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Alien Invasions and Future Worlds: Classic British Science Fiction

Posted on 3rd December 2019 by Mark Skinner

Now that the grandstanding televisual production of The War of the Worlds has concluded, the time is ripe for some more old-school speculative storytelling. From H.G. Wells to J.G. Ballard, the Golden Age of British Sci-Fi produced some magnificent flights of imaginative fancy and searing allegorical critiques of contemporary society. We suggest some of the very best below, starting off with the pioneer who started it all...  

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The ultimate alien invasion story, Wells’s electrifying yarn has been oft imitated but never bettered. Expertly combining the minutiae of late- Victorian England with the spectacular arrival of dazzlingly imagined extra-terrestrial beings, The War of the Worlds is a triumph of set piece action and pulsating atmosphere.
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Flatland takes place in a world where only length and breadth exist and where a mysterious visitor in three dimensions threatens to forever to collapse the natives’ conception of themselves. A waspish parody of Victorian society clad in a lively futuristic fable, Flatland broke new ground for the fledgling sci-fi genre.
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One of the most breathtakingly ambitious literary projects in the annals of science fiction, Stapledon’s magnum opus is nothing less than an account of humanity over the course of the next two billion years. Wildly imaginative and staggeringly comprehensive in scope, Last and First Men is an unparalleled feat of speculative fiction.
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A classic sci-fi dystopia that started out as a parody of H.G. Wells’s Utopian novels, Brave New World is a savage critique of the fallacy of the perfect state, the vogue for genetic engineering and the idea of the noble savage. Brimming with satirical concepts that have been borne out by the passage of time, Huxley’s masterpiece is as relevant now as it ever has been.
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Orwell’s brilliantly bleak future vision of totalitarianism is arguably the greatest of all literary dystopias. Nineteen Eighty-Four contrived to look back to the Stalinist purges of the 1930s whilst simultaneously predicting with uncanny accuracy the worst excesses of the Cold War-era Soviet Union. A textbook example of a novel you really must read.
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A devastating post-apocalyptic vision of a blinded society and insatiable carnivorous flora, The Day of the Triffids remains John Wyndham’s signature work and for good reason. Haunting, suspenseful and relentlessly frightening, this is paranoid dystopian adventure writ large - with socio-political trimmings thrown in for good measure.
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The master of British science fiction weaves a complex, philosophical epic about humanity’s benevolent subjugation and the ultimate corrosion of individuality. Audaciously structured and brilliantly envisioned, Childhood’s End stands as one of the genre’s most profound statements.
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A planet driven to the brink by famine is chillingly rendered by Christopher in this landmark post-apocalyptic thriller. Noted as much for its psychological acuity and jet-black political satire as its compelling adventure and inspired world building, The Death of Grass’s legacy continues to endure.
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A collection of five novellas originally published in science fiction magazines, Hothouse is the most complete encapsulation of Aldiss’s futuristic vision. Describing an earth stuck with one side permanently facing the sun, and the desperate quest of a small tribe to cross from light to dark, this is a scintillating slice of ‘golden age’ sci-fi.
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A short, scalpel sharp novel, A Clockwork Orange takes the totalitarianism of Orwell and ramps up the nihilism and ultraviolence. Alex and his teenage droogs rampage around a futuristic dystopia, committing appalling acts of brutal cruelty. The unfolding story unpacks issues of social conditioning and psychopathy with infinite style.
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The most striking example of the pure science fiction of Ballard’s early period, The Drowned World envisages a London submerged under swamps and vegetation and a rogue scientist strangely reluctant to reverse the climatic process. Stunningly original and intensely thoughtful, The Drowned World propelled Ballard into the front rank of science fiction writers.
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