Figuring Out The Future By Reading Sci-Fi From The Past

I’ve decided to read a bunch of old science fiction as a way to form some more diverse views of the future.

I’ve been reading science fiction since I was a kid. I probably started around age ten and was a voracious reader of sci-fi and fantasy in high school. I’ve continued on as an adult, estimating that 25% of what I read is science fiction.

My early diet was Asimov, Heinlein, Harrison, Pournelle, Niven, Clarke, Sterling and Donaldson. When I was on sabbatical a few years ago in Bora Bora I read about 40 books including Asimov’s I Robot, which I hadn’t read since I was a teenager.

I’m almost done with Liu’s The Dark Forest which is blowing my mind. Yesterday morning I came across a great interview from 1999 with Arthur C. Clarke. A bunch of dots connected in my mind and I decided to go backwards to think about the future.

I don’t think we can imagine what things will be like 50 years from now and I’m certain we have no clue what a century from now looks like. So, whatever we believe is just random shit we are making up. And there’s no better way to come across random shit that people are making up than by reading sci-fi, which, even if it’s terribly incorrect, often stimulates really wonderful and wide ranging thoughts for me.

So I thought I’d go backwards 50+ years and read sci-fi written in the 1950s and 1960s. I, Robot, written in 1950, was Asimov’s second book so I decided to start with Pebble In the Sky (his first book, also written in 1950). After landing on Amazon, I was inspired to buy the first ten books by Asimov, which follow.

Pebble In The Sky (1950)
I, Robot (1950)
The Stars, Like Dust (1951)
Foundation (1951)
David Starr, Space Ranger (1952)
Foundation and Empire (1952)
The Currents of Space (1952)
Biochemistry and Human Metabolism w/Williams & Wilkins (1952)
Second Foundation (1953)
Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids (1953)

They are all sci-fi except Biochemistry and Human Metabolism written with Williams & Wilkins in 1952. I bought it also, just for the hell of it.

I bought them all in paperback and am going to read them as though I was reading them in the 1950s (on paper, without any interruptions from my digital devices) and see what happens in my brain. I’ll report back when I’m finished (or maybe along the way).

If this list inspires you with any sci-fi books from the 1950s or 1960s, toss them in the comments and I’ll grab them.

  • Arkady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky novels like “Hard to be a God”.

  • I haven’t read any of those, but would love your recommendations. 🙂

  • Patricia

    John Brunner: Stand on Zanzibar

    • rick gregory

      and Shockwave Rider.

  • Toby Lewis

    Enjoy. Sounds like great fun.

    I read Foundation as a teenager and absolutely loved it. A guy I really like is Stanislaw Lem, while Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is a favourite book of mine, probably because I loved Bladerunner so much before reading it, the book came alive. JG Ballard’s early novel the Drowned World is pretty interesting, although fairly low tech, more apocalyptic, from memory.

  • NovySan

    Careful. I’ll start assigning you engineering homework to build some of those things. 😉

  • Scott Sandler

    I would love to know what you think of Frederick Pohl’s Gateway triology.

  • I’ve been on a non-stop sci-fi bender for a while now; few years ago I started noticing fascinating parallels in older sci-fi with what is happening now. If you want your mine to be blown I can’t recommend Vernor Vinge’s novels enough, in particular Rainbows End, which is slowly becoming reality with the advent of things like Hololens and Magic Leap and other VR stuff.

    (Blatant plug: I started collecting quotes and embarked on something of a web/art project called “Words From Tomorrow”, part of the intent of which was to publish this kind of stuff with the view to exploring these parallels. I haven’t gotten around to it in any great detail yet, but some of the quotes I’ve been collecting are up in basic form at )

  • Phil Clare

    For a dystopian counterpoint, the short stories of Philip K Dick are worth leafing through, to remind ourselves that good technology has many uses, some with unpredictable outcomes. I got them in five volumes: Beyond Lies the Wub, Second Variety, the Father Thing, The Days of Perky Pat, and one other I forget. I love his titles too.

  • Mason Jones

    Like you, I started early reading my way through the “classic” SF. When I was in junior high I started with Clarke, then Heinlein, Asimov, Niven, Pournelle, et al, reading through each author one at a time. I’ve gone back and read bits and pieces. I’m not sure Asimov in chronological order’s going to work (there’s some pretty questionable stuff in there) but I’ll look forward to hearing what you think. I definitely recommend doing the same with Clarke — wonderful work in there with a solid scientific background. I’d also recommend Niven’s Tales of Known Space works — some of the thoughts on the social impact of teleportation, for example, are great and the stories are good fun as well. Then there’s Pohl, Ben Bova, Hal Clement…so much there. Keep the recommendations of new authors coming too!

  • StevenHB

    I know that you tend to go for “near-future” science fiction but I like a good time-travel story, too. Thrice Upon a Time ( is a personal favorite from when I was a voracious sci-fi reader in junior high and high school.

    In addition to the authors you list (Heinlein, in particular, rocked my world), I also enjoyed a lot of Jack Chalker in that time period, particularly the Well of Souls and Four Lords of the Diamond series.

  • Craig T. Wood

    Vonnegut’s PLAYER PIANO (1952) is an astoundingly prescient look at a future world in which a machine (AI) has solved the world’s greatest problems, including war. What is the point of humanity? What can go wrong when so much is entrusted to the machine?

  • Ringworld et. Al by Niven. The first two are the best. I reread the Foundation trilogy last summer during vaca. Its amazing how that book series maps onto our current world.

  • D Chandler

    If your going to dive into Asimov, you need to add his robot novels from that time: The Caves of Steel (1953) and The Naked Sun (1955). I also recommend his favorite, The Gods Themselves, but that is from 1972.

  • Sebastien Latapie

    Looking forward to your thoughts! I’ve been looking for more sci-fi reads, will probably pick a few of these up.

  • Steve Lincoln

    I remember reading Pebble in the Sky back in the 70’s in high school. For younger kids, there is Asimov’s short story, “The Fun They Had,” in which students are taught/graded by a computer, rather than a human teacher. I recently re-discovered that one in my son’s 7th Grade English textbook.

  • Ray Bradbury, Heinlen, Orwell, Vonnegut were my go to’s. I didn’t find out until I was older that Slaughterhouse Five was based on Vonnegut’s real life observations when he was a WW2 POW seeing the firebombing of Dresden.

  • Scott Carr

    My “go to” series as a teenager was E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman series ( The first book, Triplanetary, was published in 1948 (actually in four parts starting in 1934). It was a runner-up for the Hugo Award for best all-time series, but lost to the Foundation series by Asimov. Worth a read as you look forward by reading back!

  • Can’t wait to hear your review of The Foundation trilogy. I just reread it over the winter break.

    Trouble with your experiment is that Azimov always feels 100 years away, as compared with Clarke, whose scifi has in part already come true.

  • I just read the entire Foundation series for the first time and absolutely loved it (with a few grumbles about the direction it takes in the later books). It blew my mind to think about it being written in 50’s and how un-dated it all felt right from the start.

    I’d highly recommend adding Vonnegut’s The Sirens Of Titan (1959) to the list – I love this quote by Douglas Adams about it: “Sirens of Titan is just one of those books – you read it through the first time and you think it’s very loosely, casually written. You think the fact that everything suddenly makes such good sense at the end is almost accidental. And then you read it a few more times, simultaneously finding out more about writing yourself, and you realize what an absolute tour de force it was, making something as beautifully honed as that appear so casual.”

    P.S. Reading is even better in a hammock – I’ve still got one for you whenever you want it!

    • Piet Nel

      Seth, it wasn’t even written in the fifties, but mostly in the forties! The first three books consist almost entirely of stories that were separately published in the 1940s. All Asimov did was to write an extra bit for the first book, and to tinker slightly here and there so that the other stories would blend together as a book.

  • Not sure why you limit yourself to only going back to the 50’s. The Gloden Age of Fiction was reportedly from 1938 to 1946; and some of the Pulp stuff in the 30’s was quite palatable as well.

  • Peter Neame

    A memorable read is Frank Herbert’s Dune, although this should perhaps be in science fantasy.

    Older – Clifford Simak’s very gentle stories “City” and “Way Station”

    Always enjoy your reading lists, Brad.

  • Glenn Neal

    [Not book written in old times, but movie about old times] Watch ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ – part when they talk about staff being the wrong height.

  • Solaris by Stanislaw Lem is deep and disturbing.
    The film by Tarkovsky is great, the later US version not so much.

  • Gregory Brassil

    I’m two thirds through yet another re-read of Dune. Draws me in so thoroughly every time.

  • Arsenio Martins Filho

    I haven’t read any of those, but would love your recommendations.

  • Rebecca Carmi

    Rite of Passage (1968) by Alexei Panshin, had a major impact on me when I found it in middle school. Yes to both Dune and Ringworld series. Two brilliant books from the 90’s: China Mountain Zhang (1992) by Maureen McHugh and Slow River (1995) by Nicola Griffith. New series worth reading: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie.

  • Gino Sorcinelli

    I love reading your book reviews and posts. I always learn something and I appreciate how you advocate for the importance of reading fiction as well as non-fiction. Your post inspired me to pick up Reach for Tomorrow (1956) and The Deep Range (1957) by Arthur C. Clarke. Just picked them up yesterday, will post my thoughts once I’ve read them.