These novels and short stories look to meld the mechanical with humanity. Some delve into the moral issues surrounding technological advances; others appeal to the spirit of innovation and the power of smart people.
We know not everyone enjoys reading or even has time for it. So for your convenience, we've sorted these books by word count from least to most.
"A Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury (4,362 words)
This Bradbury short combines Jurassic Park and time travel. A hunter named Eckles pays $10,000 experience Time Safari, a company that brings experienced hunters back to prehistoric eras and lets them hunt dinosaurs. Hunters are instructed to never leave the hunting path for any reason. Eckles is warned that damaging anything during his hunt could lead to unforeseen consequences when he returns home. Here's a hint if you can't guess how this ends: the phrase "butterfly effect" stems from this short story.
"The Cold Equations" by Tom Godwin (10,095 words)
Barton is an astronaut on a mission to save an entire planet with the contents of his ship. He has precisely enough fuel to get him there, give out the medicine, and get back home with ease. But when he learns he's not alone, Barton realizes he won't have enough fuel to return home given the added weight. So what goes? The stowaway or the medicine?
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (33,105 words)
Love time travel? Thank H.G. Wells; he coined the phrase. The narrator, simply called the Time Traveler recounts his visit to AD 802,701 where he meets the child-like Eloi people. Will he get swept up so far in the future that he neglects his past home?
Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (46,333 words)
The first hilarious book in Adam's six-part series, this book follows galactic traveler Arthur Dent as he attempts to find a new home. He encounters an egomaniacal spaceman, a depressed robot, and one very large sperm whale.
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov (69,000 words)
Nine interconnected short stories comprise I, Robot. Each tale is woven by Dr. Susan Calvin who tells her stories to a news reporter. The impact of Asimov's work is indelible. This piece of fiction dealt with positronic brains and the morality of Artificial Intelligence long before those debates became reality with technological advances. And no, the Will Smith movie of the same name is nothing like Asimov's collection.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (74,880 words)
Young scientist Victor Frankenstein longs to create a sapient creature using unorthodox methods. When his monster breaks free, the Creation terrorizes the village leaving several dead in its path. A lot of people dismiss or avoid this novel entirely because of they either 1) were forced to read it in high school/college and hate being forced to read or 2) think they already know the story because of pop culture. But Shelley's original creature is nothing like the groaning, fumbling monster we know from old movies. It challenges our ideas of what constitutes a living being, especially in the realm of scientific experiments.
Neuromancer by William Gibson (79,034 words)
This often rivals Huxley's Brave New World as one of the most potent views of the future. Henry Case was once a talented computer hacker in Chiba City, Japan. But with the mob after him and his girlfriend stealing his black-market goods, Case's day went from bad to worse. A mysterious job offer appears to get Case back to his hacking days. All he has to do is steal a few government documents.
The Martian by Andy Weir (99,430 words)
This 2011 novel follows American astronaut Mark Watney after he becomes stranded alone on Mars in 2035. Watney improvises in order to survive and the novel displays his ingenuity, resilience, and innovation. The film adaptation, directed by Ridley Scott, stars Matt Damon.
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (100,609 words)
Ender Wiggin was born to be a genius. He was also selected by international military leaders to save the world against "the buggers," an insect-like alien species out to destroy the world. This novel taps into space travel and comes equipped with some incredible gadgets and tactical strategies.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (136,048 words)
Don't be dissuaded by the word count. This novel is way easier to read than Shelley's prose. Ready Player One is set in the not-so-distant future. A virtual universe called OASIS has replaced in-person living. After OASIS creator James Halliday dies, his will left a series of Easter Eggs within the expansive system for OASIS users to find. The first one to find all three Eggs wins his multi-billion dollar fortune. Teenager Wade Watts dedicates his life to finding those eggs, but things get dangerous when cyber threats become real life-or-death situations. The book is slated to become a movie in 2018.
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