Science fiction is, by far, one of my favourite genres.

I know a lot of people who really don’t like science fiction (or, for that matter, fantasy), mainly because Hollywood has stereotyped it as being aliens and invasions. It really isn’t, as I hope to demonstrate: it’s nearly as far from that as it’s possible to go, while still keeping that in the same genre.

Many people look at me as if I’ve grown a third head if I even suggest I enjoy it, let alone enjoy writing it. One of the main problems, I find, is there’s very little “good” science fiction left any more. My favourite authors, let alone the Great Three SF Writers, have mostly died out, leaving authors who really don’t have a grasp of the scale and beauty of science ficton.

Science Fiction or Fantasy?

The line between science fiction and fantasy is quite fuzzy. As it goes, many science fiction movies or books could better be classified as fantasy, and vice versa; and it’s also a surprisingly easy transition to push a text from fantasy to science fiction when writing it, and especially, I would think, while directing it. It’s some of the subtlest things that make a text science fiction, and not fantasy: the way they address situations, settings and events is detectably different between the two.

Broadly, though, I’d say fantasy focuses more on the challenges of human flaws, with the added problems posed by, for instance, magic or vampirism or wolvishness or any number of other attributes. One series I’ve read particularly recently uses a magical triad of realms, as well as the undead and witches, but it uses those elements to tell a story about human flaws.

Science fiction, on the other hand, revolves around the notion of science and technology being used to address those situations and events, and highlighting human flaws in such a way that we can respond to them, and this is where the line gets slippery — some books tackle both, but can only strictly be categorised in one way.

Being asked to select my favourite book or movie of all time is, therefore, a difficult challenge. I’ve read and seen a lot of science fiction, and thus picking a single particular text to be the top of the list is a difficult proposition.

The Art of Good Science Fiction

Science fiction and fantasy are really the ultimate tool for social commentary: a good author can construct society of their own that may mirror our own imperfectly, in such a way that the flaws of human nature clearly visible, and we can see them, and remedy them, against the backdrop of our own social and moral problems.

Sure, you can get good science fiction that tells a rollicking good story, and tackles all manner of aliens and monsters, but I don’t feel those stories are nearly as great. That said, some of my favourite science fiction doesn’t follow the “social commentary” model, but is my favourite because it reflects something about the time it was written that I particularly like, or about the time I read it.

So, here are a few of my favourites from across a few media, and why I love them as texts.

My Picks: Books

This is by far the hardest, because I take in more science fiction by reading it than I do by any other medium. In fact, some of the best science fiction can be found in short story anthologies: an example that springs to mind would be Nightfall, the Asimov classic. But here’s my list:

My Picks: Film


My Picks: Television

By far and away, my favourite of the television science fiction is

In summary

I didn’t pick a large number of things.

Babylon 5. Star Trek. The X-Files. The Seedling Stars. Ender’s Game. The Lensman books. The Voyage of the Space Beagle. Name a science fiction book, movie or television show, and I probably haven’t seen or read it, or, quite rarely, haven’t heard of it. But many, if not all, of the same rules apply to those texts too: they use an unfamiliar or unusual environment to artificially exaggerate some element of humanity, to show the defect or flaw, and to show us it exists.

Science fiction is a master genre. The loss of so many of the great authors – Clarke, Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury, Herbert, Sagan, van Vogt, McCaffrey, Adams, Burroughs – and the fact that many of the greats who are still around aren’t writing books I appreciate any more, makes the genre difficult, and Hollywood’s horrifying attempts to capitalise on what is, in reality, a beautiful genre, have truly set it back.

Here’s to the greatest genre in the galaxy!