The connection between engineers and science fiction (sci-fi) is undeniably akin to the bond between a parent and a child. Of course, it is anyone’s guess to determine who the child or parent is. That’s because, whatever your age, sci-fi can turn us all into highly imaginative and creative kids.
And it’s also a case of the age-old lament: “does art imitate life, or does life imitate art?”. From George Orwell to H.P. Lovecraft, Douglas Adams, and Stan Lee, fictional stories with fictional engineers have inspired real-world engineers and ordinary people for hundreds of years.
Many science fiction writers described and illustrated technology in their books that didn’t exist yet but is now part of our daily lives. It’s a big thanks to the engineers and scientists who saw more than just a good read but also the authors’ blueprint for our technological advancement.
So, with Science Fiction Day commemorated recently on 2 January 2023, here is a short list of sci-fi must-reads that engineers are going to love — perfect for stretching those beautiful engineering imaginations:
I, Robot – by Isaac Asimov
The impact of Asimov's work is indelible in this “fixup” novel of short stories about positronic robots, their interactions with humans, and the way the author’s famous “Three Laws of Robotics” influences robot psychology and behavior. It deals with positronic brains and the morality of Artificial Intelligence.
Asimov, who was also a biochemist and lecturer, was known for his optimism on the subject of robots and AI. Some of the stories in the collection deal more closely with anti-robot prejudices among human beings, while most others are about resolving anomalies in robot psychology as it pertains to the Three Laws, to which robots are slavishly bound.
Ready Player One – by Ernest Cline
Gaming engineers or game designers who are not already gaga about this book are going to love it. Set in the not-so-distant future, a virtual universe called OASIS has replaced in-person living. After OASIS creator James Halliday dies, his will leaves a series of easter eggs within the comprehensive system for OASIS users to find. The first one to see all three eggs wins his multi-billion-dollar fortune. Teenager Wade Watts dedicates his life to finding those eggs, but things get dangerous when cyber threats become real life-or-death situations. You’ve probably already seen the box-office-breaking movie of it, but even that doesn’t compare to the book.
The Martian – by Andy Weir
With aerospace engineering and the race for Mars dominating the new wires, this book is the embodiment of our times and what’s possibly to come with our space race. It perfectly blends modern advancements with yet-to-be-developed technologies that help push humanity into the next phase of space exploration.
Andy Weir is a master of his craft and should be praised for capturing the emotions of his audience through expert character and world-building throughout this novel which is told from the point of view of Mark Watney, a botanist and mechanical engineer who is abandoned on Mars by his team after being presumed dead. Super interesting read, especially if you like chemistry and other life sciences.
The Cross-time Engineer – by Leo Frankowski
This fun read is about an engineer who inadvertently finds himself time-traveling due to mistakes by the group that operates the time-travel mechanisms. Once he figures out where and when he is, he realizes that Mongols are going to invade in 10 years and kill everyone in Poland. So, he standardizes things by using his late 20th-century knowledge to improve on what he had in the world he came from in order to hold off the bloodthirsty sons of Genghis Khan.
Leo Frankowski isn't a brilliant prose stylist, and his central character, Conrad, isn't as fully woke as many in 2020 might expect him to be, but the book is heavy on the positive and simply fun to read. And you know, amid the dark fantasies and apocalyptic visions that dominate 21st-century science fiction, there's definitely a place for simple fun.
Pushing Ice – by Alastair Reynold
Featuring aerospace engineering and comet mining, what is there not love about this masterpiece by Welsh author Alastair Reynold? The story starts off in the not-too-distant future with the crew of a ship that mines comets.
When the Saturnian moon, Janus, suddenly pulls out of orbit around Saturn and starts heading for interstellar space it is apparent that it is not a moon at all but a long-dormant alien artifact. Only the mining crew is in a position to try and intercept the fleeing ship and get some sort of answer. It’s an entertaining read and a remarkably quick one that will be enjoyed by anyone; whether they are an engineer or not.
The Web Between the Worlds – by Charles Sheffield
Rob Merlyn, one of the best engineers who has ever lived, is asked to help create a space elevator. Add a few interesting settings such as gargantuan squid and high-tech science, and you have an unputdownable novel and a super-interesting universe. But is it a good story?
Of course, it is, especially considering the skill and talent of Charles Sheffield. And much of the science makes it a somewhat hard-science fiction story, which engineers and fellow sci-fi geeks are going to love. And when you are done with this, you will get equal joy and inspiration from the author’s The Compleat McAndrew, which is a collection of short stories that explore one or more areas of science and takes them to a future extreme.
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