We all have books we’re “going to get around to someday.” Well that someday is right now. Many of us suddenly have some extra free time to fill thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. And there’s nothing like a great sci-fi novel to help you get away from the world, especially when you’re stuck inside. And it’s even better when you don’t have to spend a dime to get your hands on some of the best ever written. Here are classic science-fiction books you can download for free right now at Project Gutenberg.
The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds (H.G. Wells)
H.G. Wells, “the father of science-fiction,” created both the alien invasion and time machine genres. And the founding tales of both absolutely hold up. The Time Machine is an exciting and poignant adventure about life. The War of the Worlds remains a terrifying and intense examination of mankind’s hubris and frailty. You can also download all of Wells’ other stories, including classics like The Island of Doctor Moreau and The Invisible Man. There’s a reason his tales are still being adapted for the screen.
Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)
Speaking of classics that hold up, Mary Shelley’s seminal work Frankenstein continues to be a must-read, and not just for sci-fi fans. It’s an all-time great work. The Gothic horror novel is as powerful today as it was when an 18-year-old Shelley (18!) first conceived the idea about a mad scientist creating life from nothing. You can follow that up with her post-apocalyptic futuristic novel The Last Man. It was panned by critics when it was first released, but the author listed it among her personal favorites. Later generations agreed with her.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson)
Enjoy a Gothic horror double (reading) feature by following up Shelley’s Frankenstein with Robert Louis Stevenson’s iconic The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The memorable mystery about the good Doctor and the evil Edward Hyde has become a part of our common vernacular for a reason. And if you’re looking for another classic from Stevenson you can check out his epic fantasy tale Treasure Island.
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth (Jules Verne)
Along with H.G. Wells, science fiction can trace its origins back to the legendary Jules Verne. And his most famous works, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth, are still staples of the genre Whether you’ve read them before or only know the stories from other sources, they don’t disappoint. There’s a reason they inspired Doc Brown. You can also download other great works of his, including From the Earth to the Moon and his adventure classic Around the World in Eighty Days.
Youth (Isaac Asimov)
Isaac Asimov’s most famous works aren’t yet in the public domain. But you can still enjoy his novella Youth. One of his few works featuring alien characters, it’s a great way to experience one of the true titans of the genre. We don’t want to spoil what happens, but its themes are as relevant to the world today as they have ever been. And the ending is just as powerful.
Second Variety (Philip K. Dick)
We have to wait a few more years for more of Phillip K. Dick’s most famous works to be available for free. But like with Isaac Asimov, you can still enjoy one of sci-fi’s most prolific authors with his novella Second Variety. It takes place in a future wasteland, the result of nuclear war between the United Nations and Soviet Union. And it features sentient, self-replicating assassin robots. Talk about an easy sell. You can also download other works of his, including his short stories “The Hanging Stranger” and “The Eyes Have It.”
Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (Edwin Abbott)
Edwin Abbott’s satirical novella, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, was not appreciated when it was first published in 1884. It took a few decades for it to become a classic, which it remains to this day. The story set in two-dimensional world was a biting commentary on Victorian England. But it also works as an insightful work on dimensions and space. It’s as entertaining as it is fascinating and informative.
Omega: The Last Days of the World (Camille Flammarion)
Set in the 25th century, Camille Flammarion’s Omega: The Last Days of the World explores what happens when civilization faces its end. The story explores what happens when a comet threatens to collide with Earth, destroying all life. The sci-fi novel deals with the political issues that arise with the possible end of the world, as well as the philosophical questions mankind would also deal with. It might have been published in 1894, but it’s not hard to see why it’s relevant today.
And it’s a great reminder that the only “someday” any of us is guaranteed is “today.” So now is the time to read that book you’ve always wanted to.
What other sci-fi books in the public domain would you recommend? Share yours in the comment below.