The best sci-fi books that would make great movies

The Books I Picked & Why

The Forever War

By Joe Haldeman

Book cover of The Forever War

Why this book?

The Forever War was written as sort of a reply to Heinlein’s pro-Vietnam war screed, Starship Troopers. It’s the story of pacifist interstellar infantryman William Mandella. What’s not clear upfront is that traveling millions of light-years takes hundreds of real years. Each time he returns, society has drastically changed beyond his capacity to fit in.

I love the big picture social commentary about endless war, disposable veterans, and how society changes the rules for its fighting men and women. It’s also got aliens and explosions! There’s lots of cool action, thrilling battles, and interesting sci-fi concepts. It’s got your mech-suits, psychic aliens, and exotic physics. 

Ultimately, the heart of the film would be the star-crossed romance between Mandella and his lady friend Marygay. They struggle against circumstance and cosmic distances to build a love that defies Einstein’s theory of relativity.

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By Robert Charles Wilson

Book cover of Spin

Why this book?

Ever look up at the night sky and dream that maybe we’re enclosed in a giant alien membrane? Just me? Well, that’s the reality of Spin. Aliens trap the Earth in a time bubble. A colony on Mars zooms ahead of us technologically, and three young friends have to figure out - how and why? And did God do this?

The micro and macro level reactions to the sudden and miraculous events of “The Spin” are the most interesting aspects of this story. Friends drift apart as institutions fall asunder. Religious factions rise to make sense of it all. Human descendants return from Mars with thousands of years of bio-technical goodies to bestow on us. 

Engaging characters guide you through the twists and turns of a surprisingly human story. As the trio figures out what the Spin actually is, the conclusion is breathtaking and unexpected on the caliber of 2001.

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Darwin's Radio

By Greg Bear

Book cover of Darwin's Radio

Why this book?

This book appealed to me because it reversed the trope of looking backward at human evolution. To me, what humans might become is even more uncomfortable than thinking about what we were. Darwin’s Radio brings some interesting setup. A mysterious disease impacting newborns. The red herring of a search for a cure. The realization that the “Sheva” virus is the herald for a new version of humanity.

This story has plenty of room for government conspiracies, medical drama, and a family on the run. Its sequel Darwin's Children, takes the premise to the next level, showing us how humanity reacts to meeting our replacements. Spoiler alert – not well. 

The way that the next wave of humanity diverges is very compelling – different ways of communicating, different senses, different social organizations. They are like us but also, so much not like us. I like the combination of large-scale societal change, science drama, and family dynamics. At the end of the day, we’re all human… more or less.

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Rendezvous with Rama

By Arthur C. Clarke

Book cover of Rendezvous with Rama

Why this book?

This one has been kicking around for decades and I’m surprised it’s never been attempted before. A mysterious mega-object zooms through our solar system. We visit it and explore its mind-blowing interior. An incredible intelligence at work. Astronauts on an adventure. Unfathomable motives and a grand scale. It’s classic Arthur C. Clarke!

There’s a classic escape thriller at play here that would need to be jacked up beyond all the science porn. The machine is destined to leave the solar system. Can our astronauts overcome disaster and escape in time? 

To make this work, you’d need to infuse some of the elements from the later books to provide a concrete resolution. Or at least hint at one. No one wants to shrug at who the aliens were and what they wanted. We tried that with Prometheus and who wants to do that again?

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By Frank Herbert

Book cover of Dune

Why this book?

OK – so sue me. Dune had been about to premier for so long, that even though it has just come out, I still wonder if it all was just a spice-induced fever dream? Dune Part One was fabulous. Denis Villeneuve was the perfect guy to do it (see The Arrival and the magnificent Blade Runner 2049) and he was smart enough to only attempt the first half of the book. He also collected a who’s who of sci-fi actors – Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Jason Mamoa, Josh Brolin, Zendaya, and the list goes on.

Dune is about huge ideas, plots turning within plots, stunning visuals, and the potential of the human mind. In part one, he captured all that plus the feel of Dune. Eclipsing the spectacle of the David Lynch film was a feat in its own right. Finally doing justice to the tome that is Dune has been decades in the making. Now that part deux has just been greenlit, I’m hoping that Villeneuve can stick the landing and bring home the saga. Ride the worm, Denis!

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