Special thanks to Megan, blogger of From Couch to Moon who put together the first list of 10 Great Books on Science Fiction last year. She has graciously returned for a second list of books on science fiction.
Megan’s Blog: http://couchtomoon.wordpress.com
A multi-decade sampling! A smattering of recent releases! And a couple of forgotten classics! The following are excellent science fiction books that belong on the shelves, e-readers, or brain implants of every devoted science fiction fan!
Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany (1966)
A wild space romp starring one of my favorite female protagonists: the sexy genius poet Rydra Wong. This novel about decoding terrorist messages sent from space, populated with a body-modified space crew and suicided space ghosts may seem dark, but the lighthearted interactions between Rydra and her crew bring fun and warmth to this intriguing story about the most complex language to ever exist, and Rydra’s determination to hunt it down (if only to meet its mysterious and dangerous creators).
Bloodchild by Octavia Butler (1995)
There is something captivating about Butler’s style—she’s so inviting and raw, and always disconcerting. From shrub-like alien colonies that employ human factory workers, to essays about experiencing the publishing world as a woman of color, no other writer connects more deeply to their readers. Do not stop at the Hugo- and Nebula-winning “Bloodchild,” or the Hugo-winning “Speech Sounds.” All essays and stories are worthy for their powerful sense of estrangement.
Emergence by David Palmer (1984)
If Robert Heinlein wrote Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but replaced the dumb vampires with Russian communists and nuclear bombs, you would get this daring little YA epistolary tale about a spunky pre-teen post-human in the middle of an apocalypse. It’s fun, suspenseful, and, dare I say, mind-blowing, and I’m going to keep talking about it until someone decides to republish this forgotten gem.
The Feminine Future: Early Science Fiction by Women Writers by Mike Ashley (2014)
Mike Ashley says phooey to the claims that women never contributed to the early years of science fiction and has combed through early publications from the late 19th and early 20th centuries to preserve some of the most important, yet forgotten, tales of scientific awe and weirdness. From misbehaving automatons to Lovecraftian horror to the first of Benjamin Button-style concepts, women have long contributed inventive ideas to this mind-bendy genre. A worthwhile read for the author biographies alone.
Inverted World by Christopher Priest (1974)
Speaking of mind-bendy, try this SF Masterwork about the city of Earth, which must be winched along train tracks in order to escape the ever-encroaching distortions of its hyperbola shaped world. Themes of passive obedience, the futility of survival, as well as a not-so-veiled criticism of the Hard SF subgenre run through the background of this coming-of-age, genre-twisting tale.
Jack Glass: The Story of A Murderer by Adam Roberts by Adam Roberts (2012)
Blood-spatter in space is messy business, which is one of the many things you’ll experience in this collection of three mysteries that follow the exploits of an infamous serial killer. Cosmic riffs on common mystery tropes like “the locked room” give Roberts a platform to demonstrate his insatiable love for genre fiction, as well as his incredibly clever solutions that leave readers simultaneously slapping their foreheads and reeling with uncertainty.
Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor (2014)
A fresh spin on the First Contact tale, the Nigerian setting provides a stimulating and, quite frankly, plausible backdrop for Okorafor’s motley cast of characters. The hyper plot darts between segments of Lagos society, but stick around for the second half when the lampooning really begins. Okorafor’s version of First Contact is reminiscent of the humanism from Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, yet her novel is a much more realistic enterprise. And much more fun!
Memoirs of a Spacewoman by Naomi Mitchison (1962)
An imaginative and thoughtful account of a future spacewoman’s travels as a communicator to beings on other planets, it’s the best answer to most genre fiction where all extraterrestrials inexplicably speak English. Tools of empathy, telepathy, and kinetics aid this scientist in her difficult quest to understand others: gelatinous, human, and anything in between, while themes of blame and guilt course through the background. A brilliant piece that is both traditional sci-fi and social thinkpiece. This also deserves a fresh reprint.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North (2014)
Freshly awarded the John W. Campbell Memorial Award this month amid a highly competitive shortlist, North (actually Catherine Webb) delivers delicious protagonist/antagonist tension and game-playing with premature technological advances against a pre- to post-WWII backdrop. Time-travel via reincarnation could be clunky, but North gives it smooth, attentive treatment, and will satisfy even the most mainstream genre readers.
Wolves by Simon Ings (2014)
While Augmented Reality (AR) is still in its infancy today, Ings plants his inter-relational drama in the near future when AR is increasingly more common in daily life. While we watch the effects of AR unfold upon industries like advertising, gaming, sex, and travel, Ings demonstrates humanity’s already distorted effects upon our physical and relational landscapes by introducing us to his flawed characters and the evolving setting.