Reading List: 6 Stories for the Science-Fiction Newbie

Hilary Armstrong is a literature student at U.C. Santa Barbara and a Longreads intern. She also happens to love science fiction, so she put together a #longreads list for sci-fi newbies.

Have you heard? Science fiction is “in.” Cloud Atlas, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Oblivion—nerds at the movies, nerds everywhere. This is thrilling if you are familiar with the genre, but what if you never got into sci-fi in the first place? Where would you start?

Since its inception (ha), speculative fiction has worked as social commentary, satire, and a creative answer to the question “What if?” Here are my personal picks to get you started. Please add your own science-fiction story picks in the comments below.

1. Nightfall, Isaac Asimov (1941)

No sci-fi list is complete without Asimov, and not only due to his creation of the Laws of Robotics. If you like this story, I would suggest moving straight on to his “robopsychologist” Susan Calvin stories.

2. The Veldt, Ray Bradbury (1950)

Bradbury, of Martian Chronicles fame and beyond, writes here about the danger of integrating technology too far into human developmental psychology.

3. Bloodchild, Octavia Butler (1995)

A look at the symbiotic relationship between aliens and humans. If you’ve seen any horror movie featuring extraterrestrials, you’ve pretty much seen them all, but sci-fi stories like this one explore more “alien” ideas than the simple “monster from space” trope.

4. Robot, by Helena Bell (2012)

Robots! Here’s a short and wicked story from Bell, a contemporary sci-fi writer who touches on slavery, mortality, and the horror of a slow decline in life.

5. The Country of the Blind, H.G. Wells (1904)

Wells (War of the Worlds, Time Machine) is the oldest pick on my list, and this story imagines just what its title implies.

6. Understand, by Ted Chiang (1991)

Chiang addresses PTSD, advancements in medical science, and the horror of not trusting your own mind. This story is probably one of the best “straight” sci-fi examples on this list—the clear “What if?” develops steadily, and pushes the reader along to its surprising conclusion. Entire novels have been written in this style—Max Barry’s Machine Man is my personal favorite.

Bonus Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Suggestions

I also recommend this list for more great reading material, and if you want to start with something cyberpunky, look out for Neal Stephenson or William Gibson—they’re mostly novelists, and definitely worth your time.

What would you put on your sci-fi reading list? Tell us in the comments. 

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The relationship/connection between Adam and Cabeswater, and the way it grows and develops, is probably one of my favourite things about the entire series. From the moment in tdt when Adam figures out how to properly communicate with the forest it becomes one of the most supportive and comforting elements in Adam’s life. It’s constantly there to reassure him and comfort him during times of anxiety, stress, disassociation or fear, as well as making him feel like himself. The descriptions for the way Adam so vividly feels its presence create such amazing imagery. And then the sadness Adam feels when it sacrifices itself for Gansey is so bittersweet and heartbreaking. So, here is a long list of all my favourite (and mostly underrated) Adam/Cabeswater quotes:

The Raven Boys:

  • “It both awed and saddened him, Cabeswater’s brand of bittersweet beauty.”
  • This place should not exist, Adam thought, and at once, he hastily thought the opposite. Cabeswater had become bright just as Adam had wished that it wouldn’t be dark, just as it had changed the colour of the fish in the pool as soon as Gansey had thought it would be better if they were red.”
  • “Kneeling in the middle of the pentagram, digging his fingers into the soft, mossy turf, Adam said, “I sacrifice myself.” ”
  • “On his terms or not at all. I will be your hands, Adam thought. I will be your eyes.

The Dream Thieves:

  • “He was Cabeswater, and he was the dreaming tree, and he was every oak with roots digging through rocks, looking for energy and hope. He felt the suck and pulse of the ley line through him.”
  • “He would be Cabeswaters eyes and Cabeswater’s hands, but he wouldn’t be Cabeswater. He would be Adam Parrish.”
  • “It had been a while since he felt like this - like he could devote his thoughts to something other than when he might get to sleep. Like his mind was huge and whirring and hungry. Like anything was possible if he only threw himself into it hard enough.”
  • “He could feel Cabeswater in him. Cabeswater couldn’t offer him eyes or hands. But it was something else. Something he wanted to name life, or soul, or knowledge.”
  • “He walked to the tiny stream that used to lead into Cabeswater and now led only to more field. Kneeling he hovered his hands over the trickle of water. There was no one to see him but he smiled anyway, bigger and bigger.”
  • “Adam felt it in his hands. He felt it in his spine. He could see it mapped in his brain. The ley line travelled beneath him, waves of energy…”
  • “Adam was different since making the bargain with Cabeswater. Stronger, stranger, further away. It was hard not to stare at the odd and elegant lines of his face.”

Blue Lily, Lily Blue:

  • “He stepped onto the line immediately, his face turning to gaze along its length as naturally as a flower looking into the sun.”
  • “He knew he was different since aligning himself more tightly with the ley line. He was himself but more powerful. Himself, but less human.”
  • “There was something comforting and anxious about the way it twined through him now; he could no longer tell if it was a powerful friend or if the power was now actually him.”
  • “Only Cabeswater could hack into the record of Adam’s mind.”
  • “The branches leaned towards Adam, curling around him protectively, a thicket with thorns pointed outward.”
  • “Cabeswater stole him away for a blissful second, leaves curled against his throat, and then released him. How desperately Adam wanted to cling to Cabeswater. Strange as it was, it was familiar, and on his side”

The Raven King:

  • “Cabeswater beckoned to Adam, offering to support his tired form, and for just a minute he allowed it. For a few effortless breaths, everything was leaves and water, trunks and roots, rocks and moss. The ley line hummed inside him, waxing and waning with his pulse, or vice versa.”
  • “This close to the forest, Adam felt very…Adam.”
  • “It seemed like he should become more other, when he was near Cabeswater, but in reality the closer he was to Cabeswater, the more firmly present he remained.”
  • “Closing his eyes, Adam allowed the ley line to seize his heart for a few beats.”
  • “Tilting his head back, he sensed the stars pricking overhead, and he felt how he was oriented in relation to them. Cabeswater unfurled careful vines, testing his mood as it did, never pushing boundaries these days unless under duress”
  • “Now that Adam had fully opened his senses, Cabeswater clumsily attempted to communicate with its human magician. It took his memories and turned them sideways and inside out, re-purposing them for a hieroglyphic language of dreams.”
  • “Cabeswater gently prodded Adam’s thoughts, calling up a dozen happy memories in the space of the previous year. […] When Adam still resisted, images of himself flickered through his mind: himself as seen by others. His private smile, his surprised laugh, his finger stretched towards the sun.”
  • “Cabeswater didn’t quite understand humans, but it learned. Happiness, it insisted. Happiness. Adam relented…he threw out intention of his own.”
  • Cabeswater. Keep me safe. Cabeswater!” … Leaves were pressed up against the glass as if it were a window. The forest whispered and hissed in Adam’s deaf ear, urging him to help it find a channel. Gratitude burned through him, as hard to bear as the fear. If something happened to him now, at least he wouldn’t be alone.”
  • “The magician’s wistful regret twisted through what remained of the trees. Without this, what was he? Simply human human human. Cabeswater pressed leaves against his cheek one last time, and they took that humanity for the life it was building”
  • “Even without Cabeswater’s force, he could feel it glimmering coolly in his eyes, and he did not disguise it. Magician.”

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Longreads Guest Pick: Nolan Feeney on 'The New New Girl'

Nolan is an editorial fellow at The Atlantic. 

Jada Yuan’s profile of Mindy Kaling for New York magazine is almost a year old, but it has been a major influence on the way I write. It moves effortlessly from funny to sad, and it captures Kaling so well that it’s hard not read her quotes in her voice. But I think the story’s structure is the best part. The piece mentions a sign in Kaling’s room that reads: STAKES MOTIVATION TURNS ESCALATION, which she says are the four pillars for a great comedy story. If you read closely, I think you’ll notice how Yuan’s article follows a similar organization that shows Kaling’s model works well for great journalism, too.


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Stiles and Lydia music Season 1 - Season 5b

S 1 EP 5 -  The Tell: Falulah - I Lay My Head
S 1 EP 11 - Formality: She Wants Revenge - Not Just a Girl
S 2 EP 3 - Ice Pick: Electric Guest - This Head I Hold

S 2 EP 4 -  Hannah Georgas - Chit Chat

S 2 EP 7 - Restraint: Nicky Blitz - Hawk  
S 2 EP 12 - Masterplan: Emma-Lee - I Could Live With Dying Tonight 
                                       Midnight Starlet - Foy Vance
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S 3 EP 11 - Alpha Pact: Gabrielle Aplin - Start of Time
S 4 EP 1 - The Dark Moon: Deorro - Dechorro

S 5 EP 14 - The Sword And The Spirit: SYML - Where’s My Love

S 5 EP 16 - Lie Ability: Eric Arjes - Find My Back 

                                     Kina Grannis - To The Wonder

Longreads Guest Pick: Elise Foley on 'The Girl Who Turned to Bone'

Elise Foley is an immigration and politics reporter for The Huffington Post.

“My favorite longread this week was Carl Zimmer’s ’The Girl Who Turned to Bone’ in the Atlantic, which is about a very rare disease that causes people to form a second skeleton. It reminded me, in a great way, of ’The Hazards of Growing Up Painlessly’ in the New York Times last year—both of them are stories about dealing with a rare disease on your own, then finding a doctor and network of people like you that make you feel like you’re not alone. The entire piece is a fascinating look at the science behind the disease and the people who helped to discover it.”


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The Owner and Founder of Krupto Strategic, a lifestyle brand that pays tribute to the sniper community, shares his operational carry.

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  • Geoff:Well a huge, huge fan of Achievement Hunter came up with this idea for a Let's Play a long time ago and we've been meaning to do it but we never got around to it. So I wanna give a shoutout to little Ray Narvaez Jr.
  • Michael:Awww
  • Geoff:He's a big fan. This was his idea. Uh, he's send it via letter-
  • Jeremy:*in a weird voice* I took your spot
If that isn't love, I don't know what is.

GUEST: What time is the shuttle?
CONCIERGE: The shuttles come around once every…

(Guest begins picking his wife’s nose. Both of them are maintaining eye contact with me. I pause. They don’t. He’s picking her nose and they’re both looking at me. This should be gross. It is gross.)

CONCIERGE: …Once an hour on the hour.
GUEST: Okay, we book later.

(They leave, holding hands. I feel very hopelessly alone.)

Longreads Guest Pick: Briana Bierschbach on 'Finding Molly: Drugs, Dancing, and Death'

Girl reporter for Politics in Minnesota. Mother of Dragons.

It was a great week for longreads in America (see: Reuters’ ‘The Child Exchange’ investigation and Rolling Stone’s interactive story on hackers who will probably save the world), but one piece was passed around on my social media feeds more than any other: 'Finding Molly: Drugs, Dancing and Death,’ by Shane Morris. This piece doesn’t exactly exemplify any traditional journalistic values, nor would mom approve of it (warning, this story contains swears), but it’s also the most educational thing I’ve read all week. Did you know that the 'rise of Molly can be traced back to German Shepherds?’ Did you know that cartel tactics are being used to traffic Molly? No, I bet you didn’t. It’s like 'Breaking Bad,’ but real. Added bonus: Morris’s writing style is amazingly accessible. It feels like you’re listening to the confessions of a friend, that is, if you have friends that do/sell a lot of drugs.


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