The best brain ‘splosion sci-fi books

The Books I Picked & Why

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

By Douglas Adams

Book cover of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Why this book?

I’m convinced Douglas Adams peered across the Atlantic and into my soul before typing out this radio drama and subsequent novel, because his story resonated to perfection. I first saw the round green cover guy, thumbs in ears and tongue protruding in mockery, on my grandmother’s kitchen table. Her taste in literature helped me learn the foreign and delicious flavor of British comedy. Wry humor about physics made a connection I’d never had before. Douglas Adams showed me I wasn’t alone in the universe.

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The Time Traveler's Wife

By Audrey Niffenegger

Book cover of The Time Traveler's Wife

Why this book?

Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy was a good movie first and superhero flick second, which made it my favorite action film at the time. Similarly, Audrey Niffenegger’s debut novel nudged time travel from the main focus to a clever plot device used to explore a romantic relationship. More interested in the sci-fi at first, I was soon fascinated by how she wove it into the story with such subtlety and skill. Much the way Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh featured a blended family in Phineas and Ferb without making a big deal out of it. Niffenegger’s story also reframed my own view of chronology and of my relationships. Such world-building! So much character depth! So real to me it felt more biography than anything else.

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Jurassic Park

By Michael Crichton

Book cover of Jurassic Park

Why this book?

Michael Crichton taught me more about biology than all my previous teachers combined. Genetic manipulation? Dinosaurs? My high school brain ate it all up. Mr. Crichton is a big reason I developed an interest in medicine. That led to a high school internship with a radiology technician at a hospital, and eventually grad school to become a physician assistant. I later learned Crichton was a Harvard-trained medical doctor who chose writing over treating patients. After the COVID-19 pandemic, I can see the appeal.

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Out of the Silent Planet

By C.S. Lewis

Book cover of Out of the Silent Planet

Why this book?

C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite people. He was of the British generation who endured Nazi air raids and was the first-ever to halt the advance of Hitler’s army. Narnia! Inklings! Noted by Tolkien as a critical supporter of Middle-Earth’s creation!

Out of the Silent Planet fascinated me as a work of history as much as sci-fi. Through Lewis’ eyes, we get a glimpse of humanity’s circa 1930s grasp of interplanetary physics, cosmic radiation, and aerospace medicine. At the risk of exposing my chronocentric arrogance, it was much more detailed and accurate than I expected. At times, it seems one of the antagonists is meant to represent scientific endeavors as a whole. If so, Lewis has contributed to a culture that has made my past and present jobs as a biology teacher and physician assistant much more difficult. However, do I detect a well-placed jab at Britain’s history of imperialistic colonialism? All is forgiven!

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Almost Super

By Marion Jensen

Book cover of Almost Super

Why this book?

Rafter, Benny, and Juanita protagonate (yep, that’s a word) in a bizarre amalgamated world that could have been dreamed up by Stan Lee, the Andy Griffith Show writers, and Beverly Cleary. Dreamed up as a joke. Abandoned with a good comeraderific laugh (also a word). Then picked up, dusted off, and polished by Marion Jensen. But that’s not what happened. Jensen created the whole adventurous, hilarious, uplifting, good-buddy superhero story with his own solitary brain. My kids and I have laughed at his story many times.

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