A friend of mine has a friend that wants to create a course on the impact of technology on culture as seen through science fiction. Since she knows I’m a Sci-Fi nut, she asked me for author and book recommendations. This sounded like a fun challenge until I started thinking about concrete examples. I wondered if most classic science fiction books and authors from the past still count? When does science fiction go stale?
Does Neuromancer still work to show off the effect of a wired world? Or would Little Brother by Cory Doctorow be more relevant now? What’s a good book about robots? Everyone immediately thinks of Asimov, but his stories are so quaint now that we have real robots. Would Robert Sawyer’s Wake, Watch, Wonder Trilogy be a better story about intelligent machines and what they would mean to society?
What would be a good book for genetics and longevity? I could recommend the movie Gattaca, but what book? What about Holy Fire by Bruce Sterling?
For the impact of technology to deal with global warming and running out of oil, I’d highly recommend The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi.
There’s zillions of space travel books but do any of them explore the impact of space travel on world culture? Quite often science fiction is about a technology without being about its impact on society. Think of all the stories about SETI. Contact by Carl Sagan is the most famous, but does it really say much about what it would mean to the people of Earth if we started getting messages from the stars?
How would our lives on Earth be different if humans colonized Mars?
If you think about it, our current society is far more tech driven than any science fiction book I’ve ever read. What novel captures us now? I thought about Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
And should we list books where technology destroys civilization like The Road by Cormac McCarthy? Or what about books that want to rebuild technology after our culture collapses like Earth Abides by George R. Stewart, The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett and A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.?
Are there any technological utopias portrayed in recent science fiction books? 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson is very hopeful I’d say.
I’m sure I’m missing the obvious, but I also believe there are many great books written in the last twenty years that are excellent but I haven’t read them. Tell me about them.
JWH – 12/3/13
17 thoughts on “Please Recommend SF Books for a Course on Technology and Culture”
I recommend Chris Beckett’s *Holy Machine* (culture and robots) and David Gullen’s *Shopocalypse* (culture, consumerism, genetically modified intelligent animals, lots of other stuff…)
Holy Machine sounds right up my alley, but it’s out of print! A used hardback at Amazon is $38. Luckily I can get a paperback pretty cheap. Wonder why there’s no Kindle edition?
A canticle for Lebowitze ?
The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson.
Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge would be a great choice.
I haven’t read Rainbow’s End, but assumed it was a far future book like A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky. I just researched Rainbow’s End and it does sound interesting.
Neuromancer still counts and should make the list, it foresees a lot and is still amazing to this day.
I read Neuromancer when it came out, so it’s been a long time. I guess I need to squeeze in a reread.
Yes, retired guy with more time to re-read the classics. Seriously, I read it about every five years or so see what else he got right. Plus I read his other books and short stories, much like I do my Shirow manga (translations). And for all the other things he wrote, nothing beats “The sky was the color of a television tuned to an empty channel.”, that right there set the tone for the whole story.
And referencing my earlier comments, Appleseed or Ghost in the Shell mangas have some very interesting things to say about the future and tech and the now. His essays in the back of the books are beautiful.
Even though I’ve only read Neuromancer once, and listened to an abridged audio book a few years later, I always remember that opening line, “The sky was the color of a television tuned to an empty channel.” I just love that image. It’s a shame that young people will never know that color or sound.
I only know Ghost in the Shell from the film. I just checked Amazon for the Manga, a format I’m a complete virgin to, and it’s very expensive, and confusing where to start. What do you recommend Craig?
Well, I would start here at the beginning of my exposure. Appleseed, Book 1. The price for this is taking into account this is a collection of around five to six issues per book. Not so pricy considering what I paid. And thanks, now I am about to blow $40 on two new Appleseed books I didn’t know were out there. 😀 Thanks, it has been a while since I ventured to Olympus.
Another good one is Dominion. The Tank Police are fun, but not so serious. Appleseed is probably the best bet. Check the link. You want Book 1 to start and at least Book 5 if you like it.
I’ll say, there really isn’t one.
We all can’t help but see the distant worlds and future through the prism of today. Sure, SF authors will describe all kinds of technogadgets, but the people typically stay the same.
It’s like that 19th century futuristic treatise predicting wide scale and universal exploitation of steam power in 100 years time.
Similarly SF authors extrapolate the memes of today into some distant future, and (probably) get exactly as absurd results as that 19the century futurist..
Check out Daemon and Freedom (TM) by Daniel Suarez. In Daemon, a video game designer creates a weakly god-like AI to effect societal changes after his impending demise. Freedom (TM) shows the effects of the Daemon’s changes and integration of augmented reality and MMORPG game logic into everyday life.
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
Probably the best sci-fi novel on genetic engineering is Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Wind Up Girl” (Night Shade, 2010, ISBN 9781597801584). It’s beautifully written to boot. An earlier book on the topic, George Turner’s “Brain Child” ( Wm. Morrow, 1991, ISBN 9780688105952), is also well written and is still relevant.