10 Great Books on Science Fiction (5)
Special thanks to Megan, blogger of From Couch to Moon who is back this year with another list of science fiction books to check out.
Megan’s Blog: http://couchtomoon.wordpress.com
2017 has given me a new job, little free time, and MTD (Major Trumpressive Disorder), but I did have the fortune to participate on the Clarke Award shadow jury (Sharke, for short) during the first half of the year, which exposed me to a whole bushel of fantastic new releases. So, while I did not read nearly the amount of vintage science fiction I have during the past five years, I’m pleased to say that where my 2017 reading lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality.
In the several years I’ve been doing this list, this was the first time I had a hard time limiting my list to just ten books!
In no particular order, here are ten of my sci-fi faves from 2017:
- 2084: The Anthology, edited by George Sandison
The second ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) I have ever accepted from a publisher, and only because I adore the Unsung Stories crew and everything they put out, this was just the medicine I needed during a period when I was too busy to commit to a novel. Stuffed to the brim with some of my favorite British SF writers, this dark and edgy 1984 tribute collection is as relevant as its inspiration. The crown of the collection is Oliver Langmead’s visceral take on a bizarro future of elitism and high fashion, while Christopher Priest’s likely nightmare future of blended entertainment and social media brings it all to an unsettling close. Scenes from those two stories will be forever embedded in my mind.
- Unbearable Splendor by Sun Yung Shin
I actually read this in 2016, but too late in the year to add it to last year’s Ten Great Books installment. Shin blends memoir, poetry, and science fiction tropes into a shifting and unpredictable collection that mesmerizes and astounds. The clever wordplay and stylized sentences are reminiscent of Zelazny in some ways, while fans of Borges and PKD will also find themselves on familiar ground. (But, honestly, I think she’s better, less guarded, and more honest than all three of them combined. She’s also just plain brilliant.)
- Infinite Ground by Martin MacInnes
Why is no one talking about Martin MacInnes yet? My favorite book of the year, and my top pick from the 2017 Shadow Clarke shortlist, Infinite Ground stole my mind while I was busy campaigning for The Underground Railroad (also a great book that could be on this list, but it’s gotten enough attention). Invoking the age-old (and oft-overwritten) struggle between nature and industrialism, an office worker drone disappears after he becomes infected by… something… maybe? Dark, twisted, funny, and lingering; if you were disappointed by the overhyped Southern Reach series, this is probably what you were hoping for.
- A Field Guide to Reality by Joanna Kavenna
Medieval scientific philosophy gets the Alice treatment in this trippy circling of metaphysics and mystery. An Oxford waitress is bequeathed some scholarly papers by her recently deceased customer/professor friend. As she attempts to unlock the secrets of his gift, she stumbles in-and-out of other realms and meets strange people along the way. It’s one of the funniest and mind-bendy conflations of science and the paranormal, and, even better, it’s illustrated by a collaborator of The Mighty Boosh.
- The Rift by Nina Allan
In the much-anticipated not-a-sequel to the critically-acclaimed The Race, the mystery format of this novel makes Allan’s strange warping of worlds seem almost less bewildering. Almost. When a teen girl disappears without a trace, she leaves a void in her family and community, but when she reappears a decade later, her alien explanations are even less satisfying. Her younger sister must decide to come to terms with this new reality, or live without her sister forever. While it’s more straightforward than The Race, the constant tension and uncertainty makes it even more unputdownable.
- Arrival of Missives by Aliya Whiteley
A sleepy post-war setting becomes the stage for something alien seeking global destruction. When a young woman’s crush on her teacher becomes more real–and then unreal–than she ever could imagine, she finds herself swept up in her own battle for the world’s future. Whiteley explores gender politics and the power dynamics of illicit teacher-student relationships in this novella about a rural, post-Great War community, injecting this controversial topic and favored writerly setting with a sci-fi twist that raises the stakes and heightens the metaphor.
- The Gradual by Christopher Priest
A strong return from one of sci-fi’s most legendary writers, The Gradual takes the reader through Priest’s mysterious Dream Archipelago. In this novel, a composer tours the warped geographies of this alternate world, and finds himself in a maze of time fluctuations. As he chases that always elusive balance of memory and time, he tries to counteract the inevitable yet disturbing encroachments of time on his life. Only Christopher Priest can twist the mundane passage of time into something so unsettling and irreal. (Or maybe we just call that aging?)
- Dreams Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock
In the first ever ARC I’ve ever received (and for good reason, because Charnock is a big deal), Charnock seeks to rectify science fiction’s (mostly) bad record of mishandling pregnancy and childbirth, and, like any good futurism novel, it’s not really a novel about the central sci-fi concept, but about life in general, and the consequences of scientific progress as it radiates outward. As a sort-of-sequel to Charnock’s underrated Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind, this installment follows adulthood and later life of Toni and other characters as they navigate the future of procreation, and with that, the morphing realities of romance, relationships, and family.
- Central Station by Lavie Tidhar
In some ways, Central Station is sci-fi for the sci-fi fan, with its throwback calling cards to vintage SF. In other ways, it’s a delicate homage to human nature. Each segment of Central Station is a glimpse into the lives surrounding the busy spaceport of Jaffa-Tel Aviv. Where some characters mingle and mix, others pursue their own trajectories, and, just like life-as-we-know-it-now, even the most amazing technological advances and discoveries aren’t nearly as extraordinary as the ordinary relationships and conflicts that are most responsible for propelling life forward. Central Station is a celebration of the mundane in a world of futurism.
- The Sellout by Paul Beatty
You know how I always like to toss in something unexpected: Sure, it won the 2016 Man Booker Prize, making this a literary favorite, and, sure, no one has discussed it in the context of SF, but when the novel pivots on a scene of a LA city bus floating in the ocean while its passengers throw a birthday party and a stripper swims like a mermaid, you start to realize: it’s not that the author who has blurred the line between reality and imaginary, it’s the American system that has blurred that line. From city boundaries to judicial justice to reverse racism, Beatty wants us to know that some parts of reality are just plain imaginary, and more for some than others. With sci-fi’s long history of imaginative polemics by authors like John Brunner, Joanna Russ, Frederick Pohl, Theodore Sturgeon, CM Kornbluth, and JG Ballard, there should be room for sci-fi fans to appreciate something as blunt, acerbic, and on-point as this.