Students can learn history and context through the imaginative visions of some of the genre’s best-known creators with these five science fiction classroom recommendations.
By Logan Perryman
New adaptations of classic science fiction titles like Dune and The Foundation series have sparked a fresh interest in the genre. Deciding on which classic sci-fi piece to read, however, can be intimidating for a newcomer or for any teacher adding science fiction to their curriculum for the first time.
Including these texts can be a boon for any classroom, though, thanks to their historical context. Science fiction is often used to comment on the world around the author, and by reading these works, students gain a better understanding of the world that these novels were written for.
Below are five recommendations for science fiction for the classroom, many of which are featured in the new graphic novel, The History of Science Fiction (Humanoids) and Pop Culture Classroom’s accompanying teaching guide.
The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
Written in 1887, The Invisible Man follows a scientist named Griffin, who undergoes an experimental procedure to become invisible. When Griffin realizes that he cannot undo the procedure and is stuck permanently invisible, he takes advantage of these new powers and begins committing random acts of violence.
Like many early science fiction novels, The Invisible Man explores the theoretical science behind its subject matter. The book also works well in conjunction with studies of British or European history. Wells wrote the Invisible man during a period where the tensions between the English upper and lower classes was at a high. Griffin exemplifies this division by embodying the superiority and disdain of others that Wells felt was rampant in the upper class.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Written in 1931, the novel takes place in what appears to be a utopian future where humans are raised in a caste-based society, strictly following the rules placed on them by the government.
The main character of the novel, Bernard, eventually realizes that he doesn’t enjoy the conditioned society around him and takes a vacation to a reserve of “savages”, where he meets an unlikely friend in a man named John. Bringing him back to society, Bernard enjoys the attention he gains by showing off John, while John slowly becomes resentful of modern society.
This book is a good place to start for anyone interested in the genre. It includes several themes that can be found in many other sci-fi novels, such as a critique on then-current science (and in this case, the study of Eugenics), and uncertainty about society’s future. Written after the end of World War One, Brave New World also criticized the newfound reliance on technology by showing a world where humans have been separated from nature to an extreme degree.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
1977’s Ender’s Game is about Earth’s response to the threat of an invasion by the Buggers, an insect-like alien species.
To prepare for the invasion, Earth’s military has begun training children by making them play increasingly difficult games. The protagonist, Andrew Wiggen, is a promising recruit who enters the game eager to prove his abilities and protect the planet. This novel is action-packed, with Andrew facing off against his classmates — and, eventually, the Buggers — in physical and strategic challenges.
Ender’s Game is one of the easier reads from this list and is suitable for middle school and above. The historic context of the novel places it during a time where America was fearful of a war with Russia. Card criticized the fear of a potential war by comparing it to a fictional war with unknown aliens, who in the end are not mindlessly hostile, but simply trying to survive.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
1978’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a witty and humorous novel that follows the last surviving human, Arthur Dent, and his misadventures through space.
After Earth was destroyed, Dent was saved by an alien named “Ford Prefect”, who is exploring space while writing his own Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Gathering a rag-tag group of friends, Arthur strives to help Ford complete his guide while trying to stay alive on all sorts of wacky adventures.
This novel’s lighthearted tone and humor makes it another great pick for younger audiences. Hitchhiker’s Guide pokes fun at other works of science fiction of the time, which were often overly-serious. It was also written during the space race and attempted to capture the excitement the world felt towards exploring the stars.
“Annihilation” by Jeff VanderMeer
If you’re looking for a more recent novel, “Annihilation” by Jeff VanderMeer might fit the bill.
“Annihilation” is the first of a trilogy about four unnamed women who are tasked with entering a mysterious anomaly called “Area X”. Once they’re inside, they begin to research the almost-alien plants and animals, while searching for the last group of explorers that entered Area X. They must battle with the unknown and the corrupting influence slowly picking away at their minds.
“Annihilation” is a good book for anyone seeking an added dose of mystery with their science fiction. Readers will try to understand the anomaly alongside the protagonist as she slowly uncovers the secrets that Area X has to offer.
While it may not be a classic, the book builds upon the theme of exploring the unknown that characterized classic novels. “Annihilation” modernizes the formula though with a strong female cast and discussion of the dangers of climate change.
Dive Into Science Fiction
Science fiction is a vastly diverse genre with enough variety for anyone to find a story that piques their interest. Because of their unique and relevant themes and generally exciting plotlines, these stories are can often grab the attention of students who are otherwise uninterested in reading other genres.
Learn more about some of the science fiction genre’s most exciting history and influences! Check out the new graphic novel published by Humanoids, The History of Science Fiction, and Pop Culture Classroom’s companion teaching guide.
Pop Culture Classroom