We all have our favorite science fiction novels…some I have already mentioned throughout the year, but the other day I saw the novel Slan listed and thought of a few others, not as well known, that are also favorites of mine.
Written in 1946 by A. E. Van Vogt, Slan is classic old science fiction that has endured through the ages. It was a favorite of my father’s who handed over the paperback for me to read.
The story revolves around a mutant class of humans that are smarter, faster and can read each other’s mind. They are being hunted down and killed by the current brutal world dictator, Kier Gray.
Part of the story is told from the eyes of nine year old Jommy Cross who watches his parents murdered, and is forced to run and hide from those who would kill him for his “differences.” He hooks up with an old mean woman named, Granny, who proceeds to use his talents for criminal purposes.
All the while, he searches for others like him who are on Mars and threatening war with Earth and the “normals.”
A second point of view comes from Kathleen Layton, the ward of the world dictator Kier Gray. She is also a slan, on the inside of the politics and eventually she meets up with Jommy.
Coming out right after WWII, this is a story of man’s inhumanity to man, and fear of those different. Originally, the story was serialized in Astounding Science Fiction, so there is a pulp like feel to the writing.
And has a theme similar to the X-men.
Still, after all these years, I remember it as a favorite along with the World of Null-A and the Weapon Shops of Isher also by A. E. Van Vogt.
Another remembered favorite is local author, Ursula LeGuin’s The Lathe of Heaven.
She received recognition for The Dispossessed and the Left Hand of Darkness, but it’s The Lathe of Heaven that I remember best.
Written in 1971, The Lathe of Heaven is the story of George Orr who discovers that his dreams become reality. Disturbed by this, he puts himself into the hands of a psychotherapist who soon uses George to play God, changing the world and reality for his own purposes. When he urges George to dream of a world without racism, they both wake up to everyone the color of gray. Wishing for lower populations and less crowding, brings on an alien attack and war. Trying to make a better world, nothing turns out as he expects.
With seven Nebulas and five Hugos, Ursula Le Guin has made a name for herself in the science fiction community, and this little gem will wake you up in the middle of the night and make you think.
A third classic scifi I haven’t mentioned before is Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. The 1959 novella won a Hugo and in 1966 it expanded to novel size and won a 1966 Nebula.
Algernon is a mouse who becomes very smart through an experimental brain operation. Charley is a person who has a 68 I.Q. He volunteers to become the human experiment for a similar operation. As the mouse gets smarter, so does Charly. We see the changes in intelligence through his diary writing.
Once happy sweeping the floors, Charly’s intellect progresses with both good and bad results. He soon realizes laughter of his fellow beings wasn’t as good natured as he’d thought. However, soon his intellect surpasses even the scientist who monitors him and he is offering solutions for solving the energy problem and other world ills.
Then, the mouse begins to regress…and Charly fears for his own future.
A gripping and poignant tale of what might happen through man’s experimenting on improving intelligence, and it’s consequences.
Also made into a movie called “Charly,” starring John Travolta.
It won an Oscar.