Are there historical science fiction books

These 16 science fiction novels give hope for a better future


It doesn't always have to be dystopian or apocalyptic! It is true that many science fiction authors have a rather bleak view of the future. But there are also works that spread optimism - without immediately dreaming of too perfect utopias. 1E9 SciFi expert Michael Förtsch introduces them.

From Michael Förtsch

The destruction of the environment and climate change will transform our metropolises into melting furnaces, causing hunger and refugee movements. Smart robots will rise and subjugate us. At least if there is no nuclear war beforehand or huge ships of extraterrestrial invaders appear in the sky, which shortly afterwards drop quantum bombs on our cities. No matter what we do, it will end in chaos, tears and suffering. Of course, the bad guys win - and if not, at least hope is lost first.

Yes, science fiction writers like to be quite black painters when it comes to the future. Her works are often metaphorical warnings of real threats. They reflect dangerous developments and disturbing trends of our time. And that's no reason to complain at first, after all, it has dystopian classics like The maid's report, 1984, Starship Troopers and I want to scream and I have no mouth bestows. As well as modern have-to-read works like New York 2140, Vox, The seclusion and Uglies.

Science fiction doesn't have to be dark!

But there is another way. Science fiction doesn't have to be dreary, gray and laden with conflict and pessimism to the point. There have always been utopian narratives that conjure up ideal worlds, propose alternative concepts to our societies or speculate about how we could overcome obstacles and our all-too-human hubris. It doesn't have to be boring. Such scenarios also allow exciting stories. Because everything is never perfect and flawless. All utopias, be it an anarchic eco-enclave or a futuristic star realm, have their downsides and break points - even if it is only humans.

Even if everything seems lost, the world has come to an end and every way out seems closed, authors do not have to - and should - not let go of all hope. In every situation, no matter how terrible, a spark of optimism can be sparked. Even if it's just the knowledge that your own actions are the impetus for a better world, the certainty that your own loss will lead to something new, or the assurance that an escape route could still exist somewhere. This is exactly what authors like Greg Egan, Charlie Jane Anders, Ernest Callenbach, Ted Chiang and others show.

Yes, science fiction is a constant source of inspiration, a driver of technology, society and culture. And there it is not necessary to despair, but to look ahead - to shine on the horizon! Let's start.

Arkwright

With age, people get a little strange. Nathan Arkwright's fans thought so too. The science fiction writer like Asimov or Clarke has suddenly withdrawn from the public after many novels and regular meetings with fans. But Arkwright was not whimsical, but passionate: after his death, his granddaughter found out that he had decided to save humanity. Namely, by setting up a foundation whose goal is to build a spaceship whose crew should explore and colonize new worlds. Otherwise, the aging visionary believed, humanity would not do it much longer.

That's what Allen M. Steeles does Arkwright not a classic utopia, but a man's utopian vision that is slowly taking shape through his descendants. Because neither he nor his granddaughter or their children experience the start of the spaceship. Only after many decades is it on its journey towards the planet Gliese 667 Ce. As a result, Arkwright is on the one hand a family story and on the other a science fiction novel that takes on the challenges of interstellar space travel, shows ethical and technical problems and outlines solutions for them. And of course it is Arkwright also a tribute to science fiction itself and its ability to inspire and enchant.

Diaspora

Actually everything is pretty perfect. In a few hundred years, humanity has overcome most of its problems - as well as many of its physical limitations. Post- and transhumanism are reality and normality. Naturally conceived people live together with cyborg-enhanced cyborg beings, digitized brains in robotic bodies and completely disembodied people who live in matrix -The same digital realities exist. It is a diversification in mind and body that began to open up new worlds, planes of existence and living spaces in the cosmos and beyond.

The next step in human evolution now begins with Yatima. He is the first individual to be entirely constructed and whose gene and mental structure cannot be traced back to a biological ancestor or line of descent of Homo sapiens. However, a few years after his birth - and his rapid growth - disaster looms. An energy wave from space threatens to kill all purely biological people. Their only chance of survival is to give up their bodies - and with it the original form of the human species. But would humanity, as author Greg Egan asks in his novel, really lose something that defines human beings - or is that just a long overdue step?

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

This is a good vision for the future: in a few decades no one will end up homeless on the street or have to toil in order to survive. Everything essential for life and much that is luxury today will be available to everyone - free of charge. In addition, thanks to modern medicine, age is no longer an issue and death can also be tricked with digital memories and cloned bodies. That sounds like the world that Cory Doctorow in Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom draws, actually really utopian - and that's basically what it is. The only catch: People no longer strive for money, but they strive for Whuffie. These are points for social prestige. Those who have many are invited to parties, given preferential treatment and are highly regarded.

Dan, once a Whuffie magnate, lost all points in a scandal. Depressed, he crawls under his friends Julius and Lil. Now that large corporations like Disney are history, they are in the process of preserving the Magic Kingdom in the former Walt Disney World as a museum. However, they are at odds with another group. She wants to rebuild the park with modern technology. In the midst of this conflict, Julius is suddenly murdered - and resurrected to look for the reason for his demise. In doing so, questions arise for him as to what reality, fiction and nostalgia actually represent - and where the boundaries run in a magical illusory world like the Magic Kingdom.

3001: The Last Odyssey

Most everyone knows Stanley Kubricks 2001: A Space Odyssey , the film adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke's science fiction novel of the same name. The epoch-making original from 1968 was continued by the author over almost three decades with three less noticed - and partly directly, partly loosely connected - follow-up novels: The last volume in particular is fascinating: 3001 . Because in The last odyssey , so the subtitle, will be the astronaut Frank Poole, who in 2001 killed by the supercomputer Hal 9000, found in space. He can be resuscitated. For Poole then begins a surreal journey of discovery through a utopian future civilization.

Not only are brain-computer interfaces, genetically engineered dinosaurs, space stations and colonies on Jupiter's moons real, 1000 years after his apparent death. Humanity has also overcome racism, sexism, poverty and environmental pollution and is ready to establish peaceful contact with other species. Too bad it took mankind so long to get this far. Because those who stand behind the mysterious monoliths that we are made of 2001 know, decided centuries ago to wipe out then self-destructive humanity - in the year 3001.

A world in between

Pacifica is a peaceful and lustful planet. The two biological human sexes exist there in almost perfect harmony and equality. There is hardly any resentment or corruption. This is made possible by the network, a computer communication system that grants every citizen the same right to have a say in the anarchic-democratic government. But suddenly the harmony threatens to get out of balance! Because two spaceships penetrate the planet. One belongs to the masculine-chauvinist Transcendental Science, the other to the matriarchal-militant femocrats. The two groups have had their ideological and military conflict in the rest of space for a long time.

The novel by Norman Spinrad was published in 1979, but anticipated many current developments. In particular, the influence of the media on politics, digital decision-making systems such as liquid feedback, but also fake news and troll propaganda. In the 420-page work, the protagonists in the battle of the sexes are deliberately broken down into stereotypes that are difficult to bear - and in places questionable - that are underlined with quite explicit sex scenes. But in the end, Norman Spinrad conjures up the idea that a just, more peaceful and smarter world is possible that focuses on people, their characters and not their gender.

Human beings, like gods

Compared to The time machine or The island of Dr. Moreau is H.G. Wells' Human beings, like gods - in the original: Men like gods - from 1923 a comparatively unknown work. But that doesn't make it any less interesting. In it, the journalist Mr. Barnstaple, who actually wants to go on vacation, and a few other people are transported into a parallel world by an unknown force. It is 3,000 years ahead of ours and has long since left the "days of confusion" with its wars, power struggles and other stupidities behind.

This utopia has said goodbye to politics and religions and decides according to the principle "our education is our government". After nation states and churches disappeared, science flourished and simple basic principles have been sufficient to regulate cooperation. The amazed visitors explore this world and learn that some differences and forked paths in contemporary history have transformed the earth in this dimension into a carefree paradise. But it is precisely this light-heartedness that gives some of the dimensional travelers the idea of ​​subjugating this peaceful world. Barnstaple has to prevent that.

Ökotopia

We did not realize the vision that Ernest Callenbach wrote down in 1975: Because Ökotopia takes place in 1999. The reporter William Weston is one of the first to have the opportunity to visit a strange enclave that emerged in 1980 on the east coast of the USA. In a mixture of fictional reportage and diary texts, Weston describes how the small nation developed ecological and sustainable energy and economic models out of need and desperation - and how it separated itself from the rest of the world.

Ökotopia not only relies on renewable energies and environmental protection, but also on universal health care, a grassroots form of government and local decision-making. But not everything is super and totally green: Callenbach describes a utopia that also wants to be fought for and preserved. There is controversy and strife about the distribution of resources, ultra-right and ultra-left social positions, a fear-fed militarism and people who after all these years are still looking for their place in ecotopia and despair of it.

The life cycle of software objects

With artificial intelligences we create our own downfall. This is what makes us movies like Terminator and tech giants like Elon Musk preach. With his novella The life cycle of software objects - included in the short story collection The true essence of things - the author Ted Chiang tries to paint a contrasting picture. The plot follows the former zookeeper Ana Alvarado, who is hired by a software company to accompany the development and “rearing” of a new form of artificial intelligence.

It will be launched on the market in the form of Digis, a kind of high-tech Tamagotchis with their own VR platform. Billions of people have loved them over the years. But at some point the hype wanes, the company gets into financial difficulties and the Digis threaten to disappear. Ana teams up with the ex-developers to save some of the digital beings. And they begin to learn and develop further. The life cycle of software objects describes a story of 20 years, is easy to read with 150 pages, but asks many intelligent questions, provides food for thought and a curious, optimistic view of the future of artificial intelligence.

Free spirits

If you don't get along well, you split up. The inhabitants of the planet Urras come to this conclusion after a failed anarcho-revolution. Their followers moved to the neighboring planet Anarres. The opponents of the revolution lagged behind. And both parties decided it was best to ignore each other from now on. As the years go by, a futuristic anarcho-syndicalism develops on Anarres - quasi a gigantic anarchist commune that gets by without states, classes and restrictions. Or so it seems.

Because in the novel by Ursula K. Le Guin, the brilliant physicist Shevek wants to advance his work on superlight drives and cooperate with scientists on Urras. But Annares does not approve of this. Nevertheless, he goes on the journey and gets to know the in many ways worse and better world on the sister planet, which has broken up into different states, rulings and social systems. So that is Free spirits - in the original The Dispossessed - quasi the reversal of Ökotopia, which also deals with numerous aspects such as propaganda, isolation, prohibition of thinking, appreciation, indoctrination - and the question of what actually turns a utopia into a utopia.

The culture

The Culture -Cycle by Iain Banks is a series of ten works, some of which are quite massive. They tell individual stories that give an insight into a futuristic society that calls itself Die Kultur - each time from the perspective of other protagonists. The culture is utopian and a bit scary at the same time. Because it includes numerous different species, thought and conceptual models that make our own world appear anachronistic and barbaric.

Racism, sexism and speciescism have long ceased to exist in culture. Because genetics have developed so far that each individual can change their appearance as they want. If you like, you can plant limbs, let the humanoid transform it into a fish or live as a table. In addition, artificial intelligences are recognized as forms of life, have rights, exist as sensitive robots or control units of gigantic space stations. There is no such thing as money or fixed laws. With brain backups, death is more of an inconvenience and war is just a means of self-defense. Opening up this world beyond the individual books is a time-consuming challenge - but also a worthwhile mission.

Learning The World

The generation ship But the Sky, My Lady has been floating for a full 400 years! The sky! towards an earth-like planet. At that time, mankind had already colonized numerous other worlds. Here, however, the crew is completely surprised to find that the planet is already in firm hands: humanity is discovering another intelligent species for the first time. However, this is far from the technological level of humans. It has only just entered the industrial age. Nevertheless, it is possible for the planet's inhabitants to make out the spaceship as a “strange comet”, which will soon park in orbit.

In Ken MacLeods Learning The World humanity has survived, evolved and thrived in the shores of space. But she has to get used to the fact that she is not alone. Should she, after this wretched long journey, land on the planet and mess up the life of the alien species? And what does the idea that there could be other beings out there actually do with the inhabitants of the planet? The novel is fascinating, cleverly written and amazingly quick to read.

All the birds under the sky

The world in Charlie Jane Anders ’ All the birds under the sky is definitely not a utopia. In fact, it's actually the opposite: our earth is on the verge of collapse.Climate change has mutated into an ecological catastrophe that threatens the homes and lives of billions of people. Whole cities sink into the water, super storms devastate regions and earthquakes tear continents apart. In the midst of this hustle and bustle, Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead run into each other, arguably the most extraordinary people on the planet.

Both know each other from childhood. Patricia is a witch and can talk to birds. Laurence, on the other hand, is a technical genius who has already constructed a time machine in the nursery and is now working on a wormhole generator. But as well as they once knew each other, the two have diverged to the extent that they hold opposing views on how the world could still be saved. But it is precisely these different approaches that could be the solution. All the birds under the sky is not your typical science fiction. This is exactly what makes the warm-hearted and astute story so compelling and fundamentally optimistic.

Woman on the Edge of Time

Connie Ramos is really not doing well. The American with Mexican roots lives in New York in the mid-1970s. She had big plans. But then she lost her child and husband - and now, as she fears, her mind. Admitted to a psychiatric hospital, she believes she has been contacted by an envoy named Luciente from 2137. Connie is not crazy at all. She is actually shown a world that preserves its environment, has been able to overcome racial hatred, the consumer society and gender inequality and has found a decentralized form of government. Disputes are resolved with debates and celebrated with parties.

Luciente guides Connie through his local community Mattapoisett and gives her guidance on how to create such a world. She is also given advice on how to overcome - and survive - her own problems. She was chosen because her decisions about the coming of the utopian future will be decisive. If they act wrong, the world could degenerate into a hyper-capitalist dystopia in which the rich elite will at some point leave the contaminated earth to live on space stations. With her work, the author Marge Piercy appeals to the common sense of the individual to contribute to a better world and sends the message that even small actions can have big consequences.

Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic Science Fiction

The title says it all. Shine is not a single story, but a collection of 16 short stories by young authors as well as science fiction luminaries, which do not end on a sad, sinister or even cynical note. Instead, things can be turned for the better and hope shimmers through again and again. And that although the universes in which the stories take place are not necessarily paradise worlds, but rather desolate places.

In Kay Kenyons Castoff World For example, a young girl struggles through life on a robot island whose job it is to clean up the littered ocean. Soon she wonders what the meaning of her life is. In The Earth of Yunhe by Eric Gregory, a young Chinese man returns to his dying community to cleanse the contaminated land with modern nanotechnology. But tradition forbids their use - actually. Alastair Reynolds tells in At Budokan the story of a battered music producer who got the idea for his life: He wants to clone a T-Rex that plays heavy metal on an electric guitar.

The last generation

At first it doesn't look like a happy ending for humanity. Giant spaceships appear in the sky and stop over the great cities of the world. But they don't throw bombs. Instead, radio messages are emitted from the metal monsters. The aliens claim that they do not want to destroy humanity, but want to help it. And that is exactly what they do - with technology and knowledge that accelerate the technical and ecological evolution of earth civilization. The aliens always remain invisible. Nobody knows what they look like. That will only change after 50 years - and it is initially shocking. Because what people see is like demonic creatures.

After 50 more years, the extraterrestrial creatures admit that they were pursuing a secret plan all along: it was not they themselves who decided to help humanity evolve, but an even greater power. It is pursuing an agenda that will soon mean that not a single person will be left behind on the blue planet - but not because mankind has come to an end. The last generation - in the original: Childhood’s end - by Arthur C. Clarke deconstructs many of the clichés of science fiction, turns them around and leads them to a melancholy finale that is nevertheless very harmonious and poetic.

Mission Ares

Could we be a lot further - and if so, how? Stephen Baxter ponders this question in Mission Ares - in the original: Voyage -, the opening novel for the so-called NASA -Trilogy. In the massive novel, John F. Kennedy survived the assassination attempt on November 22, 1963 and witnessed the moon landing that he initiated. He uses his immense political influence to convince his successor not to back off, but to take the next big step: a manned mission to Mars. This feat is described by the records and memories of the technicians, NASA planners and astronauts.

In the what-if story, Baxter doesn't simply spin the hypothetical journey to Mars together. It draws on concepts, technologies and spacecraft that were conclusive but never implemented at the time of its creation, such as the NERVA program, the Mars Excursion Module and the Saturn V-B. So it works Mission Ares believable and the second great space triumph of humanity within reach. However, the attention to detail makes it Mission Ares in stages, also to a somewhat tedious and sluggish reading experience.

Would you like to find out how leading figures from start-ups, tech corporations and science see the future? Do you want to experience how artists use new technologies to create breathtaking works? Do you want to have a say when it comes to our future? Then secure your ticket for 1E9 the_conference! The tech event of the year on July 11, 2019 in Munich.

Teaser image: NASA