Sci-fi books featuring insights into philosophy and religion
A Case of Conscience by James Blish (1958)
Jesuit priest comes across the perfect Christian planet where inhabitants are completely devoid of sin of any kind. The only problem is that they ain't got no religion - which really gnaws away at Father Ruiz-Sanchez who suspects that all this is the Devil's work. The stunning climax is sure to keep you thinking for many days afterward.
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein (1961)
No respectable hippie-era pad was complete without a copy of Stranger lying on a beanbag somewhere. Human raised by Martians arrives back on Earth, inherits a fortune and is indoctrinated by a Heinlein-like author. He becomes a messiah and free-love abounds. A controversial bestseller in its day and still manages to raise some eyebrows.
Hard to Be a God by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (1964)
Legendary Russian writers who used sci-fi stories to comment on the former Soviet Union. In the future, an Earth operative is sent to covertly observe a technologically stagnant planet stuck in the Middle Ages. Religion and faith are used as tools of oppression, but observers are not permitted to interfere with the natural development of the society. The result is a lesson learned the hard way.
The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C Clarke (1979)
Clarke's best work from his later years depicts the age-old conflict between man and God. Hotshot engineer wants to build a 36,000km high elevator to the outer-atmosphere. If technical, political and financial problems aren't enough - the only viable place to build it from happens to be a sacred mountain with a monastery on top.
VALIS by Philip K Dick (1981)
Drugged-out and nearing the end, Philip K Dick's version of religious anti-salvation may be a little hard for believers to take. God, as it turns out, is a virus perpetrated upon us by an orbiting satellite. The 'hero' goes looking for some theological solutions, thus giving the author the chance to have his somewhat bizarre psychedelic say.
Neverness by David Zindell (1988)
Like most good authors mathematician Zindell stuck with what he knew best for his stunning debut. The hero becomes a master pilot in the Order of Mystic Mathematicians and sets off into the cosmos where he runs into a computer goddess and learns a thing or two about immortality. In the city of Neverness he rebels against his father, the Lord Pilot. Heavy stuff at times.
Hyperion by Dan Simmons (1989)
Canterbury Tales in space. Human ascendancy in the galaxy is under siege as seven pilgrims set off for the Time Tombs to find the creature called Shrike. Along the way they trade their stories - each one harbouring a dark secret. Well constructed high-tech future that adroitly mixes religion and revelation into the plot. At the top of the class.
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (1996)
While the UN procrastinates, the Society of Jesus swings into action and sends out a first contact expedition after exquisite ET songs are picked up by a listening post. Forty years later in 2059 the lone surviving Jesuit returns to explain how it all went wrong. Russell compellingly challenges our convictions and humanity for the better.