This week we are going back before the science fiction awards were created to find our entry into the list of the greatest science fiction novels of all time. In fact, we are going back before science fiction was science fiction.
Science fiction has always been around, but it wasn’t until the 20th Century that anyone started calling it science fiction. Before we explore this idea further, we will revisit our list so far.
The Greatest Science Fiction Novels of All Time
- Rendezvous on Rama by Arthur C. Clarke (Best Novel Awards: Hugo 1974, Nebula 1973, Locus 1974, Campbell 1974, British Science Fiction Association 1973, Jupiter 1974, Seiun 1980)
- Gateway by Frederik Pohl (Best Novel Awards: Hugo 1978, Nebula 1977, Locus 1978, Campbell 1978)
- The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (Best Novel Awards: Hugo 1975, Nebula 1975, Locus 1975, Jupiter 1975; Nominations: Campbell 1975)
- Dune by Frank Herbert (Best Novel Awards: Hugo 1966, Nebula 1966; Nominations: Hugo 1964 for Dune World)
- Neuromancer by William Gibson (Best Novel Awards: Hugo 1985, Nebula 1985, Philip K. Dick 1984; Nominations: Campbell 1985, British Science Fiction 1984)
- Startide Rising by David Brin (Best Novel Awards: Hugo 1984, Nebula 1984, Locus 1984)
- Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Best Novel Awards: Hugo 2014, Nebula 2014, British Science Fiction 2013, Arthur C. Clarke 2014; Best First Novel Awards: Locus 2014, Kitschies Golden Tentacle 2013; Nominations: Philip K. Dick 2013, James Tiptree, Jr. 2013, Compton Crook 2014, Campbell 2014)
- The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (Best Novel Awards: Hugo 1976, Nebula 1975, Locus 1976)
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley
Title: Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus
Author: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
First Year Published: 1818
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley represents a divergence from the collection of novels we have listed so far. Each of those novels was marked by the extensive list of awards it had received.
Shelley’s novel has won none of the great science fiction awards, but Frankenstein is without a doubt one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time. To witness the novel’s greatness, we only need to look around.
As legend goes, Mary Shelley wrote the novel as part of a contest between family and friends when she was merely eighteen years old. The result has left its mark on the world ever since.
The novel is nearly two hundred years old and continues to impact society. It has saturated our culture and transcended the limits of ordinary novels. Nearly everyone we know is familiar with Frankenstein. They may not know the original story in great detail, but everyone knows that Doctor Frankenstein created a living monstrosity with his science.
Most have an image of a green man walking along with his arms outstretched as he blunders into one mess after another. Children still beg their parents to dress up as this incarnation of the Frankenstein Monster. In fact, many people simply refer to the monster as Frankenstein.
The truth of what hides beneath the cover of Mary Shelley’s novel is far from the perception. The basic story is accurate. Doctor Frankenstein does in fact create life through the use of science. He manages to cobble together a creature from the dead portions of other humans.
Where the monster popularized in our culture is a dumb force of nature, the creature in Shelley’s novel is intelligent and devious. It could be considered a genius, rivaling the intelligence of its creator.
Shelley explores the creation of life and the Doctor’s role as creator. She delves into broad-reaching philosophical subjects that are even more intriguing when you consider she was only eighteen when she wrote the novel.
Like the creature, the novel came to life and has been rampaging across the globe ever since it was published. The novel was so inspiring that countless plays, television shows, songs, radio shows, comic books, games, toys, stories, novels, and more than thirty-two movies have retold or continued the story of the creature and its creator.
The first adaptation appeared in 1826 just six years after it was first published. Henry Milner staged The Man and The Monster. From that point, it was clear that fans were hungry for science fiction.
The tropes of her novel can be found in fiction across every genre. Grand Master Isaac Asimov labeled the fear of robots as the Frankenstein Complex. There is even a breakfast cereal named after the Frankenstein monster.
Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein has saturated our culture so deeply, any one of us would be hard pressed to find a person over the age of ten who has never heard of Frankenstein.
Her creature, wrongly called Frankenstein, is one of the big two monsters. The other of course is Dracula. (Honorable mention to the Wolfman and the Mummy.)
In 2004, based largely on her creation of the novel Frankenstein, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley became a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.
No science fiction novel before, or since, has saturated society quite the way Frankenstein has. If you only know Frankenstein from its ever present position in our culture, I encourage you to read the original novel. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is certainly one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time.