A Nerd’s Life Challenge

Last fall, I took a fascinating course on British Fantasy Writing taught by a very cool dude, Matthew Sangster.  He worked at the British Library in London and instructed on the side, but this is slightly drifting off course.

The British Library had an amazing Sci-Fi exhibition in the early Fall that was truly mind blowing.  The exhibition was structured with sci-fi literature throughout time, sci-fi encompassing surrounding and overlapping genres.  I say this because my Professor shared a reading list of many books in the exhibit.

I wanted to share the reading list because these are the views were/are views of the future, cyberspace, technology, and what every stretch of our imaginations can create in possibility.

It would take a lifetime to read all of these books, but feel free to take the challenge!

Alien Worlds

Writers have long imagined what may lie beyond the known world. Early travellers to distant lands returned with fantastical tales of monstrous races. By the 17th- and 18th-centuries works of the imagination speculated upon voyages beyond the Earth to the Moon and the stars.

Theologians and philosophers wondered whether the heavens contained worlds like our own and, if so, whether they were inhabited. As knowledge of the Universe grew so did the fascination with the possibility of alien life, a fascination that shows no sign of abating. Would they be our friends or enemies? How would we communicate with them? Perhaps when we imagine the ‘alien’ we are confronting our own hidden desires and fears.

Lucian of Samosata, True History
John Mandeville, Travels of Sir John Mandeville
Rudolph Erich Raspe, Gulliver Revived
Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels

  • Ludvig Holberg, Niels Klim
  • Jules Verne, Journey to the Centre of the Earth
  • Edward Bulwer Lytton, The Coming Race
  • Rudy Rucker, Hollow Earth
  • H Rider Haggard, She
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, The Lost World
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan at the Earth’s Core
  • Francis Godwin, The Man in the Moone
  • John Wilkins, A Discourse concerning a New World …
  • Jules Verne, Autour de la lune [Around the Moon]
  • HG Wells, First Men in the Moon
  • Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Grezy o zemle I nebe [Dreams of Earth and Sky]
  • Arthur C Clarke, Prelude to Space
  • Charles Chilton, Journey into Space
  • Charles Chilton, Red Planet
  • Charles Chilton, World in Peril
  • Hergé, Objectif lune [Destination Moon]
  • Percival Lowell, Mars as the abode of life
  • Kurd Lasswitz, Two Planets
  • HG Wells, The War of the Worlds
  • Alexander Bogdanov, Krasnaia Zvesda [Red Star]
  • Alexei Tolstoy, Aelita
  • Edgar R Burroughs, A Princess of Mars
  • CS Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet
  • Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles
  • Olaf Stapledon, Star Maker
  • Naomi Mitchinson, Memoirs of a Spacewoman
  • Hal Clement, Mission of Gravity
  • Frank Herbert, Dune
  • Doris Lessing, Shikasta
  • Strugatsky bros. Roadside Picnic
  • Voltaire, Micromégas
  • Gwyneth Jones, White Queen
  • Stanisłav Lem, Solaris

Future worlds

We have now lived through the future that the early science fiction writers imagined.

For most people throughout history change meant the weather, the harvest or growing old. There were wars and the occasional new monarch, but this was all part of the cycle of life and few gave much thought to whether it would ever be different. However, scientific, technological and political changes from the late-18th century onwards led writers to imagine radically different versions of the future.

The future is something we construct from images of our own past and present. Past visions of the future often seem quaint and today’s predictions may look equally dated to future generations. Such visions tell us more about the writers’ own societies than they do about what life might be like in the years to come.


  • Charles William Chadwick Oman, The Reign of George VI 1900-1925
    Louis-Sebastien Mercier, L’an deux mille quatre cent quarante [The Year 2440]
    Jane Webb Loudon, The Mummy!, or a tale of the twenty-second century
    Émile Souvestre, O que ha de ser O Mundo [The World as it Shall Be]
    Jules Verne, Paris au XXe Siècle [Paris in the 20th Century]
    Geoffrey Hoyle, 2010
    Albert Robida, La Vie Electrique (Le Vingtime Siecle) [The Twentieth Century]
  • IO Evans, The World of To-morrow
  • Edgar Allan Poe, The Unparalleled Adventures of One Hans Pfaall
  • Rudyard Kipling, With the Night Mail
  • George Griffith, The Angel of the Revolution
  • Hugo Gernsback, Ralph 124C41+
  • Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
  • HG Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau
  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
  • Karel Čapek, RUR (Rossum’s Universal Robots)
  • Stanisław Lem, Cyberiad
  • CL Moore, No Woman Born (short story)
  • Philip K Dick, Do Androids dream of electric sheep?
  • Philip Wylie, Gladiator
  • JLA/The 99 
  • X-Men
  • HG Wells, The man of the year million (short story)
  • Dougal Dixon, Man After Man
  • Ursula K Le Guin, Forgiveness Day (short story)
  • RC Churchill, Short history of the future
  • Parallel worlds
  • Stories of time travel and parallel worlds allow us to consider alternative histories and wonder ‘What if?’
  • Science fiction is the literature of speculation and many of the questions it asks concern time. Is there such a thing as time? Does time flow in one direction or can it be reversed?
  • Out of these speculations further questions emerge allowing us to construct scenarios involving alternative histories and parallel worlds. The world would be a very different place if key events had unfolded in other ways.
  • Could small alterations ripple through time, creating bigger and bigger changes? Is ours the only history, or do we live in a ‘multiverse’ where our history is merely one amongst many possible alternatives?
  • Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
  • Octavia Butler, Kindred
  • E Nesbit, Story of the Amulet
  • Madeline L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time
  • Enrique Gaspar, El anacronópete [The Time Ship: A Chrononautical Journey (2012)]
  • HG Wells, The Time Machine
  • Stephen Baxter, The Time Ships
  • KV Bailey, Vortices of Time
  • Connie Willis, Doomsday Book
  • Robert A Heinlein, By his Bootstraps (short story)
  • Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5
  • Audrey Niffeneger, The Time Traveller’s Wife
  • Ken Grimwood, Replay
  • Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials (Northern Lights; The Subtle Knife; The Amber Spyglass)
  • JC Squire, If It Had Happened Otherwise
  • Murray Leinster, Sidewise in Time (short story)
  • Jack Williamson, The Legion of Time
  • Ray Bradbury, A Sound of Thunder
  • Ward Moore, Bring the Jubilee
  • Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle.
  • Len Deighton, SS/GB
  • Michael Moorcock, The Sundered Worlds
  • Michael Moorcock, The Blood Red Game
  • Diana Wynne Jones, Deep Secret
  • Harry Harrison, You can be the Stainless Steel Rat
  • KW Jeter, Morlock Night  
  • Tim Powers, The Anubis Gates
  • James P Blaylock, Homunculus
  • William Gibson & Bruce Sterling, The Difference Engine
  • Alan Moore, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
  • Bryan Talbot, Grandville
  • JG Ballard, The Drowned World
  • JG Ballard, The Burning World [Alternative title: The Drought]
  • JG Ballard, The Crystal World

Virtual worlds

Science fiction set in the ‘virtual’ worlds of dream, the imagination and cyberspace all confront the basic question ‘What is reality?’

Virtual worlds seem to be a preoccupation of the 21st century as the internet, avatar websites and online gaming become part of everyday life. However, the urge to create detailed imaginary worlds has a long literary tradition – the Bronte children created the kingdoms of Angria and Gondal in the 19th century. In the ‘cyberpunk’ novels of the 1980s, characters enter cyberspace and interact with simulations of reality.

As we spend more of our lives online, will it eventually be possible for someone to simulate a reality so detailed that we are fooled into thinking that what we are experiencing is the real world? Maybe they already have…

  • The Brontës, Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal
  • Austin Tappan Wright, Islandia
  • Christopher Priest, The Affirmation
  • Luigi Serafini, Codex Seraphinianus
  • Terry Pratchett, Discworld novels
  • George MacDonald, Phantastes, a Faerie Romance
  • Lord Dunsany, The Gods of Pegāna
  • HP Lovecraft, ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ in The Starry Wisdom. A tribute to HP Lovecraft
  • Ramsey Campbell, Incarnate
  • Robert Holdstock, Mythago Wood (short story)
  • Neil Gaiman, The Absolute Sandman.
  • William Gibson Burning Chrome
  • William Gibson, Neuromancer
  • Vernor Vinge, True Names
  • Pat Cadigan, Mindplayers
  • Pat Cadigan, Synners
  • Arthur C Clarke, The City and the Stars
  • Robert A Heinlein, The Moon is a Marsh Mistress
  • John Brunner, The Shockwave Rider
  • Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash
  • Candas Jane Dorsey, Machine Sex and Other Stories
  • Jeff Noon, Vurt
  • China Mièville, The City & the City
  • Shirow Masamune, Ghost in the Shell
  • Theodore Sturgeon, Yesterday was Monday (short story)
  • Philip K Dick, Time out of joint (short story)
  • Philip K Dick, Ubik
  • Robert Shea, Robert Anton Wilson, The Illuminatus! Trilogy
  • Angela Carter, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman
  • Mary Gentle, Ash

End of the world

Science fiction has offered many scenarios in which the human race, the Earth or even the Universe is destroyed.

The world could end as the result of a natural catastrophe such as an asteroid strike, by alien invasion, or it could be devastated through the actions of humankind – nuclear war, climate change or over population. In science fiction such disasters pave the way for stories that explore radically different futures. Survivors may be shown doing battle with hostile environments where the world as we know it has ended. Even if the Earth reaches its natural conclusion, orbiting a dying sun billions of years into the future, its environment and any life-forms that remain, may be radically different from those we know today.

Such speculations allow us to ask ‘What are we doing to our world?’


  • Herbert Fyfe, How will the world end? (short story)
  • Mary Shelley, The Last Man
  • MP Shiel, The Purple Cloud
  • John Ames Mitchell, The Last American
  • William Hope Hodgson, The Night Land
  • HG Wells, The Time Machine
  • Philip Wylie & Edwin Balmer, When Worlds Collide
  • Arthur C Clarke, The Nine Billion Names of God
  • Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
  • George R Stewart, Earth Abides
  • John Wyndham, The Kraken Wakes
  • George Turner, The Sea and Summer
  • John Christopher, The Death of Grass
  • Kobo Abe, Inter Ice Age 4
  • John Brunner, The Sheep Look Up
  • John Wyndham, The Day of the Triffids
  • Greg Bear, Blood Music
  • Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake
  • Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood
  • Jack Finney, The Body Snatchers
  • John W Campbell, Who Goes There
  • Enki Bilal, Gods in Chaos
  • George T.Chesney, The Battle of Dorking
  • Nevil Shute, On the Beach
  • Judith Merril, Shadow on the Hearth
  • Pat Frank, Alas, Babylon
  • Gudrun Pausewang, The Last Children of Schewenborn
  • Raymond Briggs, When the Wind Blows
  • Richard Jefferies, After London
  • Brian Aldiss, Greybeard
  • Dave Wallis, Only Lovers Left Alive
  • W Olaf Stapledon, Last and First Men
  • David Langford & John Grant, Earthdoom


Perfect world

Can the world ever be perfect? We can dream of a better world – or fear a worse one.

Utopias (good places) and dystopias (bad places) have a long literary tradition. In Aristophanes’ The Birds (414 BC) the ideal city of ‘cloud-cuckoo-land’ is built in the sky and in The Republic (c.380 BC), Plato describes a perfect society. Many of the imaginary worlds of science fiction are utopian or dystopian, and have been used by writers to make veiled comments on their own societies. Setting a repressive regime on Mars might be a way of attacking a similar regime on Earth.

Writers warn us about the direction we are taking. Does science fiction help us to deal with a rapidly changing world, or does it attempt to mould the nature of that change?

  • Thomas More, Utopia
  • Aristophanes, The Birds
  • Margaret Cavendish, A Description of a new world called the Blazing-world
  • Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward: 2000-1887
  • William Morris, News from Nowhere
  • WH Hudson, A Crystal Age
  • HG Wells, A Modern Utopia
  • EM Forster, The Machine Stops
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland
  • Roqueya Sakhawat Hossain, Sultana’s Dream (short story)
  • Evgeney Zamyatin, My [We]
  • Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
  • George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty Four
  • George Schuyler, Black Empire
  • Arthur C Clarke, Childhood’s End
  • Ivan Yefremov, Tumannost’ Andromedy [Andromeda: A Space Age Tale]
  • Ursula K Le Guin, The Dispossessed
  • Ernest Callenbach, Ecotopia
  • Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time
  • Alasdair Gray, Lanark: A life in four books
  • Alan Moore, V for Vendetta
  • Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Kim Stanley Robinson, Mars (trilogy): Red Mars; Green Mars; Blue Mars
  • Wang Jinkang, Life of Ants
  • Ian M Banks, The State of the Art
  • Geoff Ryman, Air
  • Joanna Russ, The Female Man
  • Justina Robson, Natural History
  • Charles Stross, Accelerando
  • Cory Doctorow, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
  • Motoro Mase, Ikigami

Out of This World:

Science Fiction but not as you know it

Reading list compiled by Tanya Kirk, exhibition co-curator

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