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If you’ve got two humans in a room, you’ve got politics. Politics is about governing, which relies on someone being of a higher status, and as social creatures, we are intensely aware of both our status and others’.

If there’s any consistent direction in the past ten thousand years of human civilization, it’s that our societies are getting more and more complex. More complexity leads to more politics, so as we barrel down the razor-blade-lined Slip-n-Slide of time into the future, politics is only going to become a larger influencer in everyone’s lives. Bleah.

21
by Joe Haldeman – 1974

The Forever War is a science fiction allegory for the Vietnam War, written from the perspective of a reluctant participant in the middle of a seemingly endless war while the world back home changes beyond recognition.

“To say that The Forever War is the best science fiction war novel ever written is to damn it with faint praise. It is, for all its techno-extrapolative brilliance, as fine and woundingly genuine a war story as any I’ve read.”
— William Gibson, author of Neuromancer

20
by Frederik Pohl & C. M. Kornbluth- 1953

The planet Venus has just been visited and judged fit for human settlement, despite its inhospitable surface and climate; colonists would have to endure a harsh climate for many generations until the planet could be terraformed.

(This was written in 1953, so be gentle on its vision of Venus as something other than a lead-melting sulphuric-acid-raining hellhole.)

Mitch Courtenay is a star-class copywriter in the Fowler Schocken advertising agency and has been assigned the ad campaign that would attract colonists to Venus, but a lot more is happening than he knows about. Mitch is soon thrown into a world of danger, mystery, and intrigue, where the people in his life are never quite what they seem, and his loyalties and core beliefs will be put to the test.

“A classic.”
― The New York Times

19
by Robert A. Heinlein – 1966

This book is widely considered to be Heinlein’s crowning achievement and one of the most important science fiction novels ever written. The plot centers around a lunar colony’s revolt against rule from Earth, but is packed with politics, questionable behavior, and a fully-imagined future human society that must deal with being on two worlds.

18
by C.J. Cherryh – 1981

This Hugo winner was cited as one of the top 50 science fiction novels of all time by Locus magazine (who hands out a prestigious award every year that’s just a little less recognized than the Hugo or Nebula).

Often described as an excellent novel that just happens to take place on a space station, Downbelow Station is filled with realistic characters under incredible amounts of stress, living on a vulnerable but supremely important space station in the middle of a war.

Downbelow Station is one of Cherryh’s Union-Alliance novels. While separate and complete in themselves, they are part of a much larger tapestry—a future history spanning 5,000 years of human civilization.

“Cherryh tantalizes our minds…captures our hearts and involves us completely…a consistently thoughtful and entertaining writer.”
— Publishers Weekly

17
by David Brin – 1983
Of all the species in the universe, none has ever reached for the stars without the guidance of a patron—except perhaps mankind. Did some mysterious race begin the uplift of humanity aeons ago? And if so, why did they abandon us?

In these three books (Sundiver, Startide Rising, and The Uplift War) humanity explores the universe to discover its own origins.

The politics in these three books are multispecies and reach across whole galaxies.

“The Uplift books are as compulsive reading as anything ever published in the genre.”
— The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

16
by Frederic Brown – 1953

An aging astronaut tries to get his beloved space program back on track after Congress has cut off the funds for it—an accurate prediction of the actual conditions for a space program, written at a time when many SF writers still tended to ignore or downplay the financial side of spaceflight.

15
by Cory Doctorow – 2008

Seventeen-year-old Marcus is wise to the ways of the networked world, and has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they are mercilessly interrogated for days.

When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.

“Doctorow throws off cool ideas the way champagne generates bubbles…[he] definitely has the goods.”
— San Francisco Chronicle

14
by Paolo Bacigalupi – 2009

The politics in The Windup Girl is more interpersonal than some other books on this list, but I still think it belongs here.

Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen’s Calorie Man in Thailand. Undercover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok’s street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history’s lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko. Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.

“This complex, literate and intensely felt tale, which recalls both William Gibson and Ian McDonald at their very best, will garner Bacigalupi significant critical attention and is clearly one of the finest science fiction novels of the year.”
— Publishers Weekly

13
by Genevieve Valentine – 2016

When Suyana, Face of the United Amazonia Rainforest Confederation, is secretly meeting Ethan of the United States for a date that can solidify a relationship for the struggling UARC, the last thing she expected was an assassination attempt. Daniel, a teen runaway turned paparazzi out for his big break, witnesses the first shot that hit Suyana, and before he can think about it, he jumps into the fray, telling himself it’s not altruism, it’s the scoop. Now Suyana and Daniel are in a race to save their lives, spin the story, and secure the future of their young country.

“Blending celebrity and international diplomacy in a near-future Paris, Valentine crafts an intimate thriller.”
— Publishers Weekly

12
by Ian McDonald – 2015

The Moon wants to kill you.

Maybe it will kill you when the per diem for your allotted food, water, and air runs out, just before you hit paydirt. Maybe it will kill you when you are trapped between the reigning corporations—the Five Dragons—in a foolish gamble against a futuristic feudal society. On the Moon, you must fight for every inch you want to gain. And that is just what Adriana Corta did.

As the leader of the Moon’s newest “dragon,” Adriana has wrested control of the Moon’s Helium-3 industry from the Mackenzie Metal corporation and fought to earn her family’s new status. Now, in the twilight of her life, Adriana finds her corporation—Corta Helio—confronted by the many enemies she made during her meteoric rise. If the Corta family is to survive, Adriana’s five children must defend their mother’s empire from her many enemies… and each other.

“McDonald creates a complex and fascinating civilization featuring believable technology, and the characters are fully developed, with individually gripping stories.”
― Publishers Weekly (starred review)

11
by Anthony Burgess – 1962

A vicious fifteen-year-old droog is the central character of this 1963 classic. In Anthony Burgess’s nightmare vision of the future, the criminals take over after dark. The story is told by Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends’ social pathology.

A Clockwork Orange is about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. When the state undertakes to reform Alex to “redeem” him, the novel asks, “At what cost?”

“A brilliant novel… a savage satire on the distortions of the single and collective minds.”
— New York Times

10
by Yevgeny Zamyatin – 1924

Along with Jack London’s The Iron Heel, We is generally considered to be the grandfather of the satirical futuristic dystopia genre.

In the One State of the great Benefactor, there are no individuals, only numbers. Life is an ongoing process of mathematical precision, a perfectly balanced equation. Primitive passions and instincts have been subdued. Even nature has been defeated, banished behind the Green Wall. But one frontier remains: outer space. Now, with the creation of the spaceship Integral, that frontier—and whatever alien species are to be found there—will be subjugated to the beneficent yoke of reason.

One number, D-503, chief architect of the Integral, decides to record his thoughts in the final days before the launch for the benefit of less advanced societies. But a chance meeting with the beautiful I-330 results in an unexpected discovery that threatens everything D-503 believes about himself and the One State: the discovery—or rediscovery—of inner space… and that disease the ancients called the soul.

9
by Max Barry – 2002

Taxation has been abolished, the government has been privatized, and employees take the surname of the company they work for. It’s a brave new corporate world, but you don’t want to be caught without a platinum credit card—as lowly Merchandising Officer Hack Nike is about to find out. Trapped into building street cred for a new line of $2500 sneakers by shooting customers, Hack attracts the barcode-tattooed eye of the legendary Jennifer Government. A stressed-out single mom, corporate watchdog, and government agent who has to rustle up funding before she’s allowed to fight crime, Jennifer Government is holding a closing down sale—and everything must go.

“Funny and clever…. A kind of ad-world version of Dr. Strangelove…. [Barry] unleashes enough wit and surprise to make his story a total blast.”
— The New York Times Book Review

8
by Issac Asimov – 1951

Psychohistory is one of Asimov’s best inventions: using a combination of history, psychology, and statistics, one can accurately predict the behavior of large groups of people.

Foundation is arguably the first time a believable galactic empire was created in print. Unfortunately, Asimov’s characters tend be one-dimensional, but his stories are so entertaining that it’s easy to forgive that lapse.

7
by Kurt Vonnegut – 1963

Cat’s Cradle is Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical commentary on modern man and his madness. An apocalyptic tale of this planet’s ultimate fate, it features a midget as the protagonist, a complete, original theology created by a calypso singer, and a vision of the future that is at once blackly fatalistic and hilariously funny.

“A free-wheeling vehicle . . . an unforgettable ride!”
— The New York Times

6
by Philip K. Dick – 1962

It’s America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco, the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some twenty years earlier the United States lost a war, and is now occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan.

“The single most resonant and carefully imagined book of Dick’s career.”
— The New York Times

5
by Margaret Atwood – 1985

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are only valued if their ovaries are viable.

Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid’s Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force.

“Atwood takes many trends which exist today and stretches them to their logical and chilling conclusions… An excellent novel about the directions our lives are taking… Read it while it’s still allowed.”
— Houston Chronicle

4
by Aldous Huxley – 1932

Children are genetically programmed in the womb and sent through indoctrination programs, preparing them for lives in predetermined castes. It’s a utopian society that maintains its peace by removing the humanity of its members, and only one man is brave enough to vocally challenge the status quo.

Both Brave New World and 1984 saw dystopian futures, but Huxley seems to have gotten much of it right (though Orwell did nail the surveillance state). According to social critic Neil Postman:

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism… Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.”

3
by Frank Herbert – 1965

Dune is a sprawling epic of Machiavellian politics, personal betrayals, secrets within secrets, giant monsters, and delightfully flawed characters. It’s often called the “Lord of the Rings of science fiction.”

Just for fun, here are a few things you may not know about Dune:

1. It was inspired by a trip to Oregon

Perhaps the most surprising fact about Dune is that Frank Herbert was inspired to create his all-desert, water-starved planet during a trip to the soggy Oregon coast. He watched people planting grass to keep the shifting dunes from swallowing up vacationers’ houses.

2. It was published by an outfit known for its car repair manuals.

It took Frank Herbert six years to write Dune.

But… Herbert couldn’t sell his book. Publishers said it was too long. People who read science fiction, they said, don’t like long books (Apparently, neither do fantasy readers, since this was same reason given to J. K. Rowling when she was rejected multiple times for the first Harry Potter book).

After twenty rejections, an editor at Chilton (a publisher known for its car repair manuals) gave Dune a chance. It sold slowly at first, but eventually well enough that Herbert was able to become a full-time writer.

3. It has no authoritative visual look.

If Dune is so popular, why are there no conventions? Why don’t you see people dressing up as the hero Paul Atreides at various Comic-Cons? Where are the stillsuit costumes?

One possible reason is that there is no authoritative visual. If you wear something from the book, you have to tell someone it’s from Dune or they’d never know. Quick, what does an ornithopter look like?

The Dune movie by David Lynch was, well, awful. Various TV shows have tried to capture the essence of Dune, with limited success. One movie had the potential to become this vision, to declare This Is How Dune Looks, but sadly, it was never made. This film was documented in Jodorowsky’s Dune, a fascinating film in its own right. The specter of what might have been—the marvelous, surreal spectacle of a true Dune movie (e.g., designs by H.R. Giger, the man who created the monster for Alien, and starring Salvador Dali as the Emperor) is almost overwhelming to consider. (However, one of Jodorowsky’s other movies featured a literal golden turd, so maybe it’s for the best.)

4. It has eighteen sequels and prequels.

The success of Dune allowed Herbert to create a number of sequels, each slightly more disappointing than the previous. To enjoy these books after reading the original, lower your expectations. See the other novels as children playing around the feet of a wise old grandpa, and you’ll have a good enough time of it.

The Dune books by Frank’s son, Brian Herbert, and Kevin J. Anderson are more typical page-turners than heavy opuses like the original, but they’re still a lot of fun. There are worse ways to spend an afternoon.

2
by Ursula K. Le Guin – 1974

The Dispossessed is a utopian science fiction novel set in the same fictional universe as that of The Left Hand of Darkness.

Shevek, a..

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Dragon’s Egg is a fun, clever look at life evolving on the surface of a neutron star, where one hour of human time is the equivalent of hundreds of years on the alien star.

While the extreme physics of the story may be accurate, Dragon’s Egg contains some of the most stilted dialogue I’ve come across in a long time, especially in the beginning. I found myself thinking that author Robert L. Forward must have talked to a human woman at some point in his life, but if so, that knowledge did not find its way to his book.

However, this is not a story you read for its character development. Dragon’s Egg is all about examining an alien race evolving on a sphere with a gravity of 67 billion Gs, and living at a million times the speed of humans. The story is most believable when it’s dealing with aliens, and it’s still a fun ride.

Recommendation: Get it at the library. Power through the first chapter and you’ll be fine.

The post Review: </em>Dragon’s Egg</em> by Robert L. Forward appeared first on The Best Sci Fi Books.

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Author Alastair Reynolds isn’t afraid of big, strange ideas, and he puts on a parade of them in House of Suns.

Six million years ago, a woman named Abigail Gentian fractured her consciousness into a thousand different clones, called shatterlings. Since then, the shatterlings have observed the rise and fall of many human civilizations. Nearly immortal, they meet every two hundred thousand years to share memories.

Except now, someone is wiping out all of the Gentian shatterlings. It’s up to Campion and Purslane—two shatterlings—to figure out who or what is trying to kill them.

House of Suns is imaginative, fun, and well-paced, but pretty thin on character development. The book’s more about far-future coolness than fully-developed characters.

Recommendation: Check it out at the library. It’s absolutely a fun read, but not quite worthy of permanent shelf space.

The post Review: House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds appeared first on The Best Sci Fi Books.

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Science fiction summer: dipping your toes in a pool of hypermercury while basking in the golden daytime aurora, and watching two ringed planets collide into each other like a pair of cymbals.

Here are some books to read on days like this.

19
by Molly Gloss – 1997

Leaving a dilapidated Earth behind, Quakers across the globe pool funds and resources as they select colonists to send to a newly discovered planet to start life anew.

“[M]iraculous fusion of …science fiction with unsparing realism and keen psychology”
— Ursula K. Le Guin

18
by Martin L. Shoemaker – 2019

Mildred is dying of Alzheimer’s Disease. As her memories fade, she requires the aid of a full-time android to assist her in her everyday life. The android’s duty: to tend to Mildred as Alzheimer’s steals her away one memory at a time, and to pretend to be her absent family.

Soon, Mildred passes away, and the android Carey must find a new purpose in the world—and in its new family: Paul Owens, the overworked businessman; Susan Owens, the dedicated teacher; and Millie, a curious little girl who will grow up alongside her android best friend. As the humans around it age and change, Carey struggles to understand life’s challenges and to make its own path. Carey must learn to live. To grow. To care.

“A dazzling ride through the near future. I enjoyed it thoroughly. I’ve never seen anything remotely like it.”
— author Jack McDevitt

17
by K. Chess – 2019

Wherever Hel looks, New York City is both reassuringly familiar and terribly wrong. As one of the thousands who fled the outbreak of nuclear war into a United States of an alternate timeline, she finds herself living as a refugee in our own not-so-parallel New York. The slang and technology are foreign to her, the politics and art unrecognizable. While others, like her partner Vikram, attempt to assimilate, Hel refuses to reclaim her former career or create a new life. Instead, she obsessively rereads Vikram’s copy of The Pyronauts―a science fiction masterwork in her world that now only exists as a single flimsy paperback―and becomes determined to create a museum dedicated to preserving the remaining artifacts and memories of her vanished culture.

But the refugees are unwelcome and Hel’s efforts are met with either indifference or hostility. When the only copy of The Pyronauts goes missing, Hel must decide how far she is willing to go to recover it and finally face her own anger, guilt, and grief over what she has truly lost.

“Fantastic world-building… Chess is a writer to watch.”
— Kirkus

16
by Elizabeth Bear – 2019

Halmey Dz and her partner Connla Kurucz are salvage operators, living just on the inside of the law… usually. Theirs is a perilous and marginal existence—with barely enough chance of striking it fantastically big—just once—to keep them coming back for more. They pilot their tiny ship into the scars left by unsuccessful White Transitions, searching for the relics of lost human and alien vessels. But when they make a shocking discovery about an alien species that has been long thought dead, it may be the thing that could tip the perilous peace mankind has found into full-out war.

“Anyone who enjoys space opera, exploration of characters, and political speculation will love this outstanding novel… Amid a space opera resurgence, Bear’s novel sets the bar high.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

15
by Peng Shepherd – 2018

One afternoon at an outdoor market in India, a man’s shadow disappears—an occurrence science cannot explain. He is only the first. The phenomenon spreads like a plague, and while those afflicted gain a strange new power, it comes at a horrible price: the loss of all their memories.

Ory and his wife Max have escaped the Forgetting so far by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. Their new life feels almost normal, until one day Max’s shadow disappears too.

Knowing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to Ory, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up the time they have left together. Desperate to find Max before her memory disappears completely, he follows her trail across a dangerous, unrecognizable world, braving the threat of roaming bandits, the call to a new war being waged on the ruins of the capital, and the rise of a sinister cult that worships the shadowless.

“Shepherd’s debut is graceful and riveting, slowly peeling back layers of an intricately constructed and unsettling alternate future.”
— Publishers Weekly

14
by Tade Thompson – 2016

The Nigerian town of Rosewater is on the edge. A community formed around the edges of a mysterious alien biodome, its residents comprise the hopeful, the hungry and the helpless—people eager for a glimpse inside the dome or a taste of its rumored healing powers.

Kaaro is a government agent with a criminal past. He has seen inside the biodome, and doesn’t care to again. But when something begins killing off others like himself, Kaaro must defy his masters to search for an answer, facing his dark history and coming to a realization about a horrifying future.

“Nothing short of brilliant…. A captivating, cerebral work of science fiction that may very well signal a new definitive voice in the genre.”
― Kirkus

13
by Clifford D. Simak – 1963

In this slightly old-fashioned but well-written book, an American Civil War veteran is tasked by aliens to administer a way station for interplanetary travel. He is not allowed to tell any other Earthling about his job. Humans, however, are curious creatures…

12
by Adrian Tchaikovsky – 2015

Who will inherit this new earth? The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age—a world terraformed and prepared for human life. But all is not right in this new Eden. In the long years since the planet was abandoned, the work of its architects has born disastrous fruit. The planet is not waiting for them, pristine and unoccupied. New masters have turned it from a refuge into mankind’s worst nightmare. Now two civilizations are on a collision course, both testing the boundaries of what they will do to survive. As the fate of humanity hangs in the balance, who are the true heirs of this new Earth?

11
by Andy Weir – 2017

Artemis isn’t as good as Weir’s debut novel The Martian, but it’s pretty close. Weir kept what was great about The Martian: hard science, humor, and a charmingly sarcastic protagonist.

It takes a little while for the story to get going, but it’s the best depiction of a lunar colony I’ve ever read.

Artemis is about a young, super-smart but lazy criminal on the moon who goes for a major score and immediately gets in way over her head. Clever scheming, problem-solving, and the occasional explosion keep this book entertaining.

10
by Emma Newman – 2015

More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony’s 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harboring a devastating secret.

But the truth Ren has concealed since planetfall can no longer be hidden. And its revelation might tear the colony apart…

“Cathartic and transcendent.”
— The New York Times

9
edited by Ken Liu – 2019

Some of the included authors are already familiar to readers in the West (Liu Cixin and Hao Jingfang, both Hugo winners); some are publishing in English for the first time. Because of the growing interest in newer SFF from China, virtually every story here was first published in Chinese in the 2010s.

The stories span the range from short-shorts to novellas, and evoke every hue on the emotional spectrum. Besides stories firmly entrenched in subgenres familiar to Western SFF readers such as hard SF, cyberpunk, science fantasy, and space opera, the anthology also includes stories that showcase deeper ties to Chinese culture: alternate Chinese history, chuanyue time travel, and satire with historical and contemporary allusions that are likely unknown to the average Western reader. While the anthology makes no claim or attempt to be “representative” or “comprehensive,” it demonstrates the vibrancy and diversity of science fiction being written in China at this moment.

“This anthology is a must-read.”
― Booklist (starred review)

8
by Charlie Jane Anders – 2019

January is a dying planet—divided between a permanently frozen darkness on one side, and blazing endless sunshine on the other. Humanity clings to life, spread across two archaic cities built in the sliver of habitable dusk.

But life inside the cities is just as dangerous as the uninhabitable wastelands outside.

Sophie, a student and reluctant revolutionary, is supposed to be dead, after being exiled into the night. Saved only by forming an unusual bond with the enigmatic beasts that roam the ice, Sophie vows to stay hidden from the world, hoping she can heal.

But fate has other plans—and Sophie’s ensuing odyssey and the ragtag family she finds will change the entire world.

“[A] tale that can stand beside such enduring works as Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, Frank Herbert’s Dune, and Dan Simmons’ Hyperion.”
― Booklist (starred review)

7
by Simon Ings – 2018

Mutual incomprehension has fractured the globe. As humans race to be the first of their kind to reach the stars, another Great War looms. For you, that means returning to Yorkshire and the town of your birth, where factories churn out the parts for gigantic spaceships. You’re done with the pretentions of the capital and its unfathomable architecture. You’re done with the people of the Bund, their easy superiority and unstoppable spread throughout the city of London and beyond. You’re done with Georgy Chernoy and his questionable defeat of death. You’re done with his daughter, Fel, and losing all the time. You’re done with love. But soon enough you will find yourself in the Smoke again, drawn back to the life you thought you’d left behind. You’re done with love. But love’s not done with you.

6
by Alastair Reynolds – 2017

Adrana and Fura Ness are the newest crew members of the legendary Captain Rackamore’s ship, using their mysterious powers as Bone Readers to find clues about their next score. But there might be more waiting for them in space than adventure and fortune: the fabled and feared Bosa Sennen, in particular.

“An expert mix of the fantastical and horrific.”
― Publishers Weekly (starred review)

5
by Eyal Kless – 2019

In the mysterious City of Towers, the center of the destroyed Tarakan empire, a lowly scribe of the Guild of Historians is charged with a dangerous assignment. He must venture into the wilds beyond the glass and steel towers to discover the fate of a child who mysteriously disappeared more than a decade before. Born of a rare breed of marked people, the child, Rafik—known as “The Key”—was one of a special few with the power to restore this lost civilization to glory once again.

In a world driven by fear and violence, where tattooed mutants, manic truckers, warring guilds, and greedy mercenaries battle for survival, this one boy may have singlehandedly destroyed humanity’s only chance for salvation—unless the scribe can figure out what happened to him.

“Readers looking for a crafty puzzle that descends into the twisty depths of loyalty and betrayal will enjoy this far-future adventure.”
— Publishers Weekly

4
by Wesley Chu – 2016

Ella Patel–thief, con-artist, and smuggler–is in the wrong place at the wrong time. One night, on the border of a demilitarized zone run by the body-swapping alien invaders, she happens upon a man and woman being chased by a group of assailants. The man freezes, leaving the woman to fight off five attackers at once, before succumbing. As she dies, to both Ella and the man’s surprise, the sparkling light that rises from the woman enters Ella, instead of the man. She soon realizes she’s been inhabited by Io, a low-ranking Quasing who was involved in some of the worst decisions in history. Now Ella must help the alien presence to complete her mission and investigate a rash of murders in the border states that maintain the frail peace.

“Three things contribute to the success of this novel: an understated, occasionally snarky sense of humor, well-done action sequences, and strong character development.”
– Publishers Weekly

3
by Rudy Rucker – 2006

Bela and Paul, two wild young mathematicians (go ahead and read that again), are friends and roommates, and in love with the same woman, who happens to be Alma, Bela’s girlfriend. They fight it out by changing reality using cutting edge math to change who gets the girl. Their world is not quite this one, but much like Berkeley, California, and the two graduate students are trying to finish their degrees and get jobs. It doesn’t help that their unpredictable advisor, Roland, is a mad mathematical genius who has figured out a way to predict isolated and specific bits of the future that can cause a lot of trouble… and he’s starting to see monsters in mirrors.

“While most of the mathematical flights may stun hapless mathophobes, Rucker’s wild characters, off-the-wall situations and wicked political riffs prove that writing SF spoofs, like Bela’s rock music avocation, ‘beats the hell out of publishing a math paper.'”
— Publishers Weekly

2
by Mary Robinette Kowal – 2018

On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington, D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the Earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process.

Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too.

Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.

“Readers will thrill to the story of this “lady astronaut” and eagerly anticipate the promised sequels.”
― Publishers Weekly (starred review)

1
by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland – 2017

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. is brilliant, fast-paced, and will give you sore wrists because it’s a thick, heavy book, but you will not want to put it down.

An expert in ancient languages is hired by a mysterious government agency to translate some documents that suggest that magic actually once existed in the world. But the advance of science caused magic to disappear in 1851. However, the existence of a two-hundred-year-old witch and some fancy technology allow a limited amount of magic to occur in this world, and soon the language expert and others are being sent back in time to repair history. And, if they’re lucky, bring magic back to the world.

Told almost exclusively from the point of view of female characters, The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. is one of the few science fiction books that I strongly recommend to my wife (who doesn’t read science fiction).

The post Summer 2019 Science Fiction Reading List appeared first on The Best Sci Fi Books.

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The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. is brilliant, fast-paced, and will give you sore wrists because it’s a thick, heavy book, but you will not want to put it down.

An expert in ancient languages is hired by a mysterious government agency to translate some documents that suggest that magic actually once existed in the world. But the advance of science caused magic to disappear in 1851. However, the existence of a two-hundred-year-old witch and some fancy technology allow a limited amount of magic to occur in this world, and soon the language expert and others are being sent back in time to repair history. And, if they’re lucky, bring magic back to the world.

Told almost exclusively from the point of view of female characters, The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. is one of the few science fiction books that I strongly recommend to my wife (who doesn’t read science fiction).

Recommendation: Buy it. It’s clever, fun, and engrossing.

The post Review: <em>The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.</em> by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland appeared first on The Best Sci Fi Books.

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The Breach is a fast-paced thriller, a firehose of plot unburdened with character development. A lone hiker in Alaska comes across a downed airliner with the dead bodies of the American First Lady and several others, along with an empty box that suggests a strange missing item.

The hiker (a cop with a dark past) and the young woman he rescues become embroiled in a massive government secret and are pursued by all manner of foes. We learn that the Breach is a rip in spacetime that occasionally pops out objects of wildly advanced technology.

While the characters are stock and attempts to give them real human dimension are borderline embarrassing, the story moves so fast and unpredictably, with so many fun reveals, that The Breach is a fun, breathless read. I’m definitely checking out the sequel, Ghost Country.

Recommendation: Get it at the library. This is a great book to read on a lazy Sunday, but not quite good enough to take up permanent bookshelf space.

The post Review: <em>The Breach</em> by Patrick Lee appeared first on The Best Sci Fi Books.

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The alternate history Never Let Me Go follows the lives of several children who grew up in a strange, special school. It’s very well written (the author is the guy who wrote The Remains of the Day and won the Nobel Prize for Literature), but the real focus of the book is not really about the characters, but about the slow reveal of why the school and the children were special.

Once this secret is revealed, I expected the characters to react in a certain way (I can’t say how without spoiling the book). However, none of the characters reacted in that way at all, which seemed like such a bizarre and unlikely choice that it completely pulled me out of the story.

Recommendation: Get it at the library. If you’re already a fan of author Kazuo Ishiguro, you’ll probably like it. If you’re a writer, you should read it just to see what he does and how he does it.

The post Review: <em>Never Let Me Go</em> by Kazuo Ishiguro appeared first on The Best Sci Fi Books.

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“One-hit wonder” has an insult buried in the compliment, but it’s hard enough to write a good science fiction novel, much less get it published and then have it become popular and enduring. So even having a one-hit wonder is an impressive achievement, and the books on this list should be appreciated for their merits, instead of their authors being lightly mocked for not doing more.

11
by Ken Grimwood – 1986

Jeff Winston, forty-three, didn’t know he was a replayer until he died and woke up twenty-five years younger in his college dorm room; he lived another life. And died again. And lived again and died again—in a continuous twenty-five-year cycle—each time starting from scratch at the age of eighteen to reclaim lost loves, remedy past mistakes, or make a fortune in the stock market. But what if he’s not the only replayer…?

Ken Grimwood has written a number of books, but none of them came close to the acclaim of Replay.

“Grimwood has transcended genre with this carefully observed, literate and original story.”
— Publishers Weekly

10
by Pat Frank – 1959

In this class post-apocalyptic novel, a nuclear holocaust ravages the United States, and tens of millions of people are killed instantly. A thousand years of civilization are stripped away overnight. But for one small town in Florida, miraculously spared, the struggle is just beginning, as men and women of all backgrounds join together to confront the darkness.

Author Pat Frank (real name Harry Hart Frank) was a journalist that penned a few other novels (Mr. Adam and Forbidden Area), but nothing as enduring as Alas, Babylon.

9
by David R. Palmer – 1981

Emergence is one of the overlooked gems of science fiction with a small but passionate following. It follows a remarkable 11-year-old orphan girl, living in a post-apocalyptic United States. From the book:

Homo post hominem is new species, apparently immune to all ‘human’ disease, plus smarter, stronger, faster, etc., emerging to inherit Earth after H. sapiens eliminated selves in short, efficient bio-nuclear war. Am myself Homo post hominem. Rode out war in Daddy’s marvelous shelter, now engaged in walkabout, searching for fellow survivors.

David Palmer wrote another story, Threshold, before abandoning writing and choosing a career in law.

8
by Walter Tevis – 1963

T. J. Newton is an extraterrestrial who goes to Earth on a desperate mission of mercy. But instead of aid, Newton discovers loneliness and despair.

You might be familiar with the movie version starring David Bowie.

Walter Tevis’ other science fiction novel, Mockingbird, was well-regarded, but didn’t achieve the popularity of The Man Who Fell to Earth.

His novels that take place outside of science fiction were successful, though: he wrote The Hustler and The Color of Money, which were both turned into movies.

“Beautiful science fiction… The story of an extraterrestrial visitor from another planet is deigned mainly to say something about life on this one.”
— The New York Times

7
by Fred Hoyle – 1957

Astronomers in England and America have made a terrifying discovery: an ominous black cloud the size of Jupiter is traveling straight towards our solar system. If their calculations are correct, the cloud’s path will bring it between the Earth and the Sun, blocking out the Sun’s rays and threatening unimaginable consequences for our planet. With the fate of every living thing on Earth in the balance, world leaders assemble a team of brilliant scientists to figure out a way to stop the cloud. But when they uncover the truth behind its origins, they will be forced to reconsider everything they think they know about the nature of life in the universe…

This is the first and best-known novel by astronomer Fred Hoyle. He wrote many more books, often co-authored with his son, Geoffrey. Interestingly, Hoyle coined the term “big bang” to describe that theory of how the universe began, mostly as an insult—he died never believing it.

“[A] rattling good story… a really thrilling book. There is a largeness, generosity, and jollity about the whole spirit of the book that reminds one of the early Wells at his best.”
— New Statesman

6
by Gregory Benford – 1980

1998. Earth is falling apart, on the brink of ecological disaster. But in England a tachyon scientist is attempting to contact the past, to somehow warn them of the misery and death their actions and experiments have visited upon a ravaged planet.

1962. JFK is still president, rock ‘n’ roll is king, and the Vietnam War hardly merits front-page news. Gordon Bernstein, a young assistant researcher at a California university, notices strange patterns of interference in a lab experiment. Against all odds, facing ridicule and opposition, Bernstein begins to uncover the incredible truth… a truth that will change his life and alter history. The truth behind time itself.

Timescape won the Nebula Award in 1980 and the John W. Clark Award in 1981. Gregory Benford wrote many other science fiction books, including several with Larry Niven and even a Second Foundation book (based on Asmiov’s Foundation series), but none of them was anywhere near as popular as Timescape.

5
by Audrey Niffenegger – 2003

The Time Traveler’s Wife is the story of Clare, a beautiful art student, and Henry, an adventuresome librarian, who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-three and Henry thirty-one. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself misplaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity in his life, past and future. His disappearances are spontaneous, his experiences unpredictable, alternately harrowing and amusing.

The Time Traveler’s Wife depicts the effects of time travel on Henry and Clare’s marriage and their passionate love for each other as the story unfolds from both points of view. Clare and Henry attempt to live normal lives, pursuing familiar goals—steady jobs, good friends, children of their own. All of this is threatened by something they can neither prevent nor control.

Audrey Niffenegger has written a number of other books, but none of them has reached the wild popularity of this one.

“It is a fair tribute to her skill and sensibility to say that the book leaves a reader with an impression of life’s riches and strangeness rather than of easy thrills.”
— Publishers Weekly

4
by Pierre Boulle – 1963

You know this one: in the not-too-distant future, three astronauts land on what appears to be a planet just like Earth, with lush forests, a temperate climate, and breathable air. But while it appears to be a paradise, nothing is what it seems.

They soon discover the terrifying truth: On this world humans are savage beasts, and apes rule as their civilized masters. One man struggles to unlock the secret of a terrifying civilization, all the while wondering: Will he become the savior of the human race, or the final witness to its damnation?

This novel is intelligent, ironic, and literate, which is less surprising after learning that Pierre Boulle also wrote The Bridge Over the River Kwai. However, none of his other science fiction books came close to the popularity of Planet of the Apes.

3
by Walter M. Miller, Jr. – 1959

This is Miller’s first and only novel, but he didn’t hold back: it spans thousands of years, chronicling the rebuilding of civilization after an apocalyptic event.

Despite early reviewers that called Miller a “dull, ashy writer guilty of heavy-weight irony,” it’s never been out of print in over 50 years.

So there.

2
by Mary Doria Russell – 1996

Sandoz is a Jesuit priest and linguist, part of the crew sent to explore a new planet. What they find is a civilization so alien and incomprehensible that they feel compelled to wonder what it means to be human.

Sandoz is the only surviving member of the crew and upon his return he is confronted by public inquisition and accusations of the most heinous crimes imaginable. His faith utterly destroyed, crippled and defenseless, his only hope is to tell his tale. But the truth may be more than Earth is willing to accept.

Some readers find this book provocative and compelling, while others were a little let down by the ending.

Author Mary Doria Russell may be one-hit wonder science fiction author, but in Western and history genres, she’s got multiple hits, including Doc, Epitaph, A Thread of Grace.

1
by Daniel Keyes – 1966

Flowers for Algernon is a beautiful, human book, with a little science fiction thrown in.

It examines morals and ethics without getting preachy—it’s a surprisingly easy read for such a thoughtful and deep book.

There are a few juicy scenes in it, which is why it’s occasionally removed from school libraries in Texas.

Flowers for Algernon is told through progress reports written by a low-IQ person who has an operation (we never learn the details) that quickly increases his IQ to genius levels. Unfortunately, his social and emotional skills do not increase at the same rate, and this causes hurt feelings all around.

I recommend buying this book. Seeing this on my shelf gives me a moment of pause, a two-second meditation, like briefly floating in a deep but safe ocean, before getting on with my day.

Author Daniel Keyes was a successful writer before penning this book: he wrote and edited comic book scripts for Stan Lee. He also won several award for a later nonfiction book The Minds of Billy Milligan, but nothing came close to the zenith of Flowers for Algernon.

The post 11 One-hit Wonder Science Fiction Books appeared first on The Best Sci Fi Books.

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My kid is learning to play the piano, and part of that is using dynamics: playing some parts of the song quiet, and some parts loud. Dynamics add contrast and make a song more interesting. Unfortunately, Jonathan Lethem’s book Girl in Landscape, while being extremely well-written, lacks dynamics. It’s heavy, and stays heavy throughout.

Thirteen-year-old Pella and her family leave a ruined Earth after her mother dies. They travel to the Planet of the Archbuilders to carve out a new life in a bizarre landscape and amongst mysterious but friendly inhabitants. Independent Pella deals with the strangeness of a new world and equally difficult fellow humans.

Recommendation: Get it at the library. It’s an engaging, literary story, and it’s always good to mix up your reading. But I’m not interested in keeping its unrelenting heaviness in the house. I prefer Lethem’s Gun, with Occasional Music.

The post Review: <em>Girl in Landscape</em> by Jonathan Lethem appeared first on The Best Sci Fi Books.

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Fantasy author Terry Pratchett is famous for his Discworld series, comprised of over forty books taking place on a round, flat world perched on the back of four giant elephants who stand on the shell of a enormous space-faring sea turtle.

But before fantasy-trope-skewering Discworld, Pratchett wrote Strata, a science fiction book that explored the idea of how a flat, round world would actually work. Many of the ideas in Strata appear in the Discworld books.

While Strata isn’t quite as good as most of the Discworld novels, it’s still a fun, funny romp as a 210-year-old woman and her two alien friends come across a flat world populated by humans and what appear to be various demons.

Recommendation: If you’re a Discworld fan, please read this book. You’ll get a kick out of it. Check it out at the library. But if you haven’t started Discworld yet, I strongly recommend getting started with the third book, Equal Rites.

The post Review: <em>Strata</em> by Terry Pratchett appeared first on The Best Sci Fi Books.

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