Although we don't generally think of Mary Shelley as a sci-fi writer (after all, she was writing in the 1800s and is largely associated with Romanticism), she's responsible for bringing us one of the most important sci-fi works of all time: Frankenstein.
We can't talk about sci-fi without talking about Shelley's Frankenstein, about the scientist Victor Frankenstein, and the corpse-collage creature (he's sort of a man but is pretty creepy looking) he creates in a wacko experiment.
Shelley was only nineteen when she wrote this novel. Dang. Our greatest accomplishment at age nineteen was baking chocolate chip cookies without burning them.
She may have been young, but this story about a scientific experiment gone awry became an instant classic. And even today it's a huge part of popular culture. When we hear the name "Frankenstein," we immediately conjure up an image of a green dude with stitches running along his forehead and metal knobs sticking out of his neck. The monster doesn't exactly look like that in the original novel, but he's still quite scary.
Mary Shelley was doing apocalyptic science fiction way before the apocalypse became a staple of sci-fi in the 20th century. The Last Man is set in an apocalyptic time in the 21st century (Uh-oh. That's our own time, isn't it?). It's a tale about a plague that's kills off pretty much everyone except for one (yup) last man.
With its focus on a distant future time and an apocalyptic world, this novel by Mary Shelley fits right into the science fiction genre. And hey, it's pretty awesome that one of the earliest writers of science fiction was a woman… given that today it's still very much a dude-centric discipline.
Mary Shelley has given us one of the greatest sci-fi characters in the history of sci-fi: the monster in her novel Frankenstein. Plunge right into an analysis of this character here.
Shelley was writing apocalyptic sci-fi way before it became a staple in the 20th century. Delve into her novel The Last Man.
Wells, who was born in 1866 and died in 1946, was trained as a zoologist. His scientific background fed right into his writing. Though he's known as a science fiction writer, he was also a teacher, a journalist, and a historian. Dang, Wells. When did you find the time to write?
Wells' fiction reflects many of the hallmarks of the sci-fi genre. We'll find time travel, aliens, and crazy science experiments in his body of work. Is it any wonder that he's often thought of as the father of modern sci-fi?
In this novel we have one of the earliest depictions of sci-fi time travel. The Time Traveller, the protagonist of the novel, is a scientist who creates a machine that can take him forward in time. Sure enough, the Time Traveller goes for a joy ride that takes him thousands and even millions of years into the future, all the way to the end of the world—when the last living things are going extinct.
This novel isn't just a great time travel adventure; it's also a deep commentary about the fate of the world, the irresponsibility of people when it comes to their environment, and the injustices of society. This novel is so much more than fun times in the future.
Watch out, the Martians are coming. This classic novel about the earth's invasion by aliens is the mother of all alien-invasion stories.
In Wells' novel, greedy Martians have an eye on our planet. Mars is combusting, and they need a nice new cool planet to relax in. What better place to take over than that green planet with rivers and oceans and a wonderful climate just, oh, thirty-five million miles away? A hop, skip and a jump for those wily (and evil) Martians.
Time travel anyone? Check out Wells' Time Traveller talking about his adventures in The Time Machine here.
Ugh, you wish the men from Mars were as chill as Ziggy Stardust. In H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, we get one of the earliest depictions of Martians in Sci-fi. Delve into an analysis of these strange creatures here.
Along with H.G. Wells, Jules Verne is considered to be the second founding figure of modern sci-fi. He was a French writer who published most of his work between the mid-19th and the early 20th centuries.
You may have heard of Verne, because his fantastic adventure stories—like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea—have long been a part of the popular imagination. His work is full of incredible inventions, dangerous voyages, and, of course, fantastic locations.
This novel tells the story of Captain Nemo and his submarine the Nautilus, which circles the world a bunch of times. Submarines may not seem like such a fantastic thing to us nowadays, but back when this novel was published in 1870, they were a pretty radical new invention. And of course, Verne's submarine is a super-duper electric submarine. Yup: Verne predicted the future of subs.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea has all the ingredients that make up a science fiction work. The novel puts a whole lot of emphasis on futuristic technology (submarines were pretty futuristic back then, after all). This novel is about an amazing journey that takes it protagonists to fantastic locations. And of course, it's just a good old-fashioned adventure story.
The Baltimore Gun Club creates a giant cannon that launches three of its members all the way to the moon. Sounds pretty crazy, doesn't it? Well it's sci-fi. Anything's possible in sci-fi.
Another early work of science fiction, Verne's novel prefigures the obsession with space travel that we'll find in later sci-fi. In the sequel to this book, All Around the Moon (1870) we get some pretty incredible descriptions of outer space and the moon. It's quite an achievement considering that back in the day, when Verne was writing, we knew even less than we do now about outer space.
Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is all about fantastic voyages. Check out the theme of exploration in the novel here.
The extraterrestrial landscape of the moon is at the center of Verne's novel From the Earth to the Moon. Check out this novel here.
Asimov was a biochemistry professor for most of his life, though he did so well with his science fiction writing that eventually he turned to writing full time.
Asimov was an extremely prolific writer, publishing hundreds of books during his lifetime. But this guy wasn't just about quantity, he was also about quality—he quickly established himself as one of the most important science fiction writers of all time.
This is the work for which Asimov is most famous. It's the first novel in the Foundation series, and it focuses on the scientist Hari Seldon, who develops a science called "psychohistory" that can predict pretty accurately when the end of civilization will come about. Spooky.
The series then goes on to tell the stories of the various "foundations" that are established by Seldon and others to avert the end of civilization. In these novels, the heroes engage in lots of complicated scientific work. Oh, and zip across galaxies.
Asimov's short story focuses on computers called Multivacs. Humans in the future are pretty worried about the end of the world, and they hope that the Multivacs can help them answer the question of how to avert that destruction.
In this story we'll find the characteristic sci-fi emphasis on the relationship between people and technology. Back in the 1950s, when the story was first published, "The Last Question" was already suggesting how important computers would become in people's lives. And given that we're practically attached by the hip (or by the palm of our hands?) to our computers nowadays, Asimov clearly was onto the right track in this story.
We've mentioned that Sci-fi writers are obsessed with time. See how this theme plays out in Asimov's Foundation here.
Asimov, like his sci-fi writer buddies, was really into technology. He was already writing about computers way back in the 1950s. Check out his short story, "The Last Question," which focuses on computers, here.
If there's one writer who is responsible for bringing science fiction to the general masses, it's Ray Bradbury. He was an American writer who wrote many of the classics of the genre, including Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles.
Bradbury's influence is so huge that there's actually a crater on the moon—Dandelion Crater—named after one of his novels, Dandelion Wine. And we know he's definitely in the Sci-Fi Major Leagues if there are craters in outer space named after him.
Somewhere between a novel and a short story collection, The Martian Chronicles is one of Bradbury's most famous. It's about humans going off to explore and colonize Mars. But it's not just about humans. We'll also find depictions of Martian characters that lead lives just as complicated and messy as ours here on earth.
The book's beautiful depiction of outer space, aliens, and fantastic voyages make this one of the greatest works of sci-fi ever published. And even though a lot of it is set in a far-off planet, the great earth-bound literary themes of love and violence and loss are all there.
Bradbury's dystopian novel is his most famous work. It's set in the future in the U.S., where people aren't allowed to read anything. Yup. No reading whatsoever. (Us at Shmoop wouldn't last long in that society, now would we?)
This is a good old-fashioned sci-fi novel on one level, but on another it's also a commentary on the terrible consequences of the suppression of free thought and speech. It's also a great example of dystopian sci-fi.
In The Martian Chronicles, characters shuttle back and forth between Earth and Mars. There is so much shuttling back and forth that the poor humans get all confused about where home is. Is it Earth? Is it Mars? Here's an analysis of the theme of home in this book.