‘The Demolished Man,’ by Alfred Bester, is an American science fiction novel and inverted detective story, that was the first Hugo Award winner in 1953. The story is a police procedural set in a future where telepathy is common, although much of its effectiveness is derived from one individual having greater telepathic skill than another. In the 24th century, telepaths—’Espers’ (short for Extrasensory perception), colloquially known as ‘peepers’—are completely integrated into all levels of a class-based society.
Class 3 Espers, the most common, can detect only conscious thoughts at the time they are formed and are often employed as secretaries or administrators; Class 2 Espers can dig more deeply, to the pre-conscious level, detecting subliminal patterns, epiphanies and tenuous associations, and they are employed in the professional middle class—lawyers, managers, psychologists, etc. Class 1 Espers can detect all of the foregoing plus sub-conscious primitive urges, and they occupy only the highest levels of power in fields such as the police, government and medicine (such as psychiatry).
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a science fiction novel by American writer Philip K. Dick. First published in 1968, the novel is set in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco, where Earth’s life has been greatly damaged by nuclear global war. Most animal species are endangered or extinct due to extreme radiation poisoning, so that owning an animal is now a sign of status and empathy, an attitude encouraged towards animals. The book served as the primary basis for the 1982 film ‘Blade Runner.’
The main plot follows a single day in the life of Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter hired by the San Francisco Police Department to ‘retire’ (kill) six escaped androids. A secondary plot follows John Isidore, a driver for an electric-animal repair company, who is a ‘special’ (a radioactively-damaged, intellectually slow human whose status prohibits him from emigrating). In connection with Deckard’s mission, the novel explores the issue of what it is to be human. Unlike humans, the androids are claimed to possess no sense of empathy.read more »
Nicholas Nickleby is a novel by Charles Dickens. Originally published as a monthly serial from 1838 to 1839, it was Dickens’ third novel. The book centers on the life and adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, a young man who must support his mother and sister after his father dies. Dickens began writing ‘Nickleby’ while still working on ‘Oliver Twist’ and while the mood is considerably lighter, his depiction of the Yorkshire school run by Wackford Squeers is as moving and influential as those of the workhouse and criminal underclass in ‘Twist.’
Like most of Dickens’ early works, the novel has a contemporary setting. Much of the action takes place in London, with several chapters taking place in Dickens’ birthplace of Portsmouth, as well as settings in Yorkshire and Devon. The tone of the work is that of ironic social satire, with Dickens taking aim at what he perceives to be the class injustices of Victorian England. Many memorable characters are introduced, including Nicholas’ malevolent Uncle Ralph, and the villainous Wackford Squeers, who operates an abusive all-boys boarding school at which Nicholas temporarily serves as a tutor.read more »
‘Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe’ is the third novel by George Eliot, pen name of English novelist Mary Ann Evans. Published in 1861, it is an outwardly simple tale of a linen weaver, it is notable for its strong realism and its sophisticated treatment of a variety of issues ranging from religion to industrialization to community. Eliot’s novels often presented the cases of social outsiders and small-town persecution.
The novel is set in the early years of the 19th century. Silas Marner, a weaver, is a member of a small Calvinist congregation in Lantern Yard, a slum street in an unnamed city in Northern England. He is falsely accused of stealing the congregation’s funds while watching over the very ill deacon.read more »
‘The Truth Machine‘ is a 1996 science fiction novel by James L. Halperin about an infallible lie detector. Soon, every citizen must pass a thorough test under a Truth Machine to get a job or receive any sort of license. Eventually, people begin wearing them all the time, thus eliminating dishonesty in all parts of human interaction, including most crime, terrorism and a great deal of general social problems.
The novel focuses on the life story of the machine’s inventor, Pete Armstrong, a child prodigy whose life has been defined by the tragic murder of his younger brother, Leonard, by an ex-convict who was believed to be capable of committing violent crimes again, but who could not be incarcerated on mere suspicions. Armstrong claimed that as long as it was employed universally (and not just by government officials), the ‘truth machine’ could revolutionize humanity and take it to that next evolutionary step. However, the protagonist places a back door in the device, allowing him to avoid detection when he repeats fragments of Walt Whitman’s poem ‘O Captain! My Captain!’ in his mind.
‘The Caine Mutiny‘ is a 1951 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by American author Herman Wouk. The book grew out of Wouk’s personal experiences aboard a destroyer-minesweeper in the Pacific in World War II and deals with, among other things, the moral and ethical decisions made at sea by the captains of ships. The mutiny of the title is legalistic, not violent, and takes place during a historic typhoon in December 1944. The court-martial that results provides the dramatic climax to the plot.
The story is told through the eyes of Willis Seward ‘Willie’ Keith, an affluent, callow young man who signs up for midshipman school with the Navy to avoid being drafted into the Army during World War II. After barely surviving a series of misadventures that earn him the highest number of demerits in the history of the school, he is commissioned and assigned to the destroyer minesweeper USS Caine, an obsolete warship converted from a World War I-era destroyer.read more »
Because of the complexity and sophistication of its narrative structure, H.G. Wells’s 1905 novel ‘A Modern Utopia‘ (1905) has been called ‘not so much a modern as a postmodern utopia.’ The book is best known for its notion that a voluntary order of nobility known as the Samurai could effectively rule a ‘kinetic and not static’ world state so as to solve ‘the problem of combining progress with political stability.’
In terms of Northrop Frye’s classification of literary genres, ‘A Modern Utopia’ is not a novel but an anatomy, a book that divides a topic into parts for detailed examination or analysis. Frye, narrowed the definition of the word to mean a work resembling a ‘Menippean satire,’ which ridicules foolish or undisciplined mental attitudes instead of specific individuals.read more »
‘The Metamorphoses’ by Apuleius (Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis, a Roman writer) which St. Augustine referred to as ‘The Golden Ass‘ (Asinus aureus), is the only Ancient Roman novel in Latin to survive in its entirety. The protagonist of the novel is called Lucius, like the author. At the end of the novel, he is revealed to be from Madaurus (present day Algeria), the hometown of Apuleius himself.
The plot revolves around the protagonist’s curiosity (curiositas) and insatiable desire to see and practice magic. While trying to perform a spell to transform into a bird, he is accidentally transformed into an ass. This leads to a long journey, literal and metaphorical, filled with inset tales (short stories told by characters encountered by the protagonist; some act as independent narratives, while others interlock with plot developments). He finally finds salvation through the intervention of the goddess Isis, whose cult he joins.read more »
Hard to be a God is a 1964 science fiction novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky set in their ‘Noon Universe (a fictional setting in the 22nd century). The novel follows Anton, an undercover operative from the future planet Earth, in his mission on an alien planet, that is populated by human beings, whose society has not advanced beyond the Middle Ages. The novel’s core idea is that human progress throughout the centuries is often cruel and bloody, and that religion and blind faith can be effective tools of oppression, working to destroy the emerging scientific disciplines and enlightenment.
The title ‘Hard to be a God’ refers to Anton’s (known by his alias ‘don Rumata’ throughout the book) perception of his precarious role as an observer on the planet, for while he has far more advance knowledge than the people around him, he is forbidden to assist too actively, as it would interfere with the natural progress of history. The book pays a lot of attention to the internal world of the main character, showing his own evolution from an emotionally uninvolved ‘observer’ to the person who rejects the blind belief in theory when confronted with the cruelty of real events.read more »
Cryptonomicon is a 1999 novel by American author Neal Stephenson depicting the exploits of two groups of people in two different time periods, presented in alternating chapters. The first group is World War II-era Allied codebreakers and tactical-deception operatives affiliated with the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park in the UK and disillusioned Axis military and intelligence figures whom they encounter.
The second narrative is set in the late 1990s with descendants of the first narrative’s characters employing cryptologic, telecom, and computer technology to build an underground data haven in the fictional Sultanate of Kinakuta. Their goal is to facilitate anonymous Internet banking using electronic money and (later) digital gold currency, with a longer range objective to distribute Holocaust Education and Avoidance Pod (HEAP) media for instructing genocide-target populations on defensive warfare.read more »
‘The Sirens of Titan‘ is a 1959 book by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. His second novel, it involves issues of free will, omniscience, and the overall purpose of human history. Much of the story revolves around a Martian invasion of Earth. The protagonist is Malachi Constant, the richest man in 22nd-century America. He possesses extraordinary luck that he attributes to divine favor which he has used to build upon his father’s fortune.
He becomes the centerpoint of a journey that takes him from Earth to Mars in preparation for an interplanetary war, to Mercury with another Martian survivor of that war, back to Earth to be pilloried as a sign of Man’s displeasure with his arrogance, and finally to Titan where he again meets the man ostensibly responsible for the turn of events that have befallen him, Winston Niles Rumfoord.read more »
‘Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics’ is a 1996 roman à clef, a work of fiction that purports to describe real life characters and events — namely, Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign in 1992. It has been compared to two other novels about American politics; Robert Penn Warren’s ‘All the King’s Men’ (1946) and ‘O: A Presidential Novel’ (2011). The book was originally published by an anonymous author, who was later found to be columnist Joe Klein. Klein completed a sequel of sorts, ‘The Running Mate’ in 2000, focusing on the ‘Primary Colors’ character of Charlie Martin.
An early reviewer opined that the author wished to remain unknown because ‘Anonymity makes truthfulness much easier.’ Later commentators called the publishing of the book under an anonymous identity an effective marketing strategy that produced more publicity for the book, and thus more sales, without calling into question the author’s actual inside knowledge.read more »