Nemo would reject the society of humanity for that of the sea.
Side note: Captain Nemo takes his name from Odysseus, who calls himself “no man”. The captain gives his name, of course, to our beloved lost clownfish, Nemo!
3. The Dune Saga by Frank Herbert
Published from 1965-1985, the Dune Saga contains 6 novels and is widely considered the greatest epic of science fiction. Instead of sticking to a single character, these novels begin with Paul Atreides, first a son of a noble family and then the emperor of the known universe. The spice known as melange has the power to prolong and enhance life, power that Paul takes advantage of. The novels follow Paul’s descendants, ending by revealing the fate of his planet, Arrakis, and the fate of his posterity.
Side note: the list of novels and stories that build this science-fiction world continues to increase as authors carry on Herbert’s legacy. The most recent addition, Dune: The Lady of Caladan is expected on September 21st, 2021. Beyond books, a highly anticipated film adaptation of Herbert’s first novel will premiere this October.
4. The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis
This series contains three books that were published from 1938-1945: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. Ever the philosopher, Lewis explores the nature of humanity by taking the protagonist, Dr. Elwin Ransom, outside of Earth and to the planets of Mars and Venus. On these planets, the inhabitants are uncorrupted, but corruption from Earth threatens them. When Ransom returns to Earth in the final book, corruption even greater than when he left awaits him there.
Side note: J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis’ close friend, and fellow Inkling, was the primary inspiration for The Space Trilogy’s protagonist, Dr. Ransom! Ever wonder what the creator of Middle Earth would do on other planets?
5. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
What’s the big deal about books? In his priceless 1953 novel, Ray Bradbury discusses their importance by utilizing a society that burns them. The main character, Guy Montag, is a fireman, someone who burns books and the houses that contain them. The culture obsesses with the society of television but doesn’t realize the value—and the freedom—that comes with literature.
Side note: my favorite part of the book is meeting those who memorized books before they were burned—and were subsequently known by the name of the book! Imagine being so familiar with a book that it became your identity?
Feature image via medium