Books fade away. The center cannot hold. Even books that were best sellers, that were made into movies, that dominated pop culture for decades, can suddenly find themselves fading from public consciousness. It’s worse in science-fiction, because the genre has always labored under the pressure to be ahead of its time, which is no easy feat (just ask the guy who invented the Segway). But that doesn’t mean these forgotten books aren’t worth reading. Here are 5 sci-fi books that time has forgotten, but you shouldn’t:
Dying Inside, by Robert Silverberg
Perfectly titled, this tale of a telepath who has lived a lazy life relying on his mental powers suddenly starting to lose his ability—as we all may one day lose our sight or hearing—is subtly powerful. At first blush it seems a bit dull, and finding sympathy for the protagonist, who has wasted an incredible ability, is difficult. But his humanity gives the story its power, as he finally accepts his loss and learns to live without his gift. The final line is haunting: “Until I die again…hello, hello, hello, hello.”
Blood Music, by Greg Bear
It’s difficult to believe how thoroughly everyone outside of SF fandom seems to have forgotten this 1985 novel, the most recent entry on this list. While it has dated in the same way as William Gibson’s contemporary work, Bear’s study of nanotechnology, the nature of observable reality, and the crooked, unpredictable path life follows as it evolves through new and unexpected environments remains thoughtful, powerful, and a little bit scary. For a time, Blood Music was taught in college courses, but today it’s slid into the first stages of obscurity—which is a terrible shame.
The Shape of Things to Come, by H.G. Wells
While nothing written by H.G. Wells will likely ever be fully forgotten, most people are only familiar with his most famous works. The Shape of Things to Come, structured as notes written by a diplomat in the 22nd century, details a fictional future history spanning the period from 1940 to the year 2036. The novel was the basis for a much more conventional, successful 1936 film. Sadly, today even the great Wells has suffered from our collective short memories. This is one of those older works that seem hopelessly clichéd today—because it actually established certain tropes in the first place.
The Day of the Triffids, by John Wyndham
The bones of this story are just as effective today as they were when it was published more than 60 years ago. After a strange meteor shower, most of the population is rendered blind. Society descends into chaos as mobile, carnivorous plants called triffids hunt the hapless survivors, and sighted people are kidnapped and chained to the blind to act as guides. Thrillingly written and neatly plotted, the story feels like a modern Doctor Who without the whimsy, and still resonates decades later, but the book has sunk into obscurity, at least in the U.S. (it remains a bit more popular in its native England).
The Integral Trees, Larry Niven
One of Niven’s novels that doesn’t have the word “Ringworld” in the title, this mid-’80s novel is a prime example of a sci-fi novel designed to work within accepted scientific knowledge: it imagines a world that could possibly exist, and extrapolates how people would survive there. Set in a reality where only a narrow band of atmosphere is dense enough to support life, the titular trees grow in the air, drifting and buffeted by high winds, occasionally being knocked out of position and out of the habitable zone. When a group of descendants of an ancient colonization craft find themselves trapped on a section of tree quickly drifting into dangerous territory, their attempts to survive lead to some fascinating revelations.
What’s your favorite forgotten classic?