The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
H.G. Wells was a prolific writer of a variety of genres, but reveled in sci-fi more so than any other. Written in the late 1800s, The War of the Worlds is one of the first novels immersed in a conflict between mankind and extraterrestrials. It’s told in first person and centered around an unnamed protagonist and his brother in England as they attempt to survive an alien invasion wreaking havoc all over the globe.
The Legend of King Arthur and his Knights by Sir James Knowles
The true origins and subsequent merits of the late King Arthur is controversial to say the least. Knowles’ version of the legendary British leader is considered one of the most revered, though, grounded in knights, damsels, and a sword most peculiarly wedged into a stone. The older language can be cumbersome, the repetitiveness a bit drab, yet the source material remains a poignant take on Middle Ages. Camelot doesn’t do it justice.
Deathworld by Harry Harrison
As part of a series that includes two other novels, Deathworld revolves around a interplanetary gambler named Jason dinAlt and his voyages to three planets. The first book in the series deals with dinAlt’s quest for the truth regarding Pyrrus, a rugged planet where all creatures, planets, and natural elements seem designed to destroy potential colonists. Harrison’s writing style isn’t top-of-the-line, but the story is compelling enough.
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
It was a toss up between Twenty Thousand and Journey to the Center of the Earth, with the latter possibly losing due to the uber terrible film with Brendan Fraser back ’08. However’ Verne is renowned for his work in the sci-fi field, in both prose and creativity, and Captain Nemo’s trek through the Antarctic ice shelves, the Red Sea and other fictional and real-world locations is extremely engrossing. And then there’s the giant squid scene…
A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Burroughs’ A Princes of Mars has come highly recommended on a number of occasions — and with good reason. It’s a primary example of 20th century pulp fiction, whirling around Confederate veteran John Carter’s unexpected and mysterious transportation to Mars, the political strife between martian tribes and Carter’s fascination with the Princess of Helium, Dejah Thoris. Plus, there’s always ten more in the series if planetary romance is your thing.
The Scarlet Plague by Jack London
London’s White Fang seemingly garners all the praise, but his world foray into the world of sci-fi shouldn’t go unnoticed. The Plague is set in a fictional, post-apocalyptic version of San Francisco, 60 years after an uncontrollable epidemic known as the Red Death obliterated Earth’s population. James Howard Smith tries to impart his knowledge onto his grandsons before it’s too late. It’s graphic, but the book’s prophetic nature is all too real.
Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott
If you’re looking for a philosophical novel that dabbles in math and exists in a two-dimensional fantasy realm where all inhabitants are geometric shapes, then Flatland is surely for you. It’s a satirical look on society and class distinctions in Victorian England, with one inhabitant trying to grapple with the concept of third and fourth dimensions, but it’s still laid out in a manner that is easy to grasp no matter your knowledge of the field.
The Cosmic Computer by H. Beam Piper
Piper may have committed suicide in 1964 — often attributed to financial woes and marital problems — but not before he wrote a series of stellar short stories and several novels in the sci-fi vain. CosmicComputer, one of his last, is about a struggling, poverty-stricken post-war society who believes its survival depends on finding a computer known as MERLIN. The problem is, returning colonist Conn Maxwell knows otherwise. Troublesome.
The Crystal Crypt by Philip K. Dick
Thirty-one pages isn’t quite a marathon of a book, but Dick’s novels have inspired everything from Blade Runner to the Adjustment Bureau. In the novel, Mars and Earth on hang on the verge of war. The last ship bound for Earth is stopped by Martian soldiers searching for three saboteurs who supposedly destroyed a Martian city. The three aren’t found, but it doesn’t mean those harboring the secrets of the Martian city’s demise aren’t on board.
The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle
It’s impossible to ignore the similarities between Doyle’s work and Spielberg’s. However, the Victorian-era The Lost World offers a greater scientific basis than the blockbuster film created nearly a century later, even if it does see a young journalist and a small team scouring a remote Amazonian plateau in search of dinosaurs and other prehistoric beings. Doyle’s prose is dry and somewhat stale, whether he’s describing a band of ape-like humanoids or rehashing the genius exploits of Professor Challenger, but his tone is anything but.