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Best Early Science Fiction Books

Influential, Early Science Fiction That Helped Shaped The Genre

On successive days in May 1895 a young writer, previously known only for a couple of textbooks, had two books published. The first, a collection of humorous newspaper articles, sank without trace; but the second, also drawn from earlier newspaper articles, was an instant bestseller that has been continuously in print up to the present day and that changed what we now know as science fiction. That book was The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. 

With that, and with four more novels published over the next six years - The Island of Doctor Moreau, The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man and The First Men in the Moon - Wells set the tone and established the subject matter that science fiction would pursue over the next half century or more.

Therefore, in laying out the best early science fiction, we start inevitably with Wells, and we take the story up until a young writer called John W. Campbell took over the editorship of America's most successful science fiction magazine, Astounding, and ushered in the Classic or Golden Age of sf. But if you think that science fiction only really took off with Asimov and Heinlein and others in Campbell's stable, think again! The early years of the twentieth century saw some of the strangest, most wonderful, and most lasting science fiction ever written.

This is the only book on this list that doesn't actually set foot on Mars, so in a sense it's not a Martian novel at all. But it was the key book that fixed the popular idea of Martians, and it was the first great alien invasion story ever written. In the depths of space our older sibling planet is running out of resources, so intelligences vast and cool turn their attention upon Earth; and in time launch their attack. As the 19th century ends a mysterious cylinder falls upon Horsham Common, west of London, and as a curious crowd gathers a horrible creature crawls out and turns a terrifying heat ray upon them. The invasion has begun, the great colonising power of the Victorian age is about to be colonised. So we get the great tripod war machines, the heat rays and black smoke, the red vegetation that quickly swamps the landscape, while thousands flee, the army fights hopelessly, and a few stragglers survive in the ruins. It's a vivid, dramatic and devastating novel.   The War of the Worlds was one of the five brilliant scientific romances that Wells wrote at the beginning of his career that effectively invented modern science fiction. The influence of this book can be seen not just in the Orson Welles dramatization or the film versions, but in the number of sequels it has generated, from Edison's Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss, a dreadful book rushed out immediately after Wells's original, to books like The Space Machine by Christopher Priest which you'll find elsewhere on this list.
We was written in the immediate aftermath of the Russian Revolution, and though Zamyatin was himself a Bolshevik, the novel expressed his disquiet at the structuring of society that the Soviet Union was planning; it was, therefore, the first novel banned by the Soviet censorship board. As a result, Zamyatin had the manuscript smuggled out of the country, so it was published in an English translation long before it ever saw print in Russia.Set in a police state where everyone is under constant surveillance by the secret police, We tells of an engineer who meets and falls in love with a free spirit whose independence leads him to question everything he has always assumed about the state. But in the end the state proves all powerful and this suggestion of independence is crushed.Why it's on the listAldous Huxley confirmed that We was part of the inspiration that led him to write Brave New World; and George Orwell, who reviewed We on its original publication in the UK, modelled 1984 very closely on Zamyatin's book. But if it had not had such a major influence on subsequent dystopias, We is a powerful work that deserves to be recognised as one of the great novels of the 20th century.
If there is one overused cliché in science fiction, it is the alternate history novel in which Hitler won the Second World War. But this is a novel about the Nazis triumphant that is not clichéd for the very simple reason that it was written even before the war began.Burdekin was an early feminist writer who saw fascism as an ideology that extolled the masculine, and following Hitler's proclamation of the "thousand-year Reich", she wrote the novel to show just how far such an ideology might go in a thousand years. The novel was published under the name Murray Constantine, a pseudonym designed to protect her family from the sort of attack her strong condemnation of fascism was likely to generate. It was 20 years after her death before it was discovered that Constantine was really Burdekin.It is 700 years after the Nazis won the Twenty Year War, and Hitler is revered as a tall, blond god who personally won the war. The Jews have been eliminated long since, Christians are marginalised, and women have been deprived of all rights. The rise of a misogynistic society has led to the physical degeneration of women, and with that the race has declined, becoming ever weaker so that they are struggling to continue their perpetual wars against the only other superpower, Japan. This is, quite simply, one of the finest works of science fiction from between the wars, a stirring, passionate denunciation of fascism at a time when appeasement was popular.

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There are many tales of Hitler winning the war, some of the more interesting examples of which are:

The Sound of His Horn by Sarban tells of a British Prisoner of War who is transported to a Nazi dominated future where genetically-modified women are hunted for sport.

The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad presents an alternate history in which Hitler failed as a politician and became a pulp novelist, whose sf novel The Lord of the Swastika reflects much of Hitler's ideology in the form of a lurid post-apocalyptic tale.

Fatherland by Robert Harris is set in 1964 when a detective, investigating the murder of a high-ranking Nazi official, uncovers a conspiracy that leads him back to the Final Solution. There's a similar plot in SS-GB by Len Deighton, in which the investigation of a murder in Nazi-occupied Britain leads to a plot to help the king escape.

Resistance by Owen Sheers is set in a remote Welsh valley where all the men have gone off to join the resistance and have presumably been killed, leaving the women to tend the farms and cope with the occupying German troops.

The great innovation in American science fiction during the 1920s was the invention of the space opera, and that was largely down to E.E. "Doc" Smith. Sometime around 1916 he had the idea for a story about travelling through interstellar space, but he didn't write it until the mid-1920s, with a family friend, Mrs Lee Hawkins Garby, writing the romantic elements that Smith wasn't comfortable with. The first novel, The Skylark of Space, appeared in three parts in Amazing in 1928, and was so successful that the editor asked Smith for a sequel even before the first part had appeared. Two sequels appeared in the early 1930s, Skylark Three and Skylark of Valeron, and a fourth volume, Skylark DuQuesne was added in 1963, two years before Smith died. The story involves the discovery of an interstellar drive, with two families heading off to the stars, competing against the villainous DuQuesne, and encountering a dizzying array of strange planets and alien races. It is basically non-stop adventure, with some new technological development or alien encounter cropping up whenever the pace threatens to slow. Why it's on the list: Space opera was the first major subgenre of American science fiction, and it all began here. It's a thrilling read that stretches our credibility in every direction at once, but it really opened up the depths of space for all the science fiction that came after.

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Czech is hardly a widely spoken language, and in the years immediately after the First World War Czechoslovakia had barely gained its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire which had largely swamped Czech culture to that point. This was not exactly a promising source for a play that became a world-wide phenomenon, and one of the most influential texts in the history of science fiction. But within three years of the first performance of R.U.R. in January 1921, it had been translated into 30 languages, and the new word "robot" had become so familiar that it was already being used in English newspapers of the time. Why it's on the list If you know the word "robot" it is because of this play. It is derived from the Czech word "robota", meaning forced labour, and the robots in the play were biological creations closer to cyborgs than the metal creatures that came to dominate sf. But it was here that robots entered the world's consciousness.

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Karel Ã?apek was a prolific journalist, playwright and critic. As Arthur Miller said: "There was no writer like him...prophetic assurance mixed with surrealistic humour and hard-edged social satire: a unique combination...he is a joy to read." This unique combination is not just evident in R.U.R., but also in his amazing science fiction novel, War With The Newts. Like R.U.R., this is a story about the way people exploit others, in this case a race of intelligent newts discovered on a remote Pacific island. At first the newts are enslaved by an industrialist, but eventually clashes start, and the newts begin to destroy the landmass in order to create more living room for themselves.

We all like sense of wonder, that feeling of being overawed by the scale of things we find in science fiction: Iain Banks's massive spaceships, Alistair Reynolds's journeys around the entire galaxy, Isaac Asimov's rise and fall of galactic civilisations. But no work of science fiction has envisaged the timescale covered by Olaf Stapledon's monumental novel. It encompasses billions of years, and witnesses the rise and fall not just of humanity, but of our successors, and their successors, and onwards to an almost unimaginable point in the very distant future. The First Men are basically us, and we follow their story as world governments rise and fall until, hundreds of thousands of years hence, humanity wipes itself out. But a few survivors go on to become the Second Men, who are on the point of creating superior beings when they too fall, and are replaced by the Third Men. Our descendants reach out to other planets, change their physical appearance, build artificial species, descend into barbarism, and so on, until we reach the Eighteenth Men, an artificial race with different genders and an ability to become a hive mind. The invention never flags, and the scale and reach of the novel is constantly breathtaking. Why it's on the list: It inspired Arthur C. Clarke and C.S. Lewis, James Blish and Brian Aldiss; H.P. Lovecraft considered it the greatest of all works of science fiction. There is no vision of the future to match it, and all our subsequent visions of the future owe something to it.

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This book ranks third on this list, and let's be frank here, because everybody appreciates sex and drugs woven into an intricate story line to pep up an otherwise depressing future. A future with sanctioned drugs and bi-weekly orgies, you say? Why is this future considered to be a dystopia and not a utopia? Probably because you have no choice about dying at the ripe old age of 60. At least you'll die young, beautiful and full of health, not having known pain, ugliness or hardship. Huxley's Brave New World portrays a hedonistic society (sans the hindrance of pesky moral repercussions) called the "World State", controlled by "World controllers" who ensure stability through a five tiered caste system, and ration a drug called Soma to members of every caste, so that no one ever feels pain or remains unhappy. Long term relationships are discouraged, babies are "decanted" (born in test tubes), and the idea of parents and families is disgusting. Humans are conditioned pre and post-natally to believe certain truths a pleasant way of describing society being brainwashed. Brave New World also enjoys the honor of being one of the most banned books for "negative activities", which we can only assume means all of the fun things in the book. And on this note, it leaves us with the moral that if you take away all of the unpleasantness from life, how can you know what is pleasurable and enjoy it? This novel has something to appeal to everyone: science fiction fans, dystopia/utopia fans, car enthusiasts, drug addicts, polygamists, polyamorous people, and Shakespeare snobs.

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A Martian Odyssey was Weinbaums first science fiction story; but within eighteen months he was dead, having written barely enough to make a collection. But with that first story he guaranteed his lasting fame, and significantly changed the role of Mars in fiction.Dick Jarvis, a member of the first expedition to Mars, crashes and has to walk 800 miles back to his base. Shortly after beginning the journey, he rescues a curious birdlike creature, which Jarvis recognises as intelligent. The creature, which calls itself Tweel, joins Jarvis on his trek, and is the first of a whole range of fanciful beings that are encountered along the way. These include a silicon-based being that is building a line of pyramids, a tentacle monstrosity that lures its victims by projecting illusions, and other creatures that are constantly pushing carts. When these cart creatures attack Jarvis, Tweel stays by his side. For the first time in science fiction, we saw alien creatures that werent automatically enemies or subordinate sidekicks, but friendly, helpful and independent, with their own reasons for doing things that are not necessarily apparent to humans. A Martian Odyssey is only short, but it remains one of the most influential works of Martian fiction.

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Towards the end of the 19th century a big movement for women's suffrage started up on both sides of the Atlantic. Accompanying the political campaign, there were many stories that showed the social roles of men and women reversed, or women achieving high office by the simple expedient of dressing as men. But far and away the best and most innovative of these early feminist science fiction works was Herland. The story tells of three male adventurers who explore an uncharted territory and discover a land composed entirely of women, who reproduce by parthenogenesis and so have no need or understanding of men. The three men each bring different but typically Victorian ideas of womanhood to Herland, and the story is basically about their learning curve as they have to come to terms with strong, capable women who really have no need of men. Why it's on the list: There are stories by Sheri Tepper, Sally Miller Gearhart, Lucy Sussex and many more that all trace their origins directly back to Herland. It is one of the most influential of all feminist science fictions, and it's a remarkably engaging story

Books in The Herland Series (2)

By the time Burroughs came to write the first of his Barsoom novels, the idea of Mars presented by Percival Lowell had been pretty much dismissed, but that didn't matter. Because for Burroughs the idea of a dying desert world was just the setting he needed for a fast-paced adventure story full of sword fights and derring-do and lots of ridiculous escapades. John Carter, a Civil War veteran, is escaping from Apaches in Arizona when he is suddenly transported to Mars. Here the lower gravity means he has super powers, which gives him a real advantage when he becomes involved in the war between the green, six-limbed Tharks and the red humanoid Martians. Of course, there's a beautiful Martian princess, Dejah Thoris, for him to rescue and fall in love with. And there are all sorts of big set piece action scenes to keep the whole story rushing along. Why it's on the list: A Princess of Mars was just the first in a series of 11 Barsoom books that Burroughs would write over a period of some 30 years. Let's face it, you don't read them for literary quality or scientific verisimilitude, but they are incredibly readable, and created the colourful planetary romance that was one of the most popular forms of science fiction over the next half century or more.
Science fiction has produced some pretty weird novels in its time, but there aren't many that can match A Voyage to Arcturus. It has had a major influence on writers like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, while others have dismissed it as virtually unreadable. But if you're in the mood for a wild intellectual ride, this is the book for you. At a sance in Scotland, Maskull meets characters called Krag and Nightspore, who invite him to come to the planet Tormance orbiting the twin suns of Arcturus. But when he arrives, Maskull finds himself alone. There follows a journey through lush and extraordinary landscapes, during which Maskull finds himself growing and losing new organs: a tentacle, a third arm, a third eye. All of the encounters he has along the way allow Lindsay to explore and then dismiss different philosophical ideas, eventually arriving at a position something like Gnosticism. Why it's on the list: This is a Marmite book: you'll either love it or hate it, there doesn't seem to be any middle ground. But whichever it is, this is a true one-off, there's been nothing quite like it before or since.
This is the novelisation of the film that Thea von Harbou wrote with her husband, Fritz Lang. It was the first feature-length science fiction film, the most expensive film made to that date, and the film alone marks this out as one of the defining science fiction texts of the years between the wars. It's a world in which the rich play high in the air in beautiful towering edifices, while the workers live a dull and constricted life largely underground, the sort of situation that recalls the Eloi and Morlocks of Wells's The Time Machine. But in this story the heir of one of the great industrialists falls in love with a teacher who works among the underclass. The teacher is leading the workers to revolution through religion, but the industrialist tries to put a stop to it by having a robot created in her image, a wild and lascivious creature that will undo all the good works of the teacher. Then the machine that keeps the city running stops, and mayhem is let loose. Why it's on the list: Without Metropolis you really can't understand the direction that science fiction was taking immediately before the Second World War. It is a powerful, vivid, wonderful piece of work, and the sexy robots of Lester Del Rey's "Helen O'Loy" or C.L. Moore's "No Woman Born" spring directly from Maria in this film.
Sherlock Holmes should have been a science fiction hero: the character who works by logic, who uses science, he was made for the genre. But when Conan Doyle did create a version of Holmes in his science fiction stories, Professor Challenger proved to be a rather different type of character, someone for whom ratiocination is never quite enough to solve the overwhelming mystery of the world, so he becomes a man of action. In this, his first outing, for instance, he leads an expedition to a remote plateau in South America so cut off from the world that dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures have survived here. The expedition is cut off on the plateau, attacked by pterodactyls, captured by ape men, and caught up in a war between the ape men and a tribe of primitive humans. Why it's on the list: Can you imagine King Kong or Jurassic Park or any of a host of similar stories without The Lost World? Writers around the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the twentieth were fascinated by the idea of the primitive, but it was Doyle who showed how you could bring the prehistoric right into the modern world.
London succeeds in doing what many men have tried to do over the course of history, and almost every man has failed in doing: understanding how women think. Unlike most of London's fiction, this first person narrative is written from the perspective of a woman, and unlike many male authors, his narrative is provoking and believable. Set mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area, The Iron Heel tells the story of an oligarchic, tyrannical America. The scholar Anthony Meredith speaks on the fictional "Everhard Manuscript", written and hidden by Avis Everhard, in 2600 AD or 419 BOM (Brotherhood of Man).  Meredith's introduction eases the reader into the knowledge that the lovers Avis and Ernest are eventually summarily executed, giving the novel a Shakespearian tragedy feel. The Oligarchy is the largest monopoly trusts, bankrupting small to medium business, and reducing farmers to serfs, whilst maintaining power through a labor caste system and mercenaries. The novel should appeal to anyone enjoying alternative futures and intelligent social commentary. It stresses future changes in society and politics. It's on the soft science-fiction side, but given it's considered to be one of the earliest of the modern dystopias, it's made this top 25 list.  If that's not enough to convince you, even George Orwell admits that he was inspired by The Iron Heel, writing an retrospective essay on London's novel in his collected essays, Volume 4.
A lean, rugged man, pistol slung low on his hip, strides through a dusty frontier town. But this town is on Mars, and the man is Northwest Smith who is about to rescue a woman from being attacked by the locals. The trouble is, when he has spirited her away, the woman turns out to be a medusa, and Northwest Smith has to think and act fast in order to stay alive. "Shambleau" was C.L. Moore's first published story, and introduced the character of Northwest Smith who would bring his laconic style to a host of stories in which planetary adventure and supernatural tale combine. Why it's on the list: Moore was one of the most original writers of her day, able to turn her hand fluently to hard sf, weird fiction, heroic fantasy or comedy. But she was at her best, as here, when she merged genres to create something fresh and exciting.
The idea of a drowned England had been a commonplace in British scientific romances since at least After London by Richard Jeffries, but it received its finest expression in Fowler Wright's Deluge. In this novel earth tremors inundate the entire country, leaving only a few parts of the Midlands as isolated islands. Here a lawyer, Martin, and his wife both survive, but are separated. Martin takes up with an athletic young woman, Claire, and when his wife reappears on the scene the two women decide to share the man. It is this sexual liberty, I suspect, that is one of the secrets of the success of this novel. Fowler Wright is gleeful about sweeping away the dull trappings of conventional society (there is only one footnote in the book, a complaint about the iniquity of speeding fines); though his novel is filled with class consciousness. Martin's natural superiority makes him the inevitable leader of a group of middle class survivors; while all the working class characters we meet are villains intent on serial rape. But for all its peculiarities, this is probably the most significant work of scientific romance published between the wars. Why it's on the list: Deluge was a massive success when first published, rescuing Fowler Wright from bankruptcy, and though he was never able to duplicate the success, it was an incredibly influential work. Later novels from J.G. Ballard's The Drowned World to Richard Cowper's The Road to Corlay and Christopher Priest's A Dream of Wessex all owe a direct debt to Deluge.

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Throughout the 1920s and 30s, the science fiction and weird fiction that appeared in American genre magazines was often hard to tell apart. Weird fiction writers often used science fiction tropes, and vice versa. A clear example of this is Lovecraft's novelette, The Color Out of Space, which first appeared in Hugo Gernsback's Amazing Stories, though it used the familiar setting of Lovecraft's horror fiction for a tale of alien invasion. A meteorite crashes to earth outside Arkham, and witnesses notice strange globules of colour emitted by it. Gradually, the effects of the meteorite despoil the land, ruining crops, killing cattle and sending the family of the local farmer insane. Eventually the colours are seen trying to return to space, but some remain on the land. Why it's on the list: There's a long history of science fiction merging with horror, and this is a prime example, by one of the definitive writers of the inter-war years.
Not many science fiction writers have won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but Kipling was the first member of this exclusive club. His finest science fiction is a pair of stories concerning the Aerial Board of Control, "With the Night Mail: A Story of 2000 A.D." and "As Easy as A.B.C.: A Story of 2150 A.D." Kipling shared with Wells the idea that control of the air would lead to peaceful world government, and the first of these stories simply recounts a transatlantic journey by dirigible. Though the story is made particularly memorable by the inclusion of several pages of newspaper advertisements from this future age which, taken together, provide a wonderful snapshot of daily life in this future world. By the second story, set 150 years later, the world government has become more oppressive, and "As Easy as A.B.C." tells how agents of the Aerial Board of Control have to rush to Chicago to put down a revolt by people demanding a return to democracy. Why it's on the list: Taken together, these are fascinating stories which present a vividly realised portrait of the future, right down to the minutiae of what people eat and read and wear. They also present the first glimpse of a world government of flyers, which Wells himself wouldn't fully develop until The Shape of Things to Come some thirty years later.

Books in When Worlds Collide Series (2)

Not many science fiction writers have won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but Kipling was the first member of this exclusive club. His finest science fiction is a pair of stories concerning the Aerial Board of Control, "With the Night Mail: A Story of 2000 A.D." and "As Easy as A.B.C.: A Story of 2150 A.D." Kipling shared with Wells the idea that control of the air would lead to peaceful world government, and the first of these stories simply recounts a transatlantic journey by dirigible. Though the story is made particularly memorable by the inclusion of several pages of newspaper advertisements from this future age which, taken together, provide a wonderful snapshot of daily life in this future world. By the second story, set 150 years later, the world government has become more oppressive, and "As Easy as A.B.C." tells how agents of the Aerial Board of Control have to rush to Chicago to put down a revolt by people demanding a return to democracy. Why it's on the list: Taken together, these are fascinating stories which present a vividly realised portrait of the future, right down to the minutiae of what people eat and read and wear. They also present the first glimpse of a world government of flyers, which Wells himself wouldn't fully develop until The Shape of Things to Come some thirty years later.
This was the first novel to fully explore the consequences of the birth of homo superior. Victor Stott is born weak and awkward, with an enlarged head, and at first, because he doesn't speak or cry, he is assumed to be an idiot. But slowly we come to realise that he has an incredibly powerful intellect. He can absorb vast amounts of information and use it to synthesise new ideas at great speed. Soon he is leaving the greatest minds of the day in his wake. But there are social problems resulting from his genius. He is disabled, not the strapping sportsman his father wanted. A child born a hydrocephalic idiot sees Victor as his fellow and latches on to him, though he alone is immune to Victor's mind control. Moreover, Victor's genius leads him to reject religion, which puts him at odds with the local clergyman who had started out helping to educate Victor. The end result is an inevitable tragedy. Why it's on the list: Victor himself is a cold character, not prone to making emotional connections to people, but Beresford's story is warm and thoughtful and very carefully structured. It is all the more convincing for being unsensational, and it clearly paves the way for such later novels as Odd John by Olaf Stapledon and Slan by A.E. Van Vogt.
And here we have another Nobel Prize winning author of science fiction, though in this case Lewis flirted with genre in only one novel. But that novel is a classic. In the tradition of Jack London's The Iron Heel, this is the story of a populist politician who gets himself elected to the White House by proclaiming patriotism and traditional American values. Once in power, however, he quickly outlaws dissent, establishes concentration camps, and sets up an armed paramilitary force to impose his totalitarian regime. When his economic reforms fail to work, he becomes increasingly unpopular and is soon ousted, only to be replaced by weaker but no less dictatorial governments until a civil war finally breaks out. The story is seen through the eyes of a liberal journalist who opposes the regime. He produces an anti-government newspaper until he is betrayed and sent to a concentration camp, but he escapes to Canada, returns as a spy, and ends up helping to organise the resistance to the regime. Why it's on the list: Lewis's novel was based on the career of the populist Louisiana Governor, Huey Long, who was assassinated just before the book came out. But it is still surprisingly, and disturbingly, relevant today. A gripping account of what can happen when right wing populists are able to seize the reins of power.
M.P. Shiel was a prolific author of excitable stories for the popular magazines of the day: he was, among other things, the person who gave us The Yellow Peril. But his best story was rather more considered and more interesting than most of his other work. The Purple Cloud was part of a long tradition of British scientific romances about the last man on earth, a tradition that stretches back at least to Mary Shelley's The Last Man. In Shiel's story, Adam Jeffson is on an expedition to the north pole when he witnesses a curious purple cloud. When he gets back to his ship, he finds all his companions have died. As he travels on, he discovers that he is alone in the world. For a while he goes mad, building an extravagant palace for himself, and burning down several cities at random. Then he discovers a girl who has also survived, and the novel ends with the two of them together and a suggestion that the purple cloud has returned. Why it's on the list: H.G. Wells said that The Purple Cloud was brilliant, and H.P. Lovecraft also praised it. It was a work that seemed to strike a chord with authors and readers of the day. To a modern day reader it may seem over the top, but it has been regularly reprinted throughout the century since it was first published, and still stands up as an excellent example of the last man story.
It's not altogether clear how it happened, but this novel about saving America from Mongolian conquerors somehow became one of the great space adventures. But let's start with the novel. Sometime after the First World War, European and Asian powers banded together against the United States, and by the beginning of the 21st century the Mongolians had taken over the country and forced Americans to live in primitive communities in the forests and mountains. But one veteran of the Great War, Anthony Rogers, fell into a state of suspended animation, and woke in 2419. Falling in with one tribe of Americans in the forests of what had been Pennsylvania, he proves to be a master tactician, helping them to defeat a rival gang, then going on to lead the war that will free America from the Mongolian invaders. Why it's on the list: A newspaper editor enjoyed the story so much that he suggested that Nowlan should turn it into a comic strip for his paper. They changed the name of the hero to Buck Rogers, and after the first few strips they abandoned the plot of the novel completely and it became a tale of adventure in outer space. It was the first science fiction comic strip which lasted for years and in turn inspired television series and films. Which makes Armageddon 2419 A.D. the unlikely progenitor of one of the great space adventures of science fiction.
This short story is the only science fiction that the renowned novelist E.M. Forster ever wrote, but it continues to be read and applauded today. The story was written in response to A Modern Utopia by H.G. Wells, because Forster distrusted Wells's notion of a benevolent world state. In Forster's world everyone lives underground, in their own individual hexagonal room just like the cells of a bee hive. People don't need to meet or interact, the machine provides for all of their requirements, and they can talk to anyone via a form of instant messaging. Most people love living in this cocoon, but one young rebel wants to find out what it is like on the surface, only to discover that the air is now poisonous and he has to retreat back underground. As a result of this escapade, the machine starts to restrict freedoms even more. But the machine begins to prove unreliable, at first little things break down, but then the machine stops. Everyone who has grown totally dependent on the machine for air and food and light dies, only those who make it to the surface have any chance. Why it's on the list: When the SFWA polled its members for the best science fiction novellas before 1964, when the Nebulas began, “The Machine Stops” was one of only two stories from before 1938 that made the list. It is one of those stories that, once read, is never forgotten.
With the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, Europe faced the prospect of a united Germany and a major shift in the delicate balance of power. As a result stories started to appear, first in Britain, then France, America, Russia and even Germany, warning of the prospects of a future war. Over time, these became ever more elaborate, and one of the most startling of all was the debut novel by George Griffith. The novel tells of a young man who invents a flying machine. His invention is taken up by an anarchist organization, the Brotherhood of Freedom, who want to use the power of the airship to end oppression and misery. But at the same time the European powers are mobilising for war, and while the Brotherhood tries to avoid taking sides, they nevertheless find themselves drawn into the conflict. However, thanks to the massive superiority of their air power, and with a huge network of followers in every country ready to rise up at the appropriate moment, the Brotherhood is able to take nation after nation out of the fight. Finally, the Brotherhood is in a position to persuade all the nations that the only way to avoid destruction is to make all future wars impossible. Why it's on the list: Although he has been overshadowed by his close contemporary, H.G. Wells, George Griffith was one of the masters of the scientific romance. Michael Moorcock has identified Griffith as a major influence on his own work, and he has been claimed as an early ancestor of steampunk.