Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Coronavirus, the COVID-19 Outbreak, and Science Fiction

A global pandemic sounds like, and occasionally has been, the stuff of science fiction.  Science fiction is all about asking questions and pushing boundaries, speculating and considering, positing and challenging, making social commentary, dreaming up worlds or taking them apart.  Suppose the already dangerous COVID-19 was even more dangerous and that it was unleashed on a society in the near future.  Then push the idea further.  What would happen if a massive plague were to spread across the world as an unstoppable force, causing destruction and chaos wherever it went, in a time when the world was the capitol of a galactic empire?  Or when humanity was busy colonizing other planets?  What if the disease was discovered in another system and accidentally — or intentionally — carried back to the homeworld?  And then expand on that: what if the pandemic lingered?  What if the virus mutated into something else altogether, not a flu or cold or respiratory attack, but something that altered the thought patterns or anatomy of its victims?

Science fiction tackles these types of questions head-on.  The genre compels us to journey through scenarios that actually can happen or those that seem much too far-fetched to be real.  Sometimes, reading SF (science fiction, not San Francisco) leads us to think completely differently.  Mind-bending twists and turns, feats of the imagination, amazing technology, virtually everything is possible in the narrative.  Of course, the science fiction story may be an overtly speculative story, and it might pose a situation just like the one we have happening in our world right now: a worldwide pandemic of unknown impact.  COVID-19 is going to shape generations and societies one way or another, like it or not.  How?  Science fiction is not afraid to ask the question and to explore a multitude of answers.

Maybe you're finding yourself wanting to escape the pandemic by exploring other questions and answers in science fiction.  Perhaps you're itching for some excitement and travel, and need a good book or short story to launch you on your way.  Or maybe you stumbled on this post by accident looking for more information on Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series, in pre-production for Apple TV+, or on Arthur C. Clarke's vision of the space elevator.  Whatever the case, here's a short list of some great classic science fiction titles to help you get started with the genre or pass the time while in  Coronavirus quarantine.  If you're a veteran of SF, this list has some classics you might have missed.  Murray Leinster and E. E. "Doc" Smith, anyone?

A Quarantine Short List of Science Fiction:

Against the Fall of Night, by Arthur C. Clarke
Citizen of the Galaxy, by Robert A. Heinlein
Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov
Lensman Series, by E. E. "Doc" Smith
Lest Darkness Fall, by L. Sprague de Camp
"The New Utopia," by Jerome K. Jerome
"Sidewise in Time," by Murray Leinster
"Slips Take Over," by Miriam Allen deFord
Space Trilogy, by C. S. Lewis
Time Patrol Series, by Poul Anderson

"Times Without Number," by John Brunner
"To Serve Man," by Damon Knight

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