Last time we looked at a small handful of future histories in science fiction. Here are some more peeks into our possible future and where to start reading them...
STEPHEN BAXTER'S XEELEE SEQUENCE
Stephen Baxter's future history describes mankind's expansion through the universe and our war with powerful aliens known as the Xeelee. The Xeelee, meanwhile, are also at war with photino birds, entities consisting of dark matter. The Xeelee sequence spans billions of years from the birth of the universe to its death. The first novel in the sequence, though not the first story in the timeline, Raft, is a good introduction.
ISAAC ASIMOV'S ROBOTS, EMPIRE AND FOUNDATION NOVELS
Isaac Asimov wrote his futuristic robot mysteries (the so-called Robot novels) and his science fiction version of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire (the Foundation series) as separate sequences. When he later tried to tie them together, it was not without its continuity problems, but that doesn't invalidate the scope of the story arc—a vision that takes humanity from its beginning as a space-faring race to an empire consisting of millions of planets. The Robot stories gave rise to several short puzzle stories and introduced Asimov's now-famous Three Laws of Robotics, while the Foundation series introduced fans to psychohistory, the scientific prediction of future behavior of very large groups of people like, say, a Galactic Empire seeking to preserve its existence. A good entry point to this future history is The Caves of Steel.
OCTAVIA BUTLER'S PATTERNIST SERIES
Octavia Butler's Patternist series, which begins in the Ancient Egyptian era and continues to the far future, outlines a future history with telepathic mind control, an extraterrestrial plague, bioengineering and psionic powers. Butler uses this rich background to explore ethical issues, spinning tales that are both cautionary and though-provoking. The series chronologically begins with Wild Seed.
LARRY NIVEN'S KNOWN SPACE SERIES
In Larry Niven's millennia-spanning future history, Known Space is the area surrounding Earth which has been explored by humans. But readers also get to see what's outside known space. A wide variety of alien races appear in the many Known Space books—like the Kzinti, aggressive tiger-like creatures; Pierson's Puppeteers, a race of three-legged, twin-necked herbivores with a musical language; and the Pak, our human ancestors—as do numerous worlds, including Ringworld, a huge artificial structure with millions of times Earth's surface area. Niven's future history is rife with technological marvels, too, like organ transplants, hyperdrive travel, stasis fields for suspended animation and boosterspice to counteract aging. Want to enter Known Space? Start with Ringworld.
GENE WOLFE'S SOLAR/URTH CYCLE
Gene Wolfe's epic series about our bleak, distant future consists of 12 novels grouped into three volumes. The first volume, The Book of the New Sun (consisting of five individual novels) is about the life of Severian, a torturer and a journeyman who was exiled from the torturer's guild for showing compassion to the condemned.
The second volume, The Book of the Long Sun (consisting of four novels), is about a priest who seeks to save his parish and becomes a revolutionary leader and prophet of his world, which is actually a generation starship. The third volume, The Book of the Short Sun, (consisting of three novels), deals with the search for this priest on the sister planets Blue and Green. The Urth Cycle is the series that cemented Wolfe's legacy as a master writer. Wolfe's textured and lyrical prose may prove challenging for some (an unreliable narrator doesn't help) but is infinitely rewarding. Newcomers should begin with The Shadow of the Torturer, the first novel in The Book of the New Sun sequence.
John DeNardo is the editor of SF Signal, a group science-fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews.