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Reading Recs: Imagine What Could Be

Welcome to Molecular Ideas, and thank you for sharing your time with us. Our post today explores several science fiction reading recommendations. These works reflect technologies, concepts, and worlds that could be real one day. If nothing else, they open our minds to different ways of thinking about the world from the inside out.

Our Recommendations at a Glance

To Boldly Go...

We talk often about not only being able to talk the talk, but also walk the walk. Some science fiction and fantasy franchises are notorious for simply developing an interesting premise, but failing to follow through in showing us the details of how events in a given world occur. In literature, we can call that entertaining; in business, it's called marketing. When not backed by data, it's called fraud.

So, why would we recommend that you spend your time indulging in science fiction and fantasy as a life science executive or entrepreneur?

The answer is best summarized by the laws of Arthur C. Clarke, co-author of the screenplay of 2001: A Space Odyssey (among many others):

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, they are almost certainly right. When they state that something is impossible, they are very probably wrong.

  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Each of these laws crystalizes a clear theme that entrepreneurs understand intuitively - the bounds we place on ourselves when we approach complex unmet medical needs defines our ability to solve them. The worlds of science fiction and fantasy may range in their realism by current standards, but have long served as a guidepost for where and how humanity develops.

Of course, one of the most prevalent and prescient examples of this in pop culture is Star Trek (shown above) - but every literary work has something to offer.

While time to read is so often limited, any of the books below would be worth your time, regardless of whether you are a science fiction veteran, or pioneering worlds for the first time.

Finally, please buy these books from local bookstores. They not only offer great shipping and competitive pricing, but bolster your local economy, serve as valuable community centers, and stand as bastions of learning. While I receive no kickbacks or commissions from sales, I recommend Northshire Bookstore and Parnassus Books. In addition to epitomizing the above, both have impeccable customer service.

If you do not know where to find your local bookstore, just look on IndieBound!

Our Top Pick

The Afflictions, by Vikram Paralkar, M.D.

Our Review

The Afflictions is a compendium of fantastical and magical diseases, written by a contemporary physician and scientist. As you follow a novice librarian leafing through this encyclopedia for the first time, you slowly find yourself immersed in a world wholly different and yet also not unlike our own. The book offers us a haunting view of our own humanity through the lens of the struggles we go through shape us - from pining over unrequited love to the temptations of dreams. Ultimately, the book empathy in the face of unimaginable suffering while expanding our outlook on what affects us all.

Three Words to Describe the Book

Wonderous | Haunting | Creative

Our Science Fiction & Fantasy Book List

Hyperion, by Dan Simmons

Our Review

The beginning of a four-part science fiction epic, told in the style of the Canterbury tales. Seven pilgrims set forth on a journey to the world of Hyperion - compelled by the forces of nonlinear time and their own past - to face their hopes, fears, and a mystical creature called the Shrike. At stake is the existence of life across a rich universe. The book has an almost indescribable dread to it as the Shrike hunts the pilgrims. It beautifully intertwines philosophy and complex medical, physical, and temporal science across an epic adventure.

Three Words to Describe the Book

Wonderous | Evocative | Cyberpunk

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

Our Review

An instant classic, exploring the effect of a post-apocalyptic earth following a uniquely virulent and deadly strain of flu. (FYI, it was written before COVID-19).

Amidst the stagnation and separation, a band of traveling Shakespeare performers attempts to bring connection, technology, and knowledge to the new world order. While the premise may sound grandiose, the writing is accessible, honest, and reflective of how any of us might act as everything we know crumbles around us. It also shows us how we can pick up the pieces.

Three Words to Describe the Book

Inspiring | Captivating | Suspenseful

Nemesis, by Issac Asimov

Our Review

A hidden gem in Asmiov's robust body of work, Nemesis is a space odyssey in the twenty-third century. In an age of humanity pioneering new colonies amongst the stars, one has broken away around an unknown red star two light-years from Earth.

The story follows a fifteen-year old prodigy who has uncovered a threat against Earth and the union of colonies in this renegade colony. Meanwhile, Asimov explores scientific mysteries ranging from warp physics to the biology of consciousness. The book has all the staples of modern science fiction - strong leads, compelling stories, and enough mystery to make you wonder about the boundaries of our universe.

Three Words to Describe the Book

Explorative | Thrilling | Practical

The Black Cloud, by Fred Hoyle

Our Review

The Black Cloud shows the how the pursuit of scientific knowledge can be noble and apolitical when faced with an apocalyptical crisis. We have never found that to be more relevant than during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While somewhat dated in its cultural references and perspectives on team diversity (it was published in 1957), it was remarkably prescient in its prediction of technical innovations to come over the next several decades. The story provides a blueprint for how scientists of different nationalities, backgrounds, and personal goals can come together for the benefit of humanity - and what those efforts cost them.

Three Words to Describe the Book

Philosophical | Clever | Eerie

The Overstory, by Richard Powers

Our Review

Okay, so this book won the Pulitzer Prize. If nothing else, that should be a reason to put it on your list. While not science fiction or fantasy per-se, The Overstory interweaves stories of everyday characters with the tone of a myth or fable. The characters are intricate, richly developed, and multidimensional, which makes for a series of beautiful vignettes.

Then, like a forest, the goals that root these characters to their sense of identity begin to intertwine, setting compelling and terrifying events in motion. The book is remarkably well-researched as a crash course in plant biology and shows us that we have more to learn from nature than can be learned in one lifetime.

Three Words to Describe the Book

Compelling | Hopeful | Epic

The Fifth Season (Broken Earth Trilogy #1), by N.K. Jemisin

Our Review

It's no secret that apocalypses are common in science fiction and fantasy. It's unusual when they are common. The Fifth Season is a mutigenerational, magical adventure in a world where the ground can literally shift beneath the characters at any moment. N.K. Jemisin brilliantly brings this tension to her readers. We follow Essun, a middle-aged woman with geomancy-like powers serve under and revolt against the world around her. All the while, we learn different meanings of family, belonging, and hope. The book has a wide cast of compelling and intriguing characters that will make watch your footing. It also won the Hugo Award - the highest accolade that can be bestowed upon a science fiction or fantasy writer.

Three Words to Describe the Book

Suspenseful | Imaginative | Epic

What are some of your favorite reads? Any books you'd recommend to check out? Sign up to leave a comment below!

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