A cruel, mean-spirited thought entered my mind this morning. It was so heartbreaking I just had to share it with you.
What if, in some bizarro Rod Serling moment, you were marooned on an island. You had plenty of supplies to live out your life to a long old age, so food, water, and shelter were not problem. The problem was in this nightmarish world you could only choose five of the books in the Bible to have with you. It is a similar conundrum to the ubiquitous “” where you’re stranded and can only have five albums of music.
Told another way–perhaps you’re stuck in a bleak story, something like Fahrenheit 451, and you can only have five books of the Bible because that is all you can safely hide from the book police.
Which five would you take? It is heartbreaking because the whole Bible is precious, a “perfect treasure” that is linked to my very being. So which ones? If I had to make such a choice, here is what they would be.
Psalms. Without a doubt, if I’m on a desert island, I’m gonna need Psalms–all 150 of them.
Isaiah. It was close between Jeremiah and Isaiah, but in the end I decided the poetics of Isaiah would be helpful in my exile.
Exodus. I can’t have both Genesis and Exodus, and while Genesis is a great book, I think I’d take Exodus because it contains the great deliverance story of Israel, the decalogue, and a lot of other spiritual data.
Luke. John. Luke. John. See, this one is tough. Of the synoptics, Luke is the easy choice, but choosing between Luke and John, now that is hard. I need a gospel on this island, and in the end I chose John simply because of the devotional, meditative quality of the material.
Romans. Of course it is Romans. Romans contains such dense theological material and it is littered with many scripture quotations (which gives me insight into other books I couldn’t choose) all of which allows me plenty to chew on on this imaginary island.
I sure hope I never have to make this choice. I would be interested to know what choices you would make?
The first book I ever read, from cover to cover, was H. G. Well’s War of the Worlds. From that moment on, I was hooked.
It is dangerous to compose a list of favorites for science fiction because sci-fi readers are the most opinionated and passionate of enthsiasts. I’ve seen near-death blows exchanged as people argue over the right genre category for something.
“It’s dystopia, you idiot,” he replied.
His friend, undaunted, said, “Moron. Any fool can clearly understand that this is science fantasy.”
Their co-worker called out in an angry voice from across the room, “Both of you are unlearned Philistines. This bit of speculative fiction is neither. It is quite simply superhero fiction. There is nothing science about it, I will admit to a layer of fantasy, but that is merely an homage to Tolkien.”
These divisions can be as angry and emotional as theological debates between Calvinists and Arminians. I’ve never seen Sherlock Holmes fans go after Harry Potter fans fans like that.
Complicating it even more, most people have their favorite work or writer to whom they are loyal. Stalwarts will point to Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and say that after them, everyone else is just a copycat. People who love Frank Herbert’s Dune will never back down from the opinion that it is the greatest science fiction ever, just as those who think that Authur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is the best ever will never admit anything other than that could possibly be worthy of honor. Into this contentious field, I now submit my three favorite science fiction books.
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451 is not the most enjoyable Ray Bradbury book for me. That distinction goes to The Martian Chronicles. I really enjoy The Martian Chronicles, they are fun and playful. However, Fahrenheit 451 is rated above it because deep in my gut I appreciate the societal commentary and meaning of it. Fahrenheit 451 is therefore a better book than The Martian Chronicles and bumps it up on my favorites list.
A Canticle For Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller
I love this book for three reasons. The first reason is that it seriously deals with the tension, in metaphor and in plot, between science and faith. The second reason is that as a historian, the book credibly and I might add, persuasively, creates a historical timeline of societal progress. The third reason is that the name of the kingdom that emerges from post-atomic war America is called Texarkana. As an East Texas boy, all I can say is that is very cool.
Nightfall, Isaac Asimov
Okay, I’m cheating here. Nightfall is not a book. It is a short story that Asimov wrote in 1941. Fifty years later it was turned into a novel, but I’m not interested in that. The short story Nightfall is perhaps the most fully developed and well-told short ever. In that single work we can find all of the themes that later will find their way into Asimov’s Robots and Foundation novels–the tension between science, belief, and the dysfunction of human society. Nightfall is sometimes referred to as the greatest science fiction story every written. I do believe that given the body of work, Asimov stands head and shoulder as the greatest science fiction writer ever.
As you can probably tell, I have a specific taste for science fiction of the mid-20th century. There was something about the intensity of the writing during that time period that was fresh, innovative, and if I may be so bold, prophetic. It was as if these writers, with one foot in the pre-technological world before mass communication and atomic weapons and one foot in it, are giving scalding commentary on the modern life we now live. We can’t see ourselves today as clearly as they saw us 60 years ago.